It’s the end of the season. How are you feeling?
Were you prepared for the end of the season? Or did you feel like your body was held together with athletic tape and force of will? Did you peak when you wanted to?
Most athletes come to the Ultimate Athlete Project looking for performance gains. What they end up with is not only performing better, but also feeling better. Here’s some of the feedback I’ve had after an offseason spent training with our program:
“The recovery after a tournament weekend is great and remarkable.”
“I am 44 yo. I used to feel totally beat up after a tournament, but I feel better after, and recover sooner now than ever before.”
“Whereas in years past I would constantly pull or strain something, these last two years have been injury free…”
Maybe being a durable athlete isn’t the most sexy part of athletic development. But the truth is, ultimate seasons and ultimate tournaments are long and grueling. You need proper preparation in order to survive, and even thrive deep into the season.
Some of what we do in The Ultimate Athlete Project feels counter intuitive. It can be unnerving to be doing workouts that are different than what you’ve done before or different than what your friends are doing.
Years ago when I went into my first tournament using only interval training as conditioning, I was afraid I wouldn’t last because I hadn’t run over 200 yards at a time in over three months. But not only did I last, I played in the cup all weekend and felt strong and fast until late in the day Sunday. Even more miraculously, I woke up Monday morning barely feeling sore at all! I could not remember that ever happening in my college career.
So what are the principles that allow us to train smarter, not harder. How can you come out of your next season still feeling strong and healthy instead of dragging your body to work or class like a crumbling bag of bricks?
The most important factor in staying durable during the season is taking the long view in your training. This is why the UAP is open only at select times during the year. I do not want athletes signing up eight weeks before their season starts. I want athletes joining early, slowly building their athleticism imperceptibly brick by brick.
By taking the long view in training, there’s no rush and no pressure for quick fixes. When they join the UAP, we start our athletes below the volume of training they can handle. For most ultimate players, this is difficult. They are used to pushing the limits constantly with their bodies. Patience, building frequency in your training slowly will allow for a bigger threshold when it comes to pushing the limits later!
Starting training early with slow and consistent progress will get you much farther than starting in February with the hardest of hardcore workouts you can devise. And it’s a lot more pleasant! No vomiting in the trashcan next to the track or dragging yourself up a hill in the dark for the twelfth time!
Maximal Adaptation Versus Maximal Output
Basically, after a type of training stress, your body has a period of reduced performance capability. (If you tried to repeat the same workout immediately, you would obviously not perform as well, right?) And then your body recovers, adapts, and you’re able to do the same workout more easily.
This time period is called the supercompensation period. 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.
Why is this a key part of training for ultimate? Many players time intense workouts too close together. Without full recovery, your training stimulus is too low in the supercompensation curve and you don’t get maximal adaptation. You may even wear yourself out over the long term, or worse yet, make no significant improvements. Especially when it comes to conditioning, UAP workouts are often shorter than what many players are used to. This freaks people out at first.
About a month after each new batch of players join the UAP, I usually get an email or two asking, “Is this really enough? I’m worried this isn’t enough for me to really get results.” But two months later I get emails saying telling me that the first tournament or pickup game back on the field after training felt incredible.
Our commitment to the long term plan means that we time our workouts for maximal adaptation per workout NOT maximum output per workout. We aim for long term, lasting adaptation. It’s a slower approach, but it creates for durable athletes in place of quick results.
The SAID Principle
SAID stands for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand. Basically this means your body adapts very specifically to the training stimulus you give it.
In the UAP we emphasize single leg strength training because in sport, your legs have to operate independently and bear loads asymmetrically. A lot of activity in sport occurs with one foot on the ground at a time or one leg producing most of the force – think running, jumping, and changing direction.
Conditioning in the UAP is created with ultimate in mind. We take into consideration both the movement demands and the metabolic demands of ultimate. This is why I will never ask you to go out and run a few miles. Instead we do a lot of interval training and we make sure that our conditioning includes a lot of change of direction.
The type of strength training we do in the UAP focuses on functional strength. When we pay attention to movement quality and movement symmetry, we increase our movement efficiency and running economy. Using single limb training to notice and correct asymmetries, we become much less injury prone. 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.
In the UAP, we spend some phases working on maximum strength development and some phases focusing more on power development. Those phases of training give you the ability to be fast and jump high. In other phases we focus on strength endurance training that gives you the ability to continue to perform late in the day Sunday. Strength endurance training teaches the body to deal with acid buildup and other metabolic byproducts in the muscles.
The ability to absorb the force of your own body weight over and over again each time you land or change direction will determine how you feel on Monday morning. When your feet hit the ground, you either absorb that force with your muscles or your joints (or you can fall over!). Absorbing force with your muscles obviously leads to less overall stress on the joints. 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.