Brad Richards loses his gear

The New York Rangers center on his experience in 2012 Body Issue

Updated: July 11, 2012, 11:22 PM ET
By Morty Ain | Photographs: Richard Phibbs

This is an extended interview from the 2012 ESPN The Magazine Body Issue. Subscribe to the Mag today!

What do you want people to know about you through the Body Issue?
BR: I want to show how much work we put into our sport. I think if people saw the injuries that go untalked about that we play through over an 82-game season, it would be an eye-opener. Guys don't want that stuff to be talked about; we don't want to use it as a crutch. But it would be surprising to walk through the trainer's room before a game and see all the maintenance and what it takes to get ready every night. Sprains, separations, ankles, shoulders, groin and hip stuff. But we don't complain about an injury unless it's a big one. Not too many hockey players are going to use an excuse. If they can get on the ice for the game, they are considered healthy; that's the culture. You find a way to plow through.

What does a hockey game look like from the ice?
BR: It's a fast game, and it keeps getting faster. There is nowhere to hide, no out of bounds, you get 40 or 50 seconds of doing everything you can, as hard as you can. Plus, you're hitting and getting hit while thinking about what's going on, so it's pretty exhausting. Then it's time to get off and get a quick breath. When people who don't know hockey ask, I tell them to imagine a 40- or 50-second sprint with people hitting you. And everybody is getting bigger and faster and stronger every year.

What muscles are most important to sustaining a full hockey season?
BR: Year in and year out, it's balance and core and upper legs. Everything you do -- speed, shooting, taking a hit, getting a hit, protecting the puck -- comes from there. On most hockey players (especially the good ones), you'll see big legs and big butts. That's where all the power comes from.

During the playoffs, it's tough. But you remember that their team is just as tired, so you always keep that in mind and keep plugging away and hope they give first.

What parts of the body suffer most during the season?
BR: Hips and groin and lower back. You get shoulder and neck injuries because of big hits or collisions, but everyday wear and tear takes a toll on your legs, your groin, your core, all that stuff. No matter what, when you wake up the next day, you feel it there. And the older you get, the more you've got to maintain that stuff and get those areas moving properly. There is a huge difference between waking up now and waking up a decade ago. In your early 20s, it's a "touch your toes and go" type of thing, and now it's more about the little muscles and warming those up and getting ready every day. Even on your off-days, you've got to keep moving and keep those things finely tuned.

What exercises are most important for hockey players?
BR: You try to mix it up so you're not doing the same thing all the time, but it's a lot of glute work. Often when you get a sore groin in hockey, it's because your glutes aren't firing the right way. We do a lot of squats, lunges, dead lifts. Most guys do single-leg stuff so they don't create imbalances with two leg exercises. Another big thing is field work -- plyos and hurdles and stuff like that -- to create more power on the ice.

What do you like about your body?
BR: That it still has me playing. My focus is always on my legs and keeping those strong and powerful. I don't need my upper body as much as some players. I actually feel like it gets in the way if I get too big, so it's all about core and legs. I used to think just gaining weight and getting bigger was good, and I would come into camp probably 10 pounds heavier than I do now, but I didn't like it. Some guys play more of a power game and like having that heaviness. If you're able to move with it, it works; but for some guys, you start adding weight and you just can't move the same, and that's not going to do anybody any good.

Have you ever felt self-conscious about your body?
BR: I was a really skinny kid. I think I just grew late. But once I got into my late teens and early 20s, it was a lot easier to keep the muscle on. I'm probably 30 pounds heavier now than when I got drafted at 18. I was probably 120 pounds when I left to play hockey in Saskatchewan in ninth grade. I'm lucky that my game then was more about thinking than being physical, but when it gets around the time when you want to be drafted and make the NHL, you realize that you've got to put on weight and get stronger.

Describe your toughest day of training.
BR: Training camp is the hardest thing we do all year. It starts with on-ice testing: six sets of three-lap sprints, which take between 39 and 43 seconds, depending on how fast you are. Then a two-mile run and skating: turning for time, figure 8 drills, sprints, stuff like that. The next day we do more sprints to get in the range of a shift. Then we start the training camp -- the actual scrimmages and all that -- and do all the skating after. It's a week to 10 days of really intense skating, which is good because once the season starts you're playing too much to work on conditioning. You have to set your base then, so that's the hardest time, harder than what we go through on the ice.

What is the most unusual training you've ever done?
BR: I used to spend summers at Prince Edward Island, and I did a lot of beach stuff in the dunes because it's good for balance and cutting and easy on your feet. Running in the dunes, creating obstacle courses in the sand, trying to keep your balance as you're turning, pulling a sled along the sandbar. We would incorporate that into workouts. I don't know if it's unusual, but it's something to make sure you aren't always doing the same thing. And you've got the ocean right there, so you can jump in if you get a little hot. It's fun.

If you know you can get through the season with maintenance, the surgery gets done over the summer. In the playoffs, half our team could have found something to have a surgery on.

What do you tell yourself when you feel like you can't train any further?
BR: The good thing about my training is I'm not going to go to a point where I hurt myself. But in games, especially in the playoffs (we played a triple overtime last year), it comes down to a mental thing more than anything, and just getting through it. You kind of get into a zone; it's like autopilot. Your body will do it, so it's just whether you want to give in or not. It's tough, but you remember that their team is probably feeling the same. Not probably -- they are. They're just as tired, so you always keep that in mind and keep plugging away and hope they give first.

Have you ever felt disappointed in your body?
BR: I've had surgeries for my shoulder, hand, hip and a sports hernia, and it's disappointing when that happens. You never want to have a surgery because it's probably never going to be the same. That said, if you have surgery and do the right rehab, you'll be fine, but who knows how bad it would get if you didn't? So you get it done.

Talk about playing through injuries.
BR: If you know you can get through the season with maintenance, the surgery gets done over the summer. You play through stuff like sprains and banged-up shoulders, because it's not going to ruin your career and it happens all the time. In the playoffs, half our team could have found something to have a surgery on if they wanted to; the question is whether it's really big or you can do rehab over the summer and get back to normal.

What was your best athletic moment, when you felt completely in tune with your body?
BR: I don't know if that ever happens in hockey. I was fortunate to win a Stanley Cup [with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004], so you figure things were working pretty well at that point. But in our sport, you're not finely tuned by that time; most guys are pretty banged up. You get to a point where you wonder whether you can go another game. Then another game comes, and you get through that one and you kind of can't believe you have another one, and then that game comes, and that's how it goes. My coach always says there's a difference between sore and injured -- that's a big thing in hockey. And when you win, the emotions kind of take you through it. After we won the Stanley Cup, I put a life jacket on the Cup, strapped it onto a Jet Ski and was just loving life.

Follow The Mag on Twitter (@ESPNmag) and like us on Facebook.