Dan John: Wandering Weights, Issue # 176

Wandering Weights
Our Epic Journey Through All Things Heavy, Issue # 176

NEW ARTICLE ON OTPbooks.com: Are you using corrective strategies? Or just corrective exercises? Lee Burton takes us back to the fundamentals of movement and correction. [CONTINUE READING]


As I am typing this, it is four in the morning and I just finished my college work. I was in San Francisco lecturing this weekend and I had an early flight home. I took a nap when I had a chance.

Now, this nap was extraordinary. My mother-in-law knocked on the door bringing my dog, Sirius Black, home and both Tiff and me were amazed to have slept that long.

I nearly turned the nap into a night’s sleep! So, I’m up. I had a fair amount of work to do, so this is fine. I enjoyed my time in The City. I had a break during the day on Saturday and Tiffini, myself and my brother, Gary, went for a four-mile walk. Maybe that’s why I napped so long…

One thing I enjoy doing is walking around cities with no agenda and popping into local pubs for drinks or coffee. It’s so much better than organized tours, if you really want to get a feel for a place. And, it is good for your butt.

Speaking of butts, I had a piece published here this week. It is a selection from my book, Hardstyle Kettlebell Challenge.

Mike Warren Brown, the director of programming at my gym, spends most of his time working with elderly clients. Training older clients is a window into the entire population. Some of us are aging well, and some of us are not.

Mike has a simple drill for “finding” the glutes:

Lay on the floor. Some elderly clients will have difficulty just getting to the floor, and it will highlight their issues with age and disuse.
Slip your hands under your butt cheeks (cue the usual joke, “I said your butt cheeks”) and consciously squeeze the left and right glutes into your hands.

This may seem like an exercise for just for geriatric patients, but, if you feel a cramp in either hamstring during a hip thrust or any other member of the glute-training exercise family, to channel Jeff Foxworthy, “You might just have glute amnesia.”

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I thought this article on productivity was excellent. These three points work in so many areas of life.


Here are three ways you can increase your velocity:

1.     To the extent possible, ruthlessly shave away the unnecessary tasks, priorities, meetings, and BS. Put all your effort into the projects that really matter.

2.     Don’t rely on your willpower to say no; instead, create systems that help you fend off distractions. I have two friends who were about the same weight several years ago. Around that time, one of them was diagnosed with celiac (gluten intolerance). He immediately started to lose weight after changing his diet. Upon seeing this, my other friend decided that he, too, would go on a diet to lose weight. Because they both ate out a lot, they both were frequently in situations where they would have to make healthy choices. The person with celiac developed “automatic behavior“; he had to avoid gluten if he wanted to stay healthy and pain-free. The other person, however, had to keep making positive choices and ended up falling down after a few weeks and reverting to his previous eating habits. Another example: One of my management principles was “no meeting mornings.” This rule allowed the team to work, uninterrupted, on the most important things. Of course, there were exceptions to this rule, but the default was that each day you had a three-hour chunk of time when you were at your best to really move the needle.

3.     And finally, do as I did, and say “no” to your boss. The best way I found to frame this reply was actually the same technique that negotiation expert Chris Voss mentioned in a recent podcast episode: simply ask, “how am I supposed to do that?” given all the other stuff on your plate. Explain that saying no means that you’re going to be better at the tasks that are most important to your job, and tie those tasks to your boss’s performance.

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This article really is the “last word” in diet and nutrition. It’s an easy read, but shapes the issues very well.


I feel smarter, but what happens when new information comes out, like, tomorrow? How can I stay up to date? It seems like the conventional wisdom on healthy diets changes all the time.

It doesn’t, and the definition of a healthy diet has been clear for some time. In fact, the basic theme of optimal eating — a diet made up mostly of whole, wholesome plant foods — has been clear to nutrition experts for generations. What does change all the time is the fads, fashions, marketing gimmicks, and hucksterism. How do you avoid the pitfalls of all that? Focus on foods, not nutrients. A diet may be higher or lower in total fat, or total carbohydrate, or total protein, and still be optimal. But a diet cannot be optimal if it is not made up mostly of some balanced combination of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and water. If you get the foods right, the nutrients sort themselves out. But if you focus on nutrients rather than foods, you quickly learn that there is more than one way to eat badly, and we Americans seem all too eager to try them all.

