Be Physically Fresh and Mentally Primed with this Pre-Tournament Workout

author - melissa witmer strength and conditioning
ultimate frisbee player pulling the disc at the start of a frisbee point

Why Should I Workout the Day Before a Tournament?!

Taking the day off from training before a weekend practice or tournament is common practice among ultimate players. But the truth is, it’s common for NFL players and other professional athletes to train the day before game day and so should you.

The assumption is that resting before a big practice or tournament will “save your legs”. But there are two problems with this line of thinking. The first is simple logistics: if you’re taking a day or two off to rest up before a tournament and need a day to recover on the other side of it, you’re seriously limiting the time you have left to train! Of course rest is important, but a light session won’t strain you and can actually have a positive effect.

How so? Well the second problem with resting ahead of a big day or weekend is a physiological one. Our nervous system and mobility change a little every day to meet the demands placed on them, and a Friday without exercise can have a detrimental effect on the weekend. If our nervous system hasn’t been activated at all for 36 hours or more, it’s common to feel sluggish and this is not how you want your weekends to be starting.

If you train regularly in the off season you’ve likely already experienced this feeling yourself. If you take the weekend off lifting, how do you feel on a Monday in the weight room vs a Tuesday?

A light workout is a great way to get your body ready for the next day. Do a full warmup and then some speed and agility drills and you’ll be ready to go at full speed your first game Saturday morning. It’s fine to sprint full speed or lift at full intensity the day before weekend practice or tournament. The key is to keep the volume low.

If the idea of training before a tournament is new to you, here is a light workout that includes some nervous system priming activities to get you started.

Example of a Good Pre-Tournament Workout

Try this workout on the Friday before a tournament. You can sub in any drills of your choice. The key is to keep the volume low and include some explosive work. See what a difference it makes at your next tournament or practice.

  1. Full Warm Up

You’ll be having a short workout so take some extra time in the warmup. Spend extra time on tissue quality work or extra mobility drills targeting areas that need extra attention.

Use this sample warm up or a warm up of your choice. Be sure to work up to high intensity movements so you’re ready for the SAQ drills to follow.


  1. SAQ Drills

After a full warm up we’re doing a few drills at full intensity. These drills focus on acceleration or change of direction at full speed. Notice that the volume and distances remain low.  

1. Fast feet to 5 step accelerations (3-4 reps)

Stay light on your feet moving them in front and behind your center of mass for 3-5 seconds. Then accelerate as hard as you can for five steps and coast to a stop.

Rest about 30 seconds between each repetition so that you can maintain high quality work.

2. 5-10-5 Drill.  (1-2 repetitions facing each direction)

Notice the extent to which you are committing your hips. Open your hips early as you approach the turn to help set up for a good jab and explosive step out of the turn.

Rest 30-45 seconds between repetitions. 

3. Jab step to cut. (2 reps cutting each direction) 

Perform jab steps in alternating directions as you move forward (this drill is often done with a ladder but is just as effective moving on a line between two cones). When you get near the cone use your jab step to push you in the opposite direction and accelerate for three steps then coast to a stop. 

Rest 30 seconds between repetitions to ensure you're doing high intensity high quality repetitions.


  1. Light Conditioning

The goal of this section is to get in some extra movement without causing fatigue that carries over into tomorrow. If you have a partner, you can do some throwing or skills work instead of light conditioning. Or use your own conditioning workout aiming for half or a third of what you might do for a normal workout.

Pro tip: Now is a good time for some visualization. Take note of how you feel right now. Envision that this is how you will feel at the start of game 1. It can also be a good time to reflect on your goals for the coming weekend. Then get out some nervous energy during your light workout and be fully relaxed afterwards.

1. 20/40 intervals at 80% speed (6 reps)

Run at 80% of your max sprint speed for 20 seconds followed by 40 seconds of recovery. I recommend walking during the 40 second recovery time. If you don't have a stopwatch, you can run the long side of a field (including endzones) and walk the width for 3 laps (6 reps)

Rest 2 minutes

2. Zigzag Sprints (4 reps)

Set up a course of 6 cones about 5-8 yards apart in a zigzag pattern. Get low in the turns and use your jab step to get low and explode out of the turns quickly.

That's it! Now go home, eat well and get to bed early!

Try this pre tournament workout and see how you feel Saturday morning.

Join us for the season!

If you want more in season workouts, join us in The Ultimate Athlete Project. In the past we've only opened the UAP at the beginning of the off season. But now you can join us any time! In the UAP we have training session to help you stay more durable and feel better. Choose a schedule from 2-5 days/week that works for you! We do the planning so you can be confident that you're making the most of the time you're investing in your training.

Whatever training plan you're using this season, we hope this post helps you think carefully about what you're doing the day before tournament time.