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9 Key Components of a Hockey Strength Programme

Hockey has a wide range of physical requirements, but here are 9 key ones to include in your strength training programme.

These strength and conditioning components are the central pillars around which you can build an effective strength training programme, as they help you physically prepare for hockey. Not only can strength training increase speed, agility and endurance (Sharma et al., 2018), but it can also reduce the risk of injury. This is because it helps to increase your physical capabilities relative to the demands of hockey. This means that we can both produce and tolerate higher levels of force, which reduces the relative stress experienced by our tissues such as during high-speed turns.

Disclaimer: the prescriptions in this article are not individualised and are highly general in nature. Please ensure that you have been coached through these movements by a qualified strength and conditioning coach before attempting them. If you are a youth athlete, please only complete these during direct supervision from a professional.

Thoracic mobility

Your upper back needs to move through flexion and rotation in semi-flexed positions. Without sufficient range of motion in the thoracic spine, you will experience greater relative stress per cross-sectional area and may place undue strain on other tissues and structures. Imagine for a second that you didn’t have any rotational range of motion in the upper back - how would this impact your ability to pass and shoot?

You can improve your thoracic mobility through soft tissue work, and mobility exercises. Some excellent options are as follows:

  1. Childs pose

  2. T-rotations

  3. Side lying 90/90 sweeps

  4. Spiderman rotations

  5. Seated rotations

  6. Wall lat stretches

Complete 5-10 minutes of these exercises, spending around 30 seconds on each at a time. You can incorporate hip mobility exercises into this circuit too, aiming to do this before every strength training session or pitch session/match.

Hip mobility

Your hips require large ranges of motion in order to get into deep positions of hip flexion during tackles and passes, as well as contests for the ball. Without good hip range, you may place greater stress on your lower back, which is a common injury in hockey (Murtaugh, 2002). Your hips need to be able to produce large ranges of flexion and extension, whilst also being able to abduct and adduct during lateral movements.

Some great exercises to improve hip range of motion are:

  1. Half kneeling quad/hip stretch

  2. Spiderman

  3. Lunges

  4. Squat holds

  5. Downward dog

  6. Lateral lunges

  7. Adductor mobilisations

  8. Curtsey lunges

  9. Hip internal rotations/wipers

Complete 5-10 minutes of these exercises, spending around 30 seconds on each at a time. You can incorporate thoracic mobility exercises into this circuit too, aiming to do this before every strength training session or pitch session/match.

Bilateral strength

Being able to get into low positions is essentially a hybrid of a squat and a hinge movement pattern. A squat is a more upright movement (knee dominant), whilst a hip hinge is a more flexed position (hip dominant). Being able to load heavily in deep flexion is therefore important from a range of motion, force expression and injury prevention perspective.



If you struggle to squat effectively, you are likely to put more stress on your lower back, whilst also reducing the speed at which you can get into and out of low positions.

Some excellent squat variations (in order of complexity) are:

  1. Bodyweight box squat

  2. Bodyweight squat

  3. Goblet squat

  4. Back squat

  5. Front squat

  6. Overhead squat

Aim to include one of these in each strength session, and complete 3-4 sets of 5-8 repetitions at 70-85% of your 1RM (or with 2 reps in the tank at the end of the set).

Hip hinge

One of the most common injuries in field hockey are lower back strains. This is because a large amount of time is spent in forward flexion, placing great stress on the lumbar spine and surrounding tissues. Being able to hip hinge enables you to get into safe and effective shapes, whilst mitigating injury risk. It is also a fundamental movement, meaning that it forms the basis of many key sporting movements.



Some excellent hip hinge variations (in order of complexity) are:

  1. Bodyweight hip hinge

  2. Dumbbell romanian deadlift

  3. Barbell romanian deadlift

  4. Barbell deadlift

  5. Barbell split stance romanian deadlift

  6. Barbell single leg romanian deadlift

Aim to include one of these in each strength session, completing 3-4 sets of 5-8 repetitions at 70-85% of your 1RM (or with 2 reps in the tank at the end of the set).

Unilateral strength

The majority of time on the field is spent in unilateral positions, such as lunging, tackling, passing and changing direction. Being strong on one leg means that you are less likely to get into ineffective positions, reducing injury risk and asymmetry between limbs. Asymmetry means having a stronger side, and if this is large enough it can increase the risk of injury to the weaker limb. This can happen if you always train bilaterally (such as squatting), as you may favour a limb and pick a movement strategy to compensate for this as a byproduct.

Some excellent progressions for unilateral movements include:



  1. Split squats

  2. Forward lunges

  3. Reverse lunges

  4. Front foot elevated split squats

  5. Rear foot elevated split squats

  6. Single leg squats/pistol squats

Aim to complete one of these in each strength training session, and complete 3-4 sets of 5-8 repetitions per side, at around 70-80% of your 1RM (or with 2 reps in the tank at the end of the set).

Upper body strength

Although the lower body is key, the upper body is what enables you to transfer forces from the ground, through the lower body, trunk and finally into the stick to produce powerful passes and shots. If you don’t train the upper body, it will be the weak link in the kinetic chain.

The upper body can be split into ‘push’ and ‘pull’ movements, both vertically and horizontally.

