Dan John: Wandering Weights, Issue # 221

Wandering Weights
Our Epic Journey Through All Things Heavy, Issue # 221

New from OTPbooks.com: Coach Al Miller joins Jeremy Hall to cover part two of their discussion called Scaling the System — how to use their periodization planning for older trainees.Hi << Test First Name >>,

As I type this, the Super Bowl has ended football season for the year. I loved the game and I learned a few things about coaching in the past few weeks following the build-up to this game. One thing I liked about both teams is that they found what the other team does “best,” then went out of their way to take that away. My high school coach based our defense on this idea.
Coach DeJong, my coach, once took me aside and asked me about an opposing player whom I had competed against in track. He wondered if this kid was good enough to beat us. I didn’t think so. Years later, I ran into the other team’s coach at a clinic and we talked about that game. He remembered well that this one kid was wide open the whole game and they never utilized that fact. I didn’t want to tell him the truth, but if “HE” beat us, we deserved to lose.
Sometimes, winning is taking away what your opponent does best. Sometimes, you still lose: some people are just better.
Speaking of “just better, a few years ago, Tom Brady, the QB for the Patriots, and his trainer came out with a book, TB12, which I liked, but the authors were vilified. Honestly, eating a plant-based diet, making good sleep decisions, working on tissue and training was really hard for people to take, I guess.
Let me say this: whatever he is doing, it should be taken seriously. Watching someone compete this long and at such a high level is worth studying. I will include a negative review in the articles this week, but I struggle to see what the difference is between what TB12 does and what I see most people talk about at workshops.
The Patriots won again. I enjoyed the evening with one of our gym regulars, Mike Falvo, and I was very good about food and drink. Super Bowl parties are really amazing, as some of us focus on the games and others insist on quiet during the commercials.
As a sports fan, we start to move into that quiet time of the year. March Madness is not far away and baseball will be doing Spring Training soon, but it is quiet time overall. Some of my track coach friends are getting the kids going with indoor competition, but, overall, it is the quiet time.
I am looking forward to spring. Usually, I enjoy winter, but this year, with the surgery, I have been really looking forward to getting outside again. Let’s review the internet last week.
Well, no surprises here, but the Beige Diet of American kids (look at the plates: all beige food!!) and the lack of movement is certainly something that will not turn out well long term.


Justin Cahill, a veteran P.E. educator who’s taught at an Atlanta-area private school for the past decade or so, stresses that it’s the typical application of physical education rather than the fundamental concept that results in bad outcomes. Until the past few years, P.E. classes tended to focus on kids’ acquisition of skills, such as dribbling a ball, and the fulfillment of universal benchmarks, such as the ability to run around a track three times within some specific amount of time. This approach, he says, “breeds stagnation and disinterest—the kids are like, ‘Yeah, this is ridiculous.’” It can also, as Packham’s study suggests, breed resentment: After all, in this “old school” version of P.E., certain kids are bound to struggle.
Cahill maintains that many P.E. programs are high caliber, successful in both engaging students and producing positive health and wellness outcomes. Echoing the findings outlined in Kohl’s book, he says that positive results are contingent on a multifaceted and holistic design—what he defines as programs that inspire children to exercise without realizing they’re exercising, that simply ensure they’re constantly moving, during recess, frequent “brain breaks” to get out “the sillies,” morning jogs, and, yes, regular P.E. class. Positive results are also contingent on experienced, empathetic P.E. teachers—those who know to modify a curriculum to meet a certain student’s needs, and to give kudos to that child who can’t run around the track. After all, research shows that people can get a good workout even when walking, and the more important thing is to create a healthy relationship with exercise that can last for decades.

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Economics is always a good way to start any discussion about any topic (Cost to Benefit and Opportunity Cost are the keys to good coaching) and several new books touch on economics and weight loss. I liked this simple article.


Jay Zagorsky, Ph.D., an economist and researcher at Ohio State University, has been examining the weight-wealth connection for more than a decade. His 2015 study, published in the Oxford Handbook of Economics and Human Biology, revealed this price tag:
    For every pound of extra weight gained, $226 of wealth is lost.
    For every point of body mass index gained, $1,900 of wealth is lost.
    So by Zagorsky’s calculation, if you’re 50 pounds overweight, you’re cheating yourself out of more than $11,000.
Another factor that impacts your income: weight discrimination. Past research has shown that employers find heavier employees less desirable as coworkers and bosses. It works both ways: A German study of nearly 18,000 workers found that underweight men earn about 8 percent less than those in the upper end of the healthy BMI bracket. The effect was especially strong in blue-collar jobs.
Of course, no one’s waiting to write you a check when you hit your goal weight. But if you want to drop pounds and keep them off, bringing money into the equation looks like a smart play. Research shows that money can motivate people toward healthier behavior.

