Archive | May, 2012

Roller Derby Saved My Soul (but hurt my knees, and back, and shoulder…)

31 May

Photo courtesy of David Crane. Me falling courtesy of sin-e-star, TCRG.

First, let’s get one thing out of the way – roller derby is awesome.  It brings together a super-cool community of skaters, refs, production staff, volunteers and fans.  It gives us new-found confidence, fitness, fearlessness and friends.  It is a great, great sport and I love it.

What I don’t love are the injuries.  Go to any derby game ever and you’ll see at least one benched player, maybe on crutches, maybe in a sling, watching her team from the sidelines.  Go to any derby practice and you’ll see at least one girl unable to continue.

Way back in 2007, the WFTDA conducted a survey looking at the incidence of injury in roller derby.  Some eye-opening stats:

  • Of 1,070 respondents – 574 (46%) reported an injury that kept them from participation on one or more occasions
  • Of those 574, 262 (46%) report a knee injury (far and away the most common)
  • Of those 262, 36 (14%) specifically mention the PCL in their description of their injury. This does not count respondents (20) who did not specify which knee ligament they had injured or the many others who said they had injured their knee in some unspecified manner.
  • 133 (12%) reported an injury that required either emergency hospitalization or prolonged physical therapy

There’s a fair bit of information out there about diagnosis and treatment (read Papa Doc’s posts about your back, shoulderships, knees, shins and ankles).  Derby Life even has an article on the psychology of derby injury.

So, why are we injuring ourselves so frequently?  There are a few possible reasons:

1) We play a full contact sport.  In sports, injuries happen.  When you become an athlete, you assume a certain amount of wear and tear on the body.  NFL football players, too, have a high incidence of PCL injuries (3.5-20% according to pre-draft physical exams), then again they also have 6-figure salaries and sports-medicine professionals on staff.

2) As female athletes, we’re biomechanically predisposed to knee injury.  Lots of current research suggests that female athletes are 2-8 times more likely to injure their ACL than their male counterparts.  Mostly the studies have looked at basketball and soccer, and have examined the differences in the way that men and women land jumps and change direction suddenly.  There are many potential factors in the increased rate of injury for women: wider pelvis, increased Q-angle, hamstring to quadriceps muscle imbalances, neuromuscular control,  and so on.  Whatever the reason, we can’t change our biology, so we need to strengthen our supporting muscles to compensate.

3) We under-prepare for the physical demands of the sport. A lot of fresh meat have no idea what sort of physical toll the sport will take on their bodies.  Too many veteran skaters are only active when they’re on their skates.  Without strength training and cross-training, proper nutrition and hydration, we’re asking for trouble.

4) We’re too eager to play.  The best predictor of future injury is prior injury.  We need to reinforce slow and steady progression of skills for our new girls.  They should always be ready for the next challenge that derby throws at them, both physically and mentally.  I’m not saying to go easy – I’m saying push them to the edge of their limits, but not over the edge.   For veterans, we need to encourage an atmosphere where injury rehab is an okay thing.  We need to be understanding and supportive, and let skaters take all the time they need to come back to the track.  If we don’t, we end up with an unending cycle of injury and more skaters benched longer.

We’re also too eager to practice.  Too often derby trainers (and I am totally guilty of this) cave into pressure (real or imagined) that we are paying for arena time so we should be using our practice to skate.  We all have real lives, so tacking on an extra 15 minutes to the start of a practice for offskates warm-up and another 15 at the end for cooldown and stretching just doesn’t seem practical.  However, spending the better part of your season on the bench isn’t very practical either.

This is where soccer leads the charge in injury prevention.  By participating in “prehabilitation” drills addressing mobility, stability, and power, women athletes were 9 times less likely to injure their ACL.  The two systems  getting the most press are:

  • FIFA’s F-MARC 11+: A prevention program for amateur soccer players.  Teams that performed 11+ at least twice a week had 30 – 50% less injured players.
  • Santa Monica Sports Medicine Foundation’s PEP Program: This prevention program consists of a warm-up, stretching, strengthening, plyometrics, and sport specific agilities to address potential deficits in the strength and coordination of the stabilizing muscles around the knee joint.   Yielded up to 83% ACL injury reduction.

Roller derby doesn’t (yet) have a comprehensive injury prevention program.  Perhaps it’s that we’re all a bit insular and like to keep our routines to ourselves.  Perhaps it’s that the sport is so new that there just isn’t enough demand or scientific research to devise and implement such a program.   I say, let’s get on it.