  1. Horizontal pushing movements include pushups, dumbbell presses and the bench press.

  2. Vertical pushing movements include shoulder presses, military presses and the push press.

  3. Horizontal pulling movements include bent over rows, single arm rows and pendlay rows.

  4. Vertical pulling movements include lat pulldowns, chinups and pullups.

Aim to include 2 out of these 4 categories in each strength training session, and complete 2-4 sets of 5-10 repetitions at 70-80% of your 1RM.

Hamstring capacity

The hamstrings undergo a great deal of work due to the low positions of flexion, combined with decelerations and changes of direction experienced in hockey.

The following exercises (performed at high volumes) help to develop robustness of these tissues to reduce injury risk:

  1. Single leg bridges

  2. Hamstring curls

  3. Swiss ball curls

  4. Hip hinges

  5. Nordic curls (advanced - only 5-8 repetitions)

Aim to complete one of these per session, completing 2-3 sets of 15-20 repetitions or 20-30 seconds per exercise.

Bonus - complete the single leg bridge test to see how your hamstring endurance stacks up! Aim for at least 25 repetitions (Freckleton et al., 2014).

Calf capacity

The ankle is one of the most commonly injured areas of the body in field hockey (Murtaugh, 2002). Our plantar flexors (gastrocnemius/calf and soleus) act to produce and attenuate forces at the ankle, meaning that they play a vital role in reducing the risk of injury at this joint. The greater their strength and capacity, the more work they can tolerate and the less likely injury will be.

The following are some excellent options for developing the capacity of these tissues:



  1. Single leg calf raises

  2. Seated calf raises

  3. Double leg calf raises

  4. Feet out calf raises

  5. Feet in calf raises

  6. Extensive plyometric variations such as pogos, hops and skips

Aim to complete one of these per session, completing 2-3 sets of 15-20 repetitions or 20-30 seconds per exercise.

Bonus - complete the single leg calf raise test to see how your calf capacity stacks up! Aim for at least 30 repetitions (Herbert-Losier et al., 2017).

Trunk capacity

As has already been highlighted, the lower back is a commonly injured area. Therefore the trunk (the muscles that stabilise the spine), play a key role in offsetting this risk. They also act to stiffen the spine and transmit forces effectively through the kinetic chain. This is key in actions such as passing and shooting.

The trunk can be broken down into four quadrants: anterior, lateral (left), lateral (right) and posterior. Each quadrant plays a key role in transferring forces, whilst also resisting deformation from external forces during running and other key hockey actions.



  1. Anterior trunk exercises include leg lower variations, dead bugs, aleknas, supine holds, crunches and planks.

  2. Lateral trunk exercises include side plank variations, side crunches, lateral holds and lateral loaded flexion exercises.

  3. Posterior trunk exercises include back extensions, hip hinges and prone trunk holds.

Aim to complete a circuit of these exercises, with a ballpark target of 7-10 minutes of continual work or 150-200 total repetitions. Mix up the order and sequence of exercises to keep things challenging and varied.

Summary

Now that you know the 9 key components of an effective hockey strength training programme, you can organise them into several combinations to provide the relevant stimulus that you want (whilst adding variety to the training week!).

Example 1

  1. Hip and thoracic mobility exercises in a 5 minute circuit

  2. Back squat

  3. Romanian deadlift

  4. Split squat

  5. Single leg bridge

  6. Single leg calf raise

  7. Trunk circuit - 7 minutes

Example 2

  1. Hip and thoracic mobility exercises in a 10 minute circuit

  2. Front squat

  3. Barbell split stance romanian deadlift

  4. Reverse lunge

  5. Hamstring curls

  6. Seated calf raises

  7. Trunk circuit - 150 reps

Example 3

  1. Hip and thoracic mobility exercises in a 7 minute circuit

  2. Goblet squat

  3. Hip hinge

  4. Rear foot elevated split squat

  5. Swiss ball curls

  6. Feet out calf raises

  7. Trunk circuit - 10 minutes

This could form the basis of your 3 strength training sessions per week, or you could complete 2 per week and switch up the ones you pick each week. It’s up to you! You can also change the order of the exercises, in order to prioritise certain ones e.g. moving upper body exercises to the first exercise of the session.

If you enjoyed this video and article sign up to my email list where I share weekly insights into training and performance not shared anywhere else!

Comment below to let me know what you think!

Henry

 

References

Freckleton G, Cook J, Pizzari T. The predictive validity of a single leg bridge test for hamstring injuries in Australian Rules Football Players. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2014;48:713-717.

Hébert-Losier K, Wessman C, Alricsson M, Svantesson U. Updated reliability and normative values for the standing heel-rise test in healthy adults. Physiotherapy. 2017 Dec;103(4):446-452. doi: 10.1016/j.physio.2017.03.002. Epub 2017 Mar 21. PMID: 28886865.

Murtaugh K. Injury patterns among female field hockey players. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001 Feb;33(2):201-7. doi: 10.1097/00005768-200102000-00005. PMID: 11224806.

Sharma et al (2018) Effects of 6-Week Sprint-Strength and Agility Training on Body Composition, Cardiovascular, and Physiological Parameters of Male Field Hockey Players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 32. 4. 894–901.

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