Dan John: Wandering Weights, Issue # 174

Wandering Weights
Our Epic Journey Through All Things Heavy, Issue # 174

NEW ARTICLEEmily Splichal: Walking – From Primal to Bipedal—Do you ever actually think about walking? Stride length? Restricted pelvic rotation? Chances are you’re not walking the way evolution intended you to walk. [CONTINUE READING]


Well, I had a great weekend in Denmark. Ole and Allan’s gym is exactly what I would put together if I owned a facility. It has lots of open space and plenty of equipment. I enjoy my European trips, but I do miss a lot of stuff back home.

But, I also realize that this is “the life I chose.” Be careful of what you want to be when you grow up as you might end up what you want to be.

My father, of Blessed Memory, used to tell me that his biggest curse was “I hope you get exactly what you want.” Oddly, many people ruin their lives by achieving their goals. I think that is the great lesson I tried to impart in Now What?

What’s next after “all your dreams come true?” I do this simple thing at workshops to help people with this:

Sit down with a partner, ideally someone you barely know. Ask each other these questions:

What do you want in two decades? Two years? Two months? Two weeks? Tomorrow? (Tonight and today can work sometimes, too).

Two decades: that’s the one that challenges me. I have been working on my spring “Pirate Map,” and you can see that I have the next “little bit” fairly locked down:

Pirate Map (Eliminate-Exercise-Eat)

Sleep Ritual: Make coffee for the morning. Supplements. Make tomorrow’s To Do List (From Robb Wolf)
Wake up and be grateful. (Pat Flynn)
One Minute Meditation (App on iPhone)
Daily work on Original Strength and Easy Strength (Tim Anderson); Ruck once a week (Mike Provost); Hypertrophy and 30/30 as often as appropriate.
Eat Eight different veggies a day. (Josh Hillis)
Live Laugh Love

As I look it over, if my “To Do” list has some thought behind it, I might take care of a lot of those “Two” questions.

This week on the internet, I found some interesting things. This article reflects, in my opinion, the work of Peter Tshiene in the 1960s…a German. But, let’s call it French.


This strength movement can be a traditional up and down lift or an isometric, depending on the outcome goal. If you’re building a training phase, it may be better to use standard lifting reps for their hormonal and muscle building effects. For more of a realization effect that maximizes the speed end of the complex, I recommend using partial range, or isometric, work such as an isometric half or quarter squat hold for 3-7 seconds.

Several years ago, jumps coach Mike Goss told me of an interesting study that shows the effects isometric movements can have on potentiation. Using weights on a softball bat to warm up harmed unweighted bat speed. Conversely, athletes who performed 3×5 second isometric reps pulling a bat handle against an immovable resistance in a specific batting position significantly improved their bat speed for a 2 to 12-minute window. This also shows us that isometrics allow for potentiation in a shorter time frame than the 10 minutes we commonly see cited in the research using deep squatting for potentiation.

This idea opens a door for many creative variations of isometric movement that have relevance to a variety of sports skills. Isometrics also help with safety. When working with large groups of less experienced athletes, an easy way to achieve overload is to perform isometric positions. There is much less that can go wrong, and the athletes must focus much harder on achieving the correct position and muscular tension.

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I have seen this explanation about lifting for a while: max out on dumbbell presses then slide over to a machine with the same load and you can oddly keep going. But, I enjoyed the clarity here.


As Behm mentioned, bipedal and unipedal offer two types of stability—or instability as it were—not to mention the difference of free weight versus machines (track resistance). I ran into two terms I had not heard before: coupled and uncoupled (Campbell et.al., 2014). In this study, they used the terms to mean a barbell and dumbbells (DBs), respectively. I can see where even a bar connected to a cable (coupled) is more stable than two handles (uncoupled); both present different EMG challenges, including changing the stability of the surfaces an athlete performs the exercise on.

Undoubtedly, though I professed I do not do instability training, I have done it for a long time, albeit not for balancing or different EMG patterns. This is because much of normal training is barbell/dumbbell, one leg/two leg, and core-challenged tasks that have inherently different levels of instability. So I stand somewhat corrected.

On the other hand (I’m bailing myself out a bit), I remain unwavering in my belief that creating an unstable surface is not the best idea, and has never been for me. As you’ll see, perhaps not for you, either. The transfer is not there and, again, we don’t play on a ground that moves.

