“I just knew this kid had the drive and the will.” Fitness specialist Tony Greco has been with Claude Giroux since the beginning.
This summer marks the 10-year anniversary between the Flyers’ superstar captain and Greco, Canada’s Leading Fitness Specialist. Frequently sought out by some of the biggest names in the NHL, Greco has trained Giroux, Dan Boyle of the New York Rangers and Mike Fisher of the Nashville Predators among others.
“He started with me 10 years ago. He was just this guy that was pretty much looking for the dream and the hope of playing in the NHL.”
Brought to Greco with his eyes set on playing in the top hockey league in the world, Giroux would quickly learn the importance of off-ice training and nutrition.
“It’s funny because somebody brought him to me and they also brought Paul Byron and Simon Lacroix. They said ‘this guy has a chance, this guy is a maybe and this guy you know…he has a pretty good chance,’ ” said Greco.
“It’s funny because these three little kids are in my fitness facility and the first thing we talked about was nutrition. I’m like ‘what do you guys eat?’ Giroux said cheeseburgers and I just started to laugh.”
The importance of proper nutrition can’t be stressed enough by Greco.
“I told these kids we’re going to have to incorporate some more protein. Giroux said, ‘what do you mean?’ I said well like fish. Giroux responded ‘like fish and chips?’ I go ‘no, you can’t have that’ [laughing].”
“It’s funny because you got a bunch of young kids who you’re trying to teach good eating habits.”
It didn’t take long for Giroux to get set on the proper nutrition course.
“From that first day, we started with the meal plan and trying to make better changes in what you eat,” explains Greco.
Once the importance of proper nutrition was locked down, Greco took Giroux onto the next step.
“I just knew this kid had the drive and the will, so what we did was we started to workout and then in his first year in Gatineau (QMJHL), his coach said ‘wow, what an improvement. This guy is unbelievable.’”
Giroux exploded for 39 goals and 103 points in 2005-06 – his first season in the QMJHL. Giroux followed that up with a sensational sophomore campaign in which he recorded 48 goals and 112 points. He would continue his dominance in the postseason, earning the Guy Lafleur Trophy as the QMJHL playoff MVP.
“From there, Giroux started to believe that wow…training and working hard really does make a difference,” explains Greco.
“From there on, we’ve just been doing some truly amazing exercises.”
Giroux may have the skill and the talent, but there is one thing about him that really stands out to Greco.
“The most important thing that I want to compliment is that I really get the positive attitude in him. He believes in what the training will actually do for him. Some kids and athletes just say ‘ah I got to train because it’s the sport.’ He understands and believes that going through these obstacles, struggling, sweating and working his butt off…it makes him better. You see that leadership quality on the ice. He has a dream, but he does the work to accomplish that dream.”
Over the years, Greco has helped Giroux push himself farther than he ever thought he could go.
“I’ll just give you an example,” said Greco. “We’ll skip rope for five minutes while people are resting. So what we’ll do is a series of compound exercises. It’ll go from like a split lunge to a squat and then to a jump squat. After that, we’ll skip for five minutes as opposed to people resting. For active recovery, we’re sweating. That extra effort that goes into developing that strength basically gives him that attitude as well. He knows he can go a lot further than he can.”
It isn’t hard to see how Giroux going that extra mile in the gym directly correlates to his play on the ice.
“I’ve had several compliments from people in the Flyers’ organization on how this guy can play 22-23 minutes a night at a very-high intensity. His endurance is incredible.”
Greco continues to push Giroux and can remember a memorable moment back in the day that couldn’t be more relevant to today’s game.
“I remember a time I was talking to him about Sidney Crosby. I told Claude ‘you’re better than that guy.’ He goes, ‘listen, don’t say that.’ I’m like ‘no I’m going to say it until you believe it.’ ”
Greco knows Giroux has several qualities that set him apart from most other NHL players.
“I said ‘the difference with you G is that you’ll go up against a guy like Zdeno Chara and you’ll defend your team. You know that he’s going to rough you up, but your still not going to give up.’”
“Those are the leadership qualities he’s developed going through the whole training aspect of going through what he thought he couldn’t achieve.’”
