Non-ultimate people often ask me why I choose to focus my energy on creating programming for and coaching ultimate athletes. Well first, I love the people that make up the ultimate community.
I also love the sport’s focus on spirit and fair play. But I was initially drawn to training ultimate players because I wanted to make an impact on on-field performance, and that desire has only strengthened as I’ve continued to learn more about the sport and work with the athletes that are passionate about it.
What makes one person’s first three steps so powerful while another’s fail to produce that forward drive? Why does this warm up feel like it prepares a team better for practice than that one? Why is this person blazingly fast in a straight line but can’t change directions? Why is it so difficult to convince this women’s team to lift heavy, while this one attacks the weight room with a vengeance?
These are the questions that keep me up at night. I’ve been fortunate to work with many ultimate athletes in the last few years, all ages and all levels, who’ve allowed me to continue learning and sharing my imperfect knowledge on this big international stage. It’s a privilege, and something I’ve never taken the least bit for granted.
Here are a few of the things I’ve learned through working with the ultimate community.
How You Move Matters
It’s not just about looking perfect on film (or on stage) — I actually started learning this lesson as a dancer in college. Using the most appropriate muscle groups to power your movement makes you safer and more powerful on the field and in the weight room! I’ve lost count of how many people have told me that they feel deadlifts only in their hamstrings, or that their hip flexors cramp when they’re doing plyometric exercises. Those problems are a result of the body’s compensations. For instance, an old injury might have shut down the neural pathways to your right glute, or maybe you’ve been lunging on one side for so long that your core is woefully off-balance.
We always need to think about how we’re moving if we’re going to perform our best. I’ve focused on doing individual Functional Movement Screens with athletes to help them understand what movement issues they have. I help them understand how to address them with corrective exercises and practices. I also use lots of language like, “you should feel this in your mid-back,” or “focus on initiating this movement with good arm action,” when I’m coaching. Often, small tweaks in form or an extra glute warm up exercise is all that’s needed to make that shift in how a movement is felt, and that can make all the difference when it comes to performance.
TIP: Experiment with the Sternum Turn this week. It’s a subtle shift in how you think about organizing your body, but it can make a world of difference in your glute-driven power. It helps with ankle and knee stability, increases glute recruitment, and can reduce knee pain while running!
We Need To Build A Strong Community For Women In Ultimate
Female-identified athletes, while treated more equitably in ultimate than in some other sports, are still under-supported and under-valued in the community.
One of my great passions is using my voice to help make other women feel like they deserve to train, to improve, and to be leaders. I’ve been lucky to have this platform from Skyd and Ulty Results to share not only my knowledge about training for girls and women, but also my opinions and ideas around gender equity in the sport.
The truth is that day in and day out I work with female athletes of all experiences levels and ages who are so incredibly competent that they could teach me a few things (spoiler alert: they do), but many are convinced that they don’t know enough. Even if they do know and have what it takes to teach or coach, that alone won’t to get them a shot at many of the opportunities handed out right and left to their male counterparts.
This is why I started a Women’s Lifting Night in my gym community. This is why my RenFitness team is all women so far. Until it’s a no-brainer that women deserve all the same opportunities and resources that men already have, I’ll continue to push this agenda. If you’re in the position to do so, start a training group or pod practice that’s female-identified only. Creating a space where women can try, fail, and support each other can go a long way to shifting this balance. And if this is something you want for yourself, don’t be afraid to ask your coach or recruit your friends!
TIP: Use your voice. A lot of great discussion around this topic has happened this year. Most recently I saw a thread posted on Twitter with easy suggestions for how to be a gender equity champion. We all like being champions, right?
Ultimate Players Like Working Out Together
There are always some people who love going to the gym by themselves and working hard, but the majority of the players I’ve worked with got into ultimate because of the community. They’ll show up to play a league game a half hour from their house in the freezing rain at 9am on a Saturday, but have a hard time lifting on their own and adhering to a schedule.
I developed my RenFit classes to encourage a groups of friends to commit to working out and getting stronger together using sport-specific programming. In the last year or so, that one class morphed into several classes, including a women-only class and one for Masters. Classes are gated only by how many hours I can use my current facility. I also run team training and host gym pods so that teams who want to lift together and keep each other accountable can do so. My favorite thing is that I’m starting to see a great mix of people in classes and using the gym space simultaneously. The ultimate community can be clique-y, but if we all focus on being there for our own reasons, that starts to fade!
TIP: I wrote an article about training together a while back and there are some good ideas in there about how to start or join a training group in your area, as well as details about opportunities RenFitness has offered. I’m affiliated with Melissa Witmer and The Ultimate Athlete Project as an advisor and problem-solver, and have seen more and more people in Seattle and around the world get fired up about working through the programming together!
If I Teach It, You Will Learn
This has been the biggest surprise (and the happiest one) of being a coach in this community – that you have been willing to try the strange mobility exercises, the sport-specific training that’s at the edge of current research (and sometimes has little or no research associated with it), and that you’re accepting it from me, someone who doesn’t play ultimate.
Not only have you come to my clinics and read my articles, you’ve told your friends and keep coming back for more. It inspires me every day to know that the work I put out there today is being received by those that are questing for information on how to improve themselves and their teams. Much of the programming and lots of videos I’ve developed have come at requests from players and coaches.
I value the feedback, the suggestions, and the questions I get from you on a daily basis. Your input make me better and give me the courage to keep innovating and putting ideas into the world. I work with teams and individuals of all levels in this sport, and am constantly impressed by the dedication and energy across the board!
TIP: If you like getting ideas about training and want to learn new things along with me, you should definitely follow me on social media! I also have a YouTube channel that has lots of cool exercises you can sneak into your workouts, with tips on everything from surviving Potlatch to my favorite exercise at the moment. And if you’re not already doing some version of my Five-Minute Daily Mobility routine, check it out — that was something I put together quickly by request that has apparently been hugely helpful for people!
A Shameless Plug
I’m so excited to keep pushing forward, both as a coach and in developing my business, learning more and bringing knowledge to you all as I go! The support of the ultimate community and my passion for the work has brought me to an amazing place: in January, RenFitness will open its own strength and conditioning facility in Seattle!
Our space will provide an amazing opportunity to expand the reach of the work we’re doing. In the last four years I’ve worked out of four different gyms, none of which was well-suited to the training needs of the sport. The facilities were dilapidated, too small, crowded with equipment, and charged high drop-in fees.
I’ve yet to come close to accomplishing all that I’ve wanted to for the ultimate community. I want to give ultimate players more programming for their teams, a place to train on their own, and a space to gather and support each other. I’ve also lacked somewhere to house my internship and coaches’ program. I’ll have a space that’s suitable for hosting all kinds of seminars and clinics.
I started building a team of people two years ago, hoping that I would soon have a space that was more suited to our community and the services we wanted to provide. We worked tirelessly and had almost given up on finding something great when a perfect facility fell in our laps! We weren’t ready, but you’re never ready for something like this.
So if you want to see our programming expand, if you’ve benefitted over the last few years from what I’ve put out there,or if you just want to support a small women-owned-and-operated business, please support this project and tell all of your frisbee and fitness friends.
Here’s to many more years of learning for all of us!