Flyer Technique, In General

Like I always say, there are very few absolutes in cheerleading.  When I write about technique, I try to present things that work for most cheerleaders.  However, if something you’re doing works better, so long as it is safe, have at it!

Flyers, I think you have the hardest position in stunting.  My apologies bases and back spots.  I was one of you, and I definitely appreciate the skill involved in what you do.  But flyers have it much harder.  Forget the fact that everyone sees and judges the flyers every move.  After all, experienced judges will be watching and scoring bases on technique too.  Let’s also forget about the fear/trust factor.  Sure, flyers are the ones high up in the air and more at risk of catastrophic injury, but bases don’t feel all that safe when their flyer’s elbow is doing a 720 degree rotation a few inches away from their eyes, nose and mouth.  Everyone in a stunt has to deal with some degree of trust and fear. 

The factor that is truly unique to flyers (that I want to deal with in this article) is that flyers have to perform blind.  Yes, flyers can see.  However, a flyer can not see themselves.  And whether or not a flyer is doing their job (staying in the air) has everything to do with whether or not they are in the correct body position.  The bases, the coaches, the judges and the parents out in the waiting room can see exactly what the flyer is doing in the air, but the one person who really, truly needs to know if their hip is a half inch out of alignment has to try to “feel it out” because they can’t see it.

Now that we’ve established that body position is so important for flyers, and that they have to gain an instinctive ability to hit the right body positions, let’s talk about what correct body position means.  There are several popular buzz words people use when talking about flying.  The rest of this article is going to talk about some of the main ones.

The first is “Hollowing out.”  The best explanation I’ve ever heard of what hollowing out means is for the flyer to suck their belly button back into their spine while also trying to pull it up into their rib cage without holding their breath AND while keeping eye contact.  Yes, it is a lot to take in.  I try to simplify things somewhat.  The purpose of hollowing out as I understand it is to put the flyers shoulders into alignment with their hips.  That’s it.  The lifting through the diaphram that is described above is really all about preventing the flyer from “slouching,” because slouching drops the shoulders in front of the hips.  I actually do use the above description when teaching flyers to hollow out, but I ALSO explain to them how this results in proper shoulder to hip alignment.  I believe having that understanding helps flyers to hit the position more consistently.

The next most common phrase I hear is “Stay Tight.”  This is very good advice.  There is no faster way to a crashed stunt than a flyer bending their knee, and if the flyer squeezes their thigh muscle tightly, their knee is not going to bend.  One commonly used drill for staying tight is having a flyer lay on their back and lift their feet so only their shoulders are on the ground and their body is “straight as a plank.”  When I teach staying tight, I want the flyers to focus on their lower body in order to keep things manageable.  The main areas of tightness are to squeeze the seat (pinch a penny), squeeze the thighs, and (for 2-legged stunts) to squeeze the inner thighs, keeping legs shoulder length apart.  Doing that much should be enough to keep a flyer from collapsing out of a stunt.

Another commonly used phrase is to “Lift Up.”  I think this is a frequently mis-used phrase.  To me, the lifting that should take place is the hollowing out with the diaphragm.  Instead, people seem to want their flyers to lift with their shoulders so that the deltoid (shoulder muscle) is pressed against the flyer’s ears.  I believe this is a mistake.  For one thing, the shoulder is a ball and socket joint, so if you lift the shoulders enough, they will start to roll forward.  That will put your shoulders out of alignment with your hips.  That’s no good.  Also, squeezing the shoulders up like that can restrict a flyers ability to breathe.  Also not good.  I encourage flyers to keep their shoulders relaxed and to lift with their diaphragms instead.

The last phrase I will discuss is “Don’t Heel/Toe.”  The misconception related to this phrase is people believe that heeling and toeing cause stunts to go bad, when in fact, heeling and toeing is usually the result of improper shoulder/hip alignment.  If the flyers shoulders are pulled to the front, that will cause a flyers weight to shift forward and she will toe.  If a flyer’s hips drop back, that will cause her weight to go backwards and she will heel.  When the hips and shoulders are properly aligned, the flyers weight will be close to the middle of her foot, and sometimes slightly closer to the heel.  If a flyer is having heel/toe problems, I try to correct the shoulder/hip alignment.  That usually fixes the problem.  One other suggestion I make is to make “a fist” with the toes (good for locking out a shaky ankle, too).

