Dan John: Wandering Weights, Issue # 119

Wandering Weights
Our Epic Journey Through All Things Heavy, Issue # 119

As Robb Rogers tells us, there are three critical components of performance preparation used to foster positive changes in an athlete’s ability to compete and perform at the highest level on any given day. It is really very simple in concept. Read more. 


My travel schedule is busy. I’ve put enough miles on Delta already to qualify for Gold status this year. It’s great for reading and keeping up on things, but hard physically.

I do love it so maybe I need to be a lot more positive as I sit in the various Sky Clubs around  the world. This week’s WW reflects a lot of sitting and watching.

First, I found this biography about Tony Robbins to be very insightful. I’m a fan but I can understand people’s issues with him.

Pol Murray sent me this great gem. It is a Ted Talk from Dublin on aging and exercise.  Basically, one of the master keys to aging wells is staying strong.

That talk linked to this great talk from Charles Eugster. Now, I have posted this before, but he is simply too charming to not listen to again and again.

This article on Eugster gives us some nuts and bolts.


Employ high-intensity interval training: “It takes less time to do and can be good for your heart.”
Train less if you have an aggressive regimen: “I was rowing six days a week, but now I only train three days a week because you need to have a day of recovery, which is when the muscles are built.”
Trim that waist: “In old age, you have to be far more careful of having a fat belly. It’s the visceral fat that engulfs your organs, and that is the fat that is extremely dangerous especially in old age because it causes inflammation. It’s one of the first stages of chronic disease.”
Try something new: “Learning a completely new sport is something extremely beneficial for your body and your mind. You have to develop new synapses in your mind in order to do completely new movements under pressure.”
Use protein supplements: “If you want to build muscle in old age, you have to take protein supplements, usually in the form of whey protein and leucine. A Vitamin D supplement is also very important because deficiency is very common in older people.”
Maintain a diet with variety. “I don’t think it’s a right idea to have a fixed diet where you’re eating the same thing. You should eat all sorts of different things. An interesting thing I have now discovered is that if you consume a lot of protein, it’s advisable that you start consuming fat, which is something that is a bit difficult to do because everything in the grocery store is low-fat or no-fat now.”

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Finally, Charles teaches us about bodybuilding.

I love this site. Not only is it my daily breath of culture in a world increasingly suffering from classical amnesia, it often breathes more depth into the amazing things the blog finds online. This paragraph made me want to applaud. So I did.

“One defining feature of a war epic well-told, most critics would say, is that the human drama does not get lost in the scale and scope of the action. More than any other form, the epic illustrates what Tolstoy described in War and Peace as the ‘historical sense’ that our conflicts are ‘bound up with the whole course of history and preordained from all eternity.’ But against this kind of determinism, the great poets particularize, making their characters seem not like props in a cosmic drama but like actual people from actual places on earth. Seeing the Iliad mapped above reinforces our sense of the Greek epics as genuine—if fantastical—accounts of meaningful human action in the world.”

The ability to not react is a key to parenting and coaching. “Not changing” is often the secret to success…doing nothing! My best success has come from blindly outrepping my competition, I trained the exact same way for seven straight years! This article gives some insights about doing nothing.

“In other words, you make the variability of your widgets worse by trying to fix it. But is it really that difficult? Things go up and down. How hard can a concept be?

“We all bow to the model of the dynamic business executive. It’s a myth of leadership that when there’s change, it requires action. But maybe leadership is also about asking if change is real change, and knowing when to sit still.”

I keep joking that the lymphatic system is going to be the next “Big Deal” in fitness. I think it will be autophagy and this article does a great job explaining it and showing us some simple tools.


The Main Processes that Turn on Autophagy:

1. Fasting
2. Ketosis
3. Exercise
4. Acute Stress (which includes fasting and exercise)

Interestingly, the caveman experienced all of these frequently, and call it evolution if you like, but we have experienced these states regularly for the past several millions of years, and our bodies have used them to become more efficient. In fact, these processes likely protect us from many types of chronic diseases. The caveman often went without food for long periods of time, and in order to stay alive, engaged in frequent high-intensity and short-duration exercises when he was lifting heavy objects, attacking animals, and running from predators. It is a testament to Nature that she turned something that may seem so bad (no food for days, running from a bear, etc.) into something that can be so beneficial for our health.

