In the dark, dank corners of the skating rink next to the bin of gear that has never been washed, skaters talk.
They talk about the strategy they saw at Champs last year. They talk about which wheels they’re going to wear on the slick as fuck surface you’re skating on next week. They talk about protein powders, electrolyte drinks, and supplements. (Oh my.)
They talk about cross training.
And you nod your head sagely but are worried they might ask your opinion. You don’t want to tell them that you don’t cross train. That when you hear them bring it up a flurry of questions flies through your mind:
- What is “cross-training”?
- Why should I do it?
- How should I do it?
- Will it really help me take my game to the next level?
If you’re new to Iron Octopus Fitness, let me tell you what I tell everybody:
Making a solid commitment to your off-skates training can change your roller derby game almost immediately. And nothing will level up your game more than focusing on building your strength.
“Well great,” you think, as you throw your hands up in the air. “That really clears up everything. NOT.”
Despite the fact that you probably KNOW you should be hitting the gym outside of practice, you haven’t done it yet. You’ve relegated yourself to a handful of air squats while you wait for the laundry to finish drying. Or that one time your team was really into doing off-skates workouts for about a month.
There are myriad reasons why you should absolutely get thee to a gym and pick up something heavy. But since I’m an athlete and competitive as hell, I want to convince you to start strength training because it will turn you into the skater you dream about when you close your eyes at night.Let's face it, full-contact sports on roller skates are easier when you're strong. Click To Tweet
Ready to start strength training and getting stronger? Check out Beginner Strength School.
Or keep reading.
Okay. But I’m intimidated AF.
I planned on starting this article with tips and tricks for lifting; all of the important things to keep in mind as you embark on this type of the training. Then I realized that often what holds us back from doing it is that it’s:
- Brand new.
- Done around people that aren’t brand new to it.
The gym, the equipment, and the people can seem like extras in a horror film when you’re very first confronted with them. Do I run away like in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Or do I stand still like this is Jurassic Park?
Maybe just THINKING about going to the gym in your town gets your heart racing enough to feel like you’ve done a nice cardio training day.
Here are some truths about the gym that are not always self-evident. Internalize them so that when you start to feel uncomfortable, you can remind yourself that’s it not that big of a deal:
- You have as much right to be there as anyone else. It might not feel like it at first, but it probably didn’t feel like you belonged on a roller derby track at first either. Now you’re all about claiming your lane and too bad for opposing skaters that want to take it. With consistency, your confidence in the gym will grow. You pay a membership fee and you belong there.
- Everybody starts somewhere. Even those jacked bros you see grunting over there on the bench press haven’t always been jacked. They had to start at the start, too.
- EVERYONE is as self-conscious as you are. You get better at hiding it, though, I promise. I’m always worried about looking dumb in the gym. New gyms still terrify me. But it helps to remind yourself that every other person in there feels that fishbowl effect.
- ALMOST EVERYONE will be so wrapped up in themselves that they won’t even notice you. People chasing the perfect pump, bobbing their heads to (secret) Adele ballads, and snapping sweaty mirror selfies aren’t paying attention to you. Most people are too busy #workout #fitspo #legday.
- MOST PEOPLE will cheer you on. Or they would if they were paying attention to you. I get totally stoked when I see anyone taking up lifting for the first time. It’s like when you see someone taking up skating for the first time. Did we just become best friends?
- SOME PEOPLE will judge you. But fuck them. Haters gon’ hate and all that.
You might still be telling yourself “I’ll go to the gym when I’m in better shape” or “I’ll start next month”. Okay, but you probably won’t. Not unless you push yourself to step outside your comfort zone and step inside a gym right now.
But first, RECONNAISSANCE.
Just because you’ve made the decision to head to your local gym and start strength training doesn’t mean you have to do both on the same day. Start small.
Commit to going.
Once you walk in, there are 2 potential courses of action:
- Approach the front desk and ask for a tour. This is the best option because they can show you how to work machines, where to stretch, and any extras your gym might have available to you. They might also provide you with some common gym etiquette.
- Hop on a treadmill for a walk. This gives you a chance to LOOK busy while you spend time scoping out the area. I still use this method when I go to gyms I’m not familiar with. 5-10 minutes of looking around while walking at a leisurely pace usually gives me the confidence to go forth and train.
