Tuesday Tips: How To Run An Effective Pod Workout, Presented By Spin Ultimate

Find out what it takes to run a great supplemental workout for your team.

FWD>>. Photo: H.P. Zerlauth — zerpixelt.com

Many ultimate players would love to compete or practice every single day with an entire squad, but almost all of us face real-life time constraints. Instead, ultimate teams turn to pod workouts. 

When teams can’t meet up often, they often splits off into sections called pods1 to work on skills, fitness, and build camaraderie. While it may be more convenient to have athletes working out or practicing skills on their own outside of normal practices, the benefits of a pod workout are much more important and pronounced.

But what are pod workouts really? And what’s the best way to run one? 

Knowing the answers to these questions will help you get your team invested outside of formal practice, build important skills in small groups, and save you from running workouts ineffectively.

What Is A Pod Workout?

A pod workout is a small group workout run with two to ten teammates (any more and it starts to feel like a full practice), usually arranged logistically by location.

It’s a miniature version of practice, focusing on high intensity reps of ultimate-simulated fitness and throwing, rather than large set piece concepts. Pods can also save time and make it more likely that workouts will be accomplished.

Pod workouts actually make it more likely that athletes will be working out because getting together with a small group of teammates is fun and in many cases it’s easier to hold each other accountable than working alone. And while these workouts may not have the specific muscle-building focus of a weight room, they can be linked to disc skills and can be built to include high intensity simulations that are valuable for ultimate training. They can also build chemistry and camaraderie. 

Thee benefits consistent pod workouts include:

  • Accountability
  • Team chemistry
  • Team bonding
  • Improved disc skills, as linked to your team’s systems
  • Working on individual deficit areas (weak throws) 
  • Using team principles (handler motion, style of offense, style of defense)

How Do I Run A Pod Workout?

Star by considering the limitations of a pod (and the reason that they often can’t become full practices) and then find the best ways to efficiently overcome these drawbacks.

Here are the challenges and factors to be aware of when guiding your planning:

  • Number of participants
  • Time
  • Space and location 

Let’s examine each of these. 

Number Of Participants 

All ultimate teams face the challenge of making sure that people actually show up for pod workouts (or any scheduled team activity).

Ultimate doesn’t have a massive talent pool. Many teams struggle to recruit just enough to be viable, but even the most established or talented clubs will be challenged to field consistent numbers of participants every night of the week. The reality is that people have lives outside of ultimate and need to find the right balance to be successful with this.

So then, the main problem is equally simple: how do I practice with only a few people?

The biggest benefit from a pod workout is you can make improvements with just two people. Three to five is better for flexibility in drills and simulations. Any number ranging from six to ten allows for mini or other games, which is very good, but also changes the outlook of the workout as it can become something more akin to a full practice.

Think realistically about what you can accomplish with two or three people. 

This size is a great opportunity to work on throwing. There are dozens of drills and simulations you can run with two people, but you have to push past the basics of throwing. Pick a dedicated program or write down specific focuses from either your team leadership or yourselves. Examples include: throwing to space, throwing without pivoting, throwing to a stationary target,  attacking high discs in the air, and throwing to under cuts. 

 Fitness will always be tied to the size of your group. This is both good and bad. You can get a good workout in from all the running that a few people will have to do in various drills or exercises. But be aware of the opposite: you’ll get tired quickly.

Emphasize short, rapid work with scheduled breaks moving between different activities.

Time

Your second concern should be time available. If players are already committing to practicing and working out each week for the team, it is unlikely they’ll be able to commit to a full two hours of a small group workout.

Therefore, you have to maximize your time efficiently.

The best way to do this is to combine your efforts. Pod workouts are good for two main areas: fitness and individual skills. If you can, link the two. Aim for an hour of work. Run throwing drills that also require movements needed in game or use your rest period between intense exercises as stationary throwing.

Even more than a practice, a pod has to be run with precision. Set a start time and then do not wait more than a few minutes for late-arriving participants. Instead, build in a comprehensive warm up that you can go through while your teammates are coming from work.

Here’s a tip: If possible, make your opening section of your pod with things individuals can do on their own. For example, start by running through agility ladder patterns or serpentine cone cutting. If someone arrives late, that person can warm up while others complete these drills. Then you’ll have a larger group for disc skills or fitness and those tardy players can find another time to do the individual features.

