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What makes a good layout? Open lanes, full extension, landing square, and the three last steps

October 30, 2016

What makes a good layout? Let’s take a look at Anna Nazarov’s layout D in Fury vs. Riot 2016.

As discussed on the FB study group, Nazarov changes her angle part way through her defensive strike. But backing up a bit, note how she dictates as a defender before the cut even happens, staying tight enough to force her cutter under yet staying close enough (arms distance) to contest the under. As a high-level defender she takes away not only the away cut but by making up distance by laying out, the under cut as well.

As a defender, what does it accomplish to change the angle of attack? One way to look at this is to consider how to play defense on under cuts. Traditionally you either try to (1) push the defender out by taking the “inside lane” (that is, you stop the inside-out flick look) or (2) you push the defender closer the middle of the field by contesting the outside lane. In this clip, Nazarov first contests the outside lane, but switches to contest the inside lane. This allows her to get close enough to layout on D.

When we analyze game situations and talk about the game, we often talk about cutting lanes to describe rough lines of space, either by cutting up the field into thirds (see “rule of thirds”), or by looking relatively to a player and seeing the rough line of space between them and where they would ideally like to receive the disc. In this situation, it’s worth thinking not only about the offensive/cutter lane, but what you can call the defensive lane. The defensive lane refers to the line that a defender can take to intercept the disc. In the clip above, note how the defensive lane is close to the cutting lane but parallel and not completely overlapping. This means that the lane is relatively open, even though the cutter tries to get into the defensive lane at the end. Since the lane is open, the layout here is not only more viable but relatively safe compared to when the defensive lane and the cutting lane intersect (rather than staying parallel).

But back to Anna’s layout. What makes this such a good layout? Besides the open lane, Nazarov’s layout is set up powerfully by three strong steps, executed with triple (“full”) extension, and lands squarely on the ground. Let’s dive into each of these in turn.

Nazarov is a speedy defender, but what really allows her to make up the ground are the three steps preceding the layout. She stays with her cutter up until that point, but note how her last three steps are not only faster but stronger. In training terms, she is increasing her RFD–her rate of force development, aka power. These powerful steps enable her to make up the ground, battling for those inches.

How do you get that last 3-step “nitro” or “turbo”? There’s a lot of specificity when it comes to training in the gym and on the field. Slow, grinding strength is great, but eventually you need to develop power by moving weight (such as your body or a bar) quickly. Not only do you need to move it quickly, but you need to use rep ranges that afford power development. This is why when you take a look at how Olympic lifters train, they talk about singles, doubles and triples. That is, instead of just 5×5, 3×8, or 5-3-1, you might just attempt a lift once or twice or thrice. This allows you to move more weight, of course quickly in the power clean / snatch case, since you are doing fewer reps. How do you enact this in the gym? Check out Dan John’s rule of ten to start.

After training for power in the gym (your program has power work in it right? :)), you must train and practice that power on the field. Not just accelerating from a standstill but accelerating from a jog or run. Nazarov and Remi Ojo are good examples here. Great layouts accelerate in the last few steps AND the take-off itself.

Next the take-off. What makes a good take-off and how do you train for it? Again there’s a lot of specificity here. There’s a concept called “special strength” you can look into, or the SAID principle–specific adaptation to imposed demand, but the short story is that strength is developed at specific joint angles in specific force vectors. In a layout, this force is exerted not mainly vertically (defying gravity aside) but horizontally. Thus your training must also exert horizontal force with those specific joint angles for best effect. I like the TRX sprinter start with a hop although you can develop base strength with step-ups and step-throughs.

Nazarov’s layout is good because she executes it with full extension. In the Olympic lifting context, they talk about triple extension at the ankles, knees, and hip. Here, a good layout has not only triple but quadruple extension, including a proud chest where the t-spine doesn’t cave but extends just enough to stay stable.

Finally, Nazarov lands square. That is, just like as in a good anti-rotation plank her shoulders and hips form a square. She doesn’t crumble or land on the side–a sure way to get injured. By training anti-rotation in core exercises, from planks to push-up position shoulder taps to Pallof presses, learn to stay square when lifting or laying out.

Summarizing, what makes a good layout?

– Fight for or find an open defensive lane parallel to the cutter
– Go into another gear by powerfully accelerating in the last three steps
– Accelerate into the take-off rather than slowing down
– Make (and train) the force vector as close to horizontal as possible rather than leaping and falling
– Go into full extension at the ankles, knees, hips and chest
– Stay and land square as in an anti-rotation plank

Finally, if possible hang onto that disc on O and D. Catch your Ds! ūüėČ

What makes a good mark? Prediction, footwork and proactive defense

October 30, 2016

What makes a good mark? A good mark helps the defense by reducing the number of possible throws to one side, the break side, and making other break throws more difficult.

What makes a great mark? It’s been argued that the better the defender, the more number of options you take away. In this blog post we’re going to focus on the ability to dictate where your thrower can and cannot throw, with footwork, rhythm and proactive defense.

Effective marks understand the importance of choosing an appropriate distance to set up from the thrower, based on the count (e.g. casting a net early or avoiding getting too close late in the count to avoid fouls). This reflects the basic principle of working proactively as mark, looking at the field (peeking as Rise Up discusses elsewhere) to understand positioning of everyone else.

Once a mark sets up at an appropriate distance, they must set up relatively to the thrower based on height differences / known release points / handedness.

What’s an easy way to establish relative positioning? Pro tip: former Fury Liz Penny suggests you consider aligning your sternum to your thrower’s shoulder. While the exact placement varies based on relative height / handedness, this simple heuristic can take you pretty far.

Let’s take a look at this short clip from the Fury / Riot semis in 2016:


As pointed out in the FB study group for the game, Finney stays active as a mark. Ambler’s personal marking mantra is to “Work your hardest while on the mark”, and Finney works here. Note how Finney comes across to stop the first look to the break side, then repositions later, using the threat of kick blocks to discourage certain break throws. Finney’s height makes it harder for the thrower to throw a shallow step-out around flick, forcing them to step-out wide to get around Finney’s active mark.

