Train The Way You Play
As a roller derby team gets closer and closer to its first bout of the season, training should begin to feel more like an actual bout. Work/rest ratios, movement patterns, and intensity levels should all approach those of an actual competition. By practicing this way, the skaters’ bodies get a chance to make the adaptations that will result in improved performance of the necessary skills at a high intensity level for one or two minute intervals repeatedly.
Depending on what style of roller derby you play, a jam can last up to one or two minutes. The more inexperienced or less skilled either team is, the more likely it is that a higher percentage of the jams will go the full jam duration. If a team trains for worst-case scenario, which is a hard-skated one or two minute jam every jam, that team should never be unprepared.
As far as rest time, it also makes sense to plan for worst-case scenario. Assuming that skaters don’t skate every jam, this would be between 10-30 seconds (time between jams) plus the shortest time in which a lead jammer might call off a jam. I would guess that to be enough time for one jammer to get through one time, and reach the back of the pack for the second pass, equaling about 30 seconds. Now we have a rest window of 40-60 seconds for teams who have enough skaters to have at least two rotations. Although there are certain instances where a team may have three rotations, it will make the team better prepared to train for the two rotation scenario as you can never predict absences or injuries. Some leagues/teams have less than two full rotations. It makes sense for these teams to determine the average number of jams a skater will participate in realistically before getting a break and to train in sets with that many one to two minute work periods separated by 10-30 second rest periods.
So, if every skater will realistically skate three jams before they sit out for one, you would do drills with one to two minute work periods (determined by your league's jam duration) and you would do that drill three times, with 10-30 seconds (depending on your league's time between jams) rest between each performance of the drill. Once the drill has been performed three times, a much-needed one minute rest can be granted and then the drill is repeated or a new drill is performed.
Does training this way suck? Yes it does and I wouldn't advise it the week before a bout, but training this way leading up to the bout will give you a roller-derby fit team that doesn't fall off at the end of a hard-fought battle. Worst-case scenario work time plus worst-case scenario rest time equals the highest intensity, realistic work/rest ratio.
Training movement patterns (the way a body moves when it performs a task) as opposed to muscles is a component of sports-specific training. The movements that roller derby skaters perform during the work periods at practice should be more and more, as the season approaches, the specific movements that they will perform in bouts. Bouts aren’t just steady-paced skating. Skating in bouts involves acceleration, deceleration, hitting, pushing, pulling, and maneuvering. It also involves falling and recovering. Practicing all of these things, separately and in drills that combine them together, will teach the appropriate muscles to react and control movement. Muscle memory will be developed. Adaptations will be made to allow the muscles to perform the movements better, more powerfully, and for longer. So, general exercises and drills such as duck walks, lunges, grapevines, etc., should make way for falling/recovering, running toe-starts, crossovers, maneuvering sidesteps, and so on. The practice feel of practice should start to fade and skaters should begin to feel the roller derby in their skating. And, if enough time is allotted for this type of training, they should not only feel the roller derby in their skating, they should feel the improvement in their roller derby.
Entering the on-season portion of the roller derby training year, the intensity at practice during drills and scrimmage should approach that all-out intensity that skaters will put out on the track during competition. In the one to two minutes that a jam can last, there shouldn’t be a lot of voluntary fluctuation in work intensity. Every skater should be busting her ass the entire time. Jammers are sprinting, maneuvering, hitting, and being hit. Pack skaters, although not sprinting full out at every second, should be maintaining good derby posture, hitting and blocking, maneuvering into optimal pack position, whipping, or recovering from a hit. These things combined, should require maximal effort. There shouldn’t be downtime for any skater on the track during a jam. This 100% effort in combination with the worst-case scenario work/rest ratio discussed earlier makes for the highest intensity roller derby-specific workout/practice skaters should do in the on-season. Skating in practice with the same intensity that will be put forth in bouts develops the specific muscle fibers and energy systems that will fuel skaters throughout the thirty to sixty minutes of competition. This approach should result in skaters who can repeat derby movements effectively over the course of many jams. As mentioned before, this is a tough, demanding way to practice. Adequate time should be given before the bout for recovery. I would suggest using the week before the bout to let the body rest and touch-up any skills as needed and discuss and practice team strategy. Keep the body moving and the mind engaged, but be mindful of injury prevention.
A team should train the way it is going to play. Doing so results in adaptations and improvements that translate to improved performance specific to roller derby. Designing practices that incorporate roller derby bout specific work and rest periods, movement patterns, and intensity levels should take a team into its season as prepared for victory as it can be.
On the track, Aurora Gory Alice is a one-woman roller derby massacre. By the power of Grayskull, she reduces puny derby dreams to roller rubble. Rugby player turned rollergirl, Aurora has skated with the Hudson Valley Horrors, skated with and coached the Albany All Stars, and now, she is a full-contact, no-rules skatin' member of the Arizona Renegade Rollergirls. Off the track, Aurora is beers, brawn, brains, and, still, a little temperamental. Although she is a certified personal trainer, she scrapped the gym for a professional life inspired by the hardcore nature and uncompromising attitude of the roller derby lifestyle. Aurora owns Lust & Gore Hardwear with her girlfriend and teammate, Lusty Crush. Lust & Gore Hardwear customizes cowboy hats, military caps, and makes original jewelry designs with industrial strength hardware. Retail meets rollergirl. Heavy metal meets totally hot.