Archive | July, 2012

Maybe I Need A Rest

30 Jul

“He that can take rest is greater than he that can take cities.” – Benjamin Franklin

Too often we just go, go, go.

Our lives are complicated.  We have thousands of decisions to make each day, hundreds of tasks to accomplish, and we spend more and more time trying to beat the rush and less and less time in tune with our bodies and spirits.

Derby likes to keep us at a fevered pace, whether it’s training, going to practices, or keeping things afloat behind the scenes.

Even the things we do for enjoyment, strength training for example, can fall prey to the need to keep pushing without stopping.  We can get so caught up in the excitement of what we’re doing, personal bests that we’re hitting, and the endorphin rush that exercise gives us, that we can neglect the fact that our gains come when we are recovering.

You know those days when you feel like you can’t stop running or all the balls that you have up in the air will come crashing down.  Those days when you wake up feeling tired and spend the day getting tired-er.  Without a recovery strategy and the tools necessary to take rest without guilt or shame, this is the fast track to trouble.

Don’t let yourself get so busy that you feel guilt about claiming your rest.  There are times in my life when I am scheduling when to shower, eat, and call my mom.  I need to force myself to remember to schedule my rest.  And when that rest comes, sometimes it’s a struggle to embrace it because I feel there are so many things that need doing.  But I tell myself over and over, “my gains will come when I rest”.

Optimal recovery is pretty simple (simple, but not always easy) – eat well, get 8ish hours of sleep a night, and have a “recovery path”.  Focus in our your relaxation – pay attention to what you are doing and what you’re not.

Here’s a great post from Geoff Pritchard about recovery strategies.

In a post a couple of years ago, Neghar Fonooni, a trainer I admire immensely, talked about her battles with stress and the need to have both mental regeneration along with the physical.   Her message in a nutshell: Breathe and be present.

Rest doesn’t have to mean stopping entirely – it just means calming the eff down, and doing things that give you pleasure.  You can still go for a skate, or a walk, or whatever you like.  You can foam roll, get a massage, do some hydrotherapy.  But the goal when you’re resting should be rest.  Mental, physical, spiritual.

Inspiration strikes when you stop forcing it.  Clarity comes when you can look away for a moment.   Strength is really recovery from trauma.

Know when to rest. Your body needs it, your mind needs it. And when you rest, fill your rest with nothing but resting.  Now, to take my own advice, I think I’ll curl up with a good book and a cute dog.


What I’m Reading Today

26 Jul

I seem to be on mental vacation this week, and can’t seem to find the time to clean my house, let alone update my blog.  Here are some links awesome people writing some fantastic posts:


There are times when we think that what we’re doing to train is the best thing or the only thing.  Jen Comas Keck tactfully explains why that isn’t always helpful.



Nia Shanks gives 30 rules on how to Lift Like a Girl.



There was a great quote on Girls Gone Strong the other day that said, “Train because you love your body, not because you hate it.  Here, Molly Galbraith gives a great post about how much there is to love.


Derby girls, you should Dean Somerset’s article.

He says that being out of pain does not necessarily mean that you are ready to go back to 100%.   Having seen tons of skaters get injured, spend a little time recovering, get back on the track, and injure themselves again, I’m inclined to listen to what he has to say.

And finally, here’s a pretty amazing video for the Paralympics.  If this doesn’t get you fired up about the love of the game, I don’t think anything will.

Have a great weekend!

Never Stop Coaching to Learn, Never Stop Learning to Coach

23 Jul

Lately, I’ve been listening to John Berardi talk about nutritional coaching.  He’s a super smart guy who has some great ideas about nutrition, fitness and behavioural compliance.

At the end of his last video, he gives this tip: “Never stop coaching to learn and never stop learning to coach.”

I love this.  In fitness and in roller derby, we have so many opportunities to learn; bootcamps, seminars, conferences, conventions, practice.  The list goes on and on.  Yet, after these learning events, it’s so easy to go right back to what we were doing before.  We all have these ‘aha’ moments when another coach will say something that really resonates.  We’ll write it in our notebook, make a mental reminder to come back to it and apply it as soon as we can.  And sometimes that happens.  And sometimes that brilliant pearl of wisdom stays in the notebook.