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This kind of article is showing up more and more; the “gut biome” article. This is a simple one.


Apparently up to 95 percent of your body’s serotonin (aka your “happy” chemical) is produced in your gut, and there are ongoing studies on the “gut-brain axis” and how deeply intertwined these two systems really are. If you’re struggling with mood issues such as anxiety or depression, your microbiome may be contributing to it.

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I still think my athletes…who train at 3:00 in the afternoon…should eat breakfast. For weight loss, maybe not.          


More recently, researchers have published randomized controlled trials that can better pinpoint the effects that eating or skipping breakfast have on weight loss. In these studies, participants are assigned to eating breakfast or skipping, then compared to each other. Since the only difference between the two groups is whether they ate breakfast or not, it’s easier to tell if an early meal caused a difference in health outcomes.
The largest such trial to date, published in 2014, followed 300 people who were trying to slim down for 16 weeks. The researchers found that eating breakfast had no effect on weight loss during this period.
On January 30, the BMJ published a systematic review of 13 randomized controlled trials, including the big 2014 study. They concluded that there’s “no evidence to support the notion that breakfast consumption promotes weight loss or that skipping breakfast leads to weight gain.”
Instead, the people who ate breakfast consumed 260 more calories per day and weighed a pound more than the breakfast skippers, so “caution is needed when recommending breakfast for weight loss in adults, as it may have the opposite effect.” (You can see a cool visualization of the studies here.)
“Reasonable evidence now suggests that skipping breakfast can actually be a useful strategy to reduce weight,” the author of an editorial about the BMJ study, Tim Spector, wrote.
But even this review of the best available evidence isn’t conclusive. One major problem: The trials only ran for a maximum of 16 weeks. (Seven of the 13 ran for fewer than four weeks.) And that just isn’t enough time to assess the long-term health impact of breakfast. “As the quality of the included studies was mostly low, the findings should be interpreted with caution,” the authors warned.
The breakfast studies also don’t pay enough attention to the quality of food people are eating, obesity doctor Yoni Freedhoff has pointed out. “What a person eats for breakfast will matter a great deal, and just studying whether or not a person ate breakfast, will lump together bowls of Froot Loops with almond topped steel cut oats, and Pop Tarts with summer vegetable omelettes.”
Many researchers are also skeptical of the oft-repeated claim that breakfast makes kids smarter. The data here is equivocal, as this 2009 review of the research notes. There was some compelling evidence to suggest undernourished kids perform better at cognitive tests when enrolled in a breakfast program. But it wasn’t clear that the breakfast itself was doing the trick — it might have been the fact that the program led to increased school attendance. Maybe feeding children dinner would have the same effect.

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Keeping up with controversies, this article really attacks the book, TB12. Oddly, one of the people who told me this book was nonsense advocates muscle flossing, foam rolling and exercises to “jump start” the nervous system.


In addition to the dubious diet and nutrition claims, the book also expounds on a concept called “muscle pliability.” Muscle pliability is different from flexibility, Brady writes. Pliability is “all about lengthening and softening the muscles,” and it can be achieved through “deep-force muscle work.”
Brady says Guerrero, fitness guru friend, does special pliability-enhancing massages, as Brady “rhythmically contracts and relaxes” each muscle. In addition to helping athletes achieve peak performance, Guerrero and Brady believe this can cure many common injuries, from tennis elbow to lower back pain.
When I asked exercise scientists about the concept, they said they’d never heard of it. They also advised against trying to soften one’s muscles. “The last thing an athlete wants is a soft muscle,” Phillips said, explaining that muscles only go soft when they’re underused.
“After doing nutrition and exercise research for almost 25 years,” Phillips summed up, “there’s lots of examples where people who are successful athletes have attributed their success to one practice or another. But the main point is if you pull it back and start to look at the science that underpins what people are saying, there is none there.”
There’s one other explanation for Brady’s lack of injuries that has nothing to do with nutrition or muscle composition: A recent analysis in the Washington Post found that he gets hit at about half the average rate NFL quarterbacks endure.

