Fitness Tips from a University of Michigan Cheerleading Champ

Cheer captain Joshua Sullivan on building lifelong health
university of michigan cheerleading fitness tips
photo: Getty Images/Leon Halip

Between Netflix’s Cheer and USA Network’s Dare Me, competitive cheerleading has been having a cultural moment. With that in mind, we caught up with Josh Sullivan, one of the University of Michigan’s cheerleading team captains, to ask how he and the rest of the team prep for the rigors of competition.

When we spoke a few months ago, they were hoping to repeat their 2019 titles in two categories at the National Cheerleaders Association (NCA) Collegiate National Championship in April, which was later canceled. Still, here are some fitness tips straight from a cheer champ.

Health Guide: What’s a typical practice and workout schedule for your team?

Joshua Sullivan: We usually have team practices about four times a week, which involve stunts, tumbling, and pyramids. During our second semester, we focus on routines more heavily to prepare for NCA nationals. We also have two lifts per week, which involve weightlifting [and] metabolic circuits that increase cardio fitness.

How do you increase your stamina to do more cardio-heavy routines?

A lot of us will focus our workouts on increasing muscle endurance, but the best way to get ready is just by doing the routine. First, we split the routine into thirds and run it in sections. Then we do halves and then full-outs once we are in good enough shape.

How has cheerleading changed the way you view fitness?

It makes everyone realize how truly hard you have to work to excel at all components of the sport. Everything about cheer requires strength, but it also requires proper technique in order to do it right. After being on this team for four years, I now view working out not just as something you need to do but something that you need to do correctly. This is the only way to prevent injury and gain the benefits of working out.

Why is weightlifting so important?

It mainly serves to prevent injury. Stunting is a huge part of cheer, and weightlifting makes it so much easier. If you have more muscle, you have more padding and stability if you fall. It obviously helps newer members gain the strength needed to do the stunts as well. The most common injuries we see are concussions, back injuries, arm injuries for men, and lower body injuries for women.

What health and fitness tips from cheerleading do you implement in your daily life?

I’ve learned the value of consistent and lifelong fitness. It’s important to always make sure you exercise so you never have to “get back into shape.” Reducing the amount of time you’re just sitting and doing nothing is really important. Exercising is one thing, but making sure you’re constantly active is the most important. It’s OK to treat yourself or allow yourself a rest day, but you cannot make that a habit. People realize that working out actually increases your energy and focus, which motivates many to begin and stay on a healthy lifestyle. Fueling your body with healthy foods is just as important and, combined with exercise, will skyrocket your results.

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