Gymnastics and Cheerleading: What is the Difference?

Cara DevenneyMiscellaneous15 Comments


Throughout my life, I have heard that cheerleading is not a sport. When you hear the word “cheerleading”, what comes to mind? Pom-poms? Cheers? Football? Of course all of those things are affiliated with cheerleading, but would you ever think of gymnastics?

That’s right! Many people actually talk about the two like they are the same. Cheerleading does consist of tumbling, but do you see cheerleaders performing on vault? How about on bars? The answer is no.

Though the two sports may have similarities, many ask which sport is better and which sport is harder? I am here to explain the differences and let you be the one to decide.

So, What are the Differences and Similarities?

Cheerleading is a sport that is usually done on floor. You typically see cheerleading at sports events for schools because they are there to get the crowd excited after all. Cheerleading is meant to express happiness and is super vocal.

I was a cheerleader in high school and I remember my coach screaming at our team for not smiling enough. If you did not show you were excited about cheering- you were cut from the team.

Cheerleading does consist of tumbling just like gymnastics does. It is most common for cheerleaders to do back handsprings and back tucks during competition and games whereas gymnasts learn a lot more complicated tumbling that may take years to perfect. Some of the things that are considered “illegal” in cheerleading is actually required in gymnastics.

A big difference between the two are the routine music during competition and the fact that cheerleading competitions are more about team against team. Yes gymnastics is team vs. team as well, but when gymnasts are one the floor they each get individual scores and perform by themselves.

Cheerleading only has a floor routine which the entire team is on the floor working together. Competitive cheerleading has music that is more up-beat and fast, making the team move a lot more quickly. There is also more dancing involved when it coms to the routine. Gymnastics meets are more quiet so the gymnast can concentrate, plus the floor music is less up-beat.

I hear epic music, relaxing music, sassy music, and happy music when it comes to gymnastics floor routines. The music does not have a bunch of songs combined into one with a lot of loud dings, record reverse sounds and whips like cheerleading does.

Whenever I heard cheerleading competition music I always felt like I was at a club and that there was a DJ playing!

Another main difference is that cheerleaders make human pyramids and perform stunts that involve a few people at once. Gymnastics does not do this, for gymnastics focuses more on one individual at a time

Gymnastics routines are more elegant than cheerleading routines. The looks on a gymnast’s face is so serious and focused whereas a cheerleader is constantly nodding their heads, waving, and of course- smiling. Judges of both sports do pay attention to the performer’s formation, though.

Gymnastics requires more strength especially when it comes to the upper-body. Gymnasts need to build their strength, particularly their upper-body, because they need to use that strength to be able to handle themselves on bars. Both of the sports call for flexibility, but you would have to train long and hard to be flexible enough for gymnastics.

Gymnastics also requires more training than you will ever know. My boyfriend’s youngest sister is currently a level eight gymnast working on becoming a level nine. This girl is 10 years old and only has two days off a week from gymnastics.

It feels like she is there from the time the sun rises up until the time it sets down. Most of the time she has two-a-days and a handful of her teammates are homeschooled due to the dedication and intensity of the sport!

Gymnasts are CONSTANTLY training and conditioning their bodies because physical strength is key. Cheerleading training is not as intense as this for many teams learn a routine within about a week and perform in front of a crowd.

Though these sports have similarities and differences, they do go hand-in-hand. Many gymnasts belong on a cheerleading team since some of the rules are similar.

I do not recommend saying the two are exactly the same, but I do suggest going to a competition for each therefore you are able to see the differences yourself, plus they are both entertaining to watch!

In conclusion to the two questions asked at the beginning of this post, I would say that they are both great sports and are both hard in their own ways. I would not say one is harder or better than the other because everyone has a different perspective and their own personal experiences. Please comment below and let us know what you think!

About the Author

Cara Devenney

Cara Devenney is a journalism and communications graduate from The Reed College of Media at West Virginia University. Cara became involved with gymnastics from her boyfriend's younger sister, and has developed an interest in the sport due to watching her perform. Cara personally thinks that it is inspiring to watch how dedicated young gymnasts are, and hopes to share advice and experience with her viewers!

15 Comments on “Gymnastics and Cheerleading: What is the Difference?”

  1. I’d also like to add that the physical conditioning that a gymnast has to go through is extrememly intense! My 10 year old daughter has an 8-pack and muscles that would put most little boys to shame!

  2. My 9 year old daughter has done competitivr cheer, competed TNT gymnastics and has competed the last 2 years in ACRO. ACRO consists of tumbling, dance and stunting. She loves it. She spends more hours training for ACRO and TNT then she did for cheerleading. I think that there is a difference in tumbling in cheer and gymnastics. Much prettier in gymnastics IMO.

