For a long time after I started lifting, I only thought about strength in terms of the gym:
- How much weight am I putting on the bar?
- Is there a heavier dumbbell I can lift?
- When will I squat my bodyweight?
I knew intellectually that getting stronger under the bar meant that I was stronger in other places, too — on the track, in everyday life — but it never occurred to me what that meant or how that might look.
Until the day my son decided to practice his “jumping.”
BUCKLE IN FOR STORY TIME.
One day, as I was trying to corral my little on downstairs, a terrifying thing happened. Autotot straight up trust fell toward me from the very top of the stairs. A full-on, no-holds-barred, complete surrender to his trust in me (and gravity, of course).
I happened to have my hands full at the time. I was carrying a dirty diaper, a full water bottle, and a backpack full of school supplies. As happens on hectic mornings, I was half turned away and distracted.
THEN out of the corner of my eye, I saw the beginnings of the trust fall.
I turned around as fast as I could and managed to halt #autotot’s fall to the death with a hand on his stomach. My shoulder and core muscles straining as he laughed maniacally. I held him there suspended at a 45° angle above his impending doom. And I realized for the first time what the strength I had been cultivating in the gym could actually do.
He could have died, the little jerk.
After recovering from my heart attack and returning those little feet to pitter-patter against solid ground, I realized something.
There is NO WAY I would have been able to do that if I didn’t lift weights.
The truth is that the above statement makes it’s way into my realizations frequently. There are a lot of things I do in my life that I wouldn’t be able to do if I didn’t lift weights:
- Heaving my luggage into the back of the airporter (or into the overhead bins on an airplane).
- Carrying all of the groceries into the house in one trip.
- Picking things up off the ground as my son cries on my shoulder.
- Helping my partner carry heavy shit into and out of the house.
- Getting hit at full steam by a skater that has 30 pounds on me and not falling ass over elbows. Most of the time.
Being stronger has enabled me to do so many things that I never thought I could. Or that I wouldn’t have even tried before. And it also shows up in some unexpected places. I not only got stronger from adding weight to my lifts at the gym, but I got faster, more explosive, and more powerful.
My skating actually got better, too. I noticed. My team noticed. Opposing teams noticed.
WHY DOES BEING STRONGer MATTER?
Roller derby, throughout all of its iterations, is a game of flash. We love the big hits and fancy footwork. We “ooh” and “ahh” over the apex jumps and the sternum blocks. We thrill to the jukes and toe stop work. That stuff is sexy and sex sells. (Fishnets and booty shorts, anyone?)
Skaters often get caught up in the sexy when it comes to cross training too. We see Scald Eagle doing a grand jete on her toe stops, over skaters, on the line, and we want to do it too. We see Bonnie Thunders juke out an entire wall of blockers and we want to do it too. We watch Kayla Gaska level two consecutive blockers with a shoulder check and WE WANT TO DO IT TOO!
Be real. How many of you, when you see someone like Stephanie Mainey practicing her blocking with a heavy bag, run out to find a place where you can do that too?
I thought so.
But just like everything else, all that flash came with a lot of behind the scenes hard work. (Think of it like advertisements and photoshop. There’s a lot of “ugly” to hide away if you want sex to sell.) Now that I’ve ventured down this analogy rabbit hole just far enough, let’s get to the point.
All those “tricks” you see high-level skaters doing are built on a foundation of strength.
I mean, have you ever tried to grand jete? Off skates? It takes a level of core strength and stability that most people aren’t walking around with. High-level athletes train hard outside of the spotlight so they can dazzle you when the pressure is on. That flash isn’t magic, it’s not even flash, it’s their hard work coming home to roost.
This is why strength training is underrated. The flashy moves that we see, drool over, and covet for ourselves don’t look directly related to strength. But all of those skills: speed, stability, power, agility, explosiveness come from a base of strength. If you can increase your strength base, you can increase your ability to be faster, more stable, more powerful, and more agile than you were before.
“Let’s look at an example of a couple [of] cookie jars with cookies in them to explain this maximum strength phenomenon. Let’s say we have two jars of cookies that are the same size. Let’s say these cookie jars represent two athletes who have the same amount of maximum strength. Now let’s say the cookies represent all of the other physical attributes in an athlete like speed, agility, power, and endurance. The size of the cookie jar determines how many cookies can fit inside.
The two athletes then spend the off-season doing two different training programs. Athlete #1 spends his off-season getting stronger, working on improving his maximum strength (i.e. growing his cookie jar). While athlete #2 stays in great shape, but doesn’t get any stronger. If we now look back at the cookie jar analogy, athlete #1 now has a larger cookie jar with the ability to put more cookies in his cookie jar. Or more clearly stated, athlete #1 now has a higher ceiling for how fast, quick, and agile he can get.
All because he got stronger. Maximum strength is that important for athletes.”
ANALOGY FROM CONNOR DOHERTY
Strength training is also really important when we talk about exercise carryover.
Workouts and cross training that builds overall strength (and therefore increase the size of your cookie jar) have direct carryover to the strength that you’ll be able to access during roller derby. The physical act of being able to squat 200lbs may not have a direct correlation to any physical action that takes place on a derby track, but the strength that those squats build carries over to stronger hits, more explosive movements, and greater stability.
BECAUSE STRENGTH MATTERS.
It’s the foundation of every athletic quality.
As you add strength, you add stability, speed, agility, power, and explosiveness.
It’s the skeleton key.
Because even if you never have to get hit full steam ahead by somebody that looks like they can rip your head off, you might have to fend off an overeager pitbull or help your neighbor carry their bedroom set up 3 flights of stairs.
Want to challenge yourself in the gym this month? Ready to start building your own foundation of strength? Want access to all of the cool skills on-skates?
Come take the Strong September Challenge and join the PFP Roller Derby coaching group. It’s a supportive community of other skaters also trying to up their game and get stronger for life.
Here’s an idea of what the program entails:
- A 5/3/1 based strength program to add 10-20 pounds to your main lifts in 4 weeks. If you decide to join the group for more than a month (you should!), you also get a new training program each month to keep you progressing toward your performance goals and leveling up every aspect of your game.
- Access to a private Facebook Coaching Group where you can ask questions, post form videos, get encouragement, or vent your rage at the bros in your gym. It’s the best way to keep yourself accountable for your training and make it work for you.
- Weekly Live Coaching Calls that cover in-depth tips and tricks for getting the most out of your training program. Or managing your stress. Or giving you permission to quit being so hard on yourself.
- Accountability and Action. Being in the group with other like-minded athletes and putting some skin in the game will help you stay focused, work harder, and get results — whatever they look like — faster. Nothing like a wee bit of competition.