Can You Get Fit Playing Ultimate Frisbee?

Ultimate Frisbee

Invented by a group of high school students in the late 1960’s, ultimate Frisbee — or simply “ultimate” — can be seen everywhere from sunny college campuses of Southern California to the liberal arts havens of New England.

The athletic skills involved in ultimate, in addition to the endurance and throwing and catching skills, include agility speed, coordination and rapid transitions from offense to defense and back again. It is undoubtedly a serious sport featuring impressive levels of athleticism, but does participation yield cardiovascular and metabolic responses that would meet current guidelines for improving and maintaining cardiorespiratory fitness?

ACE enlisted the help of Lance Dalleck, Ph.D., and his team of researchers in Recreation, Exercise and Sport Science Department at Western State Colorado University to find out.

The Study

Researchers recruited 16 healthy and physically active young adults between 18 and 25 of age. Day 1 of the study consisted of the collection of each person’s physical and physiological measures, as well as measurement of resting metabolic rate and a maximal graded exercise test. Day 2 (which took place two to 20 days after Day 1) consisted of an assessment of the cardiovascular and metabolic responses to an ultimate Frisbee match using a calorimetric measurement system, a heart-rate monitor and a GPS unit to record distance traveled.

Study participants played a series of eight ultimate matches, lasting 40 minutes each. Each participant has his or her cardiovascular and metabolic responses assessed during one half of the match, and the results were then extrapolated to account for a full match. In addition, peak blood pressure was measured in all participants at the end of the match and then every 30 minutes for 90 minutes post-exercise.

Ultimate Frisbee

The Results

The main finding of this study is that participation is an ultimate match elicits cardiovascular and metabolic responses in young adults that fulfill exercise intensity guidelines for improving and maintaining cardiorespiratory fitness. These guidelines state that individuals should accumulate 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise on five days each week or 25 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise three days each week, or a combination of the two.

Mean exercise intensity of the study participants was 65.3 percent of the heart-rate reserve, 61.2 percent VO2 reserve and 9.5 metabolic equivalents. These values are in line with moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercise about that seen with running at 5 miles per hour. Combine that with an overall energy expenditure of approximately 477kcal per match and it is clear that ultimate is an ideal exercise modality to meet a target of 400 kilocalories burned through exercise each day.

Ultimate Frisbee

The Bottom Line

One of the most commonly overlooked elements of a fitness program that drives long-term adherence is the fun factor, and ultimate certainly provides more that its fair share of fun. Health and fitness professionals and their clients would benefit from the promotion of fitness through play that prevents boredom and elicits meaningful physiological response in terms of heart rate and energy expenditure — and ultimate Frisbee hits the mark on all counts. Dr. Dalleck reports that the study participants were surprised by the fact that they burned an average of 477 calories during a 40-minutes match, which is a great sign that they were enjoying themselves while working work.

Emily Harbourne was a previous editor for Campus Rec Magazine.

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