How to Approach Hockey Pre-season Training
5 minutes
Henry Davies

The pre-season is a natural opportunity to develop the physical qualities needed for hockey, whilst total training volumes are lower.

This is especially the case in the early pre-season when training intensities haven’t yet returned to full and there is more time available to allocate to physical training. In this article I am going to share some principles around how to approach training during this period.

Problems Faced During Pre-season

The main problems faced by hockey players during the pre-season are typically as follows:

  • Building up the running volumes required is difficult and I don’t know how to do it

  • Coinciding strength training with running conditioning is unclear

  • Matching training volumes to hockey training is challening

  • Staying injury free during this period is often difficult when volumes increase

  • Scheduling the training week is confusing and stressful

  • Periodising an 8-12 week training phase without support is hard

  • Planning and goal setting during pre-season is tricky

  • Training during holiday periods is difficult, especially when abroad

  • Spending a lot of time playing sport without necessarily get fitter

  • Not feeling fully prepared for the demands of hockey

First of all, that’s a lot of problems being faced during this period. They range from the logistics of this training phase, to the physiology and training adaptations needed. Training is ultimately a blend of the two, and you need to be clear which of the two you are optimising for.

Optimising for Physiology or Logistics?

If you are optimising for physiology, then that is going to look very different compared to when you are optimising for logistics.

What does this mean exactly? If you are constrained by when/how you can train, and this is not something that you can do much about, then you are optimising for these logistical constraints. If however you don’t have constraints on when/how you can train, then you are likely going to be optimising for physiology (getting every ounce of training adaptations out of your body as you can).

Depending on which is more important in this phase, you are then left with a clearer understanding of what the priority is.

How to Build Up the Running Volumes Required

The total running volumes required during the training week will differ based on your context, but building up the volumes progressively is a key principle during pre-season. This is due to something called the ‘acute-chronic workload’. Acute workloads are what you face during the week, and chronic workloads are what you face during the month. If you suddenly spike your weekly (acute) load, then you are at a higher risk of injury. Think about a time when you experienced an overload injury, it was probably when training volumes suddenly spiked.

How do you overcome this? Use a simple heuristic (rule of thumb) of 10-15% increases in total running load per week. The volumes of the whole week are largely more important than a single session, so consider the jumps you may be making week to week. For example, if you are running 10km in one week, a jump to 11km would be appropriate, whereas jumping to 15km would be too much (50% increase).

The following running sessions will provide different total distances, so pick ones that progressively increase the total weekly volumes (N.B. MAS will dictate total distance):

  • 1km intervals x 4 sets with 3 minutes rest per set = 4km in total

  • 3 sets x 8 reps of 30 seconds on, 30 seconds @ 105% MAS = 3-3.3km approximately

  • 4 sets x 8 reps of 15 seconds on, 15 seconds off @ 115% MAS = 2-2.2km approximately

In this example, completing these three sessions would mean a total distance of 9-9.5km total weekly distance. To increase this, you could do more sets in the shorter intervals, or increase the distance slightly in the longer intervals. The total weekly volume is what matters most.

If you want to learn how to create your own individual running profile (or for an athlete if you are a coach), then check out my article on this using the link above.

How to Avoid Injury During Pre-season

One of the most frustrating things an athlete can face is getting injured having put in a lot of hard work.

Injuries occur when the demand placed on a tissue outweighs its capacity to deal with this demand. Sudden increases in training volume are a very common way to get injured, because the demand on the tissues has spiked and the tissue isn’t prepared for it yet.

The solution? Well planned, progressive increases in training volume over time coupled with pre-planned de-load weeks. De-load weeks allow the body to recover, and for adaptation to occur. It is during these weeks that training adaptations are realised, and more training can be completed in the future without burning out.

An example of planning out an 8 week training block might look like this:

  • Week 1 - assessment

  • Week 2 - increase training volume

  • Week 3 - increase training volume

  • Week 4 - planned de-load (40-60%)

  • Week 5 - increase training intensity

  • Week 6 - increase training intensity

  • Week 7- planned de-load (40-60%)

  • Week 8 - re-assessment

This approach enables a ‘wave’ of loading, with some weeks being higher volume/demand, and others being easier. This enables the hard weeks to be hard, and the easy weeks to be easy.

To learn more about injury prevention for hockey, check out the following articles: Injury Prevention for Hockey articles

How to Perform Strength Training and Conditioning Simultaneously

Concurrent training is when an athlete performs endurance and strength training within the same training block. In a hockey scenario, this might mean interval running sessions and maximal strength training, for example.

The simplest way to approach concurrent training when you’re not a full time athlete is to use heuristics once again. The following three rules of thumb are easy to follow and simplify this process:

  1. Best case scenario is strength training and conditioning training separated by 24 hours (training on different days)

  2. Next best case scenario is strength training and conditioning on the same day separated by >6 hours, with the priority session completed first (e.g. if getting stronger is key, then do this first)

  3. Worst case scenario is back to back sessions, but ideally make these sessions complementary (e.g. high intensity sprinting with power development)

How to Schedule the Training Week to Fully Prepare for Hockey Demands

One of the most challenging aspects of training when you don’t have a coach doing it for you, is planning out the ‘what, when and how’ of training. This is the job of a Strength-Conditioning coach, but if you don’t have one, then using the following frameworks can be really helpful.

If you haven’t checked out the following articles, then I would highly recommend it as they go into this in lots of detail:

In short if you haven’t got time to read these articles as well, the take homes are as follows:

  • Use the ‘rule of 2’ to ensure that you are getting enough exposure to strength, mobility, injury prevention and conditioning work

  • Ensure 1 rest day per week as a non-negotiable and 2 ideally

  • Use ‘high and low’ days to ensure that you are pushing and pulling at the right times to undulate your volumes in the training week

Putting It All Together

In summary, there are a number of challenges to be overcome during pre-season in order to get yourself in the best shape possible. The key things to focus on are planning, goal setting and assessments. These are the cornerstones of an effective programme, as they ensure that what you do is logical, progressive and appropriate. Below are a number of ways you can structure your training week to fit everything in:

1) Saturday match day scenario

  • Monday (low day) – basic stretching and mobility with some low intensity strength exercises

  • Tuesday (high day) – club training with extra speed or conditioning work

  • Wednesday (low day) – total recovery day

  • Thursday (high day) – club training with extra speed or conditioning work

  • Friday (low day) – basic stretching and mobility with some low intensity strength exercises

  • Saturday (high day) – Match day!

  • Sunday (low day) – total recovery day

2) Off season

  • Monday (high day) – strength training or high intensity conditioning

  • Tuesday (low day) – basic stretching with some low intensity strength or conditioning exercises

  • Wednesday (low day) – total recovery day

  • Thursday (high day) – strength training or high intensity conditioning

  • Friday (low day) – basic stretching with some low intensity strength or conditioning exercises

  • Saturday (high day) – strength training or high intensity conditioning

  • Sunday (low day) – total recovery day

3) Mid-week match day scenario

  • Monday (high day) – club training with extra speed or conditioning work

  • Tuesday (low day) – basic stretching and mobility with some low intensity strength exercises

  • Wednesday (high day) – Match day!

  • Thursday (low day) – basic stretching and mobility with some low intensity strength exercises

  • Friday (low day) – basic stretching and mobility with some moderate intensity strength exercises

  • Saturday (high day) – club training with extra speed or conditioning work

  • Sunday (low day) – total recovery day

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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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