The wonderful hosts of the Back of the Pack Endurance podcast interviewed me last night about running, roller derby, aerial arts, my experiences as a first-time race director and my upcoming gig as a balloon art model. I come in around the 1 hour mark in this episode and they let me ramble and giggle to my heart’s content!
I had the privilege of guest-coaching an off-skates workout for my beloved Assassination City Roller Derby recently, and I wanted to make it available for anyone to do at home. This circuit takes 20-30 minutes, depending on how long your rest breaks are in between exercises. You can do this pretty much anywhere – it requires no equipment and you don’t need shoes.
Off skates with Pyro – 6/29/14
Basic balance: stand on one foot and slowly swing the other leg forward and back to center; out to the side and back in; and behind you and back to center. Repeat for 30 seconds on each side.
Hip abduction: stand on one leg, raising other knee to waist height. Abduct your hip so that you “open the gate”, with your knee pointing out to the side…you’re gonna look a bit like you’ve got a lil’ Captain in ya…then slowly adduct so your knee points forward again. Stay on the same foot and slowly repeat this open/close motion for 30 seconds.
Single leg toe touch: stand on left foot, right foot hovering off ground in front of you. Bending @ waist, reach with right hand to touch left foot; stand up straight to complete rep. Keeping a slow, steady pace, repeat for 30 sec, then switch sides. (note: you can add a dumbbell to your toe-touching hand when you’re ready to progress this exercise)
Single leg squat with contralateral toe touch – as you squat on your right leg, touch the outside of your left foot with your right hand before standing straight up to complete one rep. Repeat for 30 seconds on each side.
Single-leg curtsy squat with front leg swing: shallow single leg squat, free leg bent back behind – as you stand, straighten leg and swing it in front of body, then behind for the next squat – repeat for 30 sec each side.
Sharing this far and wide by request from my beloved Assassination City Roller Derby – I guest-coached recently with an off skates workout and kinesio taping demo and as promised, I’m sharing my go-to list of off skates exercises to customize your own cross training circuit. Please feel free to share this article in its entirety with your team, league, friends, etc.
Mix’n’match off-skates workout
by Pyro Maim Ya of Pynk Fitness
Skating is the bees’ knees, but it won’t provide you with all the training you need to excel at roller derby. If you want to increase your flexibility, improve your core strength and balance (which go hand in hand, bee-tee-dub) and increase your quickness and agility, then I highly recommend regular off-skates training sessions.
I run a weekly off-skates workout for my league and offer personal training sessions, so I’ve amassed a collection of options for a mix and match workout you can share with your team. Just pick 2-3 exercises from each category in the order they’re laid out here; run each exercise for 30-60 seconds each or 10-15 reps each depending on exercise and skill level. All of these exercises are adaptable and the variations can be used to challenge more advanced athletes.
(Don’t forget to start with…
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If you’re reading this blog post, you’re probably a roller derby athlete and/or a runner with a broken leg. At least, that’s my hope. Wait, allow me to rephrase that! I don’t wish broken limbs on anybody – but if you’re already broken, then you’re likely searching the web for tales of other skaters or runners who have been bolted back together. You want to know what your future with your newly bionic leg looks like. You want to know if you’ll skate or run or jump rope again. You’re probably even wondering whether to throw out all your high heels. You have questions! I may have answers.
I found myself in similar circumstances in June of 2007, when my left tibia/fibula shattered in 11 places. You can read about it here. Long story short: I have 2 plates, 17 screws & a stabilizing rod in my left ankle/calf. Due to the severity of the damage to both bones, none of that jazz can ever come out. I know some folks who have had plates or screws removed later in life, but this is what I’m working with for the long haul.
My surgeon said that I’d probably always walk with a bit of a limp, that running was out of the question & that I certainly wouldn’t be able to play derby anymore. Looking back on it now, I think he was intentionally challenging me to prove him wrong. It worked. I played derby for 5 more years and have run two marathons, twenty-three half-marathons and around fifty shorter races since. I’ll never be a pogo stick champion and I’ll always be able to tell you when the weather’s about to get cold, but overall, I’m a better athlete now than I was before I was injured.
