HOCKEY FITNESS: Preseason weight training the key to improving strength, speed and agility.

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Field hockey requires excellent aerobic fitness to provide endurance for sustained effort, strength to hold position over the ball and to hit, push and flick powerfully, and speed and agility for general play. If you are to develop a hockey specific fitness improvement program you will need to do aerobic and high-intensity anaerobic training plus weight training as part of an overall integrated training program. Weight training can help you develop strength, speed and agility.

One of the great benefits of hockey as a sport is that you can keep playing into one’s old age. This is providing the body holds up. Well here is the good news. Weight training for older hockey players will not only improve your performance it will improve your health to the point of being anti-aging. More and more fitness experts are recommending strength training for health reasons–for women as well as men, older adults as well as younger adults. Strength training is extremely important in combating the age-related declines in muscle mass, bone density and metabolism. It is an effective way to increase muscle strength and to shed unwanted inches. Strength training also helps to decrease back pain, reduce arthritic discomfort, and help prevent or manage some diabetic symptoms.

In this article we are looking at the value of including weight training as part of your hockey fitness improvement goals. Information is provided about weight training for beginners and a weight training program is suggested. Too often people dive head first into a weight training program without any understanding about weight training itself and the basics of a weight training program design. At the bottom of this article there is a question and answer section about the basics of weight training.

About weight training

Weight training is organized exercise in which muscles of the body are made to contract in response to external weights, body exercise or resistance, or other devices in order to stimulate growth and strength. Weight training is also called ‘resistance training’ and ‘strength training’.

A proposed weight training program

There is no better place to begin than in the preseason phase of your hockey season. The following preseason program is broken up into Early, Mid and Late with each about 4 weeks +. Depending on what phase of the preseason you are at you can adjust the phase time.

Phase 1 – Early Preseason

Foundation Strength and Muscle

How this phase is approached will depend on whether a player is new to weight training or is coming off a season of weights. Building foundation strength means utilizing a program that works all the major muscle groups of the body. Less-experienced weight trainers will need to start with lighter weights and fewer sets and work up to heavier weights with more sets.

Because of the repetitive activities that occur in playing hockey one can strengthen one side of the body at the expense of the other, or emphasize one or two major muscle groups with less emphasis on others. Inevitably, weak areas can be susceptible to injury and can perform poorly. This is not to say that your non-dominant arm or side has to be as good as your skill-dominant side. For example, in hockey, each hand has its own important role in controlling the stick, and this affects your stick-handling skills. You need to allocate sufficient training resources so that you achieve functional foundation strength in all areas including opposing muscles and left and right sides of all major muscle group areas — back, buttocks, legs, arms, shoulders, chest, and abdominals.

In the early pre-season, the foundation program encompasses a mix of endurance, strength and hypertrophy objectives, which means that the weights are not too heavy and the sets and repetitions are in the range of 2 to 4 sets of 12 to 15 repetitions. In this phase, you build some strength, some muscle size, and endurance.

Duration: 4 to 6 weeks
Days per week: 2 to 3, with at least one rest day between sessions and a lighter week in week 4 to promote recovery and progression.
Reps: 12 to 15
Sets: 2 to 4
Rest between sets: 30 to 60 seconds

Phase 1 Exercises (NB: Click on the links to see how to do the exercises correctly)

Points to Note

  • By trial and error, find a weight that represents a taxing lift for the last few reps of each set. If you’re unsure, start with a light weight and increase it as you get stronger within the training period so that the perceived effort remains similar.
  • Don’t lift too heavy in this phase. The last few reps in a set should be taxing — yet without extreme effort to “failure,” especially for the arm and shoulder exercises. You want the arm and shoulder prepared for work and beefed up, but not overtaxed.
  • Do front squats or dumbbell or sled hack squats if the rotation required to position a barbell on the shoulders for the traditional back squat stresses the shoulder joint to the point of discomfort.
  • Shoulder joint protection is important at this and subsequent stages.
  • Circuit training, off-field cardio and other aerobic exercise should be added to this program where possible.
  • Stop immediately if acute painis noticed during or after a weights exercise, and seek medical and training advice if it persists.

Phase 2 – Mid-Preseason

Strength Development

In this phase, you will build strength and muscle. The fast and agile players should be careful not to bulk up too much. You have a good foundation from early pre-season workouts and now the emphasis is on lifting heavier weights in order to train the nervous system in conjunction with the muscle fibres to move bigger loads. Hypertrophy, which is building muscle size, does not necessarily imply strength. However, in the foundation phase and in this phase, hypertrophy will serve you well for strength development.

Strength will be the foundation for the next phase, which is power development. Power is the ability to move the heaviest loads in the shortest time. Power is essentially a product of strength and speed, and is an important component of a successful hockey skill set.

