Dan John: Wandering Weights, Issue # 202

Wandering Weights
Our Epic Journey Through All Things Heavy, Issue # 202

New this week on OTP: Brian Gwaltney on the Tangential Model of Periodization


I started my weekend early. Friday morning, I gave a three-hour talk here in SLC to Vasa Fitness. Marco Sanchez and Mark Fischer came out to Utah also to speak. It was an honor having them sit and listen to my talk.

I spoke on the lessons learned from 40 years of coaching. The most interesting thing about this review is how I often I learned something in 1965 or 1970 or 1974 and how that little gem (or germ depending on how you want to look at it) was so right (“So right, so raw,” if you know The Office) and…

I just missed it.

Tension training, two sets of five, whole body movements, training the “snap,” appropriate loading and arousal control were all “right there” as I began training. Since then, I have been talking to former athletes, family members and friends about these lessons. I keep getting more and more stories and insights and this lecture could now be six hours.

Tiffini and I offered our back decks as a nightly “meet and greet” and the weather and setting could not have been more perfect. We called it each night around 10 and I can’t think of a better way to layer friendships with professional growth.

We ended up hosting five people in our home this weekend and I am glad I have the bedrooms and bathrooms to “pull off” this kind of thing. It will be nice to have some quiet this week.

Driving around the internet this week, this article kept popping up. I don’t know what to tell you after reading this: I kept looking for a “do this” here and I didn’t find the answer I was looking for here. The selection that I include could be an interesting lead for a discussion group.


Hearing about Emily’s progress reminds me of a conversation I had with Ginette Lenham, the diet counselor. Her patients, she says, often live in the past or the future with their weight. They tell her they are waiting until they are smaller to go back to school or apply for a new job. They beg her to return them to their high school or wedding or first triathlon weight, the one that will bring back their former life.

And then Lenham must explain that these dreams are a trap. Because there is no magical cure. There is no time machine. There is only the revolutionary act of being fat and happy in a world that tells you that’s impossible.

“We all have to do our best with the body that we have,” she says. “And leave everyone else’s alone.”

End quote

This piece, from 2013, is a nice counterpoint. I think the “seven years” is going to be the part of this story that most people will not like.


Calling it my “weight loss story” is deceiving, because this story really isn’t about weight. It’s about changing old habits.

I started off about 60 lbs. heavier than I am now, and I had years of bad eating and exercise habits. I ate lots of meat, junk food, sweets, fast food, party food, and drank soda, beer, fatty coffee drinks and more. And I almost never did active stuff. But that’s just the start of my health habits, as it turns out.

Here’s what happened:

I started by quitting smoking. This taught me a lot about habits, and got the ball rolling down the road to becoming healthier.
I started running to relieve stress. If you relieve stress by smoking, drinking, or eating unhealthy food, you’ll need to find a healthier stress coping habit. Running became that habit for me, though now I have others: meditation, socializing in a healthy way, drinking tea, and various thinking habits.
I could barely run, and so I started small and progressed gradually.
I learned that quitting smoking and running made me feel healthy and great, but eating junk food made me feel worse. So I started trying to eat healthier food, which meant learning to eat vegetables. I didn’t like it much at first, but I learned to like veggies, and now I love them. This taught me that by gradually introducing healthy foods, I could train my tastebuds and learn to like things I didn’t like at first. I’ve now done this with dozens of foods.
I became vegetarian. This cut out a ton of unhealthy fatty meats that I was eating, and I ate more vegetables instead. I missed the meats at first, but soon learned that I didn’t need them anymore. I started losing a good amount of weight at this point — maybe 30 lbs. in my first year.
I ran a marathon. This took a year of building up my mileage. I was still overweight at this point, but definitely lighter.
I started eating fewer sweets. This is a weak point for me, as I love sweets and still indulge now and then. It’s been a long road of learning why I eat sweets, and eating other things instead (fruits, especially berries, and a little dark chocolate are my favorites — also some raisins or dried cranberries).

End quote

Brian Gwaltney has been taking a lot of my old blog posts and redoing them on Medium. This selection made me laugh out loud as I remember Tiffini and I putting together the plans to see a 49ers game, mentioning it, having people ask to join the adventure, change plans to accommodate them (and their favorite teams), spending the money, getting the flights and hotels, having the friends cancel and ending up watching a game with two teams we didn’t care to see.


Your mission helps you do one big thing: Decide. Decide comes from the same root as homicide, suicide and patricide, it means to cut or to kill. But, your mission also keeps your focus “timeless and constant.”

