Derek Poundstone - The Other Side

Everyone could use a friend like Derek Poundstone. He’s the kind of buddy who, after you purchase a new washer and dryer, could hoist both appliances on his shoulders at the same time and carry them inside. Need to get rid of an old refrigerator? Poundstone would have no problem walking that 250-pound rectangular cube to the curb. After all, he’s used to routinely lifting objects more than four times the weight of your fridge in Strongman competitions across the globe. And at 6-foot-one-inch and 341 pounds, no one in their right mind is going to mess with this guy—not to mention, his day job is as a police officer in Connecticut, where he lives. He’s got brute strength and size, and as far as personality—he’s reportedly a stand-up guy, recognized by his local community as a positive role model for the area’s youth. Yes, Poundstone would be a good friend to have, in more ways than one.

Looking at Poundstone’s competition record, he’s obviously one of the best in the world. But what stats alone don’t reveal is that Poundstone possesses an innate sense to figure out the best way to pick up a heavy object. He’s so good at the methodology behind lifting heavy, cumbersome objects, that at one of his appearances at The World’s Strongest Man competition, officials had to ban the new method he had designed to dead lift weight.

With his lifting smarts and genetic disposition, it’s no surprise that Poundstone has been working his way to the top of the ranks in the last few years. He was crowned Arnold’s Strongest Man at the 2009 competition, and he’s aiming to win it again at the 2010 Arnold Classic, which he calls the “epitome of Strongman.” He also took first place at America’s Strongest Man and fourth at World’s Strongest Man competition in 2009. Though the last year has been an especially successful one for Poundstone, it hasn’t been without several setbacks. “It’s a very painful existence,” Poundstone says about the life of a Strongman—and you’ll understand why after reading our Q&A with the Strongman as he gives vivid descriptions of the gruesome injuries he’s sustained. But as the adage goes: no pain, no gain, and with his record, Poundstone is primed to clinch top spots at the 2010 Arnold Classic.

How does one get involved in Strongman competitions?

I would say some type of mental disorder, probably. When you break down Strongman, the training is absolutely insane, and very few people have actually experienced it. At the top level, it’s a very painful existence. I watched it on TV and was always really interested in it. I was always a very strong kid growing up, and when the chance arose, I got into power lifting. I saw an ad for [Strongman], and said, “I’m going to give it a shot,” and the rest is history. That’s how I did it. Most people would see it on TV and give it a shot.

I would imagine you would get into football with as much weight as you can do.
I was more of a loner. That’s why I say it has to be mental disorder, and I say that in a funny manner, but if you’ve hung out with these athletes, they’re interesting guys. They’re basically guys that just like it, and it’s almost like a cult. The guys are real tight knit, and we all do things that no one else can do. We do things that defy not just gravity, but evolution. At the Yoke Walk at the Arnold last year, we did 1,116 pounds on our backs, plus adding the fact that we all weigh well into the 300-pound range. So, you’re talking about walking around with a total weight on your foot of somewhere close to 1,500 pounds. You’re body wasn’t made to withstand that force, but we train our bodies to do it.

What injuries have you suffered?
My most current injuries I have suffered are two herniated disks and a tear in my spinal cord. My doctor said to go back to a sedentary lifestyle, but that’s the athlete in me—and part reckless, too. You sort of have to be reckless because you know you’re going to get hurt if you continue to do it. I’ve also got a torn pec, which I tore in 2008 and was pretty rugged. I actually competed six days after, and there are some photos of me with bruising all over my chest. I tore a tendon in my left foot back in 2006, and it still bothers me. I also suffered a contusion in my right foot which sounds minor, but that was probably one of my worst injuries. It’s been 15 months, and every morning I’m still in pain with it just because of where it’s at in the foot. It’s a deep bone contusion, and I had an MRI six months ago and it still shows blood inside the marrow. So, it’s a long process, and there is no time to take off.

