When you first learn the basics of roller derby, crossovers are usually taught how you see in this video: bend your knees and cross one foot over the other. This was okay when we were doing 25 in 5, but even then, I felt like I was working too hard at it.
After some digging on the Internet and talking to other derby players, I realized that I needed to push more with my legs. Gypsy Lucas does a better job of explaining the push with your legs in this video. But I still felt like I was doing something wrong. Even in good physical condition, I felt way too tired after completing 25 in 5. (Hey, remember when that was all we had to do? Oh, nostalgia.)
It wasn’t until I moved to Houston that I realized what I was doing wrong. It turns out that I was fighting my entire body. From my head to my feet, every crossover was a battle between muscle memory and physics.
While working with a speed skate teacher, I was told that my shoulders were too tight and I wasn’t pushing with equal strength in each leg. She taught me to count when I’m crossing over. This ensures I’m using equal strength. If you’ve ever taken music lessons, it’s similar to counting rhythm. When one leg pushes for a 1-2-3 count and the other leg only gets to two, then I obviously need to lengthen the push on the side only reaching two.
I really like this video because it breaks down crossovers and gives a few drill ideas. Of course, the first part of the video talks about inlines, but the basic principles hold true. Watch how low the skaters get. This increases their ability to push, which increases speed.
After building speed, a lot of skaters actually slow themselves down during laps. That’s why you hear vets preach skating the diamond or sevens or whatever name you call it. This keeps your legs moving and prevents you from slowing yourself down by coasting. The other way skaters slow them selves down is by standing up. Stay low during your laps. If you need to raise your upper body to breath, do it in the straightaways and only for a little bit. As soon as you approach the turn, dip back down.
Another thing you want to pay attention to: your shoulders. I was told that I had a tendency to put my shoulders in weird positions, tensing one and leaving the other limp. I learned to keep my shoulders low and in a straight line. If you’ve ever run with tense shoulders you know how sore they feel and how much more exhausted you are after the run. Tense shoulders cause you to exert more energy than necessary.
Speaking of running, when executing crossovers, keep those arms moving. Pump them like you would when running. Leaving your arms limp or tucking them in front of your body causes your body to exert more energy. Remember, we’re working smarter, not harder.
One last thing to keep in mind is lean into of the turn. This is basic physics. If your upper body is leaning away from the turn, it throws off your balance. I always tell new skaters to pretend they are giving the turn a big hug. They have to turn their shoulders towards the curve of the track and hold their arms out in an invisible hug until they build the muscle memory. It may seem silly, but it works.
Perfecting crossovers takes time. I’m still working on it every chance I get. Watch videos, take speed classes if they’re available, get someone to record you doing laps. Build the level of skill in your own league, so you have accountability partners. It all helps.