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Tuesday Tips: Five Cross-Training Options for Ultimate’s Downtime

Mix it up over the next few months.

Tuesday Tips are presented by Spin Ultimate; all opinions are those of the author. Please support the brands that make Ultiworld possible and shop at Spin Ultimate! 

Ultimate, for the time being, is off the table.

Instead, ultimate athletes turn their eyes to other competitive pursuits, everything from disc golf to Settlers of Catan (who are we kidding, Settlers was always on there).

But, for many of us, ultimate is also about the athletic experience in a competitive environment. There is something extremely satisfying about pushing yourself and your body to its limit, while matched up against opponents.

Unfortunately, many sports — not just ultimate — are affected by the current conditions. There are, however, several activities that will benefit your body, satisfy your competitive urge, and help you in your long-term ultimate game — and you can do them safely amidst social distancing restrictions.

Why not select a new temporary hobby that will also make you a better ultimate player? Why not stay active and maybe learn something new? Who doesn’t want to work on an ultimate weakness while developing a new skill? 

Let’s then embark on a choose-your-own adventure for your new hobby, complete with the pros and cons of what this brings to the table in ultimate.

Here are five cross-training activities that will make you better at ultimate.

1. The Solo Cardio Sports

Let’s get these out of the way right off the bat, both because they’re obvious and because they’re slightly less fun than some other options.

Your purest physical pursuits are the triathlon of activities: biking, running, and swimming.

This is also where you throw in your HIIT workouts, cardio classes, and any other intense physical exercise done with minimal interference. 

These have several benefits: notably, they can be done totally alone, they are very straightforward often requiring little to no equipment, and they are very linear. In other words, the more work you put into them, the more output you usually see out of them.

If you are a person who wants to simply be in better shape, these may be the ones for you!

These are especially strong activities to improve your overall endurance for future seasons. They’ll give you a great baseline of support, usually prevent injuries as long as you don’t go too overboard (especially pounding the pavement), and keep you in strong shape.

You pick up one or more of these three and you’ll probably be much stronger over the course of a tournament and season, ready to play more points, and have the legs to go the long ones against the best of your opponents.

That said, there are of course downsides. The biggest is that these tend to be less fun for a lot of ultimate players and more work. On top of that, endurance sports don’t have direct translation to ultimate performance. 

You can always use bike work, swimming, or running in a more cardio-intense, shorter burst way, but to be fully sustainable, this will also likely require more ultimate specific training.

Still, if you’re looking to stay in shape, these are great options. Go try to improve that mile time, work on mastering a certain swim stroke, or explore your local area on a bike.

If you’re looking to be more ultimate specific and less general, try incorporating some explosive body-weight workouts in with your general exercise. 

Otherwise, continue on.

2. The Net Sports

Net sports can provide benefits in jumping, agility, and cardio if done right.

Want to do something fun while also improving your marking ability? Check out shuffling volleyball drills.

Want to work on your ability to react quickly for the layout block? Get your Spikeball game on.

Want to have the cardio quickness to guard the best handler on the pitch? Go toe-to-toe with a tennis ball cannon.

Overall, net sports are extremely underrated cross-training that most ultimate players don’t pursue. 

The biggest disadvantage is, of course, the need for the net (and sometimes the racket). However, there are many individual drills and practice routines that these sports offer online. Dip your toes into the world of other sport drills for a new (and often fun) challenge that will also give you better quickness on your feet or hops in the air.

If you’re tired of doing the same agility ladder for ultimate, then mix it up with some volleyball work, even if it just is between you and your significant other. 

3. The Flexibility and Balance Sports

One great advantage of this category is the solo nature of it, as well as the fact that flexibility is almost always an area of concern for ultimate players.

Raise your hand if you are extremely flexible and happy with your stretching routines! Put your hands down, you liars. 

You can always do better at stretching. Ultimate players, with the late arrival in our nature, tend to dislike warmups and stretching in general. Dynamic stretching routines are grand, but why not cut to the chase and pick up a hobby that can dramatically increase both strength and flexibility?

Yoga is the most obvious, and what’s great about yoga is that there are literally thousands of videos and classes currently being run online either for cheap or for free. A weekly yoga (or biweekly or tri weekly) experience can be a great one, especially if you occasionally incorporate weights for strength or uptempo moves for cardio.

RELATED: What is Your Yoga Style, According to Your Personality Type and Mental Goals?

However, don’t discount other flexibility pursuits. Taking up dance or other dance-related fitness classes can be just as productive and challenging as yoga, but with occasionally more flair and fun (and cardio). Likewise for full-body balance activities like ballroom dancing, Zumba, WERQ, or even martial arts (provided they are done safely with a teacher).

On the safety front, gymnastics or other more intense flexibility activities can probably give you huge benefits on your ultimate game, but you do need to be careful about joint injuries and ideally do these with a coach.

Overall, improving your flexibility will lead to fewer injuries, better ability to break a mark, quicker hands and feet on defense, and an improved extension on those big grabs.

4. Disc Sports (and Games)

Of course, hobbies and cross-training relating to throwing a frisbee are also excellent choices. These may provide slightly less cardio or physical improvements, but can give you a better ability to rip hucks or slice breaks.

Disc golf is a great one to consider, but keep in mind there are also many differences in the throwing mechanics and equipment.

Likewise, freestyle disc and other disc trick work will make you a better thrower, provided you can make the translation to what’s practical in an ultimate game (Rowan McDonnell can do it).

Other less formalized or intense disc games can be equally fun and provide benefits to throwing and catching. This is your time to play lots of double-disc court, KanJam, cups and sticks, etc.

Ultimate players love games, so take the time to (safely) participate in as many as you can.

5. Board or Blade Sports

Perhaps some of the most fun sports are those where you get an assist to your movement. Nothing beats the thrill of skiing or snowboarding, the excitement of skateboarding or roller blading, or the joy of ice skating when you have mastered the skill.

These sports have big downsides in terms of what is needed: often a few major pieces of equipment and unfortunately often a specific location or weather. They also carry with them the risk of injury.

However, there are many benefits. First off, they are incredibly fun (obviously), but they also can improve your balance (great for speed on your feet in marking or cutting), strengthen leg muscles (get ready to sky people), and even strengthen your cardio (especially if you do the non-downhill variety, such as cross-country skiing, roller blading, or speed skating).

There can be a barrier here, as many of these aren’t the easiest to learn. However, there is no time like the present!

If you’ve always wanted to learn how to skateboard or snowboard, this may be your year. Start saving up for equipment you might need, find or invest in someone to teach you, and take your shot. You will not only feel good about mastering a new, very fun skill, but you can also rest easy knowing it is also helping your body be ready for when ultimate returns.

* * *

There you have it. So many activities to choose from, and in this case, you honestly do have the time (you know you do!). Think about what you want to improve in ultimate, try a few out, and keep that body strong.

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  1. Alex Rummelhart
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    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, where he has played for several ultimate teams, including the Chicago Wildfire and Chicago Machine. 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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