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.


Summer Yummers

25 Jul

Didn’t even realize it had been over a month since my last post – oh summer derby season, why are you so crazy?  I’ve missed blogging, but the derby, she needs me.

In the height of derby game season, it can be a challenge to keep things straight (your life, your appointments, your mountainous pile of email).  One thing that I’ve been working hard to keep on track is my nutrition.

I find that in summer, it can be easier both to eat healthier – salads, good cuts of meat, lots of veggies; and to sabotage ourselves – fast food on road trips, lots of food-centric get-togethers.


I read an interesting article the other day about aiming to eat for the weather.  It suggested that food not only has a thermic effect, but that each food has an “energetic temperature”.  “Hot” foods consumed by an already stressed person would cause toxic heat in the body, resulting in anger, elevated blood pressure, and headaches.  A cold person eating “cold” foods would be more apt to experience aches and pains, and maybe catch cold.

Some examples from the article:

“Heating” foods – ginger, squash, cabbage, hot peppers, beef, lamb, chicken, brown rice, lentils, winter squash, nuts, garlic, cherries, oats

“Cooling: foods – apples, pears, corn, watermelon, asparagus, spinach, bok choy, citrus, tomato, seaweed, yogurt, crab, alfalfa sprouts, tofu, cauliflower

Do I buy it?  Not really – however, I do think that each season (and each bodily state for that matter) has foods that are easier to eat since they’re in season, are ripe and tasty, and either make you feel light and energetic (summer), or warm and comforted (winter).  The examples above would seem to fit with the idea that the more you eat in season (or even better, grow for yourself), the better you’ll feel, no matter what the weather.


On that note, here are some recipes I’ve been rocking this summer.  I’m working on increasing my protein intake (ALL THE PROTEIN!  ALL THE TIME!), and eating veggies with every meal.  That second one is easy since there are so many awesome vegetables around right now.  To try to eat more mindfully this summer, but still eat meals that I know and love, I’ve been making educated substitutions and additions.  Instead of having mashed potatoes, I have cauliflower puree – with the right seasoning, I’ve actually come to prefer the cauli.  Instead of just having a side salad, I protein it up.  Here’s what I mean:



  • 2-3 giant handfuls spinach
  • can of tuna or salmon
  • slices cucumbers
  • handful cherry tomatoes
  • sometimes mushrooms or scallions
  • sometimes orange slices or berries if I’m really adventurous
  • oil-based dressing or balsamic vinegar

Mix together.  Eat like a boss.  It’s so yummy and summery, and will get you a decent protein intake for such a light meal.


LETTUCE TACOS (serves 1-2)

  • 2 big lettuce leaves (iceberg)
  • 1/2lb ground beef
  • chili seasoning and dried pepper flakes
  • diced jalapeno pepper
  • 1/2 each diced onion, green pepper, tomato
  • grated cheese, sour cream, salsa to taste

Fry veggies, and beef together (not tomatoes unless you like them mushy, I don’t).  Drain excess fat.  Add seasoning, mix well, let sit  – since you don’t have a starch to soak up the fat, you want to make sure that the meat mixture has a bit of time to thicken.  Prepare cheese and other toppings.  Add meat mixture, toppings into lettuce leaf.  Roll like a soft taco.  Enjoy!  Tacos are awesome – tacos with added veggies are even more awesome!

two fresh zucchini isolated


  • 2 zucchini
  • 1 cup cottage cheese (I use 2%)
  • mozzarella (or whatever) cheese, sliced or grated
  • flour
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 1 diced tomato
  • 1 each medium green pepper and onion
  • 1 cup mushrooms
  • 1lb ground beef

First thinly slice the zucchini lengthwise (long, thin strips).  Boil until soft – set aside to dry.  DON’T SKIP THIS STEP.  You might think you don’t need to let the zucchini dry, but trust me, you do.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Fry ground beef until brown.  Drain excess fat, add green pepper, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, tomato paste.  You can add the green pepper and onions earlier if you’d like them to soften.  Add tomato paste.  Let simmer on very low heat.  In a separate bowl, combine cottage cheese, a bit of grated cheese, egg, and flour to thicken.  Once zucchini “noodles” are dry, you can assemble: zucchini layer – cheese mixture layer, with added cheese on top – sauce layer.  Repeat and top with cheese.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, until browned.  If you don’t let the noodles dry, your lasagna will be soup.  It will still be delicious, but it will be runny.  Please dry your noodles.  This keeps really well in the fridge, and might even be tastier as leftovers.


What I love about these recipes is that they take foods I already love, and make them lighter for the summer (except the salad, adding meat just makes it better).  I’ve tried lots and lots of ways to “eat better”.  Denial only works for so long.  The only method that works on an ongoing basis is finding meals that you love, that are also good for your body, and working them into your regular schedule.

What about you, what are your go-to summer dishes?

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.





On the Road Again: How to Survive a Derby Road Trip

23 May


We’re in the height of derby season, and what does that mean?  Derby road trips!  In fact, I’m headed out on one myself (Quebec City, here we come!).

Derby road trips are amazing.  They’re fun, they’re a great way to bond with your teammates (as Joy Collision says shared biological experiences bond a team like nothing else), and they’re a chance to have wicked adventures.

They’re also a chance to be trapped in a car for 8+ hours with girls that you see 3-4 times a week, along with their cases of stinky gear, trying to navigate to oftentimes hard-to-find arenas.  Hm, interesting predicament.  Chance for awesome fun – absolutely!  Chance to be cranky and sick of each other by the time you get there – yes ma’am!

So, how to you survive, nay, dominate a derby road trip?

1.)  Drive/Room with like-minded people (but don’t let that stop you from driving/rooming with new friends too.

It’s important to fill your car and/or hotel room with people that won’t make you crazy.  That’s not to say that driving with girls you don’t know will be a bad experience.  Often some of my best trips were with girls I knew very little, since being trapped in a car together forced us to get to know each other and find common ground (other than derby).  If you want to get to bed early, try not to be in the party room.  If you want to make sure to hit the road bright and early the day after your game, make sure your car-mates are on board.

2.) Have a schedule, but be open to unexpected fun.

I’m sort-of Type A.  I like to have everything organized all of the time, so I like to run a pretty tight ship when it comes to my road trips.  I have audiobooks on hand if the conversation lags (silent car for hours on end, not fun, trust me),  I have car games to play when stuck in traffic, and I try to plan my rest stops as best I can in advance.  Stuffy, right?  Yep.  And I know this about myself.  So, that’s why, for me, it’s important to remember that if we pass something cool or exciting, it’s okay to spend a bit of time there.  The only thing you *really* have to do on a derby road trip is get to the arena on time – so allow yourself time for unexpected adventures.  They’re often the best part of your trip.


3.) Bring snacks and a cooler/Check out local restaurants in advance.

I like to eat pretty healthily (as best I can).  I track what I eat.  Not having agency in my food choices freaks me out a bit, so I like to have healthy options along the way.  Traveling needn’t be a reason to completely derail your nutritional plan – and derby girls should try to eat like the athletes they are.  I research cool restaurants in my destination city before I leave, and I check out their menus.  I keep a cooler with water and snacks in it for the ride.  Having a solid plan helps you stick to your healthy habits.

4.) Keep the trash talk to a minimum.

Yep, where there’s derby there is drama.  But that doesn’t mean that you need to talk about it for the whole trip.  Instead of spending all of your down time getting riled up about the things that bother you about your league/your leaguemates/the team you’re going to play/the refs/etc., talk about what’s awesome about your league/your team/the refs.  Talk about strategy, and what you need to do to be even more awesome – both before and after the game.    Talk about things that aren’t derby so you don’t burn out.  Getting down on the things that irk you will only make the trip feel longer.

5.) Wash your filthy gear.

4+ skaters, 4+ gear bags, sweaty bout, heat of summer.  Blerg.  Wash your gear before you leave so that at least the ride there is pleasant.  Your teammates noses will thank you.


6.) Finally, pack smart. 

