Dan John: Wandering Weights, Issue # 113

Wandering Weights
Our Epic Journey Through All Things Heavy, Issue # 113


Publisher’s Note:  Are you a strength coach or a personal trainer? If so, be sure to read this commentary from Mike Boyle on success in the training field.


As you read this, I will be squatting between two trips. I found out, to my great sadness, that my cousin, Ken, died. Ken was my mom’s best friend and was just an all-around great person.

When my mom died 37 years ago, Ken sat down with me at the kitchen table and told me about my mom’s life. It was all funny, all family. He told me stories of her sneaking home after curfew, fun times in high school and dealing with World War II. It was information I would have never known.

When we lose people, we lose history.

This weekend, I will be back in England teaching “The Art of Coaching.” I’m looking forward to being at one of the best gyms in Europe and seeing a lot of friends. I will be in Europe a lot this year.

So, after nearly two weeks without being on a plane, I will now be living out of a suitcase for a while.

I think this week’s WW is a nice blend of basic information across the board regarding fitness and health. Nothing too crazy I hope!

This article made me rethink a lot about what I learned about the brain. I very much like the idea of expressing ourselves in unpleasant things, too.

“The road to superaging is difficult, though, because these brain regions have another intriguing property: When they increase in activity, you tend to feel pretty bad — tired, stymied, frustrated. Think about the last time you grappled with a math problem or pushed yourself to your physical limits. Hard work makes you feel bad in the moment. The Marine Corps has a motto that embodies this principle: ‘Pain is weakness leaving the body.’ That is, the discomfort of exertion means you’re building muscle and discipline. Superagers are like Marines: They excel at pushing past the temporary unpleasantness of intense effort. Studies suggest that the result is a more youthful brain that helps maintain a sharper memory and a greater ability to pay attention.

“This means that pleasant puzzles like Sudoku are not enough to provide the benefits of superaging. Neither are the popular diversions of various ‘brain game’ websites. You must expend enough effort that you feel some ‘yuck.’ Do it till it hurts, and then a bit more.

“In the United States, we are obsessed with happiness. But as people get older, research shows, they cultivate happiness by avoiding unpleasant situations. This is sometimes a good idea, as when you avoid a rude neighbor. But if people consistently sidestep the discomfort of mental effort or physical exertion, this restraint can be detrimental to the brain. All brain tissue gets thinner from disuse. If you don’t use it, you lose it.

“So, make a New Year’s resolution to take up a challenging activity. Learn a foreign language. Take an online college course. Master a musical instrument. Work that brain. Make it a year to remember.”

This article seems to be a no-brainer (see above to get the joke), but I still can’t believe we don’t have our first line of diabetes defense to simply be “cut sugar.”

“‘The medication is needed because diabetes is a disease of carbohydrate intolerance; if the patient does not eat carbs, they do not have to use medication,’ she said.

“‘I use the ‘cigarette’ analogy. We know it is bad to smoke, so we tell patients not to smoke. Why don’t we do the same thing with sugar and processed starches?  The excuse I hear is that ‘people won’t stop eating sugar and starches.’  However, by the same analogy, we could have thrown up our hands and said, ‘people can’t give up smoking.’

“‘We need to treat diabetes like lung cancer and COPD; all of these diseases are preventable with lifestyle,’ Gower said. ‘Further, even with established, long-term, type 2 diabetes, it can be managed with diet. It is not impossible to eat a low-carb diet that is healthful and satisfying. We do it all the time, and we teach our patients to do it. They love it.’

“‘Carbohydrates are not essential nutrients for the human body, and with proper instruction, patients can adjust their diets to minimize them.'”

Danny K offers a very nice article here that reflects my travels, too.


2. No One Has Learned It All Yet

One of the greatest things about my experience is that I get to train not only with calisthenics practitioners, but also with weightlifters, martial artists, circus performers, bodybuilders, and just everyday enthusiasts. And guess what? I’ve learned from all of them!

I can’t tell you how many times someone who comes to me for my teaching winds up showing me something that I’ve never seen before. Maybe it’s a new progression or a troubleshooting tip that they’ve discovered, but is new to me. I’m proud to say that, even as an instructor, I’ve personally learned something at every single Progressive Calisthenics Certification. There is a wealth of knowledge out there if we make ourselves open to it.

End quote

This article was linked to Danny’s and I loved it.


1. Start Light: Focus on Volume Before Intensity

Did Milo try to lift a full-grown bull on day one? Of course not. He began with a newborn calf. Given his wrestling prowess, it is very likely that this was a weight that was easy for him.

It works the same way for you and me. When you begin strength training, you should start by lifting something easy. It is only by focusing on volume, repetition, and easy weights in the beginning that you build the capacity to handle heavier weights later on.

End quote

My girl, Anne Reuss, gets some props in this piece. This is a great article.

“Dragon Door: What are your favorite kettlebell exercises in your own training, and for teaching others?

“Anne Reuss: I like the double kettlebell clean to squat to press—thrusters, in other words. It’s brutal and makes me feel like I can conquer anything after I’m done. That combination really hits strength, power, and conditioning.

“Sometimes I’ll use them in an AMRAP (as many reps as possible) workout combined with rowing. Other days, I will do them for reps to build tolerance. I’m very ambitious about my own fitness goals–I just don’t like to plateau. I like to teach this same combination of movements for the same reasons. I like to help my clients feel like badasses. Now I am super excited to teach the hinge and kettlebell swing because they are the gateway to badassery. Building a hard body builds a temple for a strong mind.”

Meditation is a great tool for life in general, but this article really makes me think that we might have had discipline wrong for a while.

“In short, students come to school with significant stresses and setbacks, and are themselves treated as problems to be quarantined or forced out. But why not instead teach those students—why not teach all students—effective means of coping with stress and setbacks? I can think of almost no more useful a set of skills to carry into adulthood, or into a troubled home or neighborhood situation. As the CBS This Morning segment above reports, one school in Baltimore is attempting to so equip their students, with a yoga and meditation program during and after school that takes the place of detention and other punishments.”

I just liked this graphic here. I come away with no conclusions…except that it was pretty cool.

My friend, Ben Fogel, is on a roll lately. This is just an article filled with truth.

“Seek out those who have done it before – find a mentor or coach that can lead you down the right path

“This is one step that most people skip, because they often think they can go at their goals alone, but end up making little to no progress because they just didn’t ask for help.

“In whatever you want to accomplish, look to people from the past that have accomplished a similar goal before and use their formula since you know it already works.  Or, even better, seek out their mentors or coaches and get the expert coaching or training that they received.  This will knock off so much time in you reaching whatever goal you want to accomplish.

“For example, if you are looking for a good financial advisor you could research what some of the top minds in finance are doing and then seek out the experts they used and use them for your goals.  If you are looking to make a transformation in your health and wellness, research the coaches and gyms that are getting the best results with their clients.  Hiring an expert will catapult you so you can take the straight path towards success, without all the bumps and roadblocks along the way.”

This article is brilliantly simple. Literally, there is NOTHING here you don’t know. But, truth often comes in simplicity.

“I’ll risk it, though, and tell you again that there really aren’t shortcuts to health. Here’s what you need to do:

·      Get enough sleep.
·      Move your body throughout the day.
·      Eat well — a healthy assortment of foods. Mostly plants, and not too much. (An idea popularized by author Michael Pollan.)
·      Interact socially. Isolation is not good for the body, soul or mind.
·      Take some time to reflect on what you are grateful for.

I had read that several diseases are impacted to the better by fasting. This first-person article is worth your time.

“What researchers do know, Roman says, is that intermittent fasting is one of many ways to change the makeup of the microbiome, and it can quell the inflammatory symptoms of MS — at least in mice.

“To help shed light on the relationships between fasting and the microbiome and inflammation and multiple sclerosis in humans, researchers at Hopkins will inspect gut bacteria in study participants, before, during and after the six-month period of fasting. Two random mornings a week, Roman sends text messages, asking participants to photograph all of our food intake for the day.

“As a part of this study, I like to think that every bite I take may bring doctors one data point closer to easing the abdominal spasms that ebb and flow like a wave of knives, occasionally sending me to the emergency room. Every embarrassingly audible gurgle of hunger could be a signal that my microbial cohabitants are calming my immune system, muting the burning sensation that at times covers my skin from eyelids to toe-tips. Each late-night snack that I decline may help reduce the inflammation that has left my brain and spinal cord dotted with lesions that lead to those and other symptoms.”

I wrote this next part not too long ago, but this is the time of year people start asking me about prepping for the upcoming seasons. Enjoy:

At workshops, I try to be as open as I can be with my time. I am always happy to sit and answer questions and I am famous for using napkins for filling out programs, concepts and continuums. Some of my best work comes from a few beverages and a good question.

