What You Can Learn From The US Women’s Hockey Team

I had a stressful training session yesterday.  It wasn’t the workout itself, but it was the fact that I kept checking my Twitter feed to find out what was going on in the Women’s Hockey final in Sochi.  The game pitted rivals and favorites USA and Canada.

The United States lost to Canada, 3-2.

After a 2-0 loss in the Vancouver Olympics and some recents wins, many were excited for this game.  My interest in this game wasn’t as large as my interest in the US Women’s Hockey team.  Short of playing a year of hockey in the 7th grade, I don’t have any times to the sport.

As a child, my mom was a huge impact on my impact in women’s sports.  That’s huge (Thanks, Mom) but I’m more interested in the behind the scenes.  Michael Boyle, a well respected strength coach who has had a huge impact on my learning, is their strength coach.  A stalwart of the “Keep It Simple (Stupid)” training philosophy, I love seeing what Coach Boyle is doing with the US Team.

The greater world of sports performance is slowly realizing that getting stronger is a huge aspect of increasing performance.  The greater world of fitness is slowly realizing that getting stronger is a huge aspect of enjoying quicker, better fitness outcomes.  It’s funny that we see the same thing there.

When it comes to strength, it’s good to keep things simple.  Really simple.  The Gray Cook adage of “Move Well, then Move More” couldn’t be more true, and More can refer to more reps, more sets, or more weight.  Considering I have some biases towards those who pick up heavy shit, some of my favorite videos are when MBSC posts videos of their tests.

Check out these three videos:

I appreciate these videos because I’ve seen them create two distinct reactions. The first is a jaw-dropping, “Holy shit they’re strong” while the second is  a scowl followed by, “That technique…”

Regardless of which reaction I see my response is usually this:

Yes, they’re stronger than you.

This typically turns into one of several archetypal conversations, which may include reasons why women shouldn’t lift weights, reasons why they’re not lifting weights correctly, or reasons why whoever is my conversational partner can’t match or exceed these performances.  (Usually that last part is with men.) At some point in this conversation, I can’t help but ask,

Where is your medal?

See, regardless of your views on training, it’s hard to argue with an Olympic caliber team.  Particularly for the technique police, some of these testing clips can be labeled as egregious movement with overt compensation patterns.

It’s often said that the best athletes in the world are the best compensators.  This is true.  Perhaps these videos can be taken as a testament to that.  The best athletes in the world are not the best despite how they compensate, but because they compensate.  Compensation is peak performance, and as such, the goal of training is not peak performance.  The goal of training is repeated performance.

Before we attempt to get better, we must first minimize the risks of injury during our strength training, during our sports training, and only then do we focus on sports performance.  During training, we don’t seek to eliminate what has been deemed compensation or dysfunction, but to reduce or minimize it.  An athlete that has increased performance without their compensation patterns is going to be a better athlete than those who only strive to increase their performance, or those who struggle to reduce their compensations.

There’s no such thing as eliminating movement dysfunction, as it’s arbitrary and different for any sport or activity.  Additionally, in many cases, attaining “good” movement is going to make you worse at your sport.  Sticking with the skating sports, I took note of what seems to be the desired speed skating position.

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Now, if Sven was in the gym deadlifting, we’d probably all agree to cue him out of this position.  But Sven is not deadlifting.  Sven is wearing his gold medals.  There’s a difference.  As I expand on the concepts of optimal versus desireable for movement, I hope you help me pick one of these hashtags for Rio in 2016. #NeutralSpineDoesn’tWinGold or #TheresNoGoldForNeutralSpine

Working backwards, let’s think about the technique in those videos.  Those aren’t training sets.  They are testing sets.  They’re not intended to be beautiful snowflakes, gliding up and down with ease.  They’re intended to be opportunities to find and define maximal effort.  Those are intended to make you stronger.

That strength isn’t about moving beautifully.  It’s about fighting for more.  Let’s take a line from Fight Club: “How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?

Their fight isn’t something for you to arbitrarily judge.  It’s not about passive restraints or active restraints, about training stress, or your version of CNS fatigue.  It’s about being the best that they can be.

On a bigger scale, I like to believe that it’s about encouraging her to be the best she can be:

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Getting better isn’t about being perfect.  Perfect is the enemy of progress.  Getting better is about fighting to get better.  Fight for it, even if at times you’re fighting yourself.

This afternoon the US Men’s Hockey Team lost 1-0 to Canada in the semi-final match. I’m hoping that our northern neighbors can bring home both gold medals for hockey.  That would be cool, eh?

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