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Do The Work: My Path to StrongFirst

14 Nov

Tomorrow I’ll be heading to Bang Fitness in Toronto to participate in a StrongFirst Level 1 Kettlebell certification.


I am beyond excited.  And a little bit (or rather a huge, massive, heaving bit) scared.  I have trained all year for this weekend.  I have followed a meticulous training schedule (thanks Brett Jones!).  I have read theory, watched videos, and attended workshops (thanks Chris Lopez!).  I’ve tried to dial in my diet, and I’ve been progressive and particular about weighting up my bells.  I’ve done countless swings, squats, get-ups, cleans, presses, and snatches.  In short, I’ve tried to do the work necessary to become certified at the end of the weekend.

Here’s the thing – I still might not pass.  I might end the weekend with a bunch of knowledge, and more work to do.

Strongfirst is a very challenging certification.  You need to be able to demonstrate your ability to teach, perform, and persevere.  The lifting standards are detailed.  The workouts are grueling.  The weekend is long, and hard on the body and mind (so I’ve heard).  It’s also incredibly rewarding and, pass or fail, you come home better and stronger than you were.


So, what does this have to do with roller derby?

More than you’d think, actually.

As you know, I train all of our fresh meat.  I also train our league skaters. I have seen a lot of girls try to become derby skaters.  I have seen a lot of them succeed, and I have seen a lot of them quit.

Please note, I’ve not mentioned seeing anyone fail.  Derby is tough on you – both physically and mentally.  Derby takes a lot of commitment, time, and energy.  Derby forces you to be honest about what you can do, and what you have yet to be able to accomplish.

You only fail if you cease to try.

That’s how I’m looking at this certification – either I’m ready to pass, or I still need more work before I’m ready to pass.  I don’t fail.  I don’t suck at everything.  The instructors won’t be wrong and biased and just have it out for me – either I’m ready now or I’m not yet.

Derby is the same way.  I have seen dozens of girls lose their bananas over not being drafted, rostered, or played.  I have seen them call themselves all sorts of names, and beat themselves into the ground.  Over and over again, I’ve seen skaters call themselves failures, and then I’ve seen them spiral into self-doubt and poor play.  I’ve also seen skaters pull themselves up after missing the draft (or roster or line) and come back at it hard.  I’ve seen them attack their challenges like mad dogs and turn those challenges into the skills that they dominate.

Want to guess which strategy makes better derby skaters?

What matters is not always the outcome – we can’t control the outcome most of the time.  What matters is the input.  What matters is doing the work, and being confident that you’ve done the work.  Sometimes you’re just not the right person for the job, sometimes you’re not the one who needs to be on the roster, or the one who makes the team.  But if you did the work, you have nothing to be ashamed of if the output isn’t quite what you wanted.

Don’t get me wrong – if I don’t pass this weekend, I’ll likely be upset and I’ll go through some “what did I do wrong” drama with myself.   Not getting what you want when you feel like you’ve worked hard for it STINKS.   Especially when you feel like you’ve done all you can do.  But if that happens, it will likely be that I just wasn’t ready yet.  And accepting when you’re not yet ready is a pretty important skill to learn.   It’s one I’m still working on.  But I’m thinking of it this way, no matter which way things go – I spent a full year dedicated to a very specific goal.  I worked my tail off, and have already accomplished things I never thought I could when I started.  I met some wonderful people.  If all I focus on is 5 minutes at the end of a 3-day weekend, I’m not giving myself nearly enough credit for all of the amazingness that I’ve already achieved.  If you focus on one roster (or line or whatever), you’re not giving your whole derby journey nearly the weight it deserves.


photo courtesy Joe Mac

So whether in derby, or training for a tough kettlebell certification, or anything you’re excited about – do the work.  Don’t avoid your challenges.  No one ever became a champion by ONLY doing things they were already good at.   Ask for help when you need it.   Do the work with confidence.   Let that confidence show no matter the outcome.

Rocking the “Big Rocks” of Weight Training

16 Oct

Most of you know that I’m a big fan of Booty Quake (from the other TCRG) and the awesome content she posts on Roller Derby Athletics.  She always has fantastic videos, gives great advice, and really cares about the conditioning of roller derby skaters.

Roller Derby Athletics logo

Well, since Booty is jet-setting around the world, she graciously offered to let me guest post on her blog.  SO EXCITING!

Without further ado, here’s part one of a two-part series about how to craft a simple and effective weight-training program that focuses on the “big rocks” of training.

Keep your eyes peeled for part two, coming soon!


Sex and Sports and Fitness, Oh My! (Part One)

5 Sep

A recent article in the Daily Mail caught my eye.  I’m not on the Twitter, so I didn’t see any of it first hand, but 15th seeded French tennis player Marion Bartoli, who won June 6th’s Wimbledon final, was trolled like crazy on Twitter after winning the championship.

