NHL Offseason Training: The Gary Roberts Impact

Roberts

Training has always been a huge part of a hockey player’s summer. But thanks to the Gary Roberts marketing machine, the casual fan is now more aware than ever of what his or her favourite player is doing in the summer to get bigger, stronger, and faster.

There are many different trainers working with many different players out there. Gary Roberts doesn’t offer anything revolutionary, but he bundled his experience and knowledge in a way no one else had before.

1) Experience. Not only as a player, but with training and nutrition. Roberts had to place an extra focus on training and health during his career. At the age of 30, he suffered a broken neck. His career was thought to be over. Instead, he played for another decade, prolonging a career that many had given up on. The reason? Roberts got himself into incredible shape, and he fuelled his body enough to be put through gruelling training programs each summer.

Roberts

2) Nutrition. No one wants to hear it, but the same applies to pro athletes – diet and nutrition is well over half of the battle (closer to 80 or 90 percent). Athletes can train as hard and as frequent as they want, as their “jobs” are to be in shape. However, if they aren’t fuelling their bodies properly, most of that training goes to waste.

Roberts on nutrition:

“Proper diet is the number one thing NHL players and organizations don’t pay enough attention to. It drives me crazy. When I was in Tampa, we had four dessert options on the airplane! There was the cheesecake tray, the cookie tray, the ice cream tray, the little Smartie-Tootsie Roll tray. I’m thinking, ‘Are we actually a professional hockey team?’ If you ate all those things, you wouldn’t wake up for three days! The biggest thing I’m teaching these guys is that you don’t recover without proper nutrition. You will never make the gains you can make if you don’t eat right.”

Steven Stamkos had some adjustments to make during his first summer with Roberts.

“It was a big adjustment. The first two weeks we started the program, your body is not just used to that type of food. You are used to laying on the mayo, the ranch dressing. It was depressing at first. But once my body got used to it, it was fine. The food was great. I didn’t know what some of it was, but it was unbelievable. There was this mango parfait I still crave.”

Roberts has partnered up with Matt Nichol, who runs the Bio Steel company that you see many hockey players promoting. Simply put, Matt knows his stuff.

Matt received his Bachelor of Concurrent Education (B.Ed.) from McGill University in Montreal, completing a double major in Physical Education and History/Anthropology. While at McGill, Matt became certified with the National Strength and Conditioning Association as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (C.S.C.S.) and with the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiologists as a Certified Fitness Consultant (C.F.C.). Matt received his Masters degree in Kinesiology (M. Kine).from York University.

BioSteel is a great product. It isn’t revolutionary either – it doesn’t have some top secret blend that will make you faster. However, it does work. I have tried it before, and enjoyed the benefits of it (less muscle cramping, better hydration during and after lifts, and so on).

Like Roberts, BioSteel has done an incredible job of building a brand, working closely with several NHL players (like Mike Cammalleri).

Training

Roberts has trained the best of the best, and his work speaks for itself. He had a huge part in the following:

  • Steven Stamkos emerging as the best goal scorer in the world
  • Jeff Skinner excelling as a teenager in the NHL, winning the Calder in the process
  • James Neal scoring 40 and becoming a great power forward
  • Cody Hodgson overcoming a chronic back injury to live up to his potential as a top prospect
Stamkos has been the best marketing plan Roberts could have ever asked for. He bought in to what Roberts was preaching during his first year with the Lightning, and he hasn’t looked back. The improvements in his game were instantaneous. 

Stamkos signed back up with Roberts for the summer of 2010, returned to working out five to six times a week and eating the organic concoctions Roberts’ required of him. He had 19 goals in 19 games to start the following season and was generating some 50-in-50 buzz — even Wayne Gretzky was talking about him.
Stamkos never got to 50 goals. He finished with 45, having scored seven in his final 30 games. Roberts has an explanation for the slump: Stamkos stopped training and did not maintain his fitness level.

Roberts doesn’t have the Midas touch. He isn’t going to turn Stephen Weiss into Joe Sakic, or Wojtek Wolski into a 40-goal scorer. However, he seems to be preparing his clients as well as possible for their season. What separates Stamkos from other really good young players is his work ethic. Like Sidney Crosby, he doesn’t only want to be the best, he wants to be the hardest worker, too. You can teach skill and shooting (to a degree), but it is really hard to teach work ethic, passion, and determination.

