It’s the end of a season of ultimate. Whether it’s the end of fall recreational league or the end of your team’s successful run at a national title, now is a good time to look back at the arc of your season. Did your athletic performance peak at the right time, or was your best week too early? Did you feel like your last game was your best game, or were you dragging yourself across the finish line?
One of the challenges that all athletes face is knowing how to train so that their peak performance comes at the right time in the season. This means being physically prepared for the right level of performance at the right time. Getting that right means you’ll not just play better, you’ll feel better when you’re done playing too.
Some of the way we teach people to train at the Ultimate Athlete Project feels different from what you are probably used to, but it is different for a reason. One of our goals is to focus on not just improving performance right now, but improving athletic durability so you can thrive all season and peak when you need to - and feel good the whole way through! To accomplish this, we focus on four key training principles: 1) start early, 2) time your workouts right, 3) build the right muscles, and 4) incorporate strength training
The most important thing you can do to train for a full season is to build slowly. Athletic improvement happens in very small steps and you won’t notice it if you give yourself only a short time to train. The most important factor in staying durable during the season is taking the long view in your training. This is why the Ultimate Athletic Project (UAP) is only open for enrollment a few times a year. Signing up to start training eight weeks before your season not won’t get you the results you want at the end, physically or mentally.
A key advantage of a long training program is that you don’t pressure yourself to train for fast, unrealistic gains. When athletes join the UAP, we start them training below what they can handle at the beginning. This lets players build a solid based before pushing limits. Many ultimate players find this hard; we’re used to pushing the limits of what we can do in every game! But being patient and building slowly will give you deeper reserves to draw on when it comes to pushing the limits later! You’ll find that you perform better in a game than players who start full-intensity workouts right before their season starts.
When you do different types of workouts is just as important as training for the right length of time. After you train a particular muscle group, your body needs time to recover before you train the same muscles again. If you do the same workout twice in a row without giving your body time to recover, you won’t do it as well and you won’t benefit as much. But once your body recovers, you can do the same workout more easily than the first time.
This time period is called the supercompensation period. Training right involves timing your workouts so that you repeat activities at that supercompensation period when your body experiences the most gain in performance. The key is to time your workouts for these supercompensation periods so that you have maximal adaptation. The principle of supercompensation is easier to understand with a drawing, so I’ll point you to one of my more popular YouTube videos if you want to learn more.
Understanding supercompensation is important because it can sometimes feel like UAP workouts are not intense enough when, in reality, they are timed to take advantage of the supercopmpensation period for maximum physical gains. Part of that process is allowing time for your muscles to fully recover before moving on. Failing to do this results, at best, in fewer gains for your effort, and at worst can lead to injury or burnout.
Think about how you would train to run a 20-mile race on a wooded trail. Now think about how you would train to swim 10 miles in the open ocean. Pretty different, right? That is the idea behind the “SAID” principal; SAID stands for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand. In layman terms, this means that your muscles respond in specific ways to specific actions. If you want to achieve a given result, you have to do workouts that target the right muscle groups in the right way.
In the UAP, we emphasize single leg strength training because playing ultimate involves a lot of movements in which your legs move independent from each other (as opposed to distance running in which both legs basically do the same action over and over). In ultimate, you need movements in which one leg is producing most of the force behind a movement ground - think running, jumping, and changing direction. Training for these actions requires workouts that consider both the movement demands and the metabolic demands of ultimate. Training the right muscles for ultimate almost never involves running miles at a time, but involves a lot of changing direction and moving quickly.
A good training program has to involve strength training, but here too it is important to focus on strength training tailored to the needs of an ultimate player. This means training to maximize functional strength – building strength to be able to function in specific ways. The type of strength training we do in the UAP focuses on functional strength and movement symmetry – building strength so that your body works in unison instead of o0ne side moving in unnatural ways to compensate for the other. This helps increase your overall pwerformance, and significantly reduces the risk of injury. In the preparation phase we pay special attention to strengthening movement around the end ranges of motion in the hips. Check out two of our more goofy looking exercises, the sumo dumbell squat and standing hip flexion, for some idea of what I’m talking about.
A good foundation of strength training will not only help you perform better during games, it will make a big difference in how you feel the day after a game or tournament. When your feet hit the ground while running or jumping, that force will either be absorbed by your muscles or your joints (or you can fall down, but try to avoid that option!). If you have functional muscle strength, you will absorb the impact with your muscles and feel a lot less sore the next day than if your joints took the brunt of the force over and over! This is only possible if you have a good foundation of strength endurance.
Going into next season, I challenge you to do things differently if you want to feel differently. Start early. Build slowly. Get ahead of the demands placed on your body rather than trying to play catch up eight weeks before tryouts. You just might be surprised at how much better you'll play during your season, and how much better you'll feel at the end of it.