If you want to become a better athlete, you need to be strength training. Cheerleading requires strength. That’s not breaking news. The stronger your muscles are, the better you will be able to jump, tumble, stunt, etc. Athletes who don’t take the time to build their muscles are selling themselves short. Cheerleaders commonly skip the strength training because of a common misconception: Lifting weights will cause you to bulk up. This is a valid concern since The Rock probably wouldn’t look very cute in a cheerleading uniform, and, more importantly, while having a ton of muscle weight is ideal for some sports, it isn’t going to help you fly through the air or tumble across the gym. But you don’t need to worry, especially if you’re female. The vast majority of women will not bulk from weight lifting. Plus, no-weight exercises like push-ups and lunges are some of the most effective strength-training exercises, so you don’t even necessarily have to lift weights. Even if you are male or are in the tiny minority of women who are prone to packing on muscle, you can alter your workout to get the results you want. As a cheerleader, you want strong, lean muscles. This means you should be working with lighter weights, but doing more repetitions of the exercise. For example, a football lineman should pick up the heaviest weight he can handle and do the exercise maybe four to six times. A cheerleader who wants to get stronger but stay lean would do 20 squats without weight or choose a weight that he or she can squat 10 to 15 times. This will improve your ability to perform skills, and it will keep you performing at your best all the way through practices, games, and competitions. When it comes to overall body composition, strength training will decrease your body fat. In fact, if you are trying to burn fat, lifting weights is more effective than cardio. People assume that to burn fat they need to endlessly run, walk, bike, or elliptical. That’s not true. While cardio has a lot of benefits and you should be doing it a couple times a week, weight training is the key to fat loss. When you go for a run or get on the bike or elliptical, you are burning calories while you are doing it, but as soon as you stop, the calorie burning pretty much stops too. Lifting weights increases your metabolism for up to two days after your workout. Your body continues to burn calories long after you leave the gym because it’s working to repair itself and build back up after the workout. Even when you’re just sitting in class, your muscles are hungry and are going to use up whatever energy you have. Your muscles send out enzymes that are like little Pacman heads going around chomping up food. Of course, this means there has to be energy for them to take. Food is fuel, and to keep your body going you have to give it the right stuff. Eat lots of protein, and, yes, even carbs, to get the most out of your body. Protein is good for building muscle and helping your muscles recover from workouts, and carbs give your muscles energy to actually do the workout in the first place. Carbs get a bad rap because for someone who is sitting around watching TV all day, carbs are just going to turn into unwanted body fat since they don’t really have any muscles to feed. This is not you. You need healthy carbs, like oatmeal, quinoa, and whole-wheat bread and pasta, and you need protein, like nuts, fish, and chicken. So now you’re up for trying some strength-training exercises, right? Check back tomorrow for some exercises that will make you a better athlete.