You need not look much further than Derby Hurts to see the severity of some injuries that can happen in Roller Derby. Countless have experienced accidents or hits on the track with consequences ranging from a few weeks of recuperation to even major reconstructive surgery. The spread is larger than you may think! Torn ACLs, separated shoulders, broken ankles, broken legs, shattered tail bones, broken/shattered fingers, slipped disks, grade I to III-b concussions, broken kneecaps, broken wrists, dislocated jaws, knocked out teeth, the list goes on. While much of these are the result of game play, there is no doubt in my mind that training, both on and off the track, plays a big factor in this and not necessarily in the way one may think.
I know this can be a very sensitive topic and there is a lot I want to address so I will try not to ramble, but rest assured I do not intend to hurt or insult anyone with this piece. I merely hope to engage in some thoughtful discussion on training, over-training and injury in Roller Derby. More often than not our feeds and sites are chock full of motivational quotes, inspiring fitness stories and post after post of workout selfies, CrossFit stats, jogging distances and more. Things like: “Never give up!” “Push harder!” “The only bad workout is the one you didn’t do!” “Good enough isn’t good enough!” Not bad things per say, but I feel more discussion on the importance of moderation and balance with all of this is warranted. There’s lots of talk about how not exercising or working out enough can lead to injury… which is true… but what about skating, exercising and cross-training too much?
The Importance of Not Rushing “Fresh Meat”
Now, I’m not trying to scare you away BUT I am here to recommend to all of you newer skaters that there is no hurry to get rostered and out on the track. As alluring and exciting as the prospect of getting out there and being a derby girls is, please be honest with yourself over how ready you really feel for the game. It can sometimes, though not always, be a habit of leagues located in smaller cities, with lower membership numbers, to rush girls through fresh meat training so that they can have enough skaters to compete for the season (STOP THAT!). My frustration in this is that really nailing the basic skills is arguably more important to skater safety than any of their gear is. This is a high-speed, FULL impact game played on concrete and hardwood floors and there is only so much that your helmet, mouth guard, wrist guards and other pads are actually going to do for you. As such, truly consistent and proper execution of everything from your safe falls, to derby stance, to crossovers are of the utmost importance in roller derby.
Of course, even at the best of times, accidents can still happen:
That being said, slowing down the process of playing in your first bout with your team is not a bad thing. There is nothing to wrong with taking a little bit longer, dipping your toes onto the track at a few rookie scrimmages and attending a couple of boot camps around your region before donning your leagues jersey and competing against more experienced players. The truth of the matter is, your home team isn’t going to always be playing against opponents of equal skill levels and if you debut too soon, when you’re not really ready, you may find yourself beaten down not only physically but emotionally as well.
Are You Over-training or Over-Reaching?
Any time I attempt to bring up fitness, exercise and diet with fellow derby peers I am more often than not met with defensiveness and a tinge of aggression. And for good reason too! These can all be very sensitive conversation topics and my own personal stance on the subject can sometimes clash with those of others. While some of the following is common sense and general advice repeated by many online, I have included quotations and stories from other sources that I hope will encourage honest, thoughtful reflection in others about what REALLY constitutes healthy/balanced physical activity and eating habits. The reality is, there is such a thing as too much exercise, too much training, too little/too much eating and yes, too much Roller Derby!
- Don’t Overdo It
In both your participation with or training for this sport. Through my social media contacts I have seen some derby athletes who not only religiously make their practice schedules (1 to 3 or more nights a week), attend scrimmages in their region and play in home and away games but they also, on top of all of this, do CrossFit/Insanity/TRX multiple days AND go to the gym a couple of times AND do weightlifting AND follow some sort of intense diet plan. Honestly, it’s a wonder that I haven’t seen more bad injuries! Although you may be motivated and inspired to be the best you that you can be, the pursuit of healthiness can quickly become unhealthy. The more you pile onto yourself, the harder you push, the greater the chance for serious injury out on and off the flat track. What good is cross-training for derby if you push so hard that you hurt yourself, possibly shortening the bench, before your next game?
In the quest for better health and fitness, it is sometimes difficult to quell one’s enthusiasm and take a break from exercise. But if exercise is leaving you more exhausted than energized, you could be suffering from an acute case of overtraining. Individuals who exercise excessively are risking more than poor performance: They’re risking their health.
- Know your body’s limits.
Your body speaks to you and sometimes its saying “whoa… slow down. Hey. HEY! THIS IS NOT COOL! STAHP!”. It could be chronic muscle, bone and joint pains. It could be fatigue, depression or sleeplessness. Maybe you’re getting sick more often and for longer periods. Perhaps it is explosive diarrhea and projectile vomiting (probably a bigger issue at hand but still a sign). When your body cried out in pain, listen to it! Give it rest BEFORE a serious injury comes along or you could be risking your future in this sport. Take even MORE precautions if you also have medical conditions like asthma, diabetes, blood pressure, a heart condition, etc.
