From the helmet of: Tesla
Here's the thing. Derby is really hard. It's, like, stupidly dangerous. It's not something people choose to do casually, like, "Oh, yeah... I thought I'd just strap wheels to my feet and ask other people to tackle me while skating around a track, sometimes at high speed, with moderate protective gear." Even football and rugby are played on turf for goodness sake. So, knowing all of this, why in the world would you attempt to play even recreational roller derby without being physically fit, or even trying to be fit?
Doesn't make sense, does it?
The number 1 question, complaint, and general grumble I hear from new derby girls like me goes something like this: "I've been fresh meat for so long." That's it. Whatever else is a part of it, the main thing is wanting to pass minimum skills tests and get to the game. It's the complaint I had a million times over. I'm not good enough. And when asked what they're doing outside of derby to improve, these noobs usually say either a) "Nothing, honestly (This was my answer when I complained!)," or b) "Well, I kinda walk, and I try to go to the gym, but I hate it." Let me tell you why I understand this frustration. I know I've said this in previous posts, but before derby, I was a POTATO. A fucking potato! I didn't do a damn bit of physical work, exercise, or even physical recreation. You can picture a potato, right? Right. Ok then.
So, I was sedentary. Then I found this sport that I absolutely loved, and I wanted to be good at it. I could skate! I could skate backwards, even! This was gonna be great.
But it wasn't. It was really freaking hard, and I couldn't keep up as well as I'd like. I huffed and puffed. I pulled muscle after muscle, sprained joint after joint. Then, about 4 months in, I fell and hit my head so hard that I lost my place in the world for several months. I have video of the fall, and as I watched myself later, I spotted my weakness. I saw how wobbly I looked, and how unskilled. Being unskilled was something I'd have to just work at every day on the track, but the wobbly part... now, that was something I would have to handle. I had a moment re-watching that video where time stopped, and I felt really foolish. "I'm so damn weak," I thought to myself. I felt my arms and legs. They weren't huge, but they were just squishy, pillowy, fleshy. A lightbulb lit up in my brain like in a cartoon, and Gravy immediately came to mind. Who do I know who's strong? Gravy. Who do I know who is skilled? Gravy. How did gravy get skilled? She skated for years. How did Gravy get strong?
Gravy lifts weights. She even wrote a blog post about it, which I read, but on which I did not act. I re-read her post. I read through the posts she linked in the first section (omg! why didn't I read them before?). I thought about all my other friends who are athletic. I began to ask around and see if anyone had advice for me. I joined fitness Facebook groups. I asked about other derby girls who looked rock solid on the track, and visited the websites of skaters I admire, like Steph Mainey. Stephanie's Facebook cover photo was of her at the top of a deadlift, or some similar lift. Ok, so I had no clue at that time what a deadlift was, but she was holding a barbell loaded with weights, and her muscles were bulging. A theme was building, folks. All of these skaters I loved had one thing in common. They all cross-trained, and most of them ate like athletes. Why wasn't I cross-training? Was training and eating right only for the super-serious olympic athletes?
NO. If you think that, get it the HELL out of your skull. If you're healthy enough to skate laps, then you're able to train off-skates. And you're an athlete. Own that, and respect derby as the sport it is. Training makes you stronger. Stronger people get injured less. Follow me?
Eventually I asked around enough, researched enough, and really invested myself in learning about lifting weights, and I was ready. I started going to my friend Joanna's house twice a week to learn about lifting and do other cross-training workouts with a group of girls. Joanna is the shit, and so are the other girls. They're new to lifting, just like me. I revamped my daily diet, focusing more on getting enough protein and eating mostly unprocessed stuff. It's only been 4 weeks, but the changes have been incredible. I'm more stable, and that's saying something considering the slam to the head I took. I'm more confident, too. I don't feel as much fear when someone is coming toward me to knock me down. I just know my body is strong. Stronger. And it will be even stronger before the summer. I mean, if this is how 4 weeks feels, how will 12 feel? Oh, and I have ABS, y'all. They are in there! I feel them and see them! MOTHER FREAKING ABS. Potatoes don't have abs, so you can imagine that this was a shock.
