Dan John: Wandering Weights, Issue # 238

Wandering Weights
Our Epic Journey Through All Things Heavy, Issue # 238

When you read this, I will be on a plane to London. I start a two-week trip there with kettlebell workshops, private talks, a conference and a few days at St. Mary’s. It’s a full schedule.

It’s been a great June so far. Here in Utah, we continue to have daily rain deep into our summer months. For a desert, this is unusual. We still have a ski resort open and it might have the slopes open until July.

I’m struggling to believe it is June. This year doesn’t work well inside my brain: I started it on painkillers post-surgery and then fought off a serious infection for almost two months. My daughter is getting married and I have also really increased my grandfather duties, so maybe the “blur” is understandable as I type it out. We call this “ducks” in our house. Let me share a thing I wrote about that:

Pecked to Death by Ducks

My wife, Tiffini, has a funny way of explaining parenthood: “It’s like being pecked to death by ducks.” Kelly certainly doesn’t like it, but my daughter’s ringtone is “Quack, quack…quack, quack.”

Mornings with school kids is something that has to be experienced. No matter how well I prepared, it didn’t matter. Breakfast in the slow cooker from the night before, clothes laid out (uniforms in our case, God bless them!), backpacks set, and the day sorted out…well, it simply didn’t matter.

Every day, there was “something.” Science report, unread book, or “we need twelve dollars in nickels for a project,” every day was “something.” By the time, we dropped the kids off to school, my mind was fried and my nerves were frazzled.

Every day, I would strive to make the morning better. Every day, the ducks would find a new place to peck.

We did well, honestly. Menus, chore lists, weekly checklists, monthly checklists and shopping lists kept things less crazy. I can’t honestly say it was necessarily NOT crazy, but day by day, month by month and year by year, things worked out very well.

I think you have to look at your life and ask a big question sometimes: “what are my ducks?” What are those nagging things to seem to eat up most of our brain space? It’s not just kids: it could be debt, health, loss, fear or any of a million issues.

My advice? First, take a moment to realize what is pecking you. If it is debt, for example, get out pen and paper, write out your debts, and look at the hole you are in. Look at that number.

Then, think. Thinking is underrated…I think. One thing that helped us years ago was to find the debt with the lowest number. Pay it off. Then, as you can, pay off the next lowest. If you can unburden something, let it go…sell it. Hell, give it away. Spending time, money and emotional energy on a car in the driveway that “one day” you will restore is a big old pecking duck.

Your neighbors will like it, too.


Name them. Label them. Say it out loud.

Then, think a little bit about how you can…dare I say?…get your ducks in a row.

This week, I found a lot of good things online. I think, and I certainly could be wrong, that the internet has “righted” the ship. Even though a lot of people still can’t get it right, the negativity in the 2016 election “taught” us all a good lesson about appropriate talk online.

I still hate anonymous and always will. My old boss, Monsignor Fitzgerald, had a great policy about anonymous:

“Throw it away.”

No unsigned letters. No gossip. No rumors. Certainly, there are areas where the person is allowed to be nameless…that’s different. But, if you run your engines on rumor and gossip…well, I worked for those bosses, too.

It’s not good. I loved this article. There is nothing new here if you read our forum, but I like articles that give sensible advice.


Cultivate friendships

Loneliness is as big a mortality risk as diabetes. Research links social isolation to dementia, heart disease, stroke, depression and a 29% greater risk of dying. An eight-decade study found a clear correlation between having a large social network and living longer.

More recent research shows the quality of friendships also helps keep us alive: ask yourself if your friends stimulate you and if they have a positive outlook. Helping and caring for others also strongly correlates with longevity.

Support immunity

It is often thought the immune system weakens with age, but research indicates that the reverse may be true: the immune system actually overreacts as we get older, creating more inflammation in the body when it is confronted by a virus, for example and speeding up the ageing process. With 70% of the immune system located in the gut, gut health is key. Support your immune system with a diet high in dark leafy greens, brassicas (such as cabbage and broccoli), alliums (such as garlic, leeks and onions) and mushrooms.
Shiitake mushrooms, in particular, have been found to have a powerful effect on the immune system. If you have a cold, try a simple miso soup with mushrooms, ginger and greens.

