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Is it Better to Condition at the Beginning or End of Practice?

You’d probably be lying if as a coach you haven’t asked yourself this question, “is it better to condition at the beginning or the end of practice?” (unless you’ve been to one of Dr. Scotts conference talks - then you might know the answer).

Let’s work through this together, picture this:

Before you head to practice you want to hit the gym - here is your training program:

5 minute warm up

20 sets of single rep cleans

20 sets of 5 rep overhead lunges

20 sets of one rep med ball tosses

20 sets of 1 rep kettlebell swings

15 minutes of aerobics

30 sets of 3 rep plyometric jumps

The instructions for this program require you to put maximum effort into each movement, focusing on power and explosiveness.

Seems like a pretty good workout, right? Your’re probably feeling like you got a good sweat on, you maybe hit a PR or two, your form is finally coming together and your motor patterns are being appropriately grooved so you can better execute each exercise with lower risk of something going wrong and getting injured…

Well jokes on you because now after working out for 1.5 hours, your program now requires you to do an additional 20 minutes of programming.

For these additional 20 minutes, you will do a leg circuit of lunges, squat jumps, forward bounds, you will do 50 suicides and you will do 5 minutes of core work.

I feel like if you’ve read this far, you probably see what I am getting at..

5 minute warm up - practice warm up

20 sets of single rep cleans - Stunting warm up

20 sets of 5 rep overhead lunges - Stunts full out

20 sets of one rep med ball tosses - basket tosses

20 sets of 1 rep kettlebell swings - Basket tosses

15 minutes of aerobics - Dance

30 sets of 3 rep plyometric jumps - jumps/tumbling

If practice is a workout, why are we working out... after a workout?

The reality is, it’s what we used to think was the “right way”, but studies have shown how this not only increases our athletes risk of injury, which we will discuss, but it also increases the fatigue of the athlete. Increased fatigue makes it take longer for athletes to recover and will thus decrease their performance for their next practice.

Let’s talk about risk.

Joint laxity (or joint sloppiness); the more fatigued your athlete, the greater loss of muscle activation, the higher their joint laxity and the higher their risk of injury.

DEFINE LAXITY: looseness of a limb or muscle.

As you can see in the graph below, the joint is significantly more “sloppy” post-exercise, this means, as practice goes on - the risk of injury increases.

An aside: how many times did that ACL tear happen on “just one more - please coach?”. Yeah.. we’ve all seen it happen!

By adding conditioning to the end of practice, are we unnecessarily increasing our athletes risk of injury? Yes, it may be lower impact than what we are doing in practice, however, even the smallest turn the wrong way doing a suicide could put an athlete out of practice for weeks.

The worst part? Studies show, once fatigue hits a certain threshold, the ability to improve strength is virtually eliminated, and we are simply increasing fatigue and risk of injury.

So now you’re thinking to yourself, okay - that settles it, we will condition BEFORE practice - WRONG!

Conditioning before practice is going to do all the same things, instead the risk of injury will come from skill building and higher impact movements, instead of “conditioning”.

So, guess what, it was a TRICK QUESTION! The answer is neither.

Your athletes should be conditioning OUTSIDE of practice.

By having your athletes condition outside of practice, you are mitigating their risk of injury, decreasing their level of fatigue, as well as you are increasing their ability to build muscle, power and balance; all crucial areas of development for a cheerleader.

When you have your athletes condition outside of practice, you also open up more time for the athletes to focus on skill building at practice. Cheerleaders train only a small number hours compared to other elite level sports. It is important we capitalize on these hours to build skill. Cheerleaders are also one of very few elite level sports that have not adopted the format of strength and conditioning outside of practice.

It is also important to ensure the conditioning programs are sport specific and based on the physiology and common physiological traits of cheerleaders; but we will get into that another time!

Now, before you say it, to yourself or out loud - no, we aren’t just saying this because we offer the solution, Dr. Scott has been saying this for years, long before Cheer District was around - and is actually the basis on why we started Cheer District, to help solve this problem for gyms and athletes.

The cheerleading industry is growing, we have incredible opportunities to take this sport to where we all know it can go; and it is going to start with arming our coaches, athletes and parents with the knowledge and tools to train at our optimum level, mitigating injury risk!

If you have any questions - we are here to help! Don’t forget to share this with your fellow coaches!


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