Dan John: Training Longevity — Life in the Weight Room

Dan John: Is Your Athlete Up to The Standards?

If you read my work, you probably have read the next paragraph a few thousand times, so fair warning. But, if you read my work, you are likely interested in training longevity, so take heed:

I started lifting weights in 1965. I think I am qualified to talk about junior high, high school, junior college, Division One, and minor fitness celebrity strength training because I have lived, learned and languished at all these levels. I think I am an expert on “Training with Several Full-Time Jobs,” too!

Generally, I have trained too much, too long and too heavy. Many of the lessons from my career are can be distilled into:dan-john-training-longevity-do-not

Do NOT do this!

And, as we all know, when I do find something that works, I seem to get away from it as fast as I can because . . . (Sing it with me) . . .

It worked so well I stopped doing it!

One thing my experience in the weight room, field and classroom never prepared me for was turning 59. Or 49. Or 39. You get the point. If it is true that hindsight is 20/20, my vision of coaching age is far better now than it was when I was a mere youth at, say, 55 years of age.

So, how do we train as we age? Do we go back out for high school football so some guy with a towel around his neck can call us names and blow whistles? Do we pretend to join some elite military cadre and do a bunch of junk that leads to injury?


Let me repeat that. No.

We need to train age appropriately and that is the most obvious thing I have ever said in my life. We need to train to build the qualities that we need to ensure both the quality of life and the quantity of life. Both are important.

Let’s talk about training longevity for just a moment.

One day in the gym at the Pacifica Barbell Club, Dick Notmeyer asked me a question. Now, to understand Dick, a man who changed my life by teaching me the Olympic lifts and the lessons of hard work and perseverance, you first have to realize that often when he asked a question, he wasn’t really expecting an answer.

He had the answer.

“By percentage, what do think are the keys to a long life are?”

He went on to explain that probably 50% of survival into the triple digits, or close to that, would be genetics. Everybody seems to know a guy who lived to 105, smoking cigarettes and drinking moonshine. There are families that just live a long time.

Forty percent seems to be lifestyle and that is something we can improve upon or ruin.

And, sadly, ten percent is luck. If you left a minute later, you could have been in that accident or have been the one-millionth customer and won the prize. It happens. There is no training for improving your luck (outside of Felix Felicis, the liquid luck from the Harry Potter books.)

The secret to living a long life might simply be “Don’t die.” Good advice, but hard to quantify. There seems to be three things, maybe a fourth, that lead to longevity:

  • Don’t smoke.
  • Wear your seat belt and helmet, if appropriate.
  • Learn to fall and recover from a fall . . .and
  • Never say: “Hold my beer and watch this.”

I often tell people that since I don’t commute, the most dangerous part of my day, statistically, is showering. After 55, nutritional decisions don’t matter nearly as much as safety precautions in falling or collisions.

Certainly, your teenage child’s eating and drinking habits and decisions in the early twenties concerning beer and pizza will have an impact on that fifty-something body, but after 55, not getting broken trumps any magic food or supplement. Safety in the shower, walking on ice and double checking for traffic is far more important than getting the right vitamins.

Bill Gifford’s book, Spring Chicken, and website offer some simple advice to increase longevity:

  • Caloric restriction leads to a longer life. Intermittent fasting does the same thing . . . easier.
  • Exercising 100 minutes a WEEK adds seven years to life.

So . . . 
Start fasting (As appropriate)
Start walking.

He also notes that coffee and red wine are helpful to longevity, as well as few supplements and one or two medicines.

So, yes: don’t die. To improve your time here on this marvelous planet, there are some simple steps of both prevention and promotion that can keep you living longer.

And, as always, the devil is in the details. Let’s talk about the specifics of training as we age.

A tip of the hat to Nick Rians from FitRanx for the age breakdown that I will be using. His company understands the need we have to compete and succeed in reasonable, logical steps based on age, size and gender. I follow his brilliant lead here.

Age Group One: 16-35
Age Group Two: 36-55
Age Group Three: 56+

I base training on this principle: The fundamental human movements done with appropriate reps, appropriate sets and appropriate load are the foundation of maintaining and improving human performance in all areas.

