Dan John: Wandering Weights, Issue # 218

Wandering Weights
Our Epic Journey Through All Things Heavy, Issue # 218

From OTPbooks.com: Train all out. Recuperate. Repeat . . . The word “periodization” gets thrown around a lot. This primer will give you a great understanding of when and where it works and just how simple it can be when used correctly.


Training after any surgery, or even life-changing moments, is always interesting. I find myself struggling with the basic lesson of lifting:


I have been learning and playing with tension since I first started lifting “seriously” in 1970. I was discovering at that time that my mind could will myself to lift heavier loads, but I had to be tight from stem to stern. It took time to learn to lock down every unit of my body and get everything pulling in the same direction.

After a surgery, I find that I try to protect “things” and forget tension. I want to work “around” the issue, but, in fact, it is safest to lock everything down.

Which leads me to my point: I nap after every workout. I can barely keep my eyes open. Ben Fogel has me on a three day a week “A-B-A-B-A-B” program where I mix a Hinge-Pull day with a Squat-Push day (with a bunch of other things thrown in). But, he makes me do even the simplest things with bands or a single arm or leg additional movement.

It’s all about tension. After an hour to an hour and half of tension, I am spent. Oddly, I came into this surgery in, what I thought, was in “good shape.” I’m sure I was.

I have always thought it was wise to build in a few weeks a year with tension and plank work. I’m wondering out loud in 2019 if this should not be just a short-term system, but foundational throughout the year. Yes, we need to bounce and skip and play, but we, at least those of us over 60 or broken down or in need of body composition work (um…everyone?), should keep tension as part of our normal training.

As I reviewed 2018, I notice that my “lessons” were not that earth-shattering:

1. The role of real medicine, surgeons and X-Rays and lab work, is far more valuable than reading something or advice from a gym buddy.

2. Talking to my dental hygienist was as valuable as a four-day cert. She convinced me to see the dentist three times a year (the extra visit is a bar tab on a quiet night), scrape my tongue daily, mouthwash after flossing, and change my electric toothbrush tips every two months. Basically, in all things: listen to those who do this every day, all day…professionally.

3. Planks are important. Some exercises like farmer walks, suitcase carries, goblet squats, front squats, overhead squats and the deadlift family are “moving planks.”

4. As I age, I realize that eating ten times a day is not a good idea. I enjoy fasting and eating lots of veggies at meals and, I think, that is the way for me to go. Two, maybe three, meals a day with protein, veggies and lots of water seem to be “my ticket.”

5. More than ever, I see the “rules” change with drugs. I just finished a great book, Endure, and the discussion of ADD medicine and the issues of heat stroke stunned me. Even though we “can” train hard in the heat, if the athlete is using these “uppers,” the rules change. We can’t use the same heat index charts. If you go on HRT and your lifts improve, it’s not the fact that you are doing five sets of two versus five sets of three.

6. This year convinced me, more than ever, that the body responds well to heat and cold, like saunas and cryotherapy, in amazing ways. Jumping in Galway Bay might be as important as all the other stuff I do. Room temperature is nice to type in, but we might need a bit of the extremes to challenge ourselves.

Let’s look at the web this week.

Mike Rosenberg sent me this article. Obviously, I agree!


It comes down to a simple matter of “use it or lose it,” says Dr. Bahram Jam, a physical therapist and founder of the Advanced Physical Therapy Education Institute (APTEI) in Ontario, Canada.

“Every joint in our body has synovial fluid in it. This is the oil in our body that provides nutrition to the cartilage,” Jam says. “Two things are required to produce that fluid: movement and compression. So if a joint doesn’t go through its full range—if the hips and knees never go past 90 degrees—the body says ‘I’m not being used’ and starts to degenerate and stops the production of synovial fluid.”

End quote

This site is written by my friend, Steve. I can basically spend hours here; I loved this article:


So we have research showing that in very elite runners, long term high volume training is needed to make functional changes.  We have practical experience in that throughout history we’ve shifted towards the volumes we do now and that practically every single good runner does a solid amount of mileage (with good intensity mixed in) and we have the theory of why mileage should work.