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Sometimes, the more I read, the more confused I get. By the way, I don’t have a “dog in the fight” with TB12, so I really don’t care (I don’t want to engage in an email discussion about it either), but sometimes progress in knowledge is a bit like a sawtooth…we have our ups and downs.
Until next week, keep lifting and learning.

In the second article of this series on scaling a system of Russian periodization to fit your needs, Jeremy Hall and Al Miller cover a few basic changes you can make that will make a significant impact on your training.

The Sword in the Stone, Part 77

The boys passed the morning pleasantly, getting accustomed to two of Maid Marian’s bows. Robin had insisted on this. He said that no man could shoot with another’s bow any more than he could cut with another’s scythe. For their midday meal they had cold venison pattie, with mead, as did everybody else. The outlaws drifted in for the meal like a conjuring trick. At one moment there would be nobody at the edge of the clearing, at the next half a dozen right inside it—green or sunburned men who had silently appeared out of the bracken or the trees. In the end there were about a hundred of them, eating merrily and laughing. They were not outlaws because they were murderers, or for any reason like that. They were Saxons who had revolted against Uther Pendragon’s conquest, and who refused to accept a foreign king. The fens and wild woods of England were alive with them. They were like soldiers of the resistance in later occupations. Their food was dished out from a leafy bower, where Marian and her attendants cooked.
The partisans usually posted a sentry to take the tree messages, and slept during the afternoon, partly because so much of their hunting had to be done in the times when most workmen sleep, and partly because the wild beasts take a nap in the afternoon and so should their hunters. This afternoon, however, Robin called the boys to a council.
“Look,” he said, “you had better know what we are going to do. My band of a hundred will march with you toward Queen Morgan’s castle, in four parties. You two will be in Marian’s party. When we get to an oak which was struck by lightning in the year of the great storm, we shall be within a mile of the griffin guard. We shall meet at a rendezvous there, and afterward we shall have to move like shadows. We must get past the griffin without an alarm. If we do get past it and if all goes well, we shall halt at the castle at a distance of about four hundred yards. We can’t come nearer, because of the iron in our arrow-heads, and from that moment you will have to go alone.
“Now, Kay and Wart, I must explain about iron. If our friends have really been captured by—by the Good People—and if Queen Morgan the Fay is really the queen of them, we have one advantage on our side. None of the Good People can bear the closeness of iron. The reason is that the Oldest Ones of All began in the days of flint, before iron was ever invented, and all their troubles have come from the new metal. The people who conquered them had steel swords (which is even better than iron) and that is how they succeeded in driving the Old Ones underground.
“This is the reason why we must keep away tonight, for fear of giving them the uncomfortable feeling. But you two, with an iron knife-blade hidden close in your hands, will be safe from the Queen, so long as you do not let go of it. A couple of small knives will not give them the feeling without being shown. All you will have to do is to walk the last distance, keeping a good grip of your iron: enter the castle in safety: and make your way to the cell where the prisoners are. As soon as the prisoners are protected by your metal they will be able to walk out with you. Do you understand this, Kay and Wart?”
“Yes, please,” they said. “We understand this perfectly.”

End quote 

I can remember reading this section for the very first time. I was up in my bedroom on Ramona Avenue in South San Francisco and having King Arthur and Robin Wood in the same story just had me transfixed. I loved this section as it seemed to combine all of my childhood war play. Toss in The Three Musketeers and the chapter would be perfect for the young me.

Iron and fairies. This seems to have been a fairly common belief for a long time. Iron has magical qualities like being able to find North and shuttle electricity (unchanged!) through itself and, of course, its ability to crush practically any ancient weapon or shield.
Producing iron was very difficult for much of human history. Some sources were meteorites, but, as I understand it, getting the heat high enough was the key. Back in my first years of teaching this period, I used to tell students that perhaps Arthur’s real history is when he was a pioneer in the Iron Age: literally, making/taking “the sword FROM stone.”
As I was thinking about iron, the idea of using the oak tree struck by lightning as a rendezvous point seems to fit with a lot of powerful images here:
We will meet and listen to an oak tree later in our adventures. And, yes, trees can talk.
Wart and Kay have lots to learn tonight. Their hunting, stalking and fighting skills are going to challenged and they will learn so much this evening. They will also learn to respect Maid Marian as a leader and fighter.


How would you scale down the Parker/Miller/Panariello periodization system for weekend warriors or keen amateurs in their 30s, 40s and 50s, with lots of experience, but also full-time jobs and families . . . you know, most of us. This is Part One.


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