Controlling Your Hits

Hitting the shit out of people is not only essential to playing roller derby, but also one of the funnest aspects of the sport.  To this day one of the most exhilarating moments I’ve had in this sport is the feeling I got when I hit someone so hard that, over the din and chaos of the track, I heard the entire audience go ‘OOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHH’.  Because we’re apparently violent sociopaths, when you land a hit right and knock a bitch down like a sack of potatoes it’s a rewarding and wonderful feeling.

Quite often  I see hits that are desperate looking and over committing to the hit.  Skaters who hit like this approach hitting in an all or nothing way, doing everything they can to get a hit in.  As a jammer I love those kinds of hits because they’re easy to see coming, easy to avoid and easy to counter-block.  If I get into a solid position and counter block just a little then the opposing blocker’s weight takes her down for me, and I’m free to go on my point scoring way.  Good hits are not doing whatever you can to hopefully land a hit.  Good hits are practiced and calculated movements that take out specific skaters in neat, penalty free ways.  A good hit compared to an all or nothing hit would be like a surgeon excising a titty tumour with a scalpel versus a fucking food mixer.  The first is precise and calculated, the second is making a mess and just kind of hoping shit will work out (it won’t).

It’s worth noting, also, that hitting with that all or nothing style is fucking dangerous.  Falling in a pack is fucking dangerous to you and everyone around you.  Hitting someone sloppily is extremely dangerous to that person.  We want to win the bout not cripple opposing skaters for life, so be conscientious of how your skating can potentially affect other players and practice good form.

I’ve seen drills aimed towards teaching the proper form of hitting, but I don’t think it’s something that gets the explanation and attention it deserves.  I think that understanding the importance of WHY we need good form is important enough that it should be explained early on before fresh meat are cleared for contact.  Bad habits die hard, so it’s best to stop them before they get started.

If you’re doing any of the following, then odds are you’re blocking like a reckless idiot:

  1. When you hit your outside foot comes off of the ground and you’re balancing on one foot
  2. You’re pawing at the ground like a god damned horse with one of your feet
  3. If you fall after you’ve landed your hit
  4. If you fall when you don’t land your hit
  5. You usually get penalties when you hit
  6. The jammer is in front of you when you hit her out
  7. Your hits kind of annoyingly push her forward instead of hitting her out
  8. She doesn’t fall down because you hit like a weakling who has somehow not died yet despite Darwinian principles.

If those things don’t happen when you hit, good job on hitting effectively.

For me there are multiple aspects of an effective hit, so here are what I consider the most important:


Timing is hard to get right.  If you hit too late the jammer just slides past you.  If you hit too early you end up pushing the jammer forward, which is the opposite of what you want.  This is a matter of practice.  For this there are a few drills I like to do to help people practice their timing.  I’m including some drills to help with this and the other basic aspects down below.

Keeping your fucking arms in:

Sometimes during drills I make my players plank every time they commit a penalty, so you better believe there are some washboard abs on my team.  Despite how much planking sucks I still see these bitches push their elbows out like they’re doing the fucking chicken dance on skates.  Elbows. Forearms everywhere.  It’s craziness.  When people hit they instinctively throw their elbows out and get a penalty for it.  When people fall they instinctively reach out and grab other people as they go down.

Here’s a tip: Hold your hands when you hit.  I saw one of the players on my team do it without even realizing it, and it was really effective.  It keeps you from grabbing, and makes it a little harder to throw elbows out.  Another thing you can do is swing your arms the opposite direction of where you’re hitting. It gets your elbow and arm out of the way.  In my head I tend to think of it as a whimsical ‘whooop there it is’ as I swing my arms and hips.  Like I’m busting a sweet dance move that has the ulterior motive of hurting someone.

Keeping your weight centered because you’re not a god damned wrecking ball:

Oh my god you guys.  So often I see people, especially newer people, throw the entirety of their body weight into a hit like they’re cosplaying as a shitty wrecking ball.  Stop doing that.  You fall like a hot mess regardless of whether or not you land the hit.  The area on the floor between your skates is your base.  If your center of gravity goes past your base you will fall.  If you take one foot off the floor then your base is reduced to the space between the wheels on the skate still on the floor.  That means that you’ll fall as soon as you lean to hit someone.  It’s basic physics, guys.  Do not throw your body weight over your skates.  Do not depend on their body being there to keep you from falling over.  Similarly, since you want to have a wide base you want to keep both feet on the floor.  If someone solidly counter-blocks you while you have one foot off the floor you will go down, because you can’t compensate with only one foot.  Even though the majority of your weight will be on the foot closest to the opposing player, you need to keep your other foot flat on the floor to brace for counter-blocks and maintain a wide base.  Don’t paw your foot like you’re an impatient fucking horse.  Keep it on the floor.  If your foot is pawing at the floor then you’re not controlling your foot.  If you’re not controlling your foot you’re more likely to low block someone with your sloppy epileptic looking foot or fall and then low block someone with your awkward giraffe legs.

