One of the most impactful skills in hockey is the drag flick, owing to how difficult it is to defend it, and how many goals are scored from penalty corners.
In the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympics, a third of all goals came from penalty corners (Olympic organising committee, 2012; 2016). This provides good evidence that it is important to get this action right, in order to maximise your 10 v 5 player advantage in this key moment. In this article, I am going to provide an overview of how strength training can improve your drag flick in order to maximise your goal-scoring ability.
The drag flick
The skill of drag flicking is of high value, with many hockey players seeking to improve their ability to execute it. Drag flicks involve more of a forward lunge than traditional shooting, which leads to more ankle dorsiflexion, and hip, knee and lumbar flexion (Ng et al., 2018). It also leads to significantly more lateral flexion and rotation of the lumbar spine which can increase shear and compression forces in the hip and spine.
Due to the demands and stresses experienced, drag flickers are often more susceptible to injury than non-drag flickers, with a higher incidence of lower back and hip issues (Ng et al., 2016). This suggests that understanding the key contributors to the drag flick action will enable a clearer injury prevention intervention, as well as performance enhancement outcomes.
Previous research has identified that a whipping action of the stick from a wide foot stance, leading to an explosive rotation of the hips, upper body and stick as key to a successful drag flick (López de Subijana, Juarez, Mallo, & Navarro, 2010). Other research has identified key contributing muscles to the action, and the kinematics (movement sequences) involved.
Next, I will address the specific needs of the skill, in order to more clearly understand the strength training requirements for improving this action and reducing injury risk.
Strength training specificity
Strength training for sports performance should aim to improve your ability to execute task-specific force expression, in the form of skills. Of course, a base of general strength is helpful in enabling gross motor force expression, but when it comes to highly technical skills, often strength training exercises need to be a little more relevant.
Side note - if you are unable to achieve at least a 1.5 x bodyweight load in the back squat or deadlift, you will likely gain more athletic benefit from simply getting globally stronger first. For example, a 70kg athlete would need to be able to back squat 105kg for 1 rep, or 90kg for 5 reps. If you are a long way off this, it would be expedient to target this first.
The need for force specificity is due to the principle of Dynamic Correspondence, popularised by Verkhoshanky. This suggests that for a strength training exercise to be specific to the skill, it must meet a set of criteria. These include the muscle groups used, the direction of force, the magnitude of force, and the contraction types used.
In the case of drag flicking, the following criteria need to be met for a strength training exercise to become more contextually relevant:
- Muscle groups used – quadriceps, trunk, calf/tibialis anterior, shoulders, forearm/wrist (Verma, 2014; Ibrahim et al., 2016; Rosalie et al., 2021)
- Direction of force – proximal to distal (Ibrahim et al., 2016)
- Magnitude of force – moderate given the high movement velocity
- Contraction type used – largely concentric based sporting action
Key muscle groups
Ensuring that you train the relevant muscles for drag flicking is key, to ensure that the specific force producers are being targetted.
Shot speed has been associated with muscle activity of the rectus femoris and tibialis anterior (Rosalie et al., 2021). This means that the lower body does a large amount of work to produce force that is then transferred through the body and into the stick.
Lead knee extension velocity contributes to drag flick performance too, meaning that the faster the lead knee extends during the drag flick, the higher the ball speed (Ladru et al., 2019). The quadriceps extend the knee, which highlights the importance of training this muscle group too.
The upper body also contributes to drag flick performance, meaning that it is a a whole body action. Shoulder and grip strength have been significantly correlated with drag flick performance (Verma, 2014). Ensuring a well rounded strength training programme is key to enhancing overall drag flick performance.
Finally, lateral gastrocnemius muscle activity is associated with drag flick accuracy (Rosalie et al., 2021). This makes sense, as the rear foot is the primary link with the floor, and ensuring that force is being produced in the right direction is key to Newtonian physics (equal and opposite reactions).
More broadly, we can summarise the key muscle groups for drag flicking as the following:
- Quadriceps (rectus femoris)
- Trunk (obliques)
- Calf and tibialis anterior
Strength training exercises to enhance drag flicking ability
1) Olympic lifts (power cleans, hang cleans)
Olympic lifts are a great tool for developing power, owing to their high movement velocities and large displacements. By using movements such as power cleans, you can improve your ability to generate high levels of power through the kinetic chain, which has a direct transfer to actions like the drag flick.