Great marks study the preferred release points of their throwers, not only preferred throws (forehand / backhand) but specific heights (6 inches above the ground or 13″?) and step-out distances. (Note how lefties throw things off a bit for the mark since these points are pretty different from them.)

As we alluded to earlier, effective defenders dictate–they say what they allow and what they want to take away. They work proactively rather than reactively. In the context of match-up D, great defenders have a mental model of what is likely to happen next. Since it takes some 300 milliseconds or so to react visually, defenders that react visually are at a disadvantage to those that are reacting to a visual image of what is likely to happen in the future. In a sense, the defender’s mind is time traveling to see the future before it happens. But to do so, defenders need to know what looks throwers are looking for, in general (where is the thrower on the field) and specifically (this thrower likes this specific throw).

The next step once you can predict the thrower’s future position is to predict not only in space but time. Effective marks understand the rhythm of the thrower. Throwers tend to have a predictable rhythm as to how they pivot forehand to backhand, and when in the stall count they tend to like to throw. A common throw is to show a forehand, wait, then throw slightly lower. If you understand the throwing mechanics of your match-up–do they like stepping out, shimmying, or so on, you and your hands can get there¬†before they do.

(But don’t get there too early since you risk being beat to their other option. On the other hand too late and you get beat. A sweet spot exists between too early and late. Arguably to get a block you need to be late enough that the thrower doesn’t visually see your movement but early enough to get there in time.)

On the flipside, good throwers understand a mark’s rhythm and what they like to do. This is why bouncing as a mark is a bad idea–your rhythm is very predictable and easy to counter. In the clip above, the mark isn’t bouncing vertically but note how Finney’s mark employs the same “jig”-style kick twice, resulting in a defensive rhythm that the thrower can step around.

Staying active and balanced is better than staying still and reaching too far, but I posit that chopping your feet as a mark is a way to both establish an unpredictable rhythm but also react and pro-act quickly. Like in cutting, chopping your feet not only absorbs force but increases the number of foot contacts per unit time, making it hard to know when/where you will move next, while simultaneously making it possible to move in different directions at different times with greater optionality.

The ability to move laterally is an important aspect of effective marking. When you take a look at your program, ask yourself, are you predominantly only training in one plane of motion (stuck in the sagittal plane?) or are you moving side to side and learning to absorb force and bounce back plyometrically in the frontal (lateral) plane?

Summarizing: the better the defender / mark, the more options you can take away. Experienced defenders understand what throws might go off, and when, based on field positioning, everyone else, and the specific match-up. They dictate on defense, working proactively rather than reactively, seeing the probabilistic future if you will. Chopping feet and staying balanced as a mark is one way to support fast lateral movement while staying unpredictable. Whether on O or D, understand your opponent’s rhythm so you can break it ūüôā

What do you think? How proactive can you be on defense?

Cutting Principles: Always Have Two Options

October 22, 2016

If you haven’t seen it already, Mike Lawler created a Facebook study group for the Fury vs. Riot semifinal at the USA Ultimate National Championships in 2016. Thanks again to Ultiworld for providing coverage.

Here’s ten seconds of #51 Claire Desmond cutting on offense out of a horizontal stack with #22 Sarah Carnahan making the initial cut and #33 Anna Nazarov picking up the disc.

Ten seconds doesn’t seem like a long time but there’s plenty to learn from this clip. In short, Nazarov picks up a dead disc close to the sideline. Carnahan pushes her defender out and comes under for a flick. Desmond cuts out, changes direction, and makes a lateral cut to gain 20 yards. But let’s go a little deeper into the principles that Desmond beautifully demonstrates.

First, she coordinates well with Carnahan who is in a good position to make an initiating cut. Desmond waits a little bit but mirrors to make space (that is, she goes out when Carnahan comes in).

In some offensive systems, Desmond could have gone downtown (straight deep) and then come under, but Riot’s #6 Sarah “Surge” Griffith was positioned tight enough to take away a number of cutting lanes away from the disc. Furthermore, Carnahan’s defender chose to push Carnahan in. In this situation Carnahan has the easier in-cut compared to Desmond.

After Carnahan receives the disc, Desmond chooses to attack the open space going somewhat upline rather than setting up (by cutting out) for an in-cut as you might see in a standard waterfall drill.

This is an aggressive move but what I like even better is that Desmond realizes she is tightly covered by star defender Griffith, and aborts the upline cut. Instead she clears out directly away from Carnahan. What’s interesting about this move is that not only does she get Griffith to turn her hips but when she decides to make her next cut there are actually four (!) possible places she could conceivably cut to from that position on the field.

Since Desmond aborted the upline early she created enough space to either cut diagonally out, laterally across, or diagonally under. With a different (non-flat) mark and a different thrower, Desmond could have also come laterally breakside for a I/O flick. But given the flat mark and a fast defender, a diagonal cut away from the thrower would require a combination of speed mismatch which didn’t exist or a thrower willing to put up a difficult bladey forehand to space. Of the lateral cut and the diagonal in-cut, the lateral one gains more yards and thus Desmond goes for it.

As a general principle, as a cutter or handler it’s good to always have at least two options*. If a defender knows you only have one option they are much more likely to stop that single option. If you have two options (or more) it’s harder to predict. (Of course, sometimes you have to commit to the best/satisficing option ūüôā

As a cutter and handler it’s useful to think about where these “branch points” exist on the field, that is, locations at which you can branch off into multiple different cuts from the same spot. In this case the branch point is where Desmond chooses to cut laterally.

Note that branch points are fairly localized in space–if Desmond hadn’t created as much space to work with, let’s say by not being far enough away from Carnahan, the in-cut wouldn’t be viable. Similarly had she cleared too far, then the deep shot would be less viable. (Branch points are localized not only in space but time–Desmond’s continue cutter probably passes by a branch point as she cuts deep, but did she hit the branch point at the right time? In this case perhaps she gets to a possible branch point too early.)