Ideally, you’d employ both of these methods the first time you go to the gym. After your tour and leisure walk on the treadmills, you can head to the stretching area and walk yourself through some simple stretches. This is another opportunity to get the lay of the land and get more comfortable moving around the gym.
Your first day at the gym out of the way. Now you know where everything is and you can plan your next trip — for strength training — feeling much more confident.
I’m confident in the gym. Now what?
Now you start to move.
If you’re truly new to training off-skates consistently…
it’s probably a good idea to start with a bodyweight program.
Being able to move your body with control through space is a skill that has to be built and practiced. Just like plow stops. When you go to do your first lunge in 100,000 years, you want to make sure that you can focus on what your body is doing and not on how to avoid dropping the weight on your face/knee/toe/hand/etc.
Once you are comfortable with your treadmill/stretch routine, you can start to build more confidence in the gym with a super simple bodyweight routine:
- 10 squats
- 10 push-ups
- 10 superpersons
- 10 squats
- 10 push-ups
- 10 superpersons
- 10 squats
- 10 push-ups
- 10 superpersons
HOW TO DO A BODYWEIGHT SQUAT:
Thanks to Girls Gone Strong for this tutorial video.
HOW TO DO A PUSHUP:
HOW TO DO A SUPERPERSON:
Rest as needed, but try to only rest in between circuits. That’s after you’ve completed each group of exercises once. (10 squats, 10 push-ups, 10 superpersons = 1 circuit)
It’s easy to run headlong into strength training once you’ve gotten that first hit of confidence from conquering your gymphobia. But strength training for athleticism means building up a solid foundation of quality movement first.
Don’t take building this foundation for granted. It’s what will help you reduce injuries in the long run. For real.
The circuit above is a great starting place to get yourself moving. Then leveling up to the Stability and Mobility Program will get you ready to move on up to weights.
If you’ve been training bodyweight for awhile…
it’s time to make the jump to weights.
There are a lot of amazing gains in strength, flexibility, and endurance you can make using just bodyweight training. (Just check out all the crazy shit at GMB, if you don’t believe me.) But as an athlete, learning to push and move against additional resistance can really help you level up your game.
Starting to lift weights WILL make you a better all-around athlete. It WILL make you a better roller derby player. So let’s skip the paralysis by analysis and just do it.
After all, the best method for overcoming fear is action.
If you need this as a t-shirt, I got you.
What kinds of exercises should I do?
The ones that are easy-to-execute and maximally effective.
This is your mantra when it comes to starting a solid strength training program. You don’t want to jump into an exercise that has a huge learning curve; that way lies disaster (and horrendous injury).
- Exercises that are easy-to-execute have a low learning curve and reduce the likelihood of injury while doing them. But they also allow you to jump in and work hard WITH CONFIDENCE from the get-go. This means you’ll make bigger strength gains immediately because you don’t have to fuss with a weird, Soviet Union version of some long dead movement.
- Exercises that are maximally effective focus on the big muscles and multiple joints. This is important, too. A bicep curl may be easy-to-execute, but it won’t give you much bang for your buck. Replace it with a chest press and now you’re talking.
How should I feel before/during/after?
Not like you’re going to die.
Some people base their feelings of workout success on how gassed they feel after a workout. Or how sore they are the next day. Avoid that, if you can.
Soreness is okay, and to be expected when starting something new, but extreme soreness isn’t great. It’s going to deter you from continuing on your merry way.
Going too hard, too early is a sure way to convince yourself to quit. You should progress yourself slowly (more on that below).
Let me just repeat myself here: Fatigue and soreness are not indicators that your workout got you stronger. Remember that the goal of your program is NOT to be sore or tired, it’s to help you get stronger (or faster or more agile or whatever).
Am I actually getting stronger?
Maybe. Probably. But if you want to continue to get stronger, you have to push yourself a little.
Your sole focus in the new journey that is strength training (provided you start light and easy) is to increase your strength each time. This means adding reps, sets, weight, or tightening up your form each time you show up at the gym.
Challenging yourself each time you exercise is mandatory if you want to get results (i.e. be stronger).
Why aren’t I seeing results RIGHT NOW?
