Advice for new skaters

Advice for New Skaters: Do Try This at Home

A new skater tells me, “I'm always looking for things I can do on my own to improve my skating, especially things that can be done in an apartment/small space or even off skates.”  There are so many simple things you can do at home to continue honing your derby skills.  Here are a few ideas:

Balance and agility drills

Because we always skate counter-clockwise in derby, if you don’t already have them, you’ll soon develop imbalances between your right and left side.  Why is this a big deal?  Partly because imbalances keep your weak side weak, and partly because imbalances make you more prone to injury as your body attempts to overcompensate for them.  So the next time you’re skating around on all-eights in a pace line carving those imbalances even more deeply into your physique, vow to spend some time doing some of these single-leg exercises to help correct them:

Imbalances aside, it’s important to work on your balance both on and off skates.  A quick google search will turn up a ton of balance and agility exercises you can do at home.  A couple of easy things I’ve tried in the past include:

  • Do arm exercises like bicep curls or overhead presses while standing on a bosu trainer or a half foam roller.  Now you’re doing a balance workout and an upper body workout at the same time. Efficiency!
  • Draw an agility ladder outside with sidewalk chalk.  Do your ladder drills both off-skates and on-skates.

Core Strength

You probably already know that a strong core is super-important for balance and stability on skates, but you might not realize the role a strong core plays in injury prevention.  I once had a hip injury that kept me off-skates for a year.  The physical therapist who treated me said it was the result of a hip imbalance (ahem, see single-leg exercises above), and recommended specific core exercises to strengthen the transverse abdominis, a muscle that stabilizes the hips.  And if there’s any body part that takes a beating in roller derby, it’s the hips. In addition to the crunch variations and planks and glute bridges that were already part of my core-strengthening repertoire (and which you can also do at home), my physical therapist recommended doing this foundation training video or taking a pilates class a few times a week.

Hitting drills

Effective hitting comes down to timing (as you match your speed to the person you’re trying to hit), weight transfer, and the ability to get your foot in front of the person you’re hitting.  You can’t practice your timing without someone to hit, but you can practice the other mechanics.  

To work on weight transfer, put on your skates and stand next to a wall.  Work on picking up the leg closest to the wall, thereby transferring all your weight to the other leg, then bump the wall with your hip.  Not only will this exercise help you get used to being on one leg as you go in for the block, bumping the wall will also help you learn how to gauge how close you need to be to the skater you’re trying to hit. (Hint: Closer than you think. You’ll notice that the further you are from the wall, the less stable you are as you lean over to bump it with your hip.)

To work on getting your leg in front, repeat the exercise above but use a chair or stool rather than the wall.  Work on picking up your foot and putting it down in front of the chair or stool with your toe pointed in the direction your body would be moving to follow the hit. Then rebalance your weight onto both feet which, in real life, will keep you from following the block out of bounds or will allow you to dig in for the push that follows your hit.

Remember to practice on both sides to stay balanced and strengthen that weak side!  And if you’re having trouble opening your hips, try these stretches.

On-Skates drills

If you’ve got three feet of floor space, you can do cone drills.  You don’t even need cones.  Just throw down a couple pairs of shoes and practice using those edges.

Old School Derby Workout

I was in terrible shape when I decided to learn how to skate in the hopes of making it onto a roller derby team. Such terrible shape that I was embarrassed to put my struggle on display in public at a gym.  The first step I took to start getting into shape was to order the Roller Derby Workout video and do it three times a week.  It may seem quaint now, and if your fitness level is beyond what mine was, you might not find it enough of a challenge, but if you really are starting from scratch, I recommend you find a copy of this oldie-but-goodie and give it a try. 

Do you have other at-home practice ideas?  Share them in the comments!

Equipment Basics: Buying New Skates

by Bughouse Cuckoo

When buying new skates you must break down the skate into its different components:

  • boot
  • plate
  • wheels
  • bearings

There are a number of questions to consider for each component.  Do your research online and talk to other skaters, especially those with similar skating styles, to find out what works for them.


What kind of boot are you looking for: vinyl, leather, vegan? Do your feet have any special needs: wide, narrow, split widths, high arches? Features: Do you want a clinch strap across the ankle or a roller collar? Fun details: Do you want a custom color or want the inside of the tongue to be lambskin or thicker material? What is your budget?


