The Ultimate Athlete Project offers detailed strength programming for athletes of any level.
January 6, 2016 by Simon Pollock in Review with 53 comments
Disclosure: Ultiworld was compensated for writing this product review. All opinions are the reviewer’s own and are not subject to approval from the UAP.
There’s a special sting to the disappointment of seeing the opportunity to make a play on the field and then not actually doing it. Offense or defense, nationals or pickup, almost every ultimate player has faced a moment when she’s too tired, he isn’t fast enough, or the body just doesn’t respond to the brain’s commands.
So we train.
Or at least, we should be training…right?
The answer is yes under almost any circumstances. Specifically, athletes looking to improve and avoid injury should employ a good mix of strength, cardio, and agility exercises. And yet, getting started with a routine, sticking to it, knowing how to change exercises, where to rest, and how to schedule is hard.
Melissa Witmer, strength and conditioning coach and owner of the company Ulty Results, has known this for a long time. In 2012, she launched the Ultimate Athlete Project (UAP) to light the path to improved fitness for ultimate athletes. 96 athletes joined the virtual community through her dedicated website.
Now, as the program prepares to open to new members later this week, 660 active ultimate players use the UAP as a training protocol. According to Witmer, who has her Masters in Kinesiology, nearly 1200 athletes have tried the project at some time. If her name rings a bell, you may have seen or read pieces of her online training series or participated in her excellent Ultimate Results Coaching Academy Conference (URCA).
I personally joined the UAP just months before I first published on this website in the fall of 2013, though I had been reading Witmer’s work since the previous winter. With a good deal of experience and after a long conversation with the UAP’s creator herself, I took on a review of the program.
I picked a scale of 1-5 (5 being the best) to rate each of the categories expanded upon below. As a member in his third offseason training in the UAP, I’d be happy to answer additional questions about my personal experience and results in the comments or via Twitter. In fact, I’m sure you’ll have them — so please ask.
The Sign-up Process: 5.0
For anyone who’s gone through the process of joining a fitness or health club, actually becoming a member of a place can often be more of a pain than one might expect. The truth is that some folks harbor enough anxiety about wearing the right clothes, not drawing attention in the gym, or committing to working out every day, that an arduous or confusing sign-up process will cause them to turn right back around.1
The key is making it easy, and the Ultimate Athlete Project has done that perfectly. Joining the UAP won’t require you to fill out pages worth of demographic information that border on violating HIPAA.2 In fact, the longest part of signing up will be linking a PayPal account or setting up the billing information of choice.
Especially in an age when speed and simplicity reign supreme, the UAP makes it easy to sign-up and dive into the programming.
At the heart of the UAP are Witmer’s well-organized workouts, grouped into phases and periodized for each part of the athlete’s training. The largest period is Offseason, for which Witmer has built six month-long phases, where athletes will likely dedicate the most time to building strength and then work on converting strength into power. Every week features varied lifting days, core workouts, conditioning, and “Speed, Agility, Quickness,” better known as SAQ.
Smart and intentional design is present from the year-long level down to the seconds involved in each rep. For each individual movements inside of a workout, Witmer provides detailed videos hosted privately on YouTube, along with written cues, concentric and eccentric counts, and rest periods.
Workouts have a relatively satisfying level of variation. Each day of a training week features a different workout and, while the movements repeat for the duration of the phase (four weeks), the repetitions, rest times, and number of sets may change as strength improves.
In terms of strength, Witmer’s programming pays close attention to strengthening the major movements that factor into running and jumping. That translates to a creative mix of unilateral (one leg) and bilateral (two legs) squats, split-squats, deadlifts, and glute-activation exercises throughout every phase. The Ultimate Athlete Project maintains its focus on function strength, so while some upper body workouts will feature a the classic flat bench press, there isn’t a bicep curl or tricep pull-down. The UAP favors variations on pushups, iso-hold dumbbell presses, and farmer’s carries.
Scheduling is also built into each phase, and Witmer has been careful to write suggested rotations for folks who have oodles of time to train (six days a week) to those with time limitations (four days a week). That may sound like a lot, but workouts jive well with the suggested schedules, and for anyone thinking seriously about training and making improvements, the 4-6 days/week regimen is reality.
The largest benefit of Witmer’s programming, beyond noticeable on-field improvements, is the education involved in learning the programming. The UAP, Witmer admits, has a bit of a learning curve when it comes to reading the meticulously charted workouts, but she provides a suite of introductory videos to show new users how to fully read the notes and counts along with each exercise. In addition, each new phase is accompanied by an video overview, where Witmer relates onscreen the larger goals of the particular month and group of exercises. She includes suggestions about which workouts should get emphasis and, in a time crunch, what workouts can be eliminated from a given week if necessary.
The education itself helps build players gain weight-room savvy, another stated goal of the UAP. Witmer wants players to build confidence along with strength and durability, and I can provide some personal testimony that my own training has helped me navigate new gyms, get creative with movement substitutions, and complain about the wait for the squat rack like a pro.
Joking aside, Witmer’s depth and vision create an impressive set of self-guided workouts that will make a difference for any athlete willing to try the UAP for a few weeks and actually stick to the program.
Programming catches its one-point ding for some minor complaints, all of which are known to Witmer. The truth is that it’s still very difficult to go from no days in the gym to 5 or 6 –and that’s on us athletes to make the choice to change our offseason lifestyles and commit. Hitting every workout in your week or month can seem like a very tall order at times, and it takes commitment.
