How to save energy: Run harder…

imaxfgngesIt sounds a bit counter-intuitive to say putting in more effort will save energy. But let’s discuss the best way to reduce the amount of running you need to do.

A couple of weeks ago, I watched a player set up on defence after a turn. He was 2 or 3 yards away from the guy he was defending, but since the disc wasn’t in yet he just walked towards him, trying to save energy. The cutter walked towards the stack at the same sort of speed, maintaining the separation.

And then of course the disc was picked up, the cutter ran the length of the field for a score, and the poor, exhausted defender sprinted after him. And still gave up the point.

I guarantee that if that defender had put a little more effort into regaining position properly and early, it would never have happened. Sure, the guy would have cut eventually, but he wasn’t a spectacular cutter and chances are the defender could have done a job without overexerting himself.

By giving him an easy head-start, and by showing him you’re too tired to mark up properly, you encourage him to run you into the ground.

This pattern is repeated all over the pitch, on offence and defence*.

As a cutter on offence, your job is to create separation from your defender and receive a pass. Which is more likely to succeed – one strong cut at 100% effort, or five cuts at 80%? It’s pretty clear that jogging to save energy is a complete waste of time. You might use walking or jogging to deliberately reposition yourself and your defender, but jogging simply because you can’t be bothered to sprint is madness.

You normally beat your defender in the first three yards, so if you can hit that acceleration phase hard your job may be pretty much done. If you don’t beat him, but you at least force him to commit – and you then put in the extra effort to turn as sharply as possible – you’ll get free the other way more effectively. It’s much more effort, much more anaerobic work in the short term, but it’ll reduce the amount of running overall compared to jogging pointlessly around the pitch.

If your whole team does it properly, you’ll have better options, earlier in the stall count, so you’ll score faster (and you won’t have to play D on a turn). You’ll run much less overall. Work hard until the job is done.

On defence, something similar applies. If you can win those first three yards consistently – which you can do with focus and effort and (particularly) positioning – then you won’t have to run 70 yards chasing down a huck, or you won’t have to put a force on (which really is tiring, if you’re doing it properly).

If you’re too lazy to adjust your position rapidly as the disc moves or as the cutter walks around, then you are inviting him to sprint somewhere and setting yourself up for a long chase. And if your posture is lazy – if you break out of an athletic position and stand up on your heels, for example – that’s likely all the encouragement he needs to punish you more. Maybe he’s tired himself, but nothing will give him a second wind faster than a tired-looking defender.

You can discourage proper cuts by maintaining proper position, and by winning the psychological battle. But if the cutter sees you conserving energy, or losing focus, you can guarantee he’s going to look to abuse that. Even when you’re tired, the way to save energy is to maintain position and posture. It’s hard, but it works.

The best way to win, and the best way to save energy, are the same – work harder.

* Of course, this applies most strongly at low or medium levels. In high-level Ultimate, your opponent is going to cut properly even if you do things mostly right, and playing tight defence is no guarantee of an easy life. But if you’re playing in those kind of games, you already know all this stuff. You’d have been cut from the team long ago if you stood on your heels or failed to set up after a turn.
At other levels, there’s no doubt that doing things properly – putting in the effort and focus required to win those first few yards – will save you energy. And it’ll help your team, too. What’s not to like?
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6 Responses to How to save energy: Run harder…

  1. James B says:

    Totally agree with your point about this being the best way to play – but I’d question whether it does actually save calories, prevent muscle fatigue etc.

    Given the modern training techniques heavily favour interval training over steady-state cardio as effective exercise and the purpose of training is to be hard – I would think that the same applies in game (all things being equal). i.e. it’s tougher to sprint, recover, repeat than it is to cruise, even if your recovery does then get to be standing still.

    Still, definitely agree that it’s the better way to play.


    • You’re definitely right that sprinting is harder than a somewhat longer run at steady speed. The problem, though – particularly on defence – is that jogging leads to sprinting. Against most cutters at lowish levels, if you maintain really good position, they simply won’t push you that hard. You take away the danger area, and then when they cut somewhere else you don’t have to commit 100%. But if you jog around with them, slightly out of position, they’ll do something dangerous and you’ll be facing a longer, more committed sprint than you would have had to deal with otherwise.

      If you get the idea in their heads that you’ll always be in the right place, it’s that much harder for them to cut with belief. And the opposite is very definitely true – if your position or posture gives them the belief that they can get free, you’ll be facing a much more serious cut. If you are lazy about setting up your position, you will very definitely be sprinting to catch up when they inevitably cut somewhere dangerous. Much better to get to the right place and discourage any cuts. Like I say, at a decent level against decent opponents, they won’t be too disheartened by good defence – but below that, many cutters will (unconsciously, perhaps) cut less effectively if you make it look difficult.


      • Uph says:

        I read this reply as an interesting insight into those ‘how can we quickly beat this team we’re clearly better than, thereby saving energy over a tournament’ problems.

        Play your starters, run hard and beat them to 3, or play your rookies and jog to a tame 15-10?

        I’ve always had my doubts over the latter, as in my opinion it can adversely affect your team’s confidence in offensive and defensive strategy later in the weekend.


  2. brady747 says:

    Worth noting there is probably a mental battle going on here as well (and that may influence energy levels / physical performance beyond just exerting your will on your opponent).

    “why is this guy always setup so quick on me after the turn?”, etc.



  3. Wrecker says:

    IMHO “Run Harder” is a little off-putting to some of us older players. I’m keen on the hypothesis that removing the initial 3yd advantage early means that I’m less likely to need to sprint the 70yds later… but I find call this “Run Smarter”.
    (Of course, whether the hypothesis is valid will depend on which of us plays the mind-game best – but that’s a different article, about observation and assessment skills)

    On the flip-side, do you have thoughts / plans to write about “the art of not running”? Especially for the offence!


  4. Thanks Wayne. I know what you mean, and ‘run smarter’ is definitely more apt in some situations. I guess I was referring to those times where you’re too tired/lazy to mark up, where a bit more effort would save your legs in the long run. Also, the title would lose it’s eye-catching dissonance if I put ‘smarter’…

    The art of not running? There’s a couple of things that might mean, I guess. Best way I’ve found is to make sure I’m a continuation cutter and it’s some other poor sap’s job to get open on a static disc… 😉 It’s much easier to run smart when your defender is at a positional and informational disadvantage from a moving disc.

    And of course, even when the disc is static, your starting position determines the extent to which your defender has to respect your various cuts, and a really good starting position (perhaps with a little walk into his blind spot) might force him to give you an easy option. If he’s equally threatened by open and break, by long and short, then he’s either got to offer you one or (by trying to stop them all) give them all up. If you’re constantly trying to burn past people who already know where you want to cut, then you’re probably doing something wrong…

    The art of not running, I guess, is to understand position better than your opponent. Or just play dump all day.


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