Dear Mr. No Stop,
Plow stops, plow stops, plow stops. They are definitely some of the most important stops in this sport, so I understand your frustration. I actually had the opposite problem and grew up as a pigeon-toed weirdo, but I know a few skaters that had/have the same problem as you, with the same symptoms.
The disclaimer before I start recommending things is that I am not a professional, just a person who is interested in the technicalities of things. You can take what I say and try them out or you can say, “This sounds stupid,” and seek out a true professional. Either way, I want to help because I know that a lot of people suffer from the same problem and I appreciate you asking this questions so I can attempt to help all of you bow-leggers out there.
One reason that you may be having trouble getting your legs in the correct position for stopping is because your glutes might not be strong enough to keep your legs there. This is actually a problem that a lot of people have. Glute weakness is very common and even if you’re going to the gym, doing squats, deadlifts, and lunges, chances are you glutes are still not getting targeted enough. Luckily, there’s a guy who’s done all the research and has written an article to help you fix this and make yo ass stronger: Dispelling the Glute Myth. These exercises can help you control your legs so you can keep your leg/foot in that plow stop position.
Another thing you could try is visiting a chiropractor, a physical therapist, or (if you happen to be in Texas and one of these is near you) an airrosti. It will take more than one session, but they should be able to adjust you and help you with the range of motion in your hips, which will help you make that crazy plow angle.
And you were definitely on the right track when you suggested yoga. Before doing yoga, I had the opposite problem: I could not spreadeagle or mohawk for the life of me. Like I said, I had always been pidgeon-toed. When I was little, the doctor even suggested breaking both my hips to reset everything (uhhhh, yeah no). So when I tried to do spreadeagles around the track, I would just eat it. I actually thought that this would be something I would never be able to do and basically resigned myself to not being able to do it. And then a yogi joined the team. I started going to classes and realized, holy cow, my hips are really, really tight. I talked to her and was able to get the names of a couple of stretches that would help me loosen my hips up and I did them on my own. Now I can *almost* hold a spreadeagle to the outside of the track for more than a few seconds. And I can hold an inside spreadeagle like there’s no tomorrow. Now, I don’t know for sure what the stretches will be for someone with the opposite problem, but I’m sure there is something they can tell you that will help you gain better control over your lower half.
The simplest thing I’m going to tell you is to just keep doing them. Do them all the time. Do them during your warm-ups. Instead of relying on your go-to stop when you are doing something simple that requires stopping, like getting water, bringing it in to listen to your coach, or lining up in a paceline, make an effort to a plow stop. Go a whole practice or a whole week doing nothing but plows. Make sure you’re challenging yourself to do them and not relying on what’s comfortable. Do different kinds of plow stops. Do one-legged forwards, one-legged backwards. Do one-legged stutter stops (like a plow, but instead of keeping your wheels on the floor while putting your foot in front of you, you lift it up and put it back down in front of you). I am emphasizing one-legged things because you can get a better feel of what your muscles are doing and where you’re feeling the burn. When I do a heavy amount of one-legged stops in one session, I really feel it between the back and the side of my upper thigh, like between my IT band and my glutes. Because of this, I know that these are the muscles I need to make stronger to get better at plows. One thing that helped me with my one-legged plows is something that TXRG skater Slaughtermelon told me: squat way down low, like you’re picking up a penny near your non-plowing skate. In order to be effective at these, you need to get ultra low, to the point where it feels awkward at first, but you’ll realize how much easier the stop becomes when you do it.
Also, as a fresh meat skater, there’s one thing that you might not’ve realized yet: once you become a better skater overall, the skills you had trouble with before become magically easier. So once you get more experience with skating, things like these will become increasingly easier without having to target that specific skill. So keep skating and keep trying, work on strengthening your glute muscles (it will help with everything derby-related), and get advice from a yogi. And if you feel like you could benefit from it, seek some outside help from a professional. Good luck and plow on.
p.s. A word of advice to all fresh meat: loosen your trucks. It’ll blow your mind, I promise.
Dear Lone Wolf,
You are a success story waiting to happen. You matter, you have what it takes, and you have a decision to make. I could sit here and tell you stuff like that all day, but it might not make a bit of difference to you, so I'll tell you a story instead.
