Optimizing Winter Training For College Ultimate Teams

Winter Training.It’s cold outside. Nobody wants to workout. And some people will use the “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” excuse to keep them from working out. That makes this makes this the best time of year to get a jump on Ultimate players who are waiting until school starts to get back in shape.

Most of all, winter is a great time to build leg speed and a quality base since you’re not beat up from tournaments, practice, and the rigors of the season. A couple weeks off after the fall to let all the little nicks and nagging injuries go away and you can get some good training done.

Working out when it’s cold outside sucks. Unfortunately, for cold weather college Ultimate players, the foundation to playing meaningful games in May starts in December and January. I’m not an exercise scientist or a trainer. I’m not even Tony Little, although part of me wishes I was. He seems like a pretty sweet dude.

But I did go to school where the average annual snowfall is around 90 inches. I have done a lot of cold weather training. Here are some of the things I’ve learned over the years that can make life a little easier for northern Ultimate players.

Friendly Motivation

In college Ultimate, every team, no matter how good, has slackers. As a captain or veteran, you have the constant burden of having to motivate young guys and the usual team slackers to do something other than get drunk with their high school buddies over winter break. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Hey, sometimes the slackers are your better players. Whatever the reason, some guys need the extra push.

Use a winter workout thread.

A lot of teams have workout threads. Keep those going over break. Don’t let the last post of the fall be “See you guys next semester! Throw if you can!”

Keep tabs. Post your workouts. Call dudes out that aren’t posting their workouts – as they are presumably not working out.

Run test on the first practice of the semester.

This really works. Tell everybody what the team will be running the first practice back. It should be something pretty difficult, (40 ladder to 5, down and back 20’s, relays, etc.), and at the end of that practice, run your guys all together. Dudes are either going to stop running or puke. You’ll know right away who’s in shape and who’s not.

Letting everyone know what the running will be ahead of time fosters individual accountability. No one can make the excuse ‘I didn’t know what we were doing! I’m above reproach!’ Set the tempo for the young guys. This will not stand, man.

Running hacks

In an ideal world you’d be able to train on grass or turf with spikes. However, when there’s accumulation, ice, or it’s under 25 degrees, here are some alternatives.

Mall parking lots.

If you want to get a speed workout in, the mall parking lot is where it’s at. They’re always plowed and you can usually find enough space to get in whatever workout you had in mind. Be warned; the mall cop will drive past you repeatedly and give you an unpleasant look. Don’t take it personal. Eyeballing people is his job.

Hill Sprints

Hill sprints are awesome year round but they’re a go-to workout for me in the winter. They build leg drive, they’re cardio heavy, and you can be done in under a half an hour. Hills are usually the first thing to be plowed when it snows. So find a hill that’s not slippery and take full advantage of it.


The Cathedral of Learning on Pitt’s campus offers 36 flights of stairs to climb. Find a tall building. Run up the steps. Take the elevator back down. Repeat.

Forced Indoors

When you absolutely have to be inside varying training is key to avoid cabin fever. Keep it fresh.

Intervals on stationary equipment.

You can’t do speed work every day and nobody wants to ride the bike, elliptical, or treadmill for an hour. Instead of mindlessly riding and watching Maury on the gym TV, incorporate intervals. Starting out, go one minute fast, one minute slow for 25 minutes. As your fitness improves decrease your active rest time and/or increase your total time.

Jumping rope.

The nutty folks at the Jump Rope Institute, (whatever that is), equate 5 minutes of jumping rope to 30 minutes of jogging. I don’t know whether to take “jumping rope is a really great workout” or “jogging is totally worthless” from that. Either way, jumping rope is good for improving bone density and builds strength below the knee.

Agility Ladder.

You can find these online super cheap and they’re ideal when hardwood space is limited. Fitness guru Tim Morrill has some really good Ultimate specific drills on these that go beyond what you might have done for football or basketball.

Plyos, SNERTZ, etc.

A lot of people swear by SNERTZ, which incorporates varied speed sprinting and jumping.


The classic, torturous workout that drove you away from middle school basketball in favor of Mario Kart and Gushers is back! For real, anybody can get in a basketball gym over break. You know the drill…baseline, foul line, baseline, half court, baseline, far foul line, baseline, far baseline, baseline.

Don’t Even Lift, Bro

Well, not all the time, anyway.

There’s a lifting problem in Ultimate right now. Guys are getting too big from lifting to functionally benefit. Very infrequently in Ultimate do you settle a contested foul by finding out who can bench 225 pounds the most times.

Moreover, guys use lifting to mean “worked out.” That’s not what it means. Working out for Ultimate means hard cardio. It means running. The guy who ran six days a week is more prepared for Ultimate than the guy that lifted six days a week and didn’t run. The two are not interchangeable.

Lifting has its benefits. But you’ve got to be careful to keep your mindset as Ultimate player, not weight lifter. Get too into lifting and pretty soon you’re checking out your bicep in the mirror like Christian Bale in American Psycho.

Core work, pushups, and kettle bell exercises are one thing. The abs pick up the legs. Pushups keep the body together on bids (and are a great punishment at practice). Kettle bells can build leg drive and power. You want to do a maintenance lift one day a week — I’m good with it. But if you’re in the gym doing hammer curls all day instead of getting running in, you’re lifting to look sweet in a polo shirt, not to get a D.

Quick Tips

– Indoor practice time is for practicing, not running out of shape dudes. That’s a waste of valuable time. Obviously, you’re going to condition at practice but that can’t be the main focus. Use the workout thread to keep tabs on what guys are doing. If nobody’s working out, do another run test.

– Being indoors on hardwood or outside on roads instead of on grass is hard on the joints. Fresh training shoes are a probably a good call.

– Speaking of joint pain, asphault > concrete. The more you know.

– If you want to run outside even on packed snow and patchy ice, these work really well for that. You can find cheaper brands that do the same thing if you’re hip to Google.

– Protect yourself. You can hurt yourself if you’re underdressed. Tights or sweats (or the lady-killing tights and sweats combo) are essential. NOTE: You don’t look sweet running in shorts when it’s 35 degrees out. You look ridiculous.


When you go back to school in January you don’t need to be in your final form. The better shape you’re in, though, the harder you can go at practice, the better you can push your teammates, the more you’re going to get out of drills, and so on. Instead of wasting two weeks of everyone’s time when you get back, do some work over break. You can still rip beer with your high school buddies and suffer through forced family interactions. Just set a little bit of time aside. Most of the stuff in here should take you less than 45 minutes including warming up and stretching.

When you’re out of college you can affectionately start referring to this time of year as Fat Season. Until then, this is the spring.


Footnotes on run test suggestions:

40 ladder to 5: Do a 40. Jog back to the start. Do two, nonconsecutive 40s. Jog back. Then three, then four – all the way up to five and back down.

Down and back 20 yard sprints: Sprint down 20 yards, change direction, back 20 yards. That’s one rep. Walk back to the line between reps. One minute rest between sets. For a run test I’d recommend five sets of four.

Relays: Get creative. Teams of three, maybe teams of four. Have the guys who aren’t running do a plank so they’re not just standing around. Make it insanely hard.

  1. Tad Wissel

    Tad Wissel is an Ultiworld reporter.

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