You’ve mentioned having an inherent ability to figure out the best and most efficient way to lift something. Explain.

You know the guys that are just made to build things? Or artists who have an artistic eye? Well, I have an eye just to be able to lift up really heavy stuff. I remember studying, back in 2008, these guys trying to lift up a 530-pound natural stone at a competition in Canada called Fortissimus. So, after studying these guys trying to lift it, I’m like, “I’ve got it down, I can lift it.” There was a certain shape to it, so I went up to it and had a plan. I had a full-fledged plan. I knew how I was going to have to grab it, and I can remember to this day, the right side had a little bit of a nub so you could get your hand underneath it, and the left side sat totally on the ground. So, I knew I was going to have to lift up the right side of the stone and put my hand underneath there. Everyone else is trying to lift it big ways. So, I rotated it when I first grabbed it and squeezed it between my thighs and grabbed the top. I knew exactly what I was doing.

Did you do puzzles as a kid and stuff like that?
No, it got down to the point where this year at The World’s Strongest Man they banned my hitch. It’s basically when you’re dead lifting weight, and it needs to go up in one continuous motion, and no joint can double flex. So, you can’t come up, drop under it and come up again. So, that’s power lifting. With Strongman, you can lift it up however you want, whatever it takes. A lot of guys will get their upper thighs and sort of jerk the weight up. I started doing something where I would actually get it up to my knees, drop totally under it and finish it off. No one has been able to duplicate that. It could be a barbell or whatever you want, but I can rest it on my knees. And since no one has been able to figure it out, they just banned it. They claimed it was for safety reasons, but the jerking is way more dangerous than resting something methodically on my legs. It is a technique that I’ve been doing for four or five years. I destroyed the dumbbell so much last year that there is now talk about taking it out.

Did you play sports growing up?
In middle school I played football, but I was more of a loner, and that’s why Strongman is very appealing to me.

What is your career highlight so far?
Arnold Classic, Winter ’09.

Do you have a specialty Strongman event?

All of them [laughs]. I would have to say dumbbell.

Are you happy or sad about Zydrunas returning to the 2010 Arnold Classic?

I’m really happy. He’s not going to be competing much longer. And it gives me a chance to try and beat the best. I’m excited. It’s going to bring some cool banter.

Career goals for Strongman?
First off, I would like to win the Arnold this year and The World’s Strongest Man. I’ve won every major Strongman title except World’s Strongest Man. I also want to make the sport more accessible to everyone—bring it to the masses a little more. I mean, it’s there, it’s on ESPN, but for some reason, we’re just not at that level we should be. I want to be that guy that’s marketable. That’s why I have an agent and do all of this stuff. I’ve been doing photo shoots and killing myself with this stuff, but I think that’s what it’s going to take. So, my goal is to continue down this path and hope it gets out there. I’m working a new angle with my sponsor in trying to get a DVD out there with full-length training. I just want to be someone who helps the sport a little bit more. I’ve been doing stuff with a lot of bodybuilding magazines, and I just trained with a pro bodybuilder to bring them over to my side a bit. I’m doing a power lifting meet in April to hopefully get people to follow the sport.

Do you get recognized on the street now?
Locally—absolutely. In other states—sometimes.

Two things: Are you the toughest cop in Connecticut, and are you the strongest cop?
No, I’m not the toughest—probably some chick somewhere is [laughs]. It’s because, you’re in a profession that’s dominated by men, more or less alpha males, with type-A personalities. When you are a woman, you have all this stuff to overcome. And I’m the strongest cop in the world, actually. I just got this big, huge plaque that the state of Connecticut gave me because I do a lot of work with youth and schools, and a lot of people think I’m a really positive role model. So, I was nominated by The Olympian Club, a club in Waterbury that deals with a lot of coaches and people who appreciated what I was doing. They put all this information up to the state and I got a citation from the governor’s office. So, the local community has really noticed me. I’m not that type of guy, though. I don’t like to brag. I keep it low key.

