In this series of articles, I address three misconceptions I regularly hear being discussed in the Ultimate community. My hope is that players will train smarter if they have a better understanding of the concepts behind the misconceptions.
Misconception # 1: Because tournaments and games last so long, Ultimate is an endurance sport.
Endurance sports rely on the ability to maintain a sustained effort. Running, swimming, and cycling are typical endurance sports. Ultimate would be properly classified as a multi-sprint sport. It is not an endurance sport. Power endurance–the ability to produce short sprints, accelerations, and vertical leaps at the same intensity repeatedly–is the type of endurance that Ultimate requires. Power endurance is not the same thing as cardiovascular endurance. So, though a tournament can be a physically grueling experience, traditional cardiovascular endurance training will not necessarily make it any less so.
Furthermore, there are two reasons why traditional endurance training is counterproductive in enhancing Ultimate performance.
Reason 1: Long distance running trains a different metabolic pathway than what is used to produce short bursts of power. The primary difference is in how the body produces ATP which is the energy source for the muscles. All ATP is the same. But in steady state, low intensity training, the body uses different “ingredients” to make ATP than it does in high intensity (power) activities. To get better at using the high intensity recipe, the body must train at high intensities.
Lactic acid is a byproduct of the body using the anaerobic metabolic pathway. In general, too much acid buildup in the muscles should be avoided, because this decreases performance and may increase muscle soreness. However, the body gets better at buffering acid buildup and at using lactic acid as a fuel with practice. This is just one example of how training at intensities using different metabolic pathways creates different adaptations.
Reason 2: Much of cardiovascular adaptation is due to changes in muscle fibers. Fast twitch fibers are used in speed and power activities. Slow twitch muscle fibers are used in low intensity, sustained effort work. Some muscle fibers can be trained to become either type. If trained for endurance, they become slow twitch fibers. If trained for sprinting, they become fast twitch fibers. In general, the more fast twitch fibers you have, the faster you will be able to sprint.
In my opinion, there is really no role for long distance running in ultimate training. I know that some will say you need to start with a cardio base and then move to shorter distances as part of a properly periodized plan. I see no reason for this. If part of your periodization program creates slow twitch muscle fibers only to turn them back into fast twitch muscle fibers later, then what is the point? This seems like wasted adaptation and not the most effective use of one’s time. Vern Gambetta in “Athletic Development: the Art & Science of Functional Sports Conditioning” suggests that it is better to think of building up what he calls “work capacity” rather than a cardio base. “How much work can you do of the type needed for your sport?” is the truly important question.
Summary and Application
The kind of endurance ultimate players should seek is sprint/power endurance. This is the ability to repeat sprints at the same speed multiple times. A good test for your sprint endurance is the 30 meter sprint fatigue and power maintenance test. The protocol can be found here: http://www.brianmac.co.uk/fatigue.htm
A good way to build up to doing higher volumes of the type of work required on the ultimate field is to perform higher intensity efforts with recovery in between. Both Boyle and Gambetta, two well known experts in the field of functional training, recommend some form of interval training as a means of increasing cardiovascular fitness and work capacity. One of my favorite workouts is to do tempo intervals on the track. I run 20s at 80% of sprint speed followed by 40s of walking recovery. This trains the desired metabolic pathway with the added benefit of doing twenty moderate intensity accelerations and decelerations. The body is practicing recovering from its efforts twenty times. Comparing this to the average active play segment of an ultimate point, this method is much more applicable to Ultimate than going out for a twenty minute run. It is important to be careful about the volume of this type of training. For this kind of workout, I recommend starting out doing only 8-10 repetitions, 1-3 times per week depending on the volume and type of any other training a player is doing. Each week, add 1-2 repetitions. Be conservative with the volume. This is to take the place of a typical endurance workout, not something to pile on top of other high-intensity routines.
Next week, I’ll handle Misconception #2. The more difficult my workouts are, the better I will be at Ultimate.
Boyle, M. Functional Training for Sports. Human Kinetics, Champaign IL, 2004.
Gambetta, V. Athletic Development: The Art and Science of Functional Sports Conditioning. Human Kinetics, Champaign IL 2007.
Feature photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/laurenprofeta/