Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Speeeeeeeeeed: How Do You Get Faster?

Posions. Good for grip, bad for speed.
Seems like a lot of new skaters are struggling with speed and endurance; when I joined derby, speed and endurance was all I had going for me, so I really didn't have to work as hard at it as some of my fellow fresh meat skaters did.  But that doesn't mean I don't have advice (because when have I ever been silent on any topic?)  I know I've shared on this topic before, but I have thought about it a lot over the last year as I've been working with newer skaters, and I've discovered a few new things about how to increase speed and endurance.  If I repeat myself in this blog, it's because I think it's important.

1.  Look at your skates.  Are you wearing Poisons?  Unless you weigh 90 pounds, or are skating on the slipperiest floor ever, I suggest you ditch the Poisons.  I don't know why this has become a thing, but I see a ton of newer skaters rocking all Poisons.  First of all, this is TERRIBLE for your knees and secondly, the soft wheels are deforming and slowing you down.  Bleah.  Ditch them.  Borrow harder wheels if you don't have any, but try skating in something a little less grippy.  Also, how are your bearings?  When was the last time you cleaned them?  Crappy bearings steal your energy, and if you're struggling with your speed and timed laps, every little bit counts.  Clean and lube your bearings, or invest in a better pair if you've just been skating with whatever came with your skates!

Some people suggest that you loosen your trucks.  Well, it really depends on what kind of speed laps you are skating.  If you are doing your speed work on the derby track, having looser trucks will help you make more efficient turns; you may be sacrificing some stability to get more flexibility out of your turns.  If you feel like your trucks need to be looser, I do recommend you do what Paris Kills suggested and only loosen them a quarter of a turn for each and skate on them for a while.  Never go hog wild and go from tight to wiggly loose in one adjustment!  I know it sucks to keep fiddling with your trucks, but be patient.  It will be worth it.  If you're skating on the long speed track, then loosening your trucks might actually be detrimental to your speed and control.  You can build up a lot more speed on the long track than on the derby track, and having shaky, loose trucks isn't always the safest option.  Adjust your skates accordingly!

2. Look at your crossovers.  Crossovers are where you get your power and speed in skating, and most new skaters have unbalanced crossovers.  What does that mean?  It means you're doing more work with one leg than the other, and that's limiting how fast you can move around the track.  Our speed coach makes us just work on our cross over form by skating a full circle of crossovers for one minute each time.  It's hell on the back, but it's very close to skating derby style.  Get low, work on taking equal steps with both legs, and tighten your core.  Keeping your core tight helps protect your lower back from that awful speed skating pain.  To make your stride more controlled, practice with your arms behind your back; arms help so much when you're striding at your top speed, so to build your legs, you should practice not using your arms at times.  Side note, never skate a timed laps like that, you're handicapping yourself for no reason!

3. Ride a bike.  Cross training will help you develop both speed and endurance, but you have to pick the right exercises to do!  I personally hate running because skaters generally have knee injuries from derby, and high impact exercises tend to make those injuries even worse. Riding a bike helps because it is low impact and works the legs and the core muscles.  Hooray!  Riding a bike helps clear my head I work on my endurance by tackling giant hills in my neighborhood...and singing really really loud.  Singing and doing cardio really helps your lung capacity; also, it just annoys people you ride by.  A quick fitness test to tell if you're working out at capacity is can you talk while you do it?  If you can, you need to up your speed or intensity.  So many of us never hit the right amount of exertion when we work out.

4. Hold your breath.  I know, you should never hold your breath while skating, but I meant you should for swimming.  Swimming is another great way to work on your endurance; when our neighborhood pool is open, I get there as early as possible and swim laps.  At least ten of those laps, I swim under water holding my breath as long as possible, while swimming vigorously.  I usually do that at the end of swimming time so my body is fatigued and my muscles need more oxygen.  Sometimes I swim a length and a half underwater without taking a breath.  If you can do that, you can breathe while skating. Just be careful of doing the breast stroke; it can really play havoc with your knees. Also, quit smoking.  I have soap boxed enough about smoking, but if you're smoking and having endurance issues, you do the math.

