Dan John: Wandering Weights, Issue # 237

Wandering Weights
Our Epic Journey Through All Things Heavy, Issue # 237

One of things about travel and training is that I get a lot of insights about simplifying my workouts. I’ve been traveling with Bret Contreras’s Glute Loop and doing lots of hip thrusts and clam shells and those workouts seem to do more for me to rid my body of the joy of modern airplane travel. Really, it’s simple: 15 hip thrusts followed by 15 clamshells, then 14/14…all the way down to 1/1.
I have been missing a good upper body move. I think I may have found the perfect answer: the straight arm hang. I’ve been reading up on the marvels of this movement; in fact, a study in Hawaii essentially shows that this, by itself, might be the answer to shoulder issues. At first, it wasn’t my grip strength that held me back; it was my jacked-up shoulder girdle. The more I hang, magically, the better I feel. Of course, Dan Martin has been telling me this for years.
So, when I am home now, I still combine the two just to feel better. With this Memorial Day, my house has been full (in fact, finding time to type without one of my grandchildren asking for something has been just short of a miracle), but I was able to slip away to get some rounds of hip thrusts and hangs from the pull-up bar.
I do all the rolling, stretching and mobilizing work, but this little combo seems to work just as well as all the fancy stuff. For me. As I think about the number one problem with most people and most training programs, lack of extension, I am wondering if this combo simply just fills in the blanks.
I’m working on sharing a three-month program I use with some of my guys. Basically, we cycle four exercises: Half kneeling one arm press, back squat and rack deadlift. The pull was the issue, but since all of these guys have jacked up bodies, I have asked a few to just start doing the straight arm hangs. So far, so good. They need a bit of hypertrophy (the squats), some pure strength (the DLs), and the half kneeling work not only helps them look better and get stronger, the position stretches the hip flexors…win/win. I will put it together soon for you all.
Month one involves nothing but straight arm hangs. Month two mixes in some flexed arm work. On the month three test, I asked them to do:
Hold for thirty seconds, one pullup, followed by
Hold for thirty seconds, one pullup, followed by
Hold for thirty seconds, one pullup, followed by
Hold for thirty seconds, one pullup.
The person needs to be able to hold on for about two and a half minutes to pass this test. Like a lot of my new assessments, this one gives us the same challenges as other tests without all the fog of testing (aka “cheating”).
Most of my tests and challenges look so easy on paper.
Most of the secrets of life are easy on paper.
The issue, as always, is the “do.”
I worried at first that I found too many things on the internet this week, but there was a lot to learn. I enjoy doing this, so I figure my readers can sift through what interests them. Last week’s snake venom article got more responses than anything I think I have ever written.
I like this first article. People often say that I am a good storyteller (thank you to my family and my teachers for role modeling this skill), but this is a good reminder on what NOT to do, in a sense:


Pixar has promised that after the upcoming glut of sequels, the studio will focus on original features. But we’re grown-ups, and though the once inimitable studio has taught us to believe in renewal, it has also trained us in grief and loss. I’m not sure I dare to expect much more of what used to make Pixar Pixar: the idiosyncratic stories, the deep emotional resonance, the subtle themes that don’t easily translate into amusement-park rides. I’m thinking of the heartbreaking, waltz-set “Married Life” segment of Up, which packs more emotion into four minutes than most Oscar-nominated dramas manage in their entire running time. Or the wistful solitude of wall-e’s robotic protagonist, left behind on Earth to clean up his creators’ mess. Or Anton Ego’s artful critique of criticism at the end of Ratatouille, arguably the slyest words on the subject since Addison DeWitt’s in All About Eve.
None of these films is scheduled to have a sequel. And none is particularly suited to becoming a theme-park ride (though Disney unveiled Ratatouille: The Adventure at, of course, Disneyland Paris). Which can’t help but raise the question: Would Pixar even bother making those pictures anymore?

End quote
Of course, Anton Ego’s famous speech (voiced by Peter O’Toole) is worthy of a poster for your wall:


In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends.”

End quote
I have been fascinated by the “Bog Bodies” since I first read about them. I’m sure that there is no one answer for all of this, but it still fascinates me.

Who will say ‘corpse’
to his vivid cast?

