How to Safely Return to Training in the Gym or on the Field

The coronavirus pandemic has kept us away from the gym for almost three months. Many of us have also had our seasons truncated or outright cancelled. With an extended period of detraining behind us and a potentially long training timeline in front of us, there are many questions about how to best return to the gym both effectively and safely.

Below, we address how to safely return to the gym — or playing ultimate, for those able to do so!

I’ve been going crazy. Can I get back into my old training regimen?

Not right away.

The most pressing concern for returning to training is injury risk. The risk of sustaining an injury is heightened after an extended lapse, both on the field and in the weight room. Most non-contact injuries are sustained during periods where athletes are transitioning back into training following a period of inactivity.

We recommend that you come back by using a 2-4 week ramp up before re-entering a periodized program again.

This ramp up will be based on The FIT Rule, which controls frequency, intensity-relative-volume (IRV), and time of rest interval.

Frequency

Frequency should begin with only two weight training sessions in the first and possibly second week back, progressing to three times a week. If muscle soreness dissipates within 48 hours after the end of the weight training session, then higher training frequency may be included.

Intensity Relative Volume

The formula for IRV is (Sets * Reps * %1RM expressed as a decimal). Basically, this controls for both how many reps you’re doing and how difficult they are.

IRVs of greater than 30 are not recommended in the two weeks following a period of inactivity.

So don’t do 10 sets of 10 reps at 60% of your one-rep max your first week back.

Rest

It is recommended that all weight training activity uses a 1:4 or greater work to rest (W:R) ratio during week one and a 1:3 or greater W:R during week 2.

Have I lost all my strength?

As always, developing functional strength is one of the best safeguards against injury, which leads to the above question.

Short answer: No, but it depends.

Brief detraining periods result in only small decreases to strength, but longer periods of inactivity (including a lack of in-season training) result in much larger strength losses. Additionally, if you engaged in a program that emphasized muscular endurance (think “100 air squat challenge”), your maximal strength may very well have gone down more than had you just done nothing. High rep, glycolytic work has the potential to move your adaptation in a completely different direction. Your body will adapt to what you ask it to do.

So what do I do to get strong again?

This all depends on your experience level.

If you are a beginner in the weight room, start with an empty bar for a couple of sets and do a set of five reps. You’ll want to be incredibly deliberate about maintaining full body tension. Lack of tension is one of the riskiest errors when under the bar. We use the cue “fake the weight” — pretend the bar is far heavier than it is.

Overloading the bar too quickly is one of the best ways to lengthen your hiatus from the gym. Once you have done a few sets with just the bar, you’ll want to perform some positionally challenging versions of the heavy lifts — things like deficit deadlifts and pause squats — that really force you to brace in a challenging position and naturally limit the amount of weight you can load onto the bar. We’ve adjusted the tempos and loads of our squats and deadlifts in our Return to Lifting Program to emphasize control over weight.

For experienced lifters, your strength is very persistent. You are almost certainly able, even after a three month layoff, to work up to your 85% or even 90% of your 1RM weight. Don’t do that. You will be able to finish the set, but you will not recover in the way you’re accustomed to. You will be sore for three, four, maybe even five days. The last thing you want to do is risk injury or extend your time away from the gym.

So in your first workout back, the one where you “rip the scab off,” you’re going to leave a lot of weight off the bar. It’s ok!

Let’s say you can normally squat or deadlift 225 for three sets of five. First day back, I think I’d probably go up to 135, maybe 145, maybe 155. And just do one set of 5. The second workout, at least 48 hours later, come in and do 145, 155, or 165 for three sets of five. For the third workout, go to 175, 185, or 195. Again, these are percentage based recommendation based on an ability to do 225×5, so our percentages here are all below 85% of this capability, or 75% of 1RM.

In week 2, we can repeat this rep scheme.

In the following two week block, we’ll work between 75%-85%. The chart below includes an additional 2-week block for a total of six weeks (this recommendation, however, is based on a return to play after rhabdomyolysis, a serious injury requiring much more recovery.

How should I get back to conditioning?

Relative to what we normally do as ultimate athletes, we are all almost certainly significantly deconditioned. We can apply the FIT rule to conditioning as well, and use an easy-to-remember 50/30/20/10 pattern to return to conditioning.

That is, the conditioning volume for the first week would be initially reduced by at least 50% of the uppermost conditioning volume on file, and by 30, 20, and 10% in the following three weeks, respectively, with a 1:4 or greater work:rest ratio (W:R) in the first week, and a 1:3 W:R or greater in the second week.

So, don’t just try to jump back into your usual routine: ease back in over a period of four weeks.

The chart below gives a nice summary of many different types of activities and the recommended strategies for return to training. Right now, our season is as far away as it has ever been, but there is still a great reason to build an aerobic base. We’ll be releasing more content on the best strategies to do this as the season approaches, but for now a few things to focus on are endurance, work capacity in accessory strength movements, breathing, and heart rate variability.

How about speed and agility work?

