How To Start Crosstraining For Roller Derby

Starting your off-skates training for roller derby can be daunting if you’ve never done much structured exercise before. A gym might seem too intimidating (or expensive) and fitness classes can feel too generic. And if you’re new to exercise it can be difficult to know what you should be doing, how often and when!

To get you started, below are the three cornerstones starting your crosstraining for roller derby.

Strength First

Your first port of call should definitely be strength – and not just legs!

You also need a strong, supportive core to keep you stable, good upper body strength for bracing, and powerful and sturdy lower body for everything else.

More muscle = more padding so hits hurt less (both giving and receiving) and more muscle means less chance of injury. You get a two-for-one that as your big muscles get stronger, so too should your small, stabiliser muscles. Such as the small muscles in your ankles and shoulders – if we don’t train them, they’re weak and susceptible to injury.

Think of strength as your foundation from where you can build everything else – speed, power, agility and endurance.

WTF Is Core Strength?

Your core is much more than washboard abs. Your core is everything from your butt and your hips to your ribs and everything in between. Imagine your core like a tree trunk: a strong trunk is also a flexible one. it allows you to bend and sway in all directions without breaking or falling. You can resist and react to outside forces without losing your position.

And trust me, there are a lot of outside forces that will try and make you fall in derby!

A strong core also acts like a coiled spring – in order to be explosive (think jumps and jukes) you need to wind that coil up and then explosively release. The more power you have here, the more explosive you can be.

We can’t forget about the agony that is derby stance – your lower back will ache because this position is all new. No one walks around like that in normal life (unless you’re a bit odd I guess) but a strong core can help reduce the fatigue and pain in your back muscles.

The muscles in your lower back are relatively small and your body, in comparison, is big. So when you’re in derby position and your lower back is the only area holding you up, it’s going to get sore. However, those abs and stomach muscles cover a fairly large area and your butt…. take it as a compliment when I say it’s big. If we can engage all of these other, larger muscle areas, the little ones won’t be doing all the work.

Next time you’re skating and you feel your back start to complain, try really tensing your stomach and butt muscles and you should feel some relief.

Then Fitness

You’ve probably noticed that derby is tiring. All the stopping and starting and sprinting and pushing…. Hard work! Oh and those goddamn LAPS?! Ugh. We can make it all a little less hard work by working on our fitness.

Now, in my opinion, running and “cardio” in general is just the worst (don’t shout at me runners!). Unless it’s on skates, I’m not interested. And if I have to do it for more than 5-10 minutes, please go away and don’t speak to me again.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t still work on my fitness….

The sport of roller derby doesn’t tend to be a constant hour of a steady effort. Its more like short bursts of intense work followed by rest. Very similar to a training concept known as high intensity interval training, or HIIT for short.

HIIT – short bursts of intense activity followed by rest – has been shown to give you all the benefits of continuous cardiovascular exercise (such as running for an hour) but in a much shorter period of time – EFFICIENT!!  Read some science about HIIT here.

The caveat is, you have to give it your all during the work periods – there’s no point phoning it in. The emphasis is on the word intense here! But I would take a quick and dirty HIIT workout I can do in my living room over running around in the rain for an hour any day!

However, if you enjoy running/cycling/other steady state cardio, keep doing it! The best exercise is the exercise you actually enjoy. But you can totally turn your running/cycling into HIIT training. E.g Flat out sprints followed by rest or short, steep hill climbs followed by rest.

The type of exercise you choose for the intervals will also determine how much you get out of it – more explosive moves, such as burpees (seen below), tax your cardiovascular system and build upper and lower body muscle endurance. This is important for roller derby as it’s a total body sport – we use our whole body to block or jam, we get hit to the ground and have to get back up again. There is rarely a time when we are just skating laps.

Then Agility

Footwork, footwork, footwork – roller derby is all about the fancy feet!

I was not born graceful. A ballerina I am not. But roller derby requires you to be agile. Whether you’re hopping down the line as a jammer or whizzing across the track as a blocker, you need fast feet

You need to be able to change direction quickly, balance on one leg and move in explosive bursts. You also need to be able to change speed quickly, from a sprint to a dead stop and sprint again. And there’s avoiding hits, avoiding unexpected obstacles and jumping….

All of this on skates… shoes with wheels on…. that roll….

But it’s ok – you can begin to build your agility off skates, strengthening all the muscles and fibres around vulnerable areas, like your ankles, and creating a kind of muscle memory. You can ‘teach’ your feet to be fast in sneakers and they will remember how to be fast in skates.

Get Fitter, Faster, Stronger

I hope that this has given you an idea of what to think about when starting your crosstraining journey. But if you are still unsure and would prefer someone else to tell you exactly what to do, you can now get Fitter Faster Stronger – a six week roller derby workout program for beginners. 

Fitter Faster Stronger takes the guesswork out of planning workouts, provides video tutorials, a fitness test and printable workout trackers. You get six weeks of workouts plus weekly check in emails – because ENCOURAGEMENT! And you never have to step foot inside a gym.

Check out Fitter Faster Stronger now!

Get Fitter Faster Stronger Now