Who will say ‘body’
to his opaque repose?
—Seamus Heaney, “Grauballe Man” (1975)
One Saturday in the spring of 1950, brothers Viggo and Emil Højgaard from the small village of Tollund, in Denmark, were cutting peat in a local bog when they uncovered a dead man. He looked as though he had only just passed away. His eyelashes, chin stubble, and the wrinkles in his skin were visible; his leather cap was intact. Suspecting murder, the brothers called the police in nearby Silkeborg, but the body wasn’t what it seemed.
Cracking the case required a special breed of forensic analysis. Famed Danish archaeologist Peter V. Glob, from the University of Aarhus, arranged for the body, along with its bed of peat, to be excavated and transferred to the Silkeborg Museum in a giant wooden box. An examination of the contents of the dead man’s stomach suggested—and radiocarbon dating later confirmed—that he had lived during the third century B.C., in the pre-Roman Iron Age. For more than 2,000 years, Tollund Man, as the corpse became known, had lain at the bottom of the bog, nearly untouched by time, as all of recorded history marched forward over his head.1
Since the 18th century, the peat bogs of Northern Europe have yielded hundreds of human corpses dating from as far back as 8,000 B.C. Like Tollund Man, many of these so-called bog bodies are exquisitely preserved—their skin, intestines, internal organs, nails, hair, and even the contents of their stomachs and some of their clothes left in remarkable condition. Despite their great diversity—they comprise men and women, adults and children, kings and commoners—a surprising number seem to have been violently dispatched and deliberately placed in bogs, leading some experts to conclude that the bogs served as mass graves for offed outcasts and religious sacrifices. Tollund Man, for example, had evidently been hanged.

End quote

When my brother, Gary, came home from Vietnam, he took me to see Catch-22. I later read the book and many of the actors in the films became icons in the industry. Oddly, Art Garfunkel’s behavior after the film lead to the breakup of Simon and Garfunkel. We did, however, get their best album just before the end. This article takes the story of the characters of the book even deeper:


In a very real way—that is, in the human way of contradicting desires and motives—Lieutenant Fish fought the institutions that manipulate reality to serve its aims. Just as the NFL anthem protests aren’t anti-American, Yossarian’s protests weren’t anti-war. Like so many of those who kneeled on Sundays, Papa Julie had the strength to hold contradicting truths; that the country he loved wasn’t upholding its promises to its personnel, forcing pilots to risk their lives past their agreed-upon mission limit. As he wrote in his war journal for what was supposed to have been his last (60th) mission:
Finito Tour of European Duty… The roughest mission I have been on. Every ship holed. 60 ships. Many in my ship. Many hurt. Bible saved one man. Hole through his flak suit + through first layer of steel in Bible. FINITO.
In June 2018, US immigration officer Antar Davidson was ordered to tell two sibling children that they couldn’t hug—a six- and a ten-year-old, unsure whether they will see their parents again, whether they themselves will remain together. Two siblings whose reasons for holding onto hope were fading fast were told they could not embrace for even a short time. In officer Davidson’s own words, “They called me over the radio. And they wanted to translate to these kids that the rule of the shelter is that they are not allowed to hug,” he said. “And these are kids that had just been separated from their mom—basically just huddling and hugging each other in a desperate attempt to remain together.” Davidson demonstrated his objection to this level of cruelty by quitting his job, choosing to sacrifice his own well-being so that he could look at himself in the mirror and know that he wasn’t going to be a pawn in a political game that stretched far beyond him.

End quote
I see these articles almost daily, but the masseuse noticed here that the fascia moves better after more water. That alone made me rethink this whole article. I think fascia and the lymphatic system are the two forgotten children in most of the fitness field.

Nicole Lund, a nutritionist at New York University’s Langone Sports Performance Center, explains the basics of hydration.
How much: “Proper hydration means 85 ounces of water a day from food and beverages, plus more to replenish what you lose when exercising.” (That’s roughly four ounces of water for every quarter-pound of weight lost during your workout.)
Energy and performance: “Physiological changes occur even in the early stages of dehydration, including decreased blood volume and less oxygen delivered to working tissues. These changes make it harder to sweat, which will increase body temperature and heart rate and make you feel more fatigued during exercise.”
Bathroom breaks: Frequent trips to the restroom are normal with increased water intake, Lund says. “As with anything else that you change drastically, your body needs time to adjust if you start drinking a lot more.”
The bottom line: “We all wake up slightly dehydrated. The easiest change you can make is to have a big glass of water first thing in the morning.”

End quote
When I was young, we were taught that dinosaurs were slow, cold-blooded creatures that had to live in swamps due to their girth. None of this is “true.” It’s amazing to see, in this article, that science is moving much faster than I thought.


