Dan John: Wandering Weights, Issue # 217

Wandering Weights
Our Epic Journey Through All Things Heavy, Issue # 217

From OTPbooks.com: How do you define motor control? How do you discern movement competency in your clients or patients? Here Greg Dea covers definitions, practical examples and the true importance of motor control.


Winter is gripping Utah with a mighty talon today. High winds blowing over snow makes my morning ritual, dropping my wife off at the TRAX (public transportation), to be especially eye-opening. Since Utah is so dry, cold doesn’t feel the same as our friends in Chicago would feel it, for example, but it sure makes it nice to sit back down with coffee and type up Wandering Weights.

For those of us who like American football, the seasons are winding down. There is a great championship in the college sports. No, not that annual fashion show with Division One, but the North Dakota State/Eastern Washington game was great football. They play in over a series of weeks and the fans fill the stadiums. Most of the players know that “this is it,” so the games are very spirited.

I’m training again. I hired Ben Fogel over at Epic Fitness to get me going. Overcoming some of the fear is part of the process, but I also seem to have left my endurance and strength somewhere. Hospital stays and laying around a lot don’t seem to lead to superlative performance. But, there is good news: I’m almost 20 pounds lighter. It’s not some miracle diet…it’s just being out of pain 24/7. I can feel my body relax.

It’s hard to explain, but being pain-free reminds me to be a better coach. I often put a 60-pound vest on young personal trainers who come to work with me. One can certainly go lighter for this, but we do things for about an hour. At the end, as they are peeling the vest off, I ask them, just for a moment, to imagine living with that on. This moment of empathy, I think, can make them a better trainer and coach.

Excessive load or pain makes movement so difficult. It’s easy when you feel great to forget all of this, but I try to remind myself of what a gift “pain-free” is to me.

I loved a few things on the net this week. This article about Sister Wendy might be one of the best things I have read in a while and the lessons are pure gold.


Sister Wendy Beckett’s 10 Rules for Engaging with Art

Visit museums

They are the prime locus where the uniqueness of an artist’s work can be encountered.

Prioritize quality time over quantity of works viewed

Sociologists, lurking inconspicuously with stopwatches, have discovered the average time museum visitors spend looking at a work of art: it is roughly two seconds. We walk all too casually through museums, passing objects that will yield up their meaning and exert their power only if they are seriously contemplated in solitude.

Fly solo

If Sister Wendy could spend over four decades sequestered in a small mobile home on the grounds of Carmelite monastery in Norfolk, surely you can go alone. Do not complicate your contemplation by tethering yourself to a friend who cannot wait to exit through the gift shop.

Buy a postcard

…take it home for prolonged and (more or less) distractionless contemplation. If we do not have access to a museum, we can still experience reproductions—books, postcards, posters, television, film—in solitude, though the work lacks immediacy. We must, therefore, make an imaginative leap (visualizing texture and dimension) if reproduction is our only possible access to art. Whatever the way in which we come into contact with art, the crux, as in all serious matters, is how much we want the experience. The encounter with art is precious, and so it costs us in terms of time, effort, and focus.

Pull up a chair, whenever possible

It has been well said that the basic condition for art appreciation is a chair.

Don’t hate on yourself for being a philistine.

However inviolate our self-esteem, most of us have felt a sinking of the spirit before a work of art that, while highly praised by critics, to us seems meaningless. It is all too easy to conclude, perhaps subconsciously, that others have a necessary knowledge or acumen that we lack.

Take responsibility for educating yourself…

Art is created by specific artists living in and fashioned by a specific culture, and it helps to understand this culture if we are to understand and appreciate the totality of the work. This involves some preparation. Whether we choose to “see” a totem pole, a ceramic bowl, a painting, or a mask, we should come to it with an understanding of its iconography. We should know, for example, that a bat in Chinese art is a symbol for happiness and a jaguar in Mesoamerican art is an image of the supernatural. If need be, we should have read the artist’s biography: the ready response to the painting of Vincent van Gogh or Rembrandt, or of Caravaggio or Michelangelo, comes partly from viewers’ sympathy with the conditions, both historical and temperamental, from which these paintings came.

…but don’t be a prisoner to facts and expert opinions

A paradox: we need to do some research, and then we need to forget it…We have delimited a work if we judge it in advance. Faced with the work, we must try to dispel all the busy suggestions of the mind and simply contemplate the object in front of us. The mind and its facts come in later, but the first, though prepared, experience should be as undefended, as innocent, and as humble as we can make it.

Celebrate our common humanity

Art is our legacy, our means of sharing in the spiritual greatness of other men and women—those who are known, as with most of the great European painters and sculptors, and those who are unknown, as with many of the great carvers, potters, sculptors, and painters from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America. Art represents a continuum of human experience across all parts of the world and all periods of history.

Listen to others but see with your own eyes

We should listen to the appreciations of others, but then we should put them aside and advance toward a work of art in the loneliness of our own truth.

End quote

I didn’t think I could do better than that this week. Sister Wendy went “above and beyond” here and I appreciate these points. I was going to do this thing that I enjoy in life: the “one-off.”