If we simply put crossfit endurance through the same kind of review we have:

Research- short term studies on high intensity training shows improved VO2max and in some cases performance, but we have looked at why those don’t apply neatly already.  No research on crossfit endurance in particular
Theory- It goes against all known scientific theory for how endurance performance should be improved and how it actually happens.

Practice- No good runners do it.  We know from history what happens and what kind of performance you get even if you do a lot of high intensity work with very little volume.

And lastly, it doesn’t help that they subscribe to every fad from diet to pose method of running that there is.

Finally, if you want a very interesting research approach to the high volume/intensity paradigm read Stephen Seiller’s nice summary here.

And finally, I’d like to point out that finishing and racing are different.  I’ve heard far too many times that so and so did crossfit and finished a marathon so it must work.  No offense and sorry to sound elitist, but if I took off 6 months and did nothing I could still finish a marathon.  It doesn’t mean my program of doing nothing worked.

What does this all mean?

While this was a lengthy rant, it only touches the surface of the Crossfit or Crossfit Endurance phenomenon.  My point wasn’t to critique everything they did (that might be later) but to teach you why some of their claims they make, even research based claims, might be wrong.

End quote

This article was a nice piece on serious endurance work.


And drink coffee.

Also, a pot of coffee makes just about any situation better.

Focus on the process.

I rarely thought about the “whole thing.” I focused on the process instead. I took the entire hike day-by-day, section-by-section. If my task is hiking over 2,000 miles in 45 days, I’m not so sure I can do it. But if my task is hiking 8 miles to the next break point, I know I can do it.

Ask for help.

I had the prior record holder [Scott Jurek] pacing me and I was following the itinerary of the record holder before him [Jennifer Pharr-Davis]. There’s no shame in asking for help. Scott, Jenn, and so many others helped me in a big way. I don’t think that makes what I did any less special. If anything, I think it makes it more special.


Sleep is so important. It’s when you rejuvenate and grow. If you don’t rest you don’t recover from the day before and you don’t feel good the day after. This isn’t just about breaking endurance-sports records; this is true in all of life. Skimp on sleep and it’s really hard to be happy, let alone effective.

Channel pressure.

Being totally honest here: this would have been a really bad time for me to fail. The endurance-sports community was literally counting my steps on an online tracker. All my sponsorship contracts are coming up at the end of this year. This was a career moment. The added pressure was always there. I just did what I could to turn the pressure into energy and use it as a focusing mechanism. I never let fear of failure gain too much real estate in my mind. The best way to do that is by focusing on what’s immediately ahead of you and staying in the present moment.

Show up.

It’s okay to stop — but only after you start. I promised myself that I would show up every day. It’s amazing how stiff and shitty I could be feeling prior to hitting the trail and how much better I’d start feeling once I got going.

End quote

I just popped my weekly Vitamin D, but this article makes me realize I might need to get outside, too.


Yet vitamin D supplementation has failed spectacularly in clinical trials. Five years ago, researchers were already warning that it showed zero benefit, and the evidence has only grown stronger. In November, one of the largest and most rigorous trials of the vitamin ever conducted—in which 25,871 participants received high doses for five years—found no impact on cancer, heart disease, or stroke.

How did we get it so wrong? How could people with low vitamin D levels clearly suffer higher rates of so many diseases and yet not be helped by supplementation?

As it turns out, a rogue band of researchers has had an explanation all along. And if they’re right, it means that once again we have been epically misled.

These rebels argue that what made the people with high vitamin D levels so healthy was not the vitamin itself. That was just a marker. Their vitamin D levels were high because they were getting plenty of exposure to the thing that was really responsible for their good health—that big orange ball shining down from above.

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As I was whipping around the world of endurance work, I found this post. I liked this writer’s opinion.


