Derek Beres has been teaching yoga at Equinox for 15 years. He also teaches a strength class called Vipr Kettlebell Combo. Last year while reading Tim Ferriss’s #1 New York Times best-seller Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers, he became inspired to add serious weight lifting and gymnastic strength training to his already packed fitness routine. “Ferriss writes about Christopher Sommer, who runs Gymnastic Bodies, who says you can take a gymnast and put them into any sport and they will excel. So I started doing ring work two to three days a week, which led me to refocus on strength training,” Beres told StrongPath recently.
Gymnastic Strength Training
Beres says that both Sommer and Pavel Tastsouline, a fitness trainer who brought kettelbells to the U.S. from Russia in 1998 and started StrongFirst, a “school of strength”, praise gymnastic strength training as an all around fitness builder. Their number one exercise for building strength? The deadlift. Beres is now deadlifting 365 pounds, he has gained strength (and weight, going from 170 to 189 pounds since December 2018, he’s 6’ 3”) and a love of weightlifting. Not bad, especially considering he was treated for testicular cancer just five years ago.
In addition to the deadlift, Beres has three other exercises he is building strength with. The Jefferson Curl (J Curl), another favorite among gymnasts, the Bulgarian split squat, and the bench press. He is adding considerable weight to each of these four moves. His goal? “Pure strength,” he said. “The higher weight you can go the stronger your body gets. I’m also trying to gain an additional 15 pounds so I can raise my weights in all of these.”
A focus on the posterior
One of the aspects he points out about all of these moves is their focus on the posterior, adding that for men, “we are a very frontal focused culture, we focus on the chest, abs and biceps.” But these exercises work the glutes. And once you have strength in the glutes and strong abs, your lower back is supported. “That’s why you want to keep it strong,” he said, “to avoid back pain, not just to look good.”
And Beres points to dead lifting as the “best thing for your buck.” In the past (as a teen, he found a real connection through weight lifting with his father, who in addition to his operations job at Dupont, ran the gym there) he was more of a high repetition, lower weight guy because of his ectomorph body. He started researching the benefits of maxing out a load and just doing one repetition and learned it was much more beneficial than doing many repetitions. “Strength coaches argue that being able to do four reps and one at your max, you load your body and force your body to get stronger more quickly than any high repetition work. That’s when I started getting serious about strength training.” And that’s when his focus really turned to the dead lift.
Strength and Yoga
An unexpected consequence of all the strength training has been flexibility in his yoga practice and teaching. “I suddenly found my yoga practice was stronger than ever before, I was worried I would lose some flexibility but it has actually increased.” All of this is because he focuses on mobility training too, “meaning you’re strong at the end of your range of motion” Beres explained. “I’m using weight to help get deeper and stronger in my abductor and rotator muscles. If you focus on mobility, you get more flexible and stronger simultaneously.”
Though Beres has become more flexible, he says this is not typical for weight lifters. “Many weight lifters don’t stretch, so their mobility, and flexibility, is limited.”
Improved quality of life
His quality of life has improved as a result, too. “In terms of posture, I feel better walking around. A lot of the compensations I didn’t even realize I had are now gone. I feel more upright and stronger.”
Beres says the actual goal setting of his deadlifting is important. “Mentally, emotionally it’s very important to set goals. Depression happens when you don’t have a goal. When you’re training, you have a mental and emotional focus, an investment in reaching a goal, which translates into every facet of life. Fitness goals, career goals, relationship goals, whatever other goals you might have, they’re connected.”
Exercise and Cancer
One of Beres’s goals is just being healthy. “When you experience cancer and know it’s a possibility for later, you realize that eating well and exercising are two things to help mitigate the risk and stave off cancer,” he said. “It’s more inspiration to keep staying in shape and taking care of my body.”
Beres is pushing his weights and inspiring others as he goes along. He tried 370 pounds recently and couldn’t do it. “I’m just going to keep training and get to it,” he said.