Derek Woodske is a well-decorated track and field athlete, winning three Nationals Titles in the Hammer Throw and four All-American Honors in college. Derek set multiple Canadian records in the hammer and earned a top two world ranking indoors as a member of Team Canada. Derek has worked professionally as a coach in the NCAA, NFL and is currently a master course conductor for the Poliquin Performance Center in East Greenwich Rhode Island. I met Derek several years ago and was instantly impressed, not only by his immense size, strength and experience, but by his open and honest perspective of the strength and conditioning industry, as well as life in general.
I recently caught up with Derek and asked him to share some thoughts on the strength and conditioning industry.
Dusten: You travel the world, have competed and coached at the highest level of athletics and still you are excited about your work. What excites you most about your work?
Derek: For me it is the opportunity to exchange ideas with a lot of different coaches in different areas. I have never been one that prescribed to one ideology or system. I think the mechanic is as good as the tools that he has available. So the more tools, the better end results.
Dusten: You spend a fair amount of time teaching people how to use those tools, what has teaching others taught you about yourself?
Derek: That you have to understand that they (students) are seeing for the first time something that you may take for granted. You have to stop and remember what it is like to have your hair blown back and don’t act like it isn’t important.
Dusten: That’s a good point - and a mature perspective. How has your experience and maturity affected your own view of the industry?
Derek: There are a lot of selfish assholes in this industry… a lot. People that I have really given a lot of my time to and you see that they are just simple assholes in the end. Worst part for sure.
Dusten: That seems to be a common thread regardless of the industry. What have you taken from those incidents’ moving forward?
Derek: Even though others will try to push aside or replace your reputation with their own, as long as you continue to be a good coach and provide as much of your ability to those that need it. The reputation part will pass like the clouds, no one can be loved by everyone so don’t try. Do your best provide the most that you can and let the results speak for themselves.
Dusten: That’s really good perspective. Speaking of results what is the difference in your mind between coaches focusing on rehabilitation, training for exercise and training for athletic performance?
Derek: They are the same, just different points along the same linear progression. All a power clean represents is a step towards the end goal between a 30sec plank and a vertical jump to catch a pass as wide out.
Dusten: I get what you are saying, they are not separate but rather part of a progressive continuum but do you ever see coaches putting the emphasis on corrective exercises when their client is focused on fat loss etc?
Derek: I do, but it is typically due to the confusion created by educated people in our industry selling opinion for facts. The reality is there are very few ways to do it wrong but people don’t want you to know that because that decreases their ability to sell you bullshit. The confusion is typically emotion-based misrepresentation of good information.
Dusten: As long as we are talking about misrepresentation of information - What are your thoughts on Crossfit training?
Derek: I think that it has become a case-by-case evaluation. In the beginning it was much more controlled from the top of the organization, with the idea that periodization of a program was evil and all that stuff, however, when money and television gets involved things start to become standardized very quickly. There once was a time the WWE or wrestling in general was the most watched sport on television because they knew the ending and they controlled the variables. Now, CrossFit is not “fake” by any means, but the events have to fit into a television time slot and because of that it has to change. People know that there will only be so many options exercise-wise and the durations are shorter. So better more precise coaching is evolving. However, there are still some dog shit boxes out there cranking our injuries for a living.
Dusten: That makes sense - It is my opinion that Crossfit has done a great job motivating people to train, reducing the intimidation associated with walking in a weight room and promoting “the sport of Olympic lifting” to the general public. But I also see a lot of people that are drawn to Crossfit for those reasons, but get frustrated when they don’t see fat loss, muscle mass development and experience injuries. You had a great post on your blog recently where you discussed this very topic. Can you elaborate on this topic?
Derek: I think the benefit to the group training setting is the fact that you have forced accountability through camaraderie. However, the problem that CrossFit has run into is the fact that there are way too many people with knowledge trying to dispense a pound of cure. What happens is they inevitably make people physically sick with injuries not understanding how to put together the ingredients of the medication for lack of a better description. I think we're at a crossroads with that industry because a lot of the gyms will have to choose to pursue performance, and the others will have to choose to perform maintaining a clientele that does not want to compete in the sport fitness. So what I believe is that exercises are like tools, you use tools for different jobs. Unfortunately with the competitive arena some of the tools are being misused (high repetition volume in Olympic lifts for example) so in the general population they still need to be used correctly but you can make up that fat burning fat loss volume through much safer alternative means like pushing prowlers, drags, ropes, tug-of-war etc.
Dusten: As you mentioned, Crossfit is another in a long line of product-service changes to the strength and conditioning industry. Where do you see this industry going in the next 5, 10, 20 years?
Derek: That is the question! There are only so many ways to do a biceps curl, that much we know. The question is how do we make the product more athlete / client available while still earning a great living. That truly will be the interesting part, plus a need for more supplementation as our nutrient levels in our food continue to be manipulated.
