I recently watched a segment from the movie Miracle – a story about the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team, who did the unthinkable, defeating the juggernaut Soviet team on the way to Olympic Gold.
The segment I watched was when head coach Herb Brooks had the team skating through wind sprints immediately after a unenthusiastic game in Sweden. During the game the athletes were staring off into the stands, pointing out the “hot” women seated in various rows. Coach Brooks silently took note of the team’s lack of focus, and corrected it by nearly running them to death.
As I watched I yearned for more, so I purchased the DVD and had it sent by overnight mail. The next day I sat and watched the entire movie (it’s 2.5 hours long) with my son. We watched it again the next day. And I’m certain we’ll be watching it over and over again. It’s that powerful.
One of the most important lines in the movie is when the men are doing sprints at the end of a practice. As they burst across the ice on their skates, Coach Brooks tells everyone they better get used to this drill. Later on he hollers, “The legs feed the wolf.” When I heard this I hit the rewind button and played this line again and again. Then I took out a pen and wrote it in my journal.
A couple days later, I was still thinking about the phrase and it’s meaning. Like coaches I have had throughout my career, including Dan Gable and Karl Gotch, Herb Brooks was obsessed with conditioning. To him, “the legs feed the wolf” meant that great hockey players, like wolves on the hunt, need speed and endurance.
Karl Gotch referred to conditioning as “your best hold.” Gable was fanatical about conditioning as well. But neither had a line as good as Brooks’ “the legs feed the wolf.”
I have a couple other ways of explaining the benefits of “the legs feed the wolf.” One is that sprints or speed-endurance work trigger your body to release more yang energy. When you sprint, you not only get faster and generate more endurance – you also turn back the clock and cause your body to get younger. Sprinting causes your body to naturally secrete more HGH and testosterone, whereas long-distance cardio causes the opposite reaction.
Another way I look at “the legs feed the wolf” involves a slight word variation. By changing the word ‘wolf’ to ‘will’ we have even more meaning.
“The legs feed the will.” What does this mean? Well, when you sprint you cause the lungs, the kidneys and the heart to get stronger. They either adapt – or else. And when the organs of the body are strengthened, so are the muscles.
If someone is weak-willed, his kidneys are weak. If he is strong-willed, his kidneys serve him well. In China they have a saying, “Ren lao, xian lao tui.” This means, when a person gets old, his legs go first.
Strong legs not only feed the wolf, they also feed the will. It takes a strong will to run sprint after sprint when your lungs are gasping for air.
Putting Olympic athletes on a sprinting program is fairly easy. Most are relatively young and their bodies are durable. But most people must start out slowly with sprints – and build up over several months. It would be utter foolishness and ignorance to attempt sprint after sprint if your body isn’t used to it.
At the same time, when you start out sprinting “slowly” – your body begins to adapt – and quickly. Your metabolism gets the message. Burn fat – FAST. And get younger.
I’ve started many people out with a handful of bursts done at 30 or 40% of their perceived maximum. And they were absolutely stunned at how sprints at less than 100% could still yield superior results to anything they’ve ever tried before.
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