Once again, this is just general advice that applies to most flyers for most stunts.  I’ll get around to more specific technique for specific stunts in future articles.  Also, as always, use trial and error.  Use whatever technique is safe and consistent for you!

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16 Comments on “Flyer Technique, In General”

  1. Liz Says:

    Thanks for some great general advice for flyers! I’m a very new flyer in Australia, and I haven’t heard some of these terms before but they all make a lot of sense. Will definitely be trying to ‘hollow out’ more at the next training session! 🙂


    • Liz,
      I’m glad you are enjoying the blog. While you are busy learning flying technique, it is a good idea to also study what the bases are doing. I have always found that bases who convert into flyers are some of the best flyers because they already understand the other half of stunting. The same is true of flyers who convert into bases.
      PS. Tell your coach I would be happy to come to Australia to help out with a clinic sometime. 🙂

  2. Courtney Nuttall Says:

    I used to be a base and we constantly got told to be in time when doing extentions now that I am a flyer I understannd how much of a pain it is when your bases are out of time, I also understand it is the worst thing ever when your cradle is out of time. There is this girl and every time she bases me she is always out of time with the cradle so I go really wonky :/. People don’t understand how seriously hard flying is but I also understand how hard basing and back spotting is but thank you for understanding what us flyers go through, I hated it at first and no one understood how scared I was, even cradling for the first time was like the fall of faith, I didn’t think it looked that hard but I realised I was practically falling back in the air having faith that I would be caught! Now it is normal to me to twist through the air seeing everyone below me and to arch back in a basket toss having pure trust that I will be caught safely at the bottom. I understand when I base sometimes that it is such as pain when your flyer pushes you apart so every time I feel my bases moving apart I litrally use my legs to pull them back in again! Thanks for this great article! x 😀

  3. Courtney Says:

    so by body position do you mean staying up right and not leaning forward or losing your balance? I have a terible habit of leaning forward causing me to point my toe which I know I really needto sort out!


    • That’s kind of what I mean. I don’t think there are any unbreakable rules when it comes to technique. But in most cases, you are right, leaning forward can make a flyer lose their balance. If you have a habit of pointing your toe too much you might want to think about your shoulders. Are you lifting them so hard that they touch your ears? If you are, you might be lifting up too much and actually rolling your shoulders forward. That will make you lean forward and point you toe down.

      However, that doesn’t really answer your question. When it comes to body position, I think the best advice is to try to keep your shoulders in line with your hips and your hips centered over the ankle or ankles of the foot or feet that you are standing on. This will usually keep your center of gravity over your bases and help you maintain your balance. If you do that, so long as you don’t hold your breath, you should be able to stay in the air as long as your bases can keep their arms locked.

  4. Courtney Says:

    I’m a flyer and I completely understand what you mean about performing blind with the alignment but also with pretty much everything. Most of the time I can feel if I’m doing something wrong but I’m always getting told by my coach, parents and teammates I bend my arms in my basket, I lent forward for my toe touch and end up in an awkward position, I snap with my chest instead of my hips, I don’t let my bases pop me up in my cradle from lib and come straight down, I didn’t lock my leg in my lib but that’s usually a result of bad balance non of these things I mean to do and I don’t realize I’m doing it until I get told .This is great technique advice but also thank you for your other article about lib mental blocks because I have been in that situation and it was horrible but I over came it with mental training. Once the trusting of the bases and backspots with your life and becoming accustomed to being in the air which takes a lot of time and experience is established and the flyer feels confident and mentally prepared and properly progressed and understanding to follow through for stunts which I’m no coach but I believe from flying experience that it is the foundation then this technique advice is great. Maybe you should write an article on trust and mental flying as that effects technique, a lot of times I have understood the theory but my mind prevents me using technique. Maybe even mental stunting to do with basing and backspotting.

