Talkin’ About Tractice

by | October 9, 2014, 5:30am 0

For starters, if your team doesn’t have track practices, keep reading! This article is all about why you should put more focus on running, cutting technique, and conditioning. Also, know that when we say “track,” we don’t just mean a literal track. We mean time spent focusing on running technique, using the proper form and the right muscles when you’re tired, and repetition of ultimate movement patterns that don’t place all that much focus on a disc.

You should run track for the same reasons that you practice, weight train, foam roll, and or watch game film: to get better at ultimate. When you learn how to push yourself at track or while conditioning without getting hurt or making a nagging issue worse, you get better at your sport. Every single time.

What kind of running/conditioning work should ultimate athletes do? This is the million-dollar question, and like all million-dollar questions, there’s not a simple answer– if there were, it’d be worth something closer to $5. The simplest answer I have is that you should train at the intensity level correspondent to where you want to be that week, with an eye to the big picture of the season as well. There have been lots of great articles written about this subject (here’s one or two), but it must be acknowledged that because strength and conditioning for ultimate is a new field, we coaches are still working to figure out the magic formulas of getting better without getting hurt.

Ok, but are there some basic guidelines everyone should follow? Definitely. One is that if you believe something is making you better, it makes you better! Track as a confidence builder cannot be underestimated: if you work on cutting at track and then cut powerfully and get away from your defender in practice, feeling your glutes engage strongly in your first three steps, you might think, “Hey, I worked on that technique in track and it just helped me get the disc!” Then you’re likely to pay attention in the next track practice, which will probably lead to another movement you notice yourself doing well at the next tournament. Track, in large part, is about creating a positive feedback loop.

MC is really great at explaining how track is a process that makes you better. I’ve seen him give many a short talk to Sockeye along the lines of, “Today we’re going to be working on top-end speed. This is kind of speed you use when you’re running down a huck. To have good top-end speed you need effective arm action, a short strong footstrike that’s underneath your body (not in front or behind), and upright posture. We’re going to work on those techniques with a few drills before we get running. Let’s go!” Only a few sentences, major points covered, and every person at least thinks, “Getting better at running down hucks, got it.”

Another aspect of conditioning with some research behind it is how to increase performance AND endurance in a mostly anaerobic sport. People used to think you needed to run long, slow distances to build an aerobic foundation before you could really condition anaerobically.

Newer studies have shown that it’s possible to raise your blood lactate threshold (the point while exercising when you start to feel like crap and your performance falls off) using shorter, more intense bouts of running (like tabatas). This is good news for ultimate athletes because the running form and mental intensity gained during long slow distances doesn’t translate well to the sport — hopefully we’re not jogging around for 20 minutes at a time out there, wind notwithstanding.

Finally, the deciding  factor for the type and volume of conditioning you do is the health and “training age” of your team. Young bodies are still growing, and teaching good acceleration, deceleration, and change of direction mechanics and running form should be a priority; coaches will want to be gentler on bodies and build up endurance while allowing players to get the ultimate technique down in smaller chunks. If your team is injury-plagued, you will want to be more careful about doing short intense running workouts — it’s possible people won’t be able to work hard enough in order to get a big benefit without injuring themselves. A team with a medium-high level of athleticism and not a lot of injuries will get more out of game-like drills and short/intense conditioning, both mentally and physically.

What should I consider in my approach to running track?:

What are your personal goals? You’re running track to get better at ultimate, but better at ultimate how? Do you need a quicker first step, or to make plays on defense? What kinds of athletic drills will help you get closer to those goals? If you’re running workouts with your team, you should ask what the workout will be beforehand and spend a minute thinking about how you can get closer to your goals through this particular workout. Always building, as Rio says…

What are you working on in practice this week? What’s the mantra for your offense or defense? If you’re focusing on zone defense you can work on negative turns, use long work sets, and emphasize keeping eyes up the whole time. If the offense your team runs requires a quick first three steps to get open in tight spots, work on acceleration using tubing for resistance — a couple times during the season, do some timed drills where a fast three steps can make the difference, like the T-test.

Where are you in the season? I get this question a ton: “My team is at ___ point in the season, what should we be focusing on in track?” Well, what are you trying to accomplish? Are you trying to get disc skills before your first high school tournament? Fairly simple sprints with some focused throwing in between sets should do the trick. Are you prepping for Regionals? Better get used to changing directions well while you’re tired – shuttles or Serpentine variations are great. Are you trying to peak for the second time this season after a loooooong year of play? Think about what you need first, then figure out how to get it through track.

Does your team struggle in actual games and tournaments?? Have trouble focusing for the first game of the day? Try doing something competitive at the beginning of the main workout, like this defensive drill, encouraging people to pay attention and do things properly right off the bat. If your team comes dragging out of the half, do a test-retest, with the first test at the beginning of the main workout and the second after a longer throwing break. If the team grinds to a halt on the third day of the tournament, nasty (read: hard and grinding) track workouts might be in order, since it helps shore up the ability that “we can do anything, no matter how tired we are.”

It’s not just about what we do, but how we do it.

The workouts you choose are important, but they’re not the whole story. You can maximize your effectiveness at track in a few key ways: doing soft tissue work/mobility before warm-up, doing a warm-up that’s tailored to the workout, working technique first before getting to the main part of the workout, and listening to your body.

Pre-warm-up work: If you’ve been reading my articles on Skyd so far, I bet you’ve noticed I really emphasize the importance of soft tissue work, mobility and muscle activation. That’s because it’s really frickin’ important. You’ll be more powerful and more injury resistant if you take a couple minutes before the formal team warm-up to roll out your hot spots and grease up your hips.

Warm-up: Having a one size fits all warm-up sequence is much easier than doing something different each time you warm-up, and you definitely need a standard pre-game warm-up. But for track, it should all come back to what you are trying to do that day. Working on zone-like defensive movements? Your prep should include some negative turns, warming up lateral movement, and grooving a low, glute-powered defensive stance. Repping top-end speed? Open up the hip flexors, get the hamstrings firing, and do some good footstrike drills. Lots of changes of direction in the workout? Warm up different kinds of lunges, some lateral bounds, and deceleration.

Technique first: We learn best when we’re fresh, and the best way to make sure you’re running and jumping with good form at the end of track is to make sure you’re starting off that way. Great running form is made up of components, and breaking those components down and working on them individually will make you a better runner. Having a few good cues for yourself (or your team, if you’re running tractice) is really helpful, as is taking the time to do a quick huddle post-warm-up to explain what you’re doing in the workout.

Listen to your body: Have you seen Fight Club? What’s the first rule? The first rule of track is: don’t hurt yourself at track. The second rule of track is: DON’T HURT YOURSELF AT TRACK. If you hurt yourself, you’re not getting better, right? Work hard, push yourself, but work smart, and take a minute to check in with yourself if something didn’t feel quite on that 3rd sprint. You know your body better than anyone, and your coaches’ job isn’t to make sure you don’t push yourself too far. Take responsibility for learning your limits and respecting them. Then you really can push them, ya know?

I’m anticipating questions. Please leave them in the comments, or feel free to email me if you’d like a private response! Work to get better at ultimate the next time you step on the track!! :)

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