Back Squat Strength Levels For Ultimate Frisbee

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For an Ultimate player, being able to complete 3 to 4 sets of 3 to 4 reps at around 1.5 times bodyweight is as strong as you probably need to be.

The culture of performance training for Ultimate has completely shifted in the last 10 years. Back then, few knew what a hi-bar back squat was and even less could do one properly. Now, many players are hitting the gym on their Starting Strength 5×5 program.

For most Ultimate players who started back squatting or deadlifting the last 10 years, it was their first exposure to barbell strength training. It was exciting, new, and has great potential to improve performance and reduce injury risk.

For athletes of other sports, barbell training was their daily bread since their early teens.

Although Ultimate is late to the strength game, it has the advantage of being a late adopter and learning from the past 50+ years of strength training.

Ultimate athletes are in gyms lifting barbells for a couple of reasons – increase general physical preparedness(GPP) and build strength that translates onto the field as improvement in acceleration, speed, change of direction, and jumping ability.

When you need to accelerate or change direction, you must put large forces into the ground to move your bodyweight. If your strength level is low, re-directing your bodyweight will take a large percentage of your available strength. This means that your movement will have to be slow. If you train and become stronger without getting any heavier, your bodyweight will be a smaller percentage of your top strength, so you will be able to move faster.

Getting stronger will give you greater force production. This is obvious but “stronger” is a pretty aimless metric. You are spending a precious resource of Training Time in the gym and should have clear strength goals. Once you reach those goals, then moving on to advanced training (i.e. velocity-based training, deceleration eccentrics, stiffness training) would give you greater improvement in your athletic abilities.

One of the most common metrics of field sports athletes is their back squat ability. It is an often cited metric because it has been found to have a better-than-average correlation with speed over short distances such as 10-40 yds. Note that absolute strength (only considering weight on the bar) does not transfer to speed well, but strength in relation to bodyweight does.

For an Ultimate player, being able to complete 3 to 4 sets of 3 to 4 reps at around 1.5 times bodyweight is as strong as you probably need to be. These are quality reps done in a training session and not slow grinding reps for a max effort test.

This is the metric I use because it matches up with most research and with what many experienced coaches have found to work well in practice. I like to use the loads used in training as the test, rather than a true max test. Leave the 1 or 3 rep max tests for actual strength athletes. If you can complete 3 x 3-4 at 1.5 times bodyweight, then your actual max will be more like 1.75-1.8 x bodyweight, and this puts you right in the range of a highly trained athlete.

Even though the research and experienced coaches have found this metric to be significant, I would guess many of you might be questioning if this level is even necessary for Ultimate.

One of the first possible skeptics would be an elite player. If you are already the best of the best, and you are not this strong, then its easy to think strength clearly does not matter for your performance.

However, there are a lot of variables involved in being explosive & fast. Strength, or how much absolute force you can produce is one of them. How FAST you can produce that force – rate of force production – is another. Many elite athletes are gifted with an ability to express force very fast, so even though they may not be that strong, they can access what they have fast and powerfully. The ability to generate force quickly is trainable but a large component of it is genetics.

If you are a top player and your strength levels are low, bringing them up would be a clear path to gaining an edge on other top players. It’s a big bang-for-your-buck way to improve.

Another skeptic would be an average-to-good player trying to emulate the training patterns of an elite player. It’s the same problem as above. It’s thinking you don’t need strength because a particular elite player doesn’t need it. In reality, if you aren’t elite, more than likely you didn’t receive the same genetic gifts. You need to maximize what you have and building your strength is fully in your control.

The most difficult case is the person who does want to get strong and spends time going to a gym but is dancing around what they need to do – the latest exercise they saw on youtube, some inconsistent strength training here and there. This approach won’t deliver real results that transfer to the field. If that person could just commit and focus on strength training, they would see measurable improvement as their strength vs bodyweight ratio starts going up and up!

“Would even more strength than 2x Bodyweight be even better??”

Possibly, but not much. A couple of problems crop up if you chase even higher numbers.

For one, it’s actually how quickly one can produce high force that transfers to speed. Lifting more weight overall does not improve that as much as specific training to move what you can already lift faster.

Secondly, getting your squat higher than suggested will start to require a lot more training time and workload – basically, you need to start training like a dedicated strength athlete, and your time, energy, and recovery as an Ultimate player will be forced to decrease. Risk of injury goes higher also.

And lastly, this quantity of heavy squatting will force the body to adapt in ways to make heavy squatting more efficient. This proves detrimental to on-field performance, such as more stiffness, less ability to move laterally, and possibly an increase in bodyweight that may cancel any improvements in speed.