I was going to close this week’s WW with just that quote.

Then, I clicked one article and deep dived into a series of “not necessarily connected” but connected articles that impacts the way I will teach in the future.

This first one is a standard in many fields; Reddit has an area called “Explain it to a Five-Year-Old:”


Take out a blank sheet of paper and write the subject you want to learn at the top. Write out what you know about the subject as if you were teaching it to a child. Not your smart adult friend but rather an 8-year-old who has just enough vocabulary and attention span to understand basic concepts and relationships.

A lot of people tend to use complicated vocabulary and jargon to mask when they don’t understand something. The problem is we only fool ourselves because we don’t know that we don’t understand. In addition, using jargon conceals our misunderstanding from those around us.

When you write out an idea from start to finish in simple language that a child can understand (tip: use only the most common words), you force yourself to understand the concept at a deeper level and simplify relationships and connections between ideas. If you struggle, you have a clear understanding of where you have some gaps. That tension is good –it heralds an opportunity to learn.

End quote

Luckily, I found links that expanded upon this. If you are going to read one article, read this one.


“Test it this way: you say, “Without using the new word which you have just learned, try to rephrase what you have just learned in your own language.” Without using the word “energy,” tell me what you know now about the dog’s motion.” You cannot. So you learned nothing about science. That may be all right. You may not want to learn something about science right away. You have to learn definitions. But for the very first lesson, is that not possibly destructive?”

End quote

I run into this literally all the time. Since I go to a lot of conferences and workshops, I bump into, well, “hucksters” might be too much, but it’s the right direction, “people” who drop anatomy or physiology “bombs” that seem too good to be true.

It’s because they are. The phrase used is often: “knowledge bombs.” Since I taught two of my doctors and have pretty solid relationships with several others, I often get a chance to bring these ideas up later. I mentioned these ideas about “flossing nerves” or using pieces of tape on the skin to “keep a muscle in place.” Let’s just say that the word “voodoo” was used, but actually, they used barnyard language. I will be at a kettlebell cert and participants will be arguing over the activation of this muscle or that muscle after a brief skim of an anatomy text.

My students do this, too. Often, I will get feedback that I am not scientific enough, but those same students skip our hands-on seminars, our Olympic lifting meet (which I think is brilliant: to have a Masters in Strength and Conditioning, Dan Cleather demands that you step on the platform in front of peers and public and touch a barbell and produce force) and many don’t ever walk into our lifting facility.

They want the names. They want the citations. Often, they can’t demonstrate a squat in any variation.

So, I clicked again. This article has a great bit of wisdom:


Are you a fan of the San Francisco 49ers? They exist, in part, because of our tendency to over-generalize. In the 19th century in Western America and Canada, a few findings of gold along some creek beds led to a massive rush as entire populations flocked to these regions in the hope of getting rich. San Francisco grew from 200 residents in 1846 to about 36,000 only six years later. The gold rush provided enormous impetus toward California becoming a state, and the corresponding infrastructure developments touched off momentum that long outlasted the mining of gold.

But for most of the actual rushers, those hoping for gold based on the anecdotes that floated east, there wasn’t much to show for their decision to head west. The Canadian Encyclopedia states, “If the nearly 29 million (figure unadjusted) in gold that was recovered during the heady years of 1897 to 1899 [in the Klondike] was divided equally among all those who participated in the gold rush, the amount would fall far short of the total they had invested in time and money.”

How did this happen? Because those miners took anecdotes as being representative of a broader reality. Quite literally, they learned mining from rumor, and didn’t develop any real knowledge. Most people fought for claims along the creeks, where easy gold had been discovered, while rejecting the bench claims on the hillsides above, which often had just as much gold.

You may be thinking that these men must have been desperate if they packed themselves up, heading into unknown territory, facing multiple dangers along the way, to chase a dream of easy money. But most of us aren’t that different. How many times have you invested in a “hot stock” on a tip from one person, only to have the company go under within a year? Ultimately, the smaller the sample size, the greater role the factors of chance play in determining an outcome.

If you want to limit the capriciousness of chance in your quest for success, increase your sample size when making decisions. You need enough information to be able to plot the range of possibilities, identify the outliers, and define the average.

End quote

“They learned mining from rumor.” Yes, this does counter a bit of the last article’s insight, but most gym “bros” fall into this trap: they learn from rumor and gossip. Now, in my field, strength and conditioning, this is probably better in some ways as often research is behind the wave in sports performance. If you recall, the early clinical studies of anabolics PROVED they didn’t improve anything over the use of placebos. Which is, of course, why no one uses them.

The “cure” for this has been around for a while. This article sums it very well.


The Eisenhower Matrix has four parts, which you use to categorize the work in front of you:

Important, but not urgent
Urgent and important
Urgent but not important
Not important and not urgent

If you think about it for a second, you realize that the Eisenhower Matrix can help you not only with prioritizing what you work on today, but also with deciding which big projects to work on. The matrix helps you distinguish between what is important and what is urgent.

