Train Better, Cheer Better...Injury-Free!

Train Better, Cheer Better…Injury-Free!
Phil Hueston, NASM-PES; IYCA-YFS

Cheer is a hazardous sport. Yes, it is a sport. If you’re the parent of a cheer athlete, you already know this. You already know:


  • Cheer athletes (your daughters) practice specific, complex and exacting “plays” repeatedly until they can perform them blindfolded (almost)…just like football!
  • Cheer requires the athlete to be flexible, mobile, strong and explosive…just like football!
  • Cheer requires its’ athletes to “score” better than their opponents within a limited time frame…just like football!
  • A cheer squad suffers greatly if even one team member is injured for any length of time…just like football!

When thought of in relation to these ideas, it becomes clear that cheer is a sport. Like any other sport, the best athletes are the best and most successful at it. But no athlete can succeed if they are plagued by injuries, whether minor and nagging or catastrophic (season- or career-ending.)

Therein lies the problem for cheer athletes. Injuries are frequent and often traumatic and damaging to both the individual athlete and the cheer squad. In collegiate athletics, no sport is responsible for more catastrophic injuries than cheer. In fact, 71% of all catastrophic injuries in college sports occur in cheer. WOW!

Add to that the fact that nearly 100% of collegiate cheer athletes report having recurring injuries both in the present and throughout their cheer careers. Ankles, knees, wrists, shoulders, backs…all subject to repeated, nagging injuries as a result of the stresses of cheer.

Whether the injuries are nagging or catastrophic, they do not need to be “just a part of the game!” The majority of these injuries are preventable. Particularly ankle, knee and back injuries can be prevented by the application of good, science-based athletic training principles. What are those principles? Here are a few ideas:


  1. Real core activation – The “core” is not your six pack! In fact the majority of the muscles involved in core and spinal stabilization, rotational strength and “core strength” can’t be readily seen. They lie deep within the lumbo-pelvic hip complex and the abdominal complex. Most of the exercises employed by “trainers” emphasize the actions of superficial muscles (think “six-pack.”) But the ones that prevent injury, enhance performance and really make you look better are less visible, largely ignored – and far more important!

  2. Know the difference between doing the drills/exercises and getting results – Anyone can google “a workout.” Or ten workouts…or a thousand. But knowing what really works is the difference between your daughters getting results and just getting sweaty and tired while you waste time. Taking the time to perform the movements correctly and understand what’s happening will get real, lasting results. Intelligent, effective and progressive programming allows an athlete to see results on a measurable, efficient timeline. Those results will also be more quickly reflected in the athlete’s performance. All of these require a coach with a deep knowledge of bio-mechanics, physiology and exercise science. In other words, find a great coach, do it right and the results will come faster!

  3. Understand the real causes of injuries and how proper exercise can prevent them! – Push-ups don’t help cheer athletes prevent shoulder injuries because pushing the ground forward isn’t the same as catching a flier or doing a handspring (think about the comparative visuals!) Squats and lunges performed badly actually put your daughter’s knees at risk by reducing her ability to stabilize her knee at crucial cheer performance times! Simply put, bad form exercises done repeatedly “un-teach” the human brain what is supposed to “know” about joint stabilization, thereby making injuries MORE likely, not less. Good exercise form, combined with proper athlete assessment and science-based programming, can make an athlete virtually “bullet-proof,” or highly resistant to injury!

  4. “Get” the link between injury prevention training and performance enhancement – It’s not enough to know that exercise is good for you. Your daughters need coaches who understand this happy coincidence: effective injury prevention training will also make an athlete stronger, faster and more explosive! The same muscular systems that provide rock-solid knee stability also make handsprings higher and more graceful, make catching fliers easier and more fluid and make every routine look better! The same muscular systems responsible for back and neck stability will allow for safer and better arching during springs, better pyramid stability and better physical performance late into competitions, when it really matters. The muscles responsible for making the shoulder more stable also help your daughter throw and catch better, as well as protect the shoulder during handsprings and other floor-impact activities.

  5. Know that you don’t need to figure it all out yourself – There is an absolute avalanche of information (mostly mis-information, really) available regarding fitness of all kinds. With the recent emphasis on youth and youth sports fitness, it has become more and more difficult to discern what works from what’s useless or even dangerous! The science in sports fitness has changed and grown more in the last 5 years than in the previous 25 years. We understand why the average parent is having trouble keeping up – sometimes it’s a full-time job for us, too!

