The first time I stepped out onto a roller derby rink in skates seems like both eons ago and yesterday. Eons ago in the sense that my knowledge of roller derby has evolved tremendously, but yesterday in the sense that I still struggle with a lot of the issues that all fresh meat do.
The fact is that all roller derby girls need work on basics, and anyone who says otherwise is a god damned liar. Freshies should take comfort in the fact that the best leagues in the sport still do basic balance and agility exercises regularly. So while I write this blog entry with freshies specifically in mind, hopefully the chicks with radio frequencies scribbled on their white t-shirts (I seriously thought that’s what they were at first, and I know I’m not alone) won’t be the only ones gleaning some sweet juicy knowledge from this reading.
I’d originally planned on covering lots of different sweet juicy aspects, but realized quickly that the length of that blog entry would be approximately as long as a preschooler’s rant on anything, so I’ve decided to focus on two of the bigger issues facing fresh meat.
One of the most formidable things we have to accomplish as fresh meat and often even as vets is the 27 in 5. Oh my lanta is that shit hard. It sometimes feels like the longest five minutes of your life, and just when you feel like you can’t push your miserable aching thighs anymore, you have to push them harder. I was that bitch blessed with long legs who got her 25 in 5 (back when it was 25) in two months time starting from when I first put on skates. I know, I know, try to hold back your seething hatred and jealousy. If it makes you feel any better, take comfort in the fact that I have a small torso, so should I ever get knocked up I will look like a whale that’s been beached, dead and bloating for at least two swelling summer days.
In my time skating I’ve learned a few things that have helped me push my numbers higher. Kiki Urhaz, the trainer who I reference frequently in my posts once said that even without endurance vets should be able to get their 27 in 5 without an issue. I like to think the lessons she taught us after that stuck, because the first day back from a four month period where I did zero endurance because of a foot surgery I got my 27 in 5. If you can refrain from making that effigy of me to shove needles into long enough, I’ll tell you the things that helped me, and will hopefully help you get to that holy grail of 27 laps.
The single most important thing that Kiki taught us was to lengthen our strides. Let me say that again, because it’s a point that cannot get enough emphasis. LENGTHEN YOUR GODDAMN STRIDES. What I mean is that when you’re doing your crossovers, push your foot out as long as you can until you’re pushing off with the edge of the front left wheel. Both of your feet should be making long strides and pushing off the floor for the maximum amount of time they can. Quite often we make the mistake of assuming that quicker steps mean better laps, but the opposite is true. Slower, drawn out steps with the maximum amount of push help us get the most laps, simply because it doesn’t tire us out as much. If you’re dying thirty seconds into your five minutes, evaluate what you’re doing. Odds are you’re taking short steps, and that constant stepping is tiring you out faster than the octobirth tired out octomom’s vagina.
I know what you’re thinking. ‘Easier said that done, you long legged bitch.’ I know, I know. But I wouldn’t talk about it if I didn’t have some drill suggestions to back my shit up.
There’s a couple of drills I’ve done to practice and reinforce the idea of long strides. The first came from Olympic speed skater Dan. Don’t wait up for a last name, because I don’t fuckin know it. Olympic speed skater Dan, whose expertise was most suited to helping us get that 27 in 5, had us propel ourselves around the track using only a total of six strides. Three strides per half track was all we had to push ourselves. For every additional stride we took, we had to do five pushups.
Ok, alright, I made that last part up. Olympic Dan didn’t do shit about us taking extra strides, but that’s stupid and nullified the effect of the drill. Intense core workouts are a great motivation to make people push themselves (holla at’ya Smokin Okie), so don’t give your team or yourself the opportunity to be lax about this exercise by being apathetic about people taking extra strides. Enforce that shit by giving them delicious abs and a better chance at their 27 in 5.
Another drill that taught well the value of long strides was Ms. Urhaz’s drill. Kiki had us skate slowly along the track, taking our time to get our feet out and push for as long as humanely possible. We took our time to stretch our legs out and get the feel for what it meant to push with every part of our feet, until the tippy tip of the left front wheel leaves the ground and you’re pushing with your other foot. If you’re having trouble with Olympic Dan’s modified drill, then do this one for a bit and then try his again. Different people learn different ways, so it might make one of the drills click if the other is done first. For me, Kiki’s drill is what made Dan’s click, but it may be different for others.
I hope that explanation shed light on the importance of lengthening your strides. If it didn’t, reread this shit until it does because lengthening your strides is, in my opinion, the most important aspect to getting your 27. And if you disagree, I know a certain Olympian who would tell you to check yourself before you wreck yourself.
Of course, I type this knowing that some people struggle with crossovers more than anything else in the beginning. Crossovers are the foundation to a long stride, and should be happening the entire way round the track once you get up enough speed to get your 27 in 5. Chin up, folks who are struggling with it, it’s just a matter of practice and repetition. I believe in you! I especially believe in you if you tackle the matter of practice with some of the drills I’m about to outline for you.
Which drill you do should be based on what aspect of the crossover is throwing you off the most. If you don’t know, try to do some crossovers and pay attention to what’s holding you back. It could be that you’re freaking yourself out and are afraid to fall. It could be that the feeling of your legs being crossed is just awkward (we know how you like it, no judgement). It could be you’re so used to your balance being centered between both of your feet that you don’t know how to switch your center of balance from one foot or the other. There are a surprisingly wide range of possibilities for what’s keeping you from perfecting your crossover, so it’s absolutely worth putting some critical thought into.
I’ll just say this and get it out of the way: If you’re afraid to fall, just fuckin’ fall. Take one foot off the ground, fall and tuck your shit in like Buffalo Bill. Once you do it enough times your misplaced anxiety will realize it’s not actually anything to be afraid of and go away. If you continue to avoid crossing over or continue to hesitate, that’s shit’s going to stick around like herpes. Make that fear your bitch.
