Even though the New York Giants are mired in one of their toughest seasons in recent memory, one bright spot has been offensive lineman Justin Pugh.
Drafted in 2013 as a first-round pick out of Syracuse, Pugh has been moved all over the offensive line in his first four seasons, making starts at left guard (his natural position), left tackle, and right tackle.
And he’s done it all without missing a beat.
With the Giants offensive line struggling with consistency and injuries since Pugh was drafted, the Newtown, PA, native has proven to be one of the most versatile and consistent blockers in the NFL.
How has he done it? It’s all in his training and preparation.
“This off-season, I focused on using boxing, mixed martial arts, and swimming in my training,” Pugh tells Men’s Fitness. “The swimming and MMA workouts helped me get more lean, drop body fat, get more athletic, and be in the best shape possible. That really helps in playing different positions on the line.”
Some players don’t like being shuffled around to different positions, but the 6’4”, 301-lb Pugh isn’t the type of player to make tabloid-style headlines, even in a city as drama-loving as New York.
“I look forward to the challenge every week,” Pugh says. “The most important part is doing whatever I need for the team to be in a position to win. The NFL is not easy, and you’re not human if you don’t experience bumps in the road. But I think my training has put me in position to do whatever is best for the Giants.”
You don’t realize until you swim for 10, 20, 30 laps how hard it is. You’re like, ‘Wow, now that’s a workout.’
In the off-season, Pugh spends most of his time in the gym, training at least two to four hours per day to ensure he gets into a “groove” heading into the season. Pugh usually does his lifting in the morning—depending on the day, it’s a combination of squats, single-leg workouts, dumbbell stepups, sled pulls and pushes, and deadlifts—but after that, he’d get in a more energetic workout.
“The MMA workouts—like jiu jitsu—and boxing helped me work on my hand speed, my leverage, and handwork,” Pugh explains. “I wanted my hand skills to be the highest level they’ve been this season.”
Pugh has stayed relatively healthy to start his career, missing only nine of 65 total games (through Week 6 of the 2017 season.) Pugh chalks that up to yoga.
“Yoga has been a great way to improve my flexibility,” Pugh says. “It’s helped me find areas of weakness and to maintain my balance. Our bodies get beaten down so much during the season, and when you’re sore, those deep stretches can really help in recovery, especially in my shoulders and hips. During the season, some guys will do yoga at least once a week, sometimes twice.”
But the real secret to his success? Getting into the pool. As personal trainer Jimmy Minardi previously told Men’s Fitness, swimming can be one of the “best full-body, low-impact physical activities” for athletes. That’s exactly why Pugh started to swim as part of his training routine.
“For cardio work, swimming really takes stress off my knees and my back,” Pugh says. “It’s not just like swimming around the pool having a good time. It’s an intense workout. I started swimming in a pool right by the Giants’ facility, and that’s something I love to do now. You don’t realize until you swim for 10, 20, 30 laps how hard it is. You’re like, ‘Wow, now that’s a workout.’”
While Pugh’s training has had a major impact on his level of play, so has his renewed focus on his diet and nutrition. Pugh sticks with the same thing for breakfast every day: a smoothie with strawberries, blueberries, banana, apple, spinach, nonfat yogurt, chia seeds, oats, wheat, protein, a carb supplement, and a multivitamin. For lunch and dinner he’ll have salads or dishes with grilled chicken, steak, brown rice, potatoes, and vegetables.
“This year I took my diet and meal prep to another level,” Pugh said. “I have a chef that cooks for me, and we use all organic food, and it’s made a huge difference. I’m making sure I’m maintaining my weight through the season. It’s expensive, I can’t lie. But I get to write it off because I’m an athlete [laughs]. But it really has changed my game. It has made me look at nutrition as a whole other aspect of my training. It’s helped me make better choices, be much more aware of what goes into my body, and how it affects me.”
Through five games of the 2017 season, the Giants are winless, but that hasn’t stopped Pugh from having an optimistic view of his team the rest of the way.
“Losing to Philly [in Week 3] was tough,” Pugh said. “Me being from that area, the suburbs of Philadelphia, makes it hard, but we have a great group of guys and we don’t give up. So this is another bump that we’re going to have to overcome. Obviously the odds are against us, but we’re going to push to finish the season on a strong note.”