Skaters; follow a program that addresses your unique needs, your pre-existing injuries and your goals – remember your prehab as well as your cooldown.  Invest in a foam roller to look after your tissue.  Push yourself hard at practice, but listen to your body and don’t let your ego get in the way of your well-being.

Coaches; talk to your sports medicine people, bring them in for clinics.  Care for your injured skaters and give them time to heal.

Trainers; take the time to do off-skates conditioning, do it properly and often.  Don’t know where to start?  There are 2 great links just above, they might not be derby-specific, but they’re better than nothing.

Smarty-pants kinesiologists, physical therapists, strength coaches, and personal trainers;  reach out to your local derby league.  THEY NEED YOU.  Once we have some experts working on it, let’s come together and share what we know.  Knowledge is power, derby people.

Wanna read the research?  The articles below are just a start:

The Greatness of Garage Sales

28 May

This past weekend, we had an awesome garage sale.  We were ruthless, combing through every room in the house to see what we could stand to part with.   We kept the really important things, the furniture we liked, and pitched the rest.  We ended up with more stuff than the driveway could fit.  At the end of the day, we sold a ton of stuff, and donated the rest.

Not our house.

I remember, five years ago, when we moved from a junior one-bedroom apartment in Toronto, to our 3-bedroom house in Guelph, thinking “we will never, ever, in a million years fill this house with stuff”.  It took less than five years, probably less than three.  It’s so easy to accumulate things when you aren’t even trying.  Between gifts and well-meaning relatives, my house ended up full to the brim with things I didn’t even know were there.

Training can be the same way: It’s easy to accumulate a bunch of exercises into your workout, without really thinking about what they are doing for your body or where they came from.  We draw from all sorts of places; youtube videos, friends workouts, cool things we see on TV or in magazines.  Each time we see something exciting we want to incorporate it right away, until we go to start a workout and have more exercises than we can possibly complete in the time we’ve set aside.  Maybe you don’t do it with individual training sessions, maybe you do it with programs – shortening your lap speed with powerful bursts, but also working on your endurance so you can survive that 4-hour practice, but also building muscle mass so that you can look great in those new compression shorts.  Goals, exercises, equipment – whatever your particular method, we’re all really good at letting the clutter build. 

Maybe it’s that you don’t know where to start.  Maybe the clutter is there because you don’t know what the important pieces of furniture are.  Here’s a starting point for a Decluttered Training Program.  As always, if you’re just starting out, I recommend having a coach or personal trainer assess you, look at your form, and guide you along (*full disclosure: I’m a personal trainer – I’m always going to recommend you have a personal trainer look at your form, that’s just smart business).  Resistance can vary from bodyweight up for any of the basic movements below – use your judgement and your goals as a guideline and apply appropriate rep ranges, sets and timing. 

The Important Furniture (for Strength Training):

1) Squat: Quad-dominant, works your glutes, legs – front and back, core.  Some ideas: front squats, back squats, goblet squats, box squats, prison squats

2) Bend (or hinge): Hip-dominant, works glutes, hamstrings (primarily but other parts of the legs are involved too), shoulders, forearms, core – front and back.  Some ideas: conventional deadlifts, sumo deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, rack pulls, kettlebell swings

3) Unilateral Movement: Training on one leg, works your glutes, legs – front and back, core.  Some ideas: split squats, reverse lunges, lateral lunges, walking lunges, Bulgarian split squats, step-ups, one-legged squats, pistols, 1-legged RDL’s

4) Horizontal Push: Works the chest, arms, shoulders.  Some ideas: push-ups – incline, decline, weighted, suspended; bench presses, floor presses

5) Horizontal Pull: Works the back, arms, shoulders. Some ideas: seated rows, bentover rows, chest supported rows – play with grip and resistance

6) Vertical Push: Works the arms, shoulders, core.  Some ideas: overhead presses, military presses, push presses

7) Vertical Pull: Works the arms, shoulders, back, core.  Some ideas: pull-ups (Ladies! – learn them, do them, love them!), chin-ups, lat pull-downs – various grips

8) Core: This is a whole post on its own.  Focus on anti-flexion, anti-extension and anti-rotation.  Some ideas: planks, pallof presses, farmer and waiter carries

While you can’t necessarily work on all of those things at every workout, you can organize your time to get rid of some of the things that might be cluttering up your current schedule.

