Training to Cheer 4: Live Free or Cheer Hard

Conditioning to be a better cheerleader. Near the end of a series that started off with basic assessment of cheer, went in to strength training, and then talked briefly about power training. Now this segment will talk about the energy systems used in cheerleading and what can be done to enhance performance by training accordingly to enhance them.

Energy Systems (Cardio)

To start off the body is made up of more than just your ability to go. It (energy production) can be pared down to two halves to start. Those two halves are your aerobic system (with oxygen) and your anaerobic system (without oxygen). Your anaerobic system is the first that you use when training, but it has the shortest duration. That system comes in two different flavors which I will break down a bit more in a moment. One big key to keep in mind with your energy systems is that they are never operating in a vacuum. You will be using all of them any time you train, what changes is the emphasis you have on certain parts of the system in your training. Another big key to keep in mind is that you are only metabolically enhancing the muscle fibers (not just groups) that you are training here. So, running is great for running, but that isn’t going to really help your stunting endurance or tumbling endurance as much as working those movements will carry over (metabolically).


Your aerobic system uses typically carbohydrates for fuel during exercise. You can also use fat as a fuel (and protein to a lesser extent), but most high level athletes are using carbohydrates as fuel. This system utilizes the oxygen that you take in to get you far more energy than you can produce without it (and not the metabolic byproducts with it). This system however, does require oxygen, so if you don’t take in enough oxygen you won’t be able to use this system (like maximal sprinting). This is the base and background system for all energy production in the body. This system also requires a long time to develop and not only do you improve your heart’s function, but also your blood improves (more of it essentially), and you get better blood flow to the exercising muscle that you have trained aerobically. This is important, since your carryover to your performance is specific to those muscles. Turns out running miles helps to get better at running miles, but you aren’t building stunt endurance like this.


This is your short term system that comes in two different flavors. The shortest of the short is your ATP-PCR system which lasts up to about 15 seconds (this is where creatine comes through since it makes up the phosphocreatine which is a donor for energy to ATP (it’s the PCR part of it)). The second half of your anaerobic system is anaerobic glycolysis. This is where your body metabolizes glucose (sugar) without oxygen present. This produces lactate, which by itself is not a bad thing (good fuel source actually), but it also produces a proton (hydrogen ion). These protons when they accumulate make your muscle more acidic (drop the pH) which in turn burns and drops your performance. You can probably tell that there is a limit to how long you can go with using this system before you see a drop in performance (sixty seconds or less for most, maybe up to two minutes for some full blown masochists). Once this system is exhausted all you are left with is your aerobic side for performance.

The pyramid

I like to think of your energy systems like a pyramid. At the top we have the ATP-PCR system, followed by anaerobic glycolysis, then aerobic glycolysis, and finally beta oxidation (fat metabolism). So you can build up each part of this pyramid to enhance the pinnacle of your performance, but how long you can hold that performance for is all about the level that you are on. The base, which is wide, lasts a long time. The top, which is narrow, lasts only for a few seconds. Your goal is to develop the whole pyramid, but emphasizing what you need the most for your sport (or are the most lacking in).

Building the base of the pyramid

This requires doing legitimate aerobic work, turns out the two main ways to build this is long slow distance work (twenty minutes to over an hour of sustained effort) or high intensity interval training (HIIT) that can give you a large amount of the same improvements that you would get from the long distance, but do it in shorter amounts of time. I’m a big fan of using tempo work for building that aerobic performance. For tempo work simply run the length of one football field do a set of pushups, run back to where you started, do a set of abs and then repeat again. You can run backwards here, slide, etc. Just get in the volume by not stopping this circuit for the same twenty minute minimum. Google tempo training or look up examples from Joel Jamieson. Also, bodyweight circuits can be a good method here.

Building the top of the pyramid

This is requires things like short sprints and repeat. You can do things like repeated suicides, 300 yard shuttles, stunting with your partner, etc. Key here is work hard in short bursts. Another great avenue here if you are a base (even a flyer) is to do Javorek complexes. I’m a big fan of them (complex one and two thanks to Rick Perry), when you can do them with fifty pound dumbbells or 115 pounds on a barbell for three or more rounds you will be in pretty good metabolic shape.


So here is some basics on how to do a better job when it comes to cardio or conditioning along with some basic knowledge of what it means. For cheer I would do tempo work for the months in the summer and in to December (if you are competing in January). Add in the anaerobic work in early November and you will be sitting pretty when it is time to actually compete. When you get in to actual two a day practices drop your additional conditioning (maybe some light recovery runs) until after competition is over.

Another question from Ryan:


Thank you for answering my questions. I apologize if some of the questions seem basic. I do have another. What do you think would be the best way to find a flyer’s “given size” in relation to her maximum strength? Do you simply look at her skills/performance? Do you test her vertical/lateral jump? Should you pick a basic speed/power test and monitor the athlete over time to see if the athlete is peaking or slipping off?
Thank you for your help!


Ryan, first off thanks again for your question. Let’s break this down, at the end of the day the most important metric to track with an athlete is their actual performance. Vertical jump is great for its solid indicator of recovery (jumps go down when you are tired or still have fatigue from previous training sessions). Plug the vertical jump performance with the body weight in to the Harman jump equation and you have a good idea how their power is changing. You should aim to look for where they hit their peak power to weight ratio (will take some practice to find). Lateral jumps aren’t really a good choice, but broad jumps are good due to the fact they are easy to measure and are larger numbers to measure so you see small changes with greater ease. When in doubt just figure out what is important to that athlete’s performance that you can quantify, or is highly related to performance (once again the jump is a good idea). I would suggest if the jumps are too much to follow, I would use a strength or power set to indicate preparedness. Things like the gymaware unit, tendo unit, eliteform, etc. can all measure bar speed which is a great indicator of where an athlete is at. Also, you can just ask them how they feel. Mood tends to be a good indicator of recovery and over all wellbeing. If an otherwise upbeat athlete is lethargic or otherwise down lets you know when they are a bit under recovered. A good example of this is notice how nationals practicing starts to get people on edge and decrease their tolerance of other people.

On the maximal strength point, you can’t really set a ratio of strength to size that I can think of as a hard and fast rule due to the fact that different leverages, fiber types, body sizes can all combine to give different optimal strengths for a flyer. When in doubt find where the athlete needs to improve and work from there. Some flyers who are midlayers or top girls don’t have enough leg and torso strength to maximally perform tumbling, jumping in to stunts, or simply holding themselves in the air. In this case squats are on order (deadlifts too just to be safe). If they aren’t able to hold a handstand or don’t flick hard enough on their tosses then more upper body strength (specifically pushing) is on order. This is where you would have the athlete work on dips (the real kind not the one with a bench involved) and military press strength (or even handstand pushups if they are diesel).

Thanks again Ryan, I hope that this made some sense and is useful to you. Let me know if you want me to clear anything up or add anything to this.

Lesser known fact I’ve actually done two half marathons and one full. Noticed how I never used the word “run”.

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