I recently got a great question from a reader, and I think the answer will be of use to anyone about to embark on the college season.
I am a long time ultimate player now in my 5th year of college ultimate. Every year my team discusses the best way to approach strength and conditioning training, practices, throwing, agility, etc. Often times we end up with a bunch of weekly commitments but no understanding of the time it all takes and the toll it can put on our bodies. I know and have always heard of the importance of rest in any training, but when you have four practices, three lifts and one sprint workout to do every week, where does that rest come in?
Four practices, three lifts and a sprint workout to do every week does sound challenging.
Training two times per day is possible for well-prepared athletes, and it’s necessary for elite level athletes. It is not unusual for DI athletes to lift and practice in the same day. That doesn’t mean your team needs to, or even should do, the same. As Ren recently pointed out in Creating an Athletically Competitive College Team, it’s important to have a good sense of both your goals and how much time you expect your players to commit. From there, you can figure out your priorities and separate the essentials from the things that would be nice to do if you have time.
Recognize that you do need lifting, speed work, practices, and conditioning throughout the year. But you don’t need to do all of the things at the same volume all year long.
Long term planning:
You don’t need to have exactly the same schedule all year long. Think about the different priorities you have as the school year progresses. Priorities in the early fall should be different than your priorities in mid-spring. This will be true for your practice planning and your athletic preparation planning.
The athletic qualities you emphasize should change throughout the year. If you have non-athletes or folks who are arriving in the fall at a low level of fitness, you should first focus on conditioning (or work capacity) so that they can recover more quickly from training. This would consist of things like interval training and strength training in the 8-10 rep range or circuit training.
If folks are starting with a reasonable fitness level or are coming off the club season, you want to ensure a few months with an emphasis on strength training. 3-4 days per week for 6-8 weeks may seem like a large time commitment, but it will pay dividends in having fewer players spending time rehabbing or fighting injuries in the spring.
After strength and power development in the weight room, you’ll be in a better position to work on the higher speed end of the spectrum with speed and agility work on the field. At this point you might have more on field practice sessions and decrease the number of days devoted to strength training.
This kind of long term planning is what we do in The Ultimate Athlete Project. Each phase has a focus and is four weeks long. Though and athlete may choose between three and six days per week of training, what they are doing in those training hours will change throughout the year.
In Phase Planning:
Let’s say you plan on two hours per day, six days per week as a reasonable amount of time for your players to commit to ultimate. If you have four practices, that leaves you two days (four hours) for everything else.
In this scenario, I’d say the two days that you are not in practice should be devoted to strength training and individual throwing sessions.
Speed and agility work and conditioning can all be done as part of practice. So, in a phase in which you’re emphasize speed and agility, you might plan for agility modules at the beginning of each practice (maybe 10 min/practice), conditioning modules (10-12 min) at the end of practice twice per week, and strength training twice per week. In a phase when you’re focus is more on conditioning, you would switch the emphasis by maybe only doing one or two agility modules/week and increase the time, frequency, or intensity of your conditioning modules (do not increase all three variables at once!).
Planning based on training age:
One of the issues that many college players have to face if they are playing club is that they have no designated offseason. If you are an elite college team with a lot of club players, consider scheduling time into your year to give them a mental break and allow them have some time devoted to offseason strength training.
Consider, perhaps, that not everyone on the team needs to always be doing the same thing. I believe that the late fall can be a great time for veterans to hit the weight room. If you are a team who needs to teach your freshmen how to play ultimate, consider giving the upper classmen a little leeway with practice attendance in the early fall so that they can recover from the club season and get in some dedicated strength training to make them more durable come spring. Strength training sessions 3-4 days per week could be mandatory for upperclassmen while practices four days per week are mandatory for freshmen and rookies. Make the practices optional for upper classmen and weight room optional for freshmen. This structure may or may not be worth the tradeoff in team unity, but I think it’s an option worth considering.
Planning around tournaments
Your training schedule may have to change once you start getting into tournament season. A light training session, either practice or light conditioning, can be beneficial the day before a tournament. Do not feel like you have to take the day off before and after every tournament. You should take one day off per week, but moving and doing light work the day before or after a tournament can be good for you. Even on your rest and recovery days, getting in some light movement increases blood flow, maintains your mobility, and keeps your nervous system from feeling sluggish at the start of the tournament. For strength training sessions, cutting back on the volume (for example doing two sets of each exercise instead of three) is a good way to get training accomplished while protecting the legs from fatigue.
If you have frequent tournaments, you cannot taper for every one of them. You must decide which one is the most important.
A Word About Recovery
The higher the volume and intensity of training, the more attention you need to pay to recovery. In order for training to be effective and efficient, athletes need to be athletes outside of training and practice time. That means making healthy choices in the cafeteria, spending some time on tissue work outside of training, and doing their best to get enough sleep.