Change how you eat, particularly in the evening

Changing how you eat, rather than what you eat, can make a bigger impact on longevity than a radical dietary overhaul. Piles of vegetables, whole grains, pulses and lean protein fill up our plates now. We also aim to eat earlier, whenever possible, to allow digestion to kick in well before bedtime. This means less disturbed sleep and a longer overnight fast, too. Eating earlier has enabled us to eat more slowly – an essential but overlooked factor in the Mediterranean diet, allowing satiety hormones to kick in. And when we have eaten, we stop. Constant grazing and snacking means that the digestive system is permanently working – and therefore also permanently producing insulin, potentially leading to insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes.

End quote

I don’t think I have ever read something more “true” than “no one cares about your travels.” When I leave an institution, of any kind, years later, those remaining will try to excite me with stories about the latest game or intrigue. I don’t have the connections anymore and it’s hard to feign excitement. When I tell them about Europe, I get the same feeling returned to me.

I thought I was alone, but this is a rather common phenomenon, and there have been scientific studies that discovered why. It turns out; it isn’t (primarily) about jealousy; the problem is about context. Your adventures are unrelatable. Most people are simply more interested in talking about familiar things than they are curious about the new things that you want to introduce to the conversation. Yes, there is a social cost associated with leaving the herd and having unique experiences.

In their paper, “The Unforeseen Costs of Extraordinary Experience,” Harvard Psychologists Gus Cooney, Daniel T. Gilbert, and Timothy D. Wilson discuss how exceptional experiences makes us both “alien and enviable.” As the authors observed, “At worst, people may be envious and resentful of those who have had an extraordinary experience, and at best, they may find themselves with little to talk about.”

In an experiment, the researchers divided subjects into small groups. From those groups, one person was given a funny video of a street performer to watch alone, while the others were given a crappy video animation to watch together.

Before they watched the videos, the researchers told everyone which they were going to see: the entertaining street-magician, or the crummy cartoon.

Immediately after watching their assigned footage, the participants were asked to rate how happy they felt at that moment.

Then the groups all reassembled and talked a bit before again being separated and asked two questions.

1) How happy they felt now.

2) How included they’d felt in the conversation with their peers.

End quote

This article is actually a pretty good “how to.” Running in scholastic sports in America is dying, but I always hope that it makes a comeback. In college, many of my professors were high school runners and it made me think that the discipline of cross country and track seem to carry on far past the “cinders” of youth. I think wrestling could be included here, too.


Whether you’re trying to run under five minutes in the mile, PR at a half marathon, or just finish your first 10K, most new runners make the same mis­takes. Here, Olympian and coach Nick Willis tells you how to avoid them.

The Problem: Not running enough.

The Solution: If you want to get close to your potential, or at least enjoy race day, work up to at least 30 miles a week. This is true even for relatively short events like the 5K. To be competitive, you need to increase your volume even further, to about 70 miles a week.

The Problem: Too many runs at race pace.

The Solution: To build a strong fitness baseline, do most of your workouts at a relaxed pace. A good rule of thumb: 80 percent of your runs should be easy, and the other 20 percent should be hard tempo runs, sprints, or hill work.

The Problem: Starting too fast.

The Solution: To avoid a spectacular blow-up in the back half of any race, you need to run at a consistent pace. “You have to develop this judgment in training,” says Willis. Come race day, you’ll likely be so eager that you have to consciously hold yourself back.

End quote

If you grew up in the 1970s, you certainly do NOT have to hear this song again, but I liked this piece. I think Professor Campbell rolls in his grave often by how some people, especially in the field of body composition, use his work, but this was “fun.”


That story? “One of the greatest narrative structures in human history,” the Hero’s Journey, as so famously elaborated by Joseph Campbell in The Hero With a Thousand Faces—an archetypal mythological arc that has “permeated stories for as long as humans have told them.” Not only do Robert Plant’s mystical lyrics reflect this ancient narrative, but the song’s composition also enacts it, building stage by stage, from questioning to questing to battling to returning with the wisdom of how “to be a rock and not to roll.”

The song’s almost classical structure is, of course, no accident, but it is also no individual achievement. Hear the story of its composition, and why it has been so influential, despite the jokes at the expense of those it influenced, in the Polyphonic video at the top and straight from Jimmy Page himself in the interview above.

Out of all of Zeppelin’s many epic journeys, “Stairway” best represents “the reason,” as cultural critic Steven Hyden writes, “why that band endures… the mythology, that Joseph Campbell idea of an epic journey into the wild that Zeppelin’s music represents, the sense that when you listen to this band, you feel like you’re plugging into something bigger and more profound than a band.” Or that the band is opening a doorway to something bigger and more profound than themselves.

End quote

My study of studies proves this article “true.” In weightlifting, I am amazed when people still study untrained volunteers to make global statements about performance.