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ESPN, among others, have been doing biographies and documentaries of the “Trial of the Century” involving O. J. Simpson. It’s hard to believe that it was over twenty years ago when I got off the plane from discus camp and Tiffini asked me what I thought of the “slow, white Bronco.” Seriously, I thought she was tossing up a short joke. I found this discussion, on Firing Line, to really crystallize the events far better than the books and TV bios.

William F. Buckley, love him or hate him, understood the concept of dialogue. He was best when his guests were from the “other side of the aisle.”

What ever happened to Arthur Devany? I found this great piece on this forum, nothing ever vanishes off the net, and I find that the rest period material is fascinating. It is the “opposite” of what we often find.


I have found this hierachical style of workout style to be superior to all other forms; it is hierarchical because it ascends the motor neuron thresholds for firing all muscle fiber types: ST, FTa and FTb. It is a pure power law work out in its varying intensity and intermittent pace. It is highly adaptable to individual goals that may differ. It will produce a level of leaness no other style of workout can achieve. The specifics as to which exercises you do with this workout are up to you and depend on your goals — sports performance, hypertrophy, endurance, or power.Briefly described, it is done in a hierarchy of movements and weights. Its objective is to ascend the fiber hierarchy from ST to FTa and FTb and then finish with an eccentric movement or explosive movement. A long discussion of this type of workout may be found in my Essay under the Research link at the top of this page. The rest interval is nil, just long enough to change the weight on the bar, cable or machine.

I am reposting, with some editing, this workout style. The specifics as to which exercises you do with this workout are up to you and depend on your goals — sports performance, hypertrophy, endurance, or power. I am going to put it as a permanent link on a page on the sidebar as The Best Work Out.The work out I always come back to and the very best for all round strength and muscularity, not to mention leanness is the hierarchical workout. Briefly described, it is done in a hierarchy of movements and weights. Its objective is to ascend the fiber hierarchy from ST to FTa and FTb and then finish with an eccentric movement or explosive movement. A long discussion of this type of workout may be found in my Essay under the Research link at the top of this page. The rest interval is nil within a set, just long enough to change the weight on the bar, cable or machine. The interval between sets depends on your goals, see the list at the end.

New research now confirms that this style of workout is best for muscle mass and for strength. It is equally effective in comparison to other routines for power. Of course, the researchers did not add the finishing touch that I do and I suspect they would have also found that my routine gives an edge for power as well. Read the essay for a discussion of the theory behind the hierarchical work out.

The essence of the hierarchical work out is to promote a maximal anabolic hormone response and to shut off the stress hormone response through its brevity and relatively low volume. You begin with a target of about 15 reps with a weight that is challenging, but do not go to failure. Just use the “burn” to know when to move on. Lower the weight more slowly than you raise it and increase the pace of the movement as you progress through the reps. Then, with no rest, increase the weight and aim for about 8 reps with the same protocol. Then increase the weight again and aim for 4 reps in excellent form. Then do a couple of negatives if you can do so safely in that particular lift (few meet this standard, but some do). Then do an explosive move similar to the exercise or do drops.

My favorite way to do this was with squats, but there is no way to do negatives with squats and, for safety, you should not descend to full depth on the last set. If you alter the depth, progressing to less depth with the heavier weight, you will hit all the fibers in the hips and quads and at many angles and extensions. Hitting all the mass is the only way you will get a fullness and completeness to your musculature.An example where this is quite safe is to do leg presses on a seated machine. Not one where you may get trapped under the weights. Do 15 presses, increase the weight and do 8, increase the weight and do 4. Then increase the weight or with the same weight press out with both legs and lower with just one leg. Do only 2 negatives this way. Then do some leaps either dropping off a bench to a rubber floor or holding a squat bar, placed on the rack, leap up as far as you can while holding the bar. Do as many as you can.

Alternately, find a high bar you can leap up to and grab. Drop off and do it again, as many times as you are able. You can do a similar protocol with a cable row or one-armed db rows. With the db rows, I do the first three sets, the ascending 15, 8, 4 and then just go down the rack doing one rep. Go right down the rack to the heaviest db you can do in excellent form. Don’t try this until you have prepared with light weights. You will get so sore you might stay in bed a few days, not worth it. Perfect form always, stop as soon as form begins to break down.

Here is a recent abstract on rest intervals, but the important content is on the sustained activity over a period of time and the effects of different patterns. I do not think the prescribed intervals are optimal. Experiment for yourself with these guidelines. I am trying to obtain the other article I came across that further documents brief rest intervals for strength and mass gains.

