There’s a beautiful thing happening… women are starting to love their bodies. On the whole, women are embracing the skin they’re in and the many different shapes and sizes in which they live. It’s a powerful movement that extends to the roller derby rink.
Within this environment, there’s no pressure to be perfect, live up to manufactured standards, or be anyone other than your own true self. “You can really just be yourself and kick some ass,” remarked Sarah Mathews about roller derby. She skates on a team in Vermont, something she was encouraged to do after moving back east from Kansas.
The sport has a reputation for being a beacon or haven for women who may not have such a strong body image or sense of self. It doesn’t take long to change that though. Sarah thinks that’s the case because “it’s such a non-judgmental environment.”
It’s also a sport of choice for many women who wouldn’t consider themselves athletes at all. Sarah says she’d never played any sports at all, a self-described “orchestra nerd.” But after an invitation to “fresh meat” night for newbies, “I’ve never looked back.”
That ability to make women feel strong, challenge themselves, and give them a platform from which they can dominate a situation are some of roller derby’s biggest assets to its participants. “I definitely feel more assertive” Sarah says of herself since starting. “It’s given me a confidence that I didn’t really know was in me. I’m pretty introverted and passive, but when I’m on the track I turn into a beast!”
Roller derby has been called the official sport of feminism, and Melanie Martins backed that up in an interview with The Plaid Zebra. “The body positivity piece that derby encompasses is like no other sport: Tall, short, skinny, fat … Whatever you are or are not, all bodies are good bodies in roller derby,” she said.
While you could argue that the confidence these skaters take away from the rink is one of its best attributes, it offers one heck of a lot when it comes to fitness, too. And that, for some, is the draw to roller derby. There is so much going on in the body when you’re on the track! [Roller derby] is the total package,” commented Pamela Hernandez, an ACSM certified personal trainer and ACE health coach at Thrive Personal Fitness.
The sport demands strength, stability, power, and speed, which is why Pamela agrees this is one sport that demands everything from you but gives it all back. How does it engage every muscle in your body? “Power and endurance in the muscles of the lower body are so crucial. Like sprinters, the glutes need to be strong for the power. Your jumps are like weighted tuck jumps, so strong quads and calves are extremely important, too. A strong core helps maintain balance on wheels. You need exercises for core stability (like planks) as well as rotary stability (like birddogs),” she explained.
The range of cross-training these women do reads like the programs brochure at a local gym. Roller derby girls pursue everything from interval training and hiking to CrossFit and weight training, not to mention yoga, plyometrics, swimming, running, and basic cardio. Pamela backs this up, saying that yoga is key for muscle endurance and core stability, while CrossFit contributes to explosiveness and power. In other words, they’re very active; this isn’t just a toss away hobby. You don’t have to show up physically fit, but the demands of the sport — endurance and strength especially — will convince you to find a workout regimen that you love.
Most teams practice a few nights a week for bouts. Sarah, a non-athlete at the start, says it’s encouraged her to take up cardio, weight lifting, and yoga. Now, multiply that across the nearly 500 roller derby teams worldwide and it adds up to a lot of women exercising who may not have otherwise!
Pamela does advise, though, that you take it easy a couple days a week. “With practice, bouts, and outside workouts you must schedule days for active recovery to avoid overtraining and prevent injury.”