Improving Your 27 in 5 to Pass Your Minimums
Hey there, current or future derby friends!
I’m Pixie Kix, and I’ve been playing with Undead Roller Derby for six years. I’ve spent a lot of that time as part of Undead’s jammer rotation, and today’s topic, the 27/5, is something I have some serious love/hate feelings about.
27 in 5 is the drill every upper-level skater hopes their coach forgot about, and the minimum skills test that makes fresh meat quiver in their quads.
If you’re here, I’m going to assume you’ve been bested by the beast. 👹 Let’s talk strategy so you can get 27 laps in 5 minutes—and ideally not barf when you’re done.
If your crossovers are still feeling shaky, it’s definitely going to affect your performance during 27 in 5. Practice lower, deeper crossovers to use those powerful derby thighs to your advantage! One great way to work on powerful strides and crossovers is to head outdoors somewhere nice and flat (many parks have outdoor basketball half-courts that work beautifully). Just make sure to wear ALL your gear and equip those sticky outdoor wheels!
Some people call this technique “the magic circle,” but we call it “apexing the track.” It involves skating wide on the straightaway while approaching the corners, then cutting in at the apex of the track. Following this pattern will feel easier on your body and hopefully cut down seconds on your lap. Some people do continuous crossovers as they follow this pattern, some begin a crossover just before a corner: trial and error will help you find what works for you.
One of the many things we have in common with NASCAR.
Watch a speed(y) skater
Does your rink rent out space to a speed skating team? Ask if you can come observe a practice, or head to YouTube. Get a friend to film you as you run laps, then compare the footage (but please don’t be too hard on yourself—we ALL need to get lower).
If it’s too weird to watch someone on inline skates, watch a teammate who regularly makes their 27 laps. Pay close attention to their pace, body position, and movement across the track.
Most of us can’t maintain a dead sprint for five minutes. Unless you’re training to do this in your free time, I don’t even recommend it. Instead, find a pace you can maintain and do your best to stick to it.
Sprinting for portions of the track and slowing/coasting for others doesn’t work for many skaters during the 27 in 5. Spend time (see “Practice Makes Perfect” below) finding a rhythm that raises your heart rate but doesn’t immediately leave you out of breath.
Ugh, I’m so sorry to tell you this. At some point, your regular derby practices just might not be enough. I’ll be the first to complain that non-skating cardio TOTALLY SUCKS (didn’t we all agree to roller skate so we could avoid running?), especially at first…but your teammates (or future teammates) are probably already incorporating off-skates workouts into their lives, and they’re going to want you to keep up. I’m not saying you have to do it today, but you should probably start thinking about it.
Training Mental Muscles
Okay, we’ve talked about what we can do for our bodies to improve our performance on the 27 in 5. Now…how’s your mental game?
Mental toughness is something important to develop in roller derby, just like your other skating muscles. When your lungs and thighs are fighting over who will win the “Worst Burning Sensation” award, remind yourself how much you want this. I find it easier to push through the pain to keep my pace rather than slowing with an intention to speed it up when I feel better. It doesn’t feel better until I stop.
And whatever you do, don’t stop—even if it means slowing down to a coast.
Find a Pace Bunny
If you feel you’re doing all of these things right and still can’t make your laps, find a buddy who consistently makes their 27 and ask them to skate by your side to pace you. If you’re doing this technique, ask your pace bunny to count laps so you can focus on matching their pace and staying out of your own head.
Practice Makes Perfect
You know what would make your coach’s heart so happy? Ask if you can take the track a few minutes early—or stay on a few minutes late—to work in some practice runs to build up to a stronger 27 in 5. (If this means missing out on group stretches, make sure to get those stretches in on your own time to avoid injury!)
Let’s say you put in just two minutes per practice. When you break down the 27/5 using MATH, it comes out to 5.4 laps per minute. Aim for six (or even seven!) as you practice.
Use these practice runs to focus on your breathing and apexing. If you really want to nerd out (highly recommended), keep your phone or a notebook nearby and jot down your thoughts as you complete your practice runs. What parts of your body hurt? Try to add these pain points to your stretching and/or strengthening plans throughout the week.
Keep Moving Forward
Almost every derby skater struggles with the 27 in 5 at some point in their training. I know incredible players who still dread those two numbers when spoken together. While I understand the need for WFTDA to require an endurance test, many believe the 27 in 5 isn’t the best way to test what you need for real derby gameplay. (Food for thought: why is the test for five minutes when a jam is only two?)
It’s important to remember that struggling with the 27 in 5 doesn’t reflect your future in roller derby. Each time you finish, especially on the days you don’t quite make 27, focus on the positive: did you nail your crossovers this time? Did you GET LOW? Did you make it half a lap further than last time? Your small victories are still victories, so don’t forget to celebrate them!
Keep moving forward and doing your best. You’ll slay the beast in no time. 💪🏽