3 Reasons Field Hockey Players Should Strength Train

Just because most field hockey athletes wear skirts, don’t be fooled—the game is anything but demure. 22 players on the field at a time (including 2 goalies), unlimited subs, 10 players on each team free to run, sprint, and out-maneuver their opponents on the 100-yard pitch...AND they all have sticks. Field hockey is a non-stop battle, where athletes must possess enough motor coordination to hit with precision, enough explosive strength for executing powerful hits, and enough stamina to outlast the competition. With its high aerobic and anaerobic demands and the right-dominant nature of all rotational movement on the pitch, field hockey is a sport that requires its athletes to have well-developed structural strength for success.

In consultation with Volt Advisory Board member Justin Smith, Co-Director of Athletic Performance at the University of Vermont, we created this blog post for field hockey players everywhere. If you or someone you know is a field hockey athlete, here are 3 fantastic reasons why strength training will help you dominate your opponents—and stay strong all season long.

1. Better Acceleration and Change of Direction

A research-based strength training program—one that follows a structured, systematic approach to total-body athletic development—will target different properties of muscular strength. These properties are developed through unique training protocols, which is why a properly designed program won’t have you lifting the same weights for the same number of reps and sets, day after day. Depending on the training protocol, strength training will improve the muscle’s ability to recruit and contract large numbers of motor units (groups of muscle cells innervated by a motor neuron) at the same time, the ability to produce large amounts of force with each contraction, and the capacity to increase the firing rate of these motor units (rate of force development). In other words, strength training improves your muscles’ ability to contract together (neuromuscular coordination), to contract with strength, and to contract at faster rates (producing power).

How do these training adaptations relate to improved acceleration and better change of direction on the field? Athletes who are able to transfer greater amounts of force into the ground with each leg, and to do so at higher speeds, will accelerate quicker. Additionally, athletes who develop these training adaptations in multiple planes of motion (forward/back, left/right, etc.) will develop more strength and power (not to mention balance and coordination) when changing directions during gameplay. A good strength training program—in addition to sport-specific conditioning and game practice—will help your muscles “learn” to perform tasks like acceleration and change of direction more efficiently and effectively. And because strength training exposes your muscles, tendons, bones, and connective tissues (like fascia) to greater loads than normal, your body becomes more resistant to higher levels of force—especially the high loads incurred by making rapid changes in position, like when you decelerate and accelerate in another direction. (This also can help you mitigate injury—more on this is #3!) Bottom line: want to improve your ability to blow past opponents and outmaneuver players on the field? Get in the weight room!

2. Harder Hits

If there’s one thing all field hockey players want, it’s a harder, more powerful shot. The ability to make (and receive) powerful, accurate passes is key to success in a sport that depends on maneuvering a small object through a field of defenders toward a goal 100 yards away. And it should make sense that higher levels of maximal strength mean that you can (theoretically) express more power in your shot.

A strength training program designed specifically for field hockey athletes will include movements that develop rotational core strength and power in order to transfer the most possible force from the stick to the ball. However, it’s important to note that without first developing a foundation of overall strength, sport-specific movements will not be as effective. This is why a good program will include plenty of squats, lunges, presses, pulls, and core stability exercises, in additional to movements that mimic the field hockey shot specifically. A strong upper-body is needed conduct passes and shots, while a strong lower-body is necessary for creating an efficient base for these shots—the musculature of the core is the conduit between the two. Strengthening the entire body will help increase your ability to make and receive forceful passes, while improving the speed at which you can exert this force will help make your shots unstoppable. Just remember that your body is a connected, kinetic network (try saying that five times fast), and you must train the entire body in coordination, rather than one movement or muscle group in isolation, to reap the best performance results.

3. Durability, Resiliency, and Injury Mitigation

No amount of strength and conditioning will ever prevent you from being injured on the field. If you run full-speed into an opponent, you will most likely get hurt (especially if your opponent has been training on the Volt Field Hockey program!). But the likelihood of some non-contact injuries can be reduced by a properly designed strength training program.

The most common non-contact field hockey complaints are hamstring strains, ankle sprains, and back pain (due to making a majority of shots in the same direction from a bent-over position). A strength training program designed specifically for field hockey athletes will target these areas with specific strength movements in order to mitigate the chances of injury. Eccentric hamstring exercises (which load the muscle as it is lengthened) can help prevent injury to the hamstring from the increased forces of deceleration on the field. Single-leg balance movements that load the ankle can help increase joint stability, while mobility-targeted exercises will help prevent injury resulting from lack of ankle range of motion. Perhaps most importantly, a systematic approach to core strength development can go a long way toward preventing back pain: pallof presses, farmer’s carries, and planks all strengthen trunk stability and should have a place in a field hockey training program.

More than simply including specific exercises to help decrease a field hockey player’s chance of injury on the field, a strength training program should increase an athlete’s overall durability (ability to absorb high levels of force, from the ground or from opponents) and resiliency (ability to recover more quickly from tissue damage incurred during game play). As mentioned in point #1, strength training, by definition, exposes your body’s muscles, tendons, bones, and connective tissues to higher loads than normal. Frequently challenging your body through heavy loads will increase your body’s ability to withstand higher forces during games, improving your structural durability. Likewise, this frequent exposure to “stress” in the form of resistance training makes your body more efficient at recovering from physical stress. Let’s say you haven’t been running in a year—if you go out one morning and run 5 miles at a 7:00 pace, chances are you are going to be SORE the next day. But if you’ve been running consistently, upping your pace and mileage incrementally and appropriately, that 5-miler won’t be nearly as painful, both during and after. It’s the same with strength training. Exposing your body to challenging loads on a regular basis means that your ability to “bounce back” from a match will only improve as you grow fitter.

The Takeaway

Strength training is an important tool in any athlete’s tool belt. But while periodized, sport-specific training is second-nature for, say, football players, it may not be as obvious an advantage for field hockey. The goal of this blog is to highlight the importance of strength training for field hockey performance. Not only will it help you navigate the field with better speed and agility and make harder, more powerful shots, but it can also help to keep you healthy throughout the demanding season. A good strength training program, designed by a certified strength and conditioning specialist, will help you become a better, faster, more powerful, and more injury-free field hockey athlete.

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Christye Estes, CSCS, is one of the regular contributors to the Volt blog. She is an NSCA-certified strength coach and a Sport Performance Specialist at Volt.
Learn more about Christye and read her other posts | @CoachChristye