Ultimate Frisbee Activation: How to Warm up for Ultimate Frisbee

How can we get a huge benefit from a few minutes of warm-up?


by Vancouver Physiotherapist Travis Dodds

How to Warm up for Ultimate Frisbee
Warming up

Warming up for sport has changed dramatically in the past couple of decades. Spurred on by ground-breaking programs such as FIFA 11+ in soccer, and the FMS study in NFL football, athlete health professionals are beginning to focus more on how to prevent injury, improve functional movement and fuel long term performance.

Ultimate is characterized by a very wide distribution of injuries. They may be acute/traumatic due to collision with the ground, other athletes, or even the disc. Even more injuries are chronic due to the imbalances inherent to the sport such as pivoting from a dominant leg/throwing arm, not to mention the sheer volume of running, jumping and cutting at high speed!
Functional movement refers to an individual’s capacity for complex, full-body movements, such as a squat, toe touch, back bend, full body rotation or single leg balance. When these fundamental movements are in great condition, we can develop skill, strength and speed and strive for peak performance. The problem is, repetitive activities and sustained postures tend to lead us to develop imbalances that can impair our fundamental movements. From this moment on, our capacity for truly reaching full physical potential will be limited.
With that said, we set out to answer the question –
“What is the best way to warm up for ultimate frisbee!?”
The answer – well it depends what you’re trying to achieve. If all you want to do is increase your heart rate, then run around in a big circle and throw the disc a few times. Boom, done! Ok but that’s not what we’re here for.

This warm-up is designed with three purposes in mind:

1) To help prevent injuries by developing mobility, stability, balance and strength for the whole body. Especially the core, hips, shoulder girdle, anterior chain, posterior chain, hamstring, knee, calf, foot and ankle (let’s stick with the whole body).
2) To help athletes improve their capacity for functional movement. Move better. Improve range of movement, quality of movement, and maintain it for life.
3) To activate or warm up key muscle groups and movement patterns that will enhance on-field performance. Fundamental athletic movement patterns that don’t receive enough training are especially the squat and deadlift, which are featured prominently.

If you haven’t tried it yet, here it is!

Ok cool. Now, how should I sequence my warm-up?


Prior to this activation sequence…

Athletes should complete any individualized rehab or prehab exercises, and spend a bit of time rolling or releasing tight muscles in areas that affect their movement. In an ideal world, athletes might access physiotherapy for an annual head-to-toe assessment that would identify and systematically correct their specific limitations. Perhaps the most widely known method for such an assessment is the SFMA (Selective Functional Movement Screen), so if you’re interested in that I would suggest finding a practitioner who has taken the time to study it and routinely incorporates it into their clinical practice.
Just before the activation sequence, the coach or captain might say a couple words and also suggest a “functional movement challenge of the day”
The challenge could be any particular movement, balance position or low-impact skill that you can evaluate for quality and a clear definition of functional or dysfunctional (pass/fail). For example, stand with one foot off the ground, arms crossed to touch the opposite shoulder, and close your eyes for 10 seconds without altering your posture.

How to perform the activation sequence…

Quality of movement is the most important thing here. Go at a pace you can control. Oh, and one thing I love about this sequence, you can vary the number of reps so if you need to get ready quickly, 2-3 reps will be done in 3-5 minutes. 5 reps will take about 10 minutes, and if you’re planning for a light practice with an increased fitness and recovery emphasis, try 10 reps or go through the sequence twice.

When to do the activation sequence…

This activation sequence is ideal prior to on-field training and competition, as well as strength and conditioning workouts. It can also be a nice recovery stretch on days when you’re not training, to help you continue to break down imbalances and improve your capacity for functional movement.

What to do after activation…

For on-field training and competition, it should be followed by field dynamics that emphasize fast footwork and progress to explosive sprinting and jumping. Fast dynamics include high knees, butt-kicks, shuffle step, carioca, sprint starts, backpedals. Jumping can include various styles of jumps such as single leg stick landings and broad jumps. I like to challenge athletes to land four of five single leg stick landings, and to compete to see who can jump the furthest with three broad jumps.
Once you’re done with this, you can begin your skill warm-up (throwing/cutting drills etc.)

How do I know if I am doing it right?

Sadly, you might not! While learning the warm-up, do not under-estimate the complexity and precision required to execute these movements to the best of your ability. After years of teaching movement skills and exercises, I can assure you that most people who think they’re doing it perfectly could actually benefit from further assessment and coaching. Not to mention that professionals themselves are continually learning, and advances in best-practice methods are significant in this relatively new field of research and practice.
I have the following tips:
1) Movements should be pain free at all times. Pushing through pain leads to abnormal movement patterns. Abnormal movement patterns are inefficient by definition, and usually lead to decreased performance and injury. Pain is a signal to you that something isn’t functioning well – listen to your body and do what you can to learn from it. While in some cases, rest may help, if pain always returns when activity increases you need to do more to understand the cause of the pain!
2) Breathing is critical – comfortable breathing is often your best indicator of the quality of your movement. If you notice breathing becomes more difficult, back off on your range of movement a bit, and work on the breathing itself – comfortable, deep breaths with slow exhales will help you to develop strength in your core and diaphragm, and with time your movement should improve.
3) Whenever possible get access to good coaching on your movement quality. A well trained physiotherapist or kinesiologist with significant expertise in sport and fitness conditioning can be a great help. But a video that a friend shoots of you can also give you great feedback! Do what’s right for you.

I’m a keener, tell me why these exercises?

There are many great exercises out there. The exercises I have chosen are based on an understanding of the injury patterns associated with the sport through my on-field experience and what I can glean from published literature on the sport. But beyond this, they’re designed to help multi-sport athletes as many athletes at both high-performance and recreational levels participate in other activities too (in fact, it’s a principle of long term athlete development that young athletes should not specialize in one sport too early).
If you want to know more, refer back to the three purposes this warm-up is designed to achieve. Reducing injury rates, improving functional movement, and activating key movement patterns that are critical to immediate and long-term performance.
My hope is that the efforts of progressive coaches, strength trainers, therapists, physios, chiros, doctors etc. will continue to progress and build upon what we know now. But more importantly, that we begin to better implement the best available resources that are already known. Don’t warm up like it’s the 1900′s!

This blows my mind… what else can you tell me about reaching my potential?

Well, if you haven’t already read Reach Your Potential, that’s where I’d suggest you start. It’s about the big picture of how you move toward reaching your physical potential, so if you look closely it will tell you where you need to focus.
Good luck, and please comment, share etc!

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About Travis Dodds

Travis is a registered physiotherapist in Vancouver, British Columbia. He splits his time three ways – working in the clinic, working onsite with teams and events, and working independently for professional development and producing resources such as this website! Travis’ goal is to provide the best available service to his clients. He is passionate about helping clients achieve great results in rehab, prehab, functional movement and performance.
InSync Physiotherapy is a multi-award winning health clinic helping you in Sports Injuries, Physiotherapy, Exercise Rehabilitation, Massage Therapy, Acupuncture & IMS.