I was a Girl Guide, so I’m always prepared.   Here’s what I pack:

  • Uniform, gear, tools, tape, sharpie, scissors, extra helmet covers, the usual stuff
  • Clothes, but not really many of them, since most non-drive time will be spent in an arena and trunk space is at a premium
  • Change of wheels (for floor variety) or vinegar/rosin
  • Snacks and a cooler (for the car and the hotel)
  • Cash (for buying merch and cool stuff along the way)
  • A bathing suit (most hotels have pools or hot tubs)
  • My own pillow (I hate hotel pillows, they are way too squooshy)
  • Phone Charger (and phone)

Derby trips are fantastic, they often end up being the best derby memories that you create.   Remember to take pictures.  Remember to respect your teammates.  Any tips I’ve missed?  I’d love to hear from you.

Have fun derby trippin’!

I would totally go on a trip with these guys.

I would totally go on a trip with these guys.

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.

F**king Derby!: The Science of Sport and Cursing

18 Apr

Sometimes, in derby, in the heat of the moment, we say bad words.

Sometimes to our opponents, sometimes to our teammates, and sometimes, even sometimes, to the refs. And sometimes we feel bad that we lost control of our mouths like that.


But what if it wasn’t our fault that we had momentary trucker mouth?

What if it was the fault OF SCIENCE!

Of late, I’ve been listening to an audiobook called Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs, it’s awesome, go read it. In the book, he talks about a study wherein cursing increases pain tolerance. This is my kind of study. Obviously, my mind went straight to all of the cursing that happens in roller derby, and that it just might be that science is making us profane.

A study was conducted by Richard Stephens and Claudia Umland, where college students were recruited to put their hands into buckets of ice-cold water.  Some were allowed to repeat a curse word of their choice, one that they might use if they hit their thumb with a hammer, others were only permitted to say a non-curse word. 73% of those who were permitted profanity were able to withstand the stimulus longer (31 full seconds!) than those who weren’t.  They had the groups switch words, the results stayed the same – cursers were better able to withstand the pain and their perception of the pain intensity was lowered.  These results replicated the results of a study that Stephens had conducted in 2009.

“Swearing increases your pain tolerance,” says Dr. Stephens, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Keele University and lead author of the study.  Uttering expletives engages the endogenous opioid mechanisms, the brain’s natural pain-relieving chemicals.  This process is part of the body’s “fight or flight” response.

The results suggest that cursing is more of a reflex than a choice, that using a curse word  serves as an alarm bell to the body.  When study participants used expletives, their heart rates were consistently higher than when they were repeating non-obscene control words — a physiological response consistent with fight or flight.  “In swearing, people have an emotional response, and it’s the emotional response that actually triggers the reduction of pain,” says Stephens,

“Our research suggests that swearing is a useful part of language that can help us express strong emotions or react to high pressure situations.”


Steven Pinker, a Harvard psychologist, thinks humans are hardwired to swear cathartically (which is different from swearing artistically) .   If you step on a dog or cat’s tail, it will yelp.  “Swearing probably comes from a very primitive reflex that evolved in animals,” Pinker says. “In humans, our vocal tract has been hijacked by our language skills, so instead of barking out a random sound, we articulate our yelp with a word colored with negative emotion.”

Now here’s the thing; in the study, if you were a regular potty-mouth, you didn’t get the same benefits from being allowed to curse during the study. Just like any other opioid, you can build up a tolerance.  Those who swore just few times a day doubled the amount of time they could withstand the ice water when allowed to swear.   On the other hand, those with the highest levels of everyday swearing (max. 60 swear words per day), did not show any benefit when permitted to curse.  Overuse  “blunts [swear words] of their power when you do need them. You should save them for just the right occasions.”  says Pinker.

Whether on the track, or being cut-off in traffic, choose those choice words sparingly.

So, if you’re having a tough jam, and you’ve just gotten taken out by an opposing blocker’s massive strike – let those f-bombs fly!  Your brain will release the chemicals you need to keep at it, and your tolerance for the pain will be momentarily improved.

This study is awesome news for derby skaters – not only does swearing bulk up our pain tolerance in the heat of the game, we can’t even be blamed for doing it because we are physiologically built to do so.

Take that, ref!  No two-minute penalty for me!


photo courtesy of Joe Mac

Science is awesome.

Want to learn more about why we swear?

Steve Pinker, who pretty much has the best job in the world, lays it out for you in this fascinating two-part video.  If you have 20 spare minutes, it’s well worth a watch: