How Derek Hough of ‘Dancing With the Stars’ plans to get the world moving

Derek Hough, dancer, choreographer, singer and entertainer, does an exercise to strengthen his back and core muscles at Pulse Fitness Studio in Sherman Oaks on July 29.
(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)
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He is a dancer-choreographer recognized the world over: Derek Hough, 31, has won a record six trophies on “Dancing With the Stars,” and two Emmys for choreography. But when he’s not dancing with the stars or making appearances on “Nashville,” you might see him around town leading flash workouts with his sister Julianne Hough inviting followers out for a sweat. Next up for Derek Hough: NBC’s musical TV-production of “Hairspray Live!” on Dec. 7, and starring in the Broadway production of “Singin’ in the Rain” next year.

It seems like you’re morphing into a fitness guru. What’s that all about?

These spontaneous pop-up fitness things are like my own personal service project. They’re all different, no corporate involvement, still relatively unorganized, raw and fun. They came about because I bounce around between a lot of things — strength and conditioning, hiking, flexibility, some cycling, and I started doing hot yoga classes in the last couple of months to keep my back limber. And I thought, “Hey, why not invite people to do the workouts with us?” There’s this idea that people in the public eye, on TV, whatever, are inaccessible. Julianne and I really love people, so I put it out on my Instagram and Twitter: “Hey guys, whoever can meet us, come on down,” as simple as that. We’ve done Soul Cycle, yoga, hiking at Fryman Canyon, strength [training], a 2-mile run on Ventura Boulevard… It’s been great. And we’re going to keep doing it. We just want to get people moving. Our slogan is “Motion Equals Emotion.” The way you move directly affects the way you feel, and we want everybody to feel amazing.

Derek Hough does a shoulder exercise at Pulse Fitness Studio in Sherman Oaks.
Derek Hough does a shoulder exercise at Pulse Fitness Studio in Sherman Oaks.
(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times )

You mentioned your back. You’ve had a couple of instances on the show where back pain knocked you out of a dance. What do you do about it?

First of all, it’s natural to have injuries as an athlete; you’re never 100%. There’s always little aches, tweaks, pains, something out of place if you’re training vigorously. In dance, the movements can be very jerky, and working with partners has an unexpected element to it, which can create a little whiplash. Most of the time, though, the injuries come when I just reach down and pick up something and twisted a certain way — because when you’re dancing, you’re active and prepared, warmed up, alive.

I’ve had a bulge in my disc since age 17 or 16, and having a small frame, I can throw my back out easily. To control it, I strengthen my leg and hip muscles. A dancer’s nemesis is glutes, IT bands and hamstrings. You keep them fit, you’re OK, because they all connect at the lower back. Once I work out my legs and get them massaged and iced, it relieves the tension in my back. Also, using a foam roller before and after is a game changer.

Diet. You do anything special?

Well, my guilty pleasure is popcorn. I’ll eat so much that I’ll get a popcorn hangover. I’ll go see the worst movie ever just to eat popcorn. But besides that, I eat meat, chicken, fish and a lotta greens — for the alkalinity. I used to juice a lot, but noticed that I wasn’t feeling right. Juice is all sugar and acidic. The amount of sugar in a glass of juice is not normal for human beings — eight, nine, 10 apples or oranges. It messes up your system. By contrast, a single apple is packaged perfectly — lots of fiber, a little sugar. When I stopped juice and ate more greens, I noticed a big difference in mind and body — a clarity, a lightness, an energy, where you just jump out of bed. Not this whole process where you need an artificial stimulant to wake up.


I don’t drink caffeine — it makes me very blurry. Unfortunately, this is a caffeine-driven society; we rely on Starbucks. The problem is that people, including myself, think, “Oh, this is just what happens; I’m getting older and having less energy.” But I didn’t want to accept that. I want to have as much energy as I possibly can. I look at people and role model them and say, “Wow. This guy is 60 years old and has more energy than anyone I’ve ever met in my life. What is he eating?” Success leaves clues; so does health. “Why does he wake up at 4 a.m. on four hours of sleep with tons of energy and look fantastic? What is he doing?”

It’s amazing what you’ll do when your ‘should’ becomes a ‘must.’ You’ll find a way to make a change, to progress, to move yourself in a positive direction.

— Derek Hough

Derek Hough does cable chest flys, an exercise to strengthen pectoral muscles.
Derek Hough does cable chest flys, an exercise to strengthen pectoral muscles.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times )

What’s the best tip you’ve picked up from one of the stars on the show?

I got a good one from Donald Driver, a star receiver with the Green Bay Packers [who won “Dancing With the Stars” in 2012]. He was an older player [then 37], and I asked him how he had such a long career. And he just said, “Ice — every single day.” So I started doing ice baths and cold-plunge pools — and it makes an incredible difference. After a show, I’ll do a 57-degree plunge pool; sometimes, I sit in there for 10 minutes. I do it in the morning too. It’s good for your body. Because a lot of injury is caused by inflammation, which icing reduces.

After nearly a decade on the show, growing from unknown dancer to Emmy-winning dancer-choreographer-actor, what have you learned?


You have to turn your ”should” into a “must.” You go through life saying, “I should do this, I should eat this, I should work out.” Ultimately, you end up should-ing all over yourself. Instead, you have to turn it into, “I must eat better. I must treat my body better. I must have more energy. I must exercise.” For me, it was, “I must get into the wilderness more.” I was working nonstop, being creative, but I found I was indoors, in a studio, missing the sense of exploration, of adventure — the trees, the mountains, the ocean. I’m at home in nature; it fills me up with energy and creativity. So this year, I made the time to go to Idaho, Montana, Big Sur — it’s incredible. Yosemite is on my list.

It’s amazing what you’ll do when your “should” becomes a “must.” You’ll find a way to make a change, to progress, to move yourself in a positive direction.


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