Have definite start and end times, have a clear agenda, and have scheduled rest periods. A good pod runs about an hour, with time at the end left for fun mini games, more throwing, or catch-up for late-arrivers. Team leadership should have input on your agenda (if they do not dictate it) and having repetitive pattern makes it easy for everyone to get into the routine quickly without wasting time explaining. Use email to send out agenda and explain as much as you can before the pod.

Remember pods are quick, short, and small. 

Space and Location

The last two challenges to a pod are linked: space and location.

Pods are useful because they don’t require the same number of people as a full practice, but finding the right space to hold a productive pod for a small, organized group can be difficult. 

Search to find a central location to a specific group and find a good amount of space to play —about half an ultimate field. 

Tip: Use Google Maps or something similar to pin all player locations. Then divide into pods by area (usually this equates to three to four pods per team) and find a location for each to workout based on the central space. Public parks are honestly the best bet, but you may have to compete for space with other sports or programs, especially in the nice weather.

Claim your space, ideally  by reserving it with the park district. If you can’t secure a reservation, arrive early and use cones to mark off areas, or talking to the local users will help.

Maximize your space by programming fitness poritions that don’t require much more than the space of a living room or a backyard. Pod are a good time to focus on agility, footwork, quick bursts of speed similar to what might be used for handler cuts, handler defense, or initiating cuts. 

For throwing, work on speed, accuracy, and consistency. For exercises, focus on body weight (or small equipment like kettlebell or jump rope) and cardio-builders. Short shuttle sprints simulating ultimate can be brutally effective. Many times modifying drills for space and for speed can equally turn into great stuff for pod. Or explore online and see what other ultimate teams are doing or have done in the past.

It’s not going to be the perfect scenario, but pod workouts can usually stake enough space to be effective.

A few notes on fitness: understand the movements you’re adding to a workout before performing them. Use YouTube or other resources to learn workouts and why they’re useful. Be careful with new movements and make sure to program ample recovery time.

Sample Pod

A good pod agenda might look like this:

  1. 6:45 start
  2. 6:45- 7:00 warm up
  3. 7:00-7:15 agility ladder and serpentine cutting
  4. Water break
  5. 7:15- 7:30 interval exercises
  6. Water break
  7. 7:30-7:45 focused throwing program
  8. Water break
  9. 7:45- 8:00 cardio shuttle sprints
  10. 8:00 end, with time after to stretch, do more throwing, or individual work

Recommendations

Overall, pod workouts are great ways to bond with the team, build chemistry, work on individual skills, and improve fitness in a way that is very similar to ultimate. Here are some summaries of important recommendations to use when running a pod workout:

  • Combine fitness with throwing whenever possible
  • Emphasize only a few things per pod workout (more than three is not recommended)
  • Set an agenda (recommended to use leadership’s guiding principles or practice work)
  • Stick to the agenda
  • Start on time
  • Build individual activities into the first quarter of the workout to allow others to jump in later
  • Build a routine (don’t change the pod workout every week, keep some things similar) to speed time and ease
  • Have a central location always picked out
  • Have a set pod scheduled for the same group at the same time each week (just like practice)
  • Reserve or claim your space

A Final Note

Simulate ultimate whenever you can in your drills and fitness. Do things that are realistic to ultimate. In ultimate, for example, you’ll never do a dancing cut of 5-5-5-5 shuttles. Nor will you do 80 yard sprints in-game. Think about when you get tired during ultimate and build around that.

With these tips and tricks, you’ll not only know how to run a pod workout, but you’ll be running the best one around.

 


  1. The term comes from point of distribution: a small self-contained unit that can support the whole 

  1. Alex Rummelhart

    Alex "UBER" Rummelhart is an Ultiworld reporter. He majored in English at the University of Iowa, where he played and captained IHUC. He lives and teaches in Chicago, Illinois, and has played for Haymaker, Chicago Club, and Machine. He currently plays for Chicago Wildfire. Alex loves writing of all types, especially telling interesting and engaging stories. He is the author of the novel The Ultimate Outsider, one of the first fictional works ever written about ultimate.

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