Month: August 2015

The Freshie Perspective: Roller Derby and Body Image

Image credit Kelly Norwood, Flickr CC

I know body image in roller derby isn’t exactly an original topic, but I thought I’d throw in my two cents on how the sport has had a positive impact on one clueless freshie.

Recently, I was on the train home from practice with another freshie who I hadn’t seen for a number of weeks (she’d been out with an injury). As we approached my stop, I stood up to leave and she exclaimed, “Jess, your thighs and bum get bigger every time I see you!”

Now, to a lot of people, this wont sound like a positive thing. Women + large bottom half = bad, right? Maybe in other circles, but because of the context of roller derby I knew she meant it as a compliment (and you better believe I took it as one!). So buoyed was I by this ever-growing-thighs-and-bum comment that I was practically beaming by the time I walked through my front door, and couldn’t wait to relay it to the boyfriend (yup, I’m that sad). I’m aware that for many women, a comment like this has the power to trigger a nasty body-shame spiral of self-hate and biscuit-binging. It probably would have done that to me, not so long ago. What changed? Honestly, I think it’s largely down to roller derby.

Generally, women are told to occupy less space; to thin their bodies down, be concave not convex. Now, I don’t want to be smaller. The opposite, in fact – I want to take up space. And not only take it up, but to be strong enough to really own that space, and to stop anyone else from taking it. Watching amazingly talented blockers manage to be like fierce immovable objects on the track, I think about how I want to emulate them one day. Slowly, I’m starting to notice the impact of the last four-odd months of training. I can hold derby stance for longer and longer periods of time (although striving to get lower will be a never-ending goal). I can keep up with a pace line better. My 27-in-5 is almost in sight. And, yes, my quads are satisfyingly more prominent (on legs that never had muscle definition in my life). In short: roller derby has been fucking fantastic for my body image.

I think two things about roller derby have contributed to more positive body image for me: the sport itself, of course, but also the people who play it. As soon as you start watching bouts, you realise that a diverse range of body types can be successful at this sport. There is also something very grounding about being around a bunch of other women, sweating, pushing yourself, striving to do something physically demanding, and all the while not giving a shit about what you look like. Roller derby means getting red in the face, leaving sweat marks on the floor, and stinking out the sports hall, and that’s kind of liberating in a world that teaches girls to be un-perspiring, put-together and submissive (although awesome campaigns such as This Girl Can are starting to change that). Turns out being gross together is kind of fun, and looking a certain way… not so much a requirement.

For sure, I’m not saying that my body image demons have been permanently exorcised. As much as I’m trying to immerse myself in the world of roller derby, it’s impossible to avoid the bullshit messages about being ‘beach body ready’ that still dominate basically every form of media. Negative thoughts still creep in. Belly too round. Arms too jiggly. But the more I do roller derby, the quieter these thoughts get. As a former fat-kid and natural coach potato, I might be a little late to the ‘team sport is good for body image’ revelation, but hey… better late than never!

Has roller derby had a positive impact on your body image? 

Image credit: Kelly Norwood, Flickr CC

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This Derby-Specific Workout Programme is Fab (and Free!)

Have you head of Roller Derby Athletics?  It’s a cool site with off-skate training programmes designed by Booty Quake #8, who’s been playing with the Terminal City Rollergirls since 2007. The main thing the site offers that makes it different to other roller derby blogs I’ve come across is, in it’s own words, “focused, multi-week training programs for skaters”. There are currently four such programmes: RDA Basics Builder; RDA Stride Builder; RDA Core Builder and Pump Up Your Jam. The premium programmes will cost you $59 to access, but the Basics Builder is free – you just have to sign up. At that price, of course I had to give it a go.