Here’s the thing: We like to be distracted.  It was really easy to read through old letters while getting things ready for the sale.  It’s really easy to hear about a new training style or exercise and get excited about it.  It’s really easy to decide that your current program isn’t yielding the results you want and to try something new.  Jumping from program to program or trying the newest, sexiest thing we saw on an infomercial takes us away from doing the hard work to get to our real goals.

Dan John says: “The goal is to keep the goal the goal.”  You need to declutter those goals too –  focus in, and work hard.  If what you’re doing is working for you and your goals, fantastic – keep at it.  If you’re just starting something new, give it time (at least 4 weeks) and then decide if it’s getting you closer to what you want to accomplish.  If you just can’t see the forest for the trees (or the counter for the clutter) and want somewhere to start, go with your basic movements above and keep it simple.  Maybe you won’t be doing one-legged BOSU squats with a Shake Weight, but at the end of the day you’ll have appreciable results.


Garage sale day was a challenging day, but totally worth it to walk into some newly streamlined living space with a little extra cash in our wallets.  That’s what decluttering your training will do too – give you a streamlined focus when it’s time to train, and give you some extra result-cash in your goal-wallet.

Staying on Track: Four Simple Steps

24 May

So, you’ve gotten started.  You’ve taken that leap of faith and tried something new.  Now the question is – how do you stay started?  How do you keep rolling with the good choice that you’ve made?

The answer, for me at least, is to keep it simple.  Here are the four steps I follow to help turn a great start into an ongoing behaviour.

1) Find Out What Motivates You

What keeps you doing the things you do?  Think about the things you are already successful at – why are you able to keep on track with them?  Do you make it to every derby practice?  How?  Do you make your meal plans at the start of each week?  What keeps you consistent?  In Switch, Chip and Dan Heath tell us to look for the “bright spots” when making a change.  Find what is working and clone it.  Once you’ve got your motivation, own it.  Every one of my clients has a different motivation, and their motivations are different from my own.  For me, a big motivator is vanity.  I love the way my arms and back look when I’ve been training.  I will literally stare at my abs in the mirror and look at the 6-pack progress.  I used to feel like that was kind of shameful (won’t lie – still do now that I’m sharing it on the blog), BUT I know that it’s what gets me going.  When I first started training, about five years ago, the only thing that kept me doing my workout videos day after day was wanting to look good in my wedding dress.  Sure, there were other factors – not feeling great about my body or my energy level, wanting to be healthy and so on – but the thing that connected with me on a visceral level was how I looked.  Which leads me to my next step –

2) Set SMART Goals Rooted in Motivation

We’ve all heard of SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely), these are the kind of goals we need to have to stay on track with any new habit.  Your goals can be anything that connects with you emotionally.  Sometimes they’re performance-based,  “I want to skate 31 laps in 5 minutes”, “I want to complete 1 deadhang bodyweight pull-up”, sometimes they’re number-based, “I want to lose 10 pounds”, “I want to have a 24 inch waist”, sometimes they’re feeling-based “I don’t want to be in pain every morning”.  Whatever the goal, be specific about it.  Set a timeline – when you attach a deadline, you are far more likely to succeed than if it’s a “sometime” goal.  It’s not that some goals are better than others, but some are framed more effectively – instead of looking at what you want to lose and what you don’t want, think of positive goals – what do you want to gain?  Strength?  Body awareness?  Lean muscle mass?  Energy?  A new skill?  Next, connect the goal to the motivation – how will achieving the goal make you feel?

3) Encourage Habits That Get You Closer to Your Goal

Your time is precious, try not to waste energy researching what not to do.  We all know what not to do – it’s often what got us to where we are in the first place.  Focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t, what you should do rather than what you shouldn’t.  In derby, if I tell myself over and over “don’t cut the track” (or in my case “don’t use your forearms”), I am WAY more likely to cut the track (or use my forearms) than if I tell myself “stay tight, find your way through” (or “keep your elbows tucked” ).  What’s true in derby is true in training, in nutrition and in life – if I focus on the cookie I can’t have, I will obsess about the cookie until I eventually give in.  Sites like Eat This, Not That do the work for you – they give you the positive choice, without you having to dwell on the negative.  With habits, as with goals, keep it simple.  Encourage one sustainable habit at a time.  I’ll repeat –