I wanted to do the Shred, I wanted to do yoga, and I wanted to run a marathon. Instead of approaching all three with a sane and moderate game plan, I attacked each one with all that I could give. Why do 15 minutes of yoga when I got do 60 minutes? Why do the Shred once a week when I could do it 3-4? It is a dangerous trap to fall into.
- Build up your athletic and physical level GRADUALLY.
As tempting as it might be to jump right into a rigorous exercise or training routine, don’t go all out too quickly! Many individuals in my expansive roller derby circle have quickly become rather obsessed with fitness and while it is certainly a positive thing to strive for a healthier living, as previously mentioned it can be equally as dangerous to pack way too much in too quickly. Whether you are brand new to the sport or have been playing the sport for years, talk to a doctor or nutritionist/dietician before radically changing your physical activity and/or eating habits. Don’t let a gym or online diet plan strong-arm you into something without first researching the impact that will come of these routines. A gradual, patient fitness plan will reduce the risk of you making yourself sick or seriously hurting yourself from overdoing it.
We all know that muscle soreness is a good thing. It means that we’ve really challenged ourselves and that our bodies are working hard to make us stronger and fitter. But if you’ve been doing an activity or exercise for a while but tend to get sore really easily–or stay sore for more than 48 hours–it’s probably a sign that you overdid it and next extra rest. This is why it’s so important to ease into exercise, adding time or intensity slowly over weeks instead of all at once. The body simply needs time to adapt and improve!
- Learn to play roller derby right.
Make sure you use proper form to reduce your risk of injuries. Never be afraid to seek guidance or advice from the more senior skaters and look up videos on technique and form. YouTube has a lot of great “how to” uploads available here: http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=roller%20derby%20skating%20form&sm=3. Similar searches will help you find even more! Just remember: there is no such thing as a shortcut to improvement or success, only shortcuts to injury.
We’re too eager to play. The best predictor of future injury is prior injury. We need to reinforce slow and steady progression of skills for our new girls. They should always be ready for the next challenge that derby throws at them, both physically and mentally. I’m not saying to go easy – I’m saying push them to the edge of their limits, but not over the edge.
- Don’t let body image get you down.
Never forget that roller derby is still for men and women of all shapes and all sizes! That being said, I personally certainly have seen that body image image issues HAVE made their way into our growing sport. All I’ll say is: if you were happy and proud with yourself before, try not to lose sight of that. I know it can be difficult and stressful if you find yourself in a situation where you feel that the rest of your peers and/or trainers are pushing for a more “fit” and “athletic” team but never forget that you always have been, and will continue to be, an athlete in this sport. Besides, changing too much in yourself can lead to you losing some of your strongest assets!
- Of the athletes that responded, 80% stated that they felt pressure to conform to a certain look and body type.
- The pressure also comes from within sport, with 61% saying fellow athletes contributed. Other internal causes cited were coaches and national governing bodies. One former athlete said: “My coach was very critical and bloody minded about us athletes being the right weight but constantly changing the goal posts and judging what we had to eat.”
- Athletes also put pressure on themselves, with 14% saying it came from within. Downhill bike racer Rachel Atherton said: “Myself. Feeling that I do not deserve to call myself a professional athlete if I am not the owner of a stick thin body with visibly bulging muscles attached, zero body fat or gorgeous skin that isn’t weathered from the elements!!”
- The pressure has had a direct effect on athletes, with 76% saying their behaviour had been influenced. The most common reaction was to change their diet (87%), while exercise and training regimes had also been affected (58%). One athlete said it had affected her diet to the point that she developed an eating disorder, while another admitted she had prioritized striving to be thinner above her performance within her sport: “Sometimes it has meant my diet no longer is optimum for performance but becomes optimum for looking slimmer/thinner….which isn’t my body type.”
I also cannot stress enough the importance of reading, understanding, knowing and following the WFTDA rules so that you do not seriously hurt somebody else either. But that’s another conversation, and debate on accountability, altogether.
While there has certainly been some discussion on over-training and over-reaching in roller derby I honestly wish I would see more from prominent, popular individuals around the sport. I’m sure many have experienced both and many more will throughout the course of this year. Awareness and education about the risks of doing too much, pushing too hard and trying to progress too fast would be beneficial to us all. Just as further discussion of being too inactive or not cross-training at all has its on track risks as well.
Be as healthy and fit as you want, or don’t want, to be. Just be careful either way!
Do you have a good balance of Roller Derby and cross-training in your life?
Do you have any advice for others pursuing athleticism in this sport?
Have you ever felt body image issues in Roller Derby, be it in terms of meeting some sort of athletic mold or simple aesthetics?
What was your worst derby related injury and do you feel that too much, or too little, training contributed to it?
Who is hoping most of that was coherent!