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Position Specific Conditioning for Field Hockey

Position Specific Conditioning for Field Hockey

In this article I will be explaining how to make your conditioning training more position-specific, based on the physical demands of the position on the hockey pitch. 

If you have played multiple positions, you will have recognised that each position has different physical requirements. This is because they have unique tactical roles to play, and this manifests itself in the type of running and changes of direction required. 

An example of this is the difference between centre backs and forwards. Ihsan et al. (2021) recorded positional differences between the playing lines in international men's hockey. Defenders typically achieve more total distance and high-intensity decelerations, whereas forwards typically perform higher volumes of high speed running (>15km/h) and perform a greater number of high-intensity actions. 

They also found that total running distances reduced every quarter, with high speed running distances remaining fairly consistent throughout the game, when comparing each quarter. Unsurprisingly, there are greater running demands in international when compared with national level hockey performance (Jennings et al., 2012).

So how can you make your training position specific and related to your needs? Here are some ways in which you can do this, based on the various hockey positions. I have not gone into extra detail about more specific positions such as ‘screens’, as the research isn’t available yet to provide any meaningful insights.

One small caveat before diving into this is that this doesn’t take into account individual needs. Even though there are some broad positional requirements, it’s also important to ensure that your programme is tailored to your needs as well. 

Goalkeepers

The needs of a goalkeeper are clearly very different from that of an outfield player. 

Not only do goalkeepers need to be agile, reactive and explosive, you also need to be able to repeat these high intensity actions over the course of a game. 

Conditioning for a hockey goalkeeper should incorporate shorter, more explosive efforts. Goalkeepers may have long periods without much requirement for work, but when you are required it is often at high intensity. 

The following session is designed to enhance your ability to perform explosive actions and recover with reduced rest periods in between. This increases your ability to repeat high intensity efforts, such as blocks and moving off the line quickly. 

Example session 

  • Watt Bike repeat sprint efforts

  • Perform a max effort sprint for 5 seconds on a watt bike

  • Recover by peddling slowly for 30 seconds 

  • Repeat another 5-6 efforts 

  • Rest 4 minutes between sets

  • Perform 2-3 sets in total 

Centre backs

Given that defenders often stay on the pitch for the longest of any outfield position, you accumulate the most total distance (Ihsan et al., 2021). This doesn’t mean that you achieve the most sprint distance, however. The speeds achieved are often a little lower, but more ground is covered throughout the game. 

Arguably, one approach to this is to focus on longer aerobic intervals to accumulate greater running volumes. This focuses on more ‘central’ adaptations such as the efficiency of the heart and lungs to deliver oxygen, which increases aerobic capacity. 

N.B. to learn more about calculating your maximal aerobic speed (MAS), check out my article on this here. 

Example session 

Long aerobic intervals 

Run for 3 minutes at 90% of your maximal aerobic speed (MAS)

Recover by walking slowly for 3 minutes

Repeat another 5-6 efforts 

Half backs

Half backs can often perform a lot of high speed running due to the tactical requirements of the role. You may find yourself performing a series of high intensity sprint efforts too, based on the context of the game you’re playing. 

One approach to the conditioning of a half back is to focus on shorter aerobic intervals which enhance the ability to recover between high intensity efforts. 

Example session 

  • Short aerobic intervals 

  • Run for 30 seconds at 110-115% of your maximal aerobic speed (MAS)

  • Recover by walking slowly for 15 seconds

  • Repeat another 8-10 reps

  • Rest 3 minutes between sets

  • Perform 3-4 sets in total 

Midfielders

Midfielders often perform the highest amount of high-speed running distance, which is sometimes recorded as speeds above 5m/s (18kph). This differs depending on the GPS software used but is a good ballpark. A pitch length (91.4m) at this speed would take you just over 18 seconds, so it’s a good speed. 

So the challenge for a midfielder is to be physically prepared for a high volume of high-speed running distance. This is often interspersed with short periods of recovery too, so there is a very high aerobic requirement for midfielders. 

One running conditioning session that can enable you to achieve this is a short aerobic interval session with a 1:1 work to rest ratio. 

N.B. to learn more about calculating your maximal aerobic speed (MAS), check out my article on this here

Example session 

  • Short aerobic intervals 

  • Run for 15 seconds at 115-120% of your maximal aerobic speed (MAS)

  • Recover by walking slowly for 15 seconds

  • Repeat another 10-12 reps

  • Rest 3 minutes between sets

  • Perform 3 sets in total 

Forwards

Forwards often perform the highest amount of relative high-intensity actions (Ihsan et al., 2021). This means that per minute played, you are often working at the highest intensity. This is because you’re often involved in leading the press and covering defensively during opposition outletting. Attacking wise, you often perform a lot of sprints to get into advantageous positions for goal scoring opportunities. 

A key physical attribute is maximal sprint speed in order to beat defenders and create separation. This is also multi-directional in nature, and so shuttle sprints are a great way to improve your ability to not only accelerate but also decelerate and change direction at high speed. 

Example session 

  • 20m shuttle sprints

  • Perform a max effort shuttle sprint over a 20m distance (40m total)

  • Recover for 60 seconds between efforts to keep the quality high

  • Repeat another 5-6 efforts 

  • Rest 4 minutes between sets

  • Perform 2-3 sets in total

Summary

I hope that this has provided you with some ideas for how you can make your conditioning more positionally relevant to you. These sessions are by no means definitive, and there are many reasons why all positions would do all of the sessions listed above. 

To make it more specific to you individually, try to perform assessments such as the 16 pitch lengths test and maximal sprint speed test. This will enable you to enhance your programme even more. 

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

Henry

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