The list I use for the fundamental human movements is simple and to the point:dan-john-training-longevity-loaded-carry

Loaded Carries
The Sixth Movement (“Everything else,” but generally crawling, tumbling, climbing and anything that brings “integrity with the environment”)

When I talk with adults, I break the exercises into three categories:

Sex Drive

Sex Drive is looking better, feeling better and you can guess where this leads. In the weight room, it is the hypertrophy moves, the push, the pull and the squat that make you look better and drive that wonderful hormonal cascade that fills you with the Fountain of Youth. Certainly, this is an important focus for turning the clock back in the aging process. These bodybuilding moves change lives for the elderly. But, and this is important, before you start worrying about looking great, feeling great and, um, improving one’s romantic life, you have to make it there!

Survive is two parts. First, it is what I call “the sixth movements.” These include rolling, tumbling and break falling. If you slip, you will be happy to know how to fall. If something really bad happens, the ability to climb a rope or just hang on for a while could be the difference between life and death.

Second, I “expect” you to be able to do these for as many years into the future as you can:

  • Stand on one foot for ten seconds.
  • Hang from a bar for 30 seconds.
  • Standing long jump your body height (for distance, not height!)
  • Squat down, hold for 30 seconds, and stand up.
  • Farmers walk bodyweight for “some” distance.
  • Get your butt to the ground and get off of it again by just putting one hand to the ground to assist (or none!)

Once you have Survive and Sex Drive addressed, let’s now focus on Thriving.

Thrive movements are the hinge and loaded carries. Adding lots of swings and farmer walks will do wonders for your overall explosion and work capacity needs.

Performance athletes need the Thrive movements. Everybody else could use them, too.

Stu McGill, the Canadian back specialist, has a wonderful explanation explaining the way elite athletes hit, drive, and pound the earth (and opponents): Hammer!

Swings, Olympic lifts, deadlifts, jumps, hill sprints and bleacher runs teach and develop this hammer! Bang. Hit the earth with your foot and leap away. Smack the discus at the end and you throw far!

But, Stu goes on to remind us of another key: Stone!

It’s great that you hit the earth with the Hammer of Thor, but if your middle is soft, the energy is lost over the sides. You need to build the Stone!

I sometimes call these the Anaconda muscles, the muscles that provide the “inner tube” pressure to hold the body together as one piece.

You build the Stone by carrying bags, farmer walks, powerlifts, snatch-grip deadlifts and something as simple as curls in the bottom position of the goblet squat.

The nice thing about the kettlebell swing is that it is a Hammer and Stone movement all at once!

Longevity is a crap shoot. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time isn’t something we can fix with vitamins or a better morning regime. But, addressing the logical and basic stuff will put you in a position to deal with the bulk of life’s minor challenges . . . and many of the major ones, too.

Let’s apply proper training to the appropriate age bracket. For Group One, ages 16-35, this is the time in the sun, the time to Thrive.

If you are an athlete, you should Olympic lift, deadlift, swing, and do every loaded carry you can imagine. If you need to be big, do the Sex Drive work, if not, do a bit for the basic hypertrophy and mobility work it provides you.


Yep . . .
Don’t smoke.
Wear your seatbelt.
Learn to take a fall.

One stupid thing is to focus on the Sex Drive movements. They are fine, but too much and, as the cliché goes, you will look like Tarzan and play like Jane.

I would also say that this is the age to take care of the basics of finances. Let me give the list from my next book, Now What?

  • Remain debt free.
  • Maintain an emergency fund with enough to cover minor problems (and make it easily accessible).
  • Save some money every month for some distant “Fortune Fund.”
  • Buy quality goods and services.
  • Maintain your health with proper care and medical and dental checkups.
  • Choose wisely when it comes to matters of the heart.
  • Invest deeply in your, and your spouse’s(!), education and career advancement.

I’m not sure there is a surprise on this list or anything that would make your great grandma wonder about or disagree with in principle.

