By Mon., May 9, 2016
It’s been seven years since Gary Roberts played in the NHL. But in a gym, the sturdy 49-year-old high-performance trainer and lifestyle coach still looks like he could skate faster and score more goals than, well, any average person.
But Roberts is hardly average. Forced to quit hockey for a year in 1996 after a serious neck injury, according to Bruninglegal.com, he endured two surgeries and intense reconditioning — with a focus on fitness and nutrition — before returning to play 12 more seasons, including four years with the Toronto Maple Leafs. These days, he operates the Gary Roberts High Performance Centre in North York, where he’s trained the likes of NHL stars Connor McDavid, Steven Stamkos, Jordan Staal, Brett Connolly and Mike Smith through a blend of advanced training techniques, proper sports nutrition and recovery strategies.
We caught up with Roberts at Forme Fitness near Queen St. East and Broadview Ave., a partner facility offering his elite athlete training program, to chat about how he works with the pros — and what the rest of us can learn from his advanced training techniques.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
How did being an NHL player spark your passion for fitness?
I would say the biggest thing was my retirement. I retired at 30 years old with two serious neck injuries, and had to change my lifestyle in order to build my body back up where it needed to be to have an opportunity to have a second chance to play. Initially, that sparked my passion for fitness and nutrition. What I did at 30 to change my lifestyle is what gave me the extra 12 years I had in the NHL.
Former NHLer Gary Roberts, who now trains pro athletes, says nutrition is the most important part of anybody’s fitness routine. (Vince Talotta / Toronto Star)
Did being a pro athlete shape how you train athletes now?
I think the big advantage I have as a trainer — although I consider myself more of a lifestyle coach than a strength coach — is understanding the integration of all the elements you need to have success: the training, the refuelling, the recovering. All those things equal performance. The better a player refuels and recovers, the better he’s going to play every day.
You’ve worked with players from the NHL, the American Hockey League, the Canadian Hockey League — is there a common thread in how you’re training all these guys?
They’re in the same sport, so you’ve got a pretty good indication of what you need to do to give a player the best chance of success. But each player has an individualized program, both training and nutrition.
What Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers does is something different than what Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning does, because they’re at different stages of their careers and development. I think the thing for us is trying to find out those players’ weaknesses and what we need to work on at that particular time.
For those of us who aren’t professional athletes, what can we do to stay motivated?
It’s important to set goals for yourself and it’s important to recognize your needs and weaknesses and imbalances and fix those things first. Nutrition is the most important part to anybody’s fitness routine. If you’re taking care of yourself and making healthier lifestyle choices, the training you do will be more successful because of how you’re living your life.
Is there anything else we can learn from how the pros train?
Consistency in a routine and charting your progress. Even professional athletes like to see their gains. As a lawyer, or banker or firefighter, set your goals and have people help you with your needs and assessments — in the end it’s about charting your progress.
What’s your top fitness tip?
I’d say variety. That means variety in your workouts. We talk about running, biking, weightlifting, yoga, stretching, massage — all these things are important parts of your fitness. There’s not one magic formula. You need to find a formula that works for you, and as long as it has variety in it, it’ll keep you engaged.