Dusten: It seems like you’re saying the line between fitness and functional medicine will continue to blend. I think there is a lot of truth to that statement. The question in my mind is should that line continue to blend? I have a fair number of clients and coaches contact me and ask me to help them with nutrition/detoxification programs – One common question I get is can I help them dose/adjust herbal formulas being marketed for detoxification even though the products they are using were not designed for that purpose. It is a mistake I see being made more frequently by strength coaches. I am not saying that strength coaches should not advocate detoxification support programs, but I am saying – similar to the Crossfit discussion, that as things evolve, we need to evolve with them and continue to make adjustments to the demands of the market.
As we provide coaches with more freedom to make nutritional interventions, what adjustments do we need to make as an industry to their educational process so that they understand the treatments they are recommending? If we don’t make any adjustments, aren’t we just making the same mistakes Crossfit made with training – lack of knowledge leading to poor instruction of Olympic lift technique, poor program design resulting in injury, etc? Without changes, aren’t we talking about the same mistakes on the nutritional side of the industry?
Derek: That is really good question as well, the thing that I see as being a major red flag in the nutritional care side of the industry is that we have people that believe that they are experts in everything holistic and internal when they don't even understand basic macronutrient profiling. And they are doing exactly what the early CrossFit people did – they took a little bit of information, misrepresented and misused it, and in return they could make people harmed percent as well. It is the equivalent of poor coaching in terms of nutritional advice. I think we have way too many cracker box Doctors out there that think that just because they attended one seminar they should be dispensing advice beyond that of a general practitioner and that is a massive, massive mistake. Typically in the physical world you can see the mistakes happening, but when people start manipulating the internal environment of the body you don't see the results of their misguided adventures until it's often too late
Dusten: Ok so where does the problem start? What changes would you make to fix the problem?
Derek: Truly, even though we have a dietitians association that tries to control us in terms of what we can dispense information-wise in regards to nutrition and supplementation, the problem will always be present in United States due to the freedom of supplementation act. We have a lot of liberties in terms of what we can consume. However, with that also comes a lot of liberties and who can determine or promote what you can use. I think the ISSN has a good idea in terms of their certification in sports supplementation, because at least it gives you a better understanding of the do’s and don'ts. But I think there has to be a little bit clearer determination of what people can and can't say to somebody in regards to holistic supplementation.
Dusten: I agree with you there, the problem is as soon as you set the regulation, someone needs to enforce it. It will be interesting to see if an extra level of credible education, similar to the education you received as therapist but focused on strength, conditioning and nutritional skill sets, develops in the near future.
You mentioned that Crossfit ran into a problem with injury and making people sick because they didn’t know as you put it “How to pull all the ingredients together.” I assume you are talking about program design and instruction – Challenges with program design are not solely a Crossfit issue, what is the biggest mistake you see people make in the strength and conditioning industry?
Derek: I would say program hopping - not accepting that change takes time and duration not just four weeks. A program is not four weeks…a program is a minimum of 12.
Dusten: Do you see coaches make the same mistakes with their own training?
Derek: Yes, the artist that doesn’t like his canvas always thinks that they can change it or in our world make it easier… let someone else take control once in a while and feel what it is like to be locked in for a full 55min.
Dusten: Well what about you? What do you do to improve your own health and fitness?
For me it has been a process… as I get older I have started to move in the direction of movements and flexibility. My goal this year is to continue to progress in Muay Thai and Krav Maga with the addition of yoga… Strong is something that has always been a priority but I need change so that is my life now.
Dusten: You mentioned a change in your priorities, if strength isn’t in the top spot anymore, what goals do you have?
Derek: Lose 8% BF and get a little smaller and faster.
Dusten: You are a really big strong dude so wanting to be a little smaller and faster makes sense –we tend to want to be the things we aren’t. Tell us something about yourself that would surprise people.
Derek: I am extremely spiritual in my life and have studied alternative practices for a long time. Like in training the body I don’t believe there is one way to develop the soul.
Dusten: I believe that about you. Though it doesn’t necessarily come across in your blog – which I really dig by the way. Who should follow your blog?
Derek: Thank you! I think people that are a fan of health and fitness but need a break from the mainstream tirade of bullshit and sales. Sometimes you need to just watch or read something because the information is solid and the medium is entertaining.
Dusten: Every industry has their share of bullshit and ours is no exception. If you were going to leave the industry tomorrow and change careers what would you do?
Derek: Marine Biologist.
Dusten: Nothing about you screams Marine biologist my friend – I don’t think they even make wetsuit to fit your “gigantor” ass – so why that career?
Derek: The ocean, the power of sea and life! Zero bullshit, a dolphin has never told the ocean that seals suck because they swim differently.
Dusten: That we know of…they could be every bit the judgmental assholes we are just with a different language...keep that in mind before you make a switch. But I get what you mean, the industry is growing and becoming more competitive – It’s like the wild west out there with very few rules and lots of opinions. How do you maintain perspective on work/life balance?
Derek: You have to maintain separation, stay connected to those that have always known you for what you were not who you may be. Society will always establish a personality for you, but it is friends and family who matter most.
Dusten: There’s that spiritual side coming through – I really appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to share your insights Derek.
Derek: Thank you for the opportunity to get to know your followers and friends! I look forward to crossing paths with you in March when I am in Chicago!
You can follow Derek’s blog – (Man)imal – www.themanimalsguide.wordpress.com