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May 2017
Fitness and sport
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Although it is commonly known as a support activity for sports like football and basketball, cheerleading is a real sport in itself, combining elements of gymnastics, dance and stunts. Invented in America, cheerleading has become popular in other countries over the years, such as Australia, China, Japan, South America and Europe, and this is thanks to the growing popularity of international competitions and representations of cheerleading on the television and in films.

The invention of modern cheerleading must be attributed to Johnny Campbell, who, as an American university student at the end of the 1800s, conducted the first audience cheer to encourage fans before a local football match. At the beginning, cheerleading teams were formed exclusively of men, and women only started to do cheerleading from 1923, triggering a reversal in the trend which is why, today, this sport is almost exclusively (97%) practised by females. In the last twenty years, cheerleading, a gymnastic and dance sport, has evolved and has become an acrobatic activity that involves doing jumps and making human pyramids to increase the level of showmanship, especially in international competitions. It is precisely because of this that the athletic preparation for cheerleaders also developed, in order to be able to acquire and maintain the strength and physical flexibility characteristics required.
On a competitive level, there is a distinction between cheerleaders who perform choreographic routines before, during and after football matches, called dance breakets, and those who perform at a much higher level.

One of the classic accessories of cheerleading are pom poms, balls of strips of material with a diameter of about 25cm which is held in the cheerleaders hand to emphasise the shapes made by the arms. The main movements used are the following:

Ready Position
Hands behind the back and feet shoulder width apart.
High V
Arms held above the head 45° to the body.
Low V
Arm held low 45° to the body.
Arms held at 90° to the body.
Broken T
Same position as the T but with the arms bent and the pom poms touching.
Touch Down
Arms held above the head in line with the body..
Low Touch Down
Arms held against the body, but slightly in front.
Elbows bent with arms out front.
Right L
Right arm in the T position and left arm in the Touch Down position.
Left L
Opposite of Right L.
Right Punch
Right arm in Touch Down position and left arm on the hip.
Left Puch
Opposite of Right Punch.

Left Diagonal
Left arm in High V position, right arm in Low V position.

Right Diagonal
Opposite of Left Diagonal.

Left K

Left arm in High V, right arm in Low V.

Right K
Opposite of Left K.

All movements must be carried out in the following ways:

• with relaxed shoulders;
• quick movements carried out rapidly, as if hitting an object in front of the body;
• wrist in line with the arms, fists closed with thumbs on the outside.
Practicing in front of a mirror can help refine the movements.

Cheerleading practised at a competitive level can be risky from a physical point of view because it works tendons and ligaments very hard. In order to prevent injuries arising from excessive physical stress and accidentally falling, it is fundamental to do precise physical training in the gym before to strengthen the following physical characteristics:

• explosive strength;
• flexibility;
• balance and proprioception.

Explosive strength is essential to be able to do jumps and acrobatics, especially human pyramids. Flexibility is important to make sure movements are flexible, elegant and carried out in sequence. Balance and proprioception are important to ensure movements are stable and symmetrical. A mixed training programme is also useful for strength training, such as CST or Art Functional Training. These training methods can fully develop explosive strength and also take care of flexibility and balance. It is best to do multi-articular exercises for explosive strength and balance because they involve more parts of the body, and this also creates a good basis for muscular and articular stability.
In order to express oneself in the best way possible when performing stunts, it is not completely necessary to be extremely strong, rather it is important to have a dry and flexible body. Working with non-classic weights, such as kettlebells, swiss ball, flow bags, rings and club bells, prepares the body for the sudden changes in direction, helps you orient yourself properly in space, improves proprioception and strengthens muscle fibres without increasing muscle mass. What is more, another way to improve stability, is working the core, therefore abdominal, lumbar, spinal erector and back strengthening exercises should be performed. Having a strong muscular core means having a robust and stable body that can safely perform any acrobatic move.

Following is a brief training programme, which is very good for training athlete’s bodies, to be carried out twice a week.

Session A

ExerciseSet x RepsRecoveryNote
Ski simulator8 mins
Jumping Squat2x202 minsSquat followed by jump when coming back up
Lunges with dumbells going pp and down with dumbbells2x202 mins
Swing with kettlebell
3x202 minsAlternating the arm after each reptition
Front Squat with 2 Kettlebells 2x152 mins
Lift kettlebells on Swiss ball3x102 mins
Rowing with Kettlebells3x81 minWith one arm
Crunches on Swiss Ball3x201 min
Run8 mins
Cool down

Session B

ExerciseSet x repRecoveryNote
Rowing8 mins
Swing with Kettlebell3x202 minsOne arm at a time
Squats with Swiss ball3x152 minsStrengthens the lower body and puts emphasis on the abdominal core
Press-ups Swiss ball3x102 minsStrengthens the upper body and stimulate the abdomen at the same time
Pull-ups on the bar3x82 mins
Reverse crunch on the bar3x201 minUse a bar to hold on to
Bike8 mins
Cool down


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