Material: Nylon or aluminum? (Some metal plates are lighter/heavier than others).  Check reviews!  Trucks: Single action, double action trucks, what is the angle of the trucks? Axles: 7mm or 8mm? Again, what is your price limit?


What kind of wheels you choose depends on the surface you will be skating on. A general rule is that the grippier the skating surface, the harder the wheel durometer. Ask skaters what they recommend or what has worked for them in terms of both durometer and brand. See if you can you borrow a pair at practice to try them out. 


When picking bearings, you have to buy the correct size for your axle (7mm or 8mm). If you have 7mm axles but 8mm bearings, there are 7mm axle ‘sleeves’ you can buy for under $10. There are different kinds of bearings and different materials and brands from $20-100. 


Are you going to buy your skate parts separate and have them mounted?   If you are getting them mounted…standard or specialty?  Are you getting a forward mount?  Are your plates smaller than the boot?  Decisions are all yours.

Best for New Skaters

Go for a starter skate like R3 or Rocks.  You don't want your skates to control your feet but have your feet control your skates. The higher end skates are more responsive to minor shifts in weight and are difficult to control for a new skater.

You Passed Your Minimum Skills! Now What?

Congratulations, you passed your WFTDA minimum skills! Now you find yourself skating at league practices alongside skaters who have, in some cases, been doing this for years. Some of these skaters can seemingly knock you down with the slightest flick of a hip, and now you might be wondering what you’ve gotten yourself into. Don’t worry, this is totally normal. It may not feel like it just yet, but it’s only a matter of time before you, too, are effortlessly knocking people over and performing other exciting feats of agility and awesomeness on the track. Here are some things you can do to speed up your progress as a new skater.

What are your derby goals?

Passing your minimum skills is a big milestone, but it’s really just the beginning of your derby journey. You may have been so focused on getting to this point, you haven’t given much thought to what you want out of the rest of your roller derby career. Take some time to think about what’s most important to you. Do you want to meet new people and have fun? Do you want to make the travel team eventually? Your goals may change over time, but asking yourself these questions now can help you set priorities and make the most of whatever time you have available in your schedule for derby. 

Go to practice.

This advice may seem obvious, but everyone has a life outside of derby, and it’s not always easy to make it to practice. Consistent attendance is the single biggest variable driving improvement in new skaters. Set an attendance goal. In my first two years of skating, my monthly attendance goal was 100%. I didn’t always make it, but setting that expectation for myself made the difference many nights between working late or getting to practice. Not everyone can commit to a goal that ambitious, but take a look at your schedule and figure out what’s realistic given your other commitments and your derby goals. Then hold yourself accountable.

Cross train.

It’s tempting to want to be on skates all the time when you’re new. And who has time to cross train when you’re focused on hitting that ambitious attendance goal you’ve set for yourself? You need to make time. The right cross training will help prevent injuries, build your stamina for blocking and jamming, improve your balance and agility, make you harder to knock down, and make you faster than you ever dreamed. (I shaved a full 30 seconds off my 27 in 5 time after I took up powerlifting!) Not sure how to get started? Look for more about that in a future post. 

Keep working on the basics.

Even if you go to practice regularly, you’ll probably need to spend more time on your own perfecting the basics. Sure, you passed your minimum skills, but can you consistently perform all of those skills at a moderate, or even fast pace? Can you do them equally well on your weak side? You don’t need much space to work on these basic skills. Find a park, a parking lot or a hardwood floor and practice on your own time. Some of my skater friends used to brag about doing their housework on skates. Give it a try (unless you have downstairs neighbors).

Watch and listen to high level derby.

One of the best ways to develop your understanding of rules and strategy is to watch and listen to high level derby. Check out the archives on and focus not just on the skating, but also on the announcers. They know a lot about derby, and you can learn from hearing them explain what’s going on.

 Study the rules.

Speaking of the rules, read them, study them, learn them. I know it’s boring, but you won’t regret it. And you’ll spend a lot less time in the penalty box.

Have fun!

Roller derby is a demanding sport. It takes a lot out of you physically and mentally, and it can suck up every minute of free time in your schedule if you let it. Don’t let your enthusiasm as a new skater lead you down a road to burnout. Keep your goals and priorities in mind, but always remember derby is supposed to be fun. Savor every friendship you make, every victory lap you skate, every autograph you sign—yes, it will happen. There are a lot of people who only dream about doing what you get to do out there on the track. Never forget that.