The Thrower's Upper Body Workout

So let me preface this article early on by saying that I am not a professional sports science practitioner. These are my personal observations as an avid gym goer and high-level Ultimate player.

In terms of strength & conditioning, Ultimate is only just catching up to other mainstream sports. Athletes are only now starting to realise that getting into the gym is a necessary step to success, both in terms of on-field performance and injury management.

In a sport that involves so much explosive running and jumping, lower body strength must be the priority for Ultimate athletes. But as a whole our sport could be paying more attention to focused upper body strength/mobility. Instead of just trundling around at the gym doing pull-ups and bench press (both of which I love), we should be tailoring the upper body portion of our S&C programs to match the most common throwing motions we execute countless times per game.

There is almost no existing S&C research into throwing a frisbee, so I’ve taken a different approach and applied learnings from two better researched, very similar movements to the forehand and backhand. The first is the pitching motion in baseball which roughly equates to the forehand throw, and the backhand swing in tennis, which equates to well, the backhand throw.

So how do these movements correlate to the forehand/backhand throwing motions?

Baseball pitch

If you look at a couple of more prolific forehand throwers in Ultimate at the moment, Ashlin Joye, Pat Earles and John Nethercutt, all are able to throw with incredible power and accuracy due to increased mobility in their shoulders. Coincidentally (or not) all come from a baseball background before finding Ultimate.

Core. Shoulder. Elbow. Wrist. The shared kinetic chain and desired shoulder mobility are more obvious when both movements are viewed side by side.

It’s important to note the insane speed at which the pitcher’s (and Nethercutt’s) elbow moves. It is able to move in the way, at this speed, due to increased mobility in the shoulder joint, able to rotate further back, in order to whip the elbow forwards at pace.

Can we hope to emulate or train our shoulders to this level of mobility? Research suggests that a lot of this added mobility is gained by pitching as your body develops through childhood and teenage years. But can we work towards improving our shoulder mobility and wrist strength using professional baseball workouts and S&C regimes? Absolutely.

Tennis Backhand Swing

This one is more obvious as to how the movement translates to throwing. Fewer Ultimate players have issues with generate power and range of motion on the backhand, but it is absolutely still worth fortifying your core, shoulder and forearm strength/mobility to ensure that you are getting the most power and energy out of the movement.

Side by side comparison for your viewing pleasure

The movement elements that are important to notice here are predominantly in the core, back and external shoulder rotation of both Djokovic and Mickle.

The Thrower’s Upper Body Workout

The workout will have two elements. Working to increase mobility of the shoulder and to strengthen the individual elements of the movements (core, shoulder, elbow, wrist) at the extremities of each components range of motion.

Frequency: Start with just one session a week at light weight until you feel comfortable with the movements and your shoulders start to feel more stable, then progress to 2 or 3 times a week maximum.

Rep range: For many of these exercises I've suggested using a relatively higher rep range of 12. This allows you to keep the weight light, focus on form, but also tire out the engaged muscles over time.

Disclaimer: If you have any history of shoulder injuries such as dislocations, subluxations, rotator cuff strains or AC joint injuries it is best to consult a medical professional before commencing these exercises. Shoulders are difficult and delicate beasts. These workouts should be implemented slowly, especially if you are new to the gym or strength work. All mobility work should be done with lower-resistance bands and very light weighted cable machines where applicable. As with all things gym, focus on form and getting comfortable with the movement before loading up.

Stretch and Warm Up

Stretching and warming up your body is pivotal for success in these workouts. This is something you can do more regularly, even before games as a part of your warm up routine.

Upper Body Workout #1

Shoulder mobility set

With all shoulder mobility work, aim to keep your elbow stable and not moving, stability and mobility go hand in hand.

Shoulder (some back and chest) strength set

Core strength set

Wrist/forearm strength set

Upper Body Workout #2

Shoulder mobility set

Shoulder (some back and chest) strength set

Core strength set

Wrist/forearm strength set