When you take a look at the sequence of moves, Desmond is either attacking open space or attacking a branch point, that is, setting up to be in a position where she can choose one of several places on the field to attack next. Even when she has the disc, Desmond has two options–she looks breakside rather than tunneling her vision downfield.

Summarizing, here are some basic principles we can see demonstrated in these short ten seconds.

1) Coordinate with the other cutter(s) — who has the better initiating cut? whose turn is it? based on how defense sets up.

2) Mirror cut to make space.

3) If it‚Äôs your “turn” consider attacking early if you can–carpe diem!

4) Fail fast.

5) Always have two options: each move should either attack open space or set up multiple attacks. (Even “clearing cuts”!)

6) Plan ahead.

7) Create space on the open side if you can.

8) Read the defender’s hips and see when they commit.

9) Attack branch points to maximize optionality.

10) Take the best / easy option that the defender gives you.

4 Steps to a Picture Perfect Layout

February 22, 2016

It’s been five years since I wrote up a few thoughts on “Learning to Layout: Practice & Progression“. I improved a little early on, but it wasn’t until I played¬†beach ultimate more consistently that I’ve been able to more consistently lay it¬†with good form (triple/full-extension)¬†on O and D.

A friend of mine today asked me about how I learned to layout so I thought I’d share my current thinking on learning and training the layout.

Step 1:¬†Start watching people layout, whether it’s via YouTube playlists, Callahan videos or other compilations, Pinterest boards or in person.

Step 2: Visualize success. An easy way to start is the week before a fun tournament or practice event. At least a few days that week, watch videos and visualize. Imagine the other players on the field. See the disc moving as you predict the opportunity to layout. You want to catch that disc.

[As it turns out, I started learning what I think is an easier layout on D–defending a 7-cut (cutter goes open side and towards the line of scrimmage, then clears horizontally to the break side for a gut shot or inside break). In this layout D¬†(as in defending a break backhand around a flat forehand mark on the non-trapped side), your path as a defender parallels rather than intersects the cutter’s motion, which makes it an easier D to attempt. (In contrast, defending an in-cut may require your path to the disc to intersect your cutter’s).]

Step 3: Practice, and then strengthen triple extension. What is triple extension? It is extension at the ankles, knees, and hips. Traditionally this is done with power cleans (i.e. with a barbell from the hang position), although I personally have taken a break from cleans to spare the shoulder. Some folks do this with KB swings, but you should be doing some form of triple-extension exercise.

Personally, I’ve switched away from a lot of barbell and KB triple extension to more bodyweight training (I might discourage¬†box jumps for this purpose, since they don’t directly encourage triple extension).¬†Explosive Calisthenics: …Using Bodyweight-Only Methods¬†is one place to start (for example, practice bodyweight vertical jumps with relatively low-reps-per-session < 10. Then progress to jumping from a walk, jog, or run. Throw your hands in the air as if you were reaching for a disc.)

Step 4: Train fast, be explosive, and make it so.

The saying “train slow, be slow” isn’t exactly true, but the point is that you want to be moving quickly and explosively in your training at least some of the time. Vertical jumps and power cleans start to get at this, but don’t quite capture the single-leg hip-flexion-and-extension pattern you execute during a non-handler layout (i.e. exploding off a single leg rather than two legs).

How do you train this single leg explosiveness? Try the TRX Sprinter Start, if you have access to a suspension trainer. Note how you start to move explosively off a single leg, jumping really. Unlike a standard bodyweight jump, the force vector is closer to horizontal than vertical, which more closely simulates a layout in Ultimate.

I also like using a slideboard (or ValSlide etc.) to do mountain climber intervals if you have access to one. The slideboard lets you avoid excess lumbar rotation/flexion while focusing on fast hip flexion and extension with glutes firing.

Is your anterior core strong enough to withstand actually laying out? Mine wasn’t but after a lot of learning (thanks Kelly Starrett et al. and whoever invented the various dead bug variations) it’s getting there. If you are there, then get to it. The more beach I play, the more I find it a great time to practice those layouts with good form.



Non-linear Periodization

August 24, 2011

Today we have a guest post by Melissa Witmer of Ultimate Fitness:

Nonlinear Periodization:  A new way to plan your in season strength training.

Over the past two years my training has been revolutionized by three books:  Functional Training for Sport, Athletic Development, and Optimizing Strength Training.

Functional Training for Sport changed the types of exercises I do in the weight room.  Athletic Development changed the way I think about long term program planning.  Optimizing Strength training changed the way I plan my lifting cycles within the context of the year long plan.

What is Periodization?

Periodization in weight training is the idea that a lifting program starts with light weight high volume and moves to heavy weight low volume work with the goal of peaking at a particular time of the year.  In a traditional periodized program the athlete would move through cycles of workouts that emphasize specific strength related qualities: base strength, muscle endurance, hypertrophy, strength, and max strength or power.  The repetition of cycles is repeated over and over hopefully with increasing gains each year.

This system of thinking comes directly from the sport of weight lifting where training for the sport and performing the sport are nearly the same thing.

Muscle Confusion

At the opposite end of the spectrum from periodization is doing randomized workouts. ¬†The idea of muscle confusion has been popularized by mainstream fitness programs, such as P90X. ¬†The philosophy is that stimulus to muscle needs to be varied as much as possible for optimal results. I have nothing against P90X. ¬†Variety works well for fitness enthusiast. ¬†If there is no clear goal outside of general fitness the workouts themselves must be fun and interesting. Circuit training style workouts are also great for decreasing body fat percentages which seems to be a major goal of the p90x program. ¬†However, it appears that the plan for strength training is random. ¬†A lack of a long term plan is the plan. ¬†Let‚Äôs move on…

Nonlinear Periodization

A linear periodization program is optimized for weightlifting athletes who’s primary purpose is to peak at a specific lifting event.  For athletes who need to incorporate various training methods (speed training, conditioning, agility, etc) and who also need to perform over a long season, linear periodization in weight training is undermined by conflicting training goals.

