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.
Last time, I addressed the misconception that Ultimate is an endurance sport. Today, I’ll be examining how the difficulty of workouts does not necessarily correlate to better play.
Misconception #2: The more difficult my workouts are, the better I will be at Ultimate.
Lactate threshold training feels more difficult than other types of training. Doing a lot of sprints with incomplete recovery, hill repeats, and intense circuit work are examples of lactate threshold workouts. Workouts such as these, use primarily the anaerobic metabolic pathway and lead to increases in acid level in the muscles. Muscles become fatigued, you might “feel the burn,” and you really have to push yourself to keep going.
Many teams choose lactate threshold workouts as their primary training tool. It is often assumed, the more, the better. Players assume the more difficult a workout is to complete, and the worse they feel at the end of it, the faster their body will get in shape. Sometimes, totally exhausting workouts are required for helping the body learn to buffer the buildup of lactic acid. However, athletes should use lactate threshold training with more caution than is commonly practiced.
Most players would agree that speed and agility are two of the most important characteristics of a dominant ultimate player. However, workouts that train for speed and agility do not feel nearly as difficult as other types of workouts. Furthermore speed and agility training must be performed when the athlete is sufficiently well rested.
Lactate threshold training should probably be done no more than twice per week and the optimal amount of time between lactate threshold sessions may be as much as two days or longer. Doing another exhausting workout before the body is recovered from the previous session will cause a temporary decrease in athletic performance. If done regularly and frequently, the athlete is putting himself or herself at risk for injury or over training.
Most players already understand the risk of over training but many players do not understand how the timing of exhausting workouts can negatively impact the ability to train for increases in speed and agility.
Cardiovascular fitness and the use of the aerobic metabolic pathway are responsive to volume. As an athlete gradually increases the volume of work done, his or her body adapts to doing that amount of work. Speed, agility, and power production, however are responsive to intensity and the quality of work rather than volume of work. (Gambetta, 2007)
To train for variables that are responsive to intensity, the work should be done at 90% max capacity or greater in order for there to be adaptation. Therefore, it is vitally important to perform speed/agility/power workouts when the body is fully rested. For example, if an athlete is training to increase their maximum vertical jump, as soon as the jumps become less than about 90% of the athlete’s maximum vertical, there will no longer be a training effect for increases in height. (Kraemer & Fleck, 2007) There may still be some training benefit in muscular endurance or some gains in anaerobic capacity, but they will not see an increase in vertical jump height. This is the reason that having enough recovery in between workouts is vital. A vertical jumping workout or a sprinting workout the day after doing Tabata sprints and a lot of circuit training will probably not allow an athlete to train above 90% max effectively.
Doing sprints with too little recovery in between will also not yield the desired effect. When doing a maximum speed sprint, you are using primarily the anaerobic metabolism and using up creatine phosphate stores in your muscles. A full three minutes of recovery is required for the muscles to restore the creatine phosphate and perform another all out effort. When was the last time you allowed three minutes between your forty yard sprints? Many ultimate teams try to train speed and aerobic capacity at the same time by doing sprints with very little recovery at the end of practice. Again, there is a place and time for these type of workouts but athletes need to understand that they will just not lead to increases in speed.
Summary and Application:
How hard a workout feels is often unrelated to the training effect it will have. Training correctly for improved speed, agility, and vertical jumping requires training smarter, not harder. In order for training adaptation to take place, trials must be performed at 90% of the athlete’s maximum capability. This type of training requires full recovery (sometimes as much as 3 minutes) between sets. As a result, these type of workouts can feel easy.
The timing of other workouts affects your ability to train for maximum speed, agility, and vertical jumping. Workouts that leave an athlete completely exhausted should only be done once or twice per week. Training for top speed and agility should be done at least a full two days after any high volume, high intensity workout.
One of the best ways to make sure some training days are not negating the effects of others is to choose and change the training focus every six weeks. For example, if the focus is on speed/agility for six weeks, you would cut down on (or eliminate) workouts that require several days of recovery time. For six weeks in which your focus is on building up your tolerance to lactic acid, it might be pointless to also train for speed/agility. During this six week period you could perform completely exhausting workouts twice per week and your other workouts could be more general, low intensity fitness work.
Next week: Misconception #3: “Biking/Swimming/P90X will get me in shape for Ultimate.” And conversely, “Nothing will get you in tournament shape other than going to a tournament.”
Gambetta, V. Athletic Development: The Art and Science of Functional Sports Conditioning. Human Kinetics, Champaign IL 2007.
Kraemer, W.J.; Fleck, S.J. Optimizing Strength Training. Human Kinetics, Champaign IL 2007.
Feature photo by Greg Westfall