UFC champion Israel Adesanya and fellow trainees in the sands of Piha. Photo: Supplied

A former intensive care medic is attracting big names and plenty of attention to his unique physical training programme in the dunes, beach and surf at Piha. Alex Chapman meets Dave Wood.

Dave Wood struggles to actually describe the work he’s doing.

But it’s proving attractive, and effective, for some big names in sport including UFC champion Israel Adesanya and other combat sport fighters, international surfers and others.

“It’s the hardest thing to explain.” the Piha man tells Newsroom through laughter.

“Basically it’s an integration of four pillars of training – movement, breathing, recovery and mindset. Within those four pillars is a whole lot of nuance though.

“Behind all of them is the idea that in order to train the body in optimal health, whether it’s an athlete or just someone down the road, we have to have an approach that incorporates all body systems. I think where we as a society have gone wrong in the past, is we just focus on one system. We don’t worry about breathing or the ability to control your nervous systems.”

Wood founded Woody’s Movement Workshop two years ago in an effort to help others find ultimate wellness.

He believes his skills and background as a former intensive care paramedic helped him understand the body systems work together.

“For example, if you have high blood pressure, it will affect the left side of your heart because it has to pump against more resistance. We as a society tend to focus on the symptom and not how they’re affecting our systems. We need to tackle them with a much more integrated approach.”

The idea came from Wood’s own history after having bilateral hip surgery which resulted in a search to find a cure for his chronic pain.

“Everyone I went to was specialised in their field and focused on just this one thing. I understand intricately how the body works and you can’t tackle it like that. You’re never going to create the required adaptation if you just focus on the symptoms or the problem.

“For me, my nervous-system was out of whack, and as a result I wasn’t sleeping well which meant I wasn’t metabolising my food properly. It has an effect on every facet of your body, not just the pain. But even pain will affect other areas – your confidence, your muscular system, your cardiovascular system, your breathing – it all ties in.”

Wood emphasises the importance of an integrated viewpoint with clients.

“When we have people come in, we ask them questions like ‘how was your sleep? How’s your fluid intake? How’s your nutrition?’ We undo things like muscular imbalance because we’re all specialised. And if you have muscular imbalance, it’s going to affect your recovery. If you don’t have a good recovery, it’s going to affect your cardiovascular capacity.”

Wood’s approach with the business is different to what you’d normally expect in 2021. He’s not “preaching” on social media. He has a website and a couple of social platforms which he occasionally updates.

“I’m not there to just teach everyone. I’m there to teach and work with people and then they’ll see the advantage and then they’ll tell other people. It’s been a very organic process.

“There are people on Instagram who are uploading every day trying to educate people. I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in working with people.”

It’s hardly a model you’d expect to be taught in a business management paper. After all, promoting your business whichever means possible is essential.

But it’s one that’s seemingly working.

A Woody’s Movement session in progress at Piha. Picture: Supplied

Word of mouth has seen Wood’s client list now boast plenty of fringe athletes – triathletes, Ironman competitors and leading New Zealand surfers to name a few.

But his biggest one of all, is Israel Adesanya.

One of the brightest stars in the UFC, the middleweight world champion regularly visits Wood.

Though it’d take an eagle-eye to notice it.

Just like when it comes to growing his business, Wood doesn’t like using the Nigerian-Kiwi as a promotional tool.

“That [working with Adesanya] is something I don’t like to really talk about. I’d rather keep it as a broad sense of the fighters. I’ve got this block in terms of leveraging someone like him to promote myself or my business. It may sound weird, but if you look at stuff I post, if I’m training him, I try to make it that he’s part of the group I’m training, not the one that’s sticking out. The last thing I want is people to think that I’m training this guy even though I am.”

Wood is more willing to discuss all of the fighters from City Kickboxing he spends time with.

“They’ve all come on board, at least 90 percent of them have. They’re trying to look outside the box and enhance performance to give them what they call the extra one percent. But actually if you actually break it down, they’re operating at 70 percent.

“We’re trying ways to leverage that extra 30 percent. They’re spending 80-90 percent of their time doing cardio and muscular system, but it’s only 10-20 percent on breathing and mindfulness and meditation. They’re not quite operating at that top level.”

It sounds strange, after all, these are some of the world’s best at their craft. And yet, Wood believes they have plenty of untapped potential.

“Take breathing for example. Why would we train cardio and not breathing when the two systems work together? They’re almost the same system – the heart pumps blood to the lungs, picks up oxygen, delivers it to the body. Most of these athletes, their cardiovascular capacity is through the roof, but their breathing capacity is average. It’s absurd.”

Wood knows that fighters, as-opposed to athletes in more traditional sports such as rugby, are more willing to tap into alternative ways of training and growth. That saw him approach one of the fighters at CKB.

“I saw an opportunity to work with these UFC fighters and chatted with some of the trainers at the gym but initially wasn’t able to get in that way, mainly because all of this training is so new and different.

“So my second way was to single out someone in the gym and get them in to train. He got benefit from it and told someone else and then it just had a ripple effect from there. From his social media, this guy looked down to Earth, he’s from Taranaki, seemed open-minded and with a good work ethic, and just not a dickhead really.”

Wood has two gyms – one in Auckland City, and one in Piha. Wood jokes that in an ideal world, he’d be able to just stay home and work full-time at the West Coast beach.

A hill session at Piha. Photo: Supplied

“Part of what we’re trying to do is get people to reconnect. We are so disconnected from reality because we live our lives through reality or we live our lives through our work and we aren’t connecting with the things we should be like the bush, the sea, the sand.

“It’s quite interesting, when I get clients in, with inflammation or stress or high blood pressure, one of the first questions I ask them is ‘in this entire week, how many times have your feet actually been in on the Earth’s surface?’”

It’s an intriguing question to ponder, one many may not have an answer to.

Heck, even this writer doesn’t know.

It’s an approach other sports teams and athletes the world over are using, most notably Australian cricket coach Justin Langer, who has his players walk barefoot around grounds before they play at them.

“Probably 80 percent of people say ‘well I was inside, and then I went to work, spent all day inside, I then came home but I had my shoes on, so they’re not actually connecting at all. It’s a staggering amount. That’s why this environment [Piha] is so powerful – you take the energy of the Waitakere Ranges mixed with the iron sand of the beach and then the Tasman Sea, it’s just this melting pot of good energy which you can’t quantify, and you can tap into that by training in that environment.”

Wood’s incorporation of the elements in his training is clear; sand dune running, sitting under crashing waves and ice baths just to name a few. Though he concedes those more traditional ways of training are not only overlooked, but at times, overcooked.

“If you go on social media, everyone’s jumping in an ice bath. Everyone’s a breath coach. Everyone’s an expert on cold water therapy, and yeah we need that awareness, but it ends up being so convoluted with everyone shoving it out there that it almost confuses the whole thing.

“Even on a nutrition level we’re getting so confused about ‘is this good or bad for me?’ It’s such a minefield. So it’s just a matter of finding the person with the right approach and skills, and not even in the sense of a degree, but to apply the training. It’s not getting someone to do something, it’s explaining it and integrating it into their lives. That’s what I want to do.”

Alex Chapman is a freelance sports journalist, broadcaster and commentator.

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