I am not recommending them for you; you must make that choice yourself. I used to work my 78 year old mother out this way. It is safe if you plan and take care. And the results are unbelievable. Keep it brief and do only 3 such movements in a single workout and get out of the gym. If you leave tired, you over did it. You should feel fresh and alive.

Research has indicated that multiple sets are superior to single sets for maximal strength development. However, whether maximal strength gains are achieved may depend on the ability to sustain a consistent number of repetitions over consecutive sets.

A key factor that determines the ability to sustain repetitions is the length of rest interval between sets. The length of the rest interval is commonly prescribed based on the training goal, but may vary based on several other factors.

The purpose of this review was to discuss these factors in the context of different training goals.

When training for muscular strength, the magnitude of the load lifted is a key determinant of the rest interval prescribed between sets. For loads less than 90% of 1 repetition maximum, 3–5 minutes rest between sets allows for greater strength increases through the maintenance of training intensity.

However, when testing for maximal strength, 1–2 minutes rest between sets might be sufficient between repeated attempts.

When training for muscular power, a minimum of 3 minutes rest should be prescribed between sets of repeated maximal effort movements (e.g., plyometric jumps).

When training for muscular hypertrophy, consecutive sets should be performed prior to when full recovery has taken place. Shorter rest intervals of 30–60 seconds between sets have been associated with higher acute increases in growth hormone, which may contribute to the hypertrophic effect.

When training for muscular endurance, an ideal strategy might be to perform resistance exercises in a circuit, with shorter rest intervals (e.g., 30 seconds) between exercises that involve dissimilar muscle groups, and longer rest intervals (e.g., 3 minutes) between exercises that involve similar muscle groups.

In summary, the length of the rest interval between sets is only 1 component of a resistance exercise program directed toward different training goals.

Prescribing the appropriate rest interval does not ensure a desired outcome if other components such as intensity and volume are not prescribed appropriately.

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You can see something similar here at Vern Gambetta’s site:

Spectrum Squat™

Isometric Squat – Hold 30 seconds

Sandbag Squat (25 – 30 % Bodyweight) – 6 reps

Unloaded Fast Bodyweight Squat (1 rep per second) – 6 reps

Unloaded Jump Squats – 8 reps

Oddly, this workout is very close to what I bought in something like “Bulgarian Bodybuilding Secrets” or whatever back in the day.

If you are interested in some more recent insights, Robb Wolf is interviewed here and he sparkles in his insights.

“The first time that this concept got on my radar was from Art De Vany, and this was back in like ’98, ’97, somewhere around there.  This old university kinda website for his evolutionary fitness site and he described this 2 things: one was a hierarchical set where you took uh, say like you’re doing back squats, and you would do 20 reps with an empty bar, then you’ve put a 45 pound played on it sides and do 15 reps, like you just go from 1 to the next, to the next.  So, you do 15 reps with 45 pounds, and then 8 reps with 225, and put 315 on and get 3 or 4 reps, and that’s about as heavy as you gonna go that day, and you know you’ve generated a lot lactate, you’ve theoretically fatigue.  All of the different muscle fibers from the slow to the fast twitch, and then you finish this thing with some jumps, so like some jump squats to really hit those high-end motor units.

And so, that was one technique that I used, and then another technique goes what you called Alactic sets where you kinda warmed up, got mobile and everything, and then you put a weight on the bar that was maybe about 80-85 presuming you have your 1 rep max, and you do 1-3 reps, and then you just kinda walk around, wait a couple of seconds ‘till you felt recovered, do another couple of sets or couple of reps.  And you would accumulate you know, basically enough volume so that you just started to get a little bit of movement degradation, and then you were done, but like your deadlift session, you know, aside from warm up and mobility and everything, literally might be less than 5 minutes ‘cause you just kinda stack this stuff.

And I had fiddled with that both of these – both the hierarchical sets and the alactic sets before I got into the crossfit gig.  And I really liked it like it was super time efficient, you know, you weren’t gonna set in any power lifting records with it or anything like that, but it was just kinda shocking.  It’s funny, Art’s an economist, he’s a brilliant guy, and so it was like the most time efficient thing that I’d ever done in my life as far as training, like it was pretty shocking in that regard, and so then Mark Sisson’s recent book ‘Primal Endurance’, he had kind of a takedown of this stuff and he called it something different.”

Until next week, I will be haunting airports and gyms around the world. Let’s all keep on lifting and learning.


This may be old news for you, but most of us still probably need a refresher: Charlie Weingroff’s quick take on Gray Cook and Mike Boyle’s Joint-by-Joint Approach…what it is and what it means in your training programs.