First of many? Marion Bartoli beat Sabine Lisicki to grab her first ever grand slam title

The trolls made fun of her looks, calling her ‘ugly, ‘manly’, and ‘a fat slob’.  You can read all of the nasty details here.

First, that it’s a shame that I was able to find more coverage of the internet trolling of Bartoli than details of her win.  Second, that I’m pretty sure this sort of thing wouldn’t happen in men’s sports.  Which got me thinking, how much of a role does sex appeal play in women’s sports?  It also got me thinking about how sex appeal sells fitness, but I’ll cover that in another post.

Let’s look again at tennis, where Wimbledon officials (in the 2009 tournament) admitted that they take physical attractiveness into consideration when assigning courts.  Anna Kournikova, once ranked 19th in world, routinely makes more sponsorship money than much higher ranked players, including the Williams sisters.   She starred in a music video with Enrique Iglesias.  She does countless magazine covers.   Nora Lanktree, of Lanktree Sports Celebrity Network, who matches endorsers and athletes says it’s a matter of economics – ”For an advertiser, the most important element is visibility,” Ms. Lanktree said. ”And in sports, women are just not as visible.”  Female athletes who get that visibility are less often the ones with great accomplishments, and more often the ones who are easiest on the eyes.

Even golf, which has not traditionally been a sport centering on sex appeal, has parameters about the appearance of their players, said LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw, “The very number one point … is performance. Everything else follows from that. But, you have to also find ways in which you make yourself relevant to our fan base, play the game and represent the sport with joy and passion, be mindful of your appearance and also be approachable so the fans want that autograph and that interaction with you.”

LPGA golfer, Anna Rawson

LPGA golfer, Anna Rawson

Millions of viewers tune in to the Legends Cup (formerly the Lingerie Bowl), while WNBA games can barely attract 250,000 viewers per game.

Women’s beach volleyball (with ALL the bikinis) was one of the London Olympics’ hottest tickets.

Sexist?  Sure.

A detriment to women’s sporting culture?  Well, let’s take a closer look at that.

One empirical study out of the University of Minnesota looked at whether or not sex really does sell women’s sports.  Mary Jo Kane and a colleague showed a variety of age and gender specific focus groups photos of female athletes ranging from “on-court athletic competence to wholesome “girls next door” to soft pornography”  They then asked the participants to rate their interest in watching, reading about, or attending the sport in question.   According to the results of the study, the sexualized images alienated women and older men, and offended some of the viewers.  They noted that while the prime viewers of sports, younger men, found the provocative images “hot”, they would not be more likely to attend an event based on them.  The studies claim: Sex sells sex, not women’s sports.

Hm.  Maybe.

Another point – Many marketing campaigns for women’s sports (the ones that don’t rely on sex) focus on family values, and the wholesome nature of sport.  They appeal to all generations, often highlighting father-daughter connections.  If that’s the image we’re selling, sex appeal might not be the most complimentary bedfellow.

That being said, I  don’t think this issue is as black and white as Mary Jo Kane’s study would have us believe.

To deny that sex appeal is a part of women’s sports is to deny what I believe to be a pretty obvious truth.  Men are the major consumers of mainstream sports (don’t get all up in arms, I didn’t say only, I said major).  Men are visual creatures.  Men like action, they like aggression, and a good number of them can appreciate a fine-looking lady.

Does complaining about how sexist that is help to bring more fans to women’s sports?  Not a chance.

Too often we make the mistake of assuming that using sex to sell women’s sports is all bad.  That it’s an just insidious mindset that makes female athletes into objects, and downplays their real athletic abilities.   That by relying on sex appeal to get asses in seats, we we give up any claim to sporting prowess.

I call bullshit.

Sure, it might set your teeth on edge, but women’s sports do have something to gain by not denying or railing against the incorporation of the feminine and the athletic.

The primary image we hold of sports is traditionally male (hockey and women’s hockey, basketball and women’s basketball, etc.).  Since Title Nine in the States, girls have become more and more active in sports, operating under the existing structure of high-school and college competition – a structure that used to be for the boys.  This means more and more male coaches, and a “hyper-masculine” approach to training and achievement.  To get noticed, girls have to push themselves even harder than boys of comparable skill.  If you want to read more about the benefits and pitfalls, I highly suggest Warrior Girls, a great book about girls, sports, and the culture of injury that’s been built up.

Generally, women who play sports and play them well don’t fit into the box that we use to define femininity or the one we use to define athleticism.

Katy Kelleher, of Jezebel, puts it this way:

Female athletes seem to serve as a never-ending well of material for those obsessed with both the female body and the importance of femininity. There seems to be a real difficulty marketing athletic women to the general public without resorting to these tricks, which continually reiterate that this is about a woman in sports, a female athlete, someone with two X chromosomes. In a way it makes sense that a physical career would lead to coverage that is so heavily centered on the body, but the emphasis on womanly-ness and athleticism undercuts the fact that many women are naturally athletic, that it is not impossible to be both.

