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Olympian Julie Chu on Hockey, Heart and Lifting Strong

You may know her as the fiercest female hockey star to ever step foot in the rink. But Julie Chu is much more than one of the most decorated players in the game. From coaching, to volunteer work, to training with Mike Boyle, the Olympian tells all as she prepares for the Winter Games in Sochi.

You’ve been playing ice hockey since you were eight years old. How did you become interested in the sport?

I have an older brother and one day he came home from school and asked if he could play hockey. My parents said yes and signed him up. At that time, I was actually signed up for figure skating with my sister. After figure skating started though, I asked one day if I could play hockey, too, and my parents said yes! That was at a time when girls just didn’t play hockey.

That being the case, I’m sure you get asked this a lot: What is it like being a female playing a more male-dominated sport?

When I was younger, it was more challenging. I was the only girl on the boy’s team growing up. But now, it’s an exciting time to be honest. Hockey is less known as only a male sport. Many local rinks have both co-ed and girls only teams. Really after the 1998 Olympic games — the first year female hockey was an event — the public and media have helped more young girls start playing.

Not only do you play hockey, but you’ve coached at the University of Minnesota and Union College. Which do you find you enjoy more — playing or coaching?

I enjoy both, but I think as an athlete, I like playing the game more. Being out there on the ice and being able to influence the game is so fun. It will always be a transition to go from one to the other, but as I said I enjoy coaching and helping out at clinics as well. That’s why I’m happy to partner with Citi and The USA Hockey Foundation for their “Try Hockey for Free,” initiative. We get on the ice with young players who are just trying the sport for the first time. Plus, we get to donate over 500 sets of free starter equipment to the program.

What is your favorite type of off-ice workout?

We spend a lot of time practicing and training off the ice. In season, we lift three days a week, and four days during the off-season. For me, any group workout is really great. Especially for people who don’t have teammates, it’s helpful to workout with others for motivation. You push yourself a little harder. We do circuit workouts as a team that include everything from straight lifts, explosive exercises like jumping and other plyometrics, and of course strength training moves like squatting and benching. We change it up a lot, which is important to keep workouts original and fresh.

What’s the one exercise you love to hate?

We have this machine called the Airdyne. It’s a type of bike but the handles move as your pedal so it’s a total-body exercise. I’m not a great biker; I’m a better runner, and I’m not even a great runner. But a bike workout burns more for the legs and lungs so our trainer, Mike Boyle, has us do it. And Mike is the best in the strength and conditioning training field. We are lucky to have him to guide us.

To prepare for the Games, what types of workouts are you doing on the ice?

It depends on the day and what the coaches decide. But generally, if we’re a few days out from a game, we have harder, physical practices that include longer drills for conditioning. Closer to game day, like say a day away, we focus on more speed work — sprints and recovery.

Is there any specific type of workout or recovery method that has really improved your game?

Strength and conditioning is such a huge portion of training. We follow a program from Mike Boyle that has focused on making the team physically fit on and off the ice to be able to last the full 60-minute game. Although we play on the ice, the off-ice component is really important, as is the commitment to it.

Which muscle groups do hockey players need to really hone in on?

I need to have a really strong core in order to compete against my opponents. Everything we do on the ice, from just balancing, to being on one leg, to getting bumped, all stem from having a solid core. We spend a lot of time doing stability work; both exercises specific to the core and many that activate the core and other parts connected to it. Our glutes and hamstrings are part of our core and we need to make them strong as well.

You’ve won both a silver and bronze medal at the Olympic Games. What would it mean to win the gold?

We’ve been training for nearly the last four years — it’s crazy to think we’re just around the corner! As a team, we’ve put in so much dedication and hard work these past years and will continue to this next month. We’re honing in on what we can take care of, like on-ice tactics, and being rested and recovered. We want to be strong in all aspects and ready to perform.

To stay close to the action, follow Julie and Team USA on Twitter, and be sure to tune into the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games on NBC.

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