Time of year: Mid pre-season
Duration: 4 to 6 weeks
Days per week: 2 to 3, with at least one day between sessions
Reps: 3 to 6. The players relying most on speed and agility and who need the least bulk should do the lowest number of reps.
Sets: 3 to 5
Rest in between sets: 3 to 4 minutes

Phase 2 Exercises

  • Alternate, single-leg sled hack squat
  • Barbell bench press
  • Romanian deadlift
  • Lateral pulldown to front with wide grip
  • Pull ups– 3×6 repetitions – adjust to suitability
  • Alternate, single-leg dumbbell upright row

Points to Note

  • Adjust the weight so that the final few repetitions are taxing but not to complete failure. The fewer reps mean that you will be lifting heavier in this phase.
  • Get sufficient rest between sets. You need your muscles recovered so that you can complete a heavy lifting session.
  • If you are unable to recover from a session with only one rest day in between, reschedule this program to two sessions each week rather than three. Strength training can be physically and mentally demanding.
  • You will be sore in the muscles after these sessions. Muscle soreness or delayed onset muscle soreness(DOMS) is normal; joint pain is not. Be sure to monitor your arm and shoulder reactions to this phase. Back off when you feel any joint pain or discomfort.

Phase 3 – Late Pre-Season to In Season

Conversion to Power

In this phase, you build on the strength developed in phase 2 with training that will increase your ability to move a load at high velocity. Power is the combination of strength and speed. Power training requires that you lift lighter weights than you did in the strength phase, yet with explosive intent. You need to rest adequately between repetitions and sets so that each movement is done as fast as possible. The number of sets can be less than phase 1. There is no point to training like this when you’re fatigued.

Time of year: late pre-season and in-season
Duration: 4 weeks ongoing
Days per week: 2 to 3
Reps: 8 to 10
Sets: 2 to 3
Rest between repetitions: 10 to 15 seconds
Rest between sets: at least 1 minute or until recovery

Phase 3 Exercises

  • Barbell or dumbbell hang clean
  • Alternate, single-leg seated calf raises
  • Cable push pull
  • One arm cable raises each arm
  • Alternate, single-leg medicine ball push press
  • Medicine ball standing twist with partner (6×15 repetitions fast, recover between sets) (or alone)

Points to Note

  • In power training, it’s important that you’re relatively recovered for each repetition and set so that you can maximize the velocity of the movement. The weights should not be too heavy and the rest periods sufficient.
  • At the same time, you need to push or pull reasonably heavy loads to develop power against reasonable resistance. Lift heavier than phase 1 but lighter than phase 2.
  • With the medicine ball twists, do a full set at maximum then rest sufficiently before the next one.

Questions and answers about weight training for beginners

What are ‘Sets’ and ‘Repetitions’?

This is a simple concept, but you should be completely familiar with it because this determines the quality and quantity of just about all weight training programs.

A repetition is one complete exercise movement and is often shortened to ‘rep’. For example, one lift of a barbell from the floor to the waist and back down again is a repetition of one. Sounds a bit strange when a repetition is only one, but wait, there’s more to come.

Repetitions apply to every exercise you do including those without weights. Two sit ups is also two repetitions.

A set is a group of repetitions and is defined by a rest break in between: for example, you do six barbell lifts and then you rest for two minutes and do another six. If you repeat this cycle of six three times you have done three sets of six repetitions of the barbell exercise. This is written similar to this:

barbell deadlift 3 X 6, or 3 sets 6 reps.

What Does RM Mean?

Repetition Maximum. This is the maximum load that can be tolerated for a given number of repetitions before your muscles fail or tire badly and you have to stop. For example, you do ten bicep arm curls with a dumbbell of 15 pounds (about 7 kilos) and you cannot bend the arm to lift the weight for the next repetition. That is written like this: bicep curl – 10RM – 15 pounds.

1RM is like your personal best for any exercise.

It’s the most you can lift for just one repetition. Your 1RM for the dumbbell curl could be 25 pounds (about 11 kilos) but your 10RM is only 15 pounds.

What is ‘Good Form’?

Performing an exercise with the appropriate form means following the recommended body position and movement to ensure an efficient lift as well as protection from injury.

For example, for the squat the maintenance of a straight back with heels anchored firmly on the ground and knees unbowed or collapsed inward is important for performance of this exercise.

What are Compound and Isolation Exercises?

Compound exercises target more than one joint and more than one muscle groupIsolation exercises are limited to one joint movement and usually a single muscle group; for example a standard dumbbell curl is an isolation exercise while squats are compound exercises that involve muscles of the legs, back, gluteals (butt) and the knees, hips and ankle joints. A bench press is also a compound exercise.

What is ‘Spotting’

Spotting is the practice of a friend or trainer watching or assisting you while you lift weights for the purpose of safety or guidance. A spotter may actually assist a person under load in the event that the weight threatens to overwhelm the person being spotted, or to suggest good form. Exercises like the bench press with heavy weights usually require a spotter.

How Should I Breathe?

Except for certain advanced techniques, you should exhale on effort, that is, when you push, lift or pull, and inhale as you return to the starting position. It is easy to forget to breathe when doing weights — not for long of course — yet it is worthwhile to remind yourself occasionally about your breathing.

If you are planning on visiting a gym to begin a weight training program as part of your overall hockey fitness plan then it is suggested you obtain the help of a personal trainer to help you put a program together based on your specific fitness and then show you how to correctly do the exercise. After this you can do the program on your own or continue to use a personal trainer if you can afford to do it.

Source: acknowledgement Paul Rogers (verywell.com)

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