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3 Steps towards being a Sustainable Ultimate Handler

January 13, 2010

College-level Ultimate can be tough on the body, whether you’re a handler, cutter… or, like the hottie character Mystique in X-Men, tell people “I can be anything you want me to be” (ahem) and can play any position your coach needs =)

In this blog post I’ll try to keep it simple, a mention 3 specific and simple steps one can take towards being a more Sustainable Handler in Ultimate. Playing Ultimate at a high-level requires quite a bit of athleticism to do well, but training smart and staying in balance are keys to playing for more than just one or two years without serious injury or time off the field.

(1) To keep your “Athletic Body in Balance” as a rightie handler, add additional/supplemental reverse lunges on the side opposite of your throwing stance after practice. For example, right-handed players typically pivot with their left foot on the ground, and thus step out (forward) onto their right foot. One opposite motion would be to step backward rather than forward, and to put your weight mostly on your left foot rather than your right foot.

To see this demonstrated visually, please see the “reverse lunge with twist” video at Note that you only twist (rotate) in the direction of the leg that is holding most of your weight.

This means that righties should do supplemental reverse lunges by stepping back with their right leg and turning left. Your rotation should come from the thoracic spine (mid-back and above) rather than your lumbar spine (lower back). Here is a slightly different variant which also includes a nice (opposing movement!) t-spine twist:

Being asymmetric is an inherent risk of being a competitive sports athlete, but by balancing ourselves out we can hope to play another day =)

[For the nerds out there, there’s plenty of research literature on the risks associated with L/R asymmetries out there, such as asymmetry in hip extension. Note that in this exercise we are trying to engage the side of the body opposite to the one typically engaged when you step out to reach around your mark, your right glute rather than your left glute, and moving backwards rather than forwards. Of course, there may be another asymmetries you have, so use NS biofeedback to let your body/NS tell you what it needs today–valslide reverse lunges only on the opposite side, for example, test very well for me today, the morning after our first handler-only practice of 2010!]

(2) Get a copy of Gray Cook’s Athletic Body in Balance and read through it every few months, with an eye towards managing microtrauma–both Gray and I like/recommend light pressure massage sticks such as the tiger tail.

For the serious athlete, perform the self-movement screen described in the book. These basic movements should be checked for stability and symmetry every few months, to see if your training or practice is on the right track. This screen is a simpler version of the full FMS, or functional (fundamental!) movement screen, that Gray Cook teaches to the NFL/NBA strength coaches to keep their pro athletes playing “sustainably”.

(3) If reverse lunges and Gray Cook’s book aren’t enough for you, then you might want to check out the R-phase manual & 2 DVD set from Z-Health performance systems.

Comrade mc has a great review of the R-phase joint-by-joint training manual & DVD set on her blog, but how it applies to being a sustainable handler (athlete) is that the better you know your body on a joint-by-joint level, and not just on a muscle-by-muscle or movement-by-movement level, the more easily you’ll be able to pinpoint where you’re not moving well, and address that over time. I know for me Z R-phase and beyond are why I’ve been able to keep playing Ultimate in these last few years (primarily as a handler for a competitive women’s team in the Pacific Northwest region).

Alternate products include Scott Sonnon’s Intu-Flow which folks (and my cousin) like but I have not seen first hand, and Robertson system’s Assess & Correct, which I would recommend to high-level competitive athletes that know they have minor or major imbalances to work on even after months of PT (physiotherapy) work. Assess & Correct also comes with a great e-manual, as you can expect from Robertson Training Systems.

As my first K’bell coach would say (or blog), “dat’s it.” Finish strong, chic[o/a]s!

7 Comments leave one →
  1. less confused now... permalink
    January 15, 2010 6:32 am

    i’m digging the reverse lung idea.

  2. less confused now... permalink
    January 15, 2010 6:34 am

    or lunge…

    i don’t want a reverse lung

    • January 15, 2010 5:20 pm

      Hehe, our team used to do reverse lunges with twists both ways, but I’m liking how Bryan Doo and other do it–twisting only in one direction. The “twist” of focusing mainly on the thoracic spine as per the YouTube vid is also nice, it tests well for me!

      Time to do some one-sided reverse lunges to balance meself a little out some more.

  3. Leslie Wu permalink
    January 16, 2010 3:23 am

    PS another nice thing to focus for handler joint balancing: right hand/finger “extension waves” (I learned this from Z-health R-phase), to balance out all the right handed finger flexion…

    (I actually have a visibly noticeable amount of default finger flexion, like 10 degrees (!) on my right hand compared to left hand fingers from years of throwing/gripping.)

    To do this, make a gentle fist with your right hand. Extend from the “knuckle” joints (around metacarpals), then the joints above/distal from that (phalanges), then end with all fingers extended.

    Be warned though, I have found that too much joint mobility on your hands screws with your catching patterns in the short-term, and too much radical mobility deltas (or soft tissue work for that matter) on your forearms/arms messes with your throwing patterns. This is a case where fitness isn’t the same as health, as better joint mobility means better finger/hand/arm health, but you may have adapted to all your immobilities for catching and throwing. On the other hand, shoulder/hip/t-spine mobility nearly always seems to be useful, but that’s just my anecdotal report.


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