Sometimes I’ll go to a bootcamp or seminar and walk away feeling like what I learned will change everything I know about everything.  At the event, that’s a great feeling.  Once I get home, it can turn into self-doubt.

‘Was everything I was doing before stupid?’ 

‘I couldn’t have ever come up with that system/idea/drill/strategy – clearly I am out of my depth and shouldn’t even be doing this at all.’

It happens all the time with new diets, exercises, programs, skating strides, strategies, whatever.  We see something new and cool and think that that’s the only way.  It’s not.  It might be a better way, but it might just be a newer way.

Applying what you learn is a different challenge than learning it.    This is the “never stop coaching to learn” part of the equation.  Learning should be an active process.  Berardi says the key is to apply your new knowledge right away. Don’t be scared that you don’t know enough – know what you know, know what you don’t know.   The confidence will come.

Applying new skills and knowledge doesn’t mean overhauling the old.  It doesn’t mean deciding that everything you’ve been doing up to that point was worthless and wrong.

We need to figure out how those bits of wisdom fit into our philosophy and how we can make them work for us, our skaters and our clients.  Start by just explaining what you learned in the simplest way possible.  Share it.  Teach it.  Incorporate rather than replace.  As you share, you’ll discover how to make it benefit you and those you are teaching.

Part two is simple: “Never stop learning to coach”.  No matter what your passion, never stop learning about it.  Never stop trying to be better, to reach higher.  You can learn something from every client, from every game, from every training session and every practice.  Be open to the learning opportunities around you and you’ll be richly rewarded.

The Tramps played a game in Ottawa this Saturday and had to borrow some skaters from other leagues.  The team that we ended up with was an incredible mix – we had a skater bouting for the first time and a world-class skater and coach.  Throw in a few Tramps and Kingston helpers, and we were a scrappy, happy, motley crew.  We skated hard and had an awesome time.

On the drive home, we chatted about how even though we were all coming from different skill levels and backgrounds, each of us could take something away from the game – and that’s what really matters.

I hope that I never forget that I can learn something from everyone I meet, from every situation I find myself in.  Being new to the fitness industry, learning to learn is challenging, applying what I learn takes time and effort, not doubting what I already know is difficult – but what I come away with is worth all of the challenges ten times over.  Learning makes life interesting – why not do it every chance you get?

Bringing Up the Rear: How to Hone Your Assets

19 Jul

Sir MixaLot and I have a lot of things in common, well, maybe only this one thing: We like Big Butts.  And maybe even that isn’t completely true – what I like is STRONG butts.

In today’s day and age, we have a tendency to sit a lot, stand not much, and exercise even less.  This leads to what science-y folk call (not kidding) Gluteal Amnesia.  Dr. Stuart McGill explains it thusly: “People with troubled backs, generally walk, sit, stand and lift using mechanics that increase the back loads. They tend to have more motion in their back and less motion in their hips.  A common aberrant motor pattern known as gluteal amnesia ” in his article: “Core Training: Evidence Translating to Better Performance and Injury Prevention”, Strength and Conditioning Journal.  The hip flexors become tight from all of our time seated and/or from poor training and their antagonists, the glutes tend to get left out and become weak and inhibited.  So, we’re really overworked on one side of the joint, and really limited on the other – this does not sound like a plan for successful movement to me.  Ignoring our glutes forces other body parts to do the work that the glutes should be doing, which can often result in pain or injury, not to mention poor performance.  In layman’s terms, your ass is lazy.

Strong gluteal muscles are a huge benefit in derby.  Says Suzy Hotrod, “My leaguemate told me that getting hit with my ass hurt like being beaten with a rolling pin. I blushed.”  In the Bodies Issue of ESPN, she went on, “I like that I have a strong rear end — you can hit people with it, play defense with it, and you don’t hurt your tailbone when you fall. It’s really an “ass-et” in roller derby. It’s kind of like being tall in basketball.”

And, let’s be honest, we all appreciate a nice looking back end.

Ryan Kesler certainly has a strong posterior chain.
Courtesy of ESPN Bodies Issue 2011.

We have every reason to spend some time on our hind, so let’s get to it.

First, the anatomy.  The gluteal muscles are comprised of the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus.

