Dan John: Wandering Weights, Issue # 125

Wandering Weights
Our Epic Journey Through All Things Heavy, Issue # 125

People are always trying to sell you a magic pill to get you leaner, faster, stronger. But as far as training is concerned, a long-term vision is far better.


I’m in a bit of “two minds” today. This weekend, we laid to rest one of my friends and heroes, Brian Oldfield. Today is my daughter Kelly’s 27th birthday and I can’t believe she isn’t five years old.

For whatever reason(s), I find myself a bit adrift. Talking about both Brian and Kelly got me thinking that it was forty years ago THIS week that Coach Ralph Maughan (of Blessed Memory) called my house and said:

“This is Coach Ralph Maughan from Utah State University and I would like to offer you a full-ride track and field scholarship.”

In that moment, I fulfilled a goal I set in 1971. The next month, on Mother’s Day, I would win the Small College State Championship in California, garner the MVP and Outstanding Graduating Athlete Award (Phil Garlington Award), and graduate with Highest Honors from Skyline College.

I trained five days a week with Dick Notmeyer and threw up to six hours a day. I was massively overtrained, but I can’t remember ever being as focused. It was this season that I also met Brian for the first time and began to learn that I didn’t really know much about throwing.

It was forty years ago, too, that I ventured off to Utah. Forty years! Fortunately, I keep journals, so I know the highs and lows, the mistakes and insights and a general feel for my idiocy and brilliance. Oddly, as I ramble through my notes, I find dozens of references back to the book, “The Sword in the Stone.” Through life’s highs and lows, I have always insisted, as Merlyn taught us, to try to “Learn Something!”

This is one of my favorite sections from the book. (pdf)

For other versions, like html, go here.

“‘The best thing for being sad,’ replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, ‘is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then—to learn.’

“Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the thing for you. Look at what a lot of things there are to learn—pure science, the only purity there is. You can learn astronomy in a lifetime, natural history in three, literature in six. And then, after you have exhausted a milliard lifetimes in biology and medicine and theocriticism and geography and history and economics—why, you can start to make a cartwheel out of the appropriate wood, or spend fifty years learning to begin to learn to beat your adversary at fencing. After that you can start again on mathematics, until it is time to learn to plough.”

My other favorite section is when Arthur pulls the sword from the stone with the best lifting advice I have ever seen. I include the slide from my presentation:

Dan's slide

This weekend in Florida, I “went back” in time and reviewed some forums I used to post on in 2000-2003. I discovered I was much smarter before I got involved with Crossfit. I’m not ripping on anyone here, but I fell for Xfit for the same reasons we all do:

Steno Symbols. (You can review this concept here.) Even though I performed better (farther, stronger, faster) on what I had learned in my experience, the call of “Vomit and Sweat” won out again. I found this post of mine illuminating…as it is the cornerstone of my Easy Strength program!

“Good question: it is only ONE single in each position. So, yes a TOTAL of ten singles and go home. Now, this is the part that is hard to take: the workout is not going to last very long nor are you going to get any lactic acid. But, Dick could prove overtraining in a second with the isotron. No question, it is hard to believe that this stuff worked: but it did!

“I found out, in fact, this is my next little internet piece, that there may be a ‘Rule of Ten.’ Lane Cannon, who reads Old School but never posts (although he has great insights) and I discussed this at the Grizzlies hockey game last night:

2 sets of Five
3 sets of Three
6 Singles (My
deadstop front squat discovery: this is all I could do to stop from getting stale)
or, the the ten singles,
Perhaps, too, one set of ten. (Squat 610 for ten after a couple of easy warm ups.

“The point is that I am beginning to think, along the lines of Dick Smith, that you need to keep a check on the volume vis-a-vis the load. I’m thinking that you might only have ten SERIOUS reps. Now, I don’t know if you could say this is only for one exercise or for the whole workout.
Could you do 3×3 with Snatch, Clean and Jerk, Front Squat and Pulls (or whatever) in a workout? Probably, but I think Dick’s experience would tell us that it would be better to do one of these lifts each day over four days, and maybe just ‘work form’ on the others.”

I’m rambling…but, my point is that overtraining can sneak up on you very fast, especially when doing 1500 pound movements. Less is more, in the world of isometrics!”

As I was rambling, I found this on my old site. I still give this Joe Mills Cheatsheet out as a handout for my O lifters to cut and paste into their workouts. We read one of these points after every set as part of the rest period.

“Mills believes weightlifting should be a ‘way of life,’ aimed at teaching young men and women inner toughness, discipline and concentration.

