Dan John: Wandering Weights, Issue # 252

Wandering Weights
Our Epic Journey Through All Things Heavy, Issue # 252

I enjoyed my weekend in Portland. It was a well-attended event, a great location and a great host. That’s what I like. To quote Buddy the Elf: “…that’s my favorite.”

It’s nice to have the time to explain how I combine hypertrophy, strength, mobility and heart rate work in a typical training session. I think it needs to be taught in layers: There is a need for practical and practice as well as time for lecture, overview and review. In my head, it’s clear because, well, it’s the way I have morphed my workouts for the past 54 years. 

There is a lesson in there somewhere. When I talk to anyone who is an expert in any field (and I suggest you do this), it’s often fun to see their face illuminate when they realize that me (or the audience) got lost in some complex or intricate, nuanced thing that seems self-evident and simple in their eyes. Often, there is a foundational point that I (or the audience) hasn’t yet fully appreciated and that is the lifeline through the labyrinth. 

I like the basics, the fundamentals, the simple. It’s not because I am old or old school or stuck in my ways; the basics work. The best people in any field tend to master the basics. 

It’s also the reason I hate early specialization. Well, one of the many reasons I hate it, but each time you learn a new sport, game, movement or simply open yourself up to new possibilities, you start at the beginning again. Oddly, most physical activities tend to share some common traits. 

A game of tag probably is going to do more for athletic evasion skills than hours of cone drills. Tennis, baseball, badminton, ping pong, hurling, lacrosse and some other sports share some elements that would carry over to one practice to the other. (We are not now talking about elite training here, but, even then, there is some value to these other disciplines.) I dominated my first Highland Games because, well, “throwers throw.” I used to cringe when boys would only play football and spend the off-season doing curls and skull crushers. Trust me, wrestling and the high hurdles are much more valuable than hiding in the weightroom for a football player. 

Having the time to work with people really makes a difference. Having an audience with a heavy load of advanced academic degrees also helps a lot. It’s nice to have people at my workshops with “Doctor” in their name that still lift weights and train. At this workshop, we had a lot of these remarkable people.

This week’s podcast with Pat Flynn went well…as always. I enjoy the diversity of topics that the people ask about each week. Enjoy.

This week on DanJohnWorkouts.com:

It’s been a big content week. We launched Episode 1 of The Dan John Podcast! You can listen to it here or on your favorite podcast delivery platform. Apple is taking its time getting it posted, but it’s already on Stitcher and Google Play.

Feel free to send questions for upcoming podcasts to podcast@danjohnworkouts.com.

We’ve also been posting a lot more content on the Facebook and YouTube pages as well. Be sure to check them regularly for new content.

New essays posted this week:

Practice Thanksgiving
The Key To Coaching: Things That Win And Skills That Can Be Improved
Things That Are Needed And Skills That Can’t Be Improved

New downloads posted in the Member’s Area:

A Few Minutes to Fitness – Several essays on goals, how to attain them, and what they mean.

Thank you to everyone who has visited the site, left us feedback, and signed up. It’s inspiring us to keep making it better and keep producing new, valuable content for you.

– Brian

For those interested, I have an HKC next month in St. Louis plus a “Dan John” workshop the next day. 

For the one-day workshop, go to this link. 

I will also be teaming up with Ole and the gang at Strong4Life in Denmark in October. 

Easy Strength and Standards

This is simple, so you might miss it: if you are NOT up to standard on a lift/movement, taking 40 days of practice is going to make a huge difference. 

My pull up lagged behind for years on testing because I simply didn’t do them. In one of my attempts at the ES protocol, I added pullups. At first, every day was simply six singles. Soon, I was adding a little variation of 5 sets of doubles…then three sets of three. For my easy day, I just hung (not “hanged!”) from the bar for about 30 seconds. 

You know where this is heading. Not long after, I had to test my pullup with a 24-kilo kettlebell hooked on my foot.

It was shockingly easy. I “popped” my neck to the bar from the dead hang like I had jumped up to the bar. 

It’s nice to have standards in multiple areas of life and check in every so often to see if you are “up to standard” and, perhaps more important, not letting one area of testing get too far ahead of the others. 

We call this, by the way, a “flat tire.” You might have a great engine, sweet paint job and three perfect wheels, but what’s holding you back is that flop-flop-flop flat tire. No matter how big the engine, flat tires need to be addressed for performance. 

I think the key to quality coaching is maintaining all four tires!

End Easy Strength

Let’s look at the internet this week.

First, Rob continues to be one of the smartest people I read and know. This point is something Steve Ilg also preaches and, well, what most preachers should preach.


See something that’s broken or needs to be done? Fix it.

“Fixing It” is the single most liberating and centering tool I’ve ever experienced.

The scale does not matter. Garbage in the parking lot while you’re walking into the grocery store? Pick it up and throw it away.

See an issue in another’s area of responsibility at work? Fix it.

Most see something that needs to be done but do nothing because they feel it’s beneath them or “not my job.”

Positioning yourself above another or above the mission …. both involve internal conflict and a decision.