Can You Go, by Dan John. I read this book toward the beginning of the year when I was transitioning from endurance running (the last 10 years of my athletic life) to weightlifting and power training. My natural inclination in moments like this is to get caught up in complexity and overthinking. Dan John makes everything so simple. Can you balance on one leg with your eyes closed? Can you press your bodyweight? Can you carry the suitcase up and down the stairs without your back hurting? It’s as simple as defining what you’re training for, and then asking yourself: Can you go?

Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity, by David Whyte. “Anything that you care about will break your heart,” writes David Whyte. This includes your work. Because regardless of what self-help books say, there is no such thing as work-life balance. So long as you are breathing and showing up to your job, then in that moment, work is life. For some this seems second nature, for others, it may be utterly against provoking. Either way, Whyte, whose writing is gorgeous, explores the sacredness of the ordinary: work.

Endure, by Alex Hutchinson. We are so proud of our close friend, Alex. He hit this book out of the park. It is the best sports book since The Sports Gene. Hutchinson explores the limits of human performance and the interplay between the mind and body. Both Steve and I walked away from this book more convinced than ever that it’s not mind or body, and not even a mind-body connection. It’s a mind-body system. Alex uses science and story to illustrate how this is the case and what we, even us athletic mortals, can do about it.

End quote

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


Once simple, hard training fails to produce results, we have to take a broader view. We now have to vary the output over the course of the week, and then over the course of the month.

The Sword in the Stone, Part 74


“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.”

“Fancy Wat living on acorns!”

“What happened,” said Marian patiently, “was this. The three of them came together to pass the time of day, and one of the hounds (I think it was the one called Cavall) began jumping up at poor Wat, to lick his face. This frightened the old man, and your Dog Boy called out, ‘Come here, Dog!’ to make him stop. He did not point with his finger. You see, he ought to have pointed.”

“What happened?”

“Well, my man Scathelocke, or Scarlett, as they call him in the ballads, happened to be woodcutting a little way off, and he says that they vanished, just vanished, including the dog.”

“My poor Cavall!”

“So the fairies have got them.”

“You mean the People of Peace.”

“I am sorry.

“But the point is, if Morgan is really the Queen of these creatures, and if we want to get them away before they are enchanted—one of their ancient Queens called Circe used to turn the ones she captured into hogs—we shall have to look for them in her castle.”

“Then we must go there.”

End quote

With this, the chapter ends. White finishes this chapter with an interesting note for those of us who love literature: the Queen is very much like the “evil” Queens in western civilization. Circe turned Ulysses’ men into pigs and…well, here we are again. “The People of Peace” are always close and we need to whisper about evil.

Oh, and point.

I struggled with this section. I was going to retype the whole chapter with the Anthropophagi, but, as I looked deeper and deeper, I came away wondering about if this was right or wrong. I found this brilliant insight:


The next major change come in chapter 10. In ’38 there’s an archery contest between Robin Wood and Little John (cut completely in ’58), and then they go off to ambush the Anthropophagi. In ’58 the enemy becomes Morgan le Fay, and the two versions of chapter 11 are different, except Robin’s speech and the journey to the enemy are substantially the same. At the end of chapter 11 in ’38 the Wart shoots a Sciopod; in ’58 he shoots a griffin at the beginning of chapter 12 instead. According to Professor Wikipedia, White admitted to feeling ‘uncomfortable’ about the Anthropophagi, and I share his misgivings. The Anthropophagi are described as cannibals; they’ve captured, sacrificed and eaten humans. Yet they’re not human, or at best are semi-human; they’re drawn from medieval bestiaries, strange beings conjured up from goodness knows what dark corners of the mind (not all of which seem to be cannibals outside White’s pages).  The Sciopdes, for example, ‘had only one foot, but this was so huge that they could use it as a sunshade to protect themselves when they were sleeping.’ The episode in which they are attacked by Robin’s men is grotesque rather than simply fantastical, and sits rather unhappily in the book.