In nonlinear periodization, a six week cycle will still have a particular emphasis, but not all workouts will focus on that emphasis.  A six week cycle emphasising strength would have a greater proportion of strength emphasis workouts but there would also be workouts for muscle endurance, power, and hypertrophy interspersed.  In this way, the athlete does not lose strength gained in the off season.  Experiments with the University of Connecticut’s basketball team even had athletes gaining strength over the course of the season on a nonlinear periodized program.

It seems a little complicated at first.  You must train everything over the long season.  But workouts cannot be random and there must be an emphasis on a particular athletic quality you are trying to develop.  Completely ignoring some components while working others (as in a linear periodization model) causes the athlete to lose what has been gained in other training cycles.  Conversely not choosing and emphasis for a training cycle will lead to random workouts and less than optimal adaptation.  Having a plan with focus is what separates athletes from fitness enthusiasts.

So how do I do it?

The key is to have a higher proportion of training sessions of the quality that you are focusing on.  That might be strength, power, or strength endurance.

A full explanation is beyond my capabilities but here is a very simple example of what it might look like.  Say you want to emphasize strength endurance but you want to maintain your strength.  You could plan a series of workouts with varying emphasis:  8-10 RM workouts with short rest periods increase the bodies ability to tolerate acid buildup in the muscles, 3-5 RM workouts maintain strength, 10-12 RM days are a little easier and offer some low intensity endurance benefit.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
8-10RM 12-15RM 3-5 RM 8-10 RM 3-5 RM 8-10 RM 3-5 RM 8-10RM 8-10 RM 12-15 RM 3-5 RM 8-10 RM


In the above example, half of the workouts target strength endurance, and a quarter emphasize basic strength.  Whether you decide on training 2, 3, or 4 times per week, you can simply rotate through the workouts.  Follow the general rules of strength training, putting 48 hours between stressing the same muscle groups.

The principles in ‚ÄúOptimizing Strength Training‚ÄĚ are especially applicable to ultimate athletes with long seasons. ¬†Nonlinear periodization allows for some flexibility in training on a particular day without causing the athlete to abandon a plan completely. ¬†Still not recovered from the weekend tournament? ¬†Switch today‚Äôs power workout with Thursday‚Äôs hypertrophy workout. ¬†Did practice get rained out yesterday? ¬†Might be a good opportunity for a high intensity Olympic lifting session.

You still want to do all of your scheduled sessions in the given period, but when you do each session can be moved around a bit to help get more optimal results from your strength training sessions.  Learn to pay attention to how you’re performing on a particular day.  Adjust when needed.

My Experience this Season

Ideally you would want to be in the weight room 3-4 times per week all year long.  Realistically, once the season starts and you’re balancing all kinds of training and time demands, you have to be ruthless in assessing and sticking with your priorities.  How it looks can be very different from player to player.  A player who is skilled but injury prone should prioritize the weight room moreso than the former high school football star who hasn’t really mastered his forehand.

To keep things ridiculously simple for myself this season, I’ve been using one heavy strength emphasis day and one strength endurance day per week.  I alternate the strength endurance day between 8-10 RM days and 12-15 RM days.  Occasionally I will split one day into upper/lower body days to get in more training volume.  I’m not sure this plan is ideal, but it is very doable and is allowing me to make strength gains in season.  I am able to recover from weekend tournaments/practices, have time for a lot of throwing practice, plyo workouts, and general conditioning workouts as well.

Final Thoughts

Managing your year round training plan is part art, part science.  You are your own experiment!  This doesn’t mean there are no rules and no plans.  It does mean that you should feel free to try different plans within the parameters of common sense.  Learn from what others are doing.  Adopt, adapt, evaluate.  Please tell me your plan for in season training in the comments!

Are you a Hero?

February 15, 2011

Nate Green’s new handbook. Free. (via RTS)

“You get out what you put in. So don’t slack. Here’s the truth: it doesn’t matter what you know. It matters what you do… It’s time to make your own luck. It’s time to become your own hero.”

“We’re not dead yet, so we can’t go feeling sorry for ourselves. We have a real opportunity to do fun things, help other people, and live a worthwhile life. We have a chance to build a legacy that will carry on after we die.

Are you going to squander that responsibility or waste time talking about all the shit you should have done?

Get your ass up and join the living… If you want something, you need to take care of yourself and get to work

Learning to Layout: Practice & Progressions

January 17, 2011

One of my 2011 goals (Facebook Ultimate page resolution) was to lay it out on the fields, practicing and progressing toward a prettier, stronger, safer layouts, and I’m glad to say I made good progress in my first 2011 USA Ultimate college series tournament just two weeks into January, getting horizontal on O to save an errant cutter dish & score at the same time, laying out past a supermodel height handler to stop an endzone score, and getting low to save an swilly rookie handler dump.

In this post, I’m going to describe some of the practice methods, methodology, and progressions I’ve been working on in the last two years to both learn & more safely teach good layout form.

In the classic Essential Ultimate, Tiina Booth and Baccarini describe one way of teaching kids to layout, by developing familiarity with the ground (roll in it), and then progressing to a drill wherein the player starts on their knees and then falls forward to catch a falling disc [see step 3 in this YouTube video, for example].

Simpler instructions can be found on eHow for how to layout, which reminds you to land on your chest and mentions some important warnings for wannabe layout-ees (try not to lay* into people, keep wrists/hands up, knees away from ground). And insert standard disclaimer here: talk to your coach first before attempting the following methods and progressions, and get prior injuries checked out by an MD and a fitness professional.

While I think these are good starts, I do think that it can be challenging to teach, for example, college-aged women or taller/heavier athletes to layout with these progressions. Falling whilst on your knees seems great for kids and teenagers, but if you are above 5’8″, and are either skinny or ripped, it seems more challenging to get this drill to work well.

