It’s a commonly discussed topic in Ultimate, “I want to be faster”, “This person needs to develop speed”, “They’re damaging because they’re quick”. These comments will almost always lead to the question: How do you improve sprint ability for Ultimate?
The easy answer is: improve your strength, your power, and your technique. That’s it. In three simple words, you’re now a faster athlete! If only it were so easy. Sprinting in itself is a skill to develop, just like throwing and catching there are multiple components that makes an individual proficient. Some people are able to rely heavily on a genetic predisposition and an abundance of Type IIa and Type IIx muscle fibres, but for the rest of us improving speed is an arduous (and often boring I admit) task that won’t happen overnight.
Rather than beginning by discussing the finer points of technical sprinting, I think it’s important to understand the different aspects of running, sprinting, and Ultimate specific speed so that you can accurately determine where your strengths lie and what areas may need more focus.
Your ability to change speed as quickly as possible. I believe the most applicable aspect for Ultimate is acceleration. It will aid on-field performance by enabling you to increase the separation between you and your defender or decrease the separation between you and the player you are guarding, in a short space of time. Generally, I would be looking at work between 0m and 30m when doing acceleration based sessions.
In my mind, I see this as what people will often refer to as closing speed when discussing on-field running. We often see it; a disc has gone up and the receiver appears to have it easily caught until somehow out of nowhere a player catches up and makes the intercept. If you can improve your top speed, all of a sudden you will be a bigger deep threat, you’ll be able to effectively execute help D more regularly, and you’ll be a dangerous player no matter where the disc is. For top speed sessions, I would usually be looking at work over distances of 50m – 120m.
When people think about building a base level fitness or improving that base level, sometimes there’s the thought that 2km and 3km sessions working at about 65-70% intensity will do this for you. I believe that for a sport like Ultimate, your base level fitness can come in the shape of intense lactic sessions. One of my favourite (and most hated to complete!) track sessions is 400m, 300m, 200m, 100m with 3-minute recovery between each run. That’s it. Four sprints and you’re done. If you are running these at above 85% intensity, that 200m should feel like you’re carrying around 100kg of concrete in your legs. I like this session because not only is it still incorporating speed work but you’re challenging your ability to buffer lactic which is vital in long points. Repeat Sprint Ability The other facet I like to incorporate in trainings is repeat sprint ability. Ultimate clearly requires repeat maximal effort sprints that generally can cover anywhere from a few metres up to 70m. I like to generally construct these sessions over 60m so that not only are you working on your repeat ability, you are working on it over close to the longest distance you would cut. As a result, with consistent training, you would be able to maintain high speed cuts on-field for greater distance which means you are still presenting options deep and under that will give you larger up-field gains.
There’s definitely a lot more to improving your overall speed on the Ultimate field and identifying which aspect you should work on can be tricky with a lot of these areas being interconnected. If you have a season though where you block out a section of your training and work on these different areas, you should find yourself being an even bigger threat on-field.