Not long ago, a dad asked me about getting his son ready for football season next fall. He wanted a year-round approach to collision sports and occupations. By definition, a football player is going to need a year-round approach. There are simply too many qualities to build and refine to take any less time. In other words: you have a lot of work to do.

So, I jotted this out for him in his notebook:

November and December, up until the Christmas Break: Restorative work after the season. Lots of Complexes

January and the first weeks of February: Mass Made Simple.

After those six weeks, we just do some basic training on the fundamental human movements.

March: The Big 21 Olympic lifting program and the start of track season.

April and early May: Track season, ideally hurdling, sprinting and throwing.

Late May: Spring football

June: Mass Made Simple

July: Armor Building and Conditioning

August through November: Football Season. Wendler’s 5/3/1.

So far the dad was with me as this all sounds pretty simple. He asked for details. Now, he stopped me before I finished, but let me give you a basic overview of each period:

The restorative work can be as simple as just rest and relaxation. You give up a lot of time during football season with days often being 16 hours (with school work) and the athletes and coaches basically go twelve hours every day at school.

It is often a fun time to do things like bodybuilding or just basic fun and games. Oddly, the poorer players often keep training furiously here. I’m not arguing for laziness, but time off seems to help more than hurt here.

We like complexes this time of year. These are exercises done “back to back to back” with one bar and seem to build hypertrophy, conditioning and “wrestler strength.” I never know what to call that odd kind of strength that wrestlers have in their body, but you know it when you see it.

Complex A is the one that most people begin with so here you go:

Complex A

Row x 8
Clean x 8
Front squat x 8
Military press x 8
Back squat x 8
Good mornings x 8

The dad was nodding along with me here. Then, I explained Mass Made Simple, the 14-workout high rep squatting program. It’s simple: bench press, one-arm press, a little supplementary work, Complex A and then finish off with high-rep back squats.

“What else do you do here?” he asked. Someone who has not done bodyweight for fifty reps is usually pretty sure you can do more. We follow that six or seven-week program with basic training and that can take many forms. It’s at this time we also reintroduce tumbling once a week and Hurdle work (the basic stepovers) twice a week.

At this time, he stopped taking extra notes: “This is a LOT of stuff.”

“We are still six months out from the season.”

The Big 21 is an intense three-week Olympic lifting program with the press, snatch and clean & jerk. I have a spreadsheet for every athlete as they need to do 21 of each lift three days a week and the weights go up five pounds each workout.

“So, the Olympic lifts.” He paused. “And, the powerlifts. And tumbling and hurdles.”

Right. I really like football players to wrestle and do track and field as these are the best complements to game, so if they don’t we need to do speed work and sprinting in the spring, but I would rather see them racing.

“Speed work, too?”

We then do another round of MMS just after spring ball, then just before the season add in some double kettlebell work, snatch-grip deadlifts and thick bar work to build “armor.” Like I told him, I don’t know what it means, but when you do something like double-kettlebell cleans, you toughen up. It isn’t logical, but it is true.

Once we get into the season, I print out Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 numbers for everyone and we strive to hold on to our military, bench, squat and deadlift numbers as best we can.

He stopped me: “O lifts. Powerlifts. Tumbling. Kettlebells. Speed work. This is a LOT of stuff to do just to play football.”

It was at that moment I realized the great divide when it comes to collision sports and occupations: it is a lot of stuff. And, you have to do it all.

Oh, there is more, too. The rules of the game, the techniques, the tactics and strategies are just some of the other things you simply have to know. And, it takes a while. It takes years of physical training, skills training and game experience to fully understand everything that is going on. And, at the extreme, you will never be fully prepared for actual war.

At best, this is all a juggling act. We have a saying in American football: “Guys might get slower as the game goes on, but nobody gets smaller.” So, you have to be big. Bigger than you think. But, you also have to be fast. Each time you work on mass building, you have to follow it up with speed work. With exhausted thighs from high rep squats, you might still need to work specific skills.

And, the levels grow every year as the athletes come through bigger, stronger and faster with even more playing experience. And remember, in this discussion, I am just the Strength Coach. There are lots of other coaches and people trying to get their time, too.

Forget about quick fix programs and short 90-day workouts for training the elite athlete. You need to put the time in, consider “cost to benefit” constantly, and, honestly, hope for the best.

I will be writing the next WW from Heathrow Airport. Until then, keep on lifting and learning.


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