Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
9 Dec

Ultimate Frisbee

Mark Sisson Playing Ultimate FrisbeeA common mistake people make when completely overhauling their lifestyle is excessive earnestness, none more culpable than the recently converted Primal Blueprint enthusiast. You know it’s true, at least at first. You read about the monumental implications of eating and living the way our Primal ancestors did, see a few before-and-after photos of people on the Primal plan, think about how you could eat all the (good) fat, meat, eggs, and nuts you want if you adopted it, and suddenly you’re cleaning out your fridge and tossing all the pasta, rice, and beans in your cupboards – and you’re doing so with the single-mindedness of a zealot. You roll your eyes at your friends and their bagels; you scoff at the top-heavy frat boy doing a dozen sets of inverted bicep curls at your gym; and you offer passing joggers tips on high intensity beach sprints. But despite your unbridled enthusiasm, something is wrong. You’re so focused on getting “in tune” with your Primal past that it becomes work – just another issue to worry about. And a big goal of the Primal Blueprint is getting away from the trappings and stresses of modern life. When our relationship with our Primal ancestors gets distilled into just a diet and exercise regimen, we’ve lost sight of that ultimate goal. By all means, pay attention to what you’re eating and how you’re exercising. Just don’t forget that the Primal Blueprint is intended to improve your life, not burden it.

A tenet of the PB that doesn’t get, but certainly deserves, a whole lot of attention is the importance of play. Remember when you were a kid and a friend would knock on the door? The question wasn’t “Can Mark come out and engage in some spontaneous freeform cooperative exercises?” It was “Can Mark come out and play?” Play. Everyone loves it. Animals play in the wild. Monkeys frolic in the trees. Dolphins employ at least 317 distinct forms of play with one another. Otters use makeshift water slides. Even children will play outside (if you unplug the Xbox or Playstation). And playing isn’t worthwhile simply for the fun factor (although that’s reason enough to engage in it) – as I’ve said before, playing is about the release of endorphins, the solidification of social bonds, and the mitigation of daily stresses. Most forms of play also provide a spontaneity that even the most freeform exercises can’t quite replicate. Try playing a vigorous game of freeze tag (but be prepared to look absolutely insane to passers-by) and you’ll be surprised at how sore you can get. Or, better yet, play one of my favorites: Ultimate Frisbee.

Ultimate Frisbee

You heard me right. Ultimate Frisbee – AKA Ultimate. No longer solely the realm of cargo short wearing ex-hackysackers nursing a weed hangover, Ultimate is actually a fairly widespread and legitimate sport that fits in perfectly with any Primal regimen.

Ultimate plays very similarly to rugby or football. The field has two end zones, and a team scores by catching a pass in the defensive team’s end zone. The defending team performs a “pull” (think “kickoff” in football) to start the match (and after every subsequent point scored). The offense moves the disc by passing to teammates in any direction. Once a player catches the disc, he must come to a stop as quickly as possible. From this position, he can only move his non-pivot foot. A player has ten seconds to throw the disc after catching it.

The disc changes hands either by turnover or after a score. A turnover occurs when a pass is not completed, intercepted, dropped, blocked, held for longer than the allotted ten seconds, or thrown out of bounds. The defending team assumes control of the disc immediately following a turnover, from wherever the disc lands on the field. There is no stoppage of play (unless a foul, injury or bad weather occurs).

Ultimate Frisbee Field

Ultimate is very Primal friendly. First off, you’re out there running, leaping, twisting, grabbing, throwing, and bumping into other players. You use practically every muscle in the body (if you’re not, you’re doing it wrong) and, rather than long protracted runs, you engage in short bursts of speed and activity punctuated by walking and brief jogging (almost like you’re on the hunt). Not only does it take keen, quick thinking, remarkable agility and throwing accuracy, and raw athleticism, but it also promotes good teamwork and sportsmanship. In fact, Ultimate has an official “Spirit of the Game” (SOTG), a sort of mission statement that stresses sportsmanship and honor. Highly competitive play is condoned, but not at the cost of general camaraderie. Taunting, intentional fouling, and a “win-by-any-means-necessary” approach to the game are generally frowned upon. When you’re playing Ultimate, you’re out there to have a good time and get some exercise, not crush the opposing team (although that can often be a side benefit).

