Sunday, December 27, 2009

The General Training Phase for Roller Derby

Should I Skate More to Get Better at Roller Derby?
Thoughts on Devoting Time to Developing General Athleticism and All-around Physical Development

The best way to get better at roller derby is to practice and compete in roller derby. To a point this makes sense. Roller derby-specific training sessions are the best way to learn the specific skills of your sport (and your position). And, good roller derby training will serve as the basic method to condition you in the specific ways that your sport demands.

The Perils of Too Much Specificity (or too much skating)

This specific training, however, ought to be done in moderation, and it ought to be accompanied by more general athletic training. The reason I want to stress this is because too much specific training for a particular sport engenders imbalance. And in skating sports such as roller derby this can be very pronounced. Hockey players (who, as a group, are much more well-studied than derby competitors) are generally known to have major imbalances between the vastus medialis and the vastus lateralis (crudely the inside and the outside musculature of the thigh) due to the strong strong lateral push of the skating movement. Don't make the same mistake. Perhaps the number one point to take away from this article is that a derby competitor generally shouldn't spend a lot of time skating or reproducing skating-like movements during the off-season and in your non-practice workouts (those done without your team). You will get plenty of skating in during the season as your team practices. Variety in your training will help to build a foundation of general physical development and therefore temper the dangers of too much specificity before it becomes a problem.

Being able to perform a particular sport at a high level does not mean that one has a body in balance. The body may be beat up after a hard season of collisions, lack of proper recovery, and repetitive strain. Certain desirable physical qualities may be lagging behind. It is likely that your strength is down after so much skating and conditioning work. At the end of the season a more general approach to training is called for: pare things down, renew the foundation of strength, and then add on to that foundation before the next season begins. This is also an opportunity to develop and restore your overall heath. Specialization does not make for a healthy individual. Extended periods of hard training along with the stresses of competition, especially when not addressed with plenty of rest and active restoration, can also be detrimental to overall health and well-being.

General Training Phase

General training is done particularly in the off-season and trains your body more generally in broader athleticism, strength,and fitness. It is not geared specifically towards the qualities needed for a specific sport but instead seeks to make the athlete more well-rounded, broadly conditioned, more resistant to injury and more mobile with fewer of the imbalances or gaps that sport-specialized training can open up if trained too much.

This approach to training can help relieve over-training, and both emotional and physical stresses involved in training and competing for a particular set of demands. It is a time to develop general athleticism, meaning that you are developing yourself into a better all-around physical being, who is stronger, faster, more powerful, resilient and with better movement skills than you had last season. Training can include diligent attention to:

-rest & recovery
-addressing imbalance/ restoring balance
-respecting and healing current injuries and attending to those that may be brewing
-work capacity (this allows you to do more work during a training session or a competition)
-general athleticism
-your weak points as an individual
-variety and fun

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of developing overall strength at this time. Big multi-joint movements such as the squat, deadlift, various forms of pressing and pull-up progressions will go far to getting you ready for your rough sport and will also make the most economical use of your time in the gym. Spend time playing other sports or recreational activities that are far removed from skating. Develop new physical fluencies. Train with athletes from other sports. The point is that you are renewing and developing yourself and also building a strong foundation for more specialized, sport-specific, training. This foundation should be renewed regularly, and shouldn't be rushed. Training guru Gray Cook states things nice and clearly, "The biggest mistake made in sports medicine and sports conditioning today is moving to sport-specific movements too quickly."

In closing I would like to mention that general training is not only for the off-season. During the season too it is important to prevent muscle imbalances and maintain work capacity. This is more difficult to achieve during the demands of frequent practices but as you garner more experience in structuring your off-season training the more successfully you will be able to fit it in during the season.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Pull-up Progression with Bands

For the vast majority of women, the ability to complete chin-ups and pull-ups may seem like a really far-off physical feat.

Yet, pull-ups and chin-ups are amongst the very best movements for developing strength in the back (and in the case of chin-ups, the biceps too).

What's a woman to do?

One alternative is to use Jump Stretch style bands for some added assistance.

For more information on progressions with bands please visit the Terminal City Training blog:

Thursday, October 8, 2009


So it's off-season now, around these parts anyways. Time to get wickedly strong. How will you do it? At the gym, at home, outdoors. You can use conventional or unconventional tools and methods. I like to use both. Don't let lack of money, hatred of the gym, or anything else stop you.

If you are interested in unconventional training methods you may like the new article, "What Can I Do With My Sandbag," at my blog:

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tribute to Women of Strength

This is a great video I stumbled across this evening. More and more women are tuning into athletic/"strongman" style training and I am psyched about this. Please ignore the cheesy "strong is sexy" title at the beginning if you can.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

in-season training

Here in Vancouver at least derby season is well underway. Those who strength trained during the off-season may be struggling to keep strong while the season is in full-swing. In many sports athletes train diligently during the off-season and start the season feeling stronger, faster, and better than ever. However, the rigours of a full training schedule, competition, and responsibilities like work and family often mean that supplemental strength training falls to the wayside. The athlete finds themselves weaker, slower, and therefore more prone to injury as the season advances.

Clearly the strength gains that you worked so hard for need to be maintained.
Here are some points to help you do that:

-Remember that practices and, especially, bouts are the priority. In-season strength training must not interfere with your performance.

-Strength is much easier to maintain than it is to acquire. One or two days a week will be enough for most athletes.

-Don't worry about setting new personal records (PRs) in the off-season. Maintain what you have built. If you consistently have lots of extra energy and no bout approaching then, sure, go for it.

-Keep the trainig sessions short. You don't need to do everything. If you are strength training twice weekly then break up the important exercises between the two sessions. Keep volume low.

-Optimize recovery with lots of sleep, naps, sound nutrition, and active recovery such as contrast baths, light movement, foam rolling, massage, etc.

This ought to help you start and end the season strong, powerful, and resilient.

Please send any questions to or post them in comments.

Good Luck,

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Get Strong! Outdoor Training Camps

I am currently putting together plans for more month-long outdoor training camps this Summer and Autumn, most likely in July and September (with possibly more opportunities). This follows up on our successful morning camp which ran through April.

Small groups will meet evenings or mornings. Dates and times are yet to be finalized and I would like to be as responsive as possible to the scheduling choices of those who show prior interest. So, drop me a line if you are interested in participating.

UPDATE: July sessions will run Monday and Wednesday evenings at 7:30. If enough people are interested then additional times can be arranged.

The number of participants for each session will be limited to keep groups more individualized and manageable so don't hesitate to reserve a spot.
Contact Al

For more information:

Friday, April 24, 2009

Flagrant Self-Promotion

Check out my new article at Straight to the Bar: Nutrition Tips for Jocks, Gym Rats and Health Freaks.

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