Right before you decide to not “fix it,” part of you knows that you should. This is the virtuous part of you, and you must consciously push this part of you aside to arrive at “Not my job.” This shove wounds you. It’s a self-inflicted wound.

“Fixing it” avoids this conflict, avoids this wound, and is incredibly liberating. As well, “Fixing it” is humility in action. Nothing kills self-righteousness like humility and centers you to what is important.

End quote

Along the same lines, I thought this single paragraph was brilliant and worthy of posting it on a wall.


How we spend our days,” Annie Dillard memorably wrote in her soul-stretching meditation on the life of presence, “is, of course, how we spend our lives.” And yet most of us spend our days in what Kierkegaard believed to be our greatest source of unhappiness — a refusal to recognize that “busy is a decision” and that presence is infinitely more rewarding than productivity. I frequently worry that being productive is the surest way to lull ourselves into a trance of passivity and busyness the greatest distraction from living, as we coast through our lives day after day, showing up for our obligations but being absent from our selves, mistaking the doing for the being.

End quote

Click and Clack. I loved this NPR radio show and this article is just outstanding. This part continues this theme I seem to be stuck on today.


The worst part of life is saying goodbye. Goodbye to people you love. Goodbye to people you have loved. Goodbye to your family. My own brother is still alive, but we haven’t spoken in years. We never said goodbye, but we might as well have. Most goodbyes are like that. Things rarely just stop. Things mostly drift.

Until the long goodbye comes. When that happens, you’re never ready. When that happens, it happens very, very quickly, and then, almost as quickly, the moment is gone. You adapt. It was just yesterday we were joking around, like we used to do, you think. Now, you’re gone.

Ray knows this. It was just yesterday that him and Tom were in the studio yukking it up. It was just yesterday when they opened their shop. It was just yesterday when Ray was a child and Tom was in college, taking Ray places. It was just yesterday when Tom was still alive.

End quote

After you click on this, it might be worth your time to look at Roger Ebert’s Great MoviesLost in Translation is a brilliant movie on this list that I rewatched on my Delta flight this weekend.


This 1940 movie is one of the great entertainments. It lifts up the heart. An early Technicolor movie, it employs colors gladly and with boldness, using costumes to introduce a rainbow. It has adventure, romance, song, a Miklos Rozsa score that one critic said is “a symphony accompanied by a movie.” It had several directors; as producer, Alexander Korda leaped from one horse to another in midstream. But it maintains a consistent spirit, and that spirit is one of headlong joy in storytelling.

The story is loosely borrowed from Douglas Fairbanks Sr.’s “The Thief of Bagdad” (1924), itself a great film. Fairbanks Jr. told me it was his father’s favorite. One major change is crucial: In the silent film, the thief and the romantic lead were one and the same, played by Fairbanks. In the 1940 film, they are made into two characters. The thief, Abu, is played by the Indian child star Sabu, then about 15. The king, Ahmad, is played by John Justin with a Fairbanksian mustache. This is an invaluable change, for both dramatic purposes and practical ones: The silent character needs no one to talk to. The 1940 characters become allies drawn from the top and bottom of society, making Sabu essentially the star of the film, although he doesn’t receive top billing. The most compelling character, as he should be, is the villain Jaffar, played by the German emigre Conrad Veidt with hypnotic eyes and a cruel laugh. The beautiful, passive heroine, a princess desired by both men, is played by June Duprez.

End quote

Gentle reader, Shane, sent this in. This is VERY good.


5. Don’t forget about your bones

You often don’t think about your bones until it’s too late. Out of sight, out if mind.

Bones are living tissues that remodel throughout your life. During childhood and teenage years, your body adds new bone faster than it removes old bone. However, after about age 20, you can lose bone faster than you make bone.

And if you don’t do anything about it, particularly once you get older, the bigger the chance something might break.

Let these facts from the CDC show you why healthy bones are essential:

    Twenty percent of all falls among people over 65 cause a serious injury, such as broken bones or a head injury.
    Three million older people are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries every year.

The best thing you can do for your bones is to resistance train. Because when muscles contracts against resistance, the muscle tendons pulls on the bones to kick-start the remodeling process. This is known as Wolff’s law.

Strong muscles mean strong bones and no matter your starting point or how old you are, resistance training will help. 

End quote

That’s 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 105
“Once, very long ago, when even T. natrix was young and hopeful, there were two families called Atlantosaurus immanis and Ceratosaurus nasicornis. Atlantosaurus was a hundred and fifteen feet long. He had not many brains, although I did hear once that he had something like an extra brain at the other end of him, to take care of his tail, and he lived by browsing on the trees. He was timid, ruminant and harmless, except to the tree-frogs which he munched by mistake among the boughs. He lived very long and thought all the time, so that, although he did not think very well, he had generally thought a good deal by the end of it. So far as I can remember, he had solved the problem of being a giant, without breaking on account of his own weighty height of twenty feet, by having his bones hollow. The birds do that too, you know, for other reasons. However, perhaps I am muddling him up with another the Dinosauria.

