This photo belongs to the amazing Roller Derby Fotos. Seriously, he’s great. Check out his site!
Hands up who here is guilty of phoning in their warm ups? I can guiltily recall years of “warming up” by means of doing about five laps of the track and then lazily rolling around on the ground in some demented stretching attempt. Earlier this year, my team attended an information session with personal trainer and ex-speed and figure skater, Krysia Child of DASH Spot On Fitness. Krysia deduced that we, as derby skaters, train as often as serious athletes, yet we don’t treat ourselves that way. She stressed the importance of “pre-hab” and injury prevention, a pivotal point of which includes actually warming up effectively. She said that in her skating days, she would spend about half an hour warming up, and that she consistently performed better when she pushed herself almost to the point of exhaustion in her warm up. It occurred to me that the five minutes I spent pretending to warm up probably didn’t cut the mustard.
So why do we even need to warm up? Is it really that important? The short answer is, “You’re goddamn right it is, and this hematoma on my ass from when I tried to block without warming up first is the proof.”
Warming up serves a few purposes. First and most importantly, it prevents us from injuring ourselves. Cold muscles don’t absorb shock and impact as well as warm ones, and lord knows there’s plenty of shock (physical or otherwise) in derby. It prepares your heart and circulatory system for the increased demands you’re about to slaughter them with, helps improve your range of movement and helps fire up your nerve-to-muscle pathways. Additionally, warming up helps us mentally prepare. It gives us a chance to switch on to derby, to get our awareness happening, and to start focusing on what we’re about to do.
An oft-heard complaint from derby girls in discussing warm ups is, “I don’t want to get too tired from warming up too much.” I’ve heard this from multiple skaters on multiple teams, and have totally been guilty of it myself. We have convinced ourselves that we have an absolutely finite amount of energy which we must preserve for the game, and so are terrified of getting out of breath or tired legs, and wasting our precious game energy in warm ups. This is simply not true (and to be honest, if the 5+ hours we spend training every week aren’t preparing us to be functional for more than the 30 minutes we spend on the track, there’s something very wrong).
What made me wake up to myself was in fact a series of flukes that showed me how much my body was capable of. I realised this year that I needed to HTFU if I had any chance of claiming a place on the Sun State charter team once we started playing for rankings. In an effort to make the most of my time (and in the spirit of HTFUing) I decided I’d have to suck it up and head to CrossFit before Sun State training. The first time I backed up trainings, I was wary of getting exhausted and doing dumb things like falling unnecessarily, but told myself I’d just have to deal with it. So I finished my WOD, lay down on the floor and died for a couple of minutes, then headed to the rink and geared up. Surprisingly, I had one of my best trainings ever – I was incredibly alert, my body did exactly what I told it to (often a feat in itself), and I was successful in a lot of the drills. It felt amazing!
A few weeks later, a bunch of us headed down to Byron Bay to attend a day-long boot camp with Juke Boxx and Ballistic Whistle (more on this to come!). After five hours of skating, blocking, jamming, jumping and falling, we were well and truly pooped. And wouldn’t you know it, we had to haul ass back to Brisbane for scrimmage that same afternoon! I mentally prepared myself for an hour of falling, sucking, and being owned, because sometimes I’m just awful like that. But it was as if, after skating for five hours already, I had reached some warp drive, other dimension of warmed up-ness and awareness, and instead had one of the best scrimmages of my life. It seemed that Krysia was really onto something when she talked about warming up to the point of near exhaustion.
So what makes a good warm up? I’d wager that it’s a really personal thing, with a lot of trial and error, to figure out exactly what you need to do in order to perform your best. In her WFTDA Featured Skater interview, Smarty Pants said, “I like to warm up my slow twitch muscles first and then move to my fast twitch muscles. It’s a must that I get to block before the game. I also warm up my footwork and stopping throughout the process.” That level of understanding of how your body works and what will ensure success is truly enviable, but Smarty has obviously had a lot of time to perfect it, having just reached her tenth anniversary in derby. By that token, what works for me might not work for you, but I have established a pretty solid routine that I think is well-rounded and effective, so if you’re feeling a bit lost in your warms ups, you might find this helpful. I totally don’t get in this kind of warm up before every training – or at all, if I’m running late and am willing to pay for it later – but it’s an absolute must before games, and scrimmages (if you can manage).