First, please, please, please keep a notebook (see the above links).
Second, getting stronger can happen without an immediate, direct impact on your skating.
If you’re increasing your reps, sets, weights, or tightening up your form each week, YOU ARE GETTING STRONGER. That strength will eventually translate onto the track.
Building your own strength up is a bit like getting the keys to a sports car. The ability to go fast and hug turns is there, but you have to learn how to drive the car first to get the most out of it.
Your strength is new, you’ll learn how to use it through continuous test drives at practice.
Try to love strength training for the sake of it. Incremental or non-linear gains are still gains (remember fresh meat?).
What if I feel embarrassed/unsure/intimidated?
There are 2 things to keep in mind if this happens:
- YOUR PACE IS YOUR PACE. You may learn quickly or you may struggle. Just know that if you really challenge yourself every day, you’re making improvements over time. Consistency and resilience are your best friends here. Don’t push yourself so hard you puke, but don’t phone it in either. Respect yourself. Respect your pace. Challenge it a little bit more each day.
- WITH NEWNESS COMES UNCERTAINTY. Going to a gym for the first time or using equipment you’ve never tried before has the potential to be embarrassing. If fear is holding you back, the best way to combat it is to get moving. Find a workout buddy, tune everyone else out, listen to that weird German Techno you like, whatever you need to do to focus on you.
WTF does all this mean?
So…workouts and exercises sometimes speak their own language. It just takes a little bit of getting used to, but here’s a primer:
- HOW MUCH WEIGHT SHOULD I USE?
Most programs won’t come straight out and tell you because everyone has different levels of strength and ability. This is hard to answer simply because everyone is so different. It’s always better to start light (no weight, if necessary) until you feel like you can perform the exercise correctly. Then you want to choose a weight that is challenging enough to get you in the rep/set ranges.
- WHAT ARE CIRCUITS, REPS, AND SETS?
These terms dictate how your workout will, well…workout.
A circuit indicates that you’ll do one exercise after the other with a short rest and then go through the exercises one-after-the-other again for the allotted number of circuits or rounds. (This is my favorite type of workout for new strength trainers because it’s quick and easy!)
Reps (repetitions) are the number of times you’ll complete the exercise. A push-up for 12 reps just means that you’ll be doing 12 push-ups.
Sets are similar to circuits and indicate how many times you’ll complete the allotted number of reps for an exercise. Sets usually indicate that you’re sticking with one exercise for a while doing multiple sections of reps followed by rest.
You might even come across programs that prescribe supersets or tri-sets. These are something like mini-circuits. Instead of doing all the exercises one right after the other, specific exercises will be put into groups. You complete all the exercises in that group, then move onto the next group. (Extra hint: supersets have 2 exercises while tri-sets have 3.)
A lot of programs give you a range of circuits, reps, and sets. If you’re new to exercising/strength training, start in the lowest range. This allows you to start slow and build up once you determine whether your body can adapt. If you’re not too sore, you can increase the number of circuits/sets and then reps until you’re at the maximum. Once you are easily hitting the max for each training day, it’s time to increase your weight!
- SHOULD I REST DURING THE WORKOUT?
Most workouts will provide you with an allotted rest time in between circuits or reps. The perfect amount of rest is *just* enough that you feel ready to go at 100% again. On a circuit workout, I typically recommend 1-2 minutes. But listen to your body.
- HOW OFTEN SHOULD I WORKOUT?
If you’re in-season, you’ll need to consider your practices. If you’re off-season and your schedule is free, shoot for 3 times a week to start. As you get more confident and more capable, the workouts and the frequency can change quite a bit.
- WHAT ABOUT CARDIO?
You want to build up strength and learn to lift heavy things right now. So that’s what you should focus on. When I’m intensely focused on building strength, I walk 15-30 minutes a day. If you’re working around practices, that’s your cardio. Please do not add more.
But…won’t my endurance suffer? Yes, but not as much as you think. Your body only has the capacity to do so many things at once. If you really, truly want to focus on getting stronger, you need to let your body do just that. Once you’re comfortable with your strength training, you can start adding power work and sport specific cardio to continue your improvement.
Now you know and knowing is half the battle. Let’s get kraken!The best method of overcoming fear is action. Click To Tweet
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