2) Medicine ball rotational throws
This is a great exercise for developing rotational power, as many of the Dynamic Correspondence criteria are met when using them. The movement is taking place in the same plane as the drag flick, with the same muscles being used in a proximal to distal pattern. Focus on high movement velocity, and ideally use a target to aim for as this will also meet the needs of improving accuracy too. This exercise is also very good as there is no inherent deceleration of the movement - you continue to accelerate at release. Aim to complete 4-6 throws per side, and 3 or 4 sets in total. The emphasis should be on high movement velocity, so use a relatively light load that enables this.
3) Split squat jammer press
Given the importance of force transfer through the trunk in a split stance position, this exercise helps to tick many boxes that are needed to improve drag flick performance. By generating force through the lower limb, and expressing the force distally, this trains the ability to transfer forces through the trunk effectively. Complete 6-8 repetitions per side, and 3 or 4 sets. Focus on a relatively high movement velocity again with this exercise.
4) Band trunk rotations
The trunk muscles are key in the drag flick, as they have to transfer high forces and stabilise the spine. By adding in a proximal to distal movement pattern, this helps you to transfer forces in a similar series to that of a drag flick, in the transverse plane. This can be completed in half kneeling, or a split stance. Complete 8-12 reps per side and 3 or 4 sets. Start by completing a controlled action, but build up to higher movement speeds as you become more confident with these.
5) Hockey stick banded wrist rotations
The forearms are vital in the drag flick, as they contribute to ball speed and are the main link to the stick. This exercise helps to strengthen the forearms and wrist through wrist flexion/extension, which has been linked to drag flick performance. Complete 20-30 seconds of this exercise for 3 sets.
6) Lateral trunk flexions
The obliques play a vital role in enabling force expression in the frontal plane. These are a relatively advanced exercise to develop high levels of strength in this muscle group, which contribute to drag flick performance. Complete 12-15 repetitions per side for 2-3 sets.
Drag flicking is a key action in hockey, and is a huge goal scoring threat. Given the high percentage of goals scored from penalty corners, improving this skill is extremely valuable. Strength training exercises should meet the specificity needs of drag flicking as defined by Dynamic Correspondence. This includes a proximal to distal pattern, with a focus on the quadriceps, trunk, shoulder, calf/tibialis anterior and forearms.
Exercises such as medicine ball rotational throws and split squat jammer presses are well suited for enhancing the ability to express force in the transverse and frontal planes. More localised exercises can be useful for increasing strength at key joints that contribute to drag flick performance.
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Ibrahim, R., Faber, G., Kingma, I. & van Dieën, J. (2017) Kinematic analysis of the drag flick in field hockey, Sports Biomechanics, 16:1, 45-57
Ladru, B., Langhout, R., Veeger, D., Gijssel, M., Tak, I. (2019) Lead knee extension contributes to drag-flick performance in field hockey, International Journal of Performance Analysis in Sport, 19:4, 556-566.
López de Subijana, Cristina & Juárez, Daniel & Mallo, Javier & Navarro, Enrique. (2010). Biomechanical analysis of the penalty corner drag-flick of elite male and female hockey players. Sports biomechanics / International Society of Biomechanics in Sports. 9. 72-8.
Ng, L., Sherry, D., Loh, W. B., Sjurseth, A. M., Iyengar, S., Wild, C., & Rosalie, S. (2016). The prevalence and severity of injuries in field hockey drag flickers: a retrospective cross-sectional study. Journal of Sports Sciences, 34(18), 1746-1751.
Ng, L., Rosalie, S., Sherry, D., Loh, W., Sjurseth, A., Iyengar., S., Wild, C. (2018) A biomechanical comparison in the lower limb and lumbar spine between a hit and drag flick in field hockey, Journal of Sports Sciences, 36:19, 2210-2216,
Rosalie, S. M., Ng, C. T., Hogan-West, T., Moberg, P. O., Peersen, D. M., Wild, C. Y., & Ng, L. (2021). Does the Pattern of Muscle Activity in the Lead Lower Limb Influence Drag Flicking Performance and Injury Risk?. Journal of Expertise/September, 4(3).
Verma., S. (2014) Assessment of physical variables of drag flick performancein field hockey. International Journal of Physica Education. 7(2) 78-80.