Dan John: Wandering Weights, Issue # 111

Wandering Weights
Our Epic Journey Through All Things Heavy, Issue # 111


Publisher’s Note: Have you seen Dan’s new OTP author page yet? Turns out we had a ton more of Dan’s content on the OTP site than we realized. Here, check it out.


Happy Holidays to you. I am typing this after a massive snowfall in Utah and a day of shoveling and celebrating. Oddly, I found as much joy in watching my dog, Sirius Black, leap in the snow piles as I did watching my grandkids lose their minds.

When Tiffini and I got back from Ireland (our month long odyssey in October), we came home to a barrel with four legs. Our dog had swelled up to 97 pounds after a month of coddling and care from Tiff’s mom. No, mashed potatoes are NOT good for dogs.

He was losing hair, he was limping on all four legs, and, frankly, I was wondering how long we would have him around.

Our vet saw something interesting. It wasn’t just leftovers and six meals a day: there was something wrong. He did some tests and found that Sirius had thyroid issues. So, with a bottle of pills in hand, we took him home. Within days, he “returned.” We started feeding him carrots as a filler at each meal and we play catch daily.

In six weeks, he looks better than ever and leaps in snow banks like a dolphin in water.

Welcome back, Sirius!

I know a lot of us will be making resolutions. I am, but there is a lesson from my dog: yes, exercise and diet are important, but sometimes intelligent medical intervention is the key.

Enjoy the snow!

As we begin to do our weekly swing through the internet, I got a lot of positive feedback from last week’s edition. I’m not sure what the difference was, but thank you! Remember, if you want to email me, dan@danjohn.net. Replying through this email is fine, but it takes some extra work from Laree to get it to me.

Anne Reuss has a nice little reminder about fitness and good beer here in this blog entry. She has been writing recently about her dating life and how the gentlemen she meets tend to want to work out with her. This article departs from that theme and, frankly, I would happily join her with a beer.


1. Schedule your water.

This is the best thing I’ve done for myself. Writing future digital notes to your tipsy self.

Most people know, and say, drinking a glass of water every other boozy beverage is a good idea. It helps you not get so dehydrated and could keep you fuller (less likely to want to drink more).

But who are we kidding when we say we remember to do this every time?

So I set reminders on my phone for every hour. Why don’t you do the same? Name your reminders “Drink water, ya sexy animal.” Exclamation points included when it’s 1:00 AM.

You could do this with late-night food, too. “Order chicken and absolutely no fries!”

End quote.

Steve Shafley posted this article and I thought it rang true. This idea that you can “hack” performance might be true…except it doesn’t work. Yes, “you” can hack your way to a faster 40 yard dash time in a day, but going from a 5.7 40 to a 5.5 40 is not really that good. This the “frosting, not the cake” as you will read.

“The focus on the final 1% has created a dire problem.  If we head down this route, we quickly run out of room for improvement. There are only so many mythical breathing methods, dietary supplements, or even legitimate final touches that we can perform before we reach our limit. That’s the thing with the details, the final 1%, by definition, they don’t account for much. There’s not much room to grow. We quickly max out our returns.

“And when this occurs, the temptation is to go further down the rabbit hole. Our search shifts from legitimate concepts that provide small gains to more outlandish concepts that are doomed to fail.

“As Dennis Barker, coach to many professional runners stated: ‘If we really want to improve, we have to focus on the cake, not the frosting.’

“Am I saying, don’t sweat the small stuff, ignore all of these potential tiny gains we could be achieving? Of course not.

“For the vast majority of us, we aren’t at a point in our progression where it matters yet. If you are a master of your craft, on the way to elite performance, then, sure explore the details. But they will provide a much greater bang for your buck if the foundation is behind them. That’s the secret of the top performers. They nail the basics, coming back to them frequently, and then, only then, do they put the icing on the cake.

“For most of us, it’s time to shift focus back to the 99%, not the final 1%.

“Marginal gains, hacks, gadgets. It’s all marketing.

“Go run 7 days a week. Sleep 8 hours a night. Eat Real food.

“That advice doesn’t sell. And it’s a shame.”

My college coach, Ralph Maughan, was part of this battle. Christmas was a “layered” holiday for him. He opened up about it once with me and Randy Wilson on the way to a track meet in Idaho. As he talked, I could see him slowly get that “stare” that I had seen with my brothers, family and friends. The memories were horrific, but he made a difference.

One additional note: it was Parkinson’s that took Coach Maughan down.

“That’s why remembering Christmas 1944 can change your life. It reminds you that even when life hits you hard, even if you’re fighting in a frozen forest, even if you have Parkinson’s, even if you’re crapping in a bag by the side of the freeway, you keep on going.

“You refuse to surrender.”

The problem with teaching the O lifts is that no matter what you say, 10,000 people will argue with you. Glenn does a great job clearing the clutter on something that comes up all the time: jumping.

“f you think a little bit, you’ll realize if your feet are off the ground, you can’t be pulling up on the bar with your arms. It’s impossible.

“In my opinion it is better to do a little bit of jumping, which may not be absolutely ideal, in order to learn right from the start to move the bar with your hips and legs instead of pulling up with your arms.

