Dan John: Wandering Weights, Issue # 175

Wandering Weights
Our Epic Journey Through All Things Heavy, Issue # 175

NEW ARTICLE: Persistent stress can wreak havoc on the nervous system. In this week’s main OTP feature, Greg Dea describes the use of mobility interventions to restore balance to the nervous system and combat other negative effects. [CONTINUE READING]


I might be the first person on record to leave Boston on Saint Patrick’s Day to head to SLC for a party. But, that’s what I do as an International Man of Mystery. Perform Better one-day summits are a lot of fun, but those four back to back to back to back hands-on sessions are killers.

But, I love it. This week, I have a workshop at Gym Jones and a talk at Saint Ignatius in San Francisco. I’m also prepping for a school assembly, something I swore I would never do, but here we go.

Adults are learning differently today. I have been noticing this for a bit, but let me summarize my highly technical findings:

First, do it.
Then, explain why.

I’ve been noticing that without the “hands-on,” most adults want seventy layers of explanation…and then ignore everything I strive to answer. I was at a wine tasting last night and everyone is an expert until one of seven Master Sommeliers in the United States describes tasting 240 wines at once and “I could only truly find three that were distinctive.”

Sometimes, you need to try things first, get “muddled” as T. H. White always said, then sort things out for clarity. Without the “do,” the “why” sometimes makes no sense. Like why I teach planks first: did you do them?

I swam deep this week on the internet. As many of you know, I have two loves (besides Tiffini, my girls and a whole bunch of other people):

The Sword in the Stone
Utah State Discus Throwing

So, I am typing into search engines and…

Glenn Passey. Ralph Maughan. A letter from 1962. A brilliant Master’s Thesis.

I found this as I was looking for “Utah State Discus Thrower” on google. It is one of the best summaries I have ever read on training. So, I contacted the University. Sadly, as they responded, they do not have Footnote 12, the letter from Coach Maughan to the author. But, this is a very good read and it reflects training before the steroid era.

I also decided to retype a roundtable with Kevin McGill, just to give you some insights from our past:


This question would elicit many different answers from coaches. Let me relate a story about Glenn Passey, a terrific discus thrower, who was smaller in stature than most. Glenn threw nearly 60 metres (sic) in the mid-60″s at a bodyweight of 185 lbs (84kg). I asked him what he did for general training and he replied that he baled hay during the summer before school started. He did not like to lift weights. Anyone who has ever baled hay with a pitchfork knows how hard that work is. My next question was. “How did you train specific strength, since it is obvious you got in shape from hay baling” His answer was amazing. His father asked him to clear fields of rocks, so Glenn would walk the fields and throw the stones off the field, using a discus motion! The moral of this story provides this answer lo the question; use what facilities and equipment you have, to provide general strength training. In some areas, where weights are not easily found, use your body lo perform circuit training. Generally, throwers will benefit from throwing heavier implements earlier on. and perhaps some lighter ones close to the competition period. Work from heavier, slower. less specific movements to lighter, faster. more specific ones.

End quote

So, this got me looking into the past on isometrics. This article was interesting.


Pettit and Roy did their IC work in Baton Rouge, which is no coincidence: tie Louisiana capital is a hotbed of the system. Francis Drury, a Louisiana State physical education professor, was one of its earliest advocates, as was Trainer Marty Broussard, who has developed special IC equipment for LSU sprinters and football players. Broussard says he even has used IC to improve his golf game. Holding a club in various positions against immovable objects and straining the muscles employed at those points, he has lengthened his drives 15 yards. Dr. Drury and Alvin Roy, Norbert’s uncle and the proprietor of a Baton Rouge health studio, predict that through isometric contraction all world records in weight lifting will be broken within the next year, every world track and field record within the next two years.

Another strong IC booster is Bob Hoffman, the messianic Olympic weight-lifting coach. “It’s the greatest thing the world’s ever seen,” he says. “I am absolutely awestruck at the miracles it has wrought. Let’s make full use of this gift from heaven.”