Bret Contreras, The Glute Guy, might know more about your butt than anyone – here’s how he explains the mechanics: The gluteus maximus has the potential to be one of the most powerful muscles in the body.  It accelerates hip extension, hip external rotation, and hip abduction.  Eccentrically, it decelerates hip flexion, hip internal rotation, and hip adduction. Gluteus maximus also helps to stabilize the knee via the iliotibial (IT) band and the sacroiliac joint via the latissimus dorsi and sacrotuberous ligament.

Your main hip extensors are the gluteus maximus, the hamstring part of the adductor magnus, and the hamstrings.

The other gluteal muscles, glute med and glute min, abduct the thigh (pull it away from the midline of the body).    When you walk, they work with the TFL to keep the pelvis from dropping away to the opposite side.  Super important.  They also aid in hip rotation.

Blake Griffin’s gluteals seem to be in working order. From ESPN’s Bodies 2011.

Why do we forget our posterior chain?  And why does it forget about us?  Well, the body will strengthen the patterns it finds itself in most commonly.  Most of us who are desk-bound or driving all day, are sending signals to our body that say ‘this is where I want to be  – let’s load this pattern up’.  Our hip flexors tighten and our glutes turn off.

The best way to combat gluteal amnesia is with gluteal mindfulness – exercises targeted at strengthening the glutes and working on our daily movement patterns so that the glutes get involved.  Here’s how:

Your butt needs variety.  Hit it from a number of different angles, using different loading strategies.

First, relax those hip flexors, let the glutes do their job.  Foam Rolling will go a long way to help, it’ll improve your soft tissue quality and allow for improved flexiblity.  Do some static stretching, some dynamic mobility – looking at hips, ankles and thoracic spine, as well as some core stability work.  Don’t forget some glute activation drills like the glute bridge, quadruped hip extension, and side lying clam to make sure your butt is awake before you work it out.

As far as exercise selection goes, your best bet is to keep it simple and focus on form.  Make sure you are actually feeling your glutes – poke them, prod them, keep them turned on.  Start with bodyweight before progressing to loaded movements.  The drills that you use as activation can be powerful exercises too – add a band to the extension or clam, weight up the bridge or do it with one leg.    Here are some ideas to get you going:

Abduction, External Rotation: Standing Band External Rotation

Quad-Dominant Hip Extension: Box Squat

Hip-Dominant Hip Extension: Romanian Deadlift

Bent-Leg Hip Extension: Hip Thrust

Barbell Glute Bridge

Hybrid Exercises:  Sled Pushes (this lady is totally boss)

Monster Walks

If you want to put it all together, here’s my personal glute inspiration, Kellie Davis, showing us how it’s done – she does a circuit of  squats, deadlifts, high step ups, hip thrusts, barbell glute bridges, back extensions, pendulum quadruped hip extensions, and Skorcher single leg hip thrusts.

Not every training session has to be a glute session, but every session should include some mindfulness of what your glutes are doing.  Don’t neglect them, or they will get lazy and forget about you.  And nobody wants a lazy ass.

Tyson Chandler does not neglect his glutes, I do not neglect them either. ESPN Bodies Issue 2012

If you want to learn more, Bret will teach you more than you ever thought you needed to know about your butt:  Here and Here.

How to Have a Great Game: After the Storm

16 Jul

We’ve talked about getting ready for a game, and game day – let’s talk about what to do after the game, an essential part of preparation that is often overlooked.

photo courtesy of Sean Murphy

Recovery is not just the icing on the cake as far as performance goes – it’s a key ingredient for longevity and, when done right, can give you and your team a competitive edge.

Derby is a tough game and leads to all sorts of fatigue:  Physiological – your body is tired of using its energy systems, you feel sluggish and used up.   Neural – your brain is tired of sending high-intensity signals to your muscles. Ever go to practice the day after a bout and feel like you forget how to skate?  BAM – neural fatigue.  Damage – Perhaps it’s DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) from working so hard, perhaps it’s an injury sustained in the game, either way, your body is tending to it.  And finally, Psychological – we invest emotionally in each game and are bound to be psychologically impacted whether we win or lose.

After you take your victory lap and shake hands with the other team and the refs, have a plan to look after yourself that starts in the change room and ends when you fall asleep that night.

