Dan John: Wandering Weights, Issue # 178

Wandering Weights
Our Epic Journey Through All Things Heavy, Issue # 178

New this week on OTPbooks.com: Robert Linkul continues his series on training older adults. This, Part Two, focuses on what he has learned from his lifetime clients… [CONTINUE READING]


As I type this, I am sitting in my hotel room getting ready to go to MKE and, finally, go home. I had a great weekend of coaching an HKC and RKC II, but it is time to go. I learned a lot with Nick Lynch, Senior RKC.

Nick brings a blend of expertise and “extra” knowledge to workshops. He works with all kinds of communities and does a nice job of blending body, mind, soul and spirit to his training. The participants really appreciate his layered approach to coaching.

At home, my new deck is finished. It will overlook the whole yard. I want to put a sailing ship wheel on it and pretend that I am a pirate, but Tiffini has other plans for it. I’m really looking forward to the nicer weather. Utah started the year dry but spring has been very, very wet.

Of course, it is: it is track season. We have always joked that if you need rain, have a track meet. The sky will open the moment someone starts to the throw the discus.

I did a lot of reading this week. I am rereading A. J. Jacob’s Drop Dead Healthy and I am going to pull a number of other books off the shelves, too. I enjoy cracking open a book to turn my engines down. Speaking of reading, this week on the internet, there was a good article about Bill Gates’s reading style.


That’s what Gates likes to read. But how about how he reads? How does Gates get the most out of his time spent reading? As he explains in the Quartz video above, it boils down to this:

1.     Take Notes in the Margins: That simple step helps ensure that you’re really paying attention and engaging critically with the text. It lets you “take in new knowledge and attach it to knowledge you already have.”

2.     Don’t Start What You Can’t Finish: Gates doesn’t explain why you should never cut your losses. Maybe it’s a form of self-discipline. Maybe it’s a fear of missing out on what a book promises to deliver. Or maybe it’s the sunk cost fallacy. Either way, Gates does recommend picking your books carefully before you get started.

3.     Paper Books, Not eBooks: Better for marginalia, for sure.

4.     Block Out an Hour of Reading Time: You can’t read a serious book in a short sitting. To really engage with a book, give it a good hour each day. A tall order, I know, in our age of ever-declining attention spans.

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This article includes a discussion that Lou Schuler and I had on the phone. He really does good work.


1. Hit the ground

“That thing at your feet, called the ground, is the most important thing to deal with when you train a geriatric population,” John says.

The reason is simple: The older you get, the bigger the risk of falling, and the more catastrophic the consequences. Being able to get up and down from the floor is an important survival skill.

“That’s the beauty of the Turkish get-up, because you have to get up and down,” he says, adding that you don’t need to do the complete movement (which can be brutal for someone with bad knees) to get the key benefit of pushing yourself up from the floor.

He also likes push-ups and planks for that reason, along with ground-based mobility work.

But as functional as they are, there’s another ground-based exercise that the coaches consider even more important.

2. Focus on hip extensors

The gluteus maximus is the body’s largest muscle, and the one that makes us most distinctly human. With its key role in both posture and locomotion, preventing or reversing its atrophy is crucial for senior clients.

“Their glutes just kind of go away,” Linkul says.

John is more blunt. “The butt is the best indicator of youth,” he says. “A saggy ass is a sign of all kinds of issues.”

That’s why Linkul and John make the glute bridge a primary focus of their programs. John recommends doing the exercise two different ways: for reps and for isometric holds in the top position. For the latter, he uses a special tweak (shown here) to ensure good form:

With your arms out to your sides, turn your palms up, and drive your thumbs into the ground. John says it helps to keep the shoulders “back and packed.”

3. Use loads conducive to both strength and hypertrophy

For all the talk about sarcopenia (age-related loss of muscle) and osteopenia (loss of bone), Mikolap believes dynapenia (loss of strength) gets overlooked. As this study shows, strength falls two to five times faster than muscle size in seniors.

But that’s not to downplay the importance of muscle tissue. This 2018 study found that sarcopenia was independently associated with impaired mobility and the loss of what the researchers call “instrumental activities of daily living,” which include shopping, light housework, and preparing meals. Dynapenia, meanwhile, wasn’t associated with those impairments, once the researchers adjusted for a long list of health and demographic variables.

“After 55, you absolutely need old-school, Arnold Schwarzenegger hypertrophy work,” John says. He calls it a “game-changer” for older clients, co-equal to ground-based training.

You don’t have to choose to focus on one or the other, since you can increase both strength and muscle mass with multiple sets of eight to 12 reps. Linkul says his clients do 85 percent of their work in that range, with a total of 16 to 48 reps per movement.

If you’re looking for the perfect exercise for seniors, Mikolap recommends the TRX row. Not only does it increase upper-body strength and muscle mass in general, it improves grip strength specifically, which is highly correlated to longevity. “I would say it even decreases fear of falling because of the body’s position,” he adds.