Bear in mind that humans evolved to eat a wide variety of diets, all over the world, from the Arctic to the tropics, desert, plains, mountains, all of which offer wildly different kinds of foods. But none of them “naturally” offer junk food or industrially produced animal products. If you bear that in mind, and eat a balanced diet of real food, you don’t have to worry about much else. It’s really quite simple.

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And, as simple as that last article made things, this article adds another issue.


Dr Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist and fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, agrees that this is a possibility worth pursuing. “There is no question in my mind that gut health is linked to sleep health, although we do not have the studies to prove it yet. Scientists investigating the relationship between sleep and the microbiome are finding that the microbial ecosystem may affect sleep and sleep-related physiological functions in a number of different ways: shifting circadian rhythms, altering the body’s sleep-wake cycle, affecting hormones that regulate sleep and wakefulness. ”

While we wait for the definitive science, Breus suggests taking probiotics (a type of live bacteria) and prebiotics (non-digestible carbohydrates, mainly fibre) to feed the good bacteria in our guts. The benefits of probiotics for the gut are well documented. A recent study from scientists at the University of Colorado, published in Frontiers of Behavioural Neuroscience, suggests that prebiotics could have a significant effect on the quality of non-REM and REM sleep. This is something insomniac Dr Michael Mosley tested out with some success in a recent BBC documentary – he took prebiotics for five days and saw improvement in his sleep. The day before the experiment, Mosley spent 21% of his time in bed awake; by the final day, that was down to 8%. This is, of course, anecdotal – but nevertheless interesting.

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This article has so much to say about Golden Ages, canons and current tastes.The article would be an excellent springboard for a class.


It is worth taking a moment to pause and consider what a canon is and how it takes shape. Outside of the religious context, a canon is a set of artistic or philosophical works recognized for their cultural authority. Although it was hardly the first, perhaps the best-known attempt to determine a canon for Western literature and philosophy was the Great Books project led by Robert Maynard Hutchins and Mortimer Adler and published and sold by Encyclopædia Britannica starting in the 1950s. Dwight Macdonald, scourge of the middlebrow, noted how the physical scale of the project seemingly gave it figurative heft: “Simply issuing a list would have been enough if practicality were the only consideration, but a list can easily be revised, and it lacks the totemistic force of a five-foot, hundred-pound array of books.” The canon, in this commercialistic conception, is as much for display as it is for reading and discussing, an expanse of prose and poetry that stretches across the mantel.

The very concept of the canon is inherently exclusive—some works are in, some are out—and so some opponents argue that canon-talk reflects bias and power, while defenders of the canon insist that its fixity is vital to cultural transmission. But as John Searle put it in an essay for the New York Review of Books in 1990, at a time when fights over political correctness were roiling college campuses, “In my experience there never was, in fact, a fixed ‘canon’; there was rather a certain set of tentative judgments about what had importance and quality. Such judgments are always subject to revision, and in fact are being constantly revised.” (Indeed, the makeup of even the Great Books set has changed over the years.)

In a 1994 book about the Western literary canon, Harold Bloom succinctly summarized the “true question” of the canon: “What shall the individual who still desires to read attempt to read, this late in history?” Bloom’s concern was with the primacy of aesthetic beauty as opposed to ideological imperatives; he believed it to be the responsibility of the critic to point people to what is best rather than what is most “important” in some political sense:

If we were literally immortal, or even if our span were doubled to seven score of years, say, we could give up all argument about canons. But we have an interval only, and then our place knows us no more, and stuffing that interval with bad writing, in the name of whatever social justice, does not seem to me to be the responsibility of the literary critic.

Yet in a 2013 essay for the New Yorker, Sam Sacks lamented that “artistic brilliance is no longer the most important determining factor” in what is considered a classic. “Authors are anointed not because they are great (although many of them are) but because they are important,” he writes. “That’s why prose-toilers like George Orwell and Aldous Huxley are securely fixed in the canon while masters such as Frank O’Connor and Eudora Welty could easily be left out.”

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This article highlights the issues with studying nutrition from several angles. It is also a warning about the problems with collegiate work with food studies.


Then, last month, the BuzzFeed reporter Stephanie Lee published a sweeping exposé of Wansink’s research. Academic standards call for researchers to articulate a hypothesis ahead of time, and then to conduct an experiment that produces data that will either prove or disprove the hypothesis. Lee’s article—which was based on interviews with Cornell Food and Brand Lab employees, and also private e-mails from within the lab, which were obtained through a public-records request—showed that Wansink regularly urged his staff to work the other way around: to manipulate sets of data in order to find patterns (a practice known as “p-hacking”) and then reverse-engineer hypotheses based on those conclusions. “Think of all the different ways you can cut the data,” he wrote to a researcher, in an e-mail from 2013; for other studies, he pressed his staff to “squeeze some blood out of this rock.” One of Wansink’s lab assistants told Lee, in regard to data from a weight-loss study she had been assigned to analyze, “He was trying to make the paper say something that wasn’t true.”

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This was fun collection of readings for me. As I was reviewing them, I noticed that some were quite long. I was talking to an editor recently from an online magazine and he told me that they have to keep slicing articles back more and more as they get this response:


“Too long, didn’t read.”

I’m not sure one could publically state: “I’m an idiot” any better.

Until next week, keep on lifting and learning.


Are you using corrective strategies? Or just corrective exercises? Lee Burton takes us back to the fundamentals of movement and correction. [CONTINUE READING]


The Sword in the Stone


We pick up the narrative of The Sword in the Stone that is in all the various editions:


From far off at the other side of the tilting ground the sergeant’s voice came floating on the still air.

“Nah, Nah, Master Kay, that ain’t it at all. Has you were. Has you were. The spear should be ‘eld between the thumb and forefinger of the right ‘and, with the shield in line with the seam of the trahser leg….”

The Wart rubbed his sore ear and sighed.

“What are you grieving about?”

“I was not grieving; I was thinking.”

“What were you thinking?”

“Oh, it was not anything. I was thinking about Kay learning to be a knight.”

“And well you may grieve,” exclaimed Merlyn hotly. “A lot of brainless unicorns swaggering about and calling themselves educated just because they can push each other off a horse with a bit of stick! It makes me tired. Why, I believe Sir Ector would have been gladder to get a by-our-lady tilting blue for your tutor, that swings himself along on his knuckles like an anthropoid ape, rather than a magician of known probity and international reputation with first-class honours from every European university. The trouble with the Norman Aristocracy is that they are games-mad, that is what it is, games-mad.”

He broke off indignantly and deliberately made the sergeant’s ears flap slowly twice, in unison.

“I was not thinking quite about that,” said the Wart. “As a matter of fact, I was thinking how nice it would be to be a knight, like Kay.”

“Well, you will be one soon enough, won’t you?” asked the old man, impatiently.

Wart did not answer.

“Won’t you?”

Merlyn turned round and looked closely at the boy through his spectacles.

“What is the matter now?” he enquired nastily. His inspection had shown him that his pupil was trying not to cry, and if he spoke in a kind voice he would break down and do it.

“I shall not be a knight,” replied the Wart coldly. Merlyn’s trick had worked and he no longer wanted to weep: he wanted to kick Merlyn. “I shall not be a knight because I am not a proper son of Sir Ector’s. They will knight Kay, and I shall be his squire.”

Merlyn’s back was turned again, but his eyes were bright behind his spectacles. “Too bad,” he said, without commiseration.

The Wart burst out with all his thoughts aloud. “Oh,” he cried, “but I should have liked to be born with a proper father and mother, so that I could be a knight errant.”

“What would you have done?”

“I should have had a splendid suit of armour and dozens of spears and a black horse standing eighteen hands, and I should have called myself The Black Knight. And I should have hoved at a well or a ford or something and made all true knights that came that way to joust with me for the honour of their ladies, and I should have spared them all after I had given them a great fall. And I should live out of doors all the year round in a pavilion, and never do anything but joust and go on quests and bear away the prize at tournaments, and I should not ever tell anybody my name.”

“Your wife will scarcely enjoy the life.”

“Oh, I am not going to have a wife. I think they are stupid.

“I shall have to have a lady-love, though,” added the future knight uncomfortably, “so that I can wear her favour in my helm, and do deeds in her honour.”

A humblebee came zooming between them, under the grandstand and out into the sunlight.

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Later in the book, we will be brought back to nearly this same theme: all Wart wants to be is a heroic knight, but the circumstances of his birth keep him from realizing this dream.

In a sense, he will never be an actual knight as he goes right from squire to King in literally a flash. If one continues the journey of reading through the entire The Once and Future King series, we will meet Sir Lancelot who mirrors Wart’s dreams of knighthood with his actual life.

This chapter is considered one of the funniest and merriest chapters of our book by many reviewers. I have always found it a bit slow and plodding. Certainly, that reflects on me as a reader as much as anything, but I do like one thing I see here that is beginning to form: Wart and Merlyn, who obviously care much about each other, are beginning to find the ideas and ideals that will provide the rub of the relationship.

If one continues reading all the way through The Book of Merlyn, we will discover that Merlyn finds little good with humanity at all. Yet, as always, Merlyn will find his back to Arthur. This exchange has always been my favorite part of this chapter:


“”I was not thinking quite about that,” said the Wart. “As a matter of fact, I was thinking how nice it would be to be a knight, like Kay.”

“Well, you will be one soon enough, won’t you?” asked the old man, impatiently.

Wart did not answer.

“Won’t you?”

Merlyn turned round and looked closely at the boy through his spectacles.

“What is the matter now?” he enquired nastily. His inspection had shown him that his pupil was trying not to cry, and if he spoke in a kind voice he would break down and do it.

“I shall not be a knight,” replied the Wart coldly. Merlyn’s trick had worked and he no longer wanted to weep: he wanted to kick Merlyn. “I shall not be a knight because I am not a proper son of Sir Ector’s. They will knight Kay, and I shall be his squire.””

“He no longer wanted to weep; he wanted to kick Merlyn.” I think we see “reverse psychology” in action here; this seemingly cruel moment is also filled with kindness. Much later in the book, we will return to this same discussion (Chapter Twenty) and Merlyn’s bitterness towards knighthood, and games, seem to be more protective towards Wart. Here is the discussion from Chapter Twenty:

“”If I were to be made a knight,” said the Wart, staring dreamily into the fire, “I should insist on doing my vigil by myself, as Hob does with his hawks, and I should pray to God to let me encounter all the evil in the world in my own person, so that if I conquered there would be none left, and, if I were defeated, I would be the one to suffer for it.”

“That would be extremely presumptuous of you,” said Merlyn, “and you would be conquered, and you would suffer for it.”

“I shouldn’t mind.”

“Wouldn’t you? Wait till it happens and see.”

“Why do people not think, when they are grown up, as I do when I am young?”

“Oh dear,” said Merlyn. “You are making me feel confused. Suppose you wait till you are grown up and know the reason?”

“I don’t think that is an answer at all,” replied the Wart, justly.

Merlyn wrung his hands.

“Well, anyway,” he said, “suppose they did not let you stand against all the evil in the world?”

“I could ask,” said the Wart.

“You could ask,” repeated Merlyn.

He thrust the end of his beard into his mouth, stared tragically at the fire, and began to munch it fiercely.

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“I could ask.” From the first time I read that line, until now, it might be my favorite line in the entire book. Merlyn knows that young Arthur is about to face a lot of evil in this world. Moreover, Arthur will rarely be happy once he pulls the sword from the stone. He will constantly be standing up to a lot of evil…whether or not he asked for it.

Until next time.


Persistent stress can wreak havoc on the nervous system. In a new 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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