Dan John: Wandering Weights, Issue # 208

Wandering Weights
Our Epic Journey Through All Things Heavy, Issue # 208

Pain is a reality of rehab and performance, and the more you understand, the more you can help your clients understand: [CONTINUE READING Sue Falsone, Pain Theories]


If I could do my whole career over again, I would have taken more time “off.” While I am in Ireland, I walk 3-6 miles a day, swim daily (usually) in Galway Bay and wake up when I feel like waking up.

I eat that great clean Irish food: root veggies, fresh fish, and dairy so rich that I buy Kerrygold by the case and freeze it at home in Utah. I sleep well in the fresh air.

As an athlete, I always thought that if I took “off” a day, the world would end somehow. I was wrong. My best seasons were often the years after a layoff due to life, work, and reality.

I love my annual trips to Ireland. I mix in workshops with writing. I had an absolutely amazing day with the Connaught Rugby team that made me rethink so much of my coaching. That is what taking time “off” does for me: it’s like turning your Mac off.

I reset.

I deep into my next book now. I have about 100 pages finished and I am only working now on the “hard stuff;” materials that take some time and research to figure out. I am revisiting my 40 years as a coach and pulling out the lessons that helped me not only in sport, but life.

Honestly, if you want a book about five sets of two, you can find them anywhere.

My life was changed working with Dick Notmeyer. Finding this video brought me to tears, but, frankly, many of you will never understand the impact of Dick on my life.

Phil McDougall is doing good work. I enjoy his posts. I had to go to “offset bells” due to poverty, but he makes a strong point here in this article.


Increased neurological drive = increased strength gains

Let’s compare performing 10 cleans with 2 x 24kg versus using 20kg and 28kg. Conventional volume calculations would consider the overall loads to be the same, at 48kg. 48kg x 10 reps = 480, so in theory they both have a volume of 480. However, the set with offset loads is significantly more difficult and neurologically demanding. Especially when you pick the kettlebells up for a second set after having swapped them around. Just try it! It demands your nervous system to first sense the difference then adjust tension in different areas to maintain equilibrium/balance. This makes conventional volume calculations to measure workload only usable as a rough guideline.

Ten cleans with an evenly balanced pair of kettlebells offers no challenge to maintain symmetry. Lifting offset loads ignites your torso like a Christmas tree, especially when switching kettlebells after each set.

Increased muscular activation = decreased efficiency of execution and increased metabolic function

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We all know books are “good for you,” but this article teaches us that just being around them are good, too.


The average number at home was 115 books, though in Norway the average size was 212 books and in Turkey it was 27. Needless to say, no matter the size of the library, having books in the home was a good thing. The researchers also found that literacy rates climbed as the number of books climbed, but at some point–350 books to be exact–these rates plateau’d.

In comparison, a person who had not grown up around books but had earned a university degree wound up being just as literate as someone with a large home library and only nine years of schooling.

According to Sikora, “Early exposure to books in [the] parental home matters because books are an integral part of routines and practices that enhance lifelong cognitive competencies.”

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I may have posted this link before, but I love this list of books about learning.


Mastery, by George Leonard

In the same way that Greene’s Mastery is impressive for its depth, Leonard’s is useful because of its simplicity.

Leonard gives us five keys to mastery: instruction–the role of mentors and being surrounded by greatness; practice–how masters of the game are generally masters of practice; surrender–of arrogance, of entitlement, of pride; intentionality–the coming together of focus, enthusiasm, and grit. And when we combine these four, we approach the Edge. That is, the point at which our skills and ability start to test and exceed the current boundaries of our craft.

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I love Marty Gallagher’s work; we all know that. This article and the rest of the blog are better than the bulk of my library.


Over time (as a direct result of ever-increasing payloads) the trainee naturally muscles-up. With a radical increase in lean muscle mass comes a concurrent increase in strength. What are these magical exercises? The tools are Old School free-weight barbell and dumbbells. Most all the weight training is done while standing on your feet. The movements are compound, multi-joint exercises that require groups of muscles to work together; the opposite of an isolation exercise that, as the name implies, zeroes in on a lone muscle. In life and athletics, muscles work together.

Overhead presses
Bench presses
Power cleans

These are the five Tier 1 core lifts. The first four are cumulatively known as ‘the core four,’ to which is added the ultra-explosive power clean. Grind strength and explosive strength are built by performing these lifts – assuming pristine techniques are used while exerting maximally. For building size and power, reps are done in the 1-5 rep range, with some 6 and 8 rep sets thrown in.

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As a follow-up, this blog by Marty just sums intelligent training.


