8 Reasons Roller Derby Skaters Should Cross Train

Cross training.  The phrase we use to describe what we do off-skates to try to improve our performance on-skates, keep injuries at bay, and chase non-skating goals. Whether you’re a HIIT (high intensity interval training) addict, run marathons on the side, or do nothing at all, chances are good that you realize that a solid cross training routine can help out your derby game.

cross training is great

But other than a vague feeling of “shoulds” — as in “I should probably cross train” — what are the actual benefits of cross-training for athletes? (Yes, you are an athlete. Don’t argue with me.)

1) Non-sport Conditioning

The term “cross-training” implies that you are training across disciplines. Meaning that, no matter how HYOOOOGE your quads and glutes are getting from derby, you need to do something else if you also want strength in your arms, lats, posterior chain, etc. And trust me, you do.

(More importantly, if you think derby is giving you HYOOOGE and STROOONG quads and glutes, go check out a powerlifter. I’ll wait.)

Here’s a slightly unclear analogy for you:

You love Girl Scout cookies, but you’re very serious about keeping them in cookie jars. (There’s just something about cookie jar analogies that lend themselves to cross training!) Let’s say you have 10 cookie jars, but you shove all of your Girl Scout cookies into 6 cookie jars. Wouldn’t you be able to buy — and enjoy — many more cookies if you used all 10 cookie jars?

When you focus on your sport (i.e. JUST SKATING) you’re strengthening only a part of your body. If you want to see maximum strength gains (or agility improvement or speed increases), it benefits you greatly to fill up all of your cookie jars. What that really means is strength improvement in non-derby areas directly benefits your derby skating and strength.

You can’t get strength improvements in non-derby areas without doing non-derby work.

2) Injury Prevention

You may be aware that derby is a highly asymmetrical sport. Sports that heavily favor one side over the other can create massive imbalances and these imbalances lead to structural inefficiencies and an increased risk of injury.

The only way to unwind your body from the rigors of derby is to actively counteract that strength asymmetry. Just quitting derby — don’t do that! — still leaves you with underlying imbalances. (Did I ever tell you about the time my PT diagnosed me with a twisted pelvic girdle thanks to all my skating?) Cross-training — and regular visits with care providers like a Physical Trainer, Orthopedic Surgeon, Chiropractor, Acupuncturist, Bowen Worker, etc. — are the only way to keep your strength gap from widening and helps to combat the imbalances that derby naturally causes.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the majority of roller derby injuries have overuse as a major contributing factor. Because when you use your body in only one way over and over and over again you are putting a ton of stress on very specific muscles and joints over and over and over again. Work the same muscles in a different way or work different muscles altogether to give your overstressed bits a chance to relax.

3) Active Recovery

Most of us have experienced the excruciating pain of trying to stand up from the couch post tough practice or bout. That’s where active recovery comes in. Using cross-training as a way to keep your muscles firing on non-skating days has been shown to speed up muscle recovery by increasing blood flow and the delivery of nutrients to stressed out muscles.

Active recovery days are lighter than a normal skating practice or non-skating workout day. Think of a leisure walk around the block or a nice, slow swim in the pool. The idea is to get your body moving in a way that is different than how it moves with derby, but not create additional stresses to your muscles. (Foam rolling counts as active recovery! Eh? Eh?)

Meet my favorite active recovery routine.

4) Prevent (or fix…) Imbalances

This ties in nicely with numbers 1 & 2.

You may never have to live through the suck fest that is getting injured, but you are still racking up muscular imbalances at an alarming rate when you take on the sport of roller derby. Muscle symmetry is key to keeping all your bones in the right place and all your joints functioning optimally. I’ve mentioned how to counteract the most common imbalances HERE and HERE. Most of these exercises can be done quickly as part of your dynamic warm-up or added into a regular cross training day.

Friends don’t let friends turn imbalances into injuries.

5) Gain Strength

{Thereby increasing your cap for speed, power, and agility.}

Cross-training gives you the opportunity to progressively overload your muscles, joints, and bones. It sounds like that might be a bad thing, but it’s actually not. Increasing the volume and intensity of your cross-training workouts leads directly to gains in strength that can translate to better athletic performance on the track.

Most skaters that have been skating for a while are at the cap for progressively overloading their derby practices. (SIDE NOTE: I do not recommend wearing weighted vests or ankle weights at practice to try to mimic progressive overload because it can increase your imbalances and chances of injury.) Your practices are likely not getting progressively harder for you which means that your strength has plateaued if derby is all you do.

6) Prevent Boredom

Sometimes we get burnt out on skating. The signs? Lack of excitement, lack of motivation, increased irritation with other skaters and league duties. And that’s okay. But cross-training can actually help prevent boredom and burn out.

For me, there’s nothing quite as focusing as getting under a barbell or taking a long hike outside. Maybe for you, rock climbing clears your head. Great! Start doing it on days that you don’t derby. Is Salsa Dancing on your list? Sounds good. Get kraken.

All it takes to fall back in love with derby is to fall in love with something else, too. (Or, you know, try something new and loathe it.)

7) Avoid Plateaus

As mentioned above, most skaters reach a practice plateau once they’ve been playing derby for a while. That doesn’t mean you won’t improve your footwork or increase your track awareness or absorb new strategy, but it does mean that you are as strong as you’re going to get from practice.

Do you watch new skaters hit a wall after they’ve been with the team and consistently improving for 3-6 months? That’s the plateau.

Cross-training can get you past that plateau. I promise. Just try it for a few weeks. What’s the worst that could happen?

CW: The last number in this blog is VERY steeped in diet culture

and the idea that your body changing is somehow bad or wrong. It’s not. Your body is doing wonderfully. And it will go through many seasons (both during and after derby) where it will change. I’m leaving this in the blog because I want you to be able to spot diet culture bullshit even when it’s not overt. But, if you know that body image or fatphobia are a trigger for you, STOP READING HERE.





8) Post-Derby

No one likes to talk about the time “after derby”. Meaning you’ve officially re-re-re-retired and you are no longer skating 2-4 times per week or bouting every month. It happens. To all of us.

Don’t go gently into that good night. If you set up good cross training habits now, you won’t have to watch your glorious derby booty shrink to flat pancake nothingness.

To me, THIS is the most important reason to cross train. You’ve spent years doing something that’s made you physically and mentally stronger. That’s encouraged you to take up space and be proud of it. That’s increased your confidence in yourself and your body. Don’t throw it away. Use your body to go out and do other things that are empowering and awesome and strength-building.

Want more?

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About IronOctopusFitness

Online athletic training and nutrition coach, full-time mom, okay skater, and connoisseur of all things tea, chocolate, and roller derby. I'll help you unleash your inner athlete by building a strong, capable body that can withstand whatever life throws at you.

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