4. Go unilateral

In place of bilateral exercises, Linkul likes to use single-arm exercises for the upper body and split-stance exercises for the lower body. That includes lunges and step-ups along with sled pushes and pulls.

Sled work, he says, offers a little-known benefit for clients recovering from lower-body injuries who might shorten their stride because they fear falling. Because they’re supported while pushing and pulling, “they can work on getting a longer stride, and it starts to transfer to their normal walking gait.”

Power declines even faster with age than strength or muscle mass. Building strength will help restore power, since they’re highly correlated, but all three coaches still incorporate some power training in their programs.

The trick is to do it without creating more problems than you solve. So instead of doing box jumps or sprints, they use safer movements that keep their clients’ feet on or near the floor. “We don’t have to leave the ground to get the power component,” Linkul says. “If they can go outside and throw a medicine ball, they can completely unleash true power.”

Can’t go outside?

John recommends kettlebell swings as an alternative to jumps.
Mikolap suggests skipping instead of running.
Linkul uses stationary bike sprints and dynamic step-ups in addition to medicine ball throws.

6. Transfer loads

John is one of the first, best-known, and most forceful advocates for using loaded carries in training, and Linkul is not just on board, he takes the idea a step farther with transfers: The client picks up a weight, carries it somewhere, and then puts it down.

Within that simple formula Linkul finds countless variations. “We might carry it overhead, or below the waist, or at the shoulders,” he says. They might carry it in a straight line or a serpentine pattern, and then set it down on the floor, or onto a shelf overhead, or someplace in between.

The drill begins with a hip hinge, which Linkul considers the most important movement pattern for older clients. Holding the weights develops grip strength. Carrying employs a split stance. They might also incorporate a vertical press, and all of it requires and trains core stability.
Putting It All Together

The most obvious advice for training older clients is to avoid three categories of exercises:

Things that create new injuries, aches, or pains
Things that exacerbate existing injuries, aches, or pains
Things that wouldn’t normally create problems unless you do them too heavy or too fast, in which case, see #1 and #2

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I enjoyed this next article. Nick Lynch reminded me of the importance of having purpose and this article gives some easy ideas about how to regain it.


How to put it into practice

You can practically work on finding ‘Ikigai’ by setting yourself a morning meditation ritual to fulfill each one of those pillars.

For example:

1. Start small: Take 10 minutes to read a new book today
2. Accept yourself: Tell yourself three affirmations that compliment yourself.
3. Connecting with the world around you: Put your phone in your handbag and enjoy the sights and sounds of the world.
4. Seek out small joys: Find three things to make you smile in your day and note them down.
5. Being in the here and now: Take time to enjoy your lunch/a cup of coffee without distracting yourself with other activities.

‘It is crucial to realise that moods can be changed through small joys, explains Mogi.

‘The fact is once the context is changed, your brain will adapt to that new context and moods can change in a short time.’

Happy searching for your purpose!

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What a great track and field site! If you love athletics as much as I do, this site will connect you to articles from what I consider the Golden Age.

I always mention emergency funds at workshops. This is a good article on “how to:”


Unexpected expenses

Did you know that 10% of Americans took a “hardship withdrawal” from their 401k in 2015?

That means they had to withdraw money from their retirement fund, incur a hefty penalty for it, and slow their retirement plans because they didn’t have money for emergencies.

Think about that: 10% of Americans had to put off their retirement goals because they did not have an emergency fund. Your 401k and other retirement accounts should be money saved for your financial future — not to be used for unexpected expenses like:

Medical bills
Financial/identity theft
Car repairs
Home repairs
Economy crashes

Let’s be honest: You can’t always choose whether to dip into things like credit cards or your retirement during emergencies — and that’s okay! As the wise proverb goes: Shit happens.

BUT you can anticipate the unexpected by starting an emergency fund today. Doing so will soften the impact of major financial emergencies you may encounter.

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Speaking of money, this article sums the basics of finance. There’s a lot of truth here.


1. Salary is not the same as savings. Your net worth is more important than how much money you make. It’s amazing how many people don’t realize this simple truth. Having a high salary does not automatically make you rich; having a low salary does not automatically make you poor. All that matters is how much you save out of your salary.

2. Saving is more important than investing. Pay yourself first is such simple advice, but so few people do this. The best investment decision you can make is setting a high savings rate because it gives you a huge margin of safety in life.

3. Avoid credit card debt like the plague. Carrying credit card debt is a great way to negatively compound your net worth.

4.Live below your means, not within your means. The only way to get ahead financially is to stay behind your own earnings power.

