Returning To Ultimate: 3 Things You Need to Know First

Many players take the term “OFF season” a bit too literally, and end up not training much, if at all, for the sport after the season ends. This is especially true with Ultimate being put on hold for most of the world.  It will return and as practices and tournaments start back up, we will see an unfortunate wave of injuries from a lack of preparation. 

NFL players are some of the most gifted athletes on the planet, but without the right time and certainty of a season to prepare, even these athletes have suffered a record amount of injuries for their adjusted 2020 season.  As of the date of writing this post, there have been 23 ACL tears, and 11 achilles ruptures in the NFL. These are season ending, if not career ending injuries.  In some cases these are contact related, which are often unavoidable even with proper preparation, but in far too many of these cases they are completely devoid of physical contact.  There have also been a record number of muscle strains similar to what we see in other field and court sports from non-contact scenarios, many of which took place in scrimmages before even starting live games.  It is easy to say that this is inevitable in sports, and that we see injuries every year as athletes return.  We would challenge this thought process and assure you there is a better way. 

Out of sight, out of mind right?  “Once the season comes, I will play my way back into shape.”  Some of you have certainly heard this from teammates, or have even thought about it yourself.  This perspective relies too heavily upon luck to get back into playing shape. The reality is: if the needs of the sport are significantly different from what you have been doing you will run into tremendous amounts of fatigue.  Fatigue is the enemy when it comes to injury.  When we fatigue, we sacrifice motor control and coordination.  This will affect our technique and reaction time, which can be contributing factors to getting into injurious positions that can cause undue strain on certain areas of our bodies. 

This topic could comprise an entire book, so instead we will offer you 3 principles to start you on your return to play journey.  We want to make it clear that what we are offering is not a way to completely prevent injury.  Complete injury prevention does not exist.  What we can do is greatly lower the probability of injury through proper physical preparation.


Use it or Lose it


Success with anything will always require consistency and effort.  We will speak more to the consistency component with this first point.  Biological systems are governed by what is known as the SAID principle (Specific Adaptation To Imposed Demands).  This is a fancy way of saying, if you don’t use it you lose it.

Generally speaking,  we will start to lose mechanical adaptations (muscular, cardiovascular, etc) at around a month, and more neurological (speed, elasticity, reactivity, etc) progress about a week after cessation of training.  In order to avoid this we have to stay moving and at least hit a minimal threshold to keep ourselves closer to being game ready.  Keep some form of focused daily mobility/movement. Try to resistance train (bodyweight or otherwise) at least once per week.  Continue to focus on more specific aerobic endurance, and try to work on speed/power related athletic abilities (sprinting, jumping, cutting) multiple times per week.   We will take the form of whatever we do most, so if we end up sitting for 6 hours in an office chair and laying down for another 6 hours on a couch every day, we will be more fit to be a piece of furniture than an Ultimate player.  Let’s be less of a sofa, and more of an athlete.


Address Specificity


Athletes who are training in the off season often take too big of a step back towards general training, or even start to train in ways that are completely unrelated.  Many take up distance running, or mountain climbing, in order to break up the monotony of a long season.  This is fine from the perspective of having other physical hobbies, but relating back to our first principle of “use it or lose it” if we are not jumping, cutting, and sprinting in training year round, we are leaving athletic development progress on the table.  There is a lot of running in the sport of Ultimate, but this consists of repeat sprints with short recoveries.  Going and running multiple 5Ks, even if we cover that distance in a game, is not the same as breaking up that running volume into shorter sprints or tempo running over the course of a training week. Jogging is not sprinting.

Many athletes become enamoured with the weight room in their off season and think that if they “get stronger” that they will automatically become a better athlete on the field.  This can be true in some cases, especially for beginners, but there are downsides to only training through lifting weights.  The movement strategies we use to move heavy weights are different enough from those we use to sprint or jump, that if we do the former without the latter,  we can lose our ability to move efficiently on the field.  A back squat is not a jump, and a kettlebell swing is not a cut.  If we want to get better at something we have to practice that thing.  This seems glaringly obvious when read out loud, but it is surprising how few actually do this with training.  


Progressive Planning


Having some sort of plan is a great start.  This is another one of those obvious statements, but ends up being a harder task than you might initially think.  With all of these necessary components for movement, speed, strength, power, endurance, etc, that are needed to be a good athlete, how can it all fit into a week/month/year? Create or find a plan that can meet you where you are and values graded exposure, or the gradual addition of volume and intensity.  Make sure it progresses in a way that is not random and builds towards something.  The days of looking up “frisbee track workout” on google should be well behind you if you have read this far into this post.  Find a program that is a supplement to your playing and practicing, and not one that interferes with it.  This is a huge mistake that athletes make as the “no pain no gain” mentality persists.  If you are training in a way reminiscent of ramming your head into a wall over and over again, and it is affecting your ability to practice and play, you are doing your progress a tremendous disservice. 

Train intelligently so you can be successful, and remember success is dictated by consistency and effort. Anything that gets in the way of either of these pieces will set you back. 

  • Do not stop moving towards preparation for the next season. 
  • Keep some specificity in what types of training you do.
  • Remember that going too hard/frequently without a plan to recover will create large amounts of fatigue and greatly increase your probability of injury.

Keep these 3 principles in mind as you ramp yourself back up to playing, and hit the ground running when Ultimate comes back.

If this information was useful to you and you would like to learn more about our training community and programs we offer, head over to  Enrollment is currently open for all divisions.  Next week (October 19th) coincides with the start of our Off Season program.  Now is the perfect time to start taking your return to play training seriously.  This might be the most important off season ever.

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