- Gloria Steinem
Be Your Own Hero, Part One
Roller Derby Over 40
If you're 40 or over and think you'll never be as good a derby player as the twenty or thirty year olds sitting beside you at the informational meeting, you may be right. How much truth there is to this, however, is absolutely up to you. Being 42, and having an autoimmune disease, I've had to pay special attention to training and recovery. I've also had the experience, over and over,of being the oldest whitewater raft guide, canoe guide, the oldest team mate on winter mountaineering ventures or snowboarding trips so I understand the realities of what it takes, on a daily basis, to do physically demanding jobs surrounded by people half my age. It didn't come as a surprise this would remain true with roller derby. I've learned a great deal in the past year about pushing my limits, training and recovery, injury prevention, and what it takes to manage multiple sports. The biggest difference between you and your younger counterparts is that what comes to young adults naturally as a function of age (higher metabolism, for example, as well as stamina and muscle mass), will come to you by design.
Until now, my gym time has always been endurance and strength focused; finishing the last half of anything stronger than I started and lifting heavy weights.This serves me well in overall endurance, steadiness, being able to take a hit, and in countering the muscle loss that happens with aging, but it does not fare well for fast starts and pumping out 27 laps in 5 minutes. I've had to rethink my entire training program. The changes in my daily training and recovery practice have been necessitated by two things: injuries and derby.
It wasn't until I ignored the messages my body was giving me in Aug. '13 that I injured my left foot on a 15 mile run, which then led to a hip injury in the fall and now, finally, a knee issue in the spring (all on the left side). During this same year, late fall 2013, I added roller derby to the mix. It's been a learning experience ever since. If you're over 40 and thinking about joining your nearest roller derby league but are afraid of how you'll stack up against the those younger women, don't be afraid. If you're already practicing but have hit a plateau, and think you'll never get those 27 laps in 5 minutes, you will, will careful attention to detail. Here's Part One of what you need to know to be your own hero.
1. Don't accept muscle loss.
If you're feeling a little softer than you did fifteen or twenty years ago, there's a reason. You lose muscle as you age. Although the rates of muscle loss for women over the age of 35 vary according to the source, they will all highlight the single most important truth about muscle loss: it does NOT have to happen! If you haven't added any type of resistance training to your fitness program, you need to (and will wish you had the first time you get your clock cleaned from an opposing player who already has). If, like me, you're convinced you absolutely and irrevocably lack fast-twitch muscle fibers, add derby specific power moves. Consider adding plyometric exercises and kettlebell workouts. Why? Explosive leg power (think fast starts, quick moves around blockers or cutting to the middle of the track in hot pursuit of an opposing jammer) and a strong core (not just abs, think about your entire mid-section, including lower back) can make you a derby demon. Throw in some balance work on a Bosu Trainer and you just might end up a superhero.
The following links are some I use to guide my practice and check my form. Do these types of exercises twice a week, but remember that form is essential. Slow down, learn the form, and build repetitions gradually, especially if you are new to these types of training. If you have questions about these moves or are floundering in developing a training plan, don't hesitate to seek out your league's head of training.
2. Don't forget your heart is a muscle.
We can get so focused on specific skate skills that we might forget the heart is a muscle too. I try not to get too structured with my cardiovascular work but instead follow two principles: break a sweat most days and have fun.
My activities vary according to the weather and to how I feel. I prefer to be outside, so a hike, snowshoe, XC ski, mountain bike ride or trail jog will certainly do the job. Remember you don't have to work at your maximum capacity all the time. Don't underestimate the power of a swim or a walk (I've included my current pool workout at the end of Part One). If you are sore and tired, a moderately paced walk or hike will encourage blood flow and help those muscles heal while still taking care of your heart. Don't be afraid to seek out another woman from your league who might share your goals. Pairing up with another woman might be all you need to stay accountable.
3. You can't exercise your way out of poor nutrition.
I know, right?! As a sugar junkie, I am profoundly disappointed that this is true. Who hasn't tried to burn off a candy bar or sweat out a night of too much booze? Remember this: your workouts are about 30% of the answer to being strong and healthy. The other 70% comes from nutrition. It isn't the plyometrics, kettlebells, or cardio that makes you a derby superhero. It's what you do when you stop training that truly makes you stronger. If you want to heal properly and quickly after hard training, and if you want to feel good most of the time, than you need to start thinking of yourself as athlete. You won't have the naturally forgiving metabolism or muscle mass you did when you were 20. Now you have to work at keeping that metabolism stoked and muscle tissue strong. You won't get stronger or quicker with just training or just good nutrition. Do I still have that slice (or two) of pie and put too much sugar in my coffee? Sometimes. Most of the time, though, I'm making sure that I get enough protein and water and search out foods that will let my muscles repair as quickly as possible. Otherwise, all that hard work and sweat is wasted.
Think of training and nutrition in this way: you should be able to get up in the morning and do whatever you want without worrying about being able to meet the physical demands of the task. If you feel good, you can l literally do anything. Including roller derby. If you remember the 30/70 rule, you'll be just as strong as that pack of 25 year old blockers in front of you.