Doing just that. Bob Hoffman is manufacturing and marketing a “Super Power Rack,” essentially a steel bar which can be set at various heights. Hoffman, 62, believes this is better for everybody (as well as for him) than using just any old immovable object. “It’s easy to damage hotel bathrooms,” he warns. “I was pulling against a washbasin, and I pulled it loose. In Kiev, our fellows were pushing from wall to wall, and one wall came down, much to our regret.”

Hoffman has interested Dean Markham, one of President Kennedy’s fitness advisers, in IC. “Recently,” Hoffman has written, “Dean Markham spent a night at our home, and at 4 o’clock in the morning, he and I were training with the Super Power Rack.”‘ Markham praises IC, but quickly points out that “the program is much too new at this time to be endorsed by the President.”

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While I was at SI, I found this great article on Al Oerter. “One hour:” Something to think about for many of our readers.


Al does two hours of weight-training one night and one hour of throwing the discus the next. Not throwing he considers to be one secret of his success. As a pitcher can wreck his arm working it too hard, so, he thinks, can a discus thrower. It isn’t easy to go from a sedentary day into practice. “Your body slips into a relaxed state,” Oerter says. “Actually, I really have a very poor attitude toward it right now. It’s just before an Olympic year and just after a good year, and this job is new. Right after the season you can turn sour. I’m not tired of competing so much, but the traveling. Back and forth to the Coast, where you have the good meets, the good weather, the good competition. If I could compete on the Island here, or on the East Coast, it would be nice for a weekend out.”

End quote

Round and round we go when it comes to food, but perhaps the basic basics are still the truth. This article does a nice job nudging our “lines in the sand” when it comes to diet and preaching a simpler answer.


Hyman calls his approach the “Pegan diet” because it’s vegetable heavy, like veganism, while also making room on the plate for high-protein, high-fat meat dishes beloved by the Paleo crowd.

But, although apt, he says the name is a bit of a joke. It’s “mostly a spoof on the fanaticism of my Paleo and vegan friends,” he writes in the book.

Instead of labels and diets, the best guide is to look for foods without a long list of nutritional information.

“The food we should be eating shouldn’t have labels,” he says. “Does an egg have a nutritional label? Do you see the ingredients list on an almond?”

“How close to its original state is the food? And, if it’s pretty close, it’s probably good for you,” he says.

End quote

This is getting a lot of play this week. Another senior athlete teaching the rest of us how to live and compete.


That was terrible, but I said, “Well, I got to get up from here.” I’ve been doing well; I just don’t want to overdo it. People make mistakes, they say, “I won’t pay the pain no mind.” That’s a stupid statement. The pain—you better pay it some mind. It’s telling you something.

We hear you’re back to working out three or four days a week. Tell us more about your routine.

I go to the gym, take a strengthening class that has some dance steps. Other days, I got my bike and my running and my three-pound weights. I squat with them, stretch my arms out. I try to do 10 minutes, three times a day—then it’s nap time. When a race gets closer, I also go with my daughter to the track for a 40-minute session of warmup drills and a single 60-meter run.

Miss Ida’s Keys to Lifelong Running:

Morning Motion
Keeling circles her legs in bed—“I’m up, they got to wake up.” She also squats as she cooks and cleans.

She suggests breaks before races. “If you get tired, don’t push it. Put your legs up on the couch.”

Good Nutrition
Her diet includes greens, fruits, nuts, OJ, and cod liver oil and blackstrap molasses for joint health.

Three or four times per week, “I put a little bit in my coffee or in some water” to aid circulation.

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Finally, I think this article really does a nice job showing us the future of several fields of study. Studying language, pottery or bones in a vacuum just won’t cut it in the future.


Reich: We should think we really don’t know what we’re talking about. When you see these replacements of Neanderthals by modern humans or Europeans and Africans substantially replacing Native Americans in the last 500 years or the people who built Stonehenge, who were obviously extraordinarily sophisticated, being replaced from these people from the continent, it doesn’t say something about the innate potential of these people. But it rather says something about the different immune systems or cultural mismatch.