Gear Down.  Once you’re back in the change room, about 5 minutes after the game, rehydrate and refuel.  Now is the time to indulge in those carbs you’ve been craving, along with some protein.  Post heavy-workout is when your body can best use those carbohydrates to rebuild what you’ve used up in competition.  You can keep healthy, appropriate snacks in the room, or you can bring a shake.  Make sure to get something in your body to refuel as soon as you possibly can after the bout and hydrate like your life depends on it.

Cool Down.  5 – 20 minutes after the bout, your team should all be in the change room gearing down.  Now is not the time to complain about what went wrong or who did what to whom.  Once you’ve got your gear off, try to engage in a cool down.  Move lightly, bringing your body back slowly from its high level of engagement to a normal resting level.  Spend about 5 minutes just moving around.  Next, stretch it out while you’re still warm.  Take 8-10 minutes to stretch.  Often, we skip these steps (and definitely skip the ones following) because we want to see folks who came to the game, or have to get out of the arena, or want to get to the afterparty.  I beg you, take the time to help your body recover.  All in all, it’ll take about 15 minutes of your time.  Gear down faster, chat less (or move and stretch while chatting) and give your body the attention it deserves.

In other sports, athletes have a full complement of tools to help them recover immediately post-game.  In derby arenas, half of the time we don’t even have showers.  So, while it would be ideal for these next steps to happen within a half-hour of playing, sometimes that jut won’t be the case.

Once you’re back at home or the hotel (before the afterparty or dinner or whatever), help your tissue recover.  Use contrast showers (1 minute as hot as you can stand, 30 seconds as sold as you can stand, repeat three-ish times).  I love/hate my contrast showers, but they keep me from feeling like I got hit by a truck.  If contrast showers aren’t your jam, you can try a cold bath.  Indulge in some self-massage (shaking, active massage, not so much deep tissue), and keep drinking all the water.

Fuel Up.  Within the first hour, eat a meal.  Don’t underestimate the power of fueling with awesome, good food after a hard bout.  Not only will your body be craving it, the pleasure that a great meal gives your brain will help you to start relaxing.

Wind Down.   Once you’ve looked after your body’s immediate needs, you can focus deeper on your psychological recovery.  Have a ritual to unwind after every game.  Maybe you seek out a beautiful meal with some of your teammates, maybe you listen to music and go for a walk, maybe you get changed and go to the afterparty to dance.  Whatever your strategy, put the focus on relaxation, rather than rehashing what just happened.    Also, keep hydrating.  Key point: Drinking beer, while fun, is not hydration (match it 2:1 with water).

Write It Down.  Ian Jeffreys, a rugby coach, uses a great recovery ritual tool with his players, having them write a performance review following each game.  Each athlete writes down their thoughts after the game, and consequently those thoughts lose their power to distract performance in the next game.  The act of writing them down helps the player to start to disengage from what just happened.

As a captain, I like to compose an email to my team after each game, noting what we did well, what we can work on, how awesome we are and, win or lose, how proud of them I am.  Writing it is part of my ritual, and it helps me to shake off any bad feelings I might have about the game, replacing them with love and admiration for my teammates.

Lastly, right before bed, do a recovery check.  How does your body feel? Does anything hurt in an unusual way?  If so, deal with it.  Do you feel calm?  If your thoughts are still racing, keep trying to unplug before you go to sleep.

Remember your recovery – it will keep you in fighting form, ready to face the next game and be awesome all over again.

How to Have a Great Game: The Eye of the Storm

12 Jul

Saturday is game day, week two.  We’ve talked about the time leading up to the game, and how to get your mind and body ready.  How about during the game?  How do you stay ready for whatever the universe throws your way?

Talk it through.  Remember those goals you set for yourself and your team?  Talk about them in your pregame meeting.  Find a system that everyone can get behind.  Maybe it’s a silent bench, maybe it’s a pre-line chat about strategy each line, maybe it’s saying each goal out loud and celebrating when someone achieves one.  Whatever it is, make sure everyone knows the plan and is supportive of it.