4. Recovery is critical.
Recovery is so much more than sleep. Although getting enough rest is a crucial part of recovery, other activities such as yoga, massage, stretching and foam rolling are critical to keeping your muscles, tendons, and ligaments strong and ready for anything. At 20, I could keep my muscles action-ready with little of these supportive recovery elements. I could follow a formula, such as "3 on a 1 off" or "4 on and 1 off," and it was enough recovery. My performance didn't suffer. This is not the case now. I have to be much better at reading my body's signals or my performance will suffer. If you've been managing any medical or autoimmune diseases, you'll probably notice your recovery time needs to increase; that is, you may require longer periods of restorative activity (foam rolling, yoga, or more sleep, for example) before you exert another maximum efforts. This is not a disadvantage or an excuse to not work hard during practice and training. It's simply a fact of maintaining your health.
Consider my example: after snowboarding hard on Saturday and Sunday, I hit the weights hard (heavy squats, deadlifts, etc) and throw in a few sprints on Monday, then practiced on Tuesday. My lap times did not improve. I was frustrated. My solution? Extra practices. I got cranky. My lap times still didn't improve. Then I did even more extra practices and more squats. Then I got super cranky and tired. Finally, I injured myself. Again. Then I got a clue.
I can't say it enough - you should feel good most of the time. If your training or practice leaves you wiped out for the rest of the day, something is wrong. You're doing too much, you're eating too little or poorly, or you're not allowing enough recovery time. Use your feelings as a guide. If you are tired and cranky, sore or not, take it as a sign you need more rest. The people in your life will thank you for it. Rest and proper nutrition will make the hard physical work of training and practice pay off, regardless of age, but it you need more time to rest, take it! You simply won't gain strength and power without enough of it.
5. Less can be more.
We've all heard the saying "Go hard or go home." Sometimes you need to go home. When I stopped fighting the "go big or go home" mentality, my body and my lap times improved. This means I'm actually doing less hard physical activity, but with improved performance and with a better attitude. If I don't feel good and am scheduled for a hard gym workout, I don't go. I go home instead and do yoga, go for a walk, spend half an hour on the foam roller or get a massage.
6. Don't apologize for taking care of yourself.
Sometimes the people in your life might make you feel like you have to justify your choices. You don't. I work hard to take care of myself in every way so I can do whatever I want, whenever I want. This means I made a decision to no longer drink alcohol. I've come to accept that alcohol does not improve my life or my performance. This is counter to the "derby image" of women as hard-hitting, hard-brawling, hard-drinking chicks. If you want to play roller derby beyond 40, taking care of yourself outside of practice is essential. This may mean making decisions about what to keep in your life and what to let go. Perhaps, for you, it isn't alcohol. Maybe for you it's getting to bed earlier, or not skipping breakfast. The point is that only you can decide what it takes for you to feel your best. No one knows your body better than you. Do what you need to in order to feel your best...and don't apologize for it.
7. Brain power.
If you've been feeling like there are too many disadvantages for the over 40 roller derby player, here's one advantage to feel good about: your brain! Brawn is a wonderful thing, that is... if you know what do with it. The critical thinking, problem solving and planning skills, ability to work with different types of people, and overall life experience that comes with age makes you one hell of an asset to your team and younger players. Although it never hurts to have a lot of brawn, brawn on it's own will not win bouts. Brains will. Don't underestimate how powerful a thinking woman is, and be proud to be her.
If you're thinking that taking care of yourself can be a lot of work, you're right. I will always need to work on speed and explosive, quick movement. The lengths you may need to go to in order to feel your best will undoubtedly require more attention and planning than it will for your younger counterparts (unless you're genetically blessed!), but the improvements in how you feel and what you accomplish are worth it. What your younger league mates can get away with on the fly, you'll need a little planning to pull off. Pay attention to the details and you'll be amazing.
Now you know how to get a solid foundation of health, power, balance, and attitude to focus on specific derby skills. Part Two of this post will focus on skills prep and development for the over 40 skater.
Dawn of the Dead, 10
Dawn of the Dead - Aroostock Roller Derby
Equipment: jogging/flotation belt, kick board, foam to rest between knees, a brick, pool dumbbells (available at most pools).
Warm up with five easy laps (down and back is 1 lap): 1 lap crawl, 1 lap breast stroke, 1 lap with kick board, 1 lap with foam between knees (only swimming with arms), 1 lap of sidestroke.
Swim to middle of pool with the brick and drop it. Swim back to edge of pool. Now swim to the brick, dive and retrieve. Swim with the brick back to beginning of lane. Place brick on side of pool. Rest with 2 minutes of treading water. Now grab the foam dumbbells and complete 3 minutes of bicep curls, triceps kickbacks, front raises and "t's" (make the t shape by holding your arms out straight at the shoulder. Use your core to keep your body perpendicular in the pool. You should be low enough in the water so just your head is sticking out.). Next, put on and adjust the flotation belt and jog 5 laps, while adding 30 second sprints on laps 2 and 4. Next, go find that brick. Tread water for 30 seconds with the brick, then tread water for 30 seconds without the brick as a rest period. Repeat 2x.
Repeat entire series as many times as you'd like (I'm ready for the shower after 3 times).