It’s been 8 years since my surgery, so I feel like I have a pretty decent grasp by now on what works and what doesn’t for recovery and beyond. Your mileage will vary, obviously, depending on your pain threshold and willingness to work beyond it. My observations:
While you’re still in your wheelchair or on crutches:
- Take your pain pills on schedule, but only as long as you have to. Try alternative therapy if you can. There are plenty of natural pain relievers that won’t damage your body the way that NSAIDs and opioids can.
- Sleep as much as humanly possible, then sleep some more – your body needs so much more sleep when it’s trying to heal. Your body also heals much more quickly if it’s not full of alcohol or crappy food, so don’t crawl into a bottle of whiskey like I did or eat your bodyweight in french fries.
- Stay active so your general fitness level doesn’t slide completely off the rails. Unless you also have an upper body injury, you can lift weights while seated or lying down. Here’s the series I did during the three months where I was allowed to put zero weight on my left leg:
Seated: front and lateral arm raises, alternating hammer curls, single-arm concentration curls, overhead press, overhead tricep extension, bent over rows and bent over flyes
Lying on back on a yoga mat or bench: chest press, flyes, alternating rows, pullovers, isometric straight-arm holds
- Start a journal or blog if you’re not keeping one already. Write about your entire experience while it’s fresh in your mind. You’ll someday be a completely different person than you are at this stage in your injury, and your story will motivate and inspire others if you choose to share it.
- Stay involved with your league if you intend to return to derby. Volunteer as an NSO, brainstorm sponsorship opportunities, take notes for coaches on the sidelines. Even when it’s hard emotionally to watch others get to skate when you cannot, please know that you are setting a good example as a productive member of your league. You’re still making a difference. If you were an “I just want to skate” type before, maybe it’s time to rethink that mindset.
- Now’s a good time to finish that book (and start a new series) or to learn how to crochet. Treat this less active time as a way to exercise your brain. You won’t get quite the same endorphin rush as a tempo run or a scrimmage, but your synapses will fire a lot harder if you’re doing something productive with them.
Stuff to expect during healing that is completely normal:
- Pain: I mean, obviously. But weird nerve twitches, random stabbing sensations, foot cramping, scar tenderness & general discomfort are all to be expected. Totally normal.
- Peeling skin: your foot is going to shed at least once, probably more. It’s going to be really soft & tender by the time you can put weight on it again.
- Cankle that lasts for months post-injury: the trauma to the soft tissue means it’s going to get & stay swollen for awhile. It’ll affect range of motion & temporarily get worse as you get into PT/rehab. Icing & elevating help, but time will be the best cure for the edema.
- Completely overdoing it on your first day off crutches & having to use them again the next day: completely expected & totally normal.
When you’re back on your feet (and you WILL be, I pinkie-swear):
- If you have the time/money/insurance to devote to physical therapy, I highly recommend it. If you are more of a DIY kind of athlete, then schedule your rehab exercises into your calendar and treat them like they’re PT appointments that cannot be missed. Yes, it’s boring and unpleasant, but rebuilding your balance and strength is crucial to preventing compensatory muscle imbalances (that can jack with your kinetic chain for years to come).
- Single leg barefoot balance exercises are great for restoring your balance on foot, which will get you back on skates faster. (As soon as I can get somebody to take some pictures for me, I’ll post a balance workout that can be used to improve anybody’s single-leg strength and stability)
- Strengthen your core. Not just your abs, but your hips too – your hips are part of your lumbo-pelvic hip complex (LPHC), the group of 29 muscles that make up your true core – where your center of gravity is located and where all movement originates (and in derby, it’s your wrecking ball). Weak hips will increase your risk for knee and (more) ankle injuries, and your kinetic chain is already working at a disadvantage now that your muscles/tendons/ligaments have to reform around foreign matter. I recommend bridges, planks, hip abduction (I lay on my side and do Jane Fonda-style leg lifts) and hip extension (supermans and scorpions factor heavily into my core workouts).
Returning to skating:
Since my injury, I’ve seen many skaters come back faster than I did, and I am always impressed at those who can flip that switch in their brain again so quickly. You know – the one that takes us from mortal to human wrecking ball. If you’ve been broken, you know that switch doesn’t flip as easily anymore. That is completely okay. Let me repeat that. IT IS OKAY TO BE SCARED TO PLAY DERBY AGAIN. It is wise to have a certain degree of fear/caution, because it helps you protect yourself as you heal.
