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When I hear the word "cheerleading," I usually don't conjure up images of fitness prowess. It makes think of old-school Chicago Bulls games, the Super Bowl, or, if I'm being honest, nachos, because if I'm watching a sporting event, there better be plastic cheese sauce involved.
But alas, it's time for the truth to come out: I was a cheerleader for a hot second in junior high school. However, because my school's backwards social order valued field hockey and academic virtue over pom-shaking, it was, ahem, not cool, and therefore blocked out from my entire memory.
I recently attended PomFit, a cheer exercise class run by FierceFit Athletics, and the two bubbly girls behind it are singlehandedly making me feel less ashamed of my past. Shauna Skopek and Yavonia Wise, co-teachers and co-creators of the class, developed the workout from their collective cheerleading and dance experience, and—judging by the giddy participants—are carving out a safe space for us to live out our teen queen dreams.
It's a more-than-sufficient crash course in the heart rate-boosting basics.
The class begins with a simple cardio warm-up that leaves me more breathless than I would have expected, and is followed by "sidelines," a series of basic arm movements that, again, are more bicep-straining than the metallic pom-poms in my hands would have me think. After that comes "game time," a full-song dance routine. It's a more-than-sufficient crash course in the heart rate-boosting basics, giving you a fairly authentic cheerleading experience without all the terrifying stunts and Instagram-famous high schoolers.
Cheer cardio is just one of a slew of new fitness trends to incorporate novel activities—affirmation shouting, super sexy dancing—that fool you into burning calories. But news alert: Cheer and poms-based exercise has actually been around for a while, though it's only just now beginning to catch on.
Photo: Getty Images
Three years ago, British cheerleader (yes, that's apparently a thing there!) Jessica Zoo launched Cheerobics in the UK; it now boasts more than 200 instructors worldwide and held its popular Drill Camp clinics in a handful of major cities this past summer. CheerFit, which offers training for both cheer pros and non-cheerleaders (or as they call them, "fitness enthusiasts"), has monthly cardio bootcamp classes called "pep rallies" in New York, led by CheerFit creator and former Division I cheerleader Danielle Wechsler. And then there's Lithe Method, the brainchild of Lauren Boggi, who cheered for USC in college. Its series of full-body workouts incorporate intense accessories like ankle weights and body bands as part of Boggi's trademark cardio-cheer-sculpting technique, which is offered in locations across Philadelphia and via private training sessions in New York and Los Angeles. (It appears Lithe Method once had a full NYC studio, but it's no longer around.)
It makes perfect sense now, but I didn't realize just how much of a no-brainer the cheerleader-to-fitness-instructor career path was until I struggled to hold up my outstretched arms for five minutes, pondering how women do this for entire football games. I came in skeptical, thinking, "How hard could this stuff really be?"
"How hard could this stuff really be?"
But in the course of a session, I went from "cheerleaders are pom-toting dancers" to "cheerleaders are tough fitness professionals" to "cheerleaders are DAMN ATHLETES HOLY COW." Your appreciation for women who dress in tiny cowgirl costumes will skyrocket after just 50 minutes, trust.
By the end of class, you'll have an entire combination memorized which you'll run through a few times, and if you're me, you'll always stumble on the final steps. It's challenging without being depressingly hard, though there's really no better way to realize your body is most certainly not a teenager's than by struggling to hit an on-your-knees position before popping up mid-dance number. Add the stinging memory that you used to do this on the sidelines of crappy basketball games and you'll remember that, oh man, this stuff really is a young girl's game.
While cheer fitness won't leave you beet-faced, it's a great class to take before dinner with friends and a perfect cardio burst between heavy lifting days. Although, it is worth noting I woke up the next morning with heavy, sore arms that felt like lead. And that—even more so than wearing your uniform to class on game day—is the true mark of a modern-day cheerleader, right?