Dan John: Wandering Weights, Issue # 102

Wandering Weights
Our Epic Journey Through All Things Heavy, Issue # 102

New on OTP this week: Dave Draper, The Dungeon 1963

I really enjoyed my workshop here in Galway. It was a fundraiser for a little girl in Belfast who has a very rare disease. I spoke eight hours and my voice is still scratchy.

I’ve added a lot to my work on movements. I’m starting to think that much of what we do with hinge and loaded carries is the “secret” of the last thirty years of my coaching. By accident, we have addressed the issues of armor building, anaconda strength and “arrow” as well as building on the concept of “hammer and stone” and/or “bow and arrow.”

I used to simply answer something like “Why does bear hug carries help a thrower?” with:


“But it works!”

Now, I have a better insight…toolkit…into this discussion. I was told a million years ago that to throw 200 feet in the hammer, the athlete had to counter 600 pounds of force. This is where internal pressure is so important; we call it “anaconda strength.” If you fold or give in at all, the whole throw is wasted. So, for example, the bear hug carry will teach the athlete to utilize internal pressure, maybe even improve it.

If you don’t understand a thing of this, that’s fine. The important thing to remember is that sometimes we do things in training that might look right, like bench pressing for throwers and fighters, but these movements give less back than you think. Other times, we do something odd—loaded carries are the most obvious—that reward the athlete with improved performance.

I usually don’t have time to ask why things are working with an athlete; we just keep doing what works. If something is flailing and failing, we get rid of it. Years later, the dots will connect and I can explain why it worked or didn’t work. The athlete, like the poet (musician, actor) and the old, lives in the “Pure Present.” There might not be a tomorrow or a “next act.” So, we need to improve “NOW.”

And, that is the toughest part of being an athlete or a coach.

Let’s look around the web. Joonas sent this to me:


“This might be the rule that gets violated most often in a gym. As a matter of fact, someone, somewhere in the world at this very moment is committing this. And it is especially true with men who are trying to impress ze ladiez (or other men, for than matter) with magnificent feats of strength. Newsflash: the ladies don’t care, or so I’ve been told. Hey, I used to do it too!

“Pick an exercise and I’ll show you a guy who’s made it way too hard for him just because he’s seen others do it (or, see the part about ze ladiez above). But you are about to be hit by some messed up truth: you ain’t there yet, brother.

“There’s wisdom (and safety, and pending future awesomeness) in mastering the basics first. Yet, it is rarely seen. Be the change.”

I thought this article just nailed the basic concepts of training, too.

“An average session will look like this:

” First, I will use the light bell for things like goblet squats, Cossack squats, and halos to get my body warm and address the mobility and unlocking I need from a day of being on my feet (or a day of sitting on my ass).

“Then it’s swings. I’ll do 10×10 of heavy swings, or 10×15 with something lighter, or 20×10 of a midrange weight to get a deep sweat and to breathe hard for 20 minutes or more. I do a short tempo walk between sets, then back to the bell. The timing works out to about a 1:4 work/rest ratio and it keeps the heart thumping.

“Here’s the thing with the swings: They have to be all-out, balls-to-the-wall, full-tension swings. Nothing soft, no pacing because of volume, just max effort.

“Once the swings are done, it’s on to pressing. My pressing volume is dictated by the bell I swung. If I’m doing sets of heavier swings for 10×10, I will do a pressing ladder of 3x 3-2-1. If it’s more of the midrange bell for the 10×15 swings, I will do a 3x 5-4-3-2-1 ladder. And if we are going more for duration with the 20×10 swings, I will do 10×5 each side.

“Here’s the skinny on the ladders: In a 3-2-1, for example, I clean my bell into the rack, press it 3 times with my left, swing and switch, and then press it 3 times with my right. Then I park it for about 30 seconds before I’m up again for 2’s, then singles. That’s one round, and then the process repeats from the top.

“Then another short walk to regroup and I hit the deck for some pushups. Seriously folks, do as many in however many sets you like. I do sets of 10 until I want to stop, with a 1:1 work/rest ratio. I’ll get to about 5 rounds before I start missing reps, and once I do, pushups are done.