The real question surrounding speed and agility work is not what exactly to return to, but when to return to it. In general, ultimate players experience tremendous volume during their playing season, which means we normally would be very selective with the speed and agility work we prescribe. With the season cancelled or, in some cases, severely reduced in duration, we’ll want to adjust volume up gradually for two reasons: building specific work capacity and adapting to eccentric force production.

If you’ve been doing home workouts only, you’ve probably sacrificed complexity of movements and reactivity. The increase in volume will have to come after a gradual ramp up, just like our conditioning with the same the 50/30/20/10 rule.

For these workouts, we want to think about foot strikes. The ramp up workouts should be about 120–140 foot contacts for in-season athletes, and plyometric workouts in the first two weeks should not exceed 70-foot contacts in week one and 100 in week two, according to the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

Linear First, then Agility

Once linear sprints can be performed without increased muscle soreness and the athlete is able to perform them at their previous training volumes, then agility and change of direction drills can be added.

To start, focusing on simple repeat sprints is a great way to both increase your work capacity and keep the technique demands relatively simple.

After about two weeks of linear speed work, you can start to think about adding change of direction. Be sure your deceleration drills increase intensity gradually. This can be done with percentage effort and drill selection. The 5-10-5 is short and doesn’t get to full speed; flying 10s involve gentle deceleration. (Each 5-10-5 is about 16 footstrikes; a flying 10 is about 20).

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If you’re looking for a program to help you get back to the gym and training safely and effectively, check out a Breakside Strength and Conditioning membership starting at just $10 a month.

Getting Creative with Your Workouts During Quarantine

If you’re like me, you are really sick of not being able to go to the gym.

I’ve always been a gym workout person. I prefer a gym session to most other workout options except maybe playing ultimate (or disc golf, if that counts as a workout). So being blocked from the gym has been a real bummer.

Even though I have plenty of training implements at home to get workouts in, at some point, I just want to do some squats and deadlifts with a barbell.

But we have to face the fact that we may not have gym access for a few more weeks or even months. So let’s push beyond the basics and talk about some ways to optimize workouts without getting bored. Continue reading “Getting Creative with Your Workouts During Quarantine”

Can’t Get to the Gym because of Coronavirus? Here are some Workout Ideas

If you’re on a Breakside Strength and Conditioning program, you know that having access to at least a moderately well-equipped gym is strongly encouraged. There are simply no good long-term substitutes for barbells.

But you won’t always be able to get to the gym. That’s true right now, as the coronavirus pandemic closes down college and university gyms and even going to available, open gyms may be too risky given the proximity to other people at a time when social distancing is a must.

It’s worth noting that you cannot contract coronavirus from sweat, only through respiratory droplets or by touching your eyes, nose, or mouth after contact with a contaminated surface. Of course, there are many potentially contaminated surfaces in a gym — like barbells, dumbbells, and benches — so, if you do go to a gym, be sure to wipe down equipment with disinfecting wipes before and after use, and wash your hands regularly while avoiding contact with your face.

But if you can’t or don’t want to go the gym, here are some ideas for at-home or outdoor workouts you can do to keep yourself in ultimate shape. Continue reading “Can’t Get to the Gym because of Coronavirus? Here are some Workout Ideas”

The Right Way To Warm Up Before Games

Warmups. Some players hate them, most – at best – tolerate them, and many teams do them suboptimally, if not outright incorrectly.

If you’ve been playing for a few years and have been on multiple teams, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that variability between warmup protocols across (and even within) teams is enormous. What explains this variety? As a sport, shouldn’t we have nailed down exactly which are the best activities to perform before playing? Who’s in charge here?

Perhaps warmups are inherently frustrating because they are so misunderstood and misapplied. This article is here to shed some light on the topic and provide a framework for priority, order of operations, and desired result. Continue reading “The Right Way To Warm Up Before Games”

What’s The Best Way To Recover From A Tournament Day?

Welcome to Breakside Strength & Conditioning's 'Research Review' series. We look at the latest scientific research on human performance and offer practical advice for training, competition, nutrition, and more.

One of the biggest challenges facing most ultimate frisbee athletes is the grueling nature of tournament play. The most important games are played in the most fatigued conditions.

As a result, optimizing recovery after each day of competition is vital to maximizing performance later in the tournament.

Ultimate players employ a variety of techniques to recover -- cooldown activity, stretching, and cold water immersion (commonly 'ice baths') are especially popular -- but what is actually the best way to enhance recovery, especially with the knowledge that exercise will begin again in less than 18 hours?

Recent research provides some potential answers.

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Why College Ultimate Teams Should Follow A Strength & Conditioning Plan

Club sports fairs, first tryouts, fresh-faced freshmen: the pillars of fall college ultimate have already started to get built for the 2019-2020 season.

Many teams are just beginning to think about teaching the basics of throwing a forehand or setting a vertical stack. But it’s also time to start thinking about your plan for strength and conditioning training for the season.

Letting everyone do their own thing often means that some people slack off and others train ineffectively. It can be hard to keep everyone on the same page and maximize the effectiveness of their time in the gym, at the track, or on the field.

