Chara improves game with late-night gym sessions

Chara improves game with late-night gym sessions
October 3, 2013, 9:30 am
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(USA Today Sports Images)

Last season Jaromir Jagr’s postgame workouts and disciplined routine were highlighted during the Boston Bruins Stanley Cup run. At 41, he stayed late putting in extra hours to play years younger on the ice.
 
He wasn’t doing it alone. Zdeno Chara was there, too.
 
The Bruins captain is known for his intense offseason training routines. No physical feat seems improbable for the 36-year-old defenseman. He has climbed mountains, bicycled stages of the Tour de France course, and it doesn’t stop at TD Garden. When all the fans are filing out of the arena and most of his teammates are packing up to go home, Chara is just getting started.
 
“I was here with Jagr the whole time (last season),” Chara said. “It's not like Jaromir was not used to working out. He likes to do it, too. He'd stay a little bit longer because he was doing some extra stuff, even on the ice. We would do stuff together and then he would basically sit and talk for 20, 30 minutes (laughs) and then he would get back into the workout. I like to keep going.”
 
Chara said he is usually the last player left in the building on game night, often times working out until past midnight after a 7pm start time. Following last week's training camp matchup, which went into overtime, he planned to participate in a team postgame workout and then stick around to go through his own regimen.
 
Since the ice is often being converted to the parquet for a Boston Celtics game during the season, Chara focuses on what he can do out of his skates. From heavy weights to light weights, upper body to lower body, he likes to zone in on all aspects of his strength and conditioning.

30 years after he began playing hockey at age six, a late start in comparison to many of his counterparts, he still works at his craft with the same dedication he had when he was honing his skills. Chara's night doesn't end when the game is over.

“As far as working out, it's always been the nature for me since I was not an overly talented guy,” he said. “I always worked hard to try to catch up in other levels of my game.”
 
Chara adopted the postgame routine when he began playing hockey at the junior level in North America. After moving from Slovakia, he found most of his games were played in the evening and he had to adjust his routine accordingly. With travel schedules limiting his options during the mornings and afternoons, he began hitting the gym late at night on his own initiative. Whether the clock read 11pm or 11am, the time of day (or night in this case) was of little significance to Chara.
 
“No one suggested it to me,” he explained. “I enjoy it. I love being in the gym and trying to get better. It's a great way to stay in shape and the best feeling is when those hours in the gym or on the ice are paying off during the game. That's the greatest feeling when you get that reward."

The rewards have been plentiful as he enters his 16th NHL season. Chara is a Stanley Cup champion, six-time All-Star, and James Norris Memorial Trophy winner. He has seen the results of his hard work in all of his accomplishments.

"You feel it paying off when, for example, you see some guys are not as fresh or there's a battle in front and you can use that strength," he said. "It's different things. You always spend time shooting pucks so you can hit the area you need to hit. It's just small things like this that make a difference at this level."
 
One thing he has learned over time is the importance of listening to his body, even when it is easier for him to block it out. (Last postseason Chara averaged 29:32 on ice per game in spite of the fact that he played with a hip flexor injury.) He is cautious with his postgame workouts, understanding he needs to be just as smart as he is strong. He pays attention to the details aside from his reps, such as the number of drinks he consumes to stay properly hydrated.

"During the playoffs when there's overtime, you have to have the right combination of rest and workout," he said. "You've got to feel what you need. Sometimes it's simple, the body just needs to back off and let it breathe and give it rest."

It was after 10 o'clock following a preseason game that Chara changed out of his skates into sneakers, threw on a pair of shorts, and zipped up a hooded sweatshirt, ready to get back to work.

"To me, it's normal," he said. "I'm used to it. It's just an attitude. I'm not in a rush to go home. My family is sleeping so might as well stay here and work out."

He energetically emerged from his locker for another training session. His second shift was about to begin.