Tucked away in a nondescript industrial park in Woburn is a facility that might hold the formula to achieving Olympic glory this month in Sochi.
Last August, 21 members of the US Olympic women’s ice hockey team relocated to the Boston area from cities and towns across the country, not for practicing on the ice, but for the sole purpose of training at the Mike Boyle Strength & Conditioning center.
Boyle, who has long been considered a mastermind in the world of sports performance training and who serves as a strength and conditioning consultant to the Boston Red Sox, designed a unique, broad-based workout program for the women’s team. Instead of centering their training solely around hockey-specific exercises, Boyle borrowed movements from a variety of different sports, all of which emphasize building lower-body strength and power.
“It’s variations of squats and Olympic lifting like you’d see in the Summer Olympics but modified a bit,” explains Boyle. “It’s also plyometric training” — quick, explosive movements that typically involve jumping — “like we see in track and field. We take little bits from everybody to try to make it into what we need for this particular group of athletes.”
With heart-thumping music blaring in the background one January morning, the players spent about an hour rotating through a variety of strength-training exercises such as squats, push-ups, and pull-ups.
Within the 22,000-square-foot facility, which is open to regular gym-goers, it’s not uncommon to see professional athletes from a variety of sports training on any given day. The best-in-the-nation women’s hockey players often went unrecognized, until they started hoisting weights.
Many of the women could bench-press between 140 and 150 pounds. And some were able to perform a series of pull-ups with a weight tied around their waist.
“They tend to amaze everybody,” said Boyle. “I had a couple of professional football players in here recently who, after witnessing their leg workouts, said, ‘I have to pick up the pace,’ because they were not lifting the same load as some of these 150-pound females.”
Boyle believes many females, particularly non-athletes, avoid lifting heavy weights because they’re afraid of bulking up, and he thinks the hockey team will establish a precedent for how women should train. “So often females fear they’ll look like Arnold Schwarzenegger if they lift anything heavy,” he said. “But these girls are proof that you can get really strong and still look feminine.”
The hockey players considered the intense, off-ice workouts, which preceded daily, two-hour on-ice practices at the Edge Sports Center in Bedford, to be the secret ingredient to their success.
“You become a different player when you do off-ice training,” said defensive player Michelle Picard, 20, a Taunton native who took a year off from Harvard University to train full-time with the team. “It makes a huge difference.”
Another important component to the workout program is “pre-hab,” or injury prevention exercises, which are crucial in contact sports such as hockey.
“Contact in hockey is the highest speed of any sport,” said Boyle. “You have two people who are going in excess of 20 mph who can crash into each other, or one person who can hit an immovable object at 20 mph. If you’re not strong, the probability of getting injured goes way, way up.”
The US women’s team, which is ranked first in the world by the International Ice Hockey Federation, has not won gold since the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan.
“I’m so excited, I can’t even explain it,” said Josephine Pucci, 23, a Harvard senior. “We want to win, that’s what all of this is for. Hopefully, we bring home the gold, that’s the ultimate goal.”
Boyle believes the women have a strong shot, and says the players worked so hard because they love the game.
“There’s no pot of gold, there’s no NHL contract,” he said. “When this is done, there is a gold medal and an unbelievable good feeling about yourself.”
The US women’s hockey team defeated Finland in its first Olympic game on Saturday. The US team plays Monday morning against Switzerland.Alexa Pozniak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter@ApozTV.