Set action triggers to turn your new habit into a lifelong habit.  I lay out my training clothes every day before I leave for work.  I arrange my schedule so that my workout is normally around the same time each day (between 6 and 9 pm in case you’re curious) and my body expects me to be moving when that time comes.  I keep a picture of Neghar on my fridge, since she’s my ab-spiration, and looking at her abs every day makes me want to eat cleaner (I hope that’s not creepy).  For some, the action trigger is having a gym buddy, a derby wife, or a trainer to be accountable to.  Habits should be logical and easy to stick to – they should make your life easier, not more complicated.  Remember the Pareto Principle – 80% of our results come from 20% of our efforts – find a couple of habits that work best for you, your “bright spots”, and cultivate them.

4) Help Yourself Along

Often, in health and fitness, oh heck and in life too, we try to do it all.

via Hyperbole and a Half

 We love to multitask – I love to multitask.  But too often multitasking gives us an easy way out – ““I tried, but it was just too much, I couldn’t find the time”.  Absolutely, when you try to do All The Things, there will never be enough time.  Trust me, because I am always trying to do all the things.

To be sustainable, not only do you need to introduce small and achievable habits one by one, you also need to give yourself room to fail.  Miss a workout?  Lose a game?  Eat a Big Mac?  It’s going to happen.  Expect valleys on the way to the peaks.  You will miss a training session along the way; acknowledge it, and train hard the next time.  Your team will lose a game (even Gotham loses sometimes); use the loss to analyze your play, learn from it, and apply what you’ve learned to the next game.  Your nutrition will not always be 100%; eat that Big Mac, feel like crap, and remember that feeling next time you want one.  Don’t give small missteps more weight than they deserve.  Planning not to be perfect lets us be realistic.

Realism + Small Logical Habits + SMART Goals + Emotional Connection = Sustainable Success

And sustainable success is the best kind of success.

Keep it simple and go be awesome.


A Great Start

4 May

I saw this Zig Ziglar quote on the Girls Gone Strong Facebook page  a couple of weeks ago.  I printed it out and put it up in the gym.  I think it’s great.  I think it’s concise.  I think it’s simple.  And I think it’s something I need to tell myself every single day.

I won’t lie – my brain loves this quote, but doesn’t believe it.  I used to be someone who wouldn’t try if there was even a possibility of failure.  I would only start a project, join a group, or try something new if I was pretty sure I’d be awesome at it right off the bat.   This is why, historically, I don’t play video games, juggle, or cook omelettes.  At some point in the past, I got up the courage to try, wasn’t immediately the best at it, and quit.

Even writing this blog post will take me hours because I will second-guess every single word, wondering whether or not what I’ve written is great.

I have a couple of clients who call this second-guessing, “the chorus of idiots”.  These are the voices that tell you not to take a chance, since you’re only going to fail anyway. 

” Don’t go to the gym, you’ll just make a fool out of yourself.”

“Don’t go back to school, you’re way too old to try something new.”

“Don’t take a risk on a new career, you’ll bankrupt your family.”

Whatever the specific situation, the message from the chorus of idiots is the same – “you’re not the best, why even try.”  We often expect instant mastery of ourselves.  And when it doesn’t happen, we just throw in the towel.  It was roller derby that first taught me that it’s okay not be perfect.  That maybe you can’t get everything right the first time.   And that not being perfect is totally okay.  It took me months to learn how to T-stop, and when I finally did it right, I felt like I’d won the Superbowl of T-Stopping.  I would never have felt how amazing it is to master something that didn’t come easy.  Let me tell you, it’s a way better feeling than mastering something that you were pretty sure you could do all along.

I’m currently reading Outliers (a really great book to have on tape when you have a 5-hour drive to Michigan and back) and Malcolm Gladwell lays the reality of success out beautifully.  He says, “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.. ”  He asserts that, “researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.”   Ten thousand hours.  Not one session with a trainer.  Not one online course.  Not a half-hearted week handing out business cards.   Ten thousand devoted hours. 

So let’s all give ourselves a break and accept that it’s okay to not be great right away.  Let’s know that if we listen to the chorus of idiots, we lose.  We lose the risk of failure, sure, but we also lose the opportunity to be great.    So take that chance – whether it’s starting that new training program you’ve been thinking of,  learning a new skill, or taking your life in a new direction.  Try, let yourself fail, and try again.  That way lies greatness.

And once you’ve made that first start, let me know.  I’ll try to make you an omelette.