Strength and Conditioning Season Planning for Ultimate Teams

Written by Bert Abbott, NSCA CSCS & RenFitness Team Programming Coordinator

Going into the season, team leaders have a lot on their plate - who’s going to be on the roster, what offense(s) and defenses are we going to run, how do we teach them, where and when are we practicing, what will our jerseys look like… and all these questions don’t even take into account how the team is going to get strong and stay healthy throughout the season!

All too often, I see teams overlook important aspects of their strength and conditioning plan, which is costly in terms of on-field performance and injuries that come up from overusing unprepared bodies or improper movement patterns. I see teams borrow workout plans from soccer, track sprinters, lacrosse, basketball, or any number of other workouts available online. Expectations are loosely set out to do one running workout a week without contextualizing the work being done within the picture of the whole season, or with extreme tapers before every tournament. Whole categories of exercises get left out through unawareness of their importance in molding healthy, balanced ultimate athletes.

Fortunately for those who love the sport, but unfortunately for deciding strength and conditioning plans, ultimate isn’t like other sports. A sport in its own category, ultimate is a blend of movement patterns from a handful of field sports, throwing mechanics somewhat akin to tennis that create significant asymmetries in the body, and metabolic demands somewhere between hockey and running from a large carnivorous mammal. A proper strength and conditioning plan will take into account the unique demands of ultimate and prepare for all those movements in a deliberate and specific manner.

Leaders have so much to tackle already, and they can’t be expected to become experts in ultimate-specific sports science. There are professionals who spend their whole careers trying to understand how to best train for the sport’s physical demands (I now proudly count myself among them!).

Beyond progressing through conditioning workouts and making sure players are up for the cardio demands of running all weekend at a tournament, there are other important facets of training to take into account. Constantly pivoting on one leg leads to asymmetries in the body that can (and should!) be corrected through targeted unilateral strength training and soft tissue work. Pounding feet into the ground repeatedly causes stress on the joints that can (and should!) be prepared for through heavily loaded bilateral strength training and progressive plyometrics programming. Cutting and defending movements require quick movements of separate parts of the body coordinated together that can (and should!) be trained through mobility work paired with sport-specific agility.

All this just scratches the surface of what needs to be included in a plan. There’s also specific ways that each team needs to approach the balance of these exercises based on the training experience of their athletes, access to resources, and time players are willing and able to commit to training. Plus, what’s important in May isn’t the same as what’s important in September, and the plan needs to reflect that shift in focus as the season goes on.

Without structuring an ultimate team’s season plan around the demands of ultimate and the unique needs of the team, players end up wasting time simply exercising rather than training, and a lot of potential performance and injury reduction is lost. This sounds really intimidating and risky, but it doesn’t have to be!

Fortunately, we exist to help you and have dedicated our careers to learning how to assist ultimate players and teams get strong and stay healthy. If you’re interested in learning more about all this stuff, whether you’re from the Seattle area or not, contact us at renultimate@gmail.com and we’ll help you out! We’ll do the heavy lifting (well, at least the mental lifting...y'all have to lift the weights!) and research for you so that a 30 minute conversation with us can go a long way to understanding how to put together your season plan!