So what’s a cheer parent to do? Your daughters need to have access to fitness programming that includes:

  1. Ankle mobility/calf-ankle complex flexibility – When the calf muscles tighten and the ankles become immobile, they become incapable of absorbing and transferring ground force reaction stresses efficiently. When this is the case, the stresses created during jump and spring landings, running and even simply walking impact the ankle and knee joints like a jackhammer, damaging tissue and creating inflammation, pain and dysfunction. Coaches in the know (like those at All-Star) understand the most effective ways to develop optimal mobility and flexibility in the foot-ankle complex.

    Try this now –
    While seated, extend one leg. Using your foot, without allowing the leg to move, draw the alphabet with your toes/foot. Make the letters as big as possible. Start with capitals and work through the alphabet. Once the capitals are done, move on to lower case letters. NOTE – your leg and foot may tire during this activity. Stop when you fatigue and try again later. This simple activity will help improve ankle mobility.
  2. Knee stabilization – Instability of the knee is responsible for the vast majority of ACL injuries and knee complex damage in female athletes. Your daughters are significantly more at risk for knee injuries than their male counterparts. This is partially a factor of biology/bio-mechanics and partially due to some really bad information. Biologically, girls are at a higher risk of ACL and knee injuries as a result of the “Q angle factor.” The Q angle is the angle formed by a line drawn from the anterior superior iliac spine through the center of the patella and a line drawn from the center of the patella to the center of the tibial tubercle. Huh? Think of the imaginary line running from the outside “front” corner of the pelvis to a spot about 2 inches directly below the knee cap, give or take. In men, this angle is about 12 degrees (in men without deformities). In women, however, it is 17 degrees, on average. This extra 5 degrees puts the stress point of the knee lever further toward the middle of the body while the knee is bending and/or under load.

    Think of your dining room table. If you pushed the legs of your table in so the feet were angled 17 degrees in from the point the legs met the table, they’d be very unsteady, right? Even a 5 degree difference would reduce stability. Your dining room table, however, never has to absorb the impact of running, jumping and landing. Your daughters, however, do.

    The bad information? That’s the idea that simply doing squats and lunges will prevent knee injuries. The reality is that if your trainer doesn’t know the difference between valgus and varus or between the anterior and posterior chain, your efforts are likely to be not only wasted, but counter-productive.

    Try this now –
    Lie on the floor on your back. Bend your knees so that your feet are flat on the floor. Drawing your belly button towards the floor, press your lower back into the floor. Holding this position, squeeze your glutes (think butt cheeks) and use them to lift your hips off the floor. Do this without releasing the abdominal draw you started with. Hold the top position for 3 seconds, then slowly lower your hips, returning to the original, back flattened position. Repeat for 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions.
  3. Real spinal stabilization and back strengthening – Crunches and sit-ups are okay in some cases, but they don’t really create the kind of spinal stability your daughter needs to catch a 100 lb. flier or safely land a handspring. This is a crucial area of sports fitness in which knowing the difference between doing the exercises and getting results can mean the difference between great performance and serious injury. For purposes of brevity, I won’t explain the entire spinal stabilization, but there is a good analogy.

    Think of a large, old-school wooden sailing ship like the HMS Bounty. 3 or 4 masts, held in place most visibly by 4 to 6 large and very strong ropes. These help hold the masts in place while the ship is sailing. What is less visible, but more important, is the dozens of smaller ropes that intertwine around the masts and between their sections, controlling the thousands of smaller movements and forces affecting the masts during sailing. Your daughter’s spine is very similar in nature. A few large, visible and usually overworked muscles trying to perform the task of keeping her safe from spinal injury during some fairly dynamic movements.

    But if we strengthen the dozens of other, smaller muscles that work to control the stability of the spine, not only will she be safer from injury, she’ll be stronger and more reactive!

    Try this now –
    Assume a plank position. Toes and forearms on the floor, nose pointing down with the arms pulled back under your body. Have someone place a large “coffee table” book on your low back (pick something light!), just above your butt. Now flatten that part of your back until all of it touched the book. Once you do this, squeeze your abs and the muscles of your glutes (your butt) to hold the position. Hold for as long as you can touch the book with the whole area of the back described above. Lower your body to the floor, rest for a moment and then repeat. Try to do 8 – 10 repititions.

There are other important areas of sports fitness to consider when seeking the right professionals to help your cheer athlete avoid injury and perform better. These are three critical ones.

One crucial thing to remember is that not all fitness professionals take cheer seriously as a sport. All-Star Sports Academy certainly does. We understand the level of commitment and the seriousness of effort your daughters bring to their sport, and we respect it and want them to succeed!

If you have other questions, we are happy to answer them for you. Contact us at 732-597-3725 and we’ll be happy to answer your questions and set up a 5 Point Movement Assessment and 14 day Quick Start Trial for your cheer athlete.

Looking for a way to help your daughter get ready for the 2013 Football Cheer season? Try the JYFC Football/Cheer Speed and Conditioning Camp