’58’s Morgan le Fay episode has a touch of the grotesque too, (‘Morgan le Fay herself lay stretched upon her bed of glorious lard. She was a fat, dowdy middle-aged woman with black hair and a slight moustache, but she was made of human flesh’), but a little is required to create a sense of peril, and there are redeeming touches of humour.

Both versions have a cruel or even sadistic streak. In ’38 the Wart shoots an arrow at a Sciopod: ‘He had often longed to hear the noise that these gay, true, clean and deadly missiles of the air would make in solid flesh. He heard it.’ In ’58 the target is a griffin rather than a semi-human, which makes it a little less murderous, and the writing is toned down slightly: ‘He had often longed to hear the noise that these clean and deadly missiles would make in solid flesh. He heard it.’ Either way, it’s hard to square this with the pacifist message of the sequence as a whole.

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The description of Morgan Le Fay here is not your Disney Evil Queen…fat and dowdy laying on lard is not exactly what we usually see. This is more of Disney’s Madam Mim than Maleficent. So, after reading this selection, I realized I needed more insights. I found this great reading.


So this raises the issue of how much control an author has over their own work. There is a significant casualty from T.H. White’s re-editing process, one who might upset fans of the 1963 Disney movie based on The Sword in the Stone: the cannibalistic witch Madam Mim. This sequence forms a substantial part of chapter 6, involving Wart and Kay losing an arrow, and in the process of retrieving it from an isolated cottage in the woods they end up captured by the evil witch Madam Mim, locked away in oversized rabbit-hutches, only to be rescued by Merlin who defeats the witch in a duel. In The Once and Future King however chapter 6 is truncated at the moment the boys lose their arrow, and Madam Mim makes no appearance in the book. T.H. White had clearly decided by 1958 that she was extraneous to the tale he wanted to tell, essentially subjecting the poor cannibal to a damnatio memoriae. If we accept the author’s later version as the ‘correct’ and final edition of the story, then it would mean losing Mim, it would mean losing a boring chapter about a snake, and it would mean having Morgan le Fay rather than a worrying and potentially xenophobic slaughter of some creatures whose species is nearly unpronounceable.

By this point I feel lost and confused myself. The fact of the matter is that a text is not entirely ‘locked’ or ‘static’, and should a living writer wish to come in at a stage post-publication and alter a work to reflect changed circumstances or opinions, or if they felt the original did not accurately reflect their intentions at the time, then we as readers might have to wrestle with that most dangerous concept – *authorial intent*. Or perhaps not, because do we really have to give a damn what the author wanted? When it comes to things like The Hobbit, Tolkien’s revision of the character of Gollum to bring the book more into line with its sequel The Lord of the Rings is now unanimously accepted as the standard work, and it would be unusual to find a re-print of an earlier edition lying around or on sale at your local Waterstones. With The Sword in the Stone however the matter is completely different. The previous edition, before T.H. White’s revisions, is still very much in circulation, and as this is the one which the Disney movie is based on I daresay it is probably just as well known as the 1958 version – if not more so.

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I thought this was brilliant: are books “static?” Especially with movie adaptions of books, we often have that weird discussion of whether it is “as good as the book.”

Dune, the movie, was horrible. The Sci Fi Channel version was far better. As much as I love the Harry Potter movies, they don’t stand up to the books…usually. The Three Musketeers movies, for example, the Michael York and Raquel Welch version, do a great job. The Count of Monte Cristo films usually disappoint.

When White is writing this in 1938 (or so), I don’t think a movie adaption was on his mind. As White began writing all four (or five) books, I wonder if things changed. Camelot, the Broadway hit, was released in this life and he would have seen Disney’s The Sword in the Stone. These books, much like L. Frank Baum’s Ozseries, started out as one thing (political satire perhaps) and moved into something else.

I still like the original British 1938 version. But, I certainly appreciate the other versions, too.

For now, we will stick with the later editions as I think through this “issue” that I have created in my own head.

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.

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