  5. Michele Greene Says:

    My daughter is 9 and working on her full down right now. Her coach says her form from the waist up is very solid. She is tight and knows when and how to pull her body. around However, from the waist down she is floppy and her legs are like spaghetti when she comes down. What is causing this? I think she may not really understand how to “be tight”.


    • Michelle, thanks for the great (and challenging) question. I’m sure you understand that it’s hard to diagnos a specific problem without seeing the technique, but I’ll make a guess.

      If we’re lucky, your daughter is simply failing to stay tight from the waist down. Thing are almost never that easy, so I suspect it is something else, which I’ll describe in a minute. However, if we’re talking tight, your caught probably has to “pinch a penny”. That is cheer talk for squeeze her butt. I’ll let you figure out exactly which muscles are doing the penny pinching.

      Now, what I consider the more likely issue is that she may be “jumping” into the cradle. There are 2 versions of this. One is where a flyer literally bends her knees and jumps while the based pop her. This is easy to see so I doubt it’s that. The other is where the flyer pushes off with her right foot just a little during the pop. If you stand up with your feet shoulder width apart and spimy pivot your body to the left, you will probably notice yourself pushing with the toe of your right foot. It is an instinctual movement that we make without even thinking about it.

      While doing this toe push helps initiate rotation of the shoulders, it unfortunately gets the hips moving slightly in the wrong direction. When they try to catch up, that when you see the kicking and flailing.

      IF, with a Capitol I F, that is the problem, I have good news. The hardest part of fixing it it diagnosing it, which we just did. First, have your daughter do some standing pivots and ask her if she feels that push off the right toe. Once she does, ask if she feels that on her full downs. She probably won’t remember because doing it is an instinct. So the next time she tries full downs she needs to be aware of whether or not she’s doing it.

      If she is not doing the toe push, I’d need to see a video to figure out the issue. If she is doing the toe push, tell her to squeeze her thighs really, really hard, all the way through the dip, pop, ride and the cradle. It will be a little awkward, and she should definitely tell her bases and coaches what she’s trying and why she’s trying it. The effect should be to immobilize her legs so she can’t push off with toes. As she gets used to NOT doing the toe push, she will be able to relax her legs some.

      I hope that helps. If not, you can always send me a video and we can try to work with that. Good luck!

  6. Allye Says:

    What makes a flyer heavy In the air? And how do you stay light?


    • The main thing that makes flyers heavier to hold is when they are unstable. This can be caused by a lot of different technique flaws and/or a lack of conditioning. Flyers need to stay very still which requires regidity. That means flyers have to keep certain muscles flexed and tight so that they don’t shake or move. Another key is remembering to breathe. When flyers hold their breath, they start to “droop” and become more heavy. I hope that helps.

    • aloo Says:

      Squeeze your bud tight! & if u dont squeeze youll become heavy

  7. aloo Says:

    How can I feel less heavy for my base on a shoulder sit?:o

  8. New Stunter Says:

    Thank you for writing this article! I am a new flyer and I never know what to do when I’m up there! I’m really glad that you gave an advice on how to stop the shaky ankles because my ankles shake a lot! One question, what should flyers be thinking when they are going up in a stunt and in the air? because I would like to distract myself from getting nervous

  9. Chelsea Says:

    How do you properly get into the stunt (hang drill) i need help on that.

  10. Jasmine Says:

    Thanks for the great advice, I understand everything, but one problem I have are one leg stunts for example doing the heel stretch, bow and arrow or the scorpian, I always get nervous when in about to one of those, I always feel like I will fall forward or lose balance.

  11. Merisol Says:

    As a flyer I am having problems with my partner ,partner stunting get up there all my weight seems to be on my right leg and I’m locking my legs and try leaning the other way from watching videos of me and moving my hips but I’m not sure if I’m doing it correctly.Can you help me understand as a flyer to position my hips and anything else that might help?


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