Lateral Power For Roller Derby

Lateral power: In roller derby, we need it.

Whether you’re a jammer who needs to be able to juke from lane to lane in a heartbeat, a blocker who needs to drive a jammer off track or an offensive player who needs to make a hole, we all need to be able to move ourselves – and others – laterally.

Unless you were born with skates on your feet however, using your lateral power might not come naturally to you. In everyday life, we move forward – walking, running, cycling. Our legs move up and down. But in derby, there are wheels on our feet, and wheels have a tendency to roll… Walking or running on them doesn’t really work. Try doing it on your skates now and see how far it gets you.

Even in the gym, the majority of movements are linear – squats, deadlifts, overhead press, etc – are all up and down or forwards backwards and often are often bilateral – working both sides of your body at the same time or employing both legs/both arms. That lateral plane often gets neglected.

Lateral power in derby

But in roller derby, we don’t just travel forwards and backwards or up and down.

Laps & skating

So those 27-in-5 and speed laps, the ones you need to get to pass your minimum skills? Guess what. You need lateral power for that:

When I was a wee Freshie, my league had a speed skater come and coach us and it improved my laps no end. He taught us about using lateral power to accelerate from a standing start, how to use it in crossovers and down the straights to maintain speed. (Skip to 1:35 in this video to check out how speed skaters use lateral power)

In actual gameplay you don’t really do that many laps, but jammers need to sprint away from blockers and blockers need to accelerate to catch jammers. And pivots, well you better be ready to HAUL ASS if you take that star! You need lateral power in your duck runs to accelerate, in your strides on the straight to maintain speed and in your crossovers to power out of the corners.

Blocking laterally

What about drive-blocking a skater off track? You need to be able to shove them laterally across the track using the power in your thighs and hips, pushing with your back foot. It’s much harder to drive someone off from a standstill than it is when you can sweep in with speed, using the impact to hit them off.


Lateral power isn’t just used for moving, it’s used for stopping too.

Think about the plow stop – in order to stop you are turning your feet so that your wheels are diagonal or perpendicular to the direction you’re travelling. This causes resistance which slows you down. You push outwards with your wheels to increase the resistance, in other words, using your lateral power.

Hockey stops are much more obvious – they are an aggressive switch from travelling forward to turning wheels 90 degrees to the direction of travel. To stop, you put all that lateral force into your edges.

Resisting and agility

What about when someone is trying to move you off the track? You can either get moved, wriggle out of it or resist, but to be able to resist lateral force you need core strength and stability.

Jukes and quick direction changes require all of the above – the strength to stop and the stability and power to harness that force to change direction.

Ok so you’re sold on this whole lateral power idea now, right? Good. Cool. How do we improve it?

Below are examples of exercises you can add to your off-skates training that will help build lateral strength, power, stability and agility.

Which area you focus more on will depend on your job on track – blockers will tend to require more raw strength and power (the ability to apply force/move weight quickly) and jammers will tend to edge more towards power and agility. But all of us will benefit from getting strong in the lateral plane, even if it just means we’ll be keeping our body even and avoiding injury.

Start With The Basics

Before you jump into the advanced lateral exercises, you need to build up the muscles and movement pattern in that area first so you don’t end up injuring yourself. These exercises focus on the glutes, outer thighs, core muscles and inner thighs, everything you need for lateral power! These are also great warm up exercises to do before you hit the rest of your workout and as pre-hab for knees.

  • Glute Bridge 30 seconds
  • Side lying leg raise x 10 per leg
  • Clamshells x 10 per leg
  • Kneeling straight leg raise x 10 per leg
  • Donkey kicks x 10 per leg
  • Bird Dogs x 10 per side 
  • Hip Flexor Stretch 20 seconds per leg 

Band/Cable Abductor/Adductor

Banded Monster Walks

Develop Single Leg Strength

Once you’ve built up some basic strength and feel confident in your form, you can move on to developing your single leg strength, which has the bonus of helping to even out our wonky derby bodies. Start with bodyweight only or a light band, only increasing the weight/resistance once you’ve perfected your form.

Lateral Lunges

Band Lateral Lunges

Cable Crossovers

Push & Pull Things

Doing reps of single leg stuff is great but that isn’t realistic to a lot of the types of movements we need for derby, especially drive-blocking someone or pushing your way through a wall. So a great way to recreate that kind of resistance and continuous movement under a load is with sled pushes and drags.

I don’t have access to a sled so I have to get creative! I’ve used bands tied to sandbags, towels wrapped around weight plates and even filled a sturdy box with weights & pushed it around my living room! You can even use a treadmill to do this but I broke one in my gym doing it so proceed with caution!

Lateral Sled Pull

Lateral Sled Push

Get Fast & Explosive

You’ve got strength and power now you need to be explosive. This is especially important for jammers who need to juke, jump, stop and accelerate the quickest.

Skater/Lateral Jumps

Lateral Hops

Lateral Box Jumps

Lateral agility drills

Further reading:



New to roller derby and want to improve your fitness, agility and speed? Check out this six week beginners workout program and get fitter, faster, stronger.

Get Fitter Faster Stronger Now