So what’s involved in the Basics Builder? Well, once you’ve signed up, you receive five different workouts by email – one a day from Sunday night to Thursday night, so you can do the workouts Monday to Friday. The workouts are based on movements that require no weights or other equipment, and are designed to be doable in limited space (like your living room). Each email contains a link to a video which demonstrates the correct way (and incorrect ways) of doing each movement, often with modifications for different levels of ability. The exercises are all things you’d expect to be great for building roller derby fitness – squats, lunges, sit-ups – but with a bunch of variations, which keeps things interesting. I found each workout took me about 10 minutes to complete; they’re challenging but totally doable. Booty Quake recommends doing them in the morning ( I find that my muscles can feel a bit too stiff first thing, so mix up mornings and evenings), five days per week for a month to see results.

Would I recommend signing up for the Basics Builder? Absolutely! I think it’s a brilliant free fitness tool for a freshmeat skater like me – and I’d guess that skaters of all levels would get something out of it. The videos are really well produced and easy to follow. It’s not complicated or time-consuming, and just requires that you put in a little effort and complete the workouts consistently. For me, it’s a good way of remembering to do these kinds of exercises between practices, and means that I don’t have to think about keeping track of what/how many reps I’ve done (the emails act as a handy record). I’d definitely consider paying for one of the premium programmes in the future.

There are other neat free resources on the site too, like this standardised roller derby fitness test, a bunch of useful Ask Booty Q+As and articles on nutrition for roller derby. Some other stuff, such as the huge number (80+!) of workouts, are behind a paywall (‘All-Star Access‘ will set you back $12 a month for 1 month’s commitment, or $8 a month if you commit to a year). The cost seems pretty reasonable to me, based on my experience of the Basics Builder – definitely worth trying for a month at least.

Check out Roller Derby Athletics if you haven’t already!

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Roller Derby Glossary: B is for…

Getting to grips with roller derby vocabulary, one letter at a time.


If you don’t know what a blocker is already, you haven’t been watching enough roller derby. But here’s the WFTDA definition anyway:

“The positional Skaters who form the pack. The Pivot Blocker is one of the four Blockers per team allowed in each jam.”

Sure, watching the jammer is exciting as they’re the ones racking up the points, but for me watching the blockers can be just as satisfying. There really is so much skill involved in being a good blocker, whether operating as part of a wall or solo, as illustrated here:

Blocking to the Back

Soon after you start watching or playing roller derby, you learn that ‘full contact’ does not mean ‘hitting free-for-all’. One place you can’t hit an opponent is in the back. This is, rather fittingly, known as a back block. The WFTDA defines blocking to the back as:

“Any contact to the back of the torso, buttocks, or legs of an opponent. It is not considered Blocking to the Back if the Blocker is positioned behind the opponent (as demarcated by the hips) but makes contact to a legal target zone.”

Blocking to the back incurs a penalty when the contact “forces the receiving opposing skater out of their established position.” Blocking to the back can lead to an expulsion, if the action is deemed to be “a conscious and forceful attempt to block an opponent in the back egregiously, whether or not the action was successful.” The referee hand signal for a back block looks like this: “Arms are initially forward and bent at a 90-degree angle. They are then extended forward until straight out in front of the body.”

Blocking Zones

As well as places that a player can be hit (more about that when we get to ‘T is for… Target Zones’), there are:

“Areas of the body that may be used to hit an opponent when performing a block.”

Here’s a handy diagram of where the blocking zones are:

roller derby blocking zones

And that’s it for B! Did I missed anything? 

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Watch Footage from Rollercon 2015

A few of my leaguemates were off at Las Vegas based roller derby convention Rollercon recently, sharing lots of envy-inducing photographs on Facebook. I’d love to go to Rollercon one year when I’m more along in the sport – until then, I’ll have to get my fill from watching a bunch of the bout footage which is up on Derbyverse.

The fast-paced USARS rules showcase looks pretty interesting for learning more about this alternative rule system (here’s a 2014 comparison with the dominant WFTDA rules if you’re interested):

Or perhaps the nearly-nude Chippendales Vs Magic Mike XXL, raising funds for prostate cancer research, is more your thing:

But I think I’ll start with the “hot and sweaty climax of ‘Gay Friday'”, Vagine Regime Vs Caulksuckers:

Find more Rollercon 2015 bout footage on Derbyverse.

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