Wellbeing How to Avoid Injury during Layouts by Fiona Mernagh

Most people learning to play ultimate want to learn to layout, but there are risks and injuries are common. Learning how to avoid injury during layouts will set you up for making plays while protecting your body.

It’s not like a person who bangs their knee all the time when laying out isn’t aware that they have bad form. The problem is people don’t seem to think they need to practice to get better at it. They don’t apply the same learning as they would to get better at a throw! But you can practice it well and I encourage you to do so. I’ve gone into some detail in this video:

Obvious issues

The more obvious layout issues are generally related to mobility and body control, such as:

  • Whiplash (a neck stability issue). We need to be able to bring our head back while in a horizontal position. You will also need thoracic extension from the mid back, without arching the lower back.
  • Grazing your elbows (shoulder mobility, or lack of control). Get your arms up with elbows by ears
  • Banging your knees (hip extension issue). Make sure feet are kicked up behind the body, point your toes.

For all of these, you should be able to move into these positions pain free, since your body will naturally shy away from committing fully to a position that it’s not comfortable in. We want to avoid landing on joints, as we will quickly develop repetitive injury, swelling & reduced range of motion, not to mention pain!

Because these issues are apparent right away, they get more focus, and because the drawback isn’t usually that big – just a skinned knee or elbow – most people just ignore it and don’t really consider changing their form; that’s the bad habit from those examples. But these are subtle reminders that we have work to do in learning to control our body. The more in control we are, the better protected our body will be and the healthier we will remain.


Be sure to protect yourself on landing. This is best achieved through full body tension. When landing, think of landing in the following order:

  1. Wrists, with palms facing forwards
  2. Forearms
  3. Torso
  4. Chest
  5. Thighs
  6. Full body
Fiona with a layout catch at EUC 2015

Fiona with a layout catch for Ireland, EUC 2015. Notice wrists about to hit the ground, closely followed by the forearms, with feet kicked up

Learning on slippery surface / mud / sand is best; it’s more forgiving. Don’t wait for the rock hard ground in summer!

Exercise: full body tension via toes pointed pull ups

Protect the shoulder by landing on the chest

A more subtle bad habit in form from layouts however is landing on the outstretched shoulder. Our shoulders are most vulnerable when overhead, which is what their relative position is when we catch with our arms stretched out or our elbow in line with our head. If we land in a way that the shoulder joint takes the impact first, we put ourselves at high risk for shoulder dislocation. If this is a habit of yours, the probability of injury (not necessarily only a full dislocation but ligament damage or rotator cuff irritation could ensue too) goes up with every bid. As I say in the video, one key goal should be that you finish on your chest no matter what angle you have to make your bid at. Even if you take off awkwardly, you should still aim to land in a controlled way. If you can’t control your body during flight, you are putting your body at risk, and potentially putting others at risk too.

A well-rounded strength & conditioning programme that prepares your body in a variety of conditions – loaded, unloaded, fast, slow – will ensure that you have the best possible chance of avoiding injury.


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