The Four Key Elements of a Derby League Cross-Training Program

Posted on: May 30th 2017

cross-training program

1. Burpees, 2. wind sprints, 3. suicides, and 4. wall sits.

Just kidding!

As a league, you’re responsible for supporting your athlete members, and creating successful outcomes for individuals, teams, and leagues. Of course this means providing the best possible on-skate coaching within the resources available to your league. But it also means supporting your athletes physically in a way that prepares them to put their skates on in the first place.

You might be expecting this post to say something like, ‘thou shalt run so many miles, do so many box jumps, and hold a plank for X minutes a week.” Nope. I’m not going to be prescriptive here, but I’m going to cover the fundamental components of a league cross-training program.

So what is cross-training, in this context?

The original definition of cross-training (the word originated in the 1980s) was training in a secondary sport, in order to excel in your primary sport. For example, a runner might swim some days instead of running. A cyclist might run.

But more broadly, the Merriam-Webster definition of Cross-training is “to engage in various sports or exercises especially for well-rounded health and muscular development.” This is the meaning I use when I refer to cross-training today. In the roller derby context, it’s “everything you do when you’re not in your skates, in order to be your best at roller derby.

Fun fact: “everything you do when you’re not in your skates, in order to be your best at roller derby.” Is the entire reason this blog, and business exist!

In my last post, I gave you five reasons why every league needs a cross-training program.

Today, I’ll cover the minimum components that every league’s program should include. As you’ll see, a “program” isn’t necessarily a prescriptive training plan, like a personal trainer would provide to her client. Instead, I’m advocating for routines and habits that help establish a league-wide culture of safety, and athlete health.

Here Are the Four Basic Elements of A League Cross-Training Program

1. A warm-up routine.

I think at this point we all know that it’s a good idea to get warmed up before you start letting strong women crash into you while you’ve got wheels on your shoes. It helps reduce the number of injuries skaters experience, and it can also help to provide some moderate conditioning and strengthening, particularly for league members who don’t or won’t train off-skates on their own otherwise.

So what can a league do to maximize the effect of a warm-up on their athletes?

  • Make it part of league culture. Everyone should know that the first 15 minutes of practice are used for preparing our bodies to play the game safely, and that participation is non-negotiable. Anyone who arrives late should know what they’re expected to do on their own before they lace up and join in.
  • Make it consistent. This has a host of benefits, but in particular it takes the burden off the coaches or captains to have to “lead” warm-up. Once everyone knows the routine, any group of skaters in the league can run it themselves any time. An extra benefit of a consistent routine is that it becomes part of your mental rehearsal to play the game, and provides some consistency and routine to game day, even when you’re on the road.

Ideally your league’s warm-up routine should be off-skates. This allows you to get warmed up at an away bout or tournament when track time is at a premium. It also allows you to prep and strengthen your skaters’ bodies more easily than on skates. Most importantly though, your warm-up routine should consist of dynamic stretching. I talk at length about dynamic vs. static stretching here.

2. A post-training routine

Call it a stretch, call it a cool-down, call it what you want. Just do it.

You might be aware that the research is mixed on the value of “stretching.” We do know that static stretching prior to sports does not provide any measurable benefit, and might actually detract from performance. However, most athletes will benefit from what I like to call Flexibility Training (because it appeals more to our competitive nature than ‘stretching’ does!), and everyone feels better the day after a bout or a hard practice if they’ve actually unwound their tightened muscles afterward. Plus, having a good range of motion is essential for optimal performance in our sport, and for avoiding chronic or acute injuries.

At the end of a training session, just like with the warm-up routine I talked about earlier, there should be a ‘flexibility training’ routine that any skater in the league can lead. Here’s your time to hang out in those static stretches. You should be able to cover everything most skaters need in eight minutes.

3. A Fresh Meat fitness development routine

A few years back, my league’s insurance rep told me that after we added twenty minutes of fitness to the start of every fresh meat practice, our fresh meat injury insurance claims went down “significantly.” I wish I had the precise data to share. Nevertheless, I believe her!

As if keeping your fresh meat safe isn’t reason enough to implement this, making quicker improvements to new skaters’ core and lower body strength will actually help them to learn all their on-skate skills much faster, delivering higher-calibre skaters to your league’s regular home team program, faster.

Before you let your league’s most hard core fitness nut start designing some kind of face-melting routine for your freshies though, remember – this isn’t about hazing or making them suffer with some intense cardio routine!! You’ll turn off folks who are newer to sports, or who are doing roller derby because they can’t stand the gym or jogging. Instead, make it about strengthening, learning correct physical patterns for exercises like squats and lunges, improving balance and core strength, and “switching on” all the muscles they need for skating and derby. They’ll get their cardio during on-skate training, I promise.