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I remember the days and days of workshops being told that students need to dance their math calculations. This is an interesting article about learning styles. I’m still not sure the “best” way to learn, but I know what works for me (repetition):


The results are bad news for advocates of the learning styles concept. Student grade performance was not correlated in any meaningful way with their dominant learning style or with any learning style(s) they scored highly on. Also, while most students (67 per cent) actually failed to study in a way consistent with their supposedly preferred learning style, those who did study in line with their dominant style did not achieve a better grade in their anatomy class than those who didn’t.

Instead, there were specific study strategies, such as practising microscope work and using lecture notes, that were associated with better grade performance, regardless of students’ learning style. Other activities, such as using flash cards, were associated with poorer performance, perhaps because they were a sign of learning by rote rather than deeper learning.

Husmann and O’Loughlin don’t pull any punches in their conclusion. Their findings, they write – especially when considered in the context of past research – “provide strong evidence that instructors and students should not be promoting the concept of learning styles for studying and/or for teaching interventions. Thus, the adage of ‘I can’t learn subject X because I am a visual learner’ should be put to rest once and for all.”

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This article is a personal issue for me: I hope my guests read this.


Potluck packaging

Do not bring dishes in, for instance, prized Staub cookware. Like cigarette lighters, such things are often mislaid in the boozy melee. It may be weeks before you see your beloved again.

Child maintenance

To kids, eating merely interrupts their attempts to destroy your house. Give them (cheap, frozen) pizza and chips. Anything else is a waste. They don’t like it? Their parents will have fed them that morning. No one will starve. On no account give them what the adults are eating. There is nothing more demoralising for a host than, amid a tortuous negotiation of wheedling promises and pathetic threats, watching a seven-year-old refuse to eat as its parents let their meal go cold. “But how will they learn to appreciate good food?” asks Concerned Foodie Parent. Simple: do it on your own time.

Fast food

Guests expect to be fed within two hours of arrival, max. If you work inordinately slowly in the kitchen, factor that in. You have a room full of hangry people next door and they all have knives.

… but not too fast

There are people (OK, men; men of a certain age) who treat the unveiling of a buffet like the race for the last helicopter out of Saigon. Or, at the table, start lobbying for seconds while the host is eating. Cool your jets.

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I’m off to Cancun this week. So, I will swap out jackets for thongs, socks for sandals, and parkas for sun block in my bag and head on out.

Until next time, keep on lifting and learning.


New on OTPbooks.com: Dan goes back to second grade to expand on the compass that has helped guide him to find balance in his life.. [CONTINUE READING]


The Sword in the Stone


The Joust begins.


“I should not go away,” said the wizard, “if I were you. Sir Grummore Grummursum is on the way to challenge you to a joust.”

“No, you don’t say? Sir What-you-may-call-it coming here to challenge me to a joust?”


“Good handicap man?”

“I should think it would be an even match.”

“Well, I must say,” exclaimed the King, “it never hails but it pours.”

“Hail,” said Merlyn.

“Hail,” said King Pellinore.

“Hail,” said the Wart.

“Now I really won’t shake hands with anybody else,” announced the monarch. “We must assume that we have all met before.”

“Is Sir Grummore really coming,” inquired the Wart, hastily changing the subject, “to challenge King Pellinore to a battle?”

“Look yonder,” said Merlyn, and both of them looked in the direction of his outstretched finger.

Sir Grummore Grummursum was cantering up the clearing in full panoply of war. Instead of his ordinary helmet with a visor he was wearing the proper tilting-helm, which looked like a large coal-scuttle, and as he cantered he clanged.

He was singing his old school song:

“We’ll tilt together
Steady from crupper to poll,
And nothin’ in life shall sever
Our love for the dear old coll.
Follow-up, follow-up, follow-up, follow-up, follow-up
Till the shield ring again and again
With the clanks of the clanky true men.”

“Goodness,” exclaimed King Pellinore. “It’s about two months since I had a proper tilt, and last winter they put me up to eighteen. That was when they had the new handicaps.”

Sir Grummore had arrived while he was speaking, and had recognized the Wart.

“Mornin’,” said Sir Grummore. “You’re Sir Ector’s boy, ain’t you? And who’s that chap in the comic hat?”

“That is my tutor,” said the Wart hurriedly. “Merlyn, the magician.”

Sir Grummore looked at Merlyn—magicians were considered rather middle-class by the true jousting set in those days—and said distantly, “Ah, a magician. How-de-do?”

“And this is King Pellinore,” said the Wart. “Sir Grummore Grummursum—King Pellinore.”

“How-de-do?” inquired Sir Grummore.

“Hail,” said King Pellinore. “No, I mean it won’t hail, will it?”

“Nice day,” said Sir Grummore.

“Yes, it is nice, isn’t it, what?”

“Been questin’ today?”

“Oh, yes, thank you. Always am questing, you know. After the Questing Beast.”

“Interestin’ job, that, very.”

