The Five Phases of Your Training Year
If you want to succeed in ultimate, you need to think about your training in more than just the short term. Understanding the big picture can help you better focus on what needs to be done today, and how that fits into your performance when games matter most.
In this article, I’ll outline the five phases of your training year.
1. Post Season
Purpose: During the post season, give yourself a chance to recover both physically and mentally. But don’t become a couch potato! A great way to recover while staying active is to take up another sport or active hobby just for fun.
If you’re injured, the post season also gives you an opportunity to focus on rehab and learn what pre-hab you can do to prevent a recurrence next season.
When and how long? The post season starts after your most important tournament of the season. You might still have some fun tournaments ahead, but you’re done with serious training. How long it lasts is partially up to how your body and mind are feeling. That tough loss at Nationals may be really motivating you to train right now. But force yourself to take at least three weeks off. Instead of hitting the weight room right away, maybe check out some books about mental toughness, or coaching. Or catch up on reading some of your favorite ultimate blogs if you want to.
Purpose: The offseason is the best time for gaining strength and power. During this time you should minimize playing and cardiovascular work. I know it seems counterintuitive that eliminating those things will make you a better player, but varying the focus of your training throughout the year is what long term planning is all about. Being in the offseason means that you don’t have competing time and metabolic demands from playing and practice.
If you really want to explore the limits of your athleticism and/or do what you can to ensure a long and healthy career, it is important to carve out at least 6-8 weeks to devote to working on your strength and power. Maybe this means skipping a day of pickup or signing up for one league instead of three. Whatever it takes, find some time in the year when you can emphasize resistance training.
When and how long? In the US, the offseason for club ultimate conveniently happens in the winter when playing opportunities are naturally decreased. Exactly when and how long your off season lasts is up to you. The absolute minimum would be 6-8 weeks. My Ultimate Athlete Project members spend 8-24 weeks in the offseason depending on their schedule.
Purpose: As you transition from off season to preseason you have two objectives. First, you want to increase the ultimate specificity of your work. In the offseason, you may have developed power with some Olympic lift derivatives. In the pre-season, power development will mean more sport specific plyometrics or focusing on accelerations drills and cutting footwork. Second, you want to make sure that your cardiovascular system is ready for playing. Focus on conditioning that mimics the demands of ultimate. Additionally, you’ll want to work on strength endurance so that you are durable and able to last all tournament long.
When and how long? You’ll want at least six weeks to develop basic conditioning. Cardiovascular conditioning can be obtained relatively quickly and so this phase can be rather short. Alternatively, you can make the phase longer and the workouts less difficult to end up in the same place. I prefer about two months of conditioning focused work followed by one month of putting some final touches on my athleticism by focusing on acceleration and footwork.
Purpose: The number one priority during the season is to stay healthy. You can’t contribute as much or have as much fun from the bench! The offseason work you did will optimize your chances of staying healthy.
When and how long? The in-season begins whenever you feel that the demands of training and playing are starting to interfere with your ability to recover from your workouts. When you get to this point, you’ll want to decrease the volume of training to compensate. I cannot overstate the importance of reducing volume in season. Your main priority is to stay healthy. Doing too much and pushing yourself all the time is a recipe for disaster. Push yourself at practice. Give yourself permission to have a easier workouts during the week. Staying fresh is important for both physical and psychological reasons. If you always feel worn down or burnt out at the end of the season, take a hard look at the volume of your in season programming.
Purpose: The purpose of the taper is to help you feel loose, confident, and capable of performing your best at the event that matters most to you. It is best to gradually decrease the volume of training while keeping the intensity the same. See How to Taper for more advice on taper training.
When and how long? A taper can start 3-4 weeks before your main event.
When thinking about how you’re going to use the training time available to you, decide when you need to be ready and then work backwards from there. Don’t worry about getting too detailed, too far in advance. Focus on the phase in front of you and decide how you’re best going to accomplish your goals for the next 3-6 weeks.
An example for the US Club season
USAU Championships are early October. A year long outline would look something like this:
Post season = mid October to mid November
Off Season = December-March
Pre Season = April and May
In season = June – August
Taper = starting 4 weeks before Regionals or Nationals
An example for college or other championships in the spring
Same idea as above. Though fun tournaments or other activities during the summer might affect when you begin your off season training.
Post season = June
Offseason = Starting anytime between July and December until the end of February
Pre-season = February to mid-March
In-season = mid March and April
Taper = April or May (4 weeks prior to main competition)
I hope after reading this, you feel motivated to start your off season training now if you haven’t already done so. I often get asked why The Ultimate Athlete Project isn’t open all year long. The answer is because I believe in long term planning and I don’t want people signing up a month before their main tournament expecting to get quick results. If you are serious about your ultimate training and want significant results, it will take consistency, dedication, and planning. Click here to learn more about programming and training for ultimate players.
Regardless of your training plan, the actions you take now have an impact on your performance in September and October. Time to get at it!