Picture the Texas Rollergirls Texexutioners. Some of the best, most aggressive, and strongest women in the derby world. Where did they all come from? They weren't born on roller skates. Some of them come from the exact beginning you described. One in particular has a story that matches yours so well that she gasped and sighed when she read your question. We will keep this anonymous, though, and tell you her story without revealing her name. Things are more fun that way. Let's call her Jane.
Jane tried out for a derby team with friends, clad in rental skates, with zero skating experience. She had spunk, though, and she made the pick. She was the lone freshie in a league that didn't have time to teach her. Maybe they didn't have the skills to teach her. Maybe they just didn't care. They should have, but it is what it is. You can't force people to take care of you. She went to practices. She skated around the edge of the track while everyone else did drills. She watched, tried, and taught herself. Years later she realized she learned some things incorrectly, but she DID learn them.
She kept going to practice. Other skaters came and went, maybe, but she kept going. Eventually she knew enough to practice with the other skaters, but she wasn't ready for hits. They hit anyway. Now, I'm not saying this was good or bad, but it's the way hundreds of girls have had to learn... she got demolished. Over and over. Practice after practice, hit after hit. And she kept coming back, and she let them beat her down. She learned to get out of their way. She learned to dodge hits, challenge arms, and juke blocks. She was told to ref sometimes to get her out of the way. Jane didn’t know how to ref, but she watched youtube videos and tried anyway. She learned patience, perseverance, and the value of will. She was willing. She wanted this derby thing. Jane got better. She’d drive a few hours for away games. She kept going to practice. She took more hard hits, learned more skills, and she kept going to practice.
Eventually, she was a senior member. She had come to practice, come to practice, come to practice. She put the time in on her own to improve, and it worked. She topped-out in her league and moved to Texas where the Texas Rollergirls immediately recognized a kindred fighting spirit. She may have started out as a Bambi-legged lone wolf in rentals, but she's a Texecutioner now. And I'm not talking a 10 year journey, here. A few years. A handful of years. I say this all the time, but it's written all over the walls of derby history: You will get out of derby what you put in.
As for your new league mates, do not feel guilty or worried when they take time out to teach you. Soak that shit up. It is in the league's best interest to teach you. You are the future. Recruiting skaters is one of the hardest things for leagues to accomplish. They got you, and you're valuable. If they teach you, express your gratitude, and work really hard. Show them by your determination that they are not wasting their time. If they give you a water break, do 10 push-ups before allowing yourself to drink. If they teach you a new skill, ask for feedback once you've tried it a few times. If they break or huddle and you have nothing to do, do squats in the corner. The more promise and willingness they see from you, even if they don't act like it, the more they will be interested in teaching you. Training someone is not miserable, and it helps the trainer, too. Training someone who is determined, willing, and up-beat? That's a gift. Now, that advice assumes that this feeling is all in your head. If your fellow skaters are acting put-out that you have to be trained? Get the crap out of there.
Getting the crap out of there leads me to this: A bunch of derby teams locally? HOORAY! You are blessed! It's not a crime to look around. Email some of the other teams and ask about their fresh meat practices. Most teams will let you view, if not skate, a couple of days to try it out. Maybe another nearby team has an awesome freshie program! Maybe all of the teams have the same problem you're facing. You won't know until you go! Are there some girls on the other teams that you know? Or girls on your own team who used to skate with a different team? Usually skaters move around a little until they find their place. Don't be afraid to do the same. Why did you pick your team in the first place? Sometimes certain aspects of a particular league can seem really appealing until you skate with them and realize they aren't perfect. Right now, skating is skating, skills are skills, and being with a team who will train you is important. Just know that if you don't find a team to train you, you CAN do this. You can survive and thrive. Just... keep going to practices. Keep pushing. Keep trying hard.
So, chin up, Lone Wolf. You are gonna be just fine. Stay low, keep going to practice, and show them what you're made of (awesomeness and stardust).
What is Dear Derby?
Dear Derby is advice for the derby world, because Abby doesn't know anything about cheap shot low-blocks or whiny league mates.