It’s no surprise that cheerleading has become one of the most popular competitive sports in the US; its awe-inspiring stunts and skills have captivated audiences across the nation, sparking a new generation of cheerleading styles, culture, movies, camps, and blogs. This has led to increasingly high standards and the addition of new stunts and gymnastic techniques that require practice, training, and proper safety equipment. In fact, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association has just created a series of guidelines aimed at protecting cheer athletes across the country. In response, cheerleading equipment manufacturers are offering a range of products suited towards setting up safer gyms, and coaches are using a variety or new techniques and practices to keep athletes healthy. The American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators’ offers a range of guides and education to help keep the community safe. Cheerleading teams in the NCAA now require coaches to get a safety certification. Consequently, injury rates, including concussions and sprains, have significantly decreased since 2006. This article takes a look at how the latest advances in cheerleading equipment can help create a safer and healthier team.
The National Cheer Safety Foundation reports that over 90 percent of cheerleading accidents take place on hard flooring that is often found in gymnasiums, or outdoors, or on floors that are not adequately covered by supportive mats. Several of these injuries take place when the squad is performing or learning stunts. Stunts, including pyramids, shoulder sits, basket tosses, and other raised tosses or jumps, are increasingly popular. Consequently, it’s key that cheerleading teams use the appropriate airfloors or mats during training. The type of flooring or mat needed is associated with the difficulty of the stunt, and the height at which the stunt is being performed. Higher stunts lead to greater risk, and a greater need for protective mats and floors.
An airfloor is a strong, durable, and inflatable floor pad. Airfloors provide the best support for joints and protection against impact. They allow for more give than a foam pad or mat, and can be inflated to meet a range of different pressure criteria. Cheerleading coaches love the convenience of this product, as they can be quickly and easily inflated by a portable foot pump or air-blower, allowsing for precision and efficiency on the spot. Since the mats can easily be deflated in a few minutes, clean up and storage time is minimized. High-quality airfloors are made with a durable material that’s easily cleaned and repaired. The stitching on this latest generation of airfloors is stronger than before, giving the products a longer lifespan. Airfloors are also available in a range of unique sizes. For example, a runway-shaped floor may be used to practice long tumbling sequences, or skills that require alignment. Or, coaches can opt for a larger setup for team training..
Flyer always use landing mats for support when dismounting from a stunt or landing a tumbling trick. These mats are anywhere from eight to thirteen inches thick, and use a high-density foam that supports athletes as they land. Cheerleading coaches often combine mats with an airfloor in order to provide an extra layer of support during tumbling and stunt training. Although safety mats are not typically lightweight, their smaller dimensions make it easy to transport and store them, allowing for a customized set up at a moment’s notice. Good-quality mats are covered by easily washable materials that are designed to withstand repeated blows. Every cheerleading team should practice with adequate mats, and with such a great range on the market, there’s no excuse to go without.
Cheerleading equipment manufacturers are addressing the market for home and outdoor cheerleading equipment by offering smaller-sized folding mats and airfloors. A good home airfloor has all the benefits of a regular-sized product, except it is lighter, smaller, and more affordable. The latest generation of folding floor mats are also a great option and can be ordered in different colors to match your team. The best mats on the market are made with good quality foam and durable vinyl. These mats may present a greater investment upfront, but they will last for several seasons. Cheerleaders can use this equipment at home or outdoors to more safely practice tumbling. However, keep in mind that it’s not advised to attempt stunting or tumbling without a coach in supervision. The good news is that enthusiasts can now practice the basics at home knowing that they have a greater level of protection and joint support on the mat.
Flyers need to have excellent balance to keep themselves and their team members safe during stunts and routines. Ankle strength is also a priority for all members on a cheer squad. Have your team try standing on the airroll during your next training session. They’ll have to keep their core engaged in order to keep stable. Airrolls help cheerleaders develop core strength while practicing balance, and they support the strengthening of the muscles surrounding the ankle. Though simple, this piece of cheerleading equipment is great for athletes to use in between routines, during warm ups, or during down time.
Today’s manufacturers are offering an upgrade on the wooden or metal cheer stands of the past. Contemporary cheer stands are made with durable, lightweight materials and have a more stable base than before. These skill-building tools can be used to practice balance, and to support ankle strength during training.
Use wedges and airramps in your cheerleading equipment setup to support athletes that are tackling complex tricks like backsprings and flips. Wedges can be set up in combination with airfloors and landing mats in order to provide support for cheer athletes that are attempting to learn specific tricks and tumbling moves.
No matter what cheerleading equipment you decide to set up for your team, follow the industry guidelines in order to prevent injuries. Try using this injury-prevention checklist to keep your team:
Strong muscles and joints are the first safeguard to preventing injury, strain, and overuse. Stamina and core strength are key to keeping consistent form and landing stunts. As soon as an athlete is tired, they are at greater risk for injury.
There are several guidelines and training courses available to help make sure that you’re following the best safety precautions. The Pop Warner Rules Book, the Youth Cheer and Dance Alliance, the NCAA, and the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators’ all offer extensive guides and documentation to keep your team safe.
No spotter, no stunt. When learning and performing stunts, ensure you have properly trained spotter present and focused at all times. In the case that someone does fall, you’ll have a team ready to spring to action.
Use the correct flooring and mats recommended for the type of stunts your team is working on. Make sure they are adequately sized, properly inflated, repaired frequently, and safely stored.