Any athletes who are serious about improving and competing at their full potential should be strength training
. Cheering requires strength, so the better equipped your muscles are to do it, the better you will be at it. It won't even take up that much of your time. Go to the gym if you can and want to, or do it while you're watching the Voice. It's a small commitment that will have big results.
Here are four exercises that will turn you into a lean, mean cheering machine:
You can do these with or without weight. No matter how good of shape you are in, you will be sore after doing these, so don't overdo it. Start with walking lunges with no weight. Do three sets of 20 lunges, taking a break in between each set. The "break" is a good time for an exercise that targets another muscle group, like your arms or abs. If this becomes too easy for you after a while, you can grab 10- or 20-pound dumbbells to hold while you do them. If you're doing them at home and don't have weights, improvise. Hold a gallon of milk in each hand or a brick from the backyard.
If you want to get really crazy, do jump lunges. Lower into a lunge, then jump back up instead of standing up. Switch your legs in the air and come back down on the opposite leg. Then jump again and land with the other leg in front. Try this 10 times without weight. When it becomes too easy, you can do more repetitions or hold 10-pound dumbbells while doing it.
Squats are so good for you. They work everything in your leg, especially if you continue up into a calf raise at the end. But they are also serious business and can lead to knee injuries if done incorrectly. There are a lot of squat variations, but, in general, keep your feet just wider than hip-width apart with your toes pointed slightly outward. Bend your knees and go down low enough that the tops of your legs are parallel to the ground. Think of it as the tops of your legs making a table. Someone should be able to come set a ball on the top without it rolling off. But you should also keep good posture, so if you can't go that low without hunching your back forward, just go as far as you can. If you have knee problems, you will also not want to go down as far. There shouldn't be any pain (other than your muscles burning, but that's a different kind of pain). Once you're down there, come back up, pushing through your quads and hamstrings. Go all the way up on your toes into a calf raise before coming back to your normal standing position, then go back down again. Try three sets of 10 at first, resting in between each set. Add weight as you get more comfortable. You can grab dumbbells like you did with the lunges, but if you have access to a gym, you might find a weight bar on your back more comfortable to hold. Start with just the bar, as most weigh 45 pounds, then add to it incrementally as you get stronger.
As with the lunges, you can drop the weight and do jump squats. From the squat position, drop down and then jump up as high as you can. Land softly with slightly bent knees, come back to standing, and do it again. Start with three sets of 10, resting in between each set.
Another great variation is single-leg squats. Start with no weight or grab dumbbells and put one leg on a chair or bench and the other out in front. Do a set of squats on that leg, then switch and put the other leg on the chair. Aim for three sets of 10 to 15 squats on each leg.
Push-ups are a great arm exercise because they work your entire arm"”and even your core. You've probably been doing these since grade school PE classes, but the only thing you really need to remember is to keep your back straight. Don't raise or lower your hips. If you feel the need to do that, you've reached the maximum amount you can handle (which is the goal!) and should stop and rest before doing another set. Mix up your hand stance, which will target different parts of your arms. You'll be able to tell what muscles you are working, but basically when your hands are close together, like directly beneath your shoulders, you're working your triceps. As they get farther out, you're emphasizing the shoulders. There's no wrong answer for what muscle you should emphasize, and you'll find that in some positions you can do push-ups all day long, while in others it's a struggle to do two. Work on your weaker areas!
Now that we talked about an arm exercise that also works your core, let's try a core exercise that also works your arms. Planks work your abs hard and will tone your arms in no time. You can either do these with your forearms and elbows on the ground, which will put more emphasis on your abs since they're handling more of the load, or do them up on your hands, in a push-up position, which will make your arms do more of the work. Both your arms and abs will be worked plenty in both positions, so you can either mix it up and do both stances, or just choose your favorite. Do a front plank with both hands/arms on the ground, then turn to one side and put your other arm in the air, then do the other side. Start with holding the plank position (back straight, hips not sinking or rising to take the pressure off your core) for 30 seconds on each side. Do that every day for a week, then move up to 45 seconds for a week, then a minute. Planks have a great mental aspect to them as well as it takes and builds discipline to make yourself hold that position as you start to shake from exhaustion. That discipline will carry over into other areas of your life.
Don't forget to warm up beforehand—
jogging, stationary bike, jump rope, jumping jacks, etc.—
and stretch when you're done
! As always, drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workout.
What are your favorite strength-training exercises?