Fitness in hockey

September 24, 2023

A field hockey player may be required to run more than five miles in a typical 70-minute game which requires top-level fitness

Fitness in hockey

Thank you very much for your interest and response in the hockey learning series. Many of my hockey friends are urging me to write about styles of plays including different types of defence like press, zone versus man to man, holding the possession, breakaways and counterattacks and some words about set plays. We shall cover all these in the last part of the series.

Once you have perfected your basics and learnt various aspects of the game, you must achieve peak fitness. All successful hockey players have an excellent level of aerobic fitness which enables them to last for the duration of the game. They warm up before every training session or the game and cool down afterwards, and they eat well with good sleep habits to keep themselves at peak fitness.

You may wonder how fit you need to be to play hockey? That depends entirely upon the level of hockey that you aspire to play. To be a good hockey player you should be able to keep up with the pace of the game when on field. Remain on the field, free of injury and fatigue and be available for selection and present a strong case for selection so that you can earn your minutes to go onto the field and show your skills.

Can this all be done by just playing hockey daily? Let’s see what Denise Jennings, the physical preparation coordinator at Victorian Institute of Sport and former elite hockey player, has to say on this topic covering speed, aerobic and anaerobic ability and aspects of agility in hockey.

According to Jennings it’s unlikely that many players in a team are lightning quick over all distances. Some might be very explosive over a distance of 10 meters, whereas others have the ability to accelerate over a long distance and maintain that speed. Both abilities are valuable assets, but the value of each depends on the position you play.

Short, sharp speed is necessary in the midfield when players are looking to break lines in confined spaces, but the strikers and defenders need to be quickest over both short and long distances. Speed in modern hockey is as critical for strikers as stick work and body dodge. Speed is critical for strikers who look to break away from their immediate opponents and for the defenders who need to catch a breakaway forward or get back in cover defence.

To maximise the specificity of training for hockey, at practice you should replicate the distances you cover in the game. The majority of high intensity sprints are performed over distances of 5 to 15 meters. Longer efforts do occur, but they are exceptions rather than the rule. When you are developing the speed, the first two or three steps are critical.

To improve speed, include sprint drills and dynamic stretching. Practice 4 x 20 meter sprints at 100% effort with 1-2 minute between each sprint. This should be followed by 6x10 meter sprints with different start positions with one-minute break between efforts followed by cool-down and stretching.

Strong aerobic fitness is critical for hockey. A strong aerobic fitness allows you to run long distances on astro turf and also maximise your ability to recover between each sprint and helps you to execute your skills with precision in the later stage of a well-fought out game.

To improve your aerobic fitness, carry out training at a constant elevated heart rate within a range of 140 to 160 beats per minute. More experienced and elite athletes will be able to have a better feel for their particular training zone from their own experience and training years.

Fartlek training and interval-based sessions also help in developing aerobic fitness. If you are not interested in world class methods to improve your aerobic fitness, the least you can do is to hold fitness camps in high altitude areas like Abbottabad or Murree and it will help you a great deal. The bottom line is to get out of your comfort zone and match the international fitness standards if you want to play serious competitive hockey. Remember there is no shortcut to success.

Fartlek training is a continuous session, usually running, but it also includes a variety of intensity efforts that replicate those efforts required in the game of hockey. Fartlek training includes agility exercises, circuits, backwards and forward running and skill training. Fartlek training is much more specific to hockey than long, continuous running because it more closely replicates the physical requirements of the game.

Remember that a field hockey player may be required to run more than 5 miles in a typical 70-minute game. Good physical conditioning for hockey emphasises core strength, stabilising muscles in hips, legs and knees; development of torso and scapula of the posterior shoulder.

Ballistic activity and functional flexibility exercises that progress from a slow speed to a fast speed make up the second part of the fitness programme after a dynamic warm up. The ballistic exercises consist of dynamic quick movements of the lower body. There are mostly two types of ballistic exercises recommended.

In the first exercise you carry out straight leg swings across the front of your body, 10 repetitions with each leg. Face a wall, fence or goal cage and place your hands on the object to help your balance. Swing your leg in front and across your body while balancing on the opposite leg.

Then carry out leg swings forward and back. Ten repetitions with each leg. Maintain balance and control of your torso without bending at the waist or moving your head. Swing the leg near the wall forward and back while balancing on your support leg.

Ballistic exercises improve explosive movements and the speed of hockey skills. Because field hockey demands intense explosive and reactive movements of passing and receiving, ball control and dribbling, and tackling, it is very important for hockey players to focus on ballistic exercises.

Later on use the mini band routine with the help of elastic mini-band or surgical tubing around your ankles. Make sure that the band remains taut, stretched to about shoulder width. Do not bring your feet together. Grip your hockey stick and complete the following exercise.

Assume a balanced, defensive stance and move laterally while maintaining your defensive posture. Then carry out a lateral slide for 02 yards and take three power steps forward. This should be followed by a monster walk of 10 yards forward and back. Stay in a slight crouched position and walk with your legs wider than shoulder width apart like a monster. You can add speed skaters and ice skaters by gliding along the turf.

Finish your exercise with standing hip flexor exercise. Perform 10 repetitions with each leg. Place the mini-band around both ankles. Start by lifting the left knee. Rotate the knee to the left side at hip height. Balance on the right powerpoint and repeat with the right knee.

You must add medicine ball training for eight to ten minutes, hip flexor and claws routine, roped medicine ball routine, and plyometric routine in hockey functional training. Remember that whether you are dribbling the hockey ball, changing direction or speed while moving or challenging the ball by tackling, you will need a great deal of body coordination.

Jump rope activities improve agility and plyometric exercises enable a muscle to reach maximum strength in as short a time as possible. Plyometric training consists of jumps, hops, leaps, bounds and skips performed with great speed and intensity over a planned progression.

Now you must have realised that modern hockey is not all about aimless match practices, but a very meticulous training and fitness routine that requires dedication, scientific training and modern coaching, without which there is no way to reach among the top four of the world.

Remember that a poorly conditioned player will perform skills poorly, lack confidence and make bad decisions. Successful performance depends on physical preparation and technical perfection. Whenever possible, include a ball and hockey stick in warm up exercises to incorporate skill training.

I suggest that our players shall compete against Australian, Argentinian and European women hockey teams. This will certainly help them in building their morale, and improve their physical conditions and basics of modern hockey to a great deal.

Fitness in hockey