Steady State v Interval Training - Which is Best for Hockey Fitness and Performance?
5 minutes
Henry Davies

Field hockey is an intermittent team sport, characterised by high intensity, repeat sprint actions (Spencer et al., 2004).

On face value, it seems to be obvious that intervals would be better suited to hockey. And yet, players all around the world are using steady state training in pre season to get themselves ready. So, let’s work out which is going to be better suited to you as a hockey player.

Firstly, it’s important to recognise the key training principles: progressive overload, individualisation, and specificity. These are our guiding principles that help us to navigate questions like these. The methods that we pick are only effective if they meet these core principles, as they are what drive adaptation and results.

Progressive overload means gradually increasing the demand placed on an athlete, above their habitual level (e.g. going from 2 sets to 3 sets from one week to the next).

To progress conditioning sessions, we can increase the volume, intensity, and density. Or we can decrease the rest periods. This can be done fairly easily with both methods of training, but intervals allow much more flexibility. Steady state training needs to be long by design, in order to achieve its aim. This is tricky if your hockey volume is picking up too.

We can build out progressive training blocks that increase in their demand much more easily with intervals than with long, steady state work. Primarily this is because we can break down the session into multiple sets. We can then progress from longer intervals to shorter intervals, all whilst managing loads on a weekly basis.

Winner: Interval training

Individualisation means matching a training programme to the unique needs of the person (based on physical capability, injury history, and goals amongst other factors). When you don’t use a baseline assessment, you don’t get adequate individualisation of running sessions (Clarke et al. 2016).

In other words, without beginning with an objective measure, conditioning sessions can be too easy, or too hard. Some players might be working relatively harder than others in a team session too.

Very often, steady state training is not based on an assessment. Players just go for a 5km run, or simply run for longer each week. Of course, you could use a baseline 5km for comparison, but then what are you really trying to improve? Your 5km time or your hockey performance? Intervals on the other hand are much more likely to be based on an assessment, such as a time trial (Bellenger et al., 2015) or 30-15IFT (Bucheit, 2010).. This means that you can complete sessions like these:

  • 15 seconds on, 15 seconds off (3 sets x 12 reps) @ 110% MAS

  • 30 seconds on, 15 seconds off (3 sets x 8 reps) @ 105% MAS

  • 2 minutes on, 1 minute off (6 sets) @ 90% MAS

This approach means that you can be much more targetted with your running sessions, leading to better training outcomes. Plus, it’s more specific to the demands of hockey as we’ll look at next.

Winner: Interval training

Specificity means that training should be relevant to the physical demands of the sport. In hockey, this means your conditioning sessions should be reflective of the underlying characteristics of the game.

As we’ve already seen, Hockey is a repeat sprint based sport. So that is what we are preparing for, not continuous steady state running.

A caveat to this is that the vast majority of Hockey is actually spent in low intensity walking or running (Gabbett, 2010; McGuinness et al., 2019; Jennings et al., 2012). But that’s not what causes teams to win. It’s the teams that can perform max intensity work, recover quickly and perform them again. Hockey is won in the 5% of the game where the real work is done, not the 95% of the game where players are jogging.

Ultimately, players need to be able to perform at high intensity, not low intensity. So there’s only one winner, once again.

Winner: Interval training

Overall: Interval training wins this one 3-0, coming out as the clear favourite.


Bellenger, C.R., Fuller, J.T., Nelson, M.J. et al. (2015) Predicting maximal aerobic speed through set distance time-trials. Eur J Appl Physiol 115, 2593–2598.

Buchheit (2010) - The 30-15 Intermittent Fitness Test - 10-year-review

Clarke, R., Dobson, A., & Hughes, J. (2016). Metabolic Conditioning: Field Tests to Determine a Training Velocity. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 38(1), 38 – 47

Gabbett, TJ. (2010) GPS analysis of elite women's field hockey training and competition. J Strength Cond Res 24(5): 1321-1324.

Jennings DH, Cormack SJ, Coutts AJ, Aughey RJ. (2012) International field hockey players perform more high-speed running than national-level counterparts. J Strength Cond Res. 26(4):947-52.

McGuinness A, Malone S, Petrakos G, Collins K. (2019) Physical and Physiological Demands of Elite International Female Field Hockey Players During Competitive Match Play. J Strength Cond Res. 33(11):3105-3113.

Spencer M, Lawrence S Rechichi C, Bishop D, Dawson B, Goodman C. (2004). Time-motion analysis of elite field hockey, with special reference to repeated-sprint activity. Journal of sports sciences. 22. 843-50.

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Henry Davies
Henry is the founder of Integrate Sports. He is a UKSCA accredited practitioner with over 10 years’ experience working with high performing athletes. He has worked with Olympic medallists and prepared athletes for Tokyo 2020 in his role with the English Institute of Sport. Henry is a Lecturer in Strength and Conditioning at Hartpury University, and the Head of Strength and Conditioning at Hockey Wales.
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