When running a team conditioning session, there are a number of challenges that you will likely encounter. In this article, I am going to be giving you some simple ways that you can navigate these, to make your life simpler.
As a club, it is likely that you will already be doing team fitness sessions. Some of the problems you may have faced include individualisation, specificity and variety. These are the three problems that I will address, to help you complete your conditioning sessions in a simple, impactful way.
All things can be placed on a continuum, from ‘optimise’ to ‘satisfise’. Things that are important often need to be highly optimised. This might include the quality of your work or purchasing the best quality food that you can. Things that are less important can just satisfise, meaning satisfying a basic requirement. This may be just buying any type of pencil because it really isn’t that important.
When it comes to team conditioning sessions, ideally you want to optimise this process. This is because if you don’t, then you run the risk of stretching the less fit players too far, and not providing enough stretch for fitter players. For example, if everyone had to do the same conditioning format, volume and intensity, this would not be optimised.
The first step is to perform an assessment to determine your team’s level of fitness. Most clubs do not have the resources to perform a ‘gold standard’ assessment such as a 30-15 intermittent fitness test. This is due to a lack of resources, time and expertise. Instead, a simple time trial test can be a fantastic way to determine ‘maximal aerobic speed’ (MAS). This is the lowest speed at which VO2 max occurs, and is related to the total sprint distances achieved in running-based sports.
The 16 pitch lengths test can be a simple, reliable measure of this. Players start on the baseline of a hockey pitch and proceed to complete 16 lengths of a hockey pitch (1462m/1600yd) as quickly as possible. Given that it is an average speed taken over this distance, the key is to avoid sprinting at the start, as players will burn out fast by adopting this strategy.
The time it takes to complete this distance can then be used to calculate each players’ MAS score. For example, the following calculation would be used if a player completed the test in 6 minutes.
1462m ÷ 360 seconds = 4.06m/s
This speed is the player’s MAS score, and can be used to calculate individual distances or times, depending on the type of session you plan on completing. If you have a team of 20 players, you can now prescribe 20 different target times or distances when completing the sessions.
For example, if you were completing a classical 15 seconds on, 15 seconds off MAS conditioning session at 110% MAS, the player in the example would aim to achieve 67m (4.06m/s x 15 seconds x 110%). To provide a visual target, a cone would be placed on 67m so that you and the player can see clearly what the target is.
There are two approaches that can be used when completing team conditioning sessions. One is time-based, with distance targets (as above). The other is distance-based with time targets.
The player in the example completing pitch length intervals at 110% MAS would have a 20-second target to aim for (91.4m ÷ ((4.06m/s x 110%)).
As you can see from the above examples, it is much easier to keep track of players' targets when providing distances to aim for. This is because you can visually see how close each player is to the cone. On the flip side, when players are completing sessions by themselves it is often easier for them to have set distances to complete, with a target time.
N.B. to further optimise individualisation, ideally, targets would be based on a player’s anaerobic speed reserve (ASR). This is the difference between a player’s maximal sprint speed and their maximal aerobic speed. However for most teams this is either too complicated, or beyond their resources. If you are interested in learning more, please get in touch!
The next challenge facing teams is ensuring that sessions are specific to the demands of hockey. Given that hockey is an intermittent, repeat sprint based sport it requires certain key principles around conditioning sessions.
Firstly, sessions need to challenge player’s aerobic capabilities through high intensity work. Given that hockey provides a lot of low intensity running, the conditioning sessions should complement this by providing a greater level of intensity. Long distance running (particularly during the season) is probably not the best use of training time, as it is not providing any appreciable aerobic demand beyond that which the sport does.
Secondly, try to base the majority of the conditioning sessions on MAS as was explained in the previous point. This ensures that the intensity is high enough to stimulate physiological adaptation. There are two types of conditioning sessions that can be based on this - long and short duration intervals. Long duration means anything between 2-5 minutes, and short duration typically means 10-30 seconds in duration. There is a lot of evidence that longer duration intervals contribute more greatly to improvements in MAS.
The final point is that in order to make training specific, it should mimic the movement demands and nature of the sport. Conditioning sessions can be placed on a continuum from ‘general’ to ‘specific’. Very general sessions would be low intensity, linear and high volume. Very specific sessions would be high intensity, multi-directional and low volume. Therefore, including changes in direction at high speed will make the sessions more specific to the demands of hockey.
The last problem in relation to conditioning can be the need for variety. This is important not only to keep players engaged, but also to continue providing overload. Below are a range of conditioning ideas that will help to keep switching up the session intensity and format:
Session 1 - 3 minutes on, 3 minutes off
- Purpose: Increase aerobic capacity
- Format: Run for 3 minutes in a straight line, or on a hockey pitch
- Running speed: 90% of MAS score e.g. 718m target if your MAS score is 4.43m/s
- Volume: Perform 4 to 6 sets with 3 minutes rest between sets
Session 2 - 2 minutes on, 2 minutes off
- Purpose: Increase aerobic capacity
- Format: Run for 2 minutes in a straight line, or on a hockey pitch
- Running speed: 95% of MAS score e.g. 505m target if your MAS score is 4.43m/s
- Volume: Perform 5 to 8 sets with 2 minutes rest between sets
Session 3 - 1 minute on, 30 seconds off
- Purpose: Increase anaerobic capacity
- Format: Run for 1 minute in a straight line, or on a hockey pitch
- Running speed: 100% of MAS score e.g. 266m target if your MAS score is 4.43m/s
- Volume: Perform 4 to 6 sets with 30 seconds between reps and 3 minutes rest between sets
Session 4 - 30 seconds on, 10 minutes off
- Purpose: Increase lactate buffering capacity
- Format: Run maximally for 30 seconds in a straight line or on a hockey pitch
- Running speed: 100% best effort for 30 seconds (all out!) - this might look like 2 pitch lengths or 200m
- Volume: Perform 3 or 4 sets with 10 minutes rest between sets
Session 5 - 15 seconds on, 15 seconds off
- Purpose: Increase aerobic power
- Format: Run for 15 seconds in a straight line or as a shuttle sprint
- Running speed: 115% of MAS score e.g. 76m target (¾ pitch length) if your MAS score is 4.43m/s
- Volume: Perform 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps with 3 minutes rest between sets
Session 6 - 30 seconds on, 15 seconds off
- Purpose: Increase aerobic capacity
- Format: Run for 30 seconds in a straight line, or as a shuttle sprint
- Running speed: 105% of MAS score e.g. 140m target (1.5 pitch lengths) if your MAS score is 4.43m/s
- Volume: Perform 2-3 sets of 6-8 reps with 3 minutes rest between sets
Session 7 - 5 seconds on, 25 seconds off
- Purpose: Increase anaerobic power and repeatability
- Format: Sprint for 5 seconds in a straight line, or as a short shuttle sprint
- Running speed: 100% effort (all out!)
- Volume: Perform 2-3 sets of 6-8 reps with 5 minutes rest between sets
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