Giant grins to taut tummies: watching NFL cheerleaders on TV, it's easy to think they're naturally that svelte and perky. But as I learned when I got to be a Minnesota Vikings cheerleader (for two hours), those girls work hard to sculpt their bodies, and they work even harder to make it look so effortless!
When the squad first invited me to one of their training sessions, I wasn't sure what to expect. Was it going to be an hour of splits and kick lines? (I'd have been down for that. I love kicking stuff!) Two hours of boot camp craziness? Or, heaven forbid, a replay of my intensely awkward high school years where I did everything I could to avoid cheerleaders? In the end, it was one of the most fun evenings I've ever had! Here's what I learned:
Lesson 1: Look the part. I didn't realize until my (short) stint as a cheerleader that I've been taking hair ties for granted. Do you know how hard it is to get down and sweaty with your hair in your face? Not only do the girls have to keep their hair loose, they're also required to wear dance tights and Viking Red lipstick to every single workout. The goal is to get them used to working out "in uniform" so that when they add the pressure of game day, they'll still be comfortable.
The strangest part: By the end of the workout, I was a sweaty mess with my hair glued to my forehead and mascara smudged across my face, but they all looked pristine. Steve Rosga, head trainer and program manager, explains that they train hard so that the girls can do it all and make it look easy. "They can't show [the crowd] that they're tired or that they're working hard."
Lesson 2: Pro cheerleaders are high-performance athletes. Kaylee, a four-year veteran and team captain, says, "A lot of people hear 'cheerleader' and think pageant girl or bimbo, but we are so different than that! This is the hardest workout I've ever done in my life. On game days we're moving for three hours straight, dancing every break and trying to get the crowd involved."
Lesson 3: Fit is strong, not skinny. "We want our girls to look like women," says Tami Krause, head coach and coordinator. "For us, fitness is not about being skinny but about being strong, having stamina, staying injury free, and being energetic. You need muscles for that! People think cheerleaders don't eat, but these girls can eat a horse! They just choose to eat the right things most of the time."
Lesson 4: "A tight butt is a tight gut." This is one of trainer Ryan Svenby's favorite sayings. It emphasizes the underlying theory of the workouts: to build proper motion patterns, ingrain good form, and correct any muscular imbalances, in addition to getting stronger and faster. The core (which involves your whole trunk, not just the abs you can see in the mirror) is the center of every movement. "You have to stabilize before you can mobilize," Rosga adds.
Ready to try their full workout? The Vikings cheerleaders gave me an inside look at the training plan they do two to three times a week, followed by one to two hours of dance rehearsals. Even if you don't need to prep for the sidelines, Rosga and Svenby recommend a similar schedule of two or three days of strength training with an additional two or three cardio workouts.