Derby exercises for small spaces
Ah, early spring. The flowers are a-blossom, the birds a-chirp, and—because it’s still February, mind—the drizzle a-pissing. What a time for growth. If you’re like me, the slight upturn in temperature and evening light leaves you fidgety for outdoor skating but stuck in by cold rain. So, in anticipation of those two weeks in April or May when we can actually skate outside, I present a series of derby exercises that you can do on non-practice days without leaving the comfort of your living room. These late-winter nights in front of the telly are perfect for strengthening core muscles and improving balance, two essential areas that we often neglect. Some of these exercises are familiar—planks and pushups, for example—and others a little more exotic. All these derby exercises are highly adaptable. Enjoy!
First, the classic pushup (or pressup, if you’re British). Pushups are like Marmite—they’re brown and salty, and a bugger to get off a knife. Oh, wait, no—they’re like Marmite because some people really like them, some people really hate them, and they majority of people don’t have any opinion either way, because they don’t often encounter them. It’s time to change that. Pushups are great for derby. Let me say that again. PUSHUPS ARE GREAT FOR DERBY! Derby includes a lot of shoulder contact, especially in pushing and hitting. If you have strong shoulders, your hits and pushes will stay strong at the moment of contact. If you have weak shoulders, your hits and pushes will lose power when, at the moment of contact, your shoulder flexes and you waste power. In addition, pushups are great for your arms, chest, and core, and are endlessly variable.
There are a few key things to remember about the pushup. First, keep your back straight. Keeping your back straight forces you to engage your core muscles. This is especially true if you’re doing your pushups on your knees. Bending at the waist is a waste of time. Second, change things up. Your body will get used to doing one kind of pushup, and eventually you’ll get so good at it that you’ll stop benefiting from it. Move your hands in close to one another, or far apart, or out in front of your head, or down by your sides. Keep your elbows in, or out like chicken wings. Look ahead or look down. A good pushup involves lots of layers of muscles, and changing how you do it forces the layers to respond in different ways.
A final note on these—don’t get discouraged if you suck at them. Whether or not you’re good at these has as much to do with your musculature as it does with your fitness. Someone with short arms and a deep chest will have a much easier time with pushups no matter how unfit they are. Someone with a shallow chest and long arms will be at a disadvantage. Don’t sweat it. Do more pushups, however you can.
Second, the trusty plank. Everyone’s done planks at some point, as they’re great for core muscles. Balance yourself on your elbows and toes, and keep your back straight. This is a classic static, or isometric, exercise; your muscles get the workout from maintaining tension. Don’t bend at the waist, either up or down, as this takes your body out of tension. You should feel this in your stomach, lower back, and arse, the core of your torso. Do more of these than you are.
Once you’re bored of the standard plank, shake things up a bit. Have a child stand on your lower back, which obviously makes things harder. Or, do side planks, balanced on one elbow. (I find these particularly difficult.) While in a standard plank, raise one leg to work your arse and back even more (remember to alternate). Or, do mountain climbers, in which you try to touch your right knee to your right elbow, while balancing on your elbows and left leg, and then alternate. These are great for your oblique muscles (the muscles in the sides of your torso). Finally, have a go at the plank-to-pushup manoeuvre. Starting from a plank, raise yourself up one arm at a time into a pushup, and then lower yourself back down. Repeat to failure. This one is great for your shoulders and arms as well as for the core muscles.
Third, the skydiver. These are great fun for your lower back, arse, and hamstrings. Doing more of these will improve your ability to take hits and push people around Lie on your stomach with your hands clasped behind your back, like the Prince of Wales on an official visit to your carpet. (Not a euphemism, that.) Lift your knees and chest off the carpet. Hold it for ten seconds. Ease back down. Repeat. Carry on. Once you’ve gotten tired of this, you can shake things up by grabbing your feet behind you and pulling. Try to pull your heels to your head. (This will require you to balance on your crotch. Good luck with that.) Or, start in the standard skydiver position but with your feet under the couch. Arch your back until your navel is off the ground. Wait for a ten count, and then relax. Repeat. As long as you stop before you pull a muscle, you really can’t do too many of these. They’ll improve your posture, balance, and core strength.
Fourth, the ‘Russian Get-Up (sic)’. I have to confess, I may have been using the wrong name all along for this. My recent google search suggested that a Russian Get Up may be something else entirely. That said, until someone corrects me, I’m going to carry on.
So, to do a Russian Get-Up (sic), sit down cross-legged on the floor. Then stand up, without using your knees or hands. (You may find it helpful to swing your arms down and back to build momentum). Then sit down again. Repeat. Repeat. Carry on like this for two minutes, and take a break. Not using your knees or hands requires you to power yourself upward using your hips, arse, and thighs, and it’s a great exercise for building core and leg stability. It’s important to swap legs occasionally—I tend to cross my left leg over my right, which means that my right leg is doing more of the work. To avoid this, I cross my legs the opposite way. As with all of these exercises, you can make this more difficult. Try doing it on one leg or in skates, both of which require more strength than the standard version. Or, try it without crossing your legs. Pull your heels in as close as you can to your crotch and spread your knees as far as you can (hey!). Then stand up as normal. My six-year-old daughter can do this. I can’t. Good luck.
Fifth, the ‘Indian Get-Up’ or ‘Knee Jump.’ This is a great exercise for building explosive strength, because it requires you to use your back and arse to jump. Start on your knees. Without using your hands, jump to your feet into a squatting position. To do this, you’ll have to swing your arms up and forward. Try to jump as far as you can forward. If your feet land ahead of your knees, you’ve done well. Chances are, you won’t need to make this more difficult, but if you do, Youtube offers a range of videos detailing this exercise. Don’t be tempted by the prospect of doing it with weights. Get a hobby that’s better on the knees.
Sixth, and finally, the One-Legged Stand-Around. The whole of this exercise is summed up in the title. Stand on one leg. That’s it. The trick is to get so good at this that you can do it while doing something else. Start by standing on one leg while doing the washing up. Remember to (a) bend your knee a bit, and (b) switch legs occasionally. You can also do this while shaving, washing your face, or giving a presentation on this quarter’s sales to your board of directors. When you’ve gotten good at this, make things more difficult by moving your other leg around. Stick it out in front of you, then swing it behind your standing leg. Touch your knee to your nose (preferably not while shaving), or grab your free foot and try to straighten your leg (ballet, anyone?). This exercise develops your sense of proprioception—the way the brain interprets signals about where you are in relation to gravity, and makes adjustments accordingly. You’ll find that as you get better at this, the constant movements necessary to keep your weight over your foot get smaller and more natural, and you have to pay less attention to remaining upright. That’s proprioception at work. You’ll also find that your balance on skates is more assured, your crossovers stronger, and your transitions smoother. Once you’re comfortable on one foot, everything else comes more naturally.
Also, once you’ve gotten confident standing on one foot, you can shake things up by adding some movement to the mix. Stand on one foot with your weight on your toes, and try to scuttle sideways by swivelling your foot, first on the toes, then on the heel. Go both ways with both feet. As you get better at this, you’ll find that your ability to remain upright on skates while off balance will also improve. Often, skaters fall down because they’ve overbalanced forward or backwards whilst trying to hit, dodge, or spin. More comfort moving on one foot equals more comfort moving on one skate.
So there’s my big six exercises. Obviously, there are hundreds more you could do—the situp family gets noticeably short shrift here—but I think these should sort you out nicely over the holiday season. And remember, you needn’t reserve these for your living room. These can be done whenever you’re trapped in a small space with nothing much to do. No derby in prison? No problem.