Dan John: Balance = Work/Rest/Play/Pray

One of cornerstones of every book I have written involves  a moment when I was in the second grade . . . the best three years of my life.

Sister Maria Assumpta walked up to the board and drew a compass with these words on the four points:

Work
Rest
Pray
Play

She was discussing balance in life.

She warned that some of us would work too hard in life. This was long before the word workaholic was coined. Others would choose to rest too much or engage in slothful behavior and never get out of mom’s basement. And some, and we all know someone, would choose a path of pure play.

Being a nun, a term derived from the feminine of monk for those women who are in communities of chastity, obedience and poverty, she never mentioned praying too much. For those of you who don’t pray or meditate, this can also be alone time or enjoying nature and art.

That would NOT include binge watching Netflix.

For whatever reason, this compass stuck with me. It’s my foundational vision of life. In the 1990s, I had a full-time job and I was training as a national level thrower. I also was the father of two girls and my wife traveled every week.

One Sunday morning reading the newspaper, Tiffini found me a full-time job. Now, I would have two full-time jobs. I made her a deal:

“Yes, I will do this, BUT I insist we buy a hot tub.”

On my 40th birthday, I came home to a hot tub.

If you work harder, plan to rest harder. Soon, Tiffini could be found every morning well before the rest of us woke up, sitting in the hot tub with a cup of coffee. I swear our daughters survived because, well, Mommy needed alone time.

I noticed that if I plan to increase all four points in the compass, I can handle almost anything in life. I actually improved as a discus thrower when I took on a new sport, Highland Games, because it was fun. It was play.

Somehow drinking Scotch and eating ribs between rounds of throwing appealed to me at some level.

As I reviewed this insight from Sister, I began to rethink why our Intentional Community (IC) workouts are so excellent. (I can’t explain IC better than what Craig Marker did here.)

When we train in our IC, we laugh, work, rest, learn, clean up, eat and explore. We are truly human. But, there are also times where I need to take my dog for a walk and just listen to nature.

We need both play and pray, work and rest; we need all four points of Sister’s compass.


The 30/30 for 30 workout I’ve been writing about on OTP seems to naturally balance this. I have been a fan of group workouts since 1971 when my teachers at Southwood Junior High School had us train in cohorts of four people. Rest periods were based simply on “your turn.” While one of us lifted, the other three spotted and we just got going in rounds for the whole workout. For more information, here you go.

“I go/you go” is the foundation of most partner training programs. You rest while your partner works. I’ve done it with Olympic lifting and basic bodybuilding and most readers have the same experiences.

I lay it on the line with my athletes: “Yes, we are going to work harder. Yes.”

But, I also insist on the other three points of the compass. My best athletes understood that greatness comes from the hours of training alone. The meditative act of throwing the discus for hours without a single other voice interrupting the flow is truly contemplative. I am sure every swimmer, cyclist and runner understands this too.

But, we also have fun. Challenges are “Work/Play.” I have dozens of them and some are very difficult, like squatting with your bodyweight on your back for 50 reps.

It’s fun watching someone else do that.

Sister Maria Assumpta’s Compass allowed me to reconsider some issues with my training. Wait . . . that’s not right: Those are issues that OTHER people have understanding my training. Over a decade ago, Pavel told me this:

“For the next 40 workouts, pick five lifts. Do them every workout. Never miss a rep, in fact, never even get close to struggling. Go as light as you need to go and don’t go over 10 reps in a workout for any of the movements. It’s going to seem easy. When the weights feel light, add more weight.”

This, of course, began the template for the most successful competitive run of my athletic career. Training in the weightroom for as little as 15 minutes a day allowed me to break records in the discus, Highland Games, Olympic lifting and Weight Pentathlon.

Of course, few followed this simple formula and I have written a book, several blogs and answered hundreds of questions about it. I addressed all of this in this blog.

I have given people my journals to help them understand the 40 days. It’s not complicated. I have my workouts in the book and on various forums, but it really just comes down to picking the lifts and going to work.

