Training Tracks: Rachel Van Hollebeke

AP Photo/John Bazemore

U.S. national team member Rachel Van Hollebeke gets ready for the NWSL season with the Portland Thorns.

When the defending-champion Portland Thorns kick off their NWSL season April 12 against the Houston Dash, they'll have a lock-down defender in their backfield: 28-year-old Rachel (Buehler) Van Hollebeke. Also a member of the U.S. national team who has played in two Olympics and more than 100 international matches, Van Hollebeke was a three-year captain of the Stanford Cardinal. If it sounds as though she lives and breathes soccer, she kind of does -- "We don't get much of an offseason," she admits, "but I do take about a month off in the fall or winter" -- and she wouldn't have it any other way. Here, some keys to her success:

Interval time

When I'm playing for the Thorns, it's like a day job; we practice together through the whole season. For the national team, we train much of the time on our own. Our fitness coach sends us workouts. Almost all of our cardio work is interval-based, but there's a big range. As we're building our base, we'll do something like a set of five times five minutes of running with three minutes of jogging. We'll progress to sets of 10-20 seconds of an all-out sprint with a short recovery, which is a lot like soccer: pushing yourself to your max, and then recovering quickly, then doing it again.

Solo operator

I don't have a problem training alone; we're all top soccer players because we're good at pushing ourselves. That said, my husband, who is very athletic, will run with me on the weekend, and when I'm in Portland or in the same city with teammates, I'll train with them. We wear heart rate monitors to keep track of our efforts, and sometimes I'll do a workout on a treadmill and set certain paces on it.

Going deep

Soccer is a multidimensional sport: You need speed, endurance, strength and power. As such, we don't just lift heavy weights. Our strength-training program focuses on balance, core strength and power; we have a variety of workouts from box jumps to Olympic cleans. The core work we do is simple but intense. Instead of doing, say, hundreds of situps, we concentrate on activating the deep, stabilizing muscles. When you activate those and do an exercise like raising an opposite arm and leg while on your hands and knees, you definitely feel it.

Ropin' it

We've recently been doing rope workouts with these big, heavy ropes. You make waves with a rope and slam it, which builds strength, endurance and explosive power, especially in your arms and core.

Vegging out

My diet is pretty normal and balanced. I'm not a health nut, but I do believe in moderation. I eat a lot of chicken and fish for protein, brown rice and other healthy grains for carbs, and tons of fruits and veggies. Currently I'm loving Brussels sprouts and asparagus, and I put kale and spinach into my post-workout smoothie.

Project, please

Off the soccer field, I always love to be working on something; I'm a project person. I'm taking Spanish right now so I can become more fluent -- I travel with my Spanish workbook. I also love to read. I am currently reading two books: I'm about to finish "Cutting for Stone," and I'm in the fourth book of the "Outlander" series.

A team player

I was a human biology major, and I have already taken the MCATs, so I'm planning on attending medical school at some point. I've been thinking about sports medicine, but I shadowed an ER doctor who was our team doctor for the Portland Thorns last summer. I really liked the camaraderie and teamwork dynamic of the emergency room.

Arctic freeze

I was in preseason with the Thorns for only two weeks before I took off for national team duties, but I look forward to spending time with my Portland teammates. Last year, we did a team bonding experience where we had to pretend we were stranded in the Arctic and had to figure out how to survive. I love that kind of stuff -- it's fun, plus you hone your problem-solving skills as a team. I hope we do something like that again this year.

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