Roberts on Stamkos (and squatting):

There are lots of trainers like Roberts out there. None have the brand recognition he has built for himself. He obviously now makes a lot of money training hockey players, but you can tell in his interviews and videos that helping others improve in the gym and improve their knowledge of nutrition is his passion.

Canucks 2012 1st round pick and Belleville captain Brendan Gaunce works with Roberts, as does his older brother Cameron (a Colorado prospect). Cameron saw immidate results from the Roberts system, and it was almost entirely from the nutritional improvements.

The results, for many, were stunning. Gaunce lost 15 pounds in the first five weeks. When he did his fitness testing at the beginning of training camp in Colorado, his body fat had dropped six percent, and he had added three pounds of muscle mass. He won the Wingate anaerobic test and the long jump. He is, literally, a new man.

And like in any industry, Roberts pays it forward. He learned from four of the best in the industry along the way.

“I was lucky enough to meet four guys along the way who taught me all this. Charles Poliquin, who saved my career in Calgary when I thought I was done, Lorne Goldenberg – who has been my strength coach since I was an Ottawa 67, I just didn’t listen to him until I was 30, Matty Nichol – the former Toronto Maple Leafs strength coach, and Andy O’Brien, who has been training Sidney Crosby since he was 14. I took all the information they gave me, and tried to piece it together – what worked and didn’t work for me – to help give hockey players the best chance at longevity. Hopefully, I can do for these kids what those guys did for me.”

Poloquin is a legend in the fitness industry. Even if you are a weekend warrior, chances are you have read something he has put out (or are listening to someone else preach Poloquin’s ideas). It was all worth it for Roberts.

“I did tons of studying myself at age 30 when I was trying to make my comeback. And I hired Charles Poliquin, who’s a renowned strength coach, and I spent one year with him. I paid him — well, I won’t tell you what I paid him — but I paid him a lot for one year of schooling, basically. And I lived with this guy for 10 straight months. It was the best schooling I could have had. You can pay $5,000 to hear this guy talk in a seminar for two days now.”

The attention that Roberts has brought to the off-ice component of being a pro hockey player has been fantastic. He isn’t the only top trainer out there, and it isn’t the end of the world if your team doesn’t have any players training with him. He has forced other trainers around the league to work harder, to incorporate nutritional guidance and planning into their programs, and to take a holistic approach to fitness (not just weights, but flexibility, balance, coordination).

He’s forced all players to up their games. And he’s forced all hockey trainers to up theirs, too.

This column has some great training advice from Roberts.

Don’t worry about the bench.

“It’s okay for brute strength. I’m not saying we never do it. But very rarely do we have anybody on benches. When do you ever push something when you’re lying on a supported bench? We do single-arm, heavy bench press on a Swiss ball. So you’ve got one arm with a 70- or 80-pound dumbbell, and you’ve got to use your core to stabilize yourself or you’re going to fall off the ball. And your other arm is resting on your abdominals. That’s how you do bench press for hockey players.”

Ditch the leg press.

“The inverted leg press is a complete no-no for hockey players. You can pile on 600 pounds, but your back is pushed up against a bench. Everybody says, ‘Wow, your legs are getting strong.’ But you’re laying down, pushing up. When do you ever use your legs when your back is supported like that? Not in any situation I’ve played hockey in. Instead, the toughest exercise in the gym is a front position Bulgarian split squat. You’ve got a barbell. You’re holding it in a front-squat position. Your back leg is elevated behind you on a squat stand, and you’re squatting forward on your front leg.”

Curls are a waste of time.

“No more curls for the girls! It’s a waste of time. This is the way Canadian hockey players used to train. We trained like body builders, a lot of us. And most guys now, they have lean, wiry upper bodies with big and strong legs. Biceps curls, the only time you use your biceps is if you’re a fighter and you’ve got to grab a guy and pull him towards you. You’re better off doing pull-ups, which work your biceps (and many other muscles).”

The quality isn’t great, but here is a video of Roberts training back in 2004. He’s absolutely ripped.