Make your skaters and especially your fresh meat trainers watch my Pre-Hab video on Proper Form before they get started, or have a personal trainer or physiotherapist come in and teach a session on form.

I recommend dedicating the first 15-20 minutes of practice to this, and using it as your warm-up. If you have no idea where to start with designing a fresh meat fitness program, sign up for the BasicsBuilder program – it will give you five workouts, eight minutes each, that you can safely run your freshies through. Start with 3-5 minutes of jogging, grapevines, side shuffles, etc. to get people warmed up, then do one of the BasicsBuilder routines. If you’ve got time, finish with your choice of agility work, more core strengthening, or short intervals. Then gear up and get ‘em skating!

4. A fitness benchmarking system.

Roller derby culture is already used to the notion of benchmarking – we all submit to a minimum skills testing process when we start out, and depending on your league’s policies, you repeat it from time to time. But we aren’t so good at testing our *fitness* minimum skills.

So why is it important to do so? Here are a few reasons:

  • Coaches can use the data to address deficiencies with training – either on a team-wide scale, or for individuals. For example, if you’ve got a blocker who isn’t successful at getting back into position quickly, and they’ve performed relatively poorly on a test of agility, then you know as a coach how to help them focus on off-skates work that will help improve those specific on-skate skills to correct the problem.
  • It’s impossible to show improvement (or decline) over time without drawing a line in the sand and testing a ‘before’ state and an ‘after’ (or mid-way) state.
  • Showing skaters their quantitative improvement on fitness skills through periodic testing can help prove to them the value of the off-skate conditioning programs you’ve set up for them. Either they’ve followed the program and seen improvements (yay!), or they’ve ignored or fallen off the program, and they’re watching their peers improve while they remain static (boo, but at least now you can try again to get them on board!)
  • Derby people are competitive. Many of us will respond to seeing where we rank among our teammates, with additional competitive fire. We are driven to improve.

If you’re a captain, coach, or league trainer type, you know that skills testing can be a giant time suck and bureaucratic nightmare, especially with a large league or onerous re-testing requirements. It’s important to balance your need for baseline data with the resources you have (time, venue). With a little bit of prep work, the RDA Standardized Roller Derby Fitness Test can be administered to a team in about an hour, with minimal equipment, and you don’t need to do it in your track venue if that resource is scarce.

Don’t want to dedicate a whole off-skate practice to testing? Break up the components of the test and use 10 to 15 minutes of practice time to do one element only. You’ll always have some skaters falling through the cracks because they’ll miss a testing day, but you can also get them to self-test at home for most of them.

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If as a league or training committee you can design and implement the above four elements – a warm-up, a cool-down, a fresh meat development program, and fitness testing – you’ll be setting your athletes up for success.

But what if you want to do more?

Three Ideas to Get Your League to the Next Level:

Provide a league-wide education program.

Maybe this is a speaker series, bringing in subject matter experts on nutrition, sport psychology, and training topics. Or a monthly newsletter with training resources for your members to read up on. You could do special topics on concussion awareness, or develop a league resource for helping skaters know what to do if they find themselves injured. Figure out the best delivery method for your members, that can be achieved within your resources. Help your skaters educate themselves. (Pssst: you could send your members to Roller Derby Athletics to search for just about any topic on cross-training…)

Design an accountability system

Google docs are an easy way to let your teammates track their own fitness efforts outside of practice. Establish some goals, (or have each skater establish their own) and reward the people who track the most workouts, or make the most gains over a certain time window.

Develop a periodized training program for your travel team… then share it with everyone.

Chances are, your travel team will have a primary competitive season during the year. This may or may not jive nicely with your home team season demands. Regardless, it can really pay off to work with an expert to help develop a year-long training framework, based on your team’s baseline testing results, that will provide for safe progression to peak fitness at the time that you need it. Plus, if they’re supposed to be training on their own outside of practice time, skaters are more likely to participate in a training program that tells them exactly what to do, when.

Here’s the very important “share it with everyone” part, though: be sure to make the program itself available to the entire league. If you’ve got up-and-comers who can’t wait to try out for the A-team, give them the tools they need to get physically ready. Don’t keep this program a trade secret available only to your top athletes.

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This post did turn into a bit of a doozy – there’s lots of info there to digest. Got questions about all of this?  Ask me in the comments so others can listen in!

xo Booty Quake

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