5.  Strengthen your core.  Core. CORE.  Core.  I think that core is the key to success in derby!  If your core muscles are strong, you take and give hits better, have better form, and can keep your proper skating position.  Having a strong core will help your leg muscles not have to do all of the work too.  My old speed skating coach, Sam Orr, always says that form is the number one reason skaters don't hit their maximum speed.  A strong core helps with all of that!

6.  Disassociate.  Wait, what?  Yes.  90% of skating is mental, and if you're dwelling on how hard it is to skate fast, or keep skating, or how bad your feet hurt, you are focusing on the the wrong things and you will probably fail to meet your goal.  Sometimes you have to distract your brain from dwelling on all of the issues you're having with endurance; I use music as much as possible when I'm speed skating.  It helps keep me from concentrating on how my sock is slipping into my skate, or that stitch in my side, or just how bad the whole experience sucks.  If I can't use music, then I try to occupy my mind with something, anything else than thinking about how miserable and uncomfortable I am during endurance. Pizza works.

7.  Change your goals and write them down.  If you're striving for 25 laps in five minutes, maybe it's time to change your goal and try to do as many laps as possible in the five minutes.  Also, write down your progress right away.  It's important not to rely on your memory directly after doing endurance; with the adrenaline pumping, we sometimes can't hold on to facts and figures, so it's important to record it for future reference.

8.  Get a buddy.  Nothing motivates me more to strive harder than to have someone who will hold me accountable.  Find someone who pushes you, and someone you can motivate back!  The best part of being in derby is having a team who can help you, so take advantage of that!

9.  Keep at it.  Sam Orr, my coach says it takes people three years to develop into a solid speed skater.  I know you don't have three years, but you should never give up....ever.  Also, if you are an older skater, good news!  The older you get, the more your body is geared for endurance.  Older skaters aren't sprinters, but because as you age, your muscles switch to long twitch muscles, so if you're old and crusty like me, you have a better line on endurance than the young whippersnappers.  Hooray!

So there is my advice.  I want everyone to strive to be a stronger, faster skater in 2013 with way more endurance.  Let's take roller derby to the next level, together!


  1. Great article!
    Another easy inexpensive upgrade to most stock cushions are Super Urethane cushions from suregrip. Swapping to a urethane cushion for your plates will let you keep the 'snap' of the truck by tightening the truck slightly but still letting the axles deform to do their work.

  2. Thanks for the guidance! I'm an older skater struggling with the 25N5 and this blog offered some much needed encouragement.

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  4. #4 is bad and potentially dangerous advice There's a lot of research that shows this type of hypoxic training--holding your breath while exercising--does nothing to improve your aerobic capacity. Swimmers used to do this all the belief that it made us stronger aerobically. But then in the late 80s and early 90s, studies were done which categorically disproved this notion. Swimmers still do this kind of thing, but for different reasons. Swimming by nature involves holding your breath, so being able to suppress the urge to inhale is important. But skaters don't need to do that, because we don't put our faces underwater.

    Also, swimming under water and holding your breath for as long as you can can cause you to pass out and die. So don't do that shit.

    Jim Christian
    Soul City Sirens Head of Training
    USA Triathlon Certified Coach

    1. First of all...i woukd hope nobody woukd be so silly as to swim until you pass out. divers do a lot of anaerobic work.
      Thirdly...all exercise is potentially dangerous. You need to do what works for you. There are exercises i avoid because i cam feel them hurting my body. You have to listen to your body.

    2. And i hate typing on my phone. :)

    3. I agree Q.

      I can see how anaerobic exercise can be used effectively in derby training. There are times when the body needs ATP faster than aerobic metabolism can produce. Anaerobic metabolism is needed for operating fast-twitch muscle fibers...this is where your explosive speed comes from, it also helps muscles to quickly recover and repeat those shorter bursts of exertion...and even aids in building muscle mass. :) another great read, as always! <3

  5. Thank you for the advice...I will definitely share this with my team!!!!