In this post I’m going to describe two different progressions, one which I learned from RKC II Asha Wagner who used to play varsity volleyball (now coaches), competes in rugby, and works as a firefighter near San Jose. Damn yo’! =)

"Dig" by Taryn Socha #9, photography by AJ Guel

Anyway, this drill is designed to teach volleyball athletes to dive / dig / layout on the court.

Step 1: Walk forward, crouch into a split squat (a sort of lunge with feet closer together), lean forward placing both hands on the ground in front, and then come down the the ground, bringing your chest to the basketball/volleyball court (slide-y!). Now push out with your feet and slide along your chest, pushing backwards against the court with your hands-like-penguin-flippers.

A bit tricky to explain, I know but check out Anja demonstrating a similar Step 1 on grass here on YouTube, but instead do this (a) inside (b) with some forward motion (c) from a split squat rather than a bilateral (two feet same) position and (d) push backwards with your hands.

The idea here is that the bball/vball court is lower-threat (and easier to slide on! and probs more accessible than a slip n’ slide), and using your hands [although highly discouraged for Real layouts] is a simple guide for new layout-ees. The bilateral–both feet pushing at the same time–motion is somewhat not natural insofaras we typically do not leap forward with two feet at the same time save for horizontal jump tests. In contrast, a split squat is slightly more “functional” in the sense that many layouts will happen from something closer to a split squat position (running forward).

Okay, step 2: start progressing into a slow jog, and start getting more slide-y distance.

After that, progress to no-hands-ma (arms up, back [thoracic-spine!] arched), and then to on-mud, and finally on-grass.

This drill sounds good on paper but I actually haven’t used it too much and will now describe the progression I’ve been working on.

Strength / Mobility Prerequisites

Laying out (landing on the ground) requires quite a bit of eccentric muscle strength as well as strong joints, ligaments, and a threat-modulated nervous system (i.e. you don’t freak out).

Before you start seriously working on these progressions, I advise you to first make progress on the foundations for the olympic lift and address thoracic-spine and gleno-humeral (shoulder) mobility & symmetry. By that I mean start doing FTW squats (face-the-wall, see blog post & images), goblet squats with proud/iron-man/chest-out-like-ur-on-the-beach-with-hotties chest, and then PVC pipe overhead squats.

Aim for good-form PVC pipe overhead squats with pipe straight-overhead, drop down slightly-below-quads/femur-parallel, and come up. If you can start doing this with an empty barbell, nice, but for many, you will lack shoulder-extension / thoracic-spine extension / ankle dorsiflexion mobility, so just work on it (you could cheat with plates below your heels, but… ankle strength / ankle mobility are still good things.

You don’t need to bang out 15 reps of BW OHS–bodyweight overhead squats–right now, but just work on (a) proud chest (b) arms extended wayy up and slightly behind head even (c) core strength/stability at the top and bottom–deep squat in da hole.

Okay, so strength training aside (don’t get injured training! train to reduce injury risk PS FTW =), let’s get back to some progressions.

The Layout: an UltiTraining progression

Step 1: Get low, get ho any-safely-way you can.

Some people slip n’ slide, others have access to a gymnastics foam pit (yay!), some just have an elevated mattress. Just try to slowly and happily land on your anterior (upper) core, your chest-area if you can, and don’t freak out about it. Some have had success with a pool, others with bball/vball court sliding, you could also try rollin’ out on mud (Trouble in Vegas anyone?).

The idea here is two-fold, just to develop a low-level eccentric (absorbing force) strength, some joint & ligament development, but more importantly to modulate the threat of “falling” forward in a controlled fashion (hey that’s what they say about walking). Think of it like diving really, penguins have been doing it for eons on ice, so be like a Morgan Freeman narrated character and get ho on your local iceberg / mattress / court / pool / slippy thang.

You’ll note that much of strength training focuses on the concentric (generating force) although eccentric strength is at Least as important, and undertrained. For example, an Olympic lift is strongly concentric on the way up, same for a bumper-plate barbell deadlift that you drop at the top or above the knees. While this is a safe way for hypertrophy, in athletics quickness matters and having a good amount of eccentric strength and power (rate of force development eccentrically) while make you hot damn domination quicker on the field, since you’ll be able to absorb the de-celerating force of a 5-10 yd sprint and explode-cut to somewhere elses on the field.

But anyway points here are

(1) eccentric strength in muscles / joints / ligaments and
(2) nervous system threat modulation.

Point (2) is more important than you might think–many injuries happen because your bodymind freaks out and you spaz, injuring your own joints in the process. If you stay calm, you don’t spaz, and joints stay safe. A lot of layout progressions don’t honor the nervous system aspect, both the mental and the arousal curve / threat perception of laying out, since diving seems like that bad F word Fall, whereas many athletes have to start addressing the Fear of laying out whether it’s because they fear injury, falling, or re-injury.

Step 2: Add slow forward motion and develop good eccentric force absorption patterning after t-spine extension

What I mean here is you should start moving forward slowly, and then learn to absorb force after your body is in extension (arms up, chest out, hips in extension with knees behind you), with reasonable timing.

If you have a foam pit great, if just a slip n’ slide okay, otherwise I have been personally experimenting with (a) Swiss ball layout eccentrics and (b) futon fallin’. In (a) you start with hands on or near a Swiss/balance ball, in a split squat, and then do a sort of anterior-core rollout finally landing by bouncing your iron-man-circle-generator-emblem chest on the Swiss ball. Then learn to do so with hands not on the ball, and a disc in the air right near the ball.

You’ll note that many balls won’t withstand this pressure, bee-tee-dubs, so mind your surroundings and start slow. I like this progression since Swiss balls are ubiquitous, and you start developing a gentle forward motion with a less aggressive lean (body more ho than vert but not completely parallel to the ground), and finally the Swiss ball will absorb some shock for you. It can also be done easily outside or inside, and is kinda fun.