What kind of beer do you drink?
Utopia. It’s hard to find. Most liquor places have to special order it.

You rent local properties. What’s harder: landlord or police officer?

That’s a tough one. I would say police officer because I deal with stuff every day. Being a landlord wears on you, but it’s just a little bit at a time.

What kind of music do you listen to?

I’m a big rock fan.

How many calories do you eat in a day?

I would say 8,000. I’m trying to gain weight. My base diet is pretty clean—higher proteins—and I don’t eat much sugar or processed food. I’ll eat starchy carbs when I’m trying to put on some weight.

What’s your favorite fast food?

Burger King. I like their fries better.

Where does Arnold Strongman rank in the world of Strongman competitions?
For almost every competitor, the Arnold Classic is the epitome of Strongman or strength. It is by far the heaviest and most extreme. The atmosphere is just awesome. It really does crown the strongest man in the world. There is nothing designed for TV or film.

Where did you grow up?
I spent ten years in Spain and Italy and then six years in South Dakota until I moved to Connecticut back in ’98.


One older brother, Justin.

Who do you go to for advice?

My girlfriend, Kristin.

What’s your favorite movie?

I’m a big, big fan of the last Batman movie, The Dark Knight. I love the psychology.

How many pushups can you do?
I don’t know, maybe 20 before I cramp up and something hurts [laughs]. I think I can probably do 50.

Compared to all other athletes in the world, where do you rank a Strongman on utilitarian skill and ability?
Number one. Functional strength—that is all we do. You should see how many times I’ve helped neighbors and friends. I carried a washer and dryer up the stairs by myself, got them outside and picked them up over my shoulder and carried them out the front of my house. People are just stopping as I’m carrying a washer and dryer. I had a refrigerator once that I was getting rid of, and so I slid it down the steps of my house, just hugged it, took the doors off and was able to walk it out to the front of my house. Functional strength for day-to-day life—there is none better than the Strongman.

What’s your favorite childhood tradition that you’d like to pass on to yours, if or when you have children?
Hard work. My father was a really hard worker and is a big car guy. Anyone that knows me knows I’m always making an analogy to cars because if you can understand cars, you can understand anything in life.

How many hours of sleep do you need every night?

If I get more than seven or eight, I’m good.

Science, art or history museum?

What conversation starter do you avoid at all costs?

Marriage [laughs].

If you could play for any football team, for whom would you play?
The Patriots. I love that style. I like the plug and play aspect.

What’s the brattiest thing you did as a kid?

My brother and I set my driveway on fire when I was eight or nine years old.

Are you involved with a charity?
Yes, I do a lot of work with JDRF [Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation]. We have actually set a record and raised $12,000, and I do Special Olympics stuff.

Do you have a favorite phrase or word?

I’m most notorious for saying, “To make a long story short.”

Who is your favorite comedian?
Robin Williams.

Any pets?

If you were to relocate to another country, where would you go?

Texas [laughs]. Honestly, I would say the Bahamas. I want to be some beach dude.

What do you order when you eat Chinese food?
Sweet and sour chicken.

How did you celebrate your 21st birthday?
I don’t even remember [laughs].

What’s the most “out there” thing you’ve ever eaten?
I attempted to eat the American Champion at the New York Carnegie Deli. They named the sandwich after me, and it has like pounds of everything on it. I got in like four bites. It is just all meat and cheese.

What do you wish people would stop wearing already?

Really tight Affliction shirts.

First poster on your wall?
It was a body building poster, a black and white spread of Arnold in the mid 90s, limited edition.

Women are the best at _____.
Driving [laughs].

Who is your hero?
My father, Daniel. He passed away in 2000, and that’s what I sort of compete towards.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

One of my close friends who was big into bodybuilding, and actually committed suicide, Joe Malley, used to always tell me, “Everything works, but nothing works forever.”

What animal would you be?