Practice Cheerleading Safety by Following These Tips from a Physical Therapist!
This article about the best ways to practice cheerleading safety was written by Dr. Marla Ranieri
Practice Cheerleading Safety Every Time You Participate in the Sport
If you’ve ever participated, then you know that cheerleading is a highly competitive sport. Both mentally and physically demanding; it’s definitely not just about waving pom-poms around or calling out cheers in support of your team.
In fact, because of the high level of intensity associated with cheerleading, participants today face more injuries than ever before. They’re flying, flipping, and jumping through the air multiple times in each routine, and some people even refer to cheerleading as the world’s most dangerous sport?
Common injuries for cheerleaders tend to be relatively minor. They frequently include injuries to areas such as the feet, legs, and ankles. However, when a serious injury does happen, it often involves the head, back, or neck. Due to this, following, cheerleading safety rules and tips is important for parents and kids in order to keep everyone safe and able to participate.
March may be National Cheerleading Safety Month, but it doesn’t have to be this time of year for you to pay attention to these cheer safety rules. Being prepared no matter what time of year it is can help cheerleaders avoid injuries and practice cheerleading safety.
So, what are some pointers to keep in mind in order to protect yourself or your children? Let’s take a look from a physical therapist’s point of view, since they’re able to give you a unique perspective on the scenario as well as the injuries.
Practicing Cheer Safety Starts With Strengthening Exercises Outside of Practice
Having a proper “conditioning” program that incorporates various types of strengthening exercises provides an excellent way to diminish or eliminate your chance for injury. Whether they are core-strengthening exercises, leg-focused work, or any similar exercise type, these workouts create strong bones, muscles, and joints and promote overall bodily health. They are therefore among the most important cheerleading safety tips to keep in mind, even for beginners.
So, what kind of exercises does this category include? It’s important to remember that the following list isn’t all inclusive, but instead contains common – and simple – exercises that will help to promote overall cheer safety.
Planking is a great way to improve balance, stability, and core strength, which are all skills that are necessary to become a top cheerleader. To perform this exercise, you’ll need to do the following:
- Start by lying on your stomach.
- Place your elbows by your shoulders.
- Push up onto your elbows and toes. Your body should form a straight line from your head to your toes.
- Make sure to contract your abdominal muscles and glutes. Don’t let your belly drop or your back arch.
- Hold this position for 15 seconds to begin. Gradually increase the length of time by 15-second increments.
- Perform 3-5 repetitions at a time, twice a day.
Wall Squat Holds
This exercise is essential for practicing cheerleading safety while building up critical muscle and strength in the quadriceps. To perform a wall squat hold, you will need to:
- Find an open, flat wall space to use.
- Lean your back on the wall, and slide down into a squat, keeping your thighs parallel to the floor
- Hold this position for 30 seconds. Like with the plank, add 15-second increments for more of a challenge as the days pass.
- Perform 3-5 repetitions, twice a day.
This exercise will utilize all of the major muscle groups within the body and combines with another of the recommended exercises. In doing so, it allows you or your child to practice the explosiveness necessary in some movements without sacrificing anything and compromising cheerleading safety.
To perform a burpee:
- Jump straight up into the air, with your arms extended over your head.
- Drop down to a high plank on your hands and perform a full push-up.
- “Explode” from this position and jump back up into the air, then repeat.
- Perform 8-10 burpees in a row for 2-3 sets. If you’re unable to complete all of them when you first begin, just keep working at it – you’ll get there!
Learn Common Cheerleading Safety Rules
When rules are created and implemented, this happens for a reason. Typically this reason is to promote safety and fairness, and this is true even for a sport like cheerleading. For this reason, the following cheerleading safety tips and rules should be followed throughout every cheer practice or performance:
Pyramid rules: A pyramid’s height is restricted to 2 levels in high school. In college, it can only be 2.5 total body lengths tall. All base cheerleaders must remain in contact with the floor the whole time, which provides increased stability.
Toss rules: A toss should not involve more than 4 throwers at any given time. Floor mats are recommended to ensure cheer safety and avoid injury during these tough moves, and keeping the number relatively small can also help to decrease the number of injuries sustained.
Cheerleading safety tip: Don’t practice moves or attempt a performance on wet surfaces or unstable turf.
Spotters should always be present and ready.
In many leagues and associations, even the coaches will need to pass cheerleading safety testing. In the United States, coaches must be registered with the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (AACCA). It’s recommended that before you begin participating with a team or in a squad, you check with the coach that is involved with your team/league to verify that they are up-to-date with cheer safety rules – and their testing! Not only is this a great way to ensure that proper methods and techniques will be taught, it will also give you peace of mind that your coach (or your child’s coach) truly knows what they are doing – and what to expect.
Cheerleading is a progressive and gradual sport. This means that in order to practice cheerleading safety, beginners should not attempt to perform moves or do stunts outside of their level or realm of experience. A cheerleader needs to master previous skill sets and levels before proceeding onto tougher moves and taking on more responsibility.
Always Warm Up and Cool Down to Promote Cheerleading Safety
Making sure that your muscles are adequately prepared for action is a key component of cheer safety. By warming up before participating in cheer, you’ll get the blood flowing before diving into difficult stunts. Though there are more than a few exercises that are ideal for this purpose, many experts recommend that you do a few jumping jacks combined with leg swings – and even some arm movements, too. Another “go-to” exercise for warming up is stretching, which will help loosen the body up before strenuous movements.
Pro tip: Almost anything that gets your body warm and raises your heart rate is a sufficient warm-up. Flowing blood will help the muscles get and stay loose, keeping things comfortable through practicing and routines.
In contrast, a proper cool down can (and does!) help ease sore muscles after a practice or performance has been completed. Stretching after the cool down may also prevent injury, and is a good way to ensure that the body doesn’t try to switch immediately from go to stop.
Pro tip: Reserve time toward the end of practice to perform a proper and appropriate cool down. This is very important for overall cheer safety, because it’s critical for all athletes to help ensure their bodies are prepared for impact the next time that they practice… and that they gradually end their exercise routine.
Raise Awareness During National Cheerleading Safety Month by Practicing Safely
For many, cheer is always in session no matter what time of the year it is. This is why it’s so important to practice safe cheer techniques Even though March is National Cheerleading Safety Month, that doesn’t mean that basic safe practice techniques or information should be ignored for the other 11 months of the year. Make sure you’re aware of the causes of potential injuries as well as how to prevent them, because this can save a lot of time otherwise spent healing – as well as to improve concentration and focus on mastering skills.
It is highly recommended that cheerleaders utilize pre-concussion screening tests like ImPACT and sport specific injury prevention assessments by a trained physical therapist and/or healthcare professional. Cheerleaders don’t have to wait to be injured to start receiving services, preventative services are available and should be utilized. As with any sport, cheerleading safety should be a top priority, and even if it seems like your medical team is being overbearing or recommending unnecessary precautions, they’re doing it for your health.
Knowing all of this, if you or your child wants to prevent an injury or already has experienced an injury while cheering, contact BetterPT. They can help you find an ideal physical therapist to get you on the road to recovery. Connect with a physical therapist near you using the BetterPT website or download the mobile app. Remember: you can’t cheer on others without first cheering on (and supporting!) yourself, so don’t hesitate to get the treatment you deserve to feel your best.
Dr. Marla Ranieri graduated from Stanford University with her Bachelor’s degree in Human Biology in 2005 and went on to receive her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 2009. She has worked with all types of individuals, including professional athletes as part of the USA Gymnastics Medical Staff. Marla continues to treat patients with evidence-based medicine and the best quality of care.