For (b) you do something similar but with some craigslist/IKEA futon/mattress elevated or on the ground. Just start diving and reducing the neural threat of getting ho-. A mild forward motion, body-in-extension, and force-absorption are key/important here.

Step 3: Lay it out

Okay, so there are only three steps–I’m still working on this progression myself, with moi and athletes on my team. Once you can lay it on balance balls & futoni (thanks for the mattress idea Sonoma State), you’ll be flying like Maggie Ruden in no time (okay maybe not, but try :).

Personally I like KB Turkish-get-ups for shoulder static strength and mobility in multiple dimensions, the RKC armbar for extra mobility, Z-Health R-phase camshafts (explain that another day/elsewhere) / t-spine anterior&posterior glides, overhead squatting, and finally anterior core work, but at some point you’ll have to lay it out, and here it’s often in your head / wanting it enough / activating the appropriate neural chemistry slash drive. Competitive Fire anyone? But more practically for the inner game, pre-game and pre-game-night visualization can help tons.

As for other wacky ideas I haven’t tried yet, I’ve thought about having kids jump into vertically standing mattresses, first on a wall and then freestanding vert, since you want to be able to run into a solid surface & shock absorb force, and have also considered the vert to ho progression but practically this is difficult unless you live in an especially grassy / hilly area. There’s always carpet valslides but one idea you can play with is anterior core barbell rollouts (concentric and/or eccentric? who knows), inside or out. Personally I think it’d be sick to see someone anterior core barbell rollout greater-than-bodyweight with high rate-of-force (RFD) development/power on a grassy field but maybe that’s taking things too far (or not).

Either way, there we have it, a simple (but not easy, as Mark Reifkind might say) progression to the Ultimate layout. Have fun, train safe, and sick bidding all the way to Nationals, Worlds, and beyond =)

Ask Less, Less, or More?

January 9, 2011

Hi there UltiTraining readers 2011! I hope your pre-season / off-season is going swimmingly. In this edition of UltiTraining, we’ll answer a couple of reader questions. If you have any, be sure to ask them here, and/or check out the Building the Ultimate Athlete Expert Panel at

Today’s topics: training with less (equipment, money), and training with more (weighted vests). Let’s go!

@James asks,

I’ve been working my way through Boyle’s book, and was wondering if you’ve run into some of the issues of scaling I have (as a preface, I think the book’s brilliant). A rough look at it suggests a team would need a foam roller, 2-tennis-ball roller, a lacrosse ball, and a 8-10 pound medicine ball (for on-field chop and lift work, especially important i think for non-ambidextrous handlers) just to get through the warm-up and plyo parts of a practice. Additionally, his proposal for a SMR-stretch-dynamic warm up system is great in a toasty warm practice facility, but somewhat unwieldy for teams which spend much of their season suffering through cold rain and permafrost turf.

Obviously it’d be preferable to get some corporate sponsorships, get a team kit for the equipment and rent a practice field, but do you have any suggestions for the less affluent squads looking to emulate his low injury records?

Great question. One way to address this would be to start practice inside at a nearby gym or dormitory, and do warm-ups in a circuit. That is to say that you’d have half a dozen stations, each with 1-2 pieces of equipment (foam roller, 2-tennis-ball roller for t-spine mobility, lacrosse ball for the foot, med ball), and have 2-4 athletes at each station (one or two active, one or two coaching while stretching).

If it’s difficult to stay inside during part of practice, here are some cheaper alternatives.

Foam roller > large PVC pipe > carpet / the ground (!)

Use a basketball for throwing movements or even for SMR / self-massage

IronGrip barbell > barbell set off of or > Home-made Slosh Pipe > PVC pipes / bamboo

DragonDoor Kettlebells > PerformBetter KBs > T-handles > Barbell Plates with 3-ring holes > Home-made 50lb. Sandbag

For less affluent teams at the college level (or before/after), hand-made equipment can be a useful recourse, when combined with appropriate programming.

Another idea would be to have athletes individually or in small groups do SMR (with text message reminders 30 min before practice) and pre-practice stretching before they bike/walk/drive to the fields. Although perhaps sub-optimal, some SMR/stretching/mobility is better than none at all.

But let me explain some of the tools above. Foam rollers are great, but once you progress to a certain level, you can start using simple alternatives such as large-diameter PVC pipes, or more simply the cheapest roller of them all, the ground! If you simple roll around carpet you can actually get a decent self-massage, particularly in the glutes / lower-back / t-spine. For the smaller areas, try the Trigger-Point Therapy self-hands-on book.

Lifting: if the “warmup is the workout”, then even if the team cannot afford a $200-300 barbell set, you could make your own slosh pipes or sandbags (in the simplest case, a duffel bag / super-strong garbage bag / 50lb. play sand from Home Depot (as pictured below–I use this for suitcase carries, swings, and heavy Turkish get-ups).

A dozen PVC pipes / bamboo rods can be used for warming up or working out with snatches and overhead squats (learn as much as you can from this Dan John character)–50 overhead squats in a row to below parallel with a PVC pipe strictly overhead [hang some Home Depot chains if you want] with kick most athletes’ butts in no time.

Also consider bodyweight, with or without hand-made / commercial suspension trainers. For example, I have started doing “Firefighter Get-Ups” with my smaller/petite female friends (105 lb. gal on the floor “unconscious”, do a Turkish Get-up but place her on your shoulder instead, punch&crunch to lunge/split-squat position, then get-up with her still on your shoulder), and deadlifting my average-weight male friends from the ground up [not strong enough to snatch a college student from the floor just yet ;].

Cement blocks can be used for elevated push-ups, rear-foot elevated split squats (Bulgarian), and old futons can be used for layout practice. You get the idea, have fun but be safe =). Ask followups in the comments!

@Phoin asks,

Is training with a weighted vest a good idea? I have been doing hill sprints for a while now and considering using a weighted vest to go along with them for the added resistance.

