At the age of 32 I was mostly retired from Ultimate. I was still playing in leagues and pickup frequently, but I had decided I was done with commuting to try and play for the big city teams. After a few years of playing casually, I realized I wasn’t really happy. When I heard a rumor about a new Women’s team starting up in Philly I started to wonder…could I make a comeback? Would a serious team want a 32 year old woman with no Ultimate pedigree? I had my doubts.
It vexed me that I might end my career without ever having the experience of belonging on an elite squad. I decided to go all in. If I gave it everything I had and didn’t make it, I could retire in peace.
My biggest problem with this plan was that I had let myself get out of shape. I was very fit compared to the average North American, but I was not in good shape for an athlete. I seemed to tweak something every time I played or tried to do heavy squats. I was also about 20 pounds overweight. Something had to change. Everything had to change.
By the time tryouts rolled around I had blown apart all of my doubts and expectations. I was in the best shape of my life. (When I was in grad school I was working out and/or playing twice a day, five days a week so that is saying something) I had better endurance, became impervious to fatigue, and even had better balance.
So what was I doing ? I attribute my increased athleticism and endurance no less than five changes that revolutionized my training.
1. I went crazy with core training
This was the first change I made. A strong core supports everything: throwing, endurance, and agility. I started doing core circuits with the ab exercises I knew. Gradually I incorporated more exercises and learned to work the core from all angles.
2. From traditional, bodybuilding type lifting to functional training
No more hamstring or bicep curls. I added chin ups and single arm work to my upper body lifting days. Most important, I shifted my lower body work to emphasize single leg strength. I started over with split stance squats and progressed to lunges before hitting the squat rack again. Single leg training had an incredible effect on my balance and resistance to injury.
3. Ditching all long distance running in favor of intervals
I’ve discussed previously that Ultimate is not an endurance sport and I’ve written a lot about interval training on my blog. Switching to tempo intervals for my endurance work was the most surprisingly effective change. Workouts were much shorter but my long point endurance and tournament endurance improved as if by magic.
4. Alternating days of linear and lateral emphasis conditioning
Along with #3, this was the change that most prepared me for the demands of tournaments and tryouts. Most of your motion on the Ultimate field does not occur in a straight line. Doing all of your conditioning in a straight line is a mistake. An added benefit to alternating linear and lateral days is that the muscles worked are slightly different. This small difference aids in recovery between training sessions.
5. Learning the difference between what my body could DO in a training session versus what it could RECOVER from before the next one
Training is about seeking maximum adaptation to a stimulus. This is far different than seeking maximum output per workout. Many players and fitness enthusiasts believe that the two are synonymous. They think that the harder or longer they work, the faster they will adapt. This is only true for novice athletes at the beginning of training. If you want to get to the next level of athleticism, you must let go of the belief that more is better. Paradoxically you must learn your limitations before you exceed your expectations.
Unfortunately I wasn’t willing or able to learn how to train smarter until I had let myself get completely and totally out of shape. Only at that point was I willing to learn as if I knew nothing and start building my athleticism from the ground up. I had to put aside my ego, step away from the squat rack, pick up the small dumbbells, (sometimes no dumbbells) and start at the beginning.
Hopefully you don’t have to hit bottom before you incorporate at least some of the ideas above. Good luck in all your training!
Photo by Urban CrossFit