One of the things Greco stresses with Giroux is his positivity and how his attitude plays a key role in his success.
“When I align the workout, he’s never negative. A lot of the players I work with they’ll say stuff like ‘so we’re only doing eight reps, right Tony?’ And I’m like ‘no, we’re going to do 12.’ ‘But I’m only going to do this once, right?’ There is always that negative response.”
That isn’t the case with Giroux.
“G doesn’t say anything. He just gets it done. It’s funny because sometimes when he’s going through some obstacles, he starts to laugh. In other words, it’s like ‘wow this is fun…it’s challenging.’ Your brain is telling your mind…it’s like weakness leaving your body. That’s the definition of pain to him.”
He’s only 5’11″, but that doesn’t stop Giroux from being an all-around force whenever he’s on the ice. Greco notes how his world-class conditioning makes him unstoppable.
“He’s so solid on the ice. He’s only around 178 lbs, but his bodyfat is at like nine percent, which is amazing. This year he’s gotten a little bit bigger and he’s been working a lot on pulls and stuff.”
Greco notes how unique Giroux’s workouts are and how they differ from what you would see if you walked into a gym right now.
“I’ve talked to the Flyers to find his weaknesses and what he can improve on, which really isn’t much. It’s just furthering his base and getting him to the next level. My goal is for him and the Flyers to win a Stanley Cup. That would be my ultimate dream. We’re not going to stop until we do that.”
When asked about specifics, Greco stressed the importance of finding exercises that resemble events that occur on the ice.
“It takes a lot of time. We mimic a lot of exercises on the ice. A lot of off-balance stuff. Stuff you would do in critical situations in a game. Like going into the boards awkwardly, so we would do different forms of lunges. Things like lateral lunges, single-leg lunges and jumping lunges. Something you wouldn’t see at a regular workout.”
Although Greco has Giroux doing numerous exercises that resemble on-ice movements, he notes that the 27-year-old understands you’re not just a robot on the ice.
“Most people train to be robots,” explains Greco.
“They do their standard deadlifts and squats, but anybody does that. That’s just the root of the base. You got to go above and beyond that. The minute I get you to do a single-leg squat while you’re holding an arm band and I’m pulling you off-balance…that’s very similar to something that would occur on the ice. That’s kind of like being in an awkward position where someone’s trying to check you into the boards and you got to balance the check and continue to progress with the puck. This is what makes the difference.”
Training is very unique to each player and Greco notes the importance of finding what’s right for each person.
“Training is all what you put into it. You can’t do that with a whole team because everybody is different. You really have to focus on someone’s weaknesses and the little things that will end up making a big difference.”
Aside from a couple minor freak accidents, Giroux has been incredibly durable over the past six years, missing just six games due to injury.
“He’s getting over 20 minutes of ice time every game, so you better be in top shape for that or you’re not going to last.”
Greco talks about how training in the gym relates to injuries on the ice.
“If you’re in the gym and doing the kind of training that we do…let’s say there is an injury to the ankle. Because you’ve been doing a lot off off-balance stuff and you really target those little weak links around the ankles, your body already knows that it needs to start healing. That’s another bonus of these different types of exercises. We’re targeting all different variations of movement of the muscle. This is key because you’re not just doing your standard squats and power cleans. Those are great to do to in order to establish the base, but now that the game is so fast and quick, we need the emphasize things like first-step takeoffs and explosive start power.”
Greco talks about one exercise in particular that really focuses on speed and building resistance.
“We have a two-man harness. I have a handle and Claude will be running, sprinting and doing cross-overs and I’ll pull yank him on the right/ left side. It’s very similar to going into the corner and getting checked or going around a defenseman. It mimics a lot of the movements he does on the ice.
Not only is the actual exercise important, Greco has an interesting take on how the timing of it is just as crucial.
“My theory is anybody can train when their fresh, but not everybody can train when they’re weak. That’s one of the reasons why I do this excruciating exercise at the end of the workout when the guy is dead tired. That’s when the real leadership kicks in. That’s what carries that attitude on the ice. He’s able to go on the ice in that third period or overtime and be the difference maker.”