Here is a fun test and you have done this: You want to go to a movie. Let’s say it is “Gone with the Wind.” So, you tell everyone, “Let’s go to a movie.” Everyone discusses what movie they may want to see. Edna hates Rhett, so she won’t go to GWTW, but Larry wants to see a comedy and Bill a horror movie. A hour later, you find yourself sitting in a movie theater watching a French film about a clown who lost his button.

Welcome to the wrong way to decide things! Decide means to cut! “I’m going to Gone with the Wind” and who wishes to join me?! I have a long boring story about how I ended up sitting at a Cardinals-Giants game when we wanted to see the 49ers-Broncos game. Failure to decide leads to all kinds of plan changes and compromises.

How do you find your mission? Find your story. At one of my workshops, a woman there discovered kettlebells and lost 100 pounds in a year. She told me: “I want to change lives now.”

Yep, I would hire her.

End quote

Of all the things I have done, my financial security is one of the accomplishments that most mirrors my understanding of coaching and athletics. “Little and often over the long haul.” Once I set money to work for me…rather than allowing me to be its slave…things have gone well. This little piece got shared a lot on Facebook.


1) Fortune Fund

It seems funny to think about it now, but each and every day, I would toss coins or dollars into an envelope that had “Fortune Fund” written on it. Every so often, I would go to the bank, which no longer exists, and deposit this into my savings. This was not used for anything other than building my “fortune.”

I began seeing coins here and there and it was fun adding to the envelope every day. The idea is that one needs to see both the hazy future and some progress towards it. It can be a penny or a million dollars, but each day the fund is growing a little. This costs almost nothing save the envelope.
2) Emergency Fund

In our home, we always used US Savings Bonds. Today, it might not be the same, but buying and having a Savings Bond…in your hand!…was a nice way to bridge the Fortune Fund and problems. One year, the hot water heater went out on Christmas Eve, soaking all of Santa’s gifts, so we used the Bonds to cover this unexpected event.

Things come up. The Emergency Fund is a bridge between an affordable problem and a disaster. This is a broken car, a leaking hot water heater, or a major furnace repair. These are things that must be fixed. Once the family hits a certain income level, the need for this will change, but it is nice to have about $1500 in easily assessable funds to deal with issues.

If you use credit cards to fix emergencies, the debt spiral is going to get worse. Using a credit card for a thousand dollar fix might cost lots more with interest tacked on (and it will). Things come up. I believe, and more on this later, that with some wise proactive thinking we can stay ahead of much of this, but stuff breaks. Until you have the Emergency Fund built up, don’t worry about trying to beat the Stock Market.
3) Pay off your lowest debt

Grab your bills. Pull out your accounts and find the lowest one that you owe money. If you owe thirty bucks on a small card, pay that off. It might be wise to destroy that card, too. Next month, try again to pay off your lowest debt. Becoming debt free is one of the most “freeing” things that one can do.

Debt is a noose. It cuts down your ability to have options. For example, I warn college kids not to get pets. If you have dog, you can’t live in the dorms and you might not be able to find cheap housing. So, you have to get a job to keep the dog. As much as you love Fido, Fido is a burden.

End quote

This “hacking” thing both fascinates and bugs me. I am a big believer in quality and quantity when it comes to things in life; this article, and I am trying to remain “judgment-free,” bothered me in some sections. Like the article earlier on obesity, this piece just made me “uneasy.” That’s not really the right word, but I certainly acknowledge I learn a lot from hackers, but I think sometimes to sit with a group of elderly and ask about life and living. I’m not judging, just pointing something out.


Faguet hums quietly as he fetches the disposable syringe he uses to administer daily injections of somatropin, a hormone that promotes muscle growth. “People think, ‘Oh my God, injection!’” he says. “But the molecule is larger than what can typically be absorbed through the stomach.” There is a big bag of assorted pills in his room, ranging from standard natural supplements, such as garlic capsules, to prescription medications – SSRI antidepressants, lithium, oestrogen blockers. He takes 60 pills a day.

This morning, after his daily meditation session, but before his breakfast of avocados, olive oil, omelette, grapefruit and green tea, Faguet washed down 40 pills. (He eats only once a day, fasts three times a week and tries to follow a ketogenic, or low-carb, diet.) The pharmaceutical estrogen blockers he takes can boost testosterone by 50%; developed to treat breast cancer, they are increasingly being used by men to boost their fertility – though Faguet believes they help him perform better (more aggressively) in business. He started taking thyroid hormones because his levels are below average, and has since noticed an improvement in his moods. He takes metformin, a drug used to treat type 2 diabetes, because clinical trials point to it being a powerful anti-ager. He also takes a small dose of statins to lower cholesterol, usually given only to older or high-risk patients. “The goal is to reduce the chances of a heart attack in the next, you know, 80 years,” Faguet says.