There are many layers to this. Let’s look at a continuum of some different stability environments that others have mentioned and use the overhead press as an example:

1.     Seated machine overhead press
2.     Standing machine overhead press
3.     Seated barbell overhead press
4.     Standing barbell overhead press
5.     Seated DB overhead press
6.     Standing DB overhead press
7.     Seated 1 arm DB overhead press
8.     Standing 1 arm DB overhead press
9.     Standing 2 DBs, one-legged overhead press
10.  Standing 1 DB, one-legged overhead press

We always talk about progression, and you could argue that each of these overhead presses has distinct and different effects on the body and its own level of instability, though none use an unstable surface. In these cases, the instability relies on the body’s own lack of stability by changing the center of balance with support symmetry, sitting or standing, bipedal or unipedal, coupled or uncoupled. To take it a step further, you could take No. 10 and have the DB be on the support leg side or non-support side to again give a different stimulus to the body.

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This article opens and closes a lot of the myths in dieting. I still think dieting is a road to failure as I learned at that conference in Norway last year. We need “Ways of Eating” that can be maintained. But, this was good.


At six months, there seem to be some pretty big differences across diets. Atkins looks great, as does something called “volumetrics,” which is a “moderate macronutrient” diet that encourages eating vegetables and whole grains. Jenny Craig looks much worse. But by a year the differences are extremely minor, and the ranking across diets has changed. The best diet — although only by a tiny and certainly not statistically significant margin — is the Ornish diet, which is low fat.

So, if you had to pick a diet to maximize weight loss at one year, Ornish comes out on top by a hair.

But much more important is the observation that most people seem to find diets hard to maintain. For example, people on Atkins lose 22 pounds in the first six months, but gain about eight pounds back six months later. This means that the particular diet you choose is likely less important than choosing one you can actually stick to.

A final point: These studies focused only on weight loss, which is typically the primary focus of dieting, but may not be the only one. The JAMA analysis is silent on the question of whether different diets have varying benefits (or costs) other than weight loss.

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A quick warning: this article is long, but I have rarely seen something that made me lean in and wonder so much. This article really could be a call to action for some of you. I will give you just the last paragraph, but the first two really hooked me.


Still, the message seems to be that our chronological age really is just a number. “If people think that because they are getting older they cannot do things, or cut their social ties, or incorporate this negative view which limits their life, that can be really detrimental,” says Terracciano. “Fighting those negative attitudes, challenging yourself, keeping an open mind, being engaged socially, can absolutely have a positive impact.”

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I have recommended “Floss your teeth” since I first started coaching. Yes, no question, flossing is good for you, but my point has always been this: if you don’t have the discipline to floss your teeth, do you really think you can commit to the next eight years of training? Having said this, I liked this little article. The key, of course, is to floss your teeth!


There’s no scientific consensus on whether to brush before or after flossing. Dr. Richey says he personally does both: brush-floss-brush. But he stresses that’s not necessary, and either way is fine.

“Look, as long as you are brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, and flossing or using another interdental cleaner twice a day, you’re good to go,” says Dr. Alice Boghosian, a spokesperson for the American Dental Association. “God bless people if they feel comfortable flossing after they brush, as long as they’re cleaning between their teeth once a day.”

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It’s odd how I keep circling back to exercise, diet and flossing to maintain health, fitness, performance and longevity. There MUST be a secret…like “buy low, sell high” somewhere (insert sarcastic smirk).

Next week, Boston! Until then, keep lifting and learning.

Emily Splichal: Walking – From Primal to Bipedal—Do you ever actually think about walking? Stride length? Restricted pelvic rotation? Chances are you’re not walking the way evolution intended you to walk. [CONTINUE READING]



The Sword in the Stone



Just outside Sir Ector’s castle there was a jousting field for tournaments, although there had been no tournaments in it since Kay was born. It was a green meadow, kept short, with a broad grassy bank raised round it on which pavilions could be erected. There was an old wooden grandstand at one side, lifted on stilts for the ladies. At present the field was only used as a practice-ground for tilting, so a quintain had been erected at one end and a ring at the other. The quintain was a wooden saracen on a pole. He was painted with a bright blue face and red beard and glaring eyes. He had a shield in his left hand and a flat wooden sword in his right. If you hit him in the middle of his forehead all was well, but if your lance struck him on the shield or on any part to left or right of the middle line, then he spun round with great rapidity, and usually caught you a wallop with his sword as you galloped by, ducking. His paint was somewhat scratched and the wood picked up over his right eye. The ring was just an ordinary iron ring tied to a kind of gallows by a thread. If you managed to put your point through the ring, the thread broke, and you could canter off proudly with the ring round your spear.