Weighted vests can be useful and fun, as a tool for conditioning and strength-endurance. I guess I‚Äôd ask what the specific purpose is-‚Äďthe nice thing about parachutes or sleds is that it‚Äôs your bodyweight pushing something or pulling something offset from your center of mass, whereas weight vests add weight but not in that exact way.

The argument against would be: just sprint harder / find harder hills / put weights in your hands (heavyhands) or do sled pulls / parachute, since these seem less likely to affect your sprinting form (running is a skill, not just muscle development).

The argument for would be: adaptation is useful, and vests may be good for a little variety. So yes I’d probably say it could have it’s place, but I wouldn’t necessarily do that year round / on a regular basis, but perhaps for mixing it up, or if you want to work on strength-endurance. Investing in a sled to push/pull on the field, or a cheap parachute might be more cost-effective and useful in comparison.

So.. we’d would have to know the rest of your program (deadlift / single leg squat / Oly lift / KB / bodyweight / plyo / lactate threshold?) to critique as well. In other words, what are your goals? What aren’t goals of your training? =)

Good luck!

Where to? Ways to Read, Train, Dominate in 2011

December 31, 2010

Depending on what timezone you’re in and when you’re reading this, Happy Gregorian New Year 2011! Time to make some resolutions, head back to school, start thinking about your taxes or finally figure out your off-season / pre-season training routine.

I wrote an off-season training program recently, aimed at a younger / less experienced crowd, and so while it had more bodyweight work (inverted bodyweight rows and FTW squats) than your usual S&C program, it still had “push, pull, do something with your legs” as well as a mild aerobic component. Elite athletes could probably continue sprinting right now, but for these athletes I programmed more lactate threshold work in the form of 3 minute hard, 5 minute recover intervals.

Whether you’re gearing up for the college season or hitting the club off-season right now, getting stronger is a pretty dang good goal right now. Can you bodyweight barbell front squat (or overhead squat if you must, but still slightly below parallel) or deadlift 2x bodyweight yet? I’m still working on it, time to dust out Pavel’s Power to the People, Rippetoe’s Starting Strength, or Dan John’s From the Ground Up. Ask me again in 2012 =)

But some larger programming points to think about, at this point (or I suppose any point, but now’s a fitting time =):

1) Find a good strength coach or fitness professional. Tell them your goals, your timeframe, and let them help you write a program slash course of attack.

You could coach yourself all the time, but it’s not recommended, even if you are a fitness megastar who can press half your bodyweight with one hand or what not. Think about all the Ultimate game coaches that have helped you get this far (or if you haven’t had that many stellar coaches or captains yet, uh, move to the Bay Area / Pacific Northwest?), a good strength or fitness coach could do the same for your physical / outer game of Ultimate.

College or sports gyms tend to have a list of trainers that you can see, and you sometimes can get a free assessment or discounts if you ask for semi-private group training (i.e. train me and my two Ultimate friends for an hour).

It’s really tempting to just go buy a book (if you do, I recommend starting with one by an author who has trained thousands of team-sports / field sport athletes regularly over the last ten years, such as Coach Dos Remedios, Dan John, or Mike Boyle, as they’ve been there done that and are still coaching, training, and learning along the way), but why not spend a few bucks and have a fitness expert check you out and help you figure out your strengths, weaknesses, goals and programming?

For example, I recently got my first official Functional Movement Screen (FMS) done by a local RKC who used to teach martial arts and now focuses on training clients and athletes. Details of the FMS aside, it helps a lot to have someone point out (or in many cases, just remind you) your weaknesses, whether structurally (your glute max is inactive or your left glute medius is too weak), movement-wise (you aren’t hip-hinging correctly for the deadlift, or you aren’t maintaining enough IAP–intra-abdominal pressure–whether you are pulling or coming out of the hole of a deep barbell squat), or programming (you don’t foam roll? no breakfast? water isn’t your primary anabolic? okay that last line was stolen from Se√Īor Dan John).

2) Have a plan. Write it down. Tell a friend.

This was law four of 5 laws to train by, but in the pre-season / off-season now’s a good time to figure out where you are weak and where you are strong. Whether you buy into the CrossFit “ten fitness domains” credited to Jim Crawley and Bruce Evans of Dynamax, the Z-Health 9S model of athleticism, it’s worth figuring out & writing down what you’d like to work on. Tweet it with hashtag #UltiTraining / write it in your personal training (b)log, email yourself, just get it down on digital ink and/or paper.

3) Build on your strengths, but manage your weaknesses.

The off-season / pre-season is a good time to do all of the above, so as you find some help, write down your plan, and build on your strengths / manage your weaknesses here are some things to think about.

It takes months, years, to get strong. This isn’t to say you can’t or won’t make rapid gains, but remember that in the first 4-6 weeks, your strength gains are largely neural (you know how to use the muscles you have).

In contrast, if you were in shape a few weeks or months ago, it tends to not take that long to get back to whatever cardiovascular shape you were in not too long ago. This doesn’t mean that you should stop doing light aerobic recovery work, “roadwork” as they say in boxing, or jogging during the pre-season or off-season [sprint work if you already have a strong aerobic / lactate threshold recovery base, to get in the hip extension force development in there], but that it’s important to think about how different parts of the body respond to stress and training, over time. They say you essentially have a new heart every three days, but it takes months for muscle to develop, and longer for tendons/ligaments to heal.

Ah so we have our work cut out for us. Just don’t try tackling too much at once, perhaps put on some mass these next 6-8 weeks, then focus on RFD (rate of force development, perhaps with 1-handed DB snatches) & power the next two months, then med ball & sprinting after that, who knows, depends on where you are as an athlete and where you want to be.

Which brings us to the last point before we break towards 2011.

4) Be realistic in your training. Be quick but don’t hurry.

Professor BJ Fogg recently posted a slideshare, 3 Steps to New Habits, and you can always look back at the previous post on some top 5 training tool habits. Also see BJ in the LA Times on successful resolutions or his top mistakes for behavior change.

resolve: this guy's got it?!