In a meta-study released in 2014 by the Educational Researcher, Matthew C. Makel of Duke University and Jonathan A. Plucker of the University of Connecticut, conducted a wide-ranging analysis of educational research to determine how many of the education studies published in the one hundred most prominent education journals had been replicated.

Of the 164,589 studies published in these education journals, only 221 of them were replications, an overall replication rate of .13%. Of the studies that were replicated, only 67.4% were successful, but 48.2%—nearly half of these replications—were conducted by the same people who did the original study, a bad research practice in and of itself.

In other words, less than 1% of education studies in the one hundred most prominent education journals meet the bedrock standard of replication, meaning that there is over a 99.9% chance that when someone quotes a study in the field of education, it cannot be relied upon as definitive.

The problem, of course, is that those who are now questioning the quality of scientific research are not popular with researchers themselves, since their questions dampen the excitement produced by the latest headline-grabbing finding. These questions also seldom draw the attention of the popular media, which benefits from publishing the latest study that promises to cure cancer or halt the aging process.

No one mentions these things when they say, “A study has found …” They should.

End quote

According to a recent study, this is enough for this week. Until next time, 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 94
The Wart’s arm did not hurt any more, but he was not allowed to do his martial exercises under the sergeant-at-arms in the afternoons, for fear of spoiling it before it was properly mended. He went for walks instead, kept watch on a playing family of five hobbies, who shouted “Cui-Cui-Cui-Cui-Cui,” and would be migrating any day now-they were late already-and he collected the enormous caterpillars of moths which had been through all their changes and now sought lumberingly for a convenient place in which to turn into a chrysalis. His best capture was the four-inch plum and apricot upholstery of a Goat Moth, which buried itself quite cheerfully among trails of silk in a box of loose earth which he kept beside his bed. It had taken three years to reach its present size and would lie perdue for another, before the big dun month crept out of its old armor and pumped the blood into the veins of its expanding wings.

Merlyn caught a male grass snake on one of these walks. They met by chance, face to face, as each was turning the corner of a big bed of seeded nettles from opposite directions, and the magician pounced upon the reptile before it had time to flick its black tongue twice. He held I up, wriggling, hissing and smelling strongly of acetylene, while the Wart examined it in horror.

“Don’t be afraid of it,” said Merlyn. “It is only a piece of olive lightning with an ochre V behind its shining black head. It can’t sting you and won’t bite you. It has never done harm to anybody, and can only flee and stink.”

End quote

“Hobbies” seem to be a kind of insect hunting falcon. In England, there are 2800 breeding pairs and they seem to be threatened a bit. Tiff and I spent a delightful day near Manchester visiting a massive bird center. It had buildings floating on a lake and it was a wonderful place for education, enlightenment and exercise.
The Goat Moth, was a Roman delicacy according to Pliny, and I will take his word for it. I learned a LOT about Moths this week and I am not sure the information will help me in much of my life. The Goat Moth is a big one with a big appetite.
Wart may have this moth for years, by the way. If it had been fed rotting fruit for a while, the change would take only months, but if the moth ate wood from trees, it takes years.
We are about to begin the history and dreams of the snake. I had no idea about these two stories until I went to a conference on British Studies. I presented a piece on Beowulf. That went well, but I was very excited to hear a talk on White and the Disney movie. The speaker had gone deep into the 1938/39 versions and I ran up to him after the talk to find out more.
My favorite book, it seems, needed a full rereading! I hope you enjoy these stories. From the 1958 version:

“Could you turn me into an ant?”
“A what?”

“An ANT! It would be a small spell for ants, wouldn’t it? It would go through the key-hole?”

“I don’t think we ought to.”


“They are dangerous.”
“You could watch with your insight, and turn me back again if it got too bad. Please turn me into something, or I shall go weak in the head.”
“The ants are not our Norman ones, dear boy. They come from the Afric shore. They are belligerent.”
“I don’t know what belligerent is.”
There was a long silence behind the door.

“Well,” said Merlyn eventually. “It is far too soon in your education. But you would have had to do it sometime. Let me see. Are there two nests in that contraption?”
“There are two pairs of plates.”

“Take a rush from the floor and lean it between the two nests, like a bridge. Have you done that?”

The place where he was seemed like a great field of boulders, with a flattened fortress at one end of it—between the glass plates. The fortress was entered by tunnels in the rock, and, over the entrance to each tunnel, there was a notice which said:
End quote
I may not be the biggest fan of the ant transformation, but I love that line.
Until next time.



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