“’You’re feeling that weight. It should all be one movement. Look up at the top of the pull and jump down fast. All one movement. Time it right, and the weight will literally feel like it’s pulling you up from the bottom position.’”

“’You’re stubbing your toe on the jerk. And your shoulders are dropping down as soon as the bar comes off the floor. You’ve got to keep them back.’ ‘Is that it?’ Klonoski with some surprise. ‘I was told I was arm pulling, but that didn’t sound right.’ ‘It wasn’t right,’ retorts Mills.’Letting your shoulders drop slows you down.’

As the wor”out proceeds, it becomes clear that in response to Mills’ comments, all three lifters are quickly making adjustments which improve their lifts. Grillo, for example, brings his feet closer together at the start of the pull and, as a result, finds he can use his quadriceps more effectively.

“’But if I can get a lifter down to one mistake per lift, that’s acceptable. With two or three, he won’t lift to his potential.’

“’By doing the lifts three times a week, Brusie’s developing the core muscles, all the little muscles you use for lifting. To be good at lifting, you have to lift’ says Mills. ‘Also, my lifters always know exactly what they are capable of lifting. In competition, they can start with 10 pounds more than their best in training.’

“’Say a guy is snatching 95 kg.,’ Mills explains. ‘I’d have him start with 65 kg. For five reps, 70 for five, 75 for 5, and then take single attempts in 2.5 kg. jumps to 90 kg. That’s 21 lifts. If he makes all 21, he adds 2.5 kg. To all attempts in the next snatch workout. So he’d start with 67.5. If he misses the last lift (90 kg.), he stays with the same 65 kg. starter, no increase. If he misses several of the heavier lifts, he is probably just tired. He should listen to his body and rest.’

“Mills believes that the York courses, including the fast deadlifts and repetition squats, remain the best general conditioners for weightlifting.”

One gift I did receive from Xfit was Hooverball. The original sites I used to read are gone but this is a nice summary:

“A combination of tennis, volleyball and medicine ball, Hoover-ball was invented, developed and perfected by White House physician Admiral Joel T. Boone to keep Hoover physically fit.

“‘It required less skill than tennis, was faster and more vigorous, and therefore gave more exercise in a short time,’ Hoover wrote in his Memoirs.

“‘It is more strenuous than either boxing, wrestling or football,’ wrote Will Irwin, a friend of Hoover’s, in a 1931 article ‘The President Watches His Waistline’ in Physical Culture magazine. ‘It has the virtue of getting at nearly every muscle in the body.’

“The sport was without a name until ‘New York Times Magazine’ reporter William Atherton DuPuy christened the game ‘Hoover-ball’ for his 1931 article ‘At the White House at 7 a.m.’

“Hoover-ball was played by teams of 2-4 players with a six-pound medicine ball over a net eight feet high on a court similar to one used for tennis. The game was scored exactly like tennis, and played in similar fashion. The server throws the ball. The opponent must catch it on the fly and immediately return it, attempting to put it where it cannot be reached and returned. The side that misses the ball or throws it out of bounds loses the point.”

I have these notes in my computer that we used back at Juan Diego Catholic High School. Rules are usually determined “in house.” However, the traditional rules are as follows:

Points are scored when a team either fails to catch the return, fails to return the ball across the net, or returns the ball out of bounds.
The ball is served from the back line.
The serve is rotated among one team until the game is won. Teams alternate serving after each game.
The ball must be caught on the fly and immediately returned from the point it was caught. There is no running with the ball or passing to teammates.
Each team’s court is divided in half. A ball returned from the front half of a team’s court must be returned to the back half of its opponent’s court. If the ball doesn’t reach the 
back court, the opponent is awarded the point.
A ball that hits the out-of-bounds line is a good return.
A player who catches the ball out-of-bounds, or is carried out-of-bounds by the force of the ball, may return in-bounds before the return.
A ball that hits the net on its way over is a live ball. (If it was thrown from the front court, it must reach the opponent’s 
back court to be good.)
Teams may substitute at dead ball situations.
Women serve from the mid-court line.
Women may pass once before a return.
Women may return the ball to any area of the opponent’s court.
Good sportsmanship is required. Points in dispute are played over.

I am sometimes amazed at how much good information I have let trickle through my mind and later how I had to relearn the same lessons. That’s why I write books. That is why I spend so much time teaching and coaching. I’m trying to not only give back, but to help people not make the same mistakes I did.

Until next week, join me in our continuing journey in lifting and learning.


One thing we hear a lot from Dan’s readers is that he makes them think, even about the simple stuff. For a bit more thinking today, here’s a link to put in your evening read list: Dan John, Knowing What to Measure Simplifies Life