What is Cheerleading? Many may think it’s a sport that you dress up, apply makeup, slick your hair with a bow, and simply put on a smile, and yell as loud as you can to keep the crowd pumped. Cheerleading includes all those easy and pretty factors, but it is also a sport that you stunt, tumble, and jump. Jumps and tumbling may seem simple to many, but there’s more work done than one might think. Stunting is also a major element in cheer, and that’s what really pleases the crowd, but stunting takes tons of work.
What is really the secret to perfecting all these major components in cheerleading? The straightforward answer is PHYSICS! Nothing could be done in cheerleading without the use of physics. This year I was honored to be the captain of the cheerleading team in Zapata High School. We started since June in the summer to try to perfect the simple stunts needed to know before we got to the more challenging and difficult ones. This was not easy for us, we failed and failed until the 100th time, we would finally stick the stunt. I would blame this entirely on the fact that not all the cheerleaders have taken physics in high school with Mrs.
Pangi. If all of the team would’ve known at least the basics of physics, we wouldn’t struggle as much in the stunting area of cheerleading. Same thing went to play as we tried to jump and tumble, it was all so hard for us.
We all needed to know the concepts of physics dealing with 3 / 8gravity, Newton’s laws of motion, momentum, potential and kinetic energy, force, acceleration, and free fall. Before I tell you all why we need those elements in cheerleading, I will start by explaining the definition of each of them. Gravity is the force that causes something to fall to the ground at 9.8 meters per second squared. Newton’s laws of motion are three laws that state mechanics describing the motion of a body.
The first law is the law of inertia: a body remains at rest unless acted upon by an external force. The second law states that a body in motion stays in motion unless acted upon an external force. Newton’s third and final law is about how for every action, there is an equal or opposite reaction. Momentum is the quantity of motion an object has (M=mass x velocity).
Potential energy is the stored energy of position possessed by an object. Kinetic energy is the energy of an object in motion. A force is a push or pull upon an object resulting from the object’s interaction with another object.
Acceleration is the rate at which an object changes its velocity. Finally, free fall is an object that is falling under the sole influence of gravity. These objects do not have any air resistance and they fall at a rate of 9.8 meters per second squared.
Gravity is used in all parts of cheerleading from tumbling, to jumps, and basket tosses. When a cheerleader is tumbling, his or her center of gravity (which 4 / 8is the belly button) is changing. This is why sometimes people fail and fall, they aren’t using the center of gravity meaning they don’t have good enough balance to land.
Gravity is also used while performing jumps such as toe touches, front hurdlers, etc. When one has to get off the ground they are using force and momentum, then gravity pulls the person back down to the ground. You have to know when to snap your legs back together in the air in order to land on your two feet perfectly and sharply. My last example having to do with gravity is basket tosses. While performing a basket toss you must have a flyer, two bases, a back spot, and a front spot.
When loading into the stunt the two bases grip wrists, the flyer loads onto their hands, the back spot grabs the flyers waist, and the front spot grips under the bases hands for more support. In order for the stunt to go high enough with good technique everyone must use the center of gravity. Finally, the flyer is thrown up, and the use of gravity comes to play again when the flyer goes up and finally comes down. Newton’s laws come to play while tumbling in cheerleading. Newton’s first law happens when the cheerleader is getting ready to do a running tumbling pass, such as a round-off, back handspring, tuck. The person must have some sort of motion to begin, and then be able to change direction by pushing off of the floor.
Newton’s second law of motion is also demonstrated in tumbling: the faster the 5 / 8tumbler runs, the higher the skill will be, and he/she will have more time in the air. While tumbling, newton’s third law is also important to keep in mind. When the tumblers body is exerting a force onto the floor, the floor is putting back the same amount of force but in an opposite direction that was applied to it. Using these three laws will help you drastically while trying to perfect some sort of tumbling pass.
Momentum is used in many aspects of cheerleading, but most importantly while executing a jump. Many people think you have to be a certain size or have enough flexibility in order to have an awesome jump, but that is totally not true. You first start a jump by using enough force from the ground to push off effectively, then using enough momentum upwards in order to execute the certain jump with enough time before you land. Potential energy has a lot of impact in cheer.
When a cheerleader performs their jumps, they start by clapping, then bending their knees, that is an example of elastic potential energy. Then, when he/she reaches the peak of the jump and hits their “T” motion, that is potential energy being used. Any time a trick is performed, there is potential energy at the peak. Kinetic energy is also a major factor in cheerleading. After performing any jump stunt, the flyer converts gravitational potential energy into kinetic energy 6 / 8when she is coming down.
A major stunt that exhibits this is a full down basket toss. The flyer is thrown in the air, she uses potential energy to twist her body, then when she feels herself going down, she converts all her energy into kinetic energy in order to land in her bases arms without getting hurt. A large part of stunting is the concept of force. Force is what is needed to get the flyer into the air when doing stunts such as body positions. The reason is because you need some type of force to get the flyer in the air. While the flyer is doing body positions, she needs to balance on one foot while the bases hold her up with both arms. This requires a lot of force to push the flyer up and keep her up there, especially because the acceleration of gravity is pulling the other way against everyone. Acceleration is a major part of tumbling in cheerleading.
When the acceleration is pushed in the right direction with the perfect amount of force, that allows you to do more back handsprings. The less acceleration in the tumbling pass, the less momentum and the less number of tricks you could perform. It all depends on how much acceleration you put to play. Free fall also occurs during stunting in cheerleading. When the flyer is thrown up in the air, she will come back down with a force of 9.8 meters per second squared, then land in her bases and back spots arms. The same thing 7 / 8happens when the stunt fails and the flyer falls, she free falls, therefore landing back hopefully in her bases arms, or most likely on the floor.
After writing this research paper, I learned that to be successful in the sport of cheerleading, you must know a background of physics. When you cannot hit a stunt, land a tumbling pass, or simply jump high enough, just research the background of physics, and you will be able to execute the certain skill in no time. This has led me to want to educate my cheerleaders with physics our next practice so we could be a better team all together! For future research, I would want to know the physics behind football and their safety equipment, this would really benefit our football team in Zapata High School.