One of the basic drills for crossovers that addresses getting used to crossed legs is what my league calls not being a dirty whore. Just kidding. We call it a grapevine. You’re essentially just sidestepping over your own foot. Let’s say you start with your right side parallel to a wall. Balance your weight on your left foot as you bring your right foot over your left and plant it on the ground. Your legs should be crossed. Swing your left foot around back to a normal position. Repeat until you’ve sidestepped your merry way to the opposite wall. Do it the other way now, with your right foot balanced on the ground and your left foot stepping over your right. This motion also does a pretty decent job of addressing switching your balance between feet, so it’s a drill that vets should be doing as well. In my grapevine research I realized that other leagues have different drills called grapevines. I’m not saying they’re wrong and need to re-evaluate their nomenclature, but they’re absolutely wrong and need to re-evaluate their nomenclature.
One handy-dandy drill I came across in my research for crossover drills comes from the skating coach of the Nashville Rollergirls, xlracer. My favorite part of this exercise is that you can do it at home. Since my husband is not ok with me skating on our hardwood floors my time on wheels is limited, so I appreciate having effective drills that will placate that sexy beast. I also love it being cheap, because you only need stairs, and the fact you do it barefoot, because my inner dirty hippie is not fond of shoes. To do this drill you essentially go up the stairs in a low, parallel position, without putting your feet on the same step. So if your right foot is starting closest the steps (as you stand parallel), step up with your left, and pull your weight up with your left foot. Then take your right foot and put it on the step above where your left foot is, pulling your weight up with that right foot. Then take your left foot, and put it on the step above the right foot, pulling up with the left foot. Repeat, stepping on every other step with each foot. Your feet will cross over each other as you do this. Keep low, maintaining your derby position, and you’ll be doing a pretty spiffy fuckin’ crossover. Do this drill over and over and you’ll see it translate quickly to your crossovers on the track.
Another drill comes to us from Powersnatch of the New Orleans Rollergirls. It’s essentially skating counterclockwise in a circle around a cone in four stages, maintaining a 10 foot radius from the cone. The first stage requires that your left foot be as stationary as you can manage while you push yourself around with your right foot, sticky skate style (meaning all eight wheels stay on the ground like they’re sticking to the floor). As with almost any drill we derby girls do, maintaining a low derby position is important. Once you get used to that, start pushing with your right skate so that it comes off the floor a little, still maintaining the ten foot radius. Remember to keep your head up. Looking at the floor increases your chances of ending up on the floor. Once you get comfortable with that, it’s time to throw in an arm swing and stepping over. Lift your left arm behind you a bit and swing your right arm out as you’re pushing with your right foot. When you have a comfortable pace, start stepping over your left foot with your right foot in as smooth a motion as you can manage. Your right arm should swing back as you cross over, and forward as your foot moves back to its normal position. Don’t skip the arm swinging, it’s incredibly helpful. In her explanation Powersnatch emphasizes leaning to the inside of the turn, even if it feels like you’re going to fall over.
If those aren’t enough for you here’s one more for your insatiable derby appetite, coming all the way from Gotham. Even though I’ll always be a little disappointed in any drill that comes from someone in Gotham not named Batman (can you imagine that mofo on skates? That would have made The Dark Knight Rises so much better), shoutout to Megahurtz for posting this on the interwebs where I could find. It’s called the ‘Tuck and Hydrant’. Skate around the track and as you near the first turn lift your inner leg and coast the entire turn on that skate. At the second curve lift your outside leg and coast the entire turn on your inside leg. Once you get comfortable doing this, you want to progress towards the drill namesakes, the tuck and hydrant. The tuck is what you should eventually progress to as you lift your inside leg on the first curve. It’s when you lift your inside leg and point it towards the outside, behind your outside leg. If you’re bending your knees like you always should be, then she describes it as “if you are trying to sit on your inner leg.” The hydrant is the eventual progression of lifting the outside leg on the second turn. It’s called a hydrant because it looks like a dog pissing on a hydrant to some degree. You lift your right leg to the side and behind you as you coast. Megahurtz advises to “remember to also lean into your turns and, swing those arms!! When you use your arms to balance you, it allows you to put MUCH more into your pushes.”
If you’re more of a visual learner, here’s a few links to some crossover drills you can watch, from the same thread as Megahurtz’s comment:
As you do any of the drills I’ve listed here for laps or crossovers, there’s a few final things to always keep in mind. First off, remember to stay low. Get low, then get even lower, and stay there. There is no such thing as getting too low in roller derby. A 90 degree angle in your knees is the power stance, which, for those of you who aren’t mathematically inclined is really fuckin’ low. My thighs are hurting just thinking about it, because that’s how much it burns. But in a good way that will make for great sex and better derby later, so just focus on that part while your thighs are temporarily screaming about being in the fifth circle of hell. Second, lean into the curve. It will keep you from slipping as you skate. Third, look at the corner of the track where you’re going, not where you are. You want to keep your sight about one and a half curves ahead of where you are. If you’re entering curve one, look at the end of curve two. If you’re leaving curve two, look at the beginning of curve four. This keeps your shoulders squared with your desired direction, lining up your momentum so that it moves your speed along instead of hindering it.
If you’re still here, thanks for reading through, and I hope you found something on here useful. If I didn’t credit someone properly, if you have something to add or want something clarified, comment or message me. I am also open to taking suggestions on what my next entry should focus on, should anyone have anything specific they’re struggling with.
Write ya next time,
PS Seeing as how this blog is getting a few more views than I anticipated, I tried to make the format a bit simpler and easier to navigate. Here’s hoping that five minutes of effort is helpful to someone in the blogosphere.