Zimmer walks us deep into the thickets of genetics and genomics, revealing complications and exceptions that challenge what we think we know about heredity. Following his own family tree, Zimmer shows us that counterintuitive facts lie even in the humble pedigree. If you pursue your lineage far enough, the branching forks of a family tree begin to rejoin, such that if your ancestry is European back to the time of Charlemagne, you are related to Charlemagne himself!
To focus in is to find chromosomes playing all sorts of tricks. Take, for example, chimeras. To the ancient Greeks, the Chimera was a fire-breathing hybrid monster; to a biologist, chimeras are organisms that comprise cells from two different individuals. Ranchers are familiar with one type of chimera, the freemartin, which results when a cow carries opposite-sex twins. Connected by a shared placenta, the fetal calves exchange stem cells. The bull calf grows up into a more or less normal bull, while the heifer—the freemartin—has undeveloped ovaries and exhibits masculinized behavior (and is particularly tasty on the grill). Where does one calf end and the other begin?

End quote
“Chunking” is, I think, the secret to teaching. Late in my career, I could have a two-week plan with something as simple as “Pacific Theater, WWII” or “Cost to Benefit.” Football is all about chunking large amounts of information into a single word. This article does a nice job here.


Chunking was originally conceptualized in the groundbreaking work of Herbert Simon in his analysis of chess—chunks were envisioned as the varying neural counterparts of different chess patterns. Gradually, neuroscientists came to realize that experts such as chess grand masters are experts because they have stored thousands of chunks of knowledge about their area of expertise in their long-term memory. Chess masters, for example, can recall tens of thousands of different chess patterns. Whatever the discipline, experts can call up to consciousness one or several of these well-knit-together, chunked neural subroutines to analyze and react to a new learning situation. This level of true understanding, and ability to use that understanding in new situations, comes only with the kind of rigor and familiarity that repetition, memorization, and practice can foster.
As studies of chess masters, emergency room physicians, and fighter pilots have shown, in times of critical stress, conscious analysis of a situation is replaced by quick, subconscious processing as these experts rapidly draw on their deeply ingrained repertoire of neural subroutines—chunks. At some point, self-consciously “understanding” why you do what you do just slows you down and interrupts flow, resulting in worse decisions. When I felt intuitively that there might be a connection between learning a new language and learning mathematics, I was right. Day-by-day, sustained practice of Russian fired and wired together my neural circuits, and I gradually began to knit together chunks of Slavic insight that I could call into working memory with ease. By interleaving my learning—in other words, practicing so that I knew not only when to use that word, but when not to use it, or to use a different variant of it—I was actually using the same approaches that expert practitioners use to learn in math and science.
When learning math and engineering as an adult, I began by using the same strategy I’d used to learn language. I’d look at an equation, to take a very simple example, Newton’s second law of f = ma. I practiced feeling what each of the letters meant—f for force was a push, m for mass was a kind of weighty resistance to my push, and a was the exhilarating feeling of acceleration. (The equivalent in Russian was learning to physically sound out the letters of the Cyrillic alphabet.) I memorized the equation so I could carry it around with me in my head and play with it. If m and a were big numbers, what did that do to f when I pushed it through the equation? If f was big and a was small, what did that do to m? How did the units match on each side? Playing with the equation was like conjugating a verb. I was beginning to intuit that the sparse outlines of the equation were like a metaphorical poem, with all sorts of beautiful symbolic representations embedded within it. Although I wouldn’t have put it that way at the time, the truth was that to learn math and science well, I had to slowly, day by day, build solid neural “chunked” subroutines—such as surrounding the simple equation f = ma—that I could easily call to mind from long term memory, much as I’d done with Russian.
Time after time, professors in mathematics and the sciences have told me that building well-ingrained chunks of expertise through practice and repetition was absolutely vital to their success. Understanding doesn’t build fluency; instead, fluency builds understanding. In fact, I believe that true understanding of a complex subject comes only from fluency.

End quote
I use this story in my workshops and I didn’t appreciate how valuable…or awful…being replaced by machines could be for us. I didn’t know about “Jennifer Units” until I read this article.


The Jennifer Unit strips a menial task of its last faintly interesting element. The spreadsheet operates in reverse: it strips an intellectually demanding job of the most boring bits.
Viewed together, the two technologies show that technology doesn’t usually take jobs wholesale – it chisels away the easily automated chunks, leaving humans to adapt to the rest.
That can make the human job more interesting, or more soul-destroying – it all depends.

End quote
Reader Nick McMillan sent this in (all the way from Brisbane, Australia!):


According to Kozlowski, this is yet another example of Austen being decades ahead of the science.
“Science is really only starting to learn how our thoughts and and our stomachs are so so intimately connected,” he says.
“She recommends emotional detachment and nobody gets too touchy feely with food, only comical characters do that.”
In Austen’s novels, Kozlowski says, carbohydrates and starch were eaten in small amounts, mainly as they were associated with the lower classes.
“You didn’t want to do anything to become, as Emma would say, a ‘vulgar farmer’,” he says.
Meat, on the other hand, “took centre stage on rich tables — it meant you had money to buy it or enough land to hunt it”.
“Meat has always been historically considered and to this day is the most nutritionally complete food we have,” says Kozlowski, who has written about the experience in The Jane Austen Diet.
“It delivers all the amino acids, minerals and vitamins our body needs.”

End quote
That was fun. I will be fasting again this week so I will be leaner and meaner when I send out the next WW. Until then, keep on lifting and learning.

For your quick access link, here’s Dan’s full OTP page, including all of his articles, books, lectures and videos, all in one place.

The Sword in the Stone, Part 93
Finally, the long story of Robin Wood, the Griffin and the Good People is behind us. Chapter Thirteen, sadly, was basically deleted in the 1958 version of the book(s) to bring in the story of the ants. The ants and geese story were to be in The Book of Merlyn (and, after 1975, they are) and they are long stories about lines on maps, fascism and the human love of warfare. I didn’t like them when I read them in 1970 (my first reading) and they never really grew on me.
Although I will be reviewing the 1938 version (and it is a lot of work to retype two books), there are some things in the ants that I will share with you. I never understand dropping the original Chapter 13; it has, in my opinion, two of the best dreams in literature. I think T. H. White makes the same points as in the geese and ants versions…without the sledgehammer.
Chapter Thirteen (1938 version)
“The summer was over at last, and nobody could deny any longer that the autumn was definitely there. It was that rather sad time of year when for the first time for many months the fine old sun still blazes away in a cloudless sky, but does not warm you, and the hoar-frosts and the mists and the winds begin to stir their faint limbs at morning and evening, with the gossamer, as the sap of winter vigor remembers itself in the cold corpses  which brave summer slew. The leaves were still on the trees, and still green, but it was the leaden green of old leaves which have seen much since the gay colors and happiness of spring-that seems so lately and, like all happy things, so quickly to have passed. The sheep fairs had been held. The plums had tumbled off the trees in the first big winds, and here and there, in the lovely sunlight too enfeebled, a branch of beech or oak was turning yellow: the one to die quickly and mercifully, the other perhaps to hold grimly to the frozen tree and to hiss with is paper skeletons all through the east winds of winter, until the spring was here again.”

End quote
White, as I have mentioned before, has this ability to paint a setting as a poet. As I read and reread this section, I tend to nod and say “Yes, I have seen this day…I know this kind of day.”
Wart, as we will discover next time, is mending. Merlyn and Wart go for walks which lead us directly to our next adventures in transformation.
The 1958 version breaks the rules, I think, of White’s transformations. In the other stories, if Wart is full (has eaten), he remains full. In this story, the 1958 version, the mending arm is basically ignored.

“In spite of his protests, the unhappy invalid was confined to his chamber for three mortal days. He was alone except at bedtime, when Kay came, and Merlyn was reduced to shouting his eddication through the key-hole, at times when the nurse was known to be busy with her washing.
The boy’s only amusement was the ant-nests—the ones between glass plates which had been brought when he first came from Merlyn’s cottage in the forest.
“Can’t you,” he howled miserably under the door, “turn me into something while I’m locked up like this?”
“I can’t get the spells through the key-hole.”
“Through the what?”
“Are you there?”
“Confusion take this shouting!” exclaimed the magician, stamping on his hat. “May Castor and Pollux—— No, not again. God bless my blood pressure….”
“Could you turn me into an ant?”
“A what?”
“An ANT!””

End quote
As we will see, the Merlyn of the 1938 story is back to his gentle ways rather than swearing and stamping his hat. I think a compilation that has ALL the stories would be best, but I can only do so much.
Until next time.



Subscribe below and we'll send great articles to your email box. Includes FREE access to our OTP Vault of material from experts in the field.