Zhang: On the point of immune systems, one of the hypotheses for why people from the steppe were so successful in spreading through Europe is that they brought the bubonic plague with them. Since the plague is endemic to Central Asia, they may have built up immunity but the European farmers they encountered had not.

The obvious parallel is Columbus bringing smallpox and other diseases to the New World, which we think of as this huge, world-changing event. It reminded me that huge migrations replacing previous populations have happened many times before in human history.

End quote

Until next time, keep on lifting and learning.


Persistent stress can wreak havoc on the nervous system. In this week’s main OTP feature, Greg Dea describes the use of mobility interventions to restore balance to the nervous system and combat other negative effects. [CONTINUE READING]


The Sword in the Stone


We pick up our story with a selection that is not in all versions of The Sword in the Stone:


“How’s goat?” asked Merlyn lazily, getting tired of these activities.

The had set free all Madame Mim’s poor captives on the night of the great duel, but the goat had insisted on coming home with them. They had found him lurking on the edge of the battle ground, having galloped all the way back to see the fun and to help the Wart as best he could if Madame Mim should have proved the victor.

“He has made friends with Cavall,” said the Wart, “and decided to sleep in the kennels. It was funny at first, because Clumsy and Apollon thought it was cheek and tried to run him out. He just stood in a corner so that they could not nip his hocks, and gave them such a bunt each with his knobbly forehead that now, whenever they are doing and go somewhere else. The Dog Boy says that Clumsy believes he is the devil.”

End quote

Again, you won’t find this in some editions of The Sword in the Stone. The editors dropped Madame Mim and, logically (if you think dropping the Madame Mim story is logical) dropped our little story of our goat’s life in the kennels. Dropping it loses, in my humble opinion, one of the great arcs of White’s story, but let’s look at one thing before we do:

Goat returned to defend Wart.

If you need a definition of hero, say “Goat.” I remember a firefighter on 9/11 saying: “We go back in.” For all the horrors of 9/11…and the resulting wars…I have found this to be the great gift. It is a wonderful insight about courage.

Now, back to the mundane: There is a minor argument that Cavall comes from the Latin for “horse,” but White is NOT playing that game. Cavall, as we have seen, is Arthur’s favorite dog.

Fortunately, it doesn’t end here for fans of our heroic goat and dog. Cavall will need to be saved in a later story in The Sword in the Stone, but I think White is saving him for what I consider the most beautiful moment in the whole FIVE books, from The Sword in the Stone to The Book of Merlyn.

Published in 1977, nearly 20 years after the completed The Once and Future King, and well after the death of White, The Book of Merlyn was chopped up a bit and turned into the 1958 version of The Sword in the Stone. The stories of the ants and the geese, for example, seem much more appropriate in The Book of Merlyn.

Goat and Cavall return (among others) in The Book of Merlyn. Discussing the positive aspects of humans, Merlyn dismisses much of humanity’s triumphs and Goat joins in:


“Goat observed slyly: “Parasites.”

At this, Cavall got off his master’s lap, and he and the new king walked over to the goat on stiff legs. Cavall spoke in human speech for the first and last time in his long life, in unision with his master. His voice sound like a teuton’s speaker through a trumpet.

“Did you say Parasites?” they asked. “Just say that once again, will you, until we punch your head?”

The goat regarded them with amused affection, but refused to have a row.

“If you punched my head,” he said, “you would get a pair of bloody knuckles. Besides, I take it back.”

End quote

The scene goes on to include “the most wonderful comment which he (Arthur) had ever received.” It was simply this:

“It is because we love you, king, yourself,” said Archimedes eventually.”

The Sword in the Stone, as well as the other books, is an epic. We deal with the big questions:


The Book of Merlyn leaves us with a question about Arthur: does he die or not? White “likes to think” that he remains in the College of Life in a badger’s lair trying to figure out how to save our violent species.

And, the reason, as Dumbledore tells Harry Potter over and over, is love. That’s why we go back in.


Persistent stress can wreak havoc on the nervous system. In this week’s main OTP feature, Greg Dea describes the use of mobility interventions to restore balance to the nervous system and combat other negative effects. [CONTINUE READING]


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