Last weekend I scrimmaged for the first time since my concussion. I was shaky still, but it wasn't my muscles. It was nerves. My muscles felt ready, almost excited. During our warm-up, Venom had us doing walking lunges and sprints. Sprints! On dry land! And I liked them. Imagine skating in a scrimmage and feeling physically stoked about pushing your muscles and doing hard work. When the game was over, I had all kinds of flashbacks to my first scrimmage. I remember, about 10 minutes until the end, asking Chile, "What time is it...? I am so tired, I.. is it almost over?" It was sweltering, and she very sweetly told me we couldn't have more than a few jams left, and I just had to hang in there. WHAT A SQUISHY BABY I WAS! In comparison to now, of course. But, still. It was a fantastic measure of my progression. Everyone wants proof that they're improving, and that was mine.
Not only did we win that scrimmage, but I skated without a single penalty. I didn't think that was possible. I still stopped dead on the track any time a whistle was blown, and must have looked super confused at times, but I was way more aware of the game, so... good news! Track confusion DOES get better! What a relief. And, lately there has been another odd development. I find myself wanting to run. I know. It's crazy. I want to run fast and far, and I want to time myself. Who am I?!
I didn't write this blog post to school anyone, because I'm not a coach. I'm a noob like everyone else. I'm sharing all of this so that maybe just one person can learn from my mistake and make a good decision. What I'm really trying to say is, If you're not improving, AND you're not training outside of derby, then you better re-think some things. Nothing comes from nothing, my friend. Skill comes with practice (and, yeah, you should be practicing skills outside of practice time), but where does strength come from? You're not gonna get by on derby squats alone. Get to it. If you feel lost on how to get there, go read Gravy's post, and try asking girls you skate with if anyone lifts. Reach out on Facebook. Maybe a casual friend lifts at an awesome gym and you'd never know it. We have several personal trainers within the Texas Rollergirls group, and many fitness folks besides. I'll bet you know someone, even if they don't skate, who does something related to fitness. Start asking around. And lifting isn't the only form of cross-training. Take your pick!
Why is lifting with free weights mentioned specifically? Why not machines? If you have a gym full of machines only, then maybe that's what you'll be forced to work with, but the case for free weights, like barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells, is enormous. When you use a machine it stabilizes for you. You don't have to worry about the weight shifting backwards, forwards, or side-to-side. That means you aren't building stabilization muscles as well as you would with a free weight, and you're not lifting with proper form because the machine is forcing you in one direction only, which is usually not natural. You know when a blocker smashes into you, and you have to keep steady so you can stand your ground and not let her hit you out? In that smashing moment, a bunch of stabilization muscles are working to keep you upright and in place, the same muscles you neglect to train with a machine. The same muscles that keep you skating strong when you're leaning into a turn. Food for thought.
And, finally, a piece of advice from my own experience: if you find yourself wanting to complain to people that you're not progressing in derby, make sure you're actually trying. If you're not cross-training, then you're not doing all that you're actually capable of doing to improve. Someone is bound to call you out on it. Call yourself out first, and be real honest. Are you trying?
From the helmet of: Gravy
Weight lifting has been starting to gain traction in the roller derby community, and for good reason. Thanks to recent articles such as Why Strength Matters for Roller Derby Athletes and Perspective Shift: Roller derby & shifting the way we look at training, it’s obvious that our sport is leaning toward weight lifting as a primary form of cross-training. While the main benefits of weight training are outlined in the above articles, I want to focus on how to begin if you have no freaking clue what you’re doing and have never stepped foot inside a gym before (me, a year and a half ago).
So, I have pretty bad anxiety about a lot of things. I have a hard time beginning something new if I don’t have someone to guide me (exception: roller derby) and if there’s a chance that I’ll make a fool out of myself, then I ain’t doin’ it (again, same exception). Going to a place like the weight room for the first time can be intimidating. The only reason I even started lifting weights was because my best friend and fellow Jewel City Rollergirl, Jen Ittles and her boyfriend (and team coach) Wes Tickles were starting to do it. It’s to them that I owe all of my (limited) knowledge. And I still hit up Jen for training program recommendations (thanks, girl!). What I’m saying is, I am not an expert. I’m not a personal trainer (I’m pretty sure ‘linguist’ is the exact polar opposite of ‘exercise physiologist’). Everything I know comes from the internet or from other, more knowledgeable people, but I want to share my knowledge in the hopes that it can help give people the resources and information they need to start weight training. Or at least think really hard about starting, because I promise you, weight lifting will be one of the best things you do for yourself, mentally and physically (along with roller derby, of course!).
