Coaches like to tell people to “get lower” all the time, especially during fresh meat when they’re trying to teach a room full of Bambis-on-rollerskates.
But what exactly is low? And what the hell is derby stance?
Derby stance is: knees bent, butt down, chest up and eyes forward. It’s your ‘ready’ position – ready to block, ready to plow, ready to take a hit. It’s also known as athletic stance or position.
The bit that is most important is the knees bent bit.
Often people will think they’re low but in reality they’re actually just tipping forward at the hips and their legs are dead straight, or they just aren’t bending anywhere! It’s a weird mismatch between what it feels like you’re doing and what you’re actually doing. (Don’t worry, body awareness comes with time and practice.)
Why do we need to get low?
When you’re new, you need to be low because it’s more a more stable position and you’re more likely to fall forward rather than backwards – it’s much more fun landing on your knee pads rather than your butt or worse, your head!
Also, having your knees bent helps you to do the skills you are learning; crossovers, plow stops, one footed glides, laterals….. pretty much everything in roller derby is easier with bent knees.
You’re also more agile when your knees are bent – try doing quick steps to the inside and outside with dead straight legs…. now try it with bent knees. Which was easier?
Imagine a spring and a plank of wood. Derby stance allows you to be more like the spring; you have more potential to jump/sprint/twist/hit/absorb force.
Everyone’s low will look different
There are lots of reasons why everyone’s ‘low’ will look different that you will read about below, but lets start with our basic body mechanics – some people are tall, some people are short, some people have very long femurs, other people have wide hips. Subtle differences in bone length and shape will impact what each person’s derby stance looks like, so try not to compare your stance to anyone else’s.
I am a firm believer in making whatever you’ve got work for you!
I can’t get low
Confession time: I can’t get low.
For whatever reason, (ankles or hips?) my body does not bend in ways other skaters’ bodies do. I cannot shoot the duck. My derby stance is nowhere near as low as half my team’s. The only way I can squat low is if I do it in the sumo position! Doesnt really work on skates unless I’m mowhawking…
But that’s ok. We are all unique snowflakes with different body shapes, bone size, tendon length and so on.
As long as I’m as low as I can be for me, I’ll be fine.
But I will keep working on it.
Why can’t I get low?
Getting low doesn’t come naturally to everyone, certainly not when you add roller skates into the mix. This can feel very frustrating for a newbie when the advice to get better at literally any skill in derby is to ‘just get lower’!
If this is you, there could be a physical reason why you can’t get as low as you’d like, hip and ankle bone structure for example – Hip socket depth and shape is pretty important when it comes to how low you can squat or in what position you can get low – for example, I can’t squat for toffee with my feet hip width apart but can get much lower in a wider stance.
Some people also have bigger talus bones in their ankles which prevent much dorsiflexion. There can also be issues with the length of your various bones which prevent people from squatting low in the traditional stance.
In these examples, excessive stretching of your ankles, calfs or hip flexors can actually cause more problems, so proceed with caution and stop when you feel any pain. The answer isn’t always “just stretch more”!
That being said, it’s also just as likely to be one or more of these:
- Lack of stability (balance)
- Lack of coordination
- Lack of mobility in your soft tissue
- Lack of strength (particularly glutes, legs and core)
- Lack of body awareness (proprioception)
How can I get lower?
Even if you do have horrible hips and stupid ankles like me, there is probably still some improvement to be made to your derby stance. Don’t give up!
We can work on:
- Improving core strength and balance
- Practicing the movement and gaining confidence
- Massaging and stretching tight areas such as calf muscles, ankles and hip flexors (Avoid over stretching)
- Building more leg and glute strength
- Getting instant feedback on form i.e mirrors/video
If you are still struggling to improve your stance (or your squats off skates!), it may be worth considering skates with more of a heel or even using orthotic inserts. A raised heel can often help people to squat lower and if it’s good enough for powerlifters, its good enough for me!
Get Lower Workout Roller Derby Workout
There are bodyweight and weighted variations of the exercises in this workout so if you feel up to it and have weights, go for it!
Perform 10-15 reps of each exercise before moving on to the next and repeat the whole routine 3-4 times.
Prepare: Foam Roll/Tennis Ball/Rolling Pin Massage to calf muscles and hips
- Glute bridges – engage your core, squeeze your bum and push your hips upward. Don’t over arch your back and pause at the top.
- Box Squats – push your hips back and keep your spine neutral, lower lightly onto the box and try not to use momentum to come back up. Make sure you knees track through the middle of your toes & don’t cave in. Add a weight, holding it in a goblet position to add intensity.
- Squat & Hold – at the bottom of the squat, hold or pulse for a few seconds before returning to standing. Get as low as you can with good form. Sometimes a weight can act as a counterweight and help you get lower.
- SumoSquat & Hold – in a wide leg stance with toes pointed out, squat down keeping your back straight. Perform 5 squats & hold at the bottom for a few seconds. Make sure your knees push out & don’t cave in. Add a weight for more of a challenge.
- Split Squats – stagger your feet and lower yourself straight down, not forward, bending both knees to 90 degrees. Hold a weight in each hand to challenge your legs and core.
- Reverse Lunge & Twist – from standing, step your right leg backwards & lower yourself down until your front leg is at 90 degrees. Keep your body upright and twist your torso towards the left. Return to facing forward, bring your right leg to your left and repeat on the left side, twisting to the right. Adding a weight will really test your balance and core strength.
Treble 909 xx