“Because I have a wrecked lower back, I have to stay on my abdominal strength. For me, that means ab rollouts and kettlebell windmills. Don’t be deceived; that $12 ab roller can mess you up if you aren’t respecting it. If you are just starting out, 3×3 is enough to keep you sore for a week. Once your midsection gets stronger, you can quickly start stacking reps. But you have to keep your form locked down. From 3×3 to 3×30 (and everywhere in between), if you stay strict, rollouts can armor you like nothing else.

“I finish with windmills. They are a great way to get my hips open and introduce some subtle rotation in my program. I use the lighter bell for 3×3 or 3×5 each side. I let fatigue gauge how many reps I’m going to do. I keep my entire weight on my loaded side leg, knee locked out, and my pace is painfully slow.”

This is a very good article on math skills. It is so good, I am looking through The Great Courses series for a class on math to relearn some things.

“Dweck also showed that it is possible to change a student’s mindset from fixed to growth and that this change then results in higher achievement levels for the student.

“One simple change that both Dweck and Boaler advise is in terms of our approach to praising children, with both advocating praising the process rather than either the child or the outcome of their work. So while we might naturally tend to tell a child how smart they are or praise a correct numerical solution to a mathematical problem, they instead suggest focusing the praise on how a child might have tried a number of ways to get to the right answer.

“Dweck, however, counsels against praising effort alone, stating that ‘the growth mindset was intended to help close achievement gaps, not hide them’. Therefore, she suggests an approach where teachers may praise the efforts a child has made so far but follow this immediately by saying something like ‘Let’s talk about what you’ve tried, and what you can try next’. This avoids praising a child who is repeatedly attempting the same approach to a problem and ignoring the evidence that suggests a different approach is needed.”

At a workshop about a week ago, I mentioned my goal: to dance at my granddaughter Josie’s wedding. This interview…long before she was even thought of…shows us this has been bouncing through my brain for a while.

“Sometimes what keeps me simply going is looking at what 47 is supposed to look like. It ain’t pretty. I want to dance at my grandchildren’s weddings and win the caber toss at the reception. (I fully expect, by that time, that athletic contests will be a basic part of all celebrations.)”

Ben Fogel, a good friend, has this little nugget.

“Keep the main thing the main thing, or keep the goal the goal

“It is important to make sure you know what your #1 top priority for the day is and get that done first, with absolutely no distractions.  We all have “to-do” lists and things we never seem to get to, but we need to stay focused on what is most important and do just that ONE thing each day.

“Also, if you have set a goal for yourself to reach down the road, make sure you write down daily targets that will get you closer to your goal.  An example of this – if you want to lose 10 pounds over an 8 week period, your daily targets may be that you will eat protein at each meal, or drink an extra glass of water before bed and when you wake up.  It can be something so simple, but when written down and actually acted upon it becomes very powerful to getting you closer to your goals.”

This is an excellent variation to the 10,000 swing challenge.

“I’m in the middle of my own 10,000 Swings variation and so on top of whatever I did, I had to get in 250 swings. Here’s how I set it up.

“I set one 53# kettlebell at each end of our 50 yard parking lot. On the alley end, I set one 85# Fuel Can and a 70# sandbag. On the other end I set our slosh pipe, 10 feet of 6 inch PVC filed three-quarters of the way with water, somewhere between 40 and 50 pounds of highly mobile, unstable weight.

“I started on the alley end. I swung the kettlebell 25 times. I carried the sandbag to the slosh pipe, the slosh pipe to the fuel can, and the fuel can to the sandbag. That was one round. I carried the sandbag on my shoulder, the slosh pipe Zercher style, and the Fuel Can like a suitcase. I completed 10 rounds to get in all of my swings.”

I’m off to swim in the Galway Bay. Next week, I will be writing this from London. I can’t believe this great month in Ireland is almost over!

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Publisher’s note:  Next, take a look at Dave Draper’s new motivational book, Iron in My Hands, where he reminds us to simply get in the gym and do the work.