Also in Jezebel, Margaret Hartman writes,

At the core of (the) stereotypes is the idea that athleticism is inherently masculine. While women’s sports are supposed to be about greater equality and empowerment, female athletes are still expected to strike a balance between being too sexy and not attractive enough. Unfortunately, until Serena Williams grunting on the court and wearing a dress and pearls during an interview are seen as equally feminine, there won’t be a level playing field for women in sports.

Again, derby, solver of all of the problems of traditional sports culture, I look to you.

Powerful AND Sexy. Photo courtesy Joe Mac

Powerful AND Sexy.
Photo courtesy Joe Mac

Roller derby holds a somewhat unique place in sports because it is defined by its female-played incarnation.  It’s roller derby and men’s roller derby, as opposed to hockey and women’s hockey, basketball and women’s basketball, golf and ladies golf, and so on.  We can define exactly the image of the sport that we want to send out to the public.  And, in my opinion, I think it’s best that image be both powerful and feminine.  Both athletic and sexy.  Roller derby is many things to many people – from the little girls wanting to be just like their skating idols, to the frat boys wanting to see hot chicks beat on each other, to the die-hard fans tracking the stats.  If we play our image card right, we can appeal to all of these people, and change (in our own small way) the way that female athletes are marketed.

The key is to make strength, power, and athletic competition appear sexy, not to sex-up the strong, powerful athletes in a context outside of their sport.  I appreciate ESPN’s annual bodies issue, but I get all up-in-arms when the athlete’s photos have nothing to do with what they do for a living.  When Suzy Hotrod was photographed, she was wearing her skates.  They’ll often have basketball players dunking, or runners in the starting blocks – fantastic.  Just lounging around like you’re on the cover of Playboy (or Playgirl as the case may be) – not as fantastic.  The photos that are the most captivating are the ones that show the athletes doing what they do best.

I guess the core of what I’m saying is that too often the pendulum is way to far in either direction when it comes to selling sex and women’s sports – they’re not antithetical.  The sex is there – but it doesn’t need to be the reason you start, the reason you stay, or the reason that drives you way deep in your soul.  Market the sport, market the action, market the power and the pull of strong bodies.  As female athletes (and marketers of roller derby), we should accept that we can be feminine and athletic.  Some examples from other sports:


“The Olympics is a platform to show we’re real athletes, …Walking out there in a bikini, trust me, I don’t feel sexy. I am mean. I am tough.” (US beach volleyball player & silver medalist, Jen Kessy)

“We don’t apologize for …the marketability of our players off the court, they’re attractive. They’re fit. They’re recognized as great athletes, which they are — some of the greatest athletes in the world.” (Women’s Tennis Organization CEO Kevin Wulff)

“It’s really wonderful to be feminine, I mean, why do you have to hide your femininity to be a professional athlete?” (Jan Stevenson, Senior Tour player)

Jan Stephenson A 2011

Ms. Stevenson goes on to say, “They may go watch the other cute girls, but when, when it comes down the stretch, they’re going to be watching winners.”

Let’s aim for a more encompassing definition of what it is to be a female athlete, and embrace all of the aspects of who we are and what we offer to the sporting world.  Let’s be strong, be agile, be whatever shape, size, and composition we are, let’s be fierce competitors, and world-class athletes.

And let’s not forget that being all of those things is pretty darn sexy.

What I Learned At: The CanFitPro Conference 2013

23 Aug

It’s that time of year again.  Last weekend, I attended the Canfitpro International Fitness and Club Business Conference.  It was their 20th anniversary, and it was massive.  Allegedly, there were 15,000 people through the doors for the conference and trade show.  I am inclined to believe it after some of the lines, and the sardine can like lecture rooms.  All in all, a pretty decent weekend – I’ve tried to highlight my big take-aways from the event, and put them into real world (derby) application.

Todd Durkin: You are only as strong as your weakest link, as efficient as your worst movement. 

My cotodd-durkinnference started with a great Todd Durkin session.  I’ve heard Todd speak before, he’s an awesome presenter, and he’s always a high-energy way to start the day.  This year’s session was “Core and Cuff”.  He focused on the pelvis, shoulder girdle, and varying your training approaches – this was a recurring theme in the sessions I went to: Don’t get so locked in to a particular hand or foot position within an exercise, but rather experiment and try new things.  Todd said not to forget the importance of breath work. And, as per usual, had the life advice that you should be regret-less, not fearless.  Feel the fear, do it anyway.