When I started, I had no idea how my body worked. How muscle or fat worked. This is a problem that a lot of women have. And it’s not our fault. We’re constantly being told that we need to eat less, that our bodies are never right or good, that we need to diet, that we need to be ashamed because we ate a cupcake (and we totally could’ve eaten SIX), that there are only two body shapes (fat and skinny), that we ARE the number on the scale. You know what? I weight somewhere around 127 lbs. I fluctuate from 125 to 130 and I’m only 5’2”. That’s above average for someone my height and my frame. You know what else? I can squat 185lbs. I can squat ME AND A HALF. And you know what else? The only reason I don’t care about what the scale says and why I’m not ashamed to share that number is because of weight lifting. These reasons, and so many more, are why more women need to start doing this, especially if they’re playing a sport that requires strength, speed, and recovery.
When I first told my dad about lifting weights, his response was, “You don’t want to look like a man.” That’s it. He didn’t say, “Good for you for getting in shape and breaking the cute, pink gendered box women are put in from the day they’re born!” or “I bet getting stronger helps you play the sport you love!” What a shock, coming from my own dad. If you’ve ever had a thought like that cross your mind, stop reading this article and immediately read this article. Like right now. And while you’re at it, read this article to dispel some other myths about women and weight lifting. Now, let’s start with basic information.
Weight lifting is understood in terms of sets and reps. Reps are the number of times you perform the lift without rest. Sets are the number of times you perform the number of reps with a rest in between. If you have an exercise that is 3x5, you will be doing 3 sets of 5 reps.
The three main lifts are: squat, deadlift, and bench press. Familiarize yourself with those. These three lifts should be in any program you choose to follow.
Following a program is extremely recommended, especially if you’re just starting. One fantastic program for beginning weightlifting is StrongLifts. There’s even an app for it! So convenient and helpful. This entire website has great information on getting started, because it’s meant to be a starting point (as long as you pretend that the language isn’t geared toward dudes).
Two other programs that are aimed for women and weight lifting are: The New Rules of Lifting for Women and Strong Curves. They exist in book form and are packed with tons of information, especially if you’re like me and like to research thoroughly about things before committing.
Okay, so you’ve chosen a program, watched the videos, and you’ve tried emulating the lifts with no weight in your living room. How do you make sure you’re doing them right? Head over to www.reddit.com/r/xxfitness and post a Form Check video. This subreddit is filled with women involved in all different areas of fitness, but there is a large number of weight lifters, many of them just beginning. If you don’t have a reddit account, there’s a Facebook group with the name, “reddit xxfitness.” It’s a very open, welcoming community, great for people who have questions that they might be self-conscious about asking in other groups.
Explosive Exercises and Your Core.
The three main lifts are great (and necessary!) for getting stronger, but roller derby athletes are getting stronger for a specific purpose. Exercises specific for roller derby include movements that train your fast-twitch muscles. I’ve added these into my training routine and have noticed dramatic improvements. My favorites include: ravers, frog jumps, depth jumps, and uphill sprinting. Uphill sprinting is really good for roller derby, because it mimics the sprint/recovery that is the nature of the sport. But it is fucking. terrible. In the good way, of course.
Every leg day I make sure to do a few core exercises. The one that makes me want to send dumbells flying at the mirrors is the decline crunch. It’s specifically terrible (and oh, so good) when you add a weighted medicine ball. I then go to the back extension bench and do a few sets of back extensions and side bends (video shows standing, but I use the same bench), because your core is more than the “six pack” muscles. You can slowly increase your weight on these (for backbends grab a weight plate and for side bends grab a dumbbell), but be aware that adding weight to the side bends can make your obliques (and your waist) larger (I use a max of 10lbs and my waist has gotten slightly larger).
Tesla and Gravy
Just two rollergirls trying to share the rollerlove from Austin, TX to the world.