Occam’s Razor can be applied with great ease to strength training and strength strategies. How could an Occam acolyte not favor a system that was simpler, shorter, contained fewer exercises and was done less frequently? Based on his love of tactical economy, I can say without fear of intelligent contradiction that William of Occam would be an enthused proponent of our purposefully primitive, sophisticated yet simplistic, strength strategem. Our tactics, strategies and protocols are battle-proven and have a competitive pedigree without rival. In the world of big league competitive powerlifting, the most successful strength system of all time was an ultra-minimalistic approach that personifies the ideal of lex parsimoniae. The hallmarks of this barebones system epitomize the ideal of less is more…

Purposefully limited menu of exercises
Archetype techniques and a reverance for precise execution
Short, extremely intense training sessions
Infrequent training sessions
Rest and food are intergral to success
Long-term preplanning a prerequisite: a goal without a plan is a wish

From 1965 until 1995, virtually every world record set were by men that hit each major lift once a week, working up to a single top set of squats or deadlifts. How much less could a strength trainer do? What strength strategy could be simpler? Power protocols had men lifting 2-3 times weekly in short and to the point training sessions. As long as they hit their predetermined training poundage and rep targets each succesive week, all was right with the world. An amazing number of all time world records set using this most primitive of power protocols still stand to this day: in seven out of eleven weight classes, all time best marks were sets decades ago.

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The Irish National Rugby team is/was in the USA. For a sports article, this piece digs deep into a lot of American history.


For more than a century both Ireland and Italy’s greatest export was people.

Fleeing crushing poverty, hunger, political repression and social bigotry, millions, who were without hope in their native lands, left their families and homes. Spilling onto overcrowded boats, risking their all to sail the oceans, in the desperate search of a better life.

They carried with them only hope, because nothing could be as hopeless as their home country. To America, Argentina, Canada, Australia and New Zealand they fled in their millions, bringing with them little more than the clothes on their back.

Life was as hard as the sun-baked roads of western New South Wales and as unrelenting as the grinding factory life of the Chicagos mills. The environments in which the Irish and the Italians found themselves, were as alien to their mother lands as Guinness is to Chianti.

Two things tossed the Irish and Italians together. Their shared version of village Catholicism and the desperate need to make a “buck”.

The one asset they both possessed was to physically work harder than any humans should, to develop the schemes to grab enough money to feed themselves and their families.

Rugby was not part of Italian or Irish migrant life, but making money by almost any means was.

As the grandson of “church mice poor” Irish emigrants, I have heard the stories, seen the scars and witnessed the sacrifices. Myself, my brothers and cousins have benefited from them. How many times have we heard the cliché, “a better life for our children and grand children”.

The trouble with clichés is that mostly they are true.

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I just think that is fabulous writing.

Until next week, keep on lifting and learning.


Pain is a reality of rehab and performance, and the more you understand, the more you can help your clients understand: [CONTINUE READING Sue Falsone, Pain Theories]

The Sword in the Stone, Part 64


“You don’t see much,” said Kay, “for there is a man.”

Sure enough, there was a man at the end of the next glade, sitting with a wood-axe by the side of a tree which he had felled. He was a queer-looking, tiny man, with a hunchback and a face like mahogany, and he was dressed in numerous pieces of old leather which he had secured about his brawny legs and arms with pieces of cord. He was eating a lump of bread and sheep’s-milk cheese with a knife which years of sharpening had worn into a mere streak, leaning his back against one of the highest trees they had ever seen. The white flakes of wood lay all about him. The dressed stump of the felled tree looked very new. His eyes were bright like a fox’s.

“I expect he will be the adventure,” whispered Wart.

“Pooh,” said Kay, “you have knights-in-armour, or dragons, or things like that in an adventure, not dirty old men cutting wood.”

“Well, I am going to ask him what happens along here, anyway.”

They went up to the small munching woodman, who did not seem to have seen them, and asked him where the glades were leading to. They asked two or three times before they discovered that the poor fellow was either deaf or mad, or both. He neither answered nor moved.

“Oh, come on,” said Kay. “He is probably loopy like Wat, and does not know what he is at. Let’s go on and leave the old fool.”

End quote

If you know the Hero’s Journey, you will recognize this scene well. Think of Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island and his interactions with Billy Bones to get a taste:

“Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest –
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!”

The woodsman, White’s description draws a perfect picture, is one of those “been there, done that” characters we always meet in the start of the journey. Luke Skywalker in Star Wars (the real one) judges just about everyone and everything he meets immediately; too old, too junky, too hairy, too small. He, of course, is always wrong.

Kay does the same thing here: he has this image of maidens in towers and a fierce dragon…that’s an adventure. Bill Bryson has a wonderful book about walking the Appalachian Trail, A Walk in the Woods. As he begins the trail, he tells us about a group of women who only walk for 45 minutes and quit the six-month hike: “It’s not what we expected.”

Few things in life are “what we expected”!

So, our two heroes, Wart and Kay, are still just on the fringe of the adventure. They just walked into Mos Eisley Cantina. They just graduated from Boot Camp. They just got the uniform.

I remember playing a high school football game and a non-starter (with a big mouth and no real talent…but a poor work ethic!) screamed at half-time: “We just need to play harder.”


The veteran, of every ilk, has the “been there, done that” air about them. They are careful about who is included in “we.” I think “we” have all been there in life.

Now, as we come out of the forest on the other end, Wart and Kay will be transformed. Kay, especially, will be changed for the better and we will see this at the conclusion of the book. Here is a hint: his trophy becomes his gift.


Pain is a reality of rehab and performance, and the more you understand, the more you can help your clients understand: [CONTINUE READING Sue Falsone, Pain Theories]


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