As we have studied and pursued it deeper, we discovered that the Three Verticals “always” work:

Overhead Press
Pull Up
Deadlift

The “stroke” for each movement is about the same and each is simple enough to do daily. In addition, the Ab Wheel is the perfect complement to these movements.

With the 30/30 protocol, we can do Easy Strength (ES) as part of the training. You can certainly sprinkle the movements in or do as we have been doing:

Cut back to just TWO ES movements. Yes, this becomes Power to the People, Pavel’s game-changing book on strength work. Mike Warren Brown and I come into the gym and do something like this:

Easy Strength:

Rack DL: Two Sets of Five
Overhead Press: Two Sets of Five

Then, 30/30 for 30 Minutes. Mondays and Fridays focus on upper body hypertrophy moves mixed with cardio machines, Tuesday and Thursday focus on “buns” work mixed with either kettlebell swings or snatches,  and Wednesday is “depends,” either a ruck or an easy tonic 30/30 with TRX movements and rehab work.

Cool Down: Tim Anderson’s Original Strength (OS) work.

So, ES-30/30-OS.

It’s that simple. Tim’s movements are mobility, flexibility, groundwork and just feel good work.

Monday and Friday
Easy Strength
30/30
30 Seconds Cardio (Rower, Airdyne, Skipping Rope, Heavy Hands March in Place, or whatever equipment you have)
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds TRX Curls (Just an example, but this works well)
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Cardio
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds TRX Curls
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Cardio
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds TRX Curls
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Cardio
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds TRX Curls
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Cardio
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds TRX Triceps Extension
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Cardio
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds TRX Triceps Extension
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Cardio
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds TRX Triceps Extension
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Cardio
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds TRX Triceps Extension
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Cardio
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds TRX Ts
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Cardio
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds TRX Ys
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Cardio
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds TRX Ys
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Cardio
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds TRX Double Row
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Cardio
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds TRX Push Up
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Cardio
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds TRX Double Row
30 Seconds Rest
15 Minutes of Original Strength Work (Rocking and Rolling)

Tuesday and Thursday
Easy Strength
30 Seconds Kettlebell Snatch (Strive for 14-16 reps; remember to switch hands every round)
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Hip Thrust
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Kettlebell Snatch
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Hyperextension
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Kettlebell Snatch
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Goblet Squat
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Kettlebell Snatch
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Mini-Band Monster Walk
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Kettlebell Snatch
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Hip Flexor Stretch (do both sides and spill over into the rest period)
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Kettlebell Snatch (Strive for 14-16 reps; remember to switch hands every round)
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Hip Thrust
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Kettlebell Snatch
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Hyperextension
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Kettlebell Snatch
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Goblet Squat
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Kettlebell Snatch
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Mini-Band Monster Walk
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Kettlebell Snatch
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Hip Flexor Stretch (do both sides and spill over into the rest period)
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Kettlebell Snatch (Strive for 14-16 reps; remember to switch hands every round)
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Hip Thrust
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Kettlebell Snatch
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Hyperextension
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Kettlebell Snatch
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Goblet Squat
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Kettlebell Snatch
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Mini-Band Monster Walk
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Kettlebell Snatch
30 Seconds Rest
30 Seconds Hip Flexor Stretch (do both sides and spill over into the rest period)
30 Seconds Rest

You will be doing KB Snatches with one hand for an additional round. We don’t find an issue with this, but you could switch starting sides next time to balance it out. Frankly, it’s not a big deal and I probably wouldn’t remember to do it anyway.

Original Strength (Rocking and Rolling)

Wednesday
Easy Strength

Walk with loaded pack for up to 45 minutes with some faster paced walk sprinkled in at random times. I use a 40-pound vest.

Original Strength (Rocking and Rolling)

Find Balance
Sister Maria Assumpta’s compass idea has impacted every aspect of my personal and professional life. As I wander deeper into the 30/30 protocol, I feel better, look better and perform better in my “real” life.

It’s all about the balance. Work, Rest, Pray, Play.


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