Derby Application:  There are a few derby applications here.  Absolutely that the things that scare you, both on and off the track, are often the most worth doing.  Also, as far as self-improvement and team-building goes – you are only as strong as your weak link.  That skill you hate, you should probably work on it more than any others.  That teammate who’s lagging behind, spend more time figuring out what she needs.  If you do, you’ll become a more efficient athlete, and your team will tighten up.

jillian-michaels-2008The opening ceremony keynote speaker was, wait for it… Jillian Michaels.  Hm.  Not going to lie, almost skipped this, but the trade show wasn’t open yet.  Here’s the funny part – I didn’t totally hate her.  And when I find myself parroting the things I learned, some of the insights are hers.

Where she went right was talking about being in the right place at the right time, knowing the right people and taking the risk.  she didn’t try to convince us that she was a brilliant trainer, she didn’t talk much about her training methods at all.  She mostly talked about identity.  She spoke about trying too hard to present the image that we think people will respond to (in auditions, in training, in life), mostly because we don’t think who we really are is good enough.  Yep, I can relate to that.  She said that her biggest challenge with a lot of the Biggest Loser clients is not getting them to exercise or eat right, since they’re essentially in a bubble that looks after that for them.  The challenge is to get them to believe that they are people who can exercise and eat right.  When all of your internal messaging says, “I’m lazy”, “I can’t eat the right things”, “I’m just not a motivated person”, “I don’t follow-through”, “I’m a failure”, those messages become your identity.  And questioning those statements feels like a challenge of self.  Sound familiar?  It did to me.  So the trick is to make small changes that don’t seem like a shock to the concept of self.  Sure, a lazy person might not go for a 10k run, but they could probably walk the dog around the block each night.  And thus, habits are built and changes in the messages begin to take shape.  So, Jillian, I’m actually glad I didn’t bail on your talk.


Paul Chek: I’ve never seen Paul Chek present before.  I think, like sky-diving or going to Vegas, you have to do it once.  It was a 3 hour lecture on core function and assessment.  Paul had only expected a 90-minute talk, so he went a little, um, off-notes.

Some key takeaways from Mr. Chek – Don’t eat gluten.  Don’t smoke – vaporize. Your organs are alive and moving just like plants in your body, realize that what you do with your muscular system affects the organs too.  Adrenal fatigue (caused by stress) will shut down your hip flexors and low back, really compromising your movement – the body does this on purpose to get you to slow the heck down.  Proper tongue position is pressed into the roof of the mouth behind the front teeth – if your mouth is open and your tongue is out, you are likely being chased, and are not stable.  Holding your breath usually comes from a fear pattern – teach yourself the importance of connecting to breath.

Derby application: Breathe.  Especially when you’re scared.  It will loosen up your skating, and help you to engage your whole body fully.  Also, try to keep your tongue behind your teeth.

ajamuAjamu Bernard, KBell Jam: This was an awesome session to wake up for.  Kettlebells!  Bright and early in the morning!  KBell Jam was a pretty cool diversion from the strictness of SFG training.  There was a lot more emphasis on flow and fun.  While I won’t be trading styles any time soon, KBell Jam was a interesting look into what others are doing with kbs and how the modality is evolving and growing.

PublicityChuck Wolf: The site of the injury should be the last place you look – the body doesn’t work in isolation.  Your proprioceptors are activated by lengthening, so don’t overlook dedicated flexibility work.

I didn’t get a chance to go to any of Chuck Wolf’s classes at last year’s Perform Better, and when I heard him in the PB panel, I regretted missing him.  His sessions were a big reason that I signed up for CanFitPro this year.  His Highways in Flexibility presentations were a conference highlight for sure.  Regret – not going to more/all of his sessions.

Chuck took an exploratory approach to flexibility and taught some really helpful movements that can be incorporated as stretch or strengthen.  He talked a lot about the fascial lines (still working my way through Myers’ Anatomy trains), saying that collagen favours mobility.  Our joints don’t touch, they float around in a network of fascia, so we need to take care of that tissue and work along the whole chain.  Seeing the lines in real-life movement, along with his guidance helped some of the ideas in the book to gel.  After attending both his lecture and hands-on, I’m committed to really learning about fascia, how it works, and how we can work with it.  He drove home that as trainers, we need to nail the big rocks – foot and ankle complex, hip and knee.  Those areas are where most pain can be found (knees, hips, low backs, shoulders), so let’s make sure that mobility in those areas is optimal.  He too advised not to be married one foot or hand position, height, angle, side, etc., but to vary as individual needs do.

Derby Application:  Vary your approach to learning skills.  Try different sides, different weight transfers, use different levels.  You might find that by making little tweaks to your body placement, you make a big improvement to your overall movement quality.

lopezChris Lopez: Okay, time to come clean.  I totally snuck out on Saturday afternoon, and went to Bang Fitness for an SFG prep session with the wonderful Chris Lopez.  This was the second prep session before the SFG in November.  Every time I come to see Chris and the guys at Bang, I leave feeling SO MUCH better about my training.  They give loads of feedback, great tips, and genuinely want to clean up your movement.  Also, Chris shared a quick Primal movement based warm-up that I’ve started doing in my own practice – feels great!  When I started into the new Brett Jones SFG prep program after returning from the weekend, I think I was able to synthesize some of the cues that I received at the workshop.  I did some heavy swings, really focusing on forcing the bell down, and finally feel like I got it.

img_kevinKevin Darby: We need mobility to move.  Mobility means independent living.  Personal trainers: Helping you to look good naked and poop efficiently.