  3. You compared Women’s Artistic Gymnastics to Cheerleading ( bars, beam, vault and floor). One of 7 Gymnastics disciplines. The disciplines are Women’s Artistic Gymnastics, Men’s Artistic Gymnastics ( parralel bars, pommel horse, vault, floor, rings and high bar, Rhythmic Gymnastics (can be team and individual), Trampoline and Tumbling, Aerobic Gymnastics, Acrobatic Gymastics and Gymnastics for all. Cheerleading and Artistic Gymnastics may have tumbling in common but Cheerleading has a lot of similarities with Acrobatic Gymnastics as both involve working on the floor as a team. In Acrobatic Gymnastics their teammates are their apparatus. They perform 3 routines Balance ( stunts), Dynamic (tossses) and Combined (mixture of both). They are judged synchronisation, execution of stunts and tosses and dance.

    1. Okay so obviously a cheerleader who has an outsiders perspective of gymnastics wrote this article. I’ve done both, so here is my insight. Both sports require discipline, strength, coordination, and flexibility.

      Gymnastics training is tougher due to the high intensity of skills that need to be learned and established at an early age. Especially if the goal is to compete at an advanced level. Cheer involves more team bonding, and working together to achieve high scores in competitions.

      Stunting is extremely dangerous, arguably more dangerous than some gymnastics apparatuses. So it takes a lot of work to build trust within a team to be able to successfully establish great stunting. When building pyramids, each person has a job to do in order to keep the flyer safe and in the air. They should never touch the ground before anyone else, at least that’s what my cheer coach said.

      What this article fails to mention is the other variations of gymnastics that are less popular. Of course in Woman’s artistic gymnastics there are four apparatus events: Vault, Uneven Bars, Balance Beam and Floor. In Men’s artistic gymnastics there are six events: Floor, Pommel Horse, Rings, Vault, Parallel Bars, and High Bar.

      But there’s also Rhythmic Gymnastics in which athletes only perform on floor using balls, ribbons, hoops, batons and rope. There’s also Acrobatic Gymnastics which is more comparable to cheer stunting. Finally, there’s Trampoline in which athletes use tumbling apparatuses to compete in only tumbling.

      Im not sure why the writer felt the need to compare the music. Gymnasts can only perform for a maximum of 1:30. Anything over that will be a deduction in the routine. It’s also a requirement that the music be instrumental. The type of music selected usually coincides with the gymnasts style (ie. more flexible and graceful gymnast = softer, slower music to showcase dance elements. More powerful tumbling but not a dancer = faster upbeat music to showcase powerful tumbling) Cheerleading is more about getting the audience involved in the performance of their routine and I believe judging is based off of how hype they can be, so yeah of course music would be more upbeat… Not to mention, it’s also longer.

      Yes, gymnastics involves a lot more training and is arguably the more difficult sport out of the two. The only reason I say that is because a gymnast can easily become a cheerleader if they wanted to, but you can’t say the same for cheerleaders trying to become gymnasts.

      For parents trying to choose between the two, both are great. Both teach children teamwork and discipline. Gymnastics might be slightly more expensive for travel, competition leotards, grips, etc. but cheer might be just as costly.

  4. Thank you for pointing out the other disciplines Victoria. My daughter is a competitive Acro gymnast and I can tell you that while they do share some visual similarities with cheerleading the sports are completely different. Women’s acro teams consist of either a pair or or trio. Cheerleaders utilize way more individuals to complete a stunt. Also acro skills are built upon, meaning the skills learned at lower levels build at each level becoming harder as you move up in the sport. A handstand on a partners hand becomes a handstand that transitions into the top bending themselves backwards into a full ring while the base goes from standing, to sitting, to split. Cheerleading is tough and I have all respect for the sport, but it just doesn’t get to that level of difficulty in my opinion.

  5. Cheerleading consists of series of stunts, tumbling, a pyramid, jumps, and smiling every single second. I have done cheerleading for 12 years and trust me, it’s NOT easy.

  6. They are so different I get so aggravated because I’m a gymnast when people say they are the same i get so aggravated.

    1. guys really need to stop bragging like how are you guys still grown and you guys still had like five Years old girls bragging about their daughters

  7. I’ve been a cheerleader since I was three same with gymnastics and I’m turning 14 in April but every time I walk into a cheer gym or gymnastics gym it’s like walking into different worlds because they are very similar but they are more different than people choose to recognize.

  8. I have been a gymnast for years and i am signing up for cheer, and they are not bragging they are explaining how both sports are hard and how it takes up a lot of time.

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