Cambridge gets fit: Intro to FPTfU

Disclaimer: I have no formal education in exercise science or related fields. What I’m laying out in this article is what I have learnt over the past few years from various sources (particularly Tim Morrill) and I think it will be helpful for the semi-serious ultimate athlete who is interested but doesn’t want to spend days diving deep into the subject. A lot of details have intentionally been omitted in favour of a shorter and more straightforward exposition. I strongly encourage you to not listen to me parroting back what I’ve heard – go out there and do your own research and put it into practice.

1. Overview

FPTfU stands for Functional Performance Training for Ultimate.

Ultimate is a very complex sport that places unique demands on the athlete’s body and hence requires careful and sport-specific training. I want to give a concise introduction as to what the ideal physical preparation for an ultimate player looks like.
It has to be noted that since there is very little money in ultimate (practically none prior to the advent of the American Pro leagues) and because it is a relatively young sport, there has been almost no scientific research into what the best training for ultimate actually looks like. Most of what is taught today comes from experience in other sports and anecdotal evidence. There are, however, a handful of Strength&Conditioning coaches that have dedicated their time and knowledge to creating and teaching content about FPTfU (see Appendix).
As this is a brief introduction, I will not talk about injury prevention, periodization, particular workout routines or nutrition in this article, even though they all go hand-in-hand with FPTfU.

2. What is FPTfU not?

FPTfU aims to make us better at the physical aspects of ultimate (running, cutting, jumping). This is a very specific set of goals which is not met by general training methods or training for other sports:
Even though running is a key part of ultimate, we should not be aiming to run a marathon.
Even though a strong core is vital, we should not do six-pack abs routines.
Even though strength training is essential to FPTfU, we should not be working on our biceps and chest.

Instead, we should try to understand the goals, methods and differences between other training methods and learn from them.

3. What is FPTfU?

In a nutshell, to get better at jumping and (ultimate-specific) running, we need to train for explosiveness and repeated, short bouts of energy. A complete training program for ultimate athletes addresses this in three parts: Strength, Agility and Conditioning.

  • Strength

What? Add resistance to basic movements to force body to adapt
Why? To put more force into the ground – cf. earlier blog post
How? Uni-lateral (one-sided) exercises, explosive hip extension

  • Agilty

What? Practice demanding movements like accelerating and jumping
Why? To convert strength gains into speed and vertical leap by teaching body to recruit maximal muscle mass in running and jumping motion
How? Low-rep, high-intensity plyometric exercises

  • Conditioning

What? Train cardiovascular system
Why? To be able to sprint longer and more frequently with shorter breaks
How? High intensity interval training, with work periods usually between 20-60 seconds, rarely more than that.

4. How to get started

Melissa Witmer’s 6-week program covers the Agility and Conditioning aspects (there’s no harm in doing it for more than six weeks) and you should learn plenty about these two aspects by just doing it.

But it has to be complemented by a strength training regimen, both to reduce injury risk and to simply get more out of it. If you do not have the time, money or motivation to lift at a gym, you can still make some progress in this regard (especially if you haven’t done any strength training before) only using bodyweight exercises. Tim Morill has a great video about just that. Practice until you master the skater squat.

An internet search will probably recommend weightlifting routines based around the Squat, Deadlift and Bench Press (the three movements used in Powerlifting), which seem well-suited for beginners because the workouts are simple and progress can be measured easily. However, the three lifts are commonly done incorrectly and may even be bad for an ultimate player’s asymmetry-plagued body, as they do not address imbalances and can even exacerbate them, leading to injuries and chronic pain.
An instructor at your gym will likely suggest a bodybuilding/weight-loss routine, which again is not what we are looking for as ultimate athletes.

Instead, watch Tim Morrill’s fantastic introduction to ultimate-specific strength training. In short, we need
—uni-lateral exercises for strong and fast legs eg. RFESS, SLDL
—explosive hip extenstion exercises for bigger ups, eg. Hang Power Clean, Kettlebell Swings
—stability exercises for a functional core, eg. Deadbug, Pallof Press

The student squads do one strength session together every week at the CUSC. Our workouts have been designed with the demands of ultimate in mind (and also being beginner-friendly): after movement prep and warm-up, we do some plyometric exercises, then we have three circuits of three exercises, each circuit consisting of a uni-lateral lower-body exercise, a uni-lateral upper body exercise and a functional core exercise.

Melissa Witmer’s Ultimate Athlete Project provides a complete 12-month protocol, where all three aspects are designed to work together. GB Mixed has been using the UAP for the past two years.

Tim Morrill is about to launch his new website where you will be able to sign-up to get access to his program ‘MP-FPT’.

Appendix – FPTfU Coaches

  • Tim Morrill — studied Exercise Science; used to be based in Boston and has worked extensively with elite club teams Ironside and brutesquad; runs international clinics; tons of great instructional videos on his YouTube channel
  • Melissa Witmer — studied kinesiology; creator of the Ultimate Athlete Project and the free 6-week SAQ&Conditioning program; provides training routines for several teams and individual athletes
  • Ren Caldwell — based in Seattle; has been working extensively with elite club teams Sockeye and Riot; recently started working with Melissa on individualizing the UAP

They are the big three that have been involved the longest and that share the Training Blog column on Skyd.

  • Rob Dulabon — based in Pittsburgh; has been playing and working with Pittsburgh teams in all levels from high school to pro; opened one if not the first ultimate-specific gym
  • Jonah Wisch — currently studying exercise science at University of Pittsburgh; captain at the elite college program at Pitt; works with Rob Dulabon; played pro in the MLU while still in high school
  • Jonathan ‘Goose’ Helton — has known and worked with Tim Morrill for a long time; as opposed to Tim, he’s an elite athlete though, being awarded AUDL MVP twice; Chicago Machine veteran
  • David Petersen — based in London; works with Iceni, Kapow, Fire; runs ‘Fit for Ultimate’ on facebook

Get in touch if you have any questions!


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1 Response to Cambridge gets fit: Intro to FPTfU

  1. Pingback: Cambridge gets fit: Recovery | Strange Blue.

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