Again, after having seen Kevin Darby in a panel last year, I was anxious to join one of his sessions.  This one didn’t disappoint.  I learned a ton about fascia (fascia was a big deal this year).  He described (the superficial layer) as a big jean tuxedo fresh out of the dryer – it needs movement and hydration to turn into a comfortable thing to move around in.  Without mobility and moisture, it’s like too-tight jeans, and it clamps down on your blood vessels, slows blood flow, sort of acting like a splint.  As fitness pros, we should aim to identify where in people’s day-to-day movement patterns to insult to their tissue is (where’s the energy leak, where do you move inefficiently, where are you making a compensation?) and correct it.  Without identifying the faulty patterns, we’re just going to be caught in a cycle of strengthening and resetting.  In a nutshell, doing exercise without setting the right environment (fascial, habitual, etc.) is basically dumb.

tkheadTerry Kane: I took a class on knee post-rehab with Dr. Kane.  Good stuff.  He broke down what is recommended with each type of knee injury, healing times, what will aggravate each injury, and so on.  He gave a handy tip about tissue colour relating to healing time – the redder the tissue, the faster it heals.  Also, he made the solid point that in a post-rehab situation the absence of pain does not equal complete healing.  He also had a pretty cool insight about how aging baby boomers set fitness trends (still!).  A few years ago, HIIT was all the rage, now as boomers are getting a little older, functional training, yoga, and zumba are more popular.  he posits that following that trend – aqua and cycling will be huge as the boomers age.

Derby Application: *THE ABSENCE OF PAIN DOES NOT EQUAL COMPLETE HEALING*  Do you hear me derby girls?  Because I think that’s maybe the most important thing that we need to learn as athletes.  Taking a game off to recover, even if you’re feeling better is a whole heck of a lot better than taking a season off to deal with a recurring issue.  Let yourself heal, listen to your medical professionals, be kind to your body.

toscaTosca Reno:  Tosca was the closing ceremonies keynote speaker and she was really engaging.  She spoke on clean eating, and told us all to eat more broccoli and coconut oil (which in some way will help you to get it on more).  The thing that resonated most was her encouragement to eat living foods rather than dead foods.  I think it’s an easy and illustrative way to describe clean eating.  She also advocated practicing gratitude every day.

I also took a session with Peter Twist addressing group sports conditioning.  We used some neat new toys, specifically the Surge (like a  big tube full of water).  The Surge was pretty cool, and pretty challenging, and I vowed to find a good way to incorporate more variable load work (sandbags, water, toddlers) into my training.  I also took a class with Dr. Mike Bracko that focused on innovative partner training – again, make it fun, think outside the box, vary your movement.  Dr. Kevin Jardine echoed the sentiment in his session on neuromuscular conditioning.  He said that it’s important to make exercise not only physically challenging, but cognitively engaging as well – ways to do this include variable loads, changing angles and directions, novel and unexpected movements.  I wish I’d had time to go to more nutritional sessions, but there are only so many things you can do in 3 days.

All in all, the conference and trade show were alright.  One of the gripes you can read about on CanFitPro’s facebook page is that the trade show was more geared to club managers than independents or home fitness users, hence WAY fewer free samples of stuff and not a ton of excellent deals.  Fair play, that’s where the big money comes from.  Was it a little lean on samples? Sure.  Were some of the conference sessions big pitches to spend money on the presenter’s products?  Yep (this was frustrating when the whole session was devoted to selling the product, instead of open exchange of helpful information).  I think as presenters mature, they realize that good information will sell itself.  If you help something become clear to someone else, they’ll want to buy your product, or attend your mentorship, or take your course.  If you’re closed off and say all the info is in the product, your chances of a sale plummet.  At least in my own experience, this is true of the fitness pro-client relationship too.  Just be the expert, and help people when they ask for it.  They’ll come respect your knowledge and when they’re ready for a trainer, you’ll be the guy.  And I guess the derby application would be to give away free tickets to folks who would never attend derby regularly.  You’ll make up the money in merch and beer, and you might gain some new fans.

The other lesson I learned?  Start saving now for next year’s Perform Better.

Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart (or Your Tib/Fib)

7 Jun

Maybe it’s just bad timing.  Maybe it’s just bad luck.  Maybe the stars have aligned in an unfavourable way, but something is up with my derby peeps these days.


They all seem to be breaking their bones.  No joke – 3 people that I know personally all had ankle or tib/fib breaks within a week of each other.

