Meet Strength Coach Jesse Novak and His Personal Training Company, Deepest Root


by Dan Gigler


September 8, 2022

Across the nation from Pop Warner patches of dirt to gleaming NFL stadia, football season is starting, and with it comes an onslaught of cliches, coachspeak and well-worn orthodoxy like this classic: the best offense is a good defense. 

But when it comes to your health, there’s a lot of truth to that one. In addition to preventative medicine and regular checkups, a commitment to even a modest level of fitness and nutrition can yield exponential benefits to your physical and mental health throughout your life.  

To that end meet your defensive coordinator, Jesse Novak. Novak is a certified personal trainer with additional certification in corrective exercise, kettlebell instruction, and plant-based nutrition. Through his company Deepest Root, he is a strength and conditioning coach to aspiring athletes, from budding high school sports stars to marathon runners and triathletes. He also trains everyday folks at the Thelma Lovette YMCA in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. The 45-year-old is nearing completion of a purple belt in jiu-jitsu and is a veteran marathon runner and triathlete himself. 

But his journey to elite-level fitness was hardly linear. He enjoyed being active but wasn’t serious about it. “I’d go mountain biking but drink a six-pack and smoke two bowls while I was doing it,” he laughed. 

He was studying for a career in radio at West Virginia University 15 years ago when his longtime partner urged him to take a yoga class. “She was like, ‘Dude, you're way too intense. You need to relax.’”

He did, and was hooked.  

“I just sort of slowly kind of reined in some different habits,” he said, and before long his entire professional trajectory changed (although he still hosts a weekly program on WYEP). 

He has three primary pieces of advice for those looking to get active and eat better: Don’t be nervous. Make it fun. And give it time.  

“It can be really intimidating for a lot of different reasons. My main piece of advice for anyone is to find something that you enjoy doing. It doesn't have to be lifting weights, it doesn't have to be running, but find some form of play. That can be basketball, it could be martial arts, it could be volleyball, it could be hiking, biking, or whatever. But find something like that you enjoy. And do that. And have that be your main focus. From there, maybe you can mix in some strength training, or whatever, coming to a gym and doing things like that. 

“We get away from play. As we become older, we sit at a desk. When you're a kid, there's a reason why when recess happens, kids go … nuts. Because we're not intended to sit at a desk. We're intended to be moving and playing. So find a form of play and have everything else kind of fuel that.”  

Patience is key. 

“Take your time, and have an open mind. It's a journey. And it sounds so cliche to say that, but it's the truth. That's what it is. And it doesn't happen overnight. And it's not easy. People have a lot of challenges,” he said.   

“We have to wipe the kind of thinking that ‘I'm gonna go to the gym and in three months I’ll be transformed.” Nothing's gonna happen in three months. If you put $20 away each week, at the end of three months, you don't really have that much. But at the end of a year or three years, you do. It's an investment. It's the same kind of thing as investing money but you're investing in your health, just small amounts all the time. It pays off. It pays dividends.”

The same, he said, applies to changing your nutrition.  

“You can't outrun a bad diet,” he said. ”It's always right behind you.”

“I hate the word dieting,” he said. “I would urge anyone to stay away from fad diets. By all costs. If you need to adjust what you're eating, there are nutritionists and dietitians that you can work with who can help get you on the path towards eating healthier.

“If people are interested in doing a vegetarian thing, or vegan thing, maybe start with one day a week, like, meatless Mondays. That sounds hokey, but it's catchy. But people can do it. It’s very doable for someone to make a vegetarian meal on Monday night. But don't just jump into it. Take your time. And do your research."  

He recommends cookbooks such as the America’s Test Kitchen series, such as The Everyday Athlete or Cooking with Plant-Based Meat, which give practical instructions for prepping healthy meals. 

Above all, he said, it's important to keep perspective.  

“We train and we eat well, so that occasionally, we can have some pizza, and some beer and enjoy ourselves a little bit. This isn't a religion. It should be something you're doing to make yourself healthier and have fun with it. It’s not punishment, right? Go experiment. Just go for a walk.”


Dan Gigler is a regular columnist with The Green Voice Weekly Newsletter