On the functional level, most athletes in the UAP will run into space or equipment restrictions. Some don’t live close to fields or parking lots for agility exercises and some of the in-workout circuits can be difficult to execute with the right amount of rest and recovery if you’re working out at the gym during rush hour.3
And that’s sort of the bottom line for the UAP in terms of programming. If you have access to the right equipment at a basic gym and a halfway-decent field nearby, you’re primed and ready to go. If you can’t afford a gym and don’t have a home set, the meat of the work is difficult to execute.
Community: 3.5 and rising
Two of the hardest parts of getting into a training routine is staying motivated and having a place to go with questions. If you don’t have a natural tendency to scour Internet forums looking at other videos and reading conversations to find your own answers, it can feel a bit frustrating to not have a guide available to coach for form and help with coordinating each movement. Especially for those athletes getting started, having a buddy or two is the best way to find easy encouragement and stay accountable in the program.
The UAP has a budding virtual community around for support, and Witmer makes herself very accessible, especially for new members, via email. The site has grown out of its old forum-based structure and migrated mostly to a private Facebook, where members can ask questions and connect. Witmer builds in weekly “This Week in the UAP” emails where she answers member questions, features a guest column with fellow strength coach Ren Caldwell, and often provides some good training for ultimate reads elsewhere on the web.
With membership nearing 700 before opening again later this month, the online community in the UAP has become much more robust than its humble roots just a few years ago. Witmer likes that the Facebook group provides a platform for her members to ask questions and communicate, with the added benefit that numerous members have specific training in physical therapy or other helpful areas and can help provide friendly tips and ideas for those in the group with weird pains or questions about how to adjust routines while coming back from injury.
In an effort to build more community, Witmer also launched workout pods this past fall for members interested in being part of small groups. She hoped that members looking for more external accountability and a deeper sense of community would benefit. The idea is still in something similar to beta-testing, Witmer admitted, since some pods have fizzled where others have taken off without her guidance, but she plans to keep improving as more successes and shortcomings become apparent during the winter and spring.
Community isn’t the strongest facet of the UAP quite yet, but Witmer is completely entrenched in the program and cares deeply that her athletes find their own path to improvements in strength and on the field. With the project now spanning the globe and on track to have over 800 members, it’ll should continue to improve the membership becomes more connected and Witmer gathers more information.
User Experience: 4.5
Ease of access prevails here. The UAP features a straightforward layout, with easy drop-menus to navigate each section of the project. Navigation is intuitive for any casual web user.
Within each program, workout pages feature embedded YouTube videos Witmer or a volunteer demonstrating each movement, along with written cues about how to focus.4 At the bottom of each workout page, a full chart for the month of that workout provides space to record your weights, reps, and check back in with cues. I organized my entire first Offseason into a binder where I also tracked weigh-ins and made notes, although now I’ve taken a more journal-style approach and record most of my workouts in a small notebook. Here’s an example chart, from an early offseason lower body workout.
There are comment sections available at the bottom of each workout page as well, where users are able to leave questions, converse, and where Witmer herself can respond. Participation in the comments section may very depending on the difficulty of the workout, and as the project grows it may be smarter to ask new questions in the Facebook group.
The UAP also encourages all new members to familiarize themselves with Witmer’s “Game To 7”, which involves watching a quick orientation video and exploring the website. Anyone who can work on a university’s digital blackboard or understands Sharepoint should find navigation to be a piece of cake.
The user experience is a simple one with no hidden tricks. I’d consider giving a full 5.0 here if page themes changed style or color depending on the program to help differentiate between workouts. Some color coding might help an athlete make sure she has the right “Upper Day 1” chart for the correct phase, since over the course of the offseason, the printouts can be easily mixed up.
This category was much harder to rate. Especially as someone who has worked with a variety of people looking to change their fitness levels and achieve goals, I know there are a lot of mental blockers that can slow a body down when trying to adapt to a new routine.
If I were to rate my own results, I would say 3.5 for my first club season (2014) after the UAP, 4.0 for my second (2015), and increasing hopes for even better results later this spring (check in with me after tryouts).
I should also share that I have been relatively injury-free since starting with the UAP, save a few small ankle turns and tightness in my hamstrings and quads in-season. For reference, that’s injury-free while starting on offense for a team finishing in the middle of the pack at Regionals in both seasons, with 4 or 5 regular season tournaments.
But are my results an indicator for what yours have been or will be? The completely token and frustratingly true answer is: The Ultimate Athlete Project will give back to you what you put into it.
Witmer could guarantee that anyone completing the workouts on a mostly-accurate schedule will quickly notice improvements on the field, and I can testify that this was true for me in terms of speed and quickness. The issue is getting yourself to commit, and staying committed.
That in itself gets at the whole point of the UAP: for the same cost as an HBONow subscription, athletes will receive a professionally built workout program with excellent guidance, a growing community for support, and a very clear path to improving their ultimate playing-abilities. In short: it’s a small price to pay for a whole lot of value, but paying that monthly fee alone won’t help you get strong or lose weight.
And there’s the rub. There isn’t some magical sideline snack or mantra that will get your hips to turn fast enough and stop an upline cut. It takes work. The UAP just shows you how to do it.
You can win a free year-long subscription to the UAP! Just follow the instructions below to enter. The contest ends on January 12th, so hurry!
Full disclosure, I worked in the fitness industry for almost four years. ↩
Witmer said this was a purposeful choice she made when designing the project. ↩
It can be difficult to work in and around others when moving from rotational push-ups, to a seated row, and then to internal band rotations when those parts of the gym aren’t close by or one doesn’t exist. ↩
The videos always load easily when connected to a gym’s wifi. ↩