According to this 2012 post from one of the MRD skaters, ankle breaks are pretty common in Wisconsin, with a break happening  “every couple of months.” Not fun, but certainly not out of the ordinary for any given derby league.  Often, these breaks result in surgery and lengthy recovery time.

Was this rash of breaks a weird coincidence?  Probably.  Super unfortunate for all of the skaters?  Certainly.  Systemic problem in the way that we’re teaching derby skaters to stride, fall, and recover?  Perhaps.  League-level problem in fatigue management and safety protocols?  Heck, could be that too.

I’ve been giving knee and ankle injuries a great deal of thought since these breaks went down.  As head of training for my league, I care deeply about the safety of our skaters and I don’t ever want to be teaching things that knowingly put girls in harm’s way – other than all of the slamming into each other.   Derby is a full-contact sport and injuries are going to happen, we all know that.  Having said it though, we need to evaluate if there are preventable factors that we’re ignoring that are resulting in these kinds of injuries.  Is falling on our knees, or trying to tuck our feet beneath us (as in a baseball slide) the best course of action – sure we’re falling small – but are we falling safely?

983837_10152890605000383_1979368557_nBack when I started writing this blog, I asked if maybe we could be doing better things for our knees (after seeing a crazy run of knee ligament injuries in our league).  I’m not alone in wondering if what we’re teaching is doing us more harm than good, Mercy Less posed some wonderful questions about it 2011 and Punchy O’Guts wrote a beautiful article in April that I read and re-read all the time.

I think Mercy is totally on point when she asks, “Who decided we have to fall on our knees in derby in the first place? Why? What criteria was used in this decision? Who tested this idea?”

The likely answer is we made it up ourselves (with heavy borrowing from skateboarding), and shared what worked best for us at the time.  Don’t get me wrong, one of the lovely things about roller derby is the open sharing of tools and information – but 10+ years later we still haven’t, as a whole, looked outside of our little community to really examine the science of roller derby and the long-term effects of the skills that we teach, nor have we come to a consensus about how to keep ourselves safer.  The new WFTDA minimums are getting better (knee taps instead of knee falls, no baseballs or suicides), but we’re still teaching girls to fall small and use their knees.  Why?  We’re still teaching falling drills, period.  Why?

After reading Punchy’s article (a million times), where she asks if other sports teach falling, I too tried to find examples of falling drills in any other sport training, and came up with nothing.  The closest I got was this video, which is not a fall at all, but rather a resistance of falling.

Obviously every break, sprain, strain, and tweak is different, and we ARE going to fall.  Maybe if we stop teaching (perhaps injurious) falling tactics and let skaters fall naturally in ways that their minds deem safe in the moment, we could avoid some nasty injuries.  Our brains are magnificent things and will try to protect us in sticky situations.

HOWEVER, derby is a team sport, and the safety of the other skaters on the track needs to be taken into consideration as well.   I remember the firestorm when Atom first released their small profile pads.  The derby-verse was awash with criticism of the sprawling, which is the norm for speed skaters (and artistic skaters, and soccer and volleyball players, and so on).  People said, ‘we’re not speed skaters, we can’t fall that way, think of the other skaters we’ll be kicking the feet out from under’.  Which are all valid concerns.  But football, hockey, and rugby players get hit and fall, and they all sprawl or roll, trusting that their teammates are skilled enough to navigate around them.  They have a little more space to work with than we do, sure, but we can’t ignore that virtually no other sport advises that athletes “take a knee”.  Then again, this is just me borrowing ideas from other sports again – what we really need are some facts of our own.


Here’s what I think is the most important part of what Punchy has to say:

“I think falling drills are counterproductive. I know of several skaters who, when blocked or start to lose their balance, default to falling instead of trying to stay up. I think this happens because the muscle memory says it’s time to fall, rather than find your balance! spin out of it! use the momentum! If those skaters had more balance training and less falling drills, I think they would spend less time kissing the floor and more time as an effective teammate.”



More Stumbling, Less Falling

Punchy outlines some awesome balance drills in her post.  Here are some more that we’ve started to incorporate at our league:

Partner Perturbations:  Get into partners.  One partner stands on one foot, maintaining her balance.  The other partner pushes, pokes, and prods (safely) from all angles.  Balancing partner uses her core to stay upright.  Perturb for 30-60s, then switch legs.  You can do thing moving or stationary.

Sumo Fights:   Also in partners.  Partner pairs spread themselves out on the track, each on one side of a line (this works best when the line is not raised – you can also do this with painted lines in a hockey arena).  Partners lean heavily on each other trying to push their way over the line while moving forward.  Coach skaters to keep their supporting leg underneath them, use their glutes and abs to push, and not to rely solely on upper body.  Push for 30-60s, then switch sides.  This drill is not about aggression – it’s about controlling your body – no hitting, just even pressure.

