Dan John: Wandering Weights, Issue # 189

Wandering Weights
Our Epic Journey Through All Things Heavy, Issue # 189

New article on OTPbooks.com:Thomas Plummer: You Were Born to Change the World…  [CONTINUE READING]


I enjoy the World Cup. Yesterday, my family visited for dinner and both of my daughters had memories of us finding places to watch games in Ohio during discus camp. Tiff and I “escaped” one day to catch a big game and we found an Irish bar in Columbus that featured locals “far from thirsty” at about ten in the morning.

I got up early to watch some of the games since I returned from London. In England, the games came on in the afternoon and evening and I will keep a special memory of England scoring in extra time while I sat in an English pub. The party stayed on long after the game ended.

The World Cup is a chance to watch athletes deal with pressures. One could study the set pieces, the dead ball plays, from this tournament and write something interesting about how the greats respond to pressure. I always point out the “rituals” athletes use to make this moment feel more “normal.”

Last Tuesday, my students had a chance (it’s required… “sorta”) to compete in our Olympic lifting meet. It’s interesting, as many will tell us that strength training/coaching/performance is their “passion,” but the same people will avoid this like a debt collector. My students struggle with that odd nervousness that we get at O meets: the constantly heavier bar, the crowd and the officials all conspire to add tension.

That night, we talked while watching the World Cup and my students had so many great insights about training. One stood out:

“Of course, you can’t do high reps heavy in the Olympic lifts! I never understood why strength coaches talked about so few reps until today. I was exhausted for hours after doing just six lifts (three snatches on the platform and three clean and jerks). This is how you train…”

Many of my students read a lot. And, of course, that is good. But, they read articles from the whole spectrum of fitness-related work and then try to piece together a workout that has literally a little of everything.

Until they step out on the platform, they simply don’t understand the clarity of performance. As I sum training: “throwers throw, jumpers jump, sprinters sprint and hurdlers hurdle.”

Performers perform.

They use checklists and rituals (both can be summed as “habits”) to bring down the arousal and tension. They practice under the lights striving to learn how to deal with all the pressure. They don’t waste a lot of time and energy on the unimportant.

And, if they get it right, they become legends. Maybe.

Speaking of reading, it might be far more important than we think. I am often amazed when I talk to people and they tell me they “never read.” First, it’s a gift and, second, it really helps you to be better at everything. I enjoyed this article.


According to the ongoing research at Haskins Laboratories for the Science of the Spoken and Written Word, reading, unlike watching or listening to media, gives the brain more time to stop, think, process, and imagine the narrative in from of us.

Reading every day can slow down late-life cognitive decline and keeps the brains healthier.

It enhances fluid reasoning

Research shows that reading not only helps with fluid intelligence, but with reading comprehension and emotional intelligence as well.

“Fluid intelligence” is that ability to solve problems, understand things and detect meaningful patterns.

Reading can increase fluid intelligence, and increased fluid intelligence also improves reading comprehension.

Research at Stanford showed a neurological difference between reading for pleasure and focused reading, as if for a test.

Blood flows to different neural areas depending on how reading is conducted.

A 2011 study published in the Annual Review of Psychology found overlap in brain regions used to comprehend stories and networks dedicated to interactions with others.

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I thought this article was a fun discussion about alien life outside of Mother Earth. It is also a nice little toolkit for thinking.


Three: Intelligent life is abundant—but quiet. This possibility, known as the zoo hypothesis, invites some of the strangest speculation. Maybe humanity is still so basic and primitive that advanced civilizations don’t think we’re worth talking to. Or maybe those other civilizations have learned that broadcasting their existence leads to extermination at the hands of violent, intergalactic colonizers. Or maybe our solar system just happens to be located in a quiet, exurban cul-de-sac of the universe, an accident of cosmic geography. But none of these theories hold a candle to my favorite conjecture of all: slumbering digital aliens. To understand why intelligent life might prefer to be based in a computer or cat-napping through the Anthropocene, check out the episode.

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This next article might cause issues for my American readers as some of the foods will have different names, but the idea is sound. I am a huge fan of menus and shopping lists. Tiff and I now hire a shopper (it’s an app) to do our weekly shopping. Yes, there is a charge, but she sits and I walk around the kitchen saying: “we are out of this and that and could use more of X.” Since we can’t be tempted, we don’t buy crap. This article goes much deeper.


The best chefs will buy local and seasonal ingredients where possible. Pineapples and pomegranates are luxuries to be enjoyed, but base the bulk of your weekly shop on seasonal produce from the market or through a veg box scheme and you will have a double win, improving the taste and economy. Alongside your basics (eggs, milk, butter, cheese, bread etc) choose a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables including legumes, brassicas and roots.