Hopefully, your orthopedic specialist understands enough about your sport to have given you a realistic timeframe on when you can return to derby. (I give bout tickets to all of my doctors/trainers/PTs so they can see exactly what we do). My surgeon prescribed a month of non-contact skating before letting me jump back into contact. I had been so impatient to get back to blocking, but I found that I needed another four months for my scars to heal before I could stomach getting kicked in them. I reffed until I found myself craving a solid hip check. My league was very cool about letting me jump back into drills at practice when I was ready.
Talk to your trainers (and your doc and PT) when you’re ready so everyone understands where you are physically and mentally. Honest communication keeps expectations reasonable on both sides of that equation.
Returning to contact:
- Getting kicked in the plates HURTS. I wore a neoprene brace for about a year – not because I felt it was protecting me from further damage (that metal isn’t going anywhere), but for the cushioning it provided in my skate boot and the extra layer of protection against contact to my scars and hardware.
- Your metal ankle needs to warm up before you start skating. Do an active off-skates warm-up that includes some ankle circles, pointing and flexing, etc. Repeat these with your skates on, rolling on your good foot while you roll your bionic ankle around to let it get used to the weight of your skate.
- Inflammation is normal – for over a year, my metal ankle became a cankle every time I worked out. All of those soft tissues are still trying to settle around the new hardware. Ice, anti-inflamatories and elevation are absolutely the best ways to handle this. Going to the bar with your teammates after practice will not help. Go home and take care of yourself. Sleep.
- If you have nerve damage, some of that stuff is going to eventually reroute and wake up in unpleasant ways. Buzzing, tingling, burning and throbbing are all normal. About 4 years after my surgery, I developed a neuroma near the bottom of the inner plate. It was basically just an angry little ball of hate that would bring me to my knees if you whispered near it. I experimented with a topical prescription numbing cream, got a few unspeakably unpleasant cortisone shots and eventually had a cobbler cut the side of my Reidell 395 low enough so that it didn’t rub Hateball. It took nearly two years for that intense nerve pain to go away, and I frequently looked back on the dead-nerve time period with an odd fondness – I’d take numb toes over searing pain. If you’re living with an unbearable neuroma, please go get it checked out and explore your treatment options. Or tough it out and see if the nerves finally reroute normally, like my stubborn ass did. I’m clearly no authority here.
Speaking of skates:
Your boot may not feel right anymore, and styles you coveted before may be wrong for you now. I thought Antiks would help support my ankle, but the high collar was excruciating. I had limited success with a Reidell 195, but the super-low ankles combined with my narrow heels made me curl my toes too much to try to grip, especially on crossovers (I jammed myself right out of my left skate once – so weird to adjust mid-crossover to having one sock foot). What eventually worked for me: Bonts. Oh, how I adore my Bonts. They’re like running shoes with wheels attached.
Speaking of shoes:
I had to rethink footwear after my surgery. Range of motion is limited in my ankle and every degree of angle change equates to more strain on my metal.
- Stilettos and narrow, tall heels are out for me now, as they’re not stable enough. However, I have had excellent luck with Pink and Pepper heels – they have a wide base and stable ankle straps. Wedges are a better choice, but honestly, flats are probably going to feel better from now on. Whichever heel height you’re comfortable with, a cushioned insert can help absorb some of the impact you’ll feel on the metal.
- Running shoes were also a trial and error experience for me – it’s hard to find shoe salespeople who are familiar with the special needs of the bionic runner. (I really should look into product testing for shoe companies – I think I’d be a good candidate and I could write reviews that might help other athletes) I used to be a minimalist runner, but my old Adida Adizeros and Nike Free didn’t have enough padding to absorb impact. Nike Lunarglide was a better choice, but then I found Hoka One One & never looked back. They’re maximal running shoes & they are the bomb-diggity. The extra cushioning absorbs the impact that causes the pain of the metal vibrating inside the bones, which means I can run farther and faster without pain. I am actually able to sprint in these, and I never thought I’d sprint without pain again! I prefer the Cliftons for half marathons or shorter distances & the Stinsons for anything longer – I also like the Stinson ATR or the Mafate for trail running. The Conquest is pretty good for long distances too but it feels a bit heavier than the other models.
