Hearts favourite Uche Ikpeazu on his gruelling pre-season schedule & chance meeting with Barcelona hero Gerard Pique

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MERELY watching Uche Ikpeazu’s close season fitness regime is enough to cause most mere mortals to cramp up.

From eye-watering battle rope exercises to punishing weight and cardio drills, the Hearts striker has been a man on a mission this summer.

Working closely with personal trainer Joe Power (nominative determinism at its finest), Ikpeazu has endeavoured to recapture the physical condition which saw him give SPFL defenders nightmares upon his arrival from Cambridge United last year.

His followers on Instagram have even been treated to a host of videos documenting that progress and, in bullish mood, he is adamant those clips will serve as lasting proof that his impending success in the coming campaign was no fluke.

“I have a PT [personal trainer], Joe Power, who I work with,” explained Ikpeazu. “During the summer, I stay at my mum’s house in Northampton and I’ve been working with him for three years. I’ve improved every year.

“He does stuff in the gym and outside – strength and conditioning work. I do like to post my videos and show people what I’m doing. That’s just my character. And when I do have a good season, people will know it’s no coincidence! Hard work pays off. That’s my mentality.

“It’s all about getting my body right. He knows the problems I’ve had with my knee. He knows my body well after three years and is able to give me tips. He knows what he’s doing, along with the staff at Hearts, have got me feeling really good.”

By his own admission, Ikpeazu is his own worst critic and is visibly determined to improve on a roller-coaster maiden campaign in Scottish football.

He became an immediate fans’ favourite due to his prodigious physicality and tireless work ethic, notching four goals in his opening eight game for the Gorgie outfit. However, a deceptively serious foot injury sustained in October saw Ikpeazu sidelined for four months.

Even after returning to something approaching full fitness, he was hampered by a niggling knee issue which was finally been remedied by an injection over the summer.

“I’m very hard on myself and towards the end of last season I just didn’t think I was playing well,” Ikpeazu said bluntly. “I know why: because I was playing with an injury.

“You’re going into games knowing there’s something not right with your body. You’re having to fight through the pain but I wouldn’t have changed that. I wanted to help the team in the league and cups. I do that for the gaffer, my team-mates and for the fans.

“When I came back from my injury I worked hard and felt good but then there were little breakdowns. It’s because I put in so much work to get back in shape. Maybe I rushed back and it caught up with me.

“But my body has healed now, I feel strong and I’m ready to go. I’m ready to attack the season.”

There was, however, some down-time for Ikpeazu during the summer. He jetted out for a week in Los Angeles and Miami, soaking up the sun and rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous.

And it afforded him the opportunity meet one of his idols. Or perhaps vice-versa.

(Pic: Instagram, @heartofmidlothianfc)

“I met Gerard Pique at the airport before flying out,” Ikpeazu laughed. “He saw me and pulled me over like ‘Uche, can I have a picture?’”

“No, he is an unbelievable defender playing at the top level. We had a few words and then I even him in LA on the same day. We were on the same flight. He was very down to earth, very humble and cool. He is at that level you aspire to play at and going up against him would be a dream.”

With Hearts plagued by injuries and a lack of strength in depth in attack last season, Ikpeazu was often asked to lead the line on his own and, even with his power and mobility, regularly found himself isolated.

That is unlikely to be the case this season following the astute captures of Conor Washington and Jamie Walker, allied with the impending arrival of Steven Naismith. Boss Levein has already promised a more potent Jambos side this term and it is a prospect Ikpeazu is relishing.

(Pic: Hearts TV)

Steven MacLean and Craig Wighton has also found the net already in pre-season, staking their claim for a jersey.

“There is competition now and we all have a common goal – to win and progress,” added Ikpeazu. “Conor [Washington] has played at a very good level so I will be looking to learn from him. I think he is a great addition to the squad.”

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