“Yes, it is interesting. Would you like to see some fewmets?”

“By Jove, yes. Like to see some fewmets.”

“I have some better ones at home, but these are quite good, really.”

“Bless my soul. So these are her fewmets.”

“Yes, these are her fewmets.”

“Interestin’ fewmets.”

“Yes, they are interesting, aren’t they? Only you get tired of them,” added King Pellinore.

“Well, well. It’s a fine day, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is rather fine.”

“Suppose we’d better have a joust, eh, what?”

“Yes, I suppose we had better,” said King Pellinore, “really.”

“What shall we have it for?”

“Oh, the usual thing, I suppose. Would one of you kindly help me on with my helm?”

They all three had to help him on eventually, for, what with the unscrewing of screws and the easing of nuts and bolts which the King had clumsily set on the wrong thread when getting up in a hurry that morning, it was quite a feat of engineering to get him out of his helmet and into his helm. The helm was an enormous thing like an oil drum, padded inside with two thicknesses of leather and three inches of straw.

As soon as they were ready, the two knights stationed themselves at each end of the clearing and then advanced to meet in the middle.

“Fair knight,” said King Pellinore, “I pray thee tell me thy name.”

“That me regards,” replied Sir Grummore, using the proper formula.

“That is uncourteously said,” said King Pellinore, “what? For no knight ne dreadeth for to speak his name openly, but for some reason of shame.”

“Be that as it may, I choose that thou shalt not know my name as at this time, for no askin’.”

“Then you must stay and joust with me, false knight.”

“Haven’t you got that wrong, Pellinore?” inquired Sir Grummore. “I believe it ought to be ‘thou shalt’.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Sir Grummore. Yes, so it should, of course. Then thou shalt stay and joust with me, false knight.”

Without further words, the two gentlemen retreated to the opposite ends of the clearing, fewtered their spears, and prepared to hurtle together in the preliminary charge.

“I think we had better climb this tree,” said Merlyn. “You never know what will happen in a joust like this.”

They climbed up the big beech, which had easy branches sticking out in all directions, and the Wart stationed himself toward the end of a smooth bough about fifteen feet up, where he could get a good view. Nothing is so comfortable to sit in as a beech.

To be able to picture the terrible battle which now took place, there is one thing which ought to be known. A knight in his full armour of those days, or at any rate during the heaviest days of armour, was generally carrying as much or more than his own weight in metal. He often weighed no less than twenty-two stone, and sometimes as much as twenty-five. This meant that his horse had to be a slow and enormous weight-carrier, like the farm horse of today, and that his own movements were so hampered by his burden of iron and padding that they were toned down into slow motion, as on the cinema.

“They’re off!” cried the Wart, holding his breath with excitement.

Slowly and majestically, the ponderous horses lumbered into a walk. The spears, which had been pointing in the air, bowed to a horizontal line and pointed at each other. King Pellinore and Sir Grummore could be seen to be thumping their horses’ sides with their heels for all they were worth, and in a few minutes the splendid animals had shambled into an earth-shaking imitation of a trot. Clank, rumble, thump-thump went the horses, and now the two knights were flapping their elbows and legs in unison, showing a good deal of daylight at their seats. There was a change in tempo, and Sir Grummore’s horse could be definitely seen to be cantering. In another minute King Pellinore’s was doing so too. It was a terrible spectacle.

“Oh, dear!” exclaimed the Wart, feeling ashamed that his blood-thirstiness had been responsible for making these two knights joust before him. “Do you think they will kill each other?”

“Dangerous sport,” said Merlyn, shaking his head.

“Now!” cried the Wart.

With a blood-curdling beat of iron hoofs the mighty equestrians came together. Their spears wavered for a moment within a few inches of each other’s helms—each had chosen the difficult point-stroke—and then they were galloping off in opposite directions. Sir Grummore drove his spear deep into the beech tree where they were sitting, and stopped dead. King Pellinore, who had been run away with, vanished altogether behind his back.

“Is it safe to look?” inquired the Wart, who had shut his eyes at the critical moment.

“Quite safe,” said Merlyn. “It will take them some time to get back in position.”

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This section is considered the funniest of White’s writing by many and I can see the truth in that. This is a feast of British humor; Monty Python, Benny Hill and Mr. Bean would all applaud the spoofing here.

White’s anti-war sentiments will certainly become more clear in The Book of Merlyn. As he writes this, Hitler is stirring up the European War and the world limps closer to World War II. The slaughter and waste of WWI still linger over England.

White’s royalty reflects the incompetence of the European leadership during The War to End All Wars and he is seeing the same drumbeats as England is dipping its spear towards another war.

It’s a funny section, yes, but it has never been my favorite. Let’s continue to push on.


New on OTPbooks.com: Dan goes back to second grade to expand on the compass that has helped guide him to find balance in his life.. [CONTINUE READING]


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