Guess what? I missed my third birthday.
It’s true. Roller Derby Athletics turned three in October, and I was so busy helping athletes kick ass that I forgot to properly celebrate. Good thing those WFTDA Championships helped me celebrate in a different way, by watching a whole pile of heart-stopping close bouts, amazing athleticism, and inspiration!!
And now? The deep lull of the off-season. In her interview with the local Fox News station upon Rose City’s arrival back in Portland, Scald Eagle mentioned looking forward to 4 or 5 months off for her team. I know that most leagues and teams who aren’t at that super-elite level don’t get anywhere near that long for an off-season, but hopefully we’re all taking some time, at some point in the year, to gear down, and take care of our bodies.
So what should we DO with ourselves? What should our off-season training look like?
I wrote a post about this almost exactly three years ago, and I’ve re-posted it here below (with some edits for length), but I’m adding to it with some extra intel to help you make the most of your down time.
The original-ish post, from November 2012:
To paraphrase a popular sports quote, derby champions are crowned in November. Derby champions are BUILT in January. You might expect that I’m about to tell you how hard you should thus be training over the winter, or whenever your league’s off-season falls. Not quite. You see, off-season training is a delicate business – a fine balance of rest, healing and re-habbing injuries, correcting imbalances, and THEN building yourself into a killing machine.
REST – you need it. Whatever level you’re playing at, chances are you’re physically worse for wear and almost certainly mentally burnt out. Give yourself a chance to miss your teammates’ faces by having some real downtime for 2 or 3 weeks (at least).
HEALING + RE-HAB Here’s where it’s important to think of the early stages of the off-season as “active” rest. Healing will take place on its own to some degree, by virtue of you not tormenting the same chronic pain site day after day. But a smart approach during the off-season is to make sure that chronic pain never comes back. See a medical professional like a physiotherapist or chiropractor, get evaluated for your specific injury, general muscle weakness, and spinal misalignments. Have her show you what exercises will correct things. Then DO the exercises. Sounds obvious but most people don’t keep up with their rehab.
RE-BALANCING Try as you might to skate in the opposite direction for warmup, the fact is that derby players have crazy muscle imbalances. Not only from turning left, but also from the repetitive lateral motion of skating. The off-season is therefore a GREAT time to focus on some yoga. Stretch out your scrunched-up-bits and build a strong core.
KILLING MACHINE After you’ve rested, rehabbed, realigned, and regrouped, then by all means it is time to start transforming yourself. Use the off-season to work on your conditioning, so you can emerge at your season opener like a pack of tigers ready to tear your opponents to shreds!
OK now we’re caught up.
Time to talk about that Killing Machine part in more detail!
There are a hundred and one things you COULD focus on during your off-season training period, but taking a scattershot approach will not set you up optimally for crushing it when you get back on skates.
If you had time for just one thing to focus on during your off-season, it should be building strength.
I recently read a great analogy about this from coach and blogger Conor Doherty. And it uses food as a metaphor so I know it will grab your attention…!
Imagine two identical cookie jars. (So far, awesome, right?!). The jars represent two skaters with equal maximum strength. Each jar can only fit so many cookies inside due to its size – the cookies represent awesome physical skills like agility, precision, power, quickness, etc.
Now let’s imagine that during the off-season the first skater works on increasing the size of her cookie jar, in other words improving her strength capacity. By the end of the off-season, she can fit MORE COOKIES in her jar (mmmm…. cookies…). The second athlete worked on making the best, tastiest cookies she could fit in her same-size jar (organic chocolate chips, etc.). She worked on her agility and her endurance, but at the end of the day, she can only fit so many high quality cookies into that ol’ jar.
Skater #2 stayed in shape over the off-season, but Skater #1 has created an increased capacity for how agile, powerful, and speedy she can become.
Makes sense, right?
I’ve written about this in a variety of ways over the past few months, talking about how strength is the true base of any training pyramid.
So, exactly how should you build strength for roller derby in your off-season training? Well, it depends on where you’re starting from, and what kind of equipment you have access to. Here are three basic rules of thumb:
Option 1 | Relative beginner to sports and/or cross-training. Let’s say you don’t have access to weight training equipment but you want to build strength. Focus your energy on slow repetitions of challenging bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges, and push-ups. Prolong the eccentric motion, which is usually the lowering portion of an exercise, to get better strength development. An example of this would be counting to 4 on the way down in a squat, hold for 1, and come up for 2. Invest in a physio ball (aka stability ball) to increase the level of difficulty for all core training exercises. For example, you can place your shins on a ball and do push-ups from there to vastly increase the challenge. Focus whenever possible on unilateral exercises (i.e. one side at a time). Examples would include one-leg squats, or planks with one foot or one arm elevated. Try to do 3 sets of 10-12 reps for each exercise in your plan, about 3 times per week to see results.
Option 2 | Some familiarity with the gym. Time to start building your repertoire! If you haven’t already, say adios to the gym’s machines and prepare to set up shop in the free weights & racks department. Learn the basic lifts like the back squat, deadlift, bench press, and pull-up (assisted is totally fine!). Progress to hang cleans and push-presses. Get a trainer or a knowledgeable friend to help you learn the positioning and dos and don’ts for each exercise. Focus on learning optimal form before you start to increase the weight. Always do a really light warm-up set for each exercise – bar only, or about half the weight you’d like to lift with. Aim for 3 sets of 10 reps of each exercise, with a weight that is difficult to lift for reps 9 and 10. You can train full body each time you go, or focus on upper vs. lower on different days. Lifting heavier free weights will build your core strength automatically, but don’t forget some side planks and exercises using the physio ball or the BOSU!
Option 3 | You love to lift. Yahoo! Engage beast mode. You can stick with the same compound lifts mentioned in Option 2, and you’ve probably got a wider library of exercises that you are familiar with too. Add in some single leg moves – pistol squats using the Smith machine rack for stability, lunges, or Bulgarian squats (raised back leg squat). Now is the time to shift the volume you’ve been doing to a lower rep / higher weight approach. Try 4 sets of 5 reps (after your warm-up set) for a couple of weeks, then on week 3 try eight to ten sets of 2-3 reps of a heavier weight. Every few weeks, test your One Rep Max (1RM). You’ll be amazed at the difference lifting heavy will make!
Of course, during the off-season you can still keep up with some form of aerobic training to keep your heart and lungs in shape. To keep the focus on maximum strength gains though, try not to combine the two workouts on the same day.
This is a very broad overview of how to make use of your off-season training to build a bigger, better cookie jar. Got more questions? Have a favourite routine? I’d love to hear from you below!
xo Booty Quake