Returning to running:
As with skating, returning to running was a slow process for me. Single-leg balance exercises helped strengthen my atrophied muscles, but it took awhile to get used to the sensation of impact. For the first mile, I can tell you exactly where every screw is, particularly on cold mornings. An active warm-up routine (instead of static stretching) before you run helps tremendously. Build mileage slowly and ice after you run. Increasing my distance too quickly resulted in strained tendons around the outer plate (and that neuroma popped up around the time I increased my mileage, so take from that what you will).
Other adventures – what works for me:
- Yoga has been one of the best things to ever happen to post-surgery me. Yoga helped me restore my physical balance, gave me an emotional outlet for my frustration and made me more aware of what my body was capable of doing if I focused my energy.
- An elliptical is a fantastic low-impact way to get your cardio in as long as you’re not on autopilot. Sprint intervals are more comfortable on an elliptical than a track when you have internal fixators. I like setting the ramp on mine to the highest incline so that it becomes a stair-stepper. (I miss climbing stairs with my travel teammates, but my knees can’t take the impact these days)
- Swimming and water running: I spent a lot of my recovery time in my mom’s pool, walking through the water or running while wearing a floatation belt. (okay, it was my kid’s alligator floatie. Don’t judge.)
What hurts a bit but I do anyway because I love it:
- Aerial silks: footlocks around scar tissue are unpleasant but worth the discomfort. Some tricks that involve spinning/turning to wrap the silk a few times around the ankle are a little ouchy but again, worth the discomfort & I’ve become desensitized over time.
- Kickboxing: I have to be careful how I kick the bag with my metal leg. I wear minimalist shoes for boxing (Puma Pulse XT) & we do a lot of plyometrics work in between bag work, so I’m working on landing lightly to offset the impact.
- Crossfit: I can jump rope, but it aches during and after. I can still do squat jumps and box jumps, but I land harder on my good foot to offset impact. Plyometrics are never going to feel great on a metal leg, but you get used to it & you find ways to adjust.
- Tennis (side-to-side, quick movements aren’t friendly to rigid ankles)
- I still do agility ladder training, but I land as lightly as possible, and I’m slower than I used to be.
Bottom line: You have to decide how much you’re comfortable hurting. If you’ve made it this far in your recovery, you’re probably pretty good at handling pain by now. Challenge your limits, but don’t beat yourself up if you move more slowly than you used to or can’t lift as much as before. You’re moving, and that’s pretty damn awesome.
Many thanks to you if you’ve made it through this ramble! Please feel free to ask me any questions about recovery/rehabilitation and whatnot. I’ll answer them in Life After ORIF Part II: Mom of Steel. I’ll also address some specific derby concerns, like re-learning to snowplow with limited range of motion. I’ll also talk about getting tattoos on top of scars/hardware, since that’s an adventure in itself.
I originally wrote this on my league forum as a post for the fresh meat group I was coaching at the time. I shared it on Facebook later for a rec league group I was training, and by request I’m sharing it here now in its original entirety. I hope it continues to inspire and motivate aspiring derby athletes.
I’ve been meaning to put this out here for awhile – I posted it on my league board recently in a nutrition and fitness thread for my freshies. There aren’t a lot of old guard left who remember what my life was like when I first joined Assassination City & I don’t want anyone to ever assume that I’ve always been who and what I am, because it’s taken a lot of hard work to get here.
This will be really, really long, so bear with me. It’s only the 2nd time I’ve ever said it all out loud, and I talk a lot. Plus, I’m a narcissist who needs visual aids to fully illustrate the changes my body has gone through, so you get pics too.
I was small (unhealthily so, but that’s a confession for another time) until I hit my early 20s, then birth control (& later fertility meds – oh, the irony) + eating way too much crappy food + sitting at a desk all day reshaped me. I weighed about 155 when I finally became pregnant with Victoria – then I put on 63 pregnancy pounds. Yeah, that’s not a typo. I’m 5’4″ & I weighed 218lbs when I checked into the hospital. That’s over twice the size I was when I met V’s dad. Some of it was the swelling from pre-eclampsia, but most of it was the fact that I used pregnancy as an excuse to eat everything in sight (mostly processed garbage & greasy fast food) & I told myself that walking the dog was actually real exercise.