The monthly shop

Chefs buy in bulk; it’s cheaper in the long run and reduces unnecessary packaging. Store cupboard items are an investment – you can build up a variety over time. Having a few key items in the store cupboard is a great way to ensure there is always an affordable meal in the house. Dried pulses come with a low price tag – even when they are organic – and a little goes a long way. Just 5p’s-worth (60g per person) will provide the bulk of a meal. Other items such as lentils, grains, dried fruit, nuts and seeds will give you a variety of delicious ingredients to experiment with making your own dishes.

Weekly shopping list

Budget: approx £25 a week for two

£1 6 onions
50p 1 head garlic
£1.50 1.5kg potatoes
£1.50 1 bunch roots with their tops – carrots, beetroot, celeriac etc
£1.50 1 bunch leafy greens or celery with leaves
£1.50 1 bunch beans – broad, runner etc
£2 2 heads brassicas – cauliflower, broccoli etc
£42 bags fruit
£2.70 6 eggs
£21 litre milk
£2 250g butter
£2100g cheese
£3.50 1 loaf wholemeal bread
Monthly shopping list

Budget: approx £50 a month for two

£1.05 250g sea salt
£1.79 40g pepper
£1.55 50 teabags
£2.60 1kg oats
£6.50 500ml olive oil
£2.80 500ml sunflower oil
£1.70 350ml vinegar – cider, malt etc
£1.99 1.5kg wholemeal flour
£6.30 2kg short-grain brown rice
£3 1.5kg dried pulses – kidney beans, chickpeas etc
£3.60 2kg grains – barley, spelt etc
£3.60 1kg dried lentils
£3.60 250g nuts and seeds
£2 375g raisins or other dried fruit
£1.30 40g spices – coriander, cumin etc
£1.30 500g whole wheat pasta
£1.70 700ml passata
£1.99 200g creamed coconut
£1.89 340g spread – honey, Marmite etc

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And, of course, what to pair our meals with each evening? This article does a nice job explaining my second favorite beverage after coffee.


Pinot Noir

Supple, silky, fruity — but with a little more complexity than merlot — pinot noir is just behind cab in terms of overall wine popularity. Compared to other wines, it has a lighter body, and is less overtly tanic. This makes it a very drinkable, yet respectable, wine.

“Pinot noir is great for people who want something fairly accessible, but also want something a little more interesting,” Selecman said. “There’s often an underlying earthiness to this wine that makes it a little more compelling, and a great complement to so many foods.”

Basically, if you want a sure thing — but also want to get a little weird — trust pinot noir in your glass.

Best food to pair with it?: “People say don’t ‘drink red wine with fish.’ When combined with Omega 3s and all the fats in fish, tannins can create this weird metallic, copper flavor,” Selecman said. “Pinot noir is very light in tannins, so it won’t give you that unsavory taste. Pair it with some barbecue-glazed salmon, ideally.”

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Well, there you go. Until next week, keep the habit of lifting and learning.


New this week on OTPbooks.com: Thomas Plummer’s The Soul of a Trainer (click for details)

The Sword in the Stone, Part 45

Never Let Go


“What is the first law of the foot?”

(“Think,” said friendly little Balan, behind his false primary.)

The Wart thought, and thought right.

“Never to let go,” he said.

“Last question,” said the peregrine. “How would you, as a Merlin, kill a pigeon bigger than yourself?”

Wart was lucky in this one, for he had heard Hob giving a description of how Balan did it one afternoon, and he answered warily, “I should strangle her with my foot.”

“Good!” said the peregrine.

“Bravo!” cried the others, raising their feathers.

“Ninety per cent,” said the spar-hawk after a quick sum. “That is, if you give him a half for the talons.”

End quote

Wart has passed the oral exams. Next week, he faces, yet again, death in the form of a trial.

Wart gets the answer right: “I should strangle her with my foot.” Saying “foot” brings us back to our discussion of “talons” and “fangs:” the correct answer to all questions is “foot.”

While in England, Dan Cleather explained the British grading system to me. Here in the States, 90% is an “A.” Dan noted that 50-70% would be considered very good in many schools in England. His point was interesting: the instructor can make a very difficult, very challenging exam where the student can see the vast chasm between what they know and what they will need to know.

My sister told me how to get an advanced degree: “Grab your “B” and move on.” I was complaining, years ago, about the busy work that was still involved in post-graduate work. Her advice: do it, finish it and move along. Get the degree and be done with it.

Both Dan and Corinne, my sister, have excellent advice. Dan’s point is very true in my life: I think I finally get it right when I realize how much more I need to know.

At St. Mary’s, you will see me digging through old books on lifting, throwing and sports trying to unlock the clues left to us from our legends. The more I study the discus, the more gaps I see in my knowledge. I have been throwing since 1971 and I still don’t fully understand what I need to know.
I think this is part of Merlyn’s teaching method. Wart does well on this test, but the practical, which is a near-death experience, will teach him even more. And, when we close this chapter, another lesson will appear.
I think this is a good lesson for life.

Until next time.


New this week on OTPbooks.com: Thomas Plummer’s The Soul of a Trainer (click for details)

Wandering Weights is published each Wednesday by On Target Publications


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