Are You Skipping the Most Important Part of Training?

You skate. You lift. You stretch. (I hope!) But are you skipping the most important part of your training?

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I’m training for a marathon. Fortunately, I already incorporate cross-training into my life with yoga and skating, so at least I’ve got a good balance of activity and types of movement.

The tough part? I’m having to learn about the most important part of training: rest and recovery. Sound familiar?

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Even though in theory I know that I need to rest, the reality has been setting in more and more as I increase my mileage. And in the derby world, I know that rest and recovery are two major aspects of training that are often ignored. I keep seeing challenges to do some activity every damn day, whether it’s yoga, skating, or strength training.

It’s awesome to work hard and kick ass. And it’s also awesome to not run your body into the ground.

One of my teachers started the instagram hashtag #yogaeverythirdday. I like that idea of not overdoing it, and I’d like to get you on board! Your muscles and your systems need some R&R; that’s when your muscles regenerate and get stronger.

I challenge you to take better care of yourself this next month and next year, whether it’s by incorporating different types of movement into your routine, making sure you stretch after every practice, getting a massage (just not right before a bout!), or incorporating some of my videos or a gentle yoga class into your training routine once every week or two.

It doesn’t need to be something every day, but y’all: it needs to be something.

Perfect Your Plank

Every year at RollerCon, plank pops up in at least half of the classes I teach–and the rest are focused on stretching. If you’re doing plank correctly (read: safely), it’s a seriously awesome way to build strength throughout your whole body. And when you’re starting, even holding it for a couple of breaths is plenty to get you on the right track. And if plank feels pretty familiar, you might find that these tips make it harder again, like some of my RollerCon students did.

Why Do Plank?

If done properly, plank strengthens pretty much everything in your body. Seriously, everything: hands, wrists, arms, shoulders, chest, back, abs, butt, legs. Plank means business.

When you set up your shoulders well in plank, it’ll prepare you for bracing on the track. Also, being able to hold plank with good form–and continue breathing in it–also means that you’re learning how to keep a stable core, which is critical for everything you do while skating.

Last but not least, a solid plank is going to help you banish some of that low back pain. Because who needs that?

How to Set Up Your Plank When You’re Getting Started

When you first learned plank, you were probably told that you need to keep your body in one long line from head to heels in order to get the benefits of the shape. The problem is, if your abdominal muscles aren’t ready to support this, you’re going to end up in poor form for your shoulders and probably with a grumpy low back. And if that’s happening, you aren’t actually going to build good patterns and strength that will help your game!

An alternative to better support your lower back is to keep your hips up at shoulder height.  This will help set you up to actually strengthen your shoulders and abs in a way that will help your game, and if you’re someone who gets low back pain in plank, you’ll probably feel that start to disappear.

Flat Mat Yoga demonstrates variations on plank to build your shoulder and core strength for roller derby.

Bonus: you can do this on your knees down, too! The lift of the butt will be a little less noticeable.

Flat Mat Yoga demonstrates variations on plank to build your shoulder and core strength for roller derby.


How to Set Up Your Plank When You’re Feeling Stronger

Once you’re feeling super solid and strong in the variation shown above, this way will help you get even more benefit from your plank.

Lie down on the floor on your belly. Position your feet so that the tips of your toes (rather than your toenails or the soles of your feet) rest on the floor behind you. Bring your hands down next to your low ribs, so that your elbows are almost-but-not-quite stacked above your wrists.

Draw your belly button toward your spine. Press into your hands to push yourself up to plank on your knees, with the tips of your toes still on the floor.

Flat Mat Yoga demonstrates variations on plank to build your shoulder and core strength for roller derby.

From there, you can stay on your knees, or you can straighten your legs. As you straighten your legs, your toes will tuck and you’ll set yourself up for a great foot position, with your heels stacked above the balls of your feet.

Flat Mat Yoga demonstrates variations on plank to build your shoulder and core strength for roller derby.

You can also see in the two images above that the position of my spine doesn’t change when I lift my knees. If yours does, there is no shame in working plank on your knees until you build up strength. It’s better than the alternative of screwing up your low back!

What to Watch For

  • The same way you wouldn’t stand only on the heels of your feet (how weird would that feel?), don’t just drop your weight into the heels of your hands. Use all ten fingers–especially your index fingers and thumbs and the space between them–and the entirety of your palms. Similarly, in forearm plank, don’t let the weight rest only in your elbows–use your hands as well!
  • Stack your shoulders above your wrist creases as best you can. This sets you up with your hands shoulder-distance apart, and you won’t have your hands too far forward (harder on your shoulders) or too far back (increases strain on your wrists).
  • Press back through your heels as if you were pushing into a wall. In fact, try setting up with your feet against a wall to really feel that action.
  • Lift your inner thighs away from the floor.
  • Push the floor away from you so that your shoulder blades spread away from each other and the middle of your upper back lifts toward the ceiling. If your shoulder blades are squeezing toward each other, you’ll be much less stable. This form will help create stability for bracing!
  • Look at the floor several inches in front of your hands, not at the wall front of you, not down at your hands, not back at your feet.

Plank Alternatives

  • Keep your knees on the floor.
  • Do plank on your forearms rather than your hands. Forearms should be shoulder distance apart (hug your upper arms with opposite hands to find that distance), and hands can either be flat on the floor or with fingers interlaced. The latter will be a little easier on your shoulders. If you’re doing forearm plank with palms on the floor, try squeezing a yoga block in between your elbows for better shoulder activation!
  • Do plank on your forearms with your knees down, too.
  • Try plank at the wall, as I demonstrate in this old-school Flat Mat video:

  • Pick up one foot and the opposite hand while holding plank–and keep your hips level as you do that!Flat Mat Yoga demonstrates variations on plank to build your shoulder and core strength for roller derby.
  • And of course, you can practice bird-dog to build toward the plank in the above photo!

Flat Mat Yoga demonstrates variations on plank to build your shoulder and core strength for roller derby.

How to Stand on Your Own Two Feet

I know, I know: you’ve been standing for 20 or 30 years or more. You probably don’t need any tips, right? Then again, how many times have you commented about pain in your ankles, knees, or hips? How we use our feet can affect all of those joints, and since they’re are already taking a beating when you skate, anything you can do to give them a break is a good idea.

On Facebook, I shared a blog post that my friend Sophie wrote about how to position your weight in your feet to make your knees happier. If you haven’t had a chance to take a look, it’s worth a few minutes of your time. One of the main ideas is that most of us stand with our weight positioned more toward our toes, when in reality, our weight should be shifted back over our heels in order to stack our joints (read: keep them happy and safe).

Now, let’s add to that the fact that when we skate in one direction all the time, we’re balancing on our outer left foot and inner right arch for more than a few hours a week, so we’re compounding that uneven distribution of our weight.

It’s suddenly starting to seem less weird to talk about how to stand, isn’t it?

In the video below, I’ll give you a live view of some of what Sophie described, plus steps for how to better use your feet and shift your weight to where it should be.

Time to kick off your skates or shoes and practice standing again!

Say hi!