Hitting with your entire body:

I wish I could count how many times I’ve had my skaters do the dreaded banana because they go in and hit with their shoulder, and only their shoulder.  It seems like newer skaters and even some veteran skaters default to only hitting with shoulders or only with hips.  You should be hitting with your entire body.  Tuck your arm out of the way and make contact with the entire area from your hips to the top of your ribs.  If you only hit with your shoulder or your hips then you leave the rest of their body to adjust and absorb your hit.  You remember how we talked about keeping your center of gravity over your base?  That’s what you’re allowing them to do.  If you hit with your entire body you literally leave no room for them to physically adjust and absorb your hit.

Pop it lock it bitches!

One of my favorite techniques to have people practice with hitting form is popping it.  What I mean by that is getting low and popping up into your hit.  If you do this right then when you make contact you force the opposing skater up a little bit, which means they are less balanced and fall over more easily. I like to think of this in terms of very flamboyantly starting an imaginary lawnmower.  While skating I get low enough to touch the floor on the opposite side of the player they are about to hit.  Then, as if jerking up to start a lawnmower, I pop up with my shoulder, but keeping my hands off to the side.  Starting gas powered lawnmowers is a quick motion, so the desired effect is that I pop up quickly with my arm out of the way, ribs open and making contact with my entire side, pushing the opposing skater up and over.

Here are some drills to help:

Paceline hitting: Basically exactly what it sounds like.  Have skaters skate around in a paceline and hit each player as they weave through.  They can do this backwards or forwards.  If your players are having a hard time grasping whatever concept you’re focusing on (don’t hit with just your shoulder, get low and pop it, keep both feet on the ground, ect) then you can have them plank if they do the focus skill wrong until the next person has made it through the line.  When I added that the number of shoulder-only hits reduced dramatically.

Four square blocking: Credit to for this one and Sumo Payne. I’m literally just going to copy and paste it for you guys.

Objective: To learn how to skate forward, to the sides, backwards by moving your feet quickly without turning around
Typical length of drill: 15 mins
Materials needed: 4-8 cones (or more if you have a lot of skaters)
Skill level required: Basic skills (skaters need to be cleared for contact to participate in step 2)
Description: Four cones are set up in a square formation, as shown in the illustration that follows.  Depending on how many skaters you have, you may want to put two or more sets of cones around the track/ floor so that as many skaters as possible can practice at the same time.  The distance between the cones does not have to be too big, the idea is to keep on moving your feet all the time, not to Sunday skate.

There are two steps in this drill:

Step 1
For one minute each skater moves around the set of four cones at a rapid pace.  The purpose is to keep your eyes in one direction, to not look at your feet, and to always go through the middle in order to maximize the agility practice (as shown through the blue line in the illustration).  Skaters are to use their hips to move around but should always keep their torsos and eyes facing forward.  Skaters should use their feet while moving around the cones in a random order (back to front to left to front to right to left to back to front etc.).  They should make sure that they pass the cones from all sides and not always from the same side, and to switch direction and choose randomly which cone they are about to pass next.

Illustration of SumMo Payne’s Quick Feet Drill

Step 2
Another skater stands in the middle of the four cones, in a proper derby stance.  As the first skater is moving around the cones s/he gives a hit to the person standing in the middle every time s/he passes her/him.  Skaters should make sure not to hit this person while skating backwards (that’s a direction of gameplay penalty).  Also, skaters should do their best with the hits in a tight space.  Try to make the person in the middle fall.  If there are many new skaters doing the drill, the hits don’t have to be that hard.  Switch the person standing and the person skating around the cones every 1 minute.

Queen of the rink:  You can do this drill in teams or individually.  Basically everyone hits each other or the opposing team until there is one person or team left on the track, and they win.  Players can hit each other down or out of bounds in order to get each other out. In teams this drill focuses more on communication and team work, while individually it’s more about for and counter-blocking.  If you’re having trouble with penalties you can also add the rule of if you commit a penalty, you’re out.

Those are a few easy ones.  Maybe if I go to Thursday night skate (I probably won’t) I’ll take video of what a solid hit looks like and share it with you all.  Maybe.


Tips For the FM In All of Us – 27 in 5 and Crossovers

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: … c-training

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.