In addition, let’s teach more avoidance, agility, and awareness, so that falling skaters are less of a hazard.

Balance drills are a part of the solution.  Offskates warm-ups are a part of the solution.  Sound strength and conditioning are a part of the solution.  Examining the way that we teach (or don’t teach) falling is part of the solution. Encouraging skaters to take FULL recovery is a part of the solution since the greatest predictor of future injury is previous injury.

Managing the fatigue level of skaters at practice is another component.  Especially in the summer, when attendance levels can be lower than usual, we need to be careful not to over-do it, and allow sloppy drills and scrimmaging.  Sure, injuries can happen any time of year under any circumstances, but if numbers are low and fatigue is high, high-risk drills might not be the best practice.

Reaching out to experts in this sort of thing is also a part of the solution – as a community we need to be less afraid to ask for professional help when we need it.

We need to spend less time fussing over the tiny details that we love to fight about – who’s eligible or not eligible for Champs, whether jammer penalties and passive offence breaks derby – and more time seeking out answers to the big questions – how this sport actually affects our bodies both short and long term, how we can keep our skaters the safest while maintaining the excitement and spirit of the sport.

I love you, roller derby, but I don’t love when you break my friends.  Let’s work on it.


Got a break?  In recovery?  Here are some resources that might help you:

Roller Derby Athletics – How To Survive a Derby Injury

Derby Hurts Community

Examiner – Ankle Strengthening

Five on Five – Coming Back from a Break


3 Jun

The weather here in Southwestern Ontario has been super-crazy lately.  Below 0 one day (that’s 32 for you ‘Mericans) and up to 30 (86) the next.  Crazy town.

Though the weather has clearly gone off-plan, you should not.  I’ve already written about how to keep training outdoors in cold weather, so here’s how to keep your cool when it’s hot outside.  Who knows, if you’re in Ontario, you might need both of these strategies.


First of all, don’t be stupid.  If you can see the oily haze of summertime heat rising off the pavement, maybe right now isn’t the best time to go for your first 10k run.

Our bodies are great little creatures and they can do incredible things provided we give them the right conditions.  Our bodies regulate heat by sweating, which helps us keep cool.  However, when we sweat, we lose fluid.  As long as you remain hydrated, your body should be able to cool itself.


When you become dehydrated in extreme heat, trouble can start.  Your body will start to store heat, and your core temperature will rise.   This can lead to such enjoyable side-effects as fatigue, dizziness, nausea, weakness, cramping, and vomiting.  Once your temp climbs above 104, you may lose your ability to sweat, and lose consciousness, all of which can signal heat stroke – which is serious and can kill you, so don’t let things get to that point.  Ever.

Have I scared you off steamy summertime workouts yet?  No?  Alright, then here are the things you need to do:

1) Work Into It

Our bodies like to adapt gradually to stimulus, and temperature is no different.  Don’t go whole hog your first summer session – maybe do a type of training that you’re already familiar with, or take things at a slightly slower pace.  Take rests when you need to.  Maybe two-hour endurance practice in your non-air conditioned arena isn’t the ideal plan if you’re already sweating just from carrying your gear in.

2) Hydrate

Seriously people.  Hydrate well and hydrate often.  If you are cutting significant weight (more than a pound) from pre-to-post workout, you are probably not hydrating enough.  If your pee is darker than lemonade, you are probably not hydrating enough.  If you’re going four to six hours without peeing, you are probably not hydrating enough.

Precision Nutrition says to drink:

  • 500 ml of fluid on the night before exercise
  • 500 ml in the morning
  • 500 to 1000 ml, 1 hour before exercise
  • 250 to 500ml, 20 minutes before exercise

and then a gulp every 15 to 20 minutes during exercise.   For every pound of sweat lost during exercise, rehydrate with 2 cups of fluid.  You are also losing sodium and potassium in your sweat, so it can be helpful to include a sports drink in your mid and post-exercise hydration strategy.

3) Wear Light, Breathable Clothing (Especially Shorts)

Make sure to wear light clothing that wicks sweat away from your skin.  I never wear sleeves, so I’m okay on that front.  However, I do not like to wear shorts.  I am pretty much this colour (and nobody wants to see that on display):

imagesHowever, when it’s hot out, I rock the shorty-shorts so that my major muscle groups can stay cool.  To maintain my pearly-whiteness though, I load up on the sunscreen, and reapply as needed.  A sunburn limits your body’s ability to cool itself (plus they are not fun to have, plus if I see you with one I will totally nag you about sun-care), so prevent burns before they start.  If I’m out for a long time, I include a hat and sunglasses too.

When it’s derby time, wear as little as you safely can – nobody likes sweaty skin scraping on concrete.  Always wear all of your gear (obviously).  If you feel yourself getting too hot, take a break, move (far) away from the action – ideally behind the boards, take off your helmet and hydrate.