If that’s too academic for you, just imagine that the Inception Cat will be coming for you if you don’t work hard, giving your personal best in 2011!

Any questions? Ask me on Twitter, @UltiTraining, post a comment on the blog, or try this to ask for feedback at

Also try asking UltimateRob, Mackey’s thoughts on Strength Training for Ultimate, or Melissa Witmer at her new site, before and/or after we wish you an Ultimate & Fruitful Domination in 2011.

Foundations for the Olympic Lift

December 16, 2010

If you’ve picked up the Fall 2010 edition of the USA Ultimate magazine / looked at p. 45 of the online edition, or have been training for more than a few months, you’ve probably heard that (learning the) Olympic lifts can Be Good For You(tm).

Why? Well, if you’re a teenager or past your twenties you might need the mass-building hypertrophy & “armor building” of bodybuilder lifts (DB curl, or generally isolated less-than-functional movements), and if you’re new to strength training, learning the powerlifts (back squat, non-trap-bar BB deadlift, bench press) is a pretty easy way to go since this is what your gym buddies probably already know, for better&worse.

[Though you might want to try a combination of front squats & RFESS over backsquats, trap-bar over non-trap-bar deadlift, and skip out on bench pressing for a while, just sayin’]

But, as Dan John reminds us, Olympic lifts have more of a cardiovascular aspect than you might expect, and the body is built as one piece, and you use it as such on the field, so why not train it that way?

So we know that you can do bodybuilder (minus the functional, multi-joint compound lifts) to build some armor and mass, and you can powerlift to develop strength, but you run the risk of developing slow-strength (F=ma) rather than explosiveness/power (force over time), and you may be adding to the imbalances in your musculoskeletal system rather than working out the weak links in your kinetic chain(s).

But let’s go back to basics. The fundamental idea behind an Olympic-style lift is that you have a weight on the ground, and you want to put it over your head. Sounds simple enough, but it’s worth re-iterating how useful it is to be able to generate enough power (force=mass x acceleration over a small time period dt) into the ground and straight up vertically. Sky that biatch anyone? Or even going old school, I’m pretty sure we humans have been picking stuff off the ground and one of the hardest things to do is to hold it overhead to throw it / move it, so we’re also probably supposed to be pretty good at that, dontcha think?

Okay, so you’re on board that it’s sweet to move weights from the floor to above your head, you like that overhead work tends to be self-limiting in a good way (see Dan John’s overhead squat article), but why BB snatch & OHS rather than KB or DB snatch / OHS? Actually I think for most athletes, learning and practicing the one-handed DB snatch is a great power exercise, and the KB snatch is hella fun (although can bang up your wrists if you start doing more than 60-70 in a row, ahem, especially your non-throwing-wrist which you’ll find probably isn’t as strong as your throwing wrist…) but learning to Olympic snatch & overhead squat your bodyweight-on-a-barbell seems like a worth goal to shoot for after you’ve been training seriously for 3-4 years.

An Olympic Progression

Building off of our previous post on strength training progressions, we’ll remind you here to first master your bodyweight, some offset-center-of-mass lifts, DB lifts, powerlifts, PVC pipe overhead squats for at least a few years before you attempt any barbell Olympic lifts.

From a joint-by-joint approach, you’re particularly going to need

= Ankle mobility
= Hip mobility
= T(horacic)-spine mobility

For the ankle, refer to previous blog posts on the ankle complex and Ultimate ankle strength.

For hip mobility, I might suggest you start with what I call the “FTW squat”. I actually stole this idea from Pavel who borrowed it from John Du Cane’s Qigong program, but they call it the Face the Wall squat which isn’t as sexay. I mean, FTW squat = squat FTW, don’t you think?

How do you squat FTW? Face-The-Wall and squat down, without bangin’ yer nose or knees into the wall. Keep on inching forward until your toes are touchin’ that wall and you descend under control, slowly, with good form.

After you squat FTW for a month+, learn to do goblet squats with a light Oly plate, 175g disc, or DB / KB.

Got that down? Now spend a couple of months learning to do an overhead staff squat. I like to call this the OHSS since I do it with a waxwood composite- staff also good for reprimanding small animals and poking medium-sized athletes, and it’s easier to find cool waxwood staffs than it is a “dowel” or “PVC pipe” (how industrial-complex of you). And anyway, who doesn’t go OHSS after trying to do a couple dozen OverHeadStaffSquats in a row?

Okay, you probably got stuck around here, since even though you worked on your ankle mobility and hip mobility for a few weeks/months, you’ve never trained mobility in your thoracic spine. You might think this is shoulder flexibility, and there’s some truth to that, but as Sue Falsone reminded us at the PerformBetter Functional Training Summit, t-spine mobility is an essential element of a strength coaching program. She actually suggested we train t-spine rotation before t-spine anterior/posterior glides/mobility, which was news to me.

So for the hardcore, try the Brettzel on for size, for everyone else, a simple t-spine twist as mentioned previously is a good start. For anterior/posterior mobility you might start with TRX assisted deep squats or goblet squats where you focus on what I call “Iron Man” chest. That is, stand or squat, and “be proud” (puff out your chest as if you’re Ahnold on some Southern California beach), or just imagine that you’re Iron Man and need to fire a beam out of your chest. The key here is you don’t want your Iron Man beam to point into the ground, you want to fire it up high at the baddies, going to a bit of extension at the t-spine and arching (not rounding!) your lumbar spine a bit.

Hey, you’ve made it this far! Maybe you’re all I can has Avatar and can pass the FMS overhead squat screen, and have spent a year or two mastering your bodyweight lifts, your Turkish get-up with small children / little women (you can do this with yer 100lb+ lady friends but it’s a bit easier to learn without pressing them overhead, just plop them on your shoulder as you punch-n-crunch in the first phase of the TGU), and have decent enough ankle dorsiflexed, hips squatty, t-spine Iron Man-ly mobility, plus enough reps with a shiny waxwood staff. What’s next?

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