Here’s what I looked like pregnant (with my best friend Jackie O’NiceAss @ her baby shower):
And right after I had V (rare pic of natural haircolor):
V had severe GERD, which took a trip to the emergency rom and several specialists and procedures to diagnose. Sickly, unhappy new baby + scary new body and wild hormones did a number on my self-esteem, so I spent the first 4 months of V’s life in misery on so many levels. I didn’t realize at the time I had PPD, but I can see now how bad it really was.
When V was about 4 months old, Jackie O & I started talking about roller derby again. We’d heard about it for the first time @ the baby shower where the above pic of us was taken & we had made a pact that we would join after we had our babies. After researching local leagues, I attended a DDD bout one weekend and an ACRD bout the next. Dude, I was hooked within the first 2 jams. It was pure awesome. I contacted ACRD about 2 hours after their bout & joined within the next month (summer of ’06).
My skating background: rink rat as a kid + speed team when I realized that skating was faster than running (I’ve loved running since I learned how to do it). I hadn’t been on skates in 17 years, though. I went to a public session the day before my first practice and rented a pair of brownies. I was on the floor for 15 mins when a 12 year old asked me to teach her how to cross on the corners, so I guess it came back to me pretty fast. Muscle memory amazes me.
First practice: I lasted 45 minutes. I was so out of shape! I’d been walking every day & had progressed to light jogging again since I had V so I was probably down to 185 when I strapped on my skates. My bad knee hated me bc of all of the weight I was forcing down on it. I made it through the entirety of the next practice & every practice after that, & my body and mind began to transform.
In my first year of derby, I lost about 25 pounds…I didn’t do much else besides skate. I was eating less, but still eating like crap – my first home team, La Revolucion, used to get bourbon & pancakes @ Bandera after practice. Not exactly the best post-exercise nutrition. Still, I was a pretty decent jammer & I used my size to my advantage – but more importantly, a year of hanging out with a group of strong, beautiful, confident women who come in all shapes & sizes reshaped my self-image & helped me love myself again.
I shattered my leg (11 breaks in the tibia/fibula) on June 6 of ’07 – had surgery June 11 (2 plates, 17 screws and one stabilizing rod), attended the pre-bout party on June 15, & went to the bout + separated from the Giant on June 17. It was a busy week. The Divorce Diet will make you drop weight fast, but I don’t recommend it – nor do I recommend crawling into a bottle of whiskey for a year, which is what I did. Weight fell off to the point that people were asking if I was doing coke. I think I was probably 112 @ my skinniest – West Texas flung me around the rink in July of ’08 (my first bout back as a skater) like a rag doll.
** Around this time, I started practicing yoga + meditating every day. I needed to regain my balance in every sense of the word. Yoga changed a lot about my life for the better – I cannot say enough good things about practicing on a regular basis. I healed physically, mentally & spiritually through yoga. It made me more mindful of every bite I put in my mouth, every drink I took, every minute wasted in a bar or stuffing my face in front of the TV that could have been filled with something meaningful & productive. I also started keeping a journal, which made it easier to track whether I was stress-eating or forgetting to eat bc I’d drank too much. A journal shines so much light on what’s going on inside you, & that helps shape the outside. **
I sprained my right ankle in Dec ’08 but kept skating on it in pain ’til about Feb ’09. I do NOT recommend that – if you have an inversion sprain, get off your skates & heal. I opted for 3x per wk physical therapy bc I wanted to recover as quickly as possible. Physical therapy strengthened both ankles, plus it helped build some muscle in my legs (stability exercises are SO good for your entire lower body & core). It made me feel stronger, & I love feeling strong! I started running again & I bought a couple of circuit-training DVDs featuring HIIT (high intensity interval training, which is the quickest way to get in bad-ass shape). I highly recommend Jackie Warner’s DVDs – she will destroy you in a very short amount of time. The key is to understand that exercise is supposed to be uncomfortable to some degree – you have to sweat to burn fat & build muscle.
After a year of lifting @ home, Ripper talked me into joining her gym in May ’10 – I hired a personal trainer & fell in love with her job, so I started the NASM PFT program in July ’10 & started hitting the weights & Stairmaster hard. I graduate/become certified in April of ’11, but I’m already working with clients now based on my personal experience, my experience training/coaching in the league, & all of the obsessive reading I do about fitness, nutrition & life coaching.