The Ottawa Citizen recently reported star defenseman Erik Karlsson, known for his small size, bulked up to 200 lbs during the offseason after spending the 2015 playoffs in the 180-185 lbs range. Giroux is currently listed at just 172 lbs – a weight he appears to being doing just fine at.
When asked if he’s working on helping Giroux gain lean muscle mass or simply maintaining what he already has, Greco offered some insight and opinion into bulking and gaining muscle.
“I don’t believe in bulking up the wrong way. Your body needs the proper among of fuel. You need your nutrients. Protein, carbohydrates and fats. Most of these people that bulk up eat whatever they want thinking they’re going to go on the ice and burn it all off. In the meantime, though, your body is breaking down that process of refined sugar – stuff that just isn’t good for you. Using your car as an analogy, it’s like you’re driving a Ferrari and all of the sudden you’re putting in s****y fuel and then two months later you go back and try to get better by putting in good oil and fuel, but that engine might be a little rocky.”
Greco notes how he always checks in with the Flyers’ organization to see if they want Giroux bigger or what they want in terms of size.
“As Giroux matures, he’s going to naturally add a lot of lean muscle mass. During the offseason, he’s eating 3-5 times a day. These are smaller meals that consist of chicken breast, fish and lots of vegetables.”
While eating habits may change during the season, the importance of proper nutrition during the offseason becomes very important. Giroux understands now more than ever the benefits of eating right during the summer months.
“Giroux has been really strict with his eating this year. He’s more mature and he gets it. He’ll go out for a beer with the boys and stuff, but he’s been so strict with his eating plan. His daily routine will start off with an espresso and a good breakfast. What you need is that protein source, whether it’s chicken or fish, two cups of vegetables and good fiber. He’s on the right track right now. So over the years, this will help him maintain and gain lean muscle mass. This is key because what you’ll notice is after an 82-game season, some of these guys will look like they just got out of prison camps because they’re not eating the greatest and they look unhealthy.
The hard work Giroux is putting in right now almost seems destined to pay off during the 2015-16 season.
“G looks great right now because all he’s doing is eating and training. That’s what you want to do. Bulking up the wrong way is not the way to do it.”
Going beyond his clients, Greco wants younger and upcoming hockey players to understand the importance of proper nutrition.
“I tell people nutrition is 90 percent of the battle. 10 percent is genetics. The exercise just gets you the conditioning. You can work out all you want and have the desires and drive that someone like Claude has, but if you don’t fuel up properly to sustain that energy, eventually you’re going to lose it because technically the body can only do so much.”
Greco explains how over the years Giroux’s picked up on the importance of fuelling your body and getting the proper recovery.
“I think right now Giroux’s got it. He knows the importance and that’s why we provide healthy smoothies after the workout because as soon as you wear and tear your muscles, you have to replenish them with a good source of protein. I go ‘look G, you just a great high-intense workout and you tore all your muscles apart. What do you think your body is going to do now? It’s going to try and recuperate.’ If you don’t have the proper nutrients in your body, you’re done. Your muscles are going to waste away, and as a player, you just can’t afford that. You need all the lean muscle mass that you possibly can.”
Greco is quick to praise the Flyers’ organization and strength and conditioning coach Ryan Podell.
“I speak to Podell and Director of Sports Medicine Jim McCrossin at the end of the season and go ‘look, what does Giroux need to work on this year?’ and they give me the updates if there were any injuries, which there weren’t this year, and then they basically give me the green light to keep doing whatever I’ve been doing with him.”
“I find it amazing in an organization. The way they kind of put their star player in my hands. Obviously, I’ve worked with him since the beginning, but it’s neat because this way there are three of us working together to make this particular individual a huge success.”
Greco believes the work ethic and time Giroux has put in this offseason has him in store for an excellent upcoming season. After leading the NHL with a whopping 37 power-play points and firing a career-high 279 shots on goal in 2014-15, Giroux seems destined to succeed in 2015-16.
“He wants it. You can see the fire he has. He’s just ready to unleash it this year. I thought he was the best player for Team Canada at the 2015 World Championships, so he’s got that momentum going for him.”
“I think the Flyers not making the playoffs last year makes him even hungrier. He’s beyond ready. This is the first time where I really feel he’s going to have his best year ever.”