When Megan Eacret’s business partner left Cheer San Diego to start her own program—taking some of their clients with her—Eacret was faced with a dilemma: shortage of flyers. Rather than feeling discouraged, Eacret embraced it as a welcome challenge. “Some of our athletes who had only flown a prep or two as needed in pyramids were given an awesome opportunity to develop their skills and become full-time flyers,” shares Eacret.
But there was a catch. “Two of our potential flyers were very strong and muscular athletes, but with little flexibility—a huge challenge for cheerleaders in general, but especially for a flyer,” she recounts. To pump up the athletes’ pliability, Eacret decided to offer them flexibility classes comprised primarily of vinyasa yoga.
“Our Flexibility for Flyers class was an incredible tool for these athletes to gain the flexibility they needed to be in the air and help their teams be successful,” she says. “They are now better able to stick to their stunts because of the increased flexibility and are also more confident as flyers because they can pull their body lines in the air.”
Eacret gained two new flyers—all thanks to yoga.
Yoga for Cheerleaders
The health benefits of yoga for all people are no secret, but for athletes, yoga can be even more important. According to Sage Rountree, author of The Athlete’s Guide to Yoga, yoga improves strength and flexibility in tandem, while also enhancing focus. “The balance is critical for cheerleaders, who need an abundance of both strength and flexibility, [as well as] razor-sharp concentration and self-control skills,” says Rountree.
Eacret’s cheerleaders are living proof: those who’ve participated in the gym’s yoga program report improvement in body awareness and control. “The relaxation and breathing exercises have benefited our cheerleaders by helping them learn new ways to cope with stress and control emotions,” she adds.
Like Cheer San Diego, more and more gyms are discovering the joys and benefits of this ancient Indian art of exercise. However, before putting a yoga program in place, it’s important to note a few key considerations:
Offer cheer-specific yoga: Not just any yoga instructor will do for teaching cheerleaders. “Hire an experienced teacher who will focus more on sport-specific exercises, integration (keeping from the far edges of flexibility work; less is more in this population), recovery practices and mindfulness,” advises Rountree. She also recommends keeping the intensity of the yoga practice in inverse proportion to that of other training. “Bodies need stress to adapt, but too much yoga practice combined with rigorous training can be overkill and lead to injury,” she adds.
Find the right coach: Much like hiring a cheer coach, it’s vital to hire a trained instructor with the proper certifications and knowledge, so make sure any instructors you hire have at least a Registered Yoga Teacher certification. Eacret found her instructors through Craigslist and word of mouth. “It’s amazing how many connections we find from just asking our families at the gym, and we always do background checks on our fitness instructors since we work with kids,” she says.
Know the going rates: Offering competitive pay can help attract a quality yoga instructor. Pay should be determined based on the person’s level of experience, along with the duration and frequency of classes. Geographic regions may also differ due to cost of living—for instance, Wendy Riley of Altus, OK-based Whitaker’s Extreme Gymnastics, paid her two instructors $10/hour for the yoga sessions last season, while at Cheer San Diego, instructors get around $30/hour.
Go for coaches who can do double-duty: When hiring a new dance or tumbling coach, consider giving preference to those who are also yoga-certified. Fort Mill, SC-based Charlotte All Stars offers yoga classes twice a week to cheerleaders and moms by a dance instructor who is also yoga-certified. “We actually hired a dance instructor, and we were contemplating yoga classes for increasing core strength and flexibility. Since she was yoga-certified, we got her to teach yoga as well,” says gym director Jamey Harlow.
Owners can go that route, too: Riley of Whitaker’s Extreme Gymnastics also procured a National Exercise Trainers Association certification recently and now teaches yoga at her gym.
Set up a swap: If you don’t have enough space for a yoga program, consider an exchange program. Take Griffin-GA based Legion of All Stars, which has partnered with Club Fitness of Griffin. They offer discounts to the gym members for signing up with them for cheer/ tumbling classes, and vice versa.
What’s in it for me?
Many gym owners are in a constant state of high stress and could definitely use some yoga Zen. Tarisa Parrish, owner of The YogaSoul Center in Eagan, MN, says, “Running a gym is a demanding career. Keeping up at the necessary pace without losing your sanity requires self-care and calm. You need a grounded approach to life and business,” she says. “Many gym owners find that when they have a daily yoga practice, they make fewer mistakes and seem to get more done in less time.”
Eacret couldn’t agree more. “As far as a gym owner’s personal well-being is considered, it’s awesome to have yoga offered in-house so that if I end up having an hour free unexpectedly, I can head up stairs and get some ‘Om’ time,” she says.