4) Exercise Early (before 7 am) or Late (after 6 pm)

If you can manage it, these are the best summer fitness times.  It’s not yet the peak time for sun,  and you’ll avoid the worst of the heat and humidity.  If that’s not an option, consider training somewhere climate-controlled.  If that’s not an option, at least find a spot with some shade.

5) Use Your Common Sense and Listen to Your Body

This shouldn’t even need saying, but sometimes fitness and derby people get so keyed up about training and practice that they push themselves too hard and wind up sick or injured.  Hear me when I say that challenging your limits is awesome, but ignoring them is foolish.  And super-sweaty-summer time is not the time to see how hardcore you can be.

Summer is awesome, and nature is beautiful, and training in the great outdoors is one of life’s simple pleasures.  Just play it smart, know your body, and keep it cool.


Game Face

2 May

We have a big game this Saturday.  A BIG game.  A game my team has been preparing to win for years.  As such, I thought a pre-game tip was in order.

So we’re clear, my team LOVES smiling.  We’re all sort of hippies, who like to bake and get along and throw theme parties and all that good stuff.

This is our typical face:

Photo courtesy of David Crane

Photo courtesy of David Crane

In researching how to beat our rivals, I came across this interesting study, which I think has carry-over into derby. Two recent researchers studied the images of MMA fighters and their win records. Those smiling in their pre-fight meet-up were more likely to lose the match.

The researchers, Michael Kraus and Teh-Way David Chen, had coders who were unaware of the purpose of the study, look for smiles and smile intensity in photographs of 152 fighters in 76  UFC pre-bout face-offs. Data on the fights was then obtained from official UFC statistics.

The researchers wanted to test the idea that, in the pre-fight context, smiles are an involuntary signal of submission, just like teeth-baring is in animals.  Just like they predicted, the more fighters smiled, the more likely they were to lose.  Fighters with neutral facial expressions were more likely to dominate the following day’s match.

Hmmm, so maybe the smiling is not so much a tool that helps keep us loose and relaxed, as an unconscious show of nerves.

Perhaps not surprisingly, smaller fighters smiled more often than larger fighters.  I might be what you call a “smaller fighter”.

Building on the initial data,  Kraus and Chen asked 178 online, non-experts to rate the aggression and physical dominance of the same fighter either smiling or expressionless in a pre-match face-off.  Smiling fighters were consistently rated as less dominant.  The follow-up data suggests that not only is smiling before competition a subconscious signal of submission, it’s one that your opponent can pick up on.

That’s tough.  As I said, I love smiling.  But, as far as this game is concerned, I love winning more.  So, on the track the only face you’re going to see is this one:

Photo courtesy of David Crane

Photo courtesy of David Crane

But before you put your lovely smile entirely on the shelf in the name of derby dominance, here’s a follow-up:  You need that smile to better recover from stress.

Like I said in my last post, we’ve got cursing to help us stand the pain of the game during the bout, neutral expressions to demonstrate our physical prowess pre-bout – what about post-bout?

Post-bout, put those pearly whites on display.

In an research report, by Tara Kraft and Sarah Pressman (2012) studied 169 college students.  They hooked them up to a heart rate monitor, and had them spend two minutes doing a difficult task, using their non-dominant hand to trace a star-shaped design without going off a provided outline, using only a mirror image to guide them, having been given unrealistic predictions of accuracy.  They also made participants put their hands in ice-cold water (what is it with scientists and these water tests?).  Stressful, right?

Here’s the meat of the experiment – The participants were divided into groups: Some forcing their faces intro neutral with chopsticks, some forcing mouth-only smiles with chopsticks, and some forcing Duchenne smile (both mouth and eyes) with chopsticks. Duchenne smiles are generally regarded as “genuine” smiles.  Within the “smiling” groups, half were told they were supposed to be smiling, half were just told how to position their faces.

Regardless of their awareness, smiling participants returned to their pre-stress heart rate more quickly than those with neutral expressions, and the Duchenne group recovered slightly more quickly than the mouth-only group. If you’re looking for a more complete recovery after an exhausting bout, make sure to smile it up.

What did I learn from all of this reading?  Keep your game face on.  It actually does make a difference.  I liken it to walking into a room with your power stance (neutral spine and pelvis, arms relaxed and by your sides, feet shoulder width apart).  When you carry yourself with power, in your body, in your face; you will feel more powerful.

In derby, we can use all the confidence boosters we can find.  Returning to neutral face is an easy one to employ, and one that you can use to reset after each jam.  Bad call?  Nasty hit?  Miss an obvious play?  Let it go, and clear your face.  Make it a routine, and before you know it, those tough moments won’t phase you quite so much.

Time to get your game face on.

Smiling – save it for the afterparty.

Here is my after-party face:

Photo courtesy of Nick H.

Photo courtesy of Nick H.