End quote

Rereading this week’s selections has been a good brain exercise for me. I was telling my nephew yesterday about how I was in the Great Books program as a child. The rigor of the questioning by the instructors really taught me to look deeper at every simple question and simplify every deep question (that’s not bad, by the way).

I sometimes get emails from the WW readership wondering about why I chose an article I obviously don’t agree with in my work. I think that is actually crucial in ongoing development: we need to constantly “rub” our predispositions and see if they continue to stand up.

Honestly, I think few people do that.

Well, until next time, keep on lifting and learning.


Are you devoting enough attention toward breathing patterns? The breath influences our actions and emotions and is influenced by our actions and emotions . . . and chances are, it’s having a far greater physical effect than you think.

The Sword in the Stone, Part 58


Now please stop talking until I have got my breath back, and my hat.”

The Wart sat quiet while Merlyn closed his eyes and began to mutter to himself. Presently a curious black cylindrical hat appeared on his head. It was a topper.

Merlyn examined it with a look of disgust, said bitterly, “And they call this service!” and handed it back to the air. Finally he stood up in a passion and exclaimed, “Come here!”

The Wart and Archimedes looked at each other, wondering which was meant—Archimedes had been sitting all the while on the window-sill and looking at the view, for, of course, he never left his master—but Merlyn did not pay them any attention.

“Now,” said Merlyn furiously, apparently to nobody, “do you think you are being funny?

“Very well then, why do you do it?

“That is no excuse. Naturally I meant the one I was wearing.

“But wearing now, of course, you fool. I don’t want a hat I was wearing in 1890. Have you no sense of time at all?”

Merlyn took off the sailor hat which had just appeared and held it out to the air for inspection.

“This is an anachronism,” he said severely. “That is what it is, a beastly anachronism.”

Archimedes seemed to be accustomed to these scenes, for he now said in a reasonable voice: “Why don’t you ask for the hat by name, master? Say, ‘I want my magician’s hat,’ not ‘I want the hat I was wearing.’ Perhaps the poor chap finds it as difficult to live backward as you do.”

“I want my magician’s hat,” said Merlyn sulkily.

Instantly the long pointed cone was standing on his head.

End quote

This gives us a lot of information about Merlyn’s magical abilities. Since, as we know, he lives “backwards in time,” much of these skills in prophecy and foretelling are due to this gift. He remembers the future and can studies history to find out about his future.

I have and always will wonder about the “they” in “they call this service.” Merlyn is talking to someone/something here:

1. “Come here.”

2. “Now,” said Merlyn furiously, apparently to nobody, “do you think you are being funny?

“Very well then, why do you do it?

“That is no excuse. Naturally I meant the one I was wearing.

“But wearing now, of course, you fool. I don’t want a hat I was wearing in 1890. Have you no sense of time at all?”

3. “I want my magician’s hat,” said Merlyn sulkily.

Archimedes, of course, has seen this before and knows how to deal with this situation. Wart and our readers are a completely baffled by this conversation. Merlyn’s magical powers seem to be:

·      Transfiguration for Wart…and one instance for himself (the Fish story)
·      Backsight: his ability to “see the future” because it is his past/history
·      Insight: we will be seeing this again in a moment; his ability to know what is going on around him
·      Doctor Doolittle power: he can talk to some animals; Wart seems to share this gift and, no, I can’t explain why he has it (see Transfiguration above?)
·      The Unseen Helper: the confused assistant we meet here.
·      Some level of extended life, perhaps a kind of immortality

Merlyn has a host of other skills: hawking, teaching, general medical knowledge, a depth of understanding in philosophy and other fields (more on this later) and a great grasp of history…as he has lived through so much of it.

Archimedes has his own gifts. In one of the last transfigurations, we will get a lot of information about Archimedes and his Goddess mentor. Of course, a wise-talking owl is almost a cliché now with Tootsie Pop commercials and various children’s education examples.

I realize with fantasy fiction, magic is always magical. But, as I read The Sword in the Stone more and more, the magic seems to be part of the background color. Like the knights and jousting in our stories here, magic just seems to be a signpost pointing along the path of our bigger storyline.

This little section does cause some questions about the kind of magic Merlyn uses, but it is enough of an answer to push us along our adventure.

Until next time.


What’s missing in strength training? Symmetry work, per Dan. Here, read the rest.



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