Jamming in the Gym – How Weight Training and Roller Derby Go Together

 

by Jo Long

Hi there – I’m Jo and I compete with my team, the Central City Rollergirls, in a sport called Roller Derby. I also incorporate weightlifting in my off-skates training in order to improve my performance.

So what is Roller Derby? You may have heard of this sport through films (Whip It or Rollerball, possibly an episode of CSI: Miami) and therefore have a souped-up Hollywood-esque version of some violent wrestling-like show on roller skates. I’m afraid it is time to adjust these perceptions!

Roller Derby is played on an oval track in a sports hall. There is a point scorer known as a ‘jammer’, signified by a star on the helmet, who has to pass the blockers (4 from each team) and for each blocker she passes she gains 1 point.

However, blockers are trying to stop the opposing jammer, whilst at the same time help their own jammer through.  Playing offence and defence at the same time means this is a particularly fast and action packed sport! For an excellent overview of the basics, watch this:

 

Whilst big hits are one part of the sport, more advanced teams tend to work on slowing and controlling the jammer and rely on tactical knowledge and smart, controlled play.

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It’s not violent or reckless: there are 7 referees per game, including up to 12 off-skates officials who ensure the game runs smoothly – if you commit a penalty (blocking to/with an illegal target zone), you sit for 30 seconds in the penalty box. You also cannot cut in front of another skater by going off track nor can you hold hands to prevent a player skating in between two people.

Although Roller Derby is not close to being included in the Olympics just yet, it is growing fast, possibly the fastest growing women’s sport at the moment.  We have a British Championships but also follow a National/European/World ranking system.  My team, based in the West Midlands, are currently 7th in the UK, 18th in Europe and 153rd in the World – there are currently 3373 teams in the World, so we are doing pretty good overall, with some big goals still in our sights!

 

So why are you blogging? I want to read about weightlifting!

Well, when I began playing, I recognised I needed to work on my fitness and strength in order to work up to the top team.  I enlisted the help of our trusty constant, Dave Whittington, who taught me how to lift and got me on a programme which helped me learn the importance of regular weight training. After a year of training hard in practice and in the weight room, I had worked my way up from the C-team to a spot on the A-team.

 

Learning to squat, deadlift and bench, improve my core strength, as well as high-intensity interval training helped me to become faster and stronger on track.  That meant I fell over less when someone hit me, got up quicker when I was knocked down, and my lungs could carry me through 2 minutes of jamming without coming close to passing out.  (More importantly I even made it onto Gorilla PT’s much-coveted athlete of the month page!)

The first time I became particularly aware of the ins and outs of Olympic lifting was after watching Going for Gold prior to the 2012 Olympics, and subsequently became hooked watching the weightlifting sessions on TV.  So when I saw Dave was running beginners’ Olympic lifting in 2013, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to learn. I completed the course, but naturally am still very much learning over 2 years on! I’m miles off from being ready to compete, but is definitely something I would consider in future, perhaps in a special category for older lifters who are a bit banged up 😉 [Editor’s note: I resemble that remark!]

Specifically, how has weight training helped me?

Improving performance

Of course, the huge benefit which I have had from including lifting in my off-skates training is my performance on track. It has helped me get faster and power through gaps between blockers whilst I am jamming, but also has helped me to accelerate my lateral movement and speed up to catch jammers when blocking. My arms are also a lot stronger than they used to be, and as someone who often braces (skates backwards and supports the blockers who are being pushed by the jammer), this was a very welcome benefit.  Having a strong core is also vital when giving and taking hits, and overall strength and conditioning is naturally a part of our injury prevention and management.

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An example of bracing, helping the forward-facing player to slow down

Focus and mental strength

In roller derby we do a lot of work on the mental game – as a team we have a mental warm up, I personally have a number of trigger words and also practice imagery. In particular, I’ve always been able to use imagery quite well in sport, having used this when I played tennis to a high standard when I was younger, so applying this to lifting was a natural step for me. Often before lifting a higher weight I’ll imagine how it looks/feels to complete the lift.

Unsurprisingly, a shred of doubt before I pick up that bar means automatically that I won’t make that lift. This has been brilliant mental training for me because, like many people, often I go to the gym thinking about the 500 other things I should be doing or worrying that I’ll miss a call back from a patient, but it’s taught me to switch off and focus (although this does mean I have a horrible case of resting bitch face at the gym – I promise I’m not as unfriendly as I look!).

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Focus… (photo credit: Phil Seymour)

Again, this is mirrored in my training on skates, where I need focus in order to perform on track successfully, and the quicker I can do this the better for my team. So in this respect, they are two sports which balance each other rather well!

Feeling happier

I’ve definitely enjoyed the physical benefits lifting has given me. I used to be the woman who would do 60 minutes of cardio in the gym, some sit-ups and then go home and hope I’d lose some weight/look better/get fitter, just because I thought that’s what I ‘should’ do. Between roller derby and lifting, I’m proud of what my body can do, and now have a completely different attitude towards what I look like – in short I don’t really care any more what the scales say – if I am fit and strong enough to keep improving in my sport then I am happy.  There is more structure and purpose to my training than ever before, which is far more satisfying.

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Jamming against the 17th best team in the world – an amazing experience to be part of

 

This sounds AMAZING, please tell me more…

If you are interested in giving roller derby a go, we would love to hear from you! It doesn’t matter if you can skate or not – I could barely stand up to begin with! We accept new skaters every single week, provide all equipment (skates and safety gear) and have dedicated coaches who will teach you how to skate/stop/fall safely. First session is free of charge. For more information visit the Central City Roller Girls FAQ page or email ccrkitrequest@gmail.com. Hope to see you there!

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