Differences Between Cheerleading and Gymnastics

Subject: Too old to start training for olympics?

Sex: female
Age: 15
Gymnastics Level:

Hey coach, I have been a cheerleader since I was 6 and am now 15. I just started tumbling exactly 3 months ago at a local gym. Before going to the gym I taught myself everything. I am now in cheer 2 and am about to move up to cheer 3. I want to finish tumbling and as soon as I get to cheer 4 I want to switch gymnastics. I am fearless but am I too old?

As has been mentioned numerous times on this web site, age is not the limitation most likely to cause you any problems with your Olympic dream. Adapting to the differences and requirements and the amount, intensity and level of training that gymnastics requires is the question.

Age is the Least of the Challenges

At your age, the primary problem is not how old you are, but can you arrange your life to train full-time for the next 5 – 9 years. You will obviously not be ready for the 2012 Olympics and it will be another 4 more years until the 2016 Olympics at which time you will be 19 years old. You would be 23 years old at the 2020 Olympics. Being either age 19 or age 23 is not in any way too old to physically compete in the Olympics, but can you find time in your life to train intensely enough during those years of your life.

Who Is Going to Pay for Your Training?

An even bigger question may be is will your parents support you and pay for your training for that many years, especially when most young people go off to college or go to work at around age 18? To be ready in five years, you would likely need to train 8 hours a day until 2016 to get ready. You could train only 4 – 5 hours per day between now and 2020, and get in enough training. Doesn’t leave a lot of time free to work and earn money. So will your parents pay for it and let you live at home? Or could you work at a job full-time to support yourself and pay for your training for that long? When gymnasts are young and their parents pay for and provide everything, it is much easier to train.

Cheer Strength and Flexibility vs. Gymnastics Strength and Flexibility

The level of strength required to be a gymnast is greater than the strength that most cheerleaders possess, especially upper body strength for bars. You will likely want to start a high intensity weight training program to give yourself a jump start on gymnastic strength training. Cheer and gymnastics flexibility requirements are not so different, so if you were a flexible cheerleader, you are well on your way to being flexible enough for gymnastics.

From Cheerleading to Gymnastics

Let’s talk about training – as a cheerleader, you have experience with basic (very basic for gymnastics) tumbling and dance. The level of dance in cheerleading, especially if it was competitive cheer, may be a fairly good basis for floor routine choreography. You may have enough basic dance moves on which to help build a floor routine. So you have some basis for one of the four women’s gymnastics events, floor exercise.

The Other 3 Events?

Vault, bars and beam are a completely different matter and you will be starting at the beginning. Those new to the sport have to learn to adapt to training and competing on a unique set of apparatus. Fearless is a very good trait to have, because vaulting is often a big hurdle for new gymnasts to overcome. And beam has its own set of mental challenges to tumble and dance on 4 inches, 4 feet in the air. Bars will take a level of strength and new gymnasts must get used to doing skills on a bar 8 feet off the ground. Essentially, cheerleaders are doing one event (which combines, tumbling and dance like gymnastics) but gymnasts are required to do an additional three events, which use equipment that takes time to get used to.

Social Differences between Cheerleading and Gymnastics

Gymnastics is a sport where gymnasts build strong friendships. But, in many ways, it is a less social sport than cheerleading, because while gymnasts are on teams, it is really, essentially, an individual sport. Also, the number of gymnasts training at a high level in virtually any gym, who are age 15 and above, are going to be few in number or you could be the only one. Most team gymnasts are ages 7 – 13 and the older ones who stay in the sport, tend to be high level gymnasts. Contrast that to a team of cheerleaders, where the whole group is of a very similar age and level. The social life in a gymnastics gym is very different from a cheer gym and team.

The Difficulty Levels of Gymnastics vs Cheerleading

In essence, since cheer is a primarily synchronized presentation, the skills, tumbling and choreography of cheerleading routines are watered down, so the least athletic and least talented cheerleader in the group or on the team can do them all, and do them in synchronization with the rest of the squad. Sure, there are some cheerleaders who do some more difficult tumbling passes (or one flyer) who does a more difficult pass or skill in a cheer routine. But in gymnastics, in many ways, the gymnast with the most difficulty wins. At the upper levels of the sport, the rules virtually require that every skill of every category be difficult. Gymnasts are required to perform way more difficult skills than cheerleaders, and on all four events.

What is Banned in Cheerleading is Required in Gymnastics

Double backs are banned in cheerleading competition, as they should be. But high level gymnasts are required to do high level tumbling skills, much more difficult than double backs, like full and double twisting double backs and Arabian double fronts. And they must land them on their feet by themselves. There is no one (and certainly no group) there to spot them and catch them when they are competing on floor.

It Can Be Done! It Has Been Done! It Will be Done Again in the Future!

Don’t get me wrong – you or some other cheerleader can and will make the change from cheerleading to high level gymnastics. This is not an article trying to convince you, that you can’t do this, or that it cannot be done. It has happened before and it will happen again. Someone will do this, whether it is you, or someone else. If you really want it to be you, get started now. You are going to have a great time, learn a lot and have a new definition for fun. We are cheering for you!

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