Returning to Play After a Long Time Away

As on-field play solidifies in our sight, a lot of ultimate players have come to us concerned about how their bodies will handle returning to play. So many of us spend time all year in touch with the sport in one way or another that being off the field for over a year is a new experience (let alone factoring in the additional impacts of the pandemic). 

We wanted to provide a few ideas about how to care for yourself as you physically return to play! We hope this resource is helpful; if you need more support, we have options for individuals and teams at a variety of price points, many on a flexible pricing model. In particular, we’ve developed an extended foundational phase based on the ideas in this post that will help guide your return to the field! It’s available in all of our Ultimate Memberships. Our hope is that everyone can have access to high quality support for their movement goals!

We’re Not Out Of The Pandemic Yet!

As of this writing, we are still in the midst of the pandemic. Not enough people are vaccinated to reduce community transmission to controlled levels. We can see hope on the horizon, but we’re not there yet. Especially if you haven’t been playing throughout the pandemic, you might wonder how to balance the pressure to be ready to play versus physical safety and doing the right thing to slow community transmission.

Many people will want to play the minute it’s appropriate and safe, so we’re going to talk about steps you can take on your own or with one distanced and masked up partner to get ready. We do not want to pressure anyone to do anything they’re not comfortable with. If meeting up with a partner doesn’t feel right to you, there’s still a lot you can do before that point!

Progress Your Workload Incrementally

Everyone’s starting point is different and your tolerance for physical work is impacted by mental and emotional strain, which we’ve all been feeling this past year! Sustainable increases in activity (aka workload) are made by ramping up progressively rather than taking big jumps and getting so sore you can’t keep training.

A good guideline is that when increasing workload, you can add up to 10% more work each week. More than a 10% increase is associated with increased risk of injury. Unlike in the “Couch to 5K” program, training for ultimate can’t simply be progressed by adding incremental minutes or running length. There are a variety of ways you can track your overall workload, but the important thing here is to take baby steps! Try to do just a little more than you did the week before until you’re up to the level of activity you want. 

Movement Progressions

In addition to progressing your overall workload over time, we can also think about the complexity of the movements you’re doing. Different ways to progress patterns include:

Progressing movement patterns can take place during one workout, like practicing footwork in a box before removing the cones and adding a disc in a drill. You can also progress them across workouts as you get used to training stress; in particular, this is good for power and stability work where you might start by practicing a movement slowly on two legs the first workout, then add in slowly on one leg and fast on two legs in a following workout, followed by fast on one leg later on.

There’s so much solo or distanced partner work you can do this way to prepare to play again! Throughout workouts, you’ll want to make sure you’re moving with good postures before progressing to the next stage of movement. Every body is different, so you won’t look exactly like the pictures, but in general you want to have a long spine and open chest, keep your hips square, and track your knee in line with your toe.

Four pictures of a single leg squat show aligned and not aligned posture differences. Aligned posture has neutral spine, hips square, and knee in line with toe. Not aligned posture has a rounded spine, hip rolls outward, and knee buckles or wobbles.

Here’s a progression we use in our warm up for field workouts that we modified for ultimate from the FIFA 11+, a well-researched program that reduces athletes’ risk of injury! These moves focus on leg strength and stability. The idea is that once you can control your knee tracking for the squat to toes, you move up to the next level and do the forward lunge. In a later workout, once you’re moving solidly with the forward lunge, you’ll move up to the single leg squat. 

Here’s an example of a footwork drill you can progress by starting without a disc and focusing on your movement in the changes of direction. You can also increase complexity by starting with the offensive footwork and then moving to defensive footwork later. This pattern, the “seven” replicates a cut from the back of the stack in vertical stack, a cut starting from the breakside in a horizontal stack, or in the lane in a side stack. It’s just one of many patterns you can practice by setting up a handful of cones!

Throw!

Throwing is an incredibly important aspect of ultimate, so it warrants its own little section here. Make sure to include a throwing practice, whether it’s you and a net or a buddy if you feel comfortable. Start with shorter range flat throws and slowly add more difficulty by throwing farther or pivoting wider. Throwing puts pretty significant asymmetrical strain on our bodies, so add in some opposite leg lunges to balance the work. 

Whole Athlete Care

Tend to your recovery by giving attention to other aspects of your life. Eat well by giving your body the fuel it needs to repair and build after a workout. Set up for good sleep by managing screen time, caffeine, when you head to bed, and other things you’re able to control. Practice caring for your body by doing soft tissue and mobility work. One of our go-tos is this mobility sequence developed for ultimate players by Dr. Patrick Silva of HumanFirst Health and Movement

Finally, consider the impact of other stressors on your body and mind. A favorite adage is “all stress is stress”, whether that’s training stress from running around, work stress from a big deadline, or mental/emotional stress from any number of sources. Factor in how you’re feeling overall into your consideration of workload and how you’re progressing. Listen to your body and mind, and take small steps forward as you’re able.

Not everyone is going to be ready to come back onto the field right away, or maybe at all. This pandemic has completely shifted our realities and reshaped our boundaries. There’s no one simple answer to give for how to come back from this, so be patient and kind to yourself as you figure out what’s best for you. 

If you want our support through programming designed specifically for ultimate players, check out our Ultimate Memberships! If you need personalized guidance, we also do 1:1 Coaching, both virtual and in person in Seattle. Want to get your whole squad involved? All our Ultimate Memberships have team options, and we do customized Team Training programming, group classes, and clinics.

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