Roller Derby Stretches and Flexibility Exercises
Roller Derby stretching exercises to improve your performance and do away with roller derby injuries.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s televised roller derby was the most popular entertainment on television. Kids everywhere wanted to emulate their heroes on the Thunderbirds, a coed rough and tumble team that took on all contenders every Saturday night on Roller Games. That excitement seems to have stuck with some of the latter generations that were exposed to it, because the sport has become popular again in the new millennium.
Edgier than it was in the early years, the skaters have all adopted personas not completely unlike what passes for wrestling these days. The speed of the sport remains as well, lap after lap, with points given for each member of the opposing team they lap. Five girls to a side: four “Blockers” whose job it is to delay and block their opponents so that the “Jammer” can score points by lapping the other teams blockers.
If you’re looking to improve your roller derby performance or just seeking to prevent roller derby injuries it is important to follow the information in this article. In addition, adding a few simple stretches to your fitness program will also help. To get started on a safe and effective stretching routine that’s just right for you, check out the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility.
History of Roller Derby
Roller derby was originally created in the 1930s, staged by Leo Seltzer at the Coliseum in Chicago. He tried to capture the same excitement that marathon dance concerts generated by staging the same competition for roller skaters. The main difference between the popular marathon dancing and the skating competition is that Seltzer got the idea of banking the rink track, so that it would really feel more like a marathon race than just skate dancing at the local rink.
While not as lucrative as the dancing marathons, which catered to an older crowd, the skating marathons did catch on and competitions opened up across the United States. Seltzer’s group moved across the country, staging competitions, attracting a much younger crowd. The competition eventually grew into real competitive races between local teams, with padding being added to the railing around the portable track to prevent injury. This new dimension became even more popular than Seltzer had ever dreamed.
The first televised roller derby match was done in the 1940s and for a country recovering from the Second World War; it was a much needed and healing diversion for the country as a whole. It remained popular through the 1960s, when the women’s teams began to stand out on their own. The derby queens became heroes for a new generation of independent women, and remained so until the sport’s popularity began to decline in the mid-70s.
Roller derby today is comprised of mostly all-girl teams who have taken the sport to a whole new level. Rather than keep the glitzy staging of the 60s and 70s, the teams really do compete for a living, but still keep the campy flash of old going. The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association promotes the sport and stages charitable expositions as well as competitive seasons. The combination of camp and physical endurance has captured the interest of a whole new generation today, and shows no sign of stopping any time soon.
As with all skating activities, the majority of the muscles and joints used in this sport are all in the legs. From the ankle to the hip, all the impetus used to gather speed on the track is supplied from the feet up.
The stability you will need as you spin around the track during play is provided by your core (the abdominal and lower back muscles), starting with the transverse abdominus. While the core provides stability, the muscles that begin at the hips strive to give you your forward momentum.
The gluteus muscles (buttocks) tighten as the quadriceps help your knees push off with every stroke of your skates. The hamstrings provide strength and stamina for your ankles, keeping them taut and balanced as you fly through the curves of the arena.
During play, in the rough and tumble contact that is at the heart of roller derby action, your elbows come into play, utilizing your biceps and triceps to block and push off against your opponent.
Most Common Roller Derby Injuries
Because the sport of roller derby has been likened by some commentators as “football on wheels,” you can expect to see more than just bumps and bruises as a result of rough play. Even with the best in safety equipment, injuries can, and do happen to the best of us, even the queens of the roller rink.
The first obvious risk of injury in this sport is falling. The speeds the skaters reach require wheels that grip the wooden planking securely; however, wax is regularly applied to ensure that they do not stick. Accidents happen, and if a skater hits a dry spot or a spot that has too much wax, they will stumble and fall. Helmets, elbow and knee pads can only protect so much, so scrapes and cuts will happen or worse, broken noses, teeth or concussions from hitting the wooden floor or concrete middle.
Another potential danger is overworked or stressed out muscles, tendons and ligaments. This sport requires its players to be very flexible and fast, so their muscles can be overworked through too much play or practice. The possibility of strained quadriceps and hamstrings is the most commonplace injury, with torn ACL’s and twisted or sprained ankles coming in a close second.
The upper half of the body is not spared either, because elbows and shoulders are used constantly during play. Repetitive stress injuries of the muscles and tendons from the wrist to the shoulder are always possible, especially the rotator cuff and the carpal tunnel of the wrist. Because some plays require one member to be propelled ahead of the rest, the arm that is grabbed by teammates to whip that player forward is always at risk of muscle strain or even dislocation if too much force is used.
Injury Prevention Strategies
Some factors, such as track conditions will always be out of the control of team members and managers, however, as players, you can control what happens to you by being prepared to play properly, starting with the amount of practice sessions. It is true that athletes need to be at the top of their game at all times but the additional stress from too much practice puts unnecessary risk on the body as a whole, making you more prone to getting injured.
The two main types of injuries you can prevent from cutting down on practice schedules are repetitive stress injuries and fatigue-related injuries. Try and schedule rest days between practice or exercise sessions. Tired muscles and a tired body are not a good combination for competitions. Fatigue makes you sloppy and being sloppy gets you hurt. If you do work out between practices, try and work only on those muscles not used during competition; the only concession being the core muscles, which can always use good conditioning.
The best thing that you can do to prevent injuries during roller derby is to use the best safety equipment that you can. Elbow and knee pads, wrist braces, helmets, mouth guards and well fitting skates are vital to preventing sprains, strains and broken bones out on the track. Make sure that your skates are in good condition, especially the wheels. All padding needs to be checked regularly for wear, and always make sure that your helmet fits securely at all times.
Other than scheduling some rest time and using the right safety equipment, there are some basic safety rules that you can adapt to lower the risk of injuries during roller derby.
- Utilize proper exercise and strength training for good physical conditioning, especially strengthening the muscles mentioned above.
- Always warm-up properly (including practice skating) prior to play.
- Allow an adequate cool-down period and perform after-game stretching.
The Top 3 Roller Derby Stretches
Stretching is one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance, preventing sports injury and properly rehabilitating sprain and strain injury. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching won’t be effective. Below are 3 very beneficial stretches for roller derby; obviously there are a lot more, but these are a great place to start. Please make special note of the instructions beside each stretch.
Lying Knee Roll-over Stretch: While lying on your back, bend your knees and let them fall to one side. Keep your arms out to the side and let your back and hips rotate with your knees.
Kneeling Upper Hip & Quad Stretch: Kneel on one foot and the other knee. If needed, hold on to something to keep your balance and then push your hips forward.
Standing Toe-up Achilles Stretch: Stand upright and place the ball of your foot onto a step or raised object. Bend your knee and lean forward.
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