End quote

If you read my book, Now What?, and I am pretty sure you did not as the sales are horrid, you might note that this article reflects the filters I use for most of life decisions:

Shark Habits and Pirate Maps

I try to save all my brain power for “important.” I think it is important to sleep well, eat veggies, drink water and exercise daily. There is my daily Pirate Map in a nutshell (see last week’s WW for details). When I sit down to work, I “clear off my plate” for any tasks that will get in the way of what I deem important. For me, “being present” as a coach, writer, and family member is important. So, when I get an email to fill out a form, I just do it. For me, getting that out of my head, clearing up the brain space, is urgent: that’s a Shark Habit.

One bite and it’s gone.

The article has different conclusions, but, in practice, I think we say the same things. As I type this, I have already had two people tell me, basically, they “fell off the wagon” with their New Year Resolutions. I don’t make them (anymore) but I do one interesting thing on New Year’s Day:

I take out a folder and label it “Taxes 2018.” This is the time of year where our tax materials begin to arrive. I hate it, of course, as I live in a “Tax Hell” and I am right in that area of the tax brackets that gets the knife. But, it doesn’t matter: when the materials arrive, I pop them in the folder.

That’s it.

Even though I don’t think it is important, it is. And, with taxes, my opinion doesn’t matter, so I just take care of it. Within a week, I will schedule my appointment with my accountant and I will pay him a nice fee to deal with “all of this” in the folder.

I don’t pretend to understand taxes. I don’t feel like explaining them to an eight-year-old. So, I just pop them in a folder and hire someone else to do them.

In the meantime, I will be doing things that help me, my family and my athletes have better and happier lives.

And, until next time, keep lifting and learning.


Here’s Dan’s full archive on the site (scroll down for a collection of articles you may not have seen before).

The Sword in the Stone, Part 73


“Whisper,” said the golden lady, with a strange look, and the boys noticed that the little circle had drawn closer together.

“Well now,” said Robin, lowering his voice, “the thing about these creatures that I am speaking of, and if you will excuse me I won’t name them again, is that they have no hearts. It is not so much that they wish to do evil, but that if you were to catch one and cut it open, you would find no heart inside. They are cold-blooded like fishes.”

“They are everywhere, even while people are talking.”

The boys looked about them.

“Be quiet,” Robin said. “I need not tell you any more. It is unlucky to talk about them. The point is that I believe this Morgan is the queen of the—well—of the Good Folk, and I know she sometimes lives in a castle to the north of our forest called the Castle Chariot. Marian says that the queen is not a fairy herself, but only a necromancer who is friendly with them. Other people say she is a daughter of the Earl of Cornwall. Never mind about that. The thing is that this morning, by her enchantments, the Oldest People of All have taken prisoner one of my servants and one of yours.”

“Not Tuck?” cried Little John, who knew nothing of recent developments because he had been on sentry.

Robin nodded. “The news came from the northern trees, before your message arrived about the boys.”

“Alas, poor Friar!”

“Tell how it happened,” said Marian. “But perhaps you had better explain about the names.”

“One of the few things we know,” said Robin, “about the Blessed Ones, is that they go by the names of animals. For instance, they may be called Cow, or Goat, or Pig, and so forth. So, if you happen to be calling one of your own cows, you must always point to it when you call. Otherwise you may summon a fairy—a Little Person I ought to have said—who goes by the same name, and, once you have summoned it, it comes, and it can take you away.”

“What seems to have happened,” said Marian, taking up the story, “is that your Dog Boy from the castle took his hounds to the edge of the forest when they were going to scombre, and he happened to catch sight of Friar Tuck, who was chatting with an old man called Wat that lives hereabouts—”

“Excuse us,” cried the two boys, “is that the old man who lived in our village before he lost his wits? He bit off the Dog Boy’s nose, as a matter of fact, and now he lives in the forest, a sort of ogre?”

“It is the same person,” replied Robin, “but—poor thing—he is not much of an ogre. He lives on grass and roots and acorns, and would not hurt a fly. I am afraid you have got your story muddled.”

End quote

“Scombre” is a great word: it means to defecate. I need to start using this word more often. In addition, Castle Chariot seems to be a standard name in much of Arthurian legends; it is sometimes the home to four queens, but it is always an enchanted place.

“Other people say she is a daughter of the Earl of Cornwall. Never mind about that.”

Usually, in the Arthurian legends, the Duke of Cornwall is a powerful friend, or protector, of the High-King. Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall traditionally rebelled against King Uther Pendragon (Arthur’s actual father) when Uther became obsessed with Igraine, the Duke’s wife. The movie Excalibur does a great job with this story. Uther tricks (with Merlyn’s help) and kills Grolois and takes Igraine.

The result of Uther and Igraine’s union is our young Wart.

So, Wart doesn’t “get it” but this is family. This will happen again later with terrible consequences for King Arthur and Camelot.

I can’t seem to find my 1938 British version, but, when I do, I will retype much of these chapters and focus on the anthropophagi that are the bad guys in the original “original” version. The earlier stories are much more violent, but the basic points are the same.

Until next time.


As we look at Coaches Johnny Parker, Al Miller and Rob Panariello’s ideas of systematic program design, we first consider their training cycle principles. Here, have a look.

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