So, to make a short story very, very long, this is why I now look like this:
I’m impressed if you made it through that long ramble. I feel a bit as if I’ve exposed my soft underbelly to you all, figuratively & literally. I work my ass off on the daily bc I know I am never finished – I’m never going to be a final product, I’m always a work in progress. We all are. I take my nutrition one day @ a time, focusing on eating clean 95% of the time & I don’t beat myself up if I eat a yummy fatty treat every now & then (although once I started eating clean, I stopped craving sugar and fat as much – I’m repulsed by fast food and most processed crap now). I break a sweat @ least once a day – cardio is good for the body, heart, mind, soul. Cardio is good working meditation for people who can’t hold still for long (like me). Lifting weights makes me feel powerful – that power carries over into life outside the gym and off the track. Lean muscle burns fat even when we’re asleep, so my body is a self-maintaining machine. I quit drinking on Nov 1, 2009 and I don’t miss it @ all. I realize I am an extreme case and your mileage may vary – I don’t expect anyone to quit drinking or enjoying an occasional piece of cake – I’m an all-or-nothing kind of gal, so it works for me.
Bottom line out of all of this, the one point to take home with you – derby can change your life in many positive & amazing ways, but it’s only the beginning of being truly fit & healthy. Think of derby as the gateway drug to lifetime fitness and health. Derby alone will not turn us into powerful lean machines – we have to put hard work in to get great results out of what we do every day. That daily hard work will show up on the track and in every other aspect of our lives.
Thank you for listening.
Reblogging an old article today…since I worked shoulders yesterday, I’m having a hard time lifting my arms long enough to type something original. 😉
Think shoulder injuries are no big deal in roller derby? Do enough damage and you’ll be off your skates, trust us. And unable to lift objects, carry bags on one side, sleep on one side, etc etc. From your favorite pink fitness buff, check out how to strengthen your rotator cuffs. You’re welcome for the amazing rhyme scheme.
Strengthening Weak Rotator Cuffs by Pyro Maim Ya of Pynk Fitness
I’ve had shoulder injuries on the brain lately – a couple of my derby sisters are in slings right now and my own shoulder is whispering its discontent over the heavier lifting I’ve been doing. I learned a bit about strengthening my rotator cuffs after a nasty run-in with a brick wall in OKC a few years ago, and in conjunction with my physical therapy, this knowledge made a big difference in how quickly I was able to return to full…
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I’m a big fan of timesaving, full-body workouts that can be done virtually anywhere with no equipment. Seriously, there are ZERO excuses to skip a workout with that kind of resume. My favorites include core work, cardio and plyometrics to keep me in top form for derby and running.
I call this a One-Exercise Workout, but it’s really a couple of exercises blended together into one super ass-kicker. Push through these as hard and as fast as you can while maintaining your form – make sure you’re landing lightly and if you feel a sudden or sharp pain, stop immediately. These are not for the faint of heart, so be ready to ache afterward – but the results are absolutely worth the burn. Plus, as soon as you’re done with the set, you’re done with your workout – simple, huh?
Start position: standing straight, legs together, arms by sides, shoulders back.
Drop to a crouch, hands on the floor slightly in front of your feet.
Jump feet back to land in plank position.
Holding your plank, pick up right leg and twist lower body to tap right knee against left elbow. Return to center and repeat on left side, tapping left knee to right elbow.
Return to plank (if you’re feeling particularly masochistic, you can throw in a push-up at this point) and hop legs back into a crouch.
From here, you’re going to spring up into the air! Jump up as high as you can…arms outstretched over your head if you have the ceiling room, or clasped behind your head if your Hobbit house was built in the 1950s like mine. Imagine your legs as springs, propelling you to the ceiling.
Land lightly in a crouch – that’s one rep! Shoot those legs back out into a plank and hit it again!
As for sets, play around with what works for your timeframe. When I’m rushed for time, I like to do mine Tabata-style – 20 seconds of 100% effort as I do as many as I can as quickly as possible, followed by 10 seconds of rest and repeated 8 times. That’s a 4 minute workout that hits every muscle while increasing my endurance, boosting my metabolism and making my butt look fantastic in shiny shorts. You can’t beat that with a bat.