Derby Strength: Why Strength Matters for Roller Derby Athletes

Derbystrength Athlete Microphone Assassin 355 Deadlift

Derbystrength Athlete Microphone Assassin 355 Deadlift

In my involvement with Derby I’ve been able to meet, watch, and evaluate a lot of Derby athletes.  I’ve seen the rankest newbie who has never done anything athletic in her life fall down without anyone touching her.  I’ve also been privy to watching former collegiate athletes and 5-10 year Derby vets lace up and take their turns around the track, kicking ass and taking names.

It’s been a lot of fun to watch and learn about the sport, but as a training professional I can never really “shut off” my observations of the field of play.  Even when I’m just having fun at a bout with friends and cheering on my girls I’m constantly in “Coach Mode” picking apart positives and negatives while watching for any insights presented.  I also use my background in other sports and experiences to draw comparisons and look at things in possibly a different light than a “Derby-only” person would.

Through this study I’ve had a lot of insights into Derby play and preparation, hence the very basis of this website, but among them all there’s one very clear point that stands out:  The vast majority of derby athletes simply aren’t strong enough to play to their potential.

Honestly, this lack of strength is actually an issue with female athletes in general.  Whether it comes from a history of coaches who don’t care enough to teach them, societal pressures, or some inner concern about “getting too bulky” (although I’ve noticed that that seems to be less of a mental hurdle for the average Derby athlete), the bottom line is that most female athletes can totally change their athletic performance through smart, focused strength training.  I know because I’ve seen it happen in my girls.

How so?  Well, I’ve got for you are six key reasons why we prioritize strength development, particularly in the less-trained Derby athlete, at Relentless and why it’s made a huge difference in our athletes.

Fast Skater Jackie Daniels Windy City Rollers Derby Strength for Speed

Photo credit – Jackie Daniels Windy City Rollers

1.  The stronger you are, relative to your bodyweight, the faster you will be.  The old line about strength training making you “musclebound” and slowing you down is simply not true.  Getting stronger doesn’t slow you down.  Doing damage at an all-you-can-eat buffet slows you down.

Speed is produced by how much force you can put into the ground through your skates in order to move your body.  Body size being equal, the athlete who can put more force into the ground will propel themselves faster.  How do you gain strength for your size?  Train for it.

2.  Maintaining balance and absorbing impact directly pertains to how strong you are.  Derby is a physical sport.  Whether you’re a hard-hitting team or a finesse team the bottom line is that eventually the helmets are going to crack together and someone is getting a shoulder or booty somewhere uncomfortable.  The best Jammers can take a lick, roll, stay on their skates, and keep moving.  You’re not winning the jam if you’re on your hands, knees, or butt.

On the Blockers’ side of the line it’s the same.  If you’re pushed out of position then you’re not going to be any use for your team, either in keeping the opposing Jammer at bay or not leaving your Jammer hung out to dry.  Stronger blockers are more stable and can maintain their turf on the track.

3.  More Strength = Harder Hits.  On the flip side of Number Two, I have but one question for you:  Which would you rather be, the Hammer or the Nail?  The stronger you are the more punishment you can deliver rather than receive and we all know THAT will translate to the scoreboard.

4.  Stronger athletes are injured less and recover faster.  While this point isn’t as sexy as delivering a big smackdown, I feel that it’s probably the most important benefit of strength training.  We went through this entire season without a major knee, shoulder, or neck injury despite playing a very physical brand of Derby both on the competition track and in practice.  One of the biggest reasons for that is because of our comprehensive off-track strength and conditioning program designed to correct common muscular imbalances and fortify often-injured areas.

DerbyStrength - Gain Strength for Roller Derby

Derbystrength Athlete Sarah DiLapi Building Strong Shoulders!

Basically, we build strong hamstrings, shoulders, and upper backs.  As a result our athletes are more resilient and can avoid the ACL tears and separated shoulders so common in Derby.  They can also recover faster between bouts and practices which means they feel better, have more quality practices, and can play hard more often.

5.  A stronger athlete will have better endurance.  Most people think that you can be strong or you can have great endurance.  However, after years of working successfully with both field athletes and competitive runners I can tell you that is simply not the case.  A foundation of strength breeds endurance as every task becomes so much easier.  Since everything becomes so much less taxing the strength athlete has a much deeper well to reach from when it comes down to the wire late in the bout and fatigue stalks you around the track.

6.  Strength builds CONFIDENCE.  This is by far the most important intangible that comes from training.  We have all seen Derby girls who suffer from a major lack of confidence on the track.  Whether they don’t come from an athletic background, life has dealt them some hard cards, or whatever, they just don’t play to their ability and are meek and closed in.  More often than not, those timid players are the ones who either get hurt or create the pile-ups that leave others injured.

I have the fortune to spend my time every day in a facility where I can watch day-by-day as athletes of all types (including Roller Derby) grow and develop not only physically but also mentally.  I have had the pleasure of watching nervous, demure women become confident, poised powerhouses through even a short amount of time in the gym.  It’s like magic, I swear.

In further posts I’m going to delve deeper into the “how” of training strength, speed, agility, and endurance for Derby, but I felt it was important to outline early on the “why” behind training off the track.  It’s been my experience as a coach that if you understand why we’re doing something then it’s a lot easier to learn and maximize your success.

Here’s to the fast track to becoming the best Derby athlete you can be!

PS Don’t forget to go over to the right and sign up for your free video outlining the top 5 mistakes I see Derby athletes make in their training.  Plus I’ll be sending you all kinds of “insider” training tips like I give my athletes here at Relentless!