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?
Tesla and Gravy
Just two rollergirls trying to share the rollerlove from Austin, TX to the world.