Cheerleader hanging leg raise

All photos courtesy of Trask Smith

It may be easy to think that the life of a cheerleader is all about looking sexy and waving pom-poms around, but did you know how tough these girls are, or the preparation required to perform at the NFL level? Behind the glamour are passionate performers who dig deep for success.

Many girls start cheering when they are in elementary school and continue through college. There’s only a few outlets they can continue cheering for after that point. Making it into a professional team is difficult, due to the number of women all competing for the same chance to shine. The dream of performing in front of 73,000 Houston Texans fans at NRG stadium is an alluring opportunity for any aspiring pro cheerleader.

“We have the largest tryouts in the NFL, averaging around 1,200 ladies each year. Sessions include three rounds of intense dancing with a variety of styles such as hip hop and jazz”, says Coach Alto.

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“If you come in with passion, have a hard work ethic and a need to compete, you may be able to win a spot on our team. Houston Texans Cheerleaders have at least three practices per week and perform at all home games plus promotional appearances, so it’s a real grind.”

M&F caught up with the NFL’s Houston Texans Cheerleaders to find out why these girls are considered elite athletes in their own right.

M&F: How difficult is it to be an NFL cheerleader?

Ashley (pictured above): “When I first auditioned, I knew what I was getting myself into and expected to practice long hours and make sure I kept up with my image at all times. I personally feel that because I keep such a good fitness level all year around, I am able to continue progressing in my work and routines. I don’t believe anything is really considered “hard” for someone that is passionate about what they do. For me the hard work comes from within so that I can be my best, for myself and my team.”

Madison tire flip

M&F: Do you lift weights?

Madison (pictured above): “I lift weights about five times a week. I also do cardio on top of my weight training. I like to change up my regimen to keep from getting bored. Some of my favorite exercises are front squats, the military shoulder press, bent over rows, and jack-knifes. At least once per week I like to do some kind of exercise that is out of the ordinary. Boxing, tire flipping, and sprints, keep me in shape and lean.”

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Natsuki kettlebell

M&F: What do you eat during the season?

Natsuki (pictured above): “As a Texan’s Cheerleader, I watch my diet really carefully during the season. I’m usually pretty healthy anyway, but during the season it’s more important to be at my best. Cooking meals ahead of time reduces the urge to splurge! My favorite food is chia seed with soy milk, almond milk, or coconut milk. I drink this every morning. I want to be in my best condition everyday. This is part of my overall happiness… so my diet has to be part of that happiness too.”

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Emily ropes

M&F: Have you experienced any serious injuries as a cheerleader?

Emily (pictured above): “While cheerleading in college I sprained both of my ankles. Sprained ankles are tricky because they never fully heal. There is a rehabilitation process of strengthening exercises, constant exercises and periods of rest but the ankles never fully get back to normal and can sprain again easily. I’ve also had some mild concussions. Recovery from those required a few days of rest in order to let the brain heal and eliminate additional trauma.”

Daranesha hurdles

M&F: How do you work on your flexibility?

Daranesha (pictured above): “Flexibility is very important. When I first began to dance, I would sit in a middle split during commercials while watching TV. I found this to be very beneficial and a great use of time. I also make sure to stretch before, and after, dance or workout activities. I hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds without bouncing.”

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Callie deadlift

M&F: How have you benefited under the leadership of Coach Alto Gary and Shawnette Shields?

Callie (pictured above): I’ve noticed that with the help of their workouts and tips, my strength, motivation, and eating habits, have changed drastically for the better. They make me want to workout and eat healthily 24/7. I am so thankful for it! It’s such a blessing to have the right tools and guidance from such empowering women.”

Brittany DB curl

M&F:  What is the most amazing thing that has happened to you since becoming a Houston Texans cheerleader?

Brttany (pictured above):  “I would never have thought a year ago that my life would become so exciting and amazing each day. I gained 33 new sisters. This year I had the opportunity to shoot for our 2015-2016 Texans Cheerleader Swimsuit Calendar in Puerto Rico. After being selected for that I had to stay precise with my diet and exercise in order to secure a month in the Hottest Calendar in the NFL! I was chosen as Miss December… such an unforgettable experience.”

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Ashley jump

M&F: Do you see yourself as a role model?

Ashley (pictured above) “As a dancer and athlete, I was told that younger girls and guys looked up to me, but it didn’t really sink in until my early 20s. I strive to encourage individuals to find their own identity as they achieve their dreams. Whether it be short or long term goals just believe in yourself, visualize the goal, then do it for you.” Coach Alto Gary, and Trainer Shawnette Shields, have assembled a sexy and strong team that would motivate anyone to reach out for their goals. Muscle and Fitness was impressed with the girls’ dedication and passion, and have great respect for the strength of mind and body required to be an elite cheerleader in the NFL.

For more information on the Houston Texans Cheerleaders visit:

All photos courtesy of Trask Smith