The most well-rounded warm up is done both off skates and on, and has several components to ensure it covers all the necessary stuff that needs to get switched on.
1. Getting your heart rate up and your body warm.
This is when we start to get our blood pumping and warm our muscles up. It’s important that we do this kind of warm up before jumping into stretching or anything more strenuous. However, you don’t want to dive in headfirst and do a 100 metre sprint straight off the bat. Ease yourself into it – perhaps start with a light jog or some gentle skipping/jump rope to get your heart rate up a bit. Once you’re a bit warmer, you can start doing things like sprints, jumping jacks, skipping, mountain climbers, squats and pushups – anything that will flush your muscles with lots of fresh, oxygenated blood and get you to break a bit of a sweat.
2. Dynamic stretching.
For many, the concept of stretching (or even the concept of warming up) evokes images of static stretching – ie “stretch and hold”. However, studies have in fact found static stretching to have a negative impact on sports performance and power output. One study investigated the athlete’s ability in the areas of sprinting, jumping, strength and endurance with and without static stretching beforehand, and it was found to decrease performance in every instance. As such, it’s best to save the static stretching until after training – because we do still want to stretch out our muscles and improve our flexibility; just not at the cost of our athletic performance.
Dynamic stretching is a method of stretching that encourages our bodies to reach their full range of movement through gentle functional movements. Things like leg and arm swings, twists and kicks all get your body moving to its full potential:
Getting our body moving in its full range is important to prevent injury and pulled muscles, and this type of stretching gets our fast- and intermediate-twitch muscles – the ones most frequently used in derby – ready to party.
3. Get your body moving as it would in derby
This is it – go time! This portion of your warm up should take no more than a few minutes, but it needs to be at absolutely 100% intensity. What should you do, you ask? My personal favourite to start with is “SPRINT”/“PLOW”, which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s fun to do in a group to sharpen up your vocal chords/yelling makers, because one person says sprint/plow and everyone else hollers it back to them. So take a few laps to sprint, then plow, then sprint, then plow.
Crossover run to the inside line, bend down and touch it. Crossover run to the outside line, bend down and touch it. Do that a few times.
Do some slaloms back and forward across the track to open up your hips.
Sail out to the outside line, then turn around and slam the brakes on – in a nice low derby stance – as if you’ve just knocked someone out of bounds and stopped yourself inside.
Practice all your stops – hockey stop, power slide, turnaround toe stop, plow.
Grab a buddy and give each other five big, whopping hits each.
Reach your arms up as high as you can, then crouch down, and reach up again, a few times.
And finish with the perennial favourite – five hot laps. GO, GO, GO!
4. Get your brain thinking as it would in derby.
This is going to be a longer, lower impact part of your warm up. It will probably also be a more team-oriented part, so you will need to make sure your whole team is across what you want to get out of your warm up and how you want to do it, but here are my suggestions.
Pack up and practice calling where the “jammer” is as she moves across the track behind you. Then practice blocking each member of your pack for one lap each – this is called “The Impossible Jam”. Do some work as a wall; do some one on one blocking. Run through your plays. Practice bridging and reforming. Practice hitting each other out of bounds and running back. Practice every scenario you think might arise in the game, for at least a couple of minutes each.
As you can see, this is a lot to cover in your warm up, and it’s kind of tempting to fob it off and figure that the five laps you do before they blow the whistle is enough to get you warm. But I promise you that once you see just how differently you play when every part of your body and mind is adequately switched on, you’ll be a stalwart convert. How do you feel about warm ups? Do you have any awesome warm ups the rest of us should know about?!