Research Is The New Sexy

by | May 26, 2016, 8:01am 2

If we want to be the most awesome players, we need more research done on ultimate athletes! It seems like a no-brainer, but there’s a big gulf right now between research and developing training protocols. My stuff, Melissa Witmer’s, Tim Morrill’s – it’s all as scientifically sound as we can make it, but sub-par strength and conditioning research and lack of sport-specific training information means we’re sort of making things up. We’re making our best guesses, which are better than nothing and better than less-educated guesses, but not as good as protocol based on sport-specific research!

The next few studies on ultimate players (if we can get them conducted) won’t be sexy, but are necessary to support the later ones, which will look at interventions. Studies are being conducted about ultimate by non-ultimate players (like this recent one from ACE), but let’s be real – if we want to get things done, we’re probably going to have to do it ourselves.

Dave Swedler, occupational injury research professor in Chicago, wrote a paper with Jamie Nuwer about injury types and rates in college ultimate players and with college nationals happening this month I was inspired to reread their study. It was the first of its kind to be conducted on ultimate players. Dave and I got together a couple times while he was visiting Seattle this past week, and he observed some of my classes: Gym to Field, which focuses on translating gym strength into on-field performance, and 10 Weeks to Awesome, my pilot goal-specific training program.

It was great to discuss the challenges of the sport and training for ultimate with someone who has a very different perspective and expertise than myself! I asked him to sit down with me so I could share some of our conversation with the community. I believe that we’ve got to get real about the need for more research in our sport, and to do that we need some athlete buy-in and understanding around the importance of scientific study. Here are some of the points we touch on (some in more depth than others) in this discussion. You can watch the full video of our interview below!

*Ultimate is becoming more formalized in the form of Olympic committee recognition, expansion of pro leagues and youth programs. How can we support that growing formality with better training and research?

*The research I and other strength and conditioning professionals rely on to train ultimate players has yet to be validated. Most of it is conducted on non-athletic populations. Better athletic studies in general (especially field sports) would be super helpful!

*If ultimate wants to be recognized as a peer by the more popular sports, we need to show strong protocols and commitment to training and culture. However, it’s difficult to develop protocol with limited research and a relatively small population.

*We all want to jump to the intervention! What’s going to fix the issues that our interventions seek to address (ACL injuries, chronic strains, better vertical)? This is several studies down the road because we have to understand the root causes of these issues. My work centers around addressing these issues, but I’m frustrated by the lack of concrete information on these subjects. Dave thinks that we need baseline surveillance before we try to estimate how much difference an intervention could make.

*When Dave talks about the need for surveillance, he’s referencing the systematic collection of data to see what rates are for various incidents, and if those rates changing over time. His prior study showed that it could be done. Putting an on-going surveillance system in place for ultimate is challenging, to say the least!

*What studies would we like to see done? I want to know what type of metabolic conditioning is best for ultimate. I acknowledge, though, that this study is one of the sexy studies that’s a bit further down the line, and I’ll keep experimenting until it happens! He wants a recovery trajectory study, especially for injuries that people play through or don’t take time off from – do they experience re-injury, or a drop in level of play, or problems in other areas? What’s the lived history of being an injured ultimate player?

*I point out that ACL injuries are one of those injuries with a better recovery trajectory. You can come back stronger because you’re forced to fix bad movement patterns, whereas you can have a crap hamstring your whole career.

*Being forced to go through the formal medical system is helpful, Dave says, and important to professionalism. I bring up sponsorship (many high-level or well-funded teams are creating relationships with physical therapy clinics, chiropractors, and people like myself), which is great, but it still comes down to money – what about those without access to resources?

Our discussion ended up getting deep, with questions being asked about the responsibility we as a community have (or don’t have, depending on one’s perspective) to make sure that ultimate athletes get the kind of help and education they need regardless of their level of play or financial ability. In my opinion, studies that are done within the ultimate community should provide information that helps the community as a whole. Dave says we can do that with a systematic analysis at all levels. He’d know better than I do, and I’m looking forward to working with him on a study at some point in the future (hopefully not too far off).

Knowledge is power! Let’s get some more! Do you have expertise in conducting research that you’d like to use to benefit the community? Or an idea for a study? Or the desire as a coach to involve your players in a study? Let me know in the comments or email me at renrainmakers@gmail.com. I’d love to help get the ball rolling for future awesomeness!

Comments Policy: At Skyd, we value all legitimate contributions to the discussion of ultimate. However, please ensure your input is respectful. Hateful, slanderous, or disrespectful comments will be deleted. For grammatical, factual, and typographic errors, instead of leaving a comment, please e-mail our editors directly at editors [at] skydmagazine.com.

  • Sam Tobin-Hochstadt

    So many interesting thoughts based on this conversation.

    1. A reason that the formal medical system doesn’t work as well as it could for ultimate players is that doctors often don’t treat ultimate players with the goal of getting them back to high-level ultimate quickly. This is, I think, a combination of ultimate mostly being played by adults, for whom highly-competitive sports are not really a thing in US culture, plus it not being the accepted adult sports like running.

    2. Players look to get back on the field quicker than they should in part for standard reasons, but also because ultimate is a part of people’s lives as an adult that’s not just “getting exercise”, but also a community. It’s hard to see how to change that without losing what’s great about the sport.

  • Jenny Perry

    I work in a sports biomechanics lab and would be very interested in discussing research ideas with you! I am currently writing a protocol for a study looking at the kinematics and kinetics of throwing which would reveal the joint power profiles as well as the joint torques produced, but I am open to looking at other things as well. Our lab is really set up for either treadmill running or rotational sports (golf, baseball, throwing, etc.) so I don’t think a cutting study is viable at this point. Let me know what you think and what other things you may want to see!