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This is my struggle.

This question hangs over everything I do – whether I’m sitting at my desk, or trying to dig into my plow stops, or even while I’m brushing my teeth in the morning. It’s everywhere I go, everything I see.

WTF CORE. LEAVE ME ALONE.

Okay, okay – I’m exaggerating a bit. But I have been spending a lot of time lately trying to figure out how I can engage my core and use it to make myself faster and stronger. (I’ve also been watching lots of Beyonce videos, if y’all can’t tell – now that girl knows how to use her core.)

About a month ago, I started doing vinyasa flow yoga. I became acutely aware of how little control I felt trying to hold and breathe through certain poses for an extended period of time. I think this is directly related to how long I’m able to get low, which as we all know is the Golden Rule of Roller Derby.

At a practice last week, one of my captains was all “Damn, Bebe, you need to get lower, girl.” And I was all “Whaa, I thought I was already low?” And then another teammate literally tapped me with her hip and I fell over. And then I understood.

Your core (in addition to your legs, of course) is what keeps you tight and able to make swift, powerful movements while playing derby. At an agility class at 2014 DerbyCon, SmartyPants told us to imagine a thread holding us upright from the tops of our heads – was this thread taut or loose? That kinda explains the difference between using your core or not.

I also played in a rookie scrimmage over the weekend and when I looked at pics, my arms (aka the penalty sticks) were flying in all kinds of directions! I think I did really well overall, but I definitely need to work on using my core and not my arms to keep myself balanced and help control my speed.

So how do I do this, you ask? This article is the first step.

It talks about how to engage your transverse abdominis muscle to strengthen your core. It has fun little tidbits of advice, like these two favorites:

1. Make a “sssss” sound as you exhale to help you find the right deep abdominal muscles to trigger.

2. Imagine you are sucking a smoothie with your vagina as the straw, or picking up a grape with your vagina.

Yep. Re-read it again, just to make sure you got that last part right. It also talks about how you have to put your hands near your no-no zone to make sure you’re doing it right. Good times!

Anyway, that first step is vital to knowing how your core should feel when it’s engaged. Now it’s time to put it into derby action! I don’t think I have a problem engaging my core when I’m trying to run away with speed, but I do have issues engaging when I have to get low. Squatting on skates while taking a hit sucks! And it’s really hard to get used to.

This is a regular squat, and ideally the right form: thighs parallel to the floor, low butt, chest and chin up, shoulders relaxed, torso and lower legs aligned in the same direction.

This is a good derby stance. I got this pic from RDAC’s Facebook, which has a good explanation of derby stance along with some good tips and drills. Her butt is a little bit higher, but I think this is normal when you’re playing derby – I don’t think it has to be a perfect squat to be effective.

Your stance has everything to do with your core, because if it’s not tight you’ll prob be all hunched over with your head tipping back or forward, and your arms will prob be swinging around trying to help you find your center of gravity. I’m learning now that your core is your center, and as long as this is solid you can do whatever the eff you want with your legs – one-sided plows, full plows, stutter steps, etc. This is awesome for blocking or trying to absorb a hit.

It also helps with hitting when you’re trying to surge someone or get a good hit in using your hip. It keeps you low, and stops you from overworking/overusing your shoulders to hit opposing players.

My awesome captains are holding a DemonCat Stance Clinic this Saturday, and I’ll be able to get some feedback on how I’m looking on the track!

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