Ultimate Frisbee Foul

It’s this SOTG that really drew me to Ultimate. More than any other sport, playing Ultimate invokes that sense of community and social play that I imagine characterized Grok’s world. When you play Ultimate, you’re working together as a team. You must work as a team. Basketball, football, baseball are all team sports, but they’re all typified by an individualistic attitude (at least at the professional level in the United States). A single player can take over a basketball court and rarely pass to teammates, and his team might still win; in Ultimate, there are standout players, but you simply can’t go it alone, or you’ll never get past the first pass. I somehow think Grok and his community would have loved Ultimate. Sure, they had individual displays of prowess (wrestling, races, dueling), but their individual existences were tied to the success of the collective, and a sport like Ultimate (or something like it – maybe Ultimate Rock or Ultimate Enemy Tribesman’s Skull) would have fortified those bonds.

Or maybe I’m just making fanciful conjectures. Either way, it’s pretty obvious what a positive effect Ultimate has had on me, and I urge you to look into it (if not for historical accuracy, at least in the spirit of Primal pragmatism). Try the World Flying Disc Federation or the Ultimate Players’ Association for more information on rules and leagues.

Of course, you could always just get a disc and a bunch of friends together, head down to the beach or local public field and draw some lines in the sand/grass. Follow the official rules to a tee or fashion your own; the important thing is getting outside in the sun with friends and working up a sweat.

Phish records optional.

Thanks to Eric Cotsen for the photo of me playing Ultimate.

kejadien Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

The Prison Workout

10 Ways to “Get Primal”

Intro to CrossFit


The Sandbag Workout

Build Your Own Slosh Tube

Kettlebellin’ for Strength

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Hi Mark,

    The World Ultimate Club Championships are currently taking place in Prague, Czech Republic. This week long tournament encompasses the best teams from around the world in Mens, Womens, Coed, and Masters (age 33+) divisions. Here’s a link to the site – has some good photos and videos with great Ultimate! I encourage anyone interested in the sport to check it out!

    Blair wrote on July 7th, 2010
  2. I liked the identification of theism with practical considerations, Mark; a breakthrough in religious belief will occur when it is generally accepted that “God” is a personification of “good”.

    Nigel wrote on December 8th, 2010
  3. From a link in the comments, found a local pickup Ultimate game. My 16 year old son joined me. Played over two hours. Oh so sore. Ice on my shoulder and knees as I post this. Probably overdid it, and probably too soon after my December shoulder surgery, but we had an absolute blast. Will definitely be doing this again (assuming I recover from this outing). Highly recommend it.

    Jc wrote on February 19th, 2012
  4. Mark, TWO HANDS! Geez.

    Chema wrote on August 24th, 2012
  5. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for the post and links to the World Flying Disc Revelation and Ultimate Players Assoc. I have a 12 year old boy who is leaving club soccer and is in love with Ultimate Frisbee which he was introduced to in middle school this year. We’re in Boulder County and I’m looking for options for him to play so I’ll check the ones you gave. (You probably wouldn’t remember, but I’m the Jill that was living with Andrew (Mac) during the Triathletes for Kids days. Michelle got me to your website last year and now taking your vitamins). Thank you for the knowledge and info you give to your followers!

    Jill wrote on June 11th, 2014
  6. what is the recommended times a week of play? I sprint once a week, lift twice a week, walk (normal pace for 20 mins a day) six times a week. Should i play once or twice a week, do you think that is enough?

    Hunter wrote on May 25th, 2015

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