Here are some reasons to get a team-wide strength and conditioning plan. Continue reading “Why College Ultimate Teams Should Follow A Strength & Conditioning Plan”

How Much Weight Should I Be Lifting?

One of the first questions that you will be wondering when you start on a Breakside S&C program is, “How much weight should I be lifting?”

Well, it depends.

Let’s take a moment to zoom out and understand a basic concept of human performance. When we train -- whether by lifting weights, doing pushups, running sprints, or doing any other physical activity -- we are trying to put a sufficient stress on our body that it reacts and adjusts to be ready for that stimulus again.

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The Top Three Ultimate Training Myths

As the athleticism in ultimate has continued to expand, more players than ever are adding off-field training to their repertoire. That’s a great development for the sport: a proper strength and conditioning program will develop speed, explosiveness, power, and resistance to injury. However, there are still some stubborn misconceptions about optimal training for ultimate. Let’s break them down.

1. Lifting weights will make me bulky and slow.

I’m glad to say that this myth is a lot less prevalent now than it was a few years ago, but there are still a lot of players who avoid the weight room because of this idea. It couldn’t be further from the truth.

While it is possible for a poorly designed weight training protocol (like a bodybuilding program designed to build mass) to hurt on-field performance, any program that focuses on developing strength, speed, and power is going to have huge benefits for expressing athleticism.

Most ultimate players (including many elite ones!) are leaving a lot on the table by not developing the engines (muscles) that drive performance. Improving the ability to put force into the ground — which is what sport-focused resistance and speed training is designed to do — is how you get faster, more agile, and more explosive.

Don’t fear the barbell! Starting on a program at Breakside Strength & Conditioning will give you a protocol for workouts no matter your level of experience. Continue reading “The Top Three Ultimate Training Myths”

The 3 Planes of Movement and Why They Matter

The first several chapters of any training certification textbook are filled with rather basic (baseline) science. Lever types, muscle anatomy, and cellular biology all receive an overview, seemingly just to check off boxes that the certifying agency has deemed necessary. It’s commonly acknowledged among coaches is that while this knowledge is certainly necessary, it isn’t always front-of-mind when coaching. Strength and conditioning coach Martin Rooney routinely jokes at coaching seminars “who remembers the Krebs cycle?” A question which almost always receives a combination groan/laugh from coaches he’s addressing (some nervously hiding the fact that they’ve forgotten entirely what the Krebs cycle is). The frequency with which this knowledge is referenced, doesn’t make it any less important, but the gap between the foundational necessity and the applied usefulness of this information is not.

One of the core concepts that is typically contained in this chapter is “planes of movement”. This concept is typically illustrated by a drawing of a faceless outline of a person who is bisected by 3 planes. It’s a simple enough image that almost anyone would gloss over the adjoining paragraph thinking “ok I get that, let’s get to the real stuff”. However, these planes are a great framework for designing workouts, cueing movements and improving agility.

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How I Discovered The Importance of Strength Training

I’ve always been an athlete. I started playing basketball when I was five or six years old in my local YMCA league. I played through junior varsity in high school, when I got sick of the coaching staff and quit. I started running track and playing football (for two years) in middle school, and I even tried wrestling (hated it).

Eventually, I started playing ultimate with my friends during free periods and after lunch. First, we played with an aerobie before getting a Wham-O. We entered a local tournament in Albuquerque the summer before my junior year of high school — we were just a ragtag bunch, but we had a lot of fun and met Jerry, who wanted to be our coach. We started a high school team that upcoming spring.

In many ways, I feel like a pretty typical ultimate player. Played middle and high school sports, but never really stood out. Discovered ultimate and loved it. Started playing more and more ultimate, especially in college.

One thing that was never much a part of my sports participation until many years later was strength training. I did plenty of sprint work in track and field, and I was lucky to be naturally fast. I was the fastest 8th grader in Albuquerque in the 100 meter dash.

My high school had what was, looking back, a really nice weight room. Along with the usual machines and racks, it had Olympic lifting platforms, boxes for jumping, and a scary-looking monster lifter of a coach who was the sweetest guy on campus.

There were specified gym days for track, but I was never really that into it. I think I was intimidated by the lifts, and I also grew up at a time when people thought that if you lifted weights as a young teenager that you would stunt your growth (super false).

I started getting more serious about lifting as a junior in college. I was abroad in Argentina that year, and we had plenty of time to get to the gym. I just went with my buddies from the ultimate team (there were three of us in Buenos Aires) and we bopped around doing a lot of bench press and not many squats. I also went to a boxing gym where I couldn’t understand anyone’s street spanish and I learned what an actually hard workout was.

Back in New York as a captain at NYU, I was lifting more and more. I had read Tim Ferriss’ book “A Four Hour Body,” which has a chapter about getting really strong by just deadlifting and bench pressing with box jumps and plyo pushups as assistance exercises. So, that’s what I did! Pretty unsophisticated, but, honestly, you could do a lot worse, especially considering that we were playing a lot and doing a lot of sprinting and conditioning at practices and team workouts.

Still, though, I didn’t really know what I was doing.

Continue reading “How I Discovered The Importance of Strength Training”