Warm it up.  Incorporate an off-skates component into your warm-up time.  Your body will thank you later when it doesn’t feel so much like it got hit by a truck.  Make it fun, be sure to work in all directions, using your whole body.  On-skates warm-ups are as unique as snowflakes.  Each team will have something that works for them.  From my perspective (and I know there are those who disagree), I prefer to go half-intensity during the warm-up.  Think hockey players shooting into the net than instead of full-out checking each other.  A half-intensity warm-up wakes up your brain more than anything.  It gets you relying on your motor learning, so that your cognitive skills can focus on the myriad decisions that come your way throughout the game.  Your off-skates should take care of getting the muscles nice and warm, your on-skates should get you thinking and skating like a team.  If you can, keep your warm-ups as close to game time as possible.  This lessens the chance of you cooling down and getting injured.

Cheer.  Team cheers are amazing.  Find one that makes your team awesome.  All of the above steps should be part of your pregame ritual – find a rhythm that all of your skaters can get into.  The more you can do together, the more together you’ll be on the track.

photo courtesy of Sean Murphy

This past November, TCRG had the extreme pleasure of hosting Bonnie D. Stroir for a bootcamp.  This next part could easily be called “What I Learned from Bonnie D. Stroir”. 

On the Bench.   Your bench should be a safe place – it should not hold any of the negativity that happens on the track.  Once you get there, unplug, hydrate (you should try not to feel thirsty at any point in the game) and reset.  You cannot do anything for the skaters on the track, so let them do their thing, and take that time to get where you need to be.  Treat each new jam as a fresh start and come in with fresh eyes, fresh energy, and a freshly bonded line.  Captains – be the calm you want to see in your team.  If you are freaking out, your team will follow.  There are times to pump your team up, for sure, but there are rarely times for you to be visibly angry or upset.  Also, captains and bench coaches – pay attention to the climate on the bench and keep it where you want it.  We have all seen games where folks don’t get played as often as they think they should.  Have a team culture with an open policy for discussing this outside of game time.  The only reason a player will feel bad about their amount of play is if they didn’t see it coming, make sure they know what will be expected of them coming in.  The bench is no place for complaints or in-fighting.  If you’ve talked about it first, it won’t be an issue when it happens.  If you are a team that advocates equal play time and someone is sitting a lot, make sure that the players know that they should be communicating this with the bench staff.  Again, if we talk about it , we all feel better.

On the Track.  Bonnie D. said it perfectly “Sharks don’t look excited about lunch”.  No one should be able to change your game face – keep yourself cool, calm, and focused.  If you feel yourself panicking on the inside, breathe, touch a teammate and focus on your form.  You’ll be back where you need to be in no time.  Keep in mind that it’s not about winning or losing, it’s about performing at your best, each and every time. 

Halftime.  Go to your dressing room, restate your goals, talk about what you need to do to achieve them, hydrate, and get back out skating as quickly as possible.  A long non-skating break will cool you down – try to stay warm, engaged, and together with your teammates.

In the Box.  If you are in the box, the jam is still your jam.  Your only response should be “how quickly can I get to the box?”.  Give yourself a boring running commentary of the action so that you stay plugged in, but not emotionally charged.  The minute in the box is your punishment, don’t keep punishing yourself for being sent there, it does no good to keep beating yourself up.  Don’t be sad, don’t be angry – be a shark.

On that note, When Something Effed Up Happens.  Things happen in roller derby that we can’t control.  We all have bad games, bad jams and bad plays.  When it happens (and it will happen), don’t indulge yourself and become overly emotional.  That takes your energy away from the task at hand.  When you are back at your bench, unplug and reset.  Bonnie had a great tip – If you start beating yourself up, you are abusing a member of the team and that is not good for the team.  So, when you start to feel bad about yourself, and start engaging in negative self-talk, ask yourself “would I say this to my teammate?”.  If the answer is no, don’t say it to yourself.

So, on game day – Have goals, have a chat, have a ritual, have standards and finally, HAVE A BLAST.    Have a great game, everyone.

How to Have a Great Game: The Calm Before the Storm

9 Jul

The Venus Fly Tramps and I have a whirlwind July.  Three weekends in a row, three very challenging teams (one weekend down, two to go – thanks QCRG!).  It’s  a marathon, but we’re ready for it.  Why are we ready?  Preparation.