In the June/July 2016 edition of AARP, financial wizard Warren Buffet said the basic same things:

  • Hold plenty of cash for emergencies . . . and opportunities.
  • Buy and hold.
  • Embrace the boring (basic truth of coaching, too!).
  • Stick with what you know (basic truth of coaching, too!).

There were other points, but you get the idea: The truths of one field usually carry over into every other endeavor. Amen.

So, Age Bracket One: Thrive!!!!

Age Bracket Two, those young devils at 36-55, should be realizing something quickly:

I walk past an ice cream store and get fatter! Lean body mass is dripping off at this age, so athlete or regular Joe needs to train the Sex Drive moves here. It is finally time to chase bodybuilding.


Take care of finances. If you haven’t started being a “big kid” about money, do another set of curls (joking…I don’t know what to tell you). If you are competing, add those Hammer and Stone movements and enjoy the rare air of competing past high school!

Age Bracket Three: Survive first!

I would suggest exercise programs that get you up and down off the ground, quality movements of any kind and opportunities to laugh, think and enjoy friendship.

As important as lean body mass was in Age Bracket Two, this is the time it becomes an issue of life and death.

Muscle is the Fountain of Youth!

Cultivate new relationships and keep learning. Try new sports and new activities. Find the sport you should have discovered in your youth!

For standards, let’s look at the work of Paul Lyngso. This wonderfully simple set of standards looks and seems “right.”

Men’s Standards

Squat Movement

  1. Proper form in the goblet squat
  2. Goblet squat: 24K x 10
  3. Double-kettlebell front squat: 32K x 10
  4. Bodyweight back squat

Press Movement

  1. Pushups x 10
  2. One-arm kettlebell press: 24K x 5 per side
  3. Double-kettlebell press: 32K x 5
  4. Bench press: bodyweight

Hip Hinge Movement

  1. Hip hinge with proper form (from stand, floor and loaded)
  2. Kettlebell swing: 24K x 20 (proper form)
  3. Double-kettlebell clean: 32K x 10
  4. Barbell clean: bodyweight

Pull Movement

  1. Batwings, thumbs in armpits, 16K x 10 seconds
  2. Bodyweight row on rings or TRX x 20
  3. Bodyweight row, feet elevated, x 10
  4. Chinups x 5

Women’s Standards

Squat Movement

  1. Proper form in the goblet squat
  2. Goblet squat: 12K x 10
  3. Double-KB front squat: 16K x 10
  4. Back squat: 135 x 5

Press Movement

  1. Pushups x 1 (Excellent Pushup)
  2. One-arm kettlebell press: 10K x 5 per Side
  3. Double-kettlebell press: 12K x 5
  4. Double-kettlebell press: 16K x 5

Hip Hinge Movement

  1. Hip hinge with proper form (from stand, floor and loaded)
  2. Kettlebell swing: 16K x 20 (proper form)
  3. Double-kettlebell clean: 16K x 10
  4. Barbell deadlift: 1.5 x bodyweight (or 135×5)

Pull Movement

  1. Batwings, thumbs in armpits, 8K x 10 seconds
  2. Bodyweight row on rings or TRX x 20
  3. Bodyweight row, feet elevated, x 10
  4. Chinup x 1

If you can do a standard “here,” but not “there,” well, there you go! There’s your gap! Strive for the same number at every standard before you move up on your strong movement.

“More” is fine. Just remember to add “more” in a reasonable manner that doesn’t lead you to surgery.

And, NO, I don’t listen to my own advice!!!

You only get one body in this life, use it and enjoy it. Feel better by moving better by moving more. Some of us call this concept: “Train!”

Train appropriate to your age.
Train with appropriate reps, sets, loads and exercises.
Train with some fun.
Train with passion.

Dig deeper into training longevity with Dan.

More on the Fundamental Human Movements:
Dan John Human Movements - Fundamental Human Movements - The Body Is One Piece

More on Loaded Carries:
gray cook dan john video, gray cook coaching, dan john gray cook loaded carries

Dan John, Gray Cook and Lee Burton: Essentials of Coaching and Training Functional Continuums

assessing and program design for athletes Now What? 

training program assessments, dan john workout programmingCan You Go?


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