The day was cooler than it had been for some time, for the autumn was almost within sight, and the two boys were in the tilting yard with the master armourer and Merlyn. The master armourer, or sergeant-at-arms, was a stiff, pale, bouncy gentleman with waxed moustaches. He always marched about with his chest stuck out like a pouter pigeon, and he called out “On the word One—” on every possible occasion. He took great pains to keep his stomach in, and often tripped over his feet because he could not see them over his chest. He was generally making his muscles ripple, which annoyed Merlyn.

Wart lay beside Merlyn in the shade of the grandstand and scratched himself for harvest bugs. The saw-like sickles had only lately been put away, and the wheat stood in stooks of eight among the tall stubble of those times. The Wart still itched. He was also sore about the shoulders and had a burning ear, from making bosh shots at the quintain—for, of course, practice tilting was done without armour. Wart was pleased that it was Kay’s turn to go through it now and he lay drowsily in the shade, snoozing, scratching, twitching like a dog and partly attending to the fun.

Merlyn, sitting with his back to all the athleticism, was practising a spell which he had forgotten. It was a spell to make the sergeant’s moustaches uncurl, but at present it only uncurled one of them, and the sergeant had not noticed it. He absent-mindedly curled it up again every time Merlyn did the spell, and Merlyn said, “Drat it!” and began again. Once he made the sergeant’s ears flap by mistake, and the latter gave a startled look at the sky.

End quote

“The master armourer, or sergeant-at-arms,” will return as the butt of several jokes as we continue through our book. He will bravely lead his troops in the wrong direction during a boar hunt. I think White enjoys poking fun at the military puffery here.

Years ago, on my recommendation, a friend of mine read this book. This was the chapter that was most vexing for the reader: “All those details that never push the story forward!”

To be fair, the person was well educated. To be unfair, my friend missed the point of the whole book. As I have said before, The Sword in the Stone is a love story…about learning. In the end, of course, it also becomes a primer on strength training (as you will see; you need to be strong to pull the sword from the stone), but every page dances with the love of education. Probably my favorite quote is this…and, yes, you have seen it before.


“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s 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 only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”

“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 theo-criticism 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.”

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As I was mulling over this, I thought back through my education and remembered that small story that we find in Boswell’s “Life of Johnson.” Sadly, this book receives little mention today, but Sherlock Holmes fans will recognize the name, Boswell, from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “A Scandal in Bohemia.” And, yes, you should read that work because it remains my favorite Sherlock story.

We find this small episode on one of Boswell and Johnson’s trips:


On Saturday, July 30, Dr. Johnson and I took a sculler at the Temple-stairs, and set out for Greenwich. I asked him if he really thought a knowledge of the Greek and Latin languages an essential requisite to a good education.

Johnson: “Most certainly, Sir; for those who know them have a very great advantage over those who do not. Nay, Sir, it is wonderful what a difference learning makes upon people even in the common intercourse of life, which does not appear to be much connected with it.” “And yet, (said I) people go through the world very well, and carry on the business of life to good advantage, without learning.”

Johnson: “Why, Sir, that may be true in cases where learning cannot possibly be of any use; for instance, this boy rows us as well without learning, as if he could sing the song of Orpheus to the Argonauts, who were the first sailors.” He then called to the boy, “What would you give, my lad, to know about the Argonauts?” “Sir, (said the boy) I would give what I have.” Johnson was much pleased with his answer, and we gave him a double fare. Dr. Johnson then turning to me, “Sir, (said he) a desire of knowledge is the natural feeling of mankind; and every human being, whose mind is not debauched, will be willing to give all that he has, to get knowledge.”

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We can forgive Boswell and Johnson for the class warfare issues that we see here: it was another time and era.

As I read this again, I realized that I am the boy who is rowing. I’m the kid from the blue collar, Union family who lived one paycheck away from ruin. I paid for my education by throwing the discus far, but I never missed class and I never missed assignments. I knew that the ticket to success was simply leaning forward in my desk listening, taking notes and applying the lessons.

So, yes, White spends a lot of time in detail teaching us about lots of things that don’t push the story forward.

And, that is why I love this book.

Until next time.


If you missed it last week, here’s part one of Mike Prevost’s rucking series[CONTINUE READING]

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