Brace proof shoulders

May 22, 2018

Brace proof shoulders

Let’s face it, we’re all feeling it. You’re feeling it on the day after scrim or training and your arms are on fire from holding on to your friends all session. You’re not alone and Roller Derby Fitness have just what you need to brace proof those shoulders!


Journey back to 2012 and you’ll find flat walls, solo blocking, fast packs, and being a good derby skater mostly meant being able to skate fast. Back then your jammer wouldn’t kill you for considering ‘passive’ offence in a power jam.


Fast forward to 2018 and now we see a game which is very different, not only in terms of strategy, but also in terms of physical demands on the skater. It is now widely accepted to build defensive formations around strong, upper body connections of the blockers involved. These walls spin, move in all directions and take impacts from strong, fast, agile jammers and offence. They use these connections to maintain manoeuvrability and structural integrity. So why does that matter and why do we need to think about this in our off skates training?

  1. In any contact sport we need to be ‘robust’.  This is the word that is thrown around in the strength and conditioning (S&C) world to mean that you need to be able to deal with getting bashed about a lot and not break.

  2. Our sport used to be biased towards lower body and core strength; crossovers to skate fast, plow stops to be in a flat wall, hips hits, body checks and the odd can opener. That is no longer the case.

  3. The game has evolved to require a high level of upper body strength and stability but what we need to ask ourselves is has our off skates training developed alongside it?

Here’s where I am hoping you say yes and are already actively working at, or considering, how to improve shoulder stability and strength to look after your upper body when it is loaded in all sorts of directions during gameplay. You might know that, but are looking for ideas of what to add into your off skates, or you’re new to the derbs and wonder why you would EVER get away with playing passive offence! Wherever you’re at, our aim is to give you some ideas, advice and help you keep your shoulders healthy so you can be a total badass brace!


Strength training principles

When we train we need to:

  • Train the range of motion we see in our sport

  • Train positions and situations we place ourselves in our sport

  • Progressively overload the structures to make them stronger

  • Address existing imbalances we may have

As an S&C coach it’s my job to evaluate the sport and guide my clients how to do those things effectively and efficiently.


As a brace we work through our entire range of motion and sometimes experience high loads at the extreme ends, so being stable and prepared for that is important. We often experience asymmetric loads - for example the jammer pushes on one of our friends more than the other so one will probably need more support. We need to push and pull our friends, sometimes we need to push our friends so hard they move someone off track or pull them so that they don’t go off track. Oh, and people hit us all the time and sometimes we forget to move our arms out the way when the jammer tries to skate through them. It happens, so we need to make sure those lapses mean we don’t pick up an injury as well as a penalty.


Primary plane of movement

The primary plane of movement we use in derby is a horizontal plane movement; imagine the same movement as the push up and the row. This movement isn’t just used by the bracer but also the people being braced so basically if you’re a blocker in a wall you’re doing this a lot.














Photo credit: Bigkidtll


This means that we need to train this plane of movement as a MINIMUM in our off skates training. We need to make sure we train the push and the pull aspect. Simple examples of that would be:


PUSH: push ups and bench press

PULL: bent over rows or ring rows


We need to use full range of motion in these exercises to make sure we train what is applicable to our sport and, due to that, form is our priority. That means picking the right scale for our push up (knees, box, toes), ring row and weight for bent over rows and bench. We need to ensure that we are doing the movements correctly to strengthen the correct muscle groups and keep full range for every rep.  Doing 3 sets of 10-12 reps each arm is a good starting point to build strength and endurance in that all important movement plane, see video below for demo of the movements.






Other planes

As I said previously, we generally take impacts and get hit in all directions whilst bracing or being braced, so whilst training the primary range of motion is smart, we also need to consider others that help stabilise our shoulders in all directions. We need to think about push and pull in all directions and also some rotation around the joint. Here are some movements and accompanying exercises to consider:




Strict press, push press, push jerk - can be done with barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells, plates

Alternating press: can be done with dumbbells, kettlebells, plates

All should be started with a engaged core and glutes to stabilise your trunk.

Movement demos can be seen here:





Deadlift: barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell,

Upright row: can be done with barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, plates

Movement demos can be seen here:




Front raise- dumbbell or plates

Lateral raise- dumbbell or plates

90-90 rotation- dumbbell , plates,  or band

Face pulls-resistance band


Movement demos can be seen here:



Training in all these planes will not only help stabilise our shoulders but will help us to become stronger and more robust - which is a key consideration for contact sports of all types. Training initially with the most stable option, such as a barbell, and progressing to less stable options, like dumbbells and kettlebells, once you gain strength and stability in the movements is recommended.



If you’re not sure how to link these together or add them into your training then sign up for our free ‘Brace proof shoulders’ programme at or on facebook and get structured workouts to use in your training as well as access to demo videos and post training shoulder stretches too.



If you need help with form watch the form videos or mark them on your phone for help when your trying these out at home or in the gym.  Hopefully you found this article useful and please let us know if you have any comments or questions. We are always happy to help!

Please tag us in any cool pics or vids you make of you lifting @ #rollerderbyfitnesstraining or post it on our facebook page. We always love to see strong inspirational people working hard!



If your feeling inspired but don’t know where to start get in touch with us at Roller Derby Fitness (, for any basic questions or if you want we can write you a bespoke strength and conditioning program based on your needs to make you even more badass on track.

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