Game preparation doesn’t just happen on game day – here’s how I see the process:

First, Know Thyself.  When pro sports teams compete, they have a Championship plan.  They draw out a roadmap of where they want to get to and create actionable steps to get there.  Luludemon has a great post about deciding what kind of derby team you want to be.  Her key points: Have a team culture – what kind of team are you?  Joy Collision said the best way to build a team is to have “shared biological events” – eating, sleeping, travelling.  Keep your team culture in mind as you engage in the basics together.  Have a team code of conduct – how do we become that kind of team?  What will and won’t we tolerate?  Have team goals – what do we want to accomplish together?  Knowing these things makes team decisions about a million times easier because you all have a clear idea of what the team ethos is, and what you need to do to get where you want to be.

Whatever your team culture, it is super important to be honest about your skills, know what you do best, and know what challenges you.  Being honest with yourself will help save a lot of grief when your coach makes decisions that you struggle with.  It will help you to see what you can learn from your linemates each and every jam.  If you can be honest and clear about your capabilities, it will open up the lines of communication within your team, and you’ll find that you end up growing and progressing together.  Maybe you are way better at holding a jammer in the pack than clearing her.  Maybe your linemate is a heavy hitter, but is a little shaky when it comes to staying with a jammer.  Because you’re being honest about what you’re great at, BAM, you’ve got a strategy (you hold, she clears) and you’ve helped make line-planning easier for your coach.  It’s a little thing, but honesty is the one tool that will help a team get through those rocky patches, break through plateaus, and become amazing.

Next, Have Game Goals.  Before game day comes, establish both personal and team goals.  Make them clear in your mind before the game.  Personally, I find that positive goals: ‘I will break through that scrum start’ are more effective than negative ones: ‘I won’t back block while going through that scrum start’.  Also, try to make your goals process rather than outcome based.  The scoreboard doesn’t tell the whole story – achieving a personal best will often be a far greater reward than a winning score.  Have team goals too –  revisit them each jam, re-voice them at the half.  It will help keep your heads in the game and bring you together as a team.  A favourite team goal for the first season of TCRG’s Plan B (our new B Team) was to be better players in some way at the end of the game than at the start.

The Day Before the Game (Boutmas Eve).   I think we should all identify as athletes and treat our bodies as such all season long.  However, I know this is not always the case.  I’m a trainer; I know to eat well, get enough sleep, and cross-train to support proper function and I routinely get a one out of three on those benchmarks.  Nia Shanks has some good ideas about day-to-day nutrition.  Regardless of whether you do it all the time (promise me, you’ll at least try to remember you’re an athlete, I’ll try too), the day before a bout make sure to eat clean.  There’s no one perfect meal – try to eat things that are real food, will serve as adequate fuel for your body (a mix of complex carbs, proteins and fats) and aren’t unusual to your diet.  The day before a bout is not the day to try a new food for the first time.  The Tramps will often get together the (early) evening before a bout to get our heads together and to eat some healthy foods together (remember what Joy Collision said about shared biological events).  It builds our team up, and gets us in a collective mental state for the next day.  Columbia State University has an awesome article on sports nutrition here.  Drink tons of water, prepare yourself mentally (dial in to those goals) and try to get a good night’s sleep.

Bout Day.   Eat a pregame meal 3-4 hours prior to the bout – again, there’s no one right way, though starches will be converted to energy in a more timely way than fats and proteins.  Make sure to be fully hydrated prior to game time – keep your water bottle with you and filled up.  You want to average 2-3 cups of water every two hours leading up to the bout and another 2 half an hour before the game.  Once your biological systems are in order, it’s time to get your mind right.  Oftentimes skaters are setting up the track, running the door, coordinating volunteers and then skating a bout.  That’s derby.  If you have to do it, make it a part of your pregame ritual.  Find the meditation in laying out a track or counting out tickets.  Keep your focus on your goals, and delegate jobs to non-skaters if you can.  As your league grows, your game-day responsibilities will lessen, but if you’re in a position where you still have lots to look after, try to keep your eye on the prize throughout.

With that groundwork laid, you are well on your way to an awesome game.  This brings us to the warm-up, pep talk, and game time – which, as you well know, is a whole other post.