In 2011, Tim Morrill wrote an article for Skyd called On Ultimate Athletes. In it, Tim theorized the stages of ultimate training that players tend to go through in their attempt to get better at the sport, from playing more, to throwing more, to running more, to lifting more, to finally discovering the joys of ultimate-specific training. Tim couldn’t have hit the nail more on the head, as in the two years after the article was written, the ultimate community has seen an ever-increasing surge of players abandoning prior training methods and workouts, getting educated, and tweaking training regimes in a constant attempt to find the optimal training routine for ultimate.
With the increased demand has come increased supply, and besides Tim Morrill himself, another one of the biggest names in ultimate fitness has emerged to fill the dearth in training information: Melissa Witmer. We’ve featured Melissa in our Ultimate Training Expert Panel, and we even sell her Ultimate Athlete Handbook e-book in the Skyd store, but one of her most intriguing projects that we haven’t yet taken a look at is the Ultimate Athlete Project. Knowing that it was opening up to new members in September, Melissa graciously offered me a free membership in order to see what the project was all about.
What is it?
The Ultimate Athlete Project is one part training social network, one part strength and conditioning program, and one part online personal trainer. Upon joining, members receive a link to the dashboard (see video above), which contains training programs, instructional videos, a members list, and a forum. In addition to the forum, members also get invited to a private UAP Facebook group, which Melissa is very active in.
I discovered lifting just a short while after I discovered ultimate. It was the summer after my freshman year and I was browsing one of those internet forums for nerds (this was in the pre-reddit era for all you whippersnappers out there), when I stumbled on a post about weightlifting for beginners. The post in question detailed a former nerdy-looking guy who claimed he used a program called Mark Rippetoe’s “Starting Strength” to put on 40 pounds in just two years of lifting. I was intrigued. At the time, I was a 5’8″ (173cm), 150-pound (68kg) skinny former cross country runner who had just completed his first season of college ultimate. At the time, I still didn’t consider ultimate a sport and certainly not something worth training for – as one of the founding members of a D-III ultimate program, my college tournament experiences revolved a lot more around the beers on the sideline and the Saturday night parties than actually trying to do well on the field. I needed an athletic outlet and I was intrigued by lifting. If this guy could put on 40 pounds in two years, why couldn’t I look like Arnold Schwarzenegger by the time I graduated from college? I kept reading. I kept doing research. I bought a squat rack and a bench on craigslist and worked out three times a week in my garage. Sophomore ultimate season rolled around and I had gained 15 pounds, but lifting didn’t help my ultimate at all. Because all I did was lift and I skipped our team’s conditioning workouts, I was often the least conditioned player on the field, often unable to play a point with more than a few turns, but I didn’t care. I was so concentrated on lifting that I used it as an excuse to quit ultimate, sitting out my junior and senior seasons. I switched from a powerlifting to a bodybuilding split, and at my highest point, at a body weight of 195 pounds (88kg), I was squatting 400 pounds and deadlifting 480.
Awesome, right? Well, the fact is that my bodybuilding routines didn’t help out with ultimate at all. After graduation, I played the odd tournament or two each year, but I was still slow. I had fallen into the trap of lifting for aesthetic purposes, when in reality, the conditioning, explosive movements, and single-leg exercises I had always looked down upon were much more likely to improve my game on the field. As I got more into ultimate again, I realized that I needed to change the way I trained.
The First Attempt
I had originally taken a shot at reviewing the Ultimate Athlete Project about a year and a half ago, back when it was in its infancy. I logged on to the site, downloaded the “Offseason” routine, printed it out, and headed off to the gym. But when I actually started to do the exercises, I realized I didn’t understand them at all. The routines had me doing stuff like “Plantar Flexion Paused Hip Ups“, “Front Foot Elevated Paused Split Squats“, and “Standing Hip Flexions“. I knew the form for a barbell back squat like the back of my hand, but I was completely lost on what I felt to be gimmicky, overly technical exercises. Apart from that, Melissa had written up the exact tempos for the eccentric and concentric contractions I needed to do with each exercise, which confused me even further. I knew that there were YouTube videos on the site that showed the correct form for the exercises, but I was too impatient to look at them.
In my previous routine, all I needed to do was deadlift or bench press a barbell for three sets of five. I was in and out of the gym in twenty minutes. No swiss balls required. The Ultimate Athlete Project routines frustrated me, but I didn’t have the heart to tell Melissa I’d had a negative experience. I decided that ultimate-specific training wasn’t for me and went back to powerlifting. Until a few months ago.
The Second Attempt
This summer, I decided to give the Ultimate Athlete Project a second chance. I had dropped weight, was playing a couple tournaments a month, and was in the best ultimate shape of my life. However, I still felt I lacked explosivity and agility. This time, I started with the “Preseason” routine and everything went a lot more smoothly. I still felt that the exercises were awkward the first time I tried them, but I reviewed the YouTube videos the program provides with each one over and over until I got the form down.
The best part of the whole experience was the personal coaching I got from Melissa. Like me, she’s a fitness geek, and was incredibly responsive to my various technical questions about the exercises, like “How can I do the Wall Overhead Iso Squat if I don’t have a swiss ball?”, “Does the order I do the exercises in matter?”, and “Should I increase the weight throughout my sets?” Not only was she able to answer my questions, she also was able to explain the rationale for the program on an exercise science-based level, which, as a natural skeptic, was exactly what I was looking for.
Little by little, I got used to this sport-specific style of training, and I was able to complete the pre-season phase. Did it work? Absolutely. Although it was a big of a blow to my ego not to be doing barbell-based compound lifts every time I went to the gym, I loved the explosivity I felt when doing the various exercises in the program. Apart from my time in the gym, I was also able to use the suggestions from the Strength, Agility and Quickness and Conditioning aspects of the various program phases to design a 3-month track workout routine for my team leading up to our national championships.
Who is it for?
The Ultimate Athlete Project is not for everyone. If you’ve never seen the inside of the gym, the suggested exercises may be too complicated for you to figure out. If this is your case, I highly recommend a six-month powerlifting routine (Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength or Bill Starr’s 5×5) in order to build general strength through compound exercises and acquaint yourself with the various movements.
The program will be most useful for people that have a bit of a fitness and/or lifting background, but aren’t knowledgeable enough (or just don’t have the time) to program an entire season’s worth of training from scratch. The best part about the Ultimate Athlete Project is that all the background work is already done. Participants just need to download the programs, learn how to do the exercises, complete the phases, and put in the hard work in the gym.
The price is where the Ultimate Athlete Project really can’t be beat. It’s is available to try out for $0.50 for the first two weeks. Dig out two shiny quarters from behind the couch and you can get access to a postseason phase, a preparation phase for those new to the weight room, and if you feel comfortable enough, you can even start with the offseason phase. If you decide you like it and want to stay on, it’s $15 a month, which is a pittance compared to hiring a real life strength and conditioning coach.
The Ultimate Athlete Project will be open to new members for a limited time. To sign up, visit http://www.theultimateathleteproject.com.