“The jumping motion is something that will naturally go away for most people—the actual coming off the ground too far will go away in most people as the leg goes up. But if you get in the bad habit of arm pulling, that is very, very hard habit to break.”

Many of my emails relate to Easy Strength. Frankly, I can’t really explain it better than all I have written on it. I get teased by my friends for my constant frustration with questions about the One Lift a Day program and it took me years to realize that most of the people asking questions were not actually doing anything in the gym. Danny does a wonderful job here outlining the basics of Easy Strength.

“I learned some lessons on the Easy Strength program that I would like to share. The deadlift felt really light some days and really heavy on others. I was a bit stubborn and had to really back off of the deadlifts. A couple days I was pulling 385 x 5 and other days 275 felt really heavy. Since the volume will add up over time, in retrospect I should have never gone past the 325lbs while on the program. My problem sometimes is that I think I wear a cape and don’t like it when I have to go lighter. Backing off the ego is crucial.

“Getting hung up on poundage is the wrong way to go on this program. I actually ended up taking out deadlifts for a week and just did heavier swings. On the same note you don’t want to be lifting weights that your grandmother is training with. I can rep out 20 strict pull ups so bodyweight pull ups for 2 sets of 5 daily would have probably too light. Finding just the right load that wasn’t going to crush me was great. Adding the 12kg-16kg kettlebell on pull ups was just right.

“Viewing workouts as a practice made all the difference. I thought of myself as an athlete that needed to improve on these skills as my profession. Getting bored is not an option. Someone ask me if I was getting bored, and that thought hadn’t even entered my head till they mentioned it. The fact was I was in the zone. As Fellow RKCII Michael Perry put it, ‘there ain’t nothing boring about getting stronger.’

“This isn’t random acts of exercise or high intensity cardio. If you are a cardio/adrenaline junkie then remember this is a STRENGTH program. Don’t worry, unless you’re getting into the ring with Georges Saint Pierre next month you don’t need all that high intensity conditioning right now anyway. Do your 50 swings or snatches each workout with a moderate weight and move on. Conditioning comes back rather quickly. Remember keeping the goal the goal.

“Continuing on after the 40 days. The 40 days is just a part of practicing Easy Strength. After I finished the 40-day program I used the same principles in designing a program that would still help me hit my goals. Recently I have also hit my new benchmark, pressing the beast 48kg. That 40kg press I started at as a 1rep max not long ago is now something I can rep out for 8-10 reps. I am by no means at an elite level of strength yet, but there is nothing that is really holding me back from continuing on this journey of strength.”

This is an interview after the third day of the RKC II in Chicago. My voice is gone, but it is an insightful discussion.

As many know, I don’t believe in peaking. That tends to upset people, but the proof is in the pudding with peaking programs (and alliteration); I just don’t see people “peak” when they try to peak. Barry Ross discussed this years ago….and better and clearer.

“In a previous article, The Holy Grail In Speed Training, I presented a non-bodybuilding method of strength training.
The ‘periodizing’ format (termed ‘recycling’) used for our system is simple: attack the 100% 1RM often, but not in a linear fashion, vary workout sessions in no particular pattern while never dropping below 85% 1RM and let current performance dictate the plan for the next 1 or 2 sessions.

“This may sound disturbing to anyone who looks down the road to a particular event, then plans a workout in phases to reach the peak of power on the exact day necessary.

“If only it was that easy. Of course, it would be easy if there were no injuries or illness, no bad weather, no problems in getting to the gym, workout area, field or venue; no other challenges or outright failures. But, there are – at least, that has been my experience.

“Our recycling plan may not be far-reaching, but the effects of it are. We focus on what happened in the previous 2-3 sessions, not what might happen 3-6 months from now. There are no fancy pyramids in our system. We don’t build a base of mass geared toward endurance instead of strength. We recognize that it is important to vary volume and intensity for each training day through changes in sets, reps and weight. We strictly limit the number of exercise in order to maximize neuromuscular adaptation.

“We don’t add exercises to our system to stave off boredom in the weightroom because we don’t spend much time in the weightroom. We don’t spend much time in the weightroom because we aren’t building pyramids – we’re building superior strength with minimal mass.

“Standard periodization does not work for a large percentage of athletes. Multi-sport athletes, such as those in high school and some collegiate athletes, don’t have enough time to complete each phase adequately.

“Weight training for them must be continuous because there is neither the time for an active rest phase between sports, nor the time to build a strength pyramid. Standard periodization does not work for those who realize that building mass creates a tougher battle against gravity.

“Perhaps standard periodization should not be standard.”

In a few minutes, I will be heading into the gym. I have some good resolutions this year including doing a pullup with the 48 kilo/106 pound “Beast” again. It’s been a few years. Plus, I am increasing the number of KB snatches I am doing and trying to be better at teaching the bent press. I tend to get my goals as they are usually pretty clear.

Until next time, keep on lifting and learning.


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Publisher’s note:  As we head into New Year’s resolution week, there’s no better time to look at this section on “What Do You Want?” from Dan’s book, Can You Go. Here’s where he reminds us, it’s not what we want…it’s what we need that’s important.