Are track workouts a waste of time?

This article is based on an excerpt of the upcoming ATX Speed and Strength book, Fast Kids Don’t Train Slow: The ultimate player’s guide to running faster and getting into great shape.

Yes, absolutely. You are wasting your time, energy, health, and talent by running track workouts.

I’m not interested in debating the (limited) merits of 10 x 200-meter track sessions. Most of you run track workouts in order to get in shape for ultimate. Sport science shows that conditioningtraining to play the game without undue fatigue–should resemble the demands of the game. That means swimming a mile every morning will not get a soccer player in shape, for example, because long-distance swimming is endurance conditioning while soccer is burst-and-recover conditioning.

You need burst-and-recover conditioning to play this game. And you probably need far less than you have been led to believe. In order to get in shape for ultimate, you have to know the demands of the game.

How Hard is Nationals-level Mixed?

I went to Club Nationals 2016 to gather data. In nine games of the mixed division, actual disc movement in most points lasted just 60 seconds. (On average, a point lasted over three minutes, including fetching out-of-bounds discs, disputing fouls, and time waiting before the pull.) Whether male or female, a typical handler made seven hard acceleration efforts during a point. Each acceleration was about six yards. Between those efforts, handlers mostly walked or stood still.

Across all 53 games in the mixed division, the average number of points per game was 24. It can be assumed that any one handler played 12 of those points. That means a typical handler in the mixed division needed about 84 six-yard accelerations during a game at Nationals.

How Hard is Semi-Pro?

I also spent 2016 gathering data from the AUDL’s Austin Sol. Across two double-header weekends for the Sol, a typical offensive point lasted 20 seconds. An O-line cutter made three efforts longer than 20 yards during those 20 seconds. Between those efforts, that cutter mostly jogged or walked, except for initial cut steps meant to pull a defender off-balance. That cutter typically played 23 points per game.

In summary, a typical cutter for Sol needed about 69 long sprints in a game.

Take a Moment

What part of TEN 200-meter repeats prepares your body to accelerate 70 or 80 times in a game? How do the roughly 120 steps necessary to run a 200-meter sprint relate to the THREE great steps you need to create separation from your defender? How do 2,000 meters of running upright on a track prepare your body for 500 yards of hard acceleration? How do 15 minutes of running with poor technique relate to nearly two hours of intermittent 20-yard sprints?

You need conditioning to play this game. However, you will not find the right type of conditioning in 200-meter repeats. If you feel out of shape when you play or your feet and shins hurt from track workouts, you have a specificity problem: your conditioning does not match or even resemble the demands of the game.

How Austin ultimate players condition

When Austin-area ultimate players train with me, we focus on becoming faster and getting stronger. I encourage ultimate players to play ultimate in order to get in shape. Mini, 3-v-3, and goaltimate all have their uses during practice sessions. If you must run on your own to get your conditioning because you cannot play two or three times per week, read on.

Long shuttle runs and on-the-minute (OTM) short sprints are the best practice sessions I have found for developing ultimate-specific endurance. Here are two sessions Austin Sol and Texas Showdown are using in 2017:

Shuttle run: Out 20 yards and back, out 30 yards and back, out 40 yards and back, plus one 60 yard sprint out. Five runs with three minutes of rest between runs.

There are seven hard efforts per run, 35 hard efforts per practice session, and 1,200 yards of total running. Each run lasts between 40 and 50 seconds for fast players. Immediately after each rep, players throw & catch, training specific skills while fatigued.

OTM sprints: Out 40 yards and back, five times. Start each sprint at the top of every minute. Three sets with two minutes between sets.

There are 10 hard efforts per run, 30 hard efforts per practice session, and 1,200 yards of total running. Each run lasts between 10 and 13 seconds for fast players. Immediately after each set, players throw & catch, training specific skills while fatigued.

During the season, complete each session once a week and attend two team practices. Your body will learn to accelerate repeatedly with short recovery periods. Your body will adapt to the demands of ultimate.

Early results this year with Austin-area mixed players suggest, if you run faster and more efficiently, you may not need conditioning on top of practices at all…but if you must go run, give up the track workouts. No more 10 x 200-meter sessions. No more 45-minute hill workouts. No more suffering for its own sake. Choose training that looks and feels like the game.

This article was based on an excerpt from the first strength & conditioning book written for ultimate players, ATX Speed and Strength’s Fast Kids Don’t Train Slow: The ultimate player’s guide to running faster and getting into great shape, due August 2017.

To be first to know when it is available, sign up for the Speed & Strength Newsletter.

2 thoughts on “Are track workouts a waste of time?”

    1. Conditioning going outside of the exact sport demands is essential for athletes at a certain level of development — I agree.

      When training age is 1-3 years, I see the greatest conditioning benefits in playing the sport (70-80% of “fitness”) and replicating its demands (15-25% of “fitness”). As training age advances, especially in track, you need different distances to build up different qualities. But we’re no longer talking about athletes feeling out of shape to play. We’re talking about athletes maintaining 97% instead of 96% of their capacity in long races.

      Most of the ultimate players I see are still making big improvements in speed and power. So we choose specific conditioning in very small doses.

      A few whom I’ve coached for years don’t do any event-specific conditioning at all. We find player-specific weaknesses — ability to accelerate maximally repeatedly or ability to maintain posture at 60+ seconds of movement or marking well on tired legs — and I think that’s what you are suggesting.

      And I completely agree…for athletically “mature” players.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *