Right now I’m working with the large coed and all girl cheerleading teams at EKU where I teach. They are gearing up for nationals and over the weekend of January 15th-17th they will be competing down at UCA nationals in Orlando Florida at the Wide World of Sports Park. They have nearly set what their entire routine will be and now comes the hard times of running these routines through.
The basics of a cheerleading routine is that they will hit various stunts, pyramids, tumbling, and baskets over the course of about two and a half minutes. Everything they will throw needs to be done to counts (so they all go at the same time) and will be the hardest skills that they can hit as a group. Essentially it is going nearly maximally for two and a half minutes with skills that require a great deal of precision and power. To make this even better is during part of this they will need to be yelling a cheer, which yelling while tired is so much fun.
I can break down the strength and power demands accordingly at some point but the bigger aspect that I want to cover is controlling the stress at this point. The reason for this is they will be doing five to ten total run-throughs of this routine (termed Fullouts) each practice and they will be doing two practices a day of this.
Note on Stress
Stress is cumulative, the stress you get from training, relationships, nutrition, and so on is all cumulative. So not only do they need to keep in mind how stressful two-a-day practices are, but it is important to keep in mind the other stressors that are or aren’t factoring in their recovery right now. At this point the kids have an advantage that even though they are doing two-a-day practices they will not have to worry about classes, but it is the holidays and that brings its own little stressors (time with family and relationships (eustress is still stress)). The dining hall is shut down (which may or may not improve the nutrition of the kids). The dorms are also closed so some of the kids are now sleeping on couches and outside of their normal living environment.
So with keeping in mind what we know about stress, I’m going to write out the major things the kids can do to help enhance their recovery from the stress of hard training (and life in general) in order of importance (also these will be brief summaries so please ask questions if you want me to elaborate).
This is the number one, 8 hours tends to be the average here, but sleeping more will always help with recovery. Take a nap between each practice if you can. When you are asleep that is when your body is releasing extra growth hormone and testosterone (hormones the help with recovery). That is when you get more sensitive to insulin and really just repair all the damage to the body from hard training. Also, sleep is when you make a lot of new neural connections, and it turns out learning skills for cheerleading is just like learning information for classes. So get as much sleep as you can. Not sleeping enough is bad in general for the body, definitely if you are a rat.
You are what you eat. Seriously, think about that for a moment, your body is simply constructed out of the foods and drinks you put in to your body. Don’t be surprised when you put nothing but crap in to the machine and you get crap performance. Not eating enough of all of the macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat) will put you at a disadvantage just like not eating enough micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). We could really get down to the gritty little details of the diet, but the simple way to break this down is track how you feel, perform, and how much you weigh. You should be maintaining your weight and possibly decreasing slightly through super hard training blocks like two-a-days, but too much weight loss tells you that you aren’t getting in enough calories to support what you are doing and you are likely losing lean mass that helps you stunt.
This comes along with the nutrition, if you aren’t drinking enough water to replace your fluid losses from lots of sweating, you put yourself at risk. As little of a 2% loss of body weight is enough to cause a negative effect on performance, so drink water. Not only does it help cool you down, but it keeps your joints moving accordingly since you will be keeping your enough fluid in between each of the joints. Being dehydrated is also a stressor on the body so once again minimize and control what you can.
This can be going for a long walk or doing some stretching. Just doing some moving and keeping things loose will help with recovery. Don’t do anything that can add to the stress here (sprints, crazy hard yoga (is that even a thing?)) But go relax and have fun with friends.
Seriously, wash yourself. Stress is cumulative so all the energy your body doesn’t have to waste on fighting off infection and such will make life easier on you. So brush and floss twice daily, and take showers after practice to mitigate any risk of getting a cold or otherwise right when it is time to compete at nationals.
These are poor college students so getting Graston or ART is probably out of the financial realm of possibility, but some massage, foam rolling, lacrosse ball work can definitely help with recovery. The key here seems to be finding what works for you since the lit doesn’t agree on which is the best (though the Normatec seems to work, but is far from perfect).
Overall there is a number of ways to help you recover better from training. The goal is to always do your best. Not only do you need to do the hard training, but keep in mind all the different ways you can help your body recover from stress. I hope this helped for someone and if you have any questions please leave a comment and I will get to it.