“Ceratosaurus nasicornis was quite small. He was only seventeen feet long. But he had teeth, great, crushing and tearing teeth, which fitted into each other so badly that he leaped always with his slaughterous mouth half open, in a grin of terror. He leaped like a kangaroo, a death-dealing kangaroo, and he generally leaped upon poor Atlantosaurus immanis. He had a horn upon his nose, like a rhinoceros, with which he could rip and opening in that big and trundling old body, and his clashing teeth could meet in the flesh as in ripe fruit and tear it out in mouthfuls by the actions of his muscular neck. What is more terrible, he leaped in packs.”

End quote

Certainly, the books and movies of Jurassic Park have made these images fairly real in most of our minds. I can see the first movie in my mind and the toe-tapping raptor in the kitchen is just about a perfect image of killing machine. 

White mentions the birds here. He is a few decades too early to know that, basically, the birds are the dinosaurs. 

I love this line:

“He lived very long and thought all the time, so that, although he did not think very well, he had generally thought a good deal by the end of it.”

I wrote this piece for the essays in danjohnworkouts.com:


In the 1940s, Raymond Catell came up with an amazing insight into how people think. Basically, he summarized intelligence into two kinds:

Fluid intelligence is the skill to reason, analyze, and solve unforeseen problems. Whether this is right or not, but some people would say this is the big engine of intelligence. Innovators seem to have this in abundance. I often use this quote from Warren Buffet to explain this:

“First come the innovators, who see opportunities that others don’t and champion new ideas that create genuine value. Then come the imitators, who copy what the innovators have done. Sometimes they improve on the original idea; often they tarnish it. Last come the idiots, whose avarice undermines the very innovations they are trying to exploit.”

Crystallized intelligence is the skill to use the accumulated knowledge of humankind. Some of us are libraries of knowledge (and wisdom) and easily know how to use these volumes. Crystallized intelligence tends to expand through life from both personal and community experiences. When we all lean in when grandpa talks, we are gathering crystallized intelligence. 

Fluid and crystallized intelligence are important resources for walking through life. Let me add one more thing: Warrior Thinking and King (Queen) Thinking.

While attaining my first master’s degree, I did a deep dive into Beowulf, the epic poem, under the guidance of two professors, Norm Jones and Robert Cole. I went through every line looking for patterns; finally, one leaped out to me.


When Warriors speak, they only speak in the pure present. The past doesn’t matter and there may not be a future. Athletes, young children, and artists tend to do this: for athletes and artists you are often judged simply on your last performance.

Kings and Queens tend to speak differently, they discuss the past and what brought us here to the present and ideally how what we do here will impact the future. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is the perfect example of this concept. Let’s combine these concepts into a quadrant and discuss them.

                                                Warrior Thinking    King Thinking
Fluid Intelligence    Reaction to something new    Good coaching
Crystallized Intelligence    Yoda and the Martial Arts    Mentoring

Fluid Intelligence and Warrior Thinking

We were joking the other day that no one ever got “butt-dialed” with a rotary phone. If you could go back in time, probably never a good idea, explaining to your great-grandparents about “butt dialing” would probably be something worthy of sharing on social media…I mean video…wait, I mean, 8mm film. Wait…cave paintings?

Parents today have concerns that might not have been faced by any other generation. If your teen daughter strikes up a friendship with “my new bestest friend online and I want to go to Europe to meet her” is something no one ever said ever until now. By the way, I wouldn’t let her go and I would alert the authorities. 

When faced with novel problems, we still need to find answers. I often complain about how certain people are masters at finding problems; I want people who solve them. 

In sports, things change radically now with the advent of GPS measurements, computers and video on the sidelines and massive databases with every possible output. Computer guys have radically changed professional baseball and basketball by showing the teams that conventional wisdom is often wrong in the face of facts. 

In American football, there is a certain madness in the modern offense that doesn’t huddle, doesn’t pause, and throws the ball everywhere and anywhere on every play. The coaching staff can’t take a timeout for every new trick formation nor can they prepare for literally everything. 

This is the time for athletes, playing in the “now,” the pure present, need to make rapid, fluid decisions and…and in the time it took for me to type this the play started and the athletes made the play. It’s that fast. 

Certainly, it helps to have principles. For example, Bear Bryant used to try to keep his defenders working like spokes on a bicycle; everyone is connected to a central hub. This can be taught by “rules” as simple as “One can hurt me, two can kill me” or “He goes/I stay” or whatever summarizes fifty pages of a playbook in one quick phrase. But something new always shows up. Something different. Something strange. Something that breaks the rules. 

Adapt. Decide. Go. 

That’s fluid intelligence and Warrior Thinking…adapt, decide, go.

Crystallized Intelligence and Warrior Thinking

In 1977, I sat in Gregor Winslow’s Audi Fox as we pulled up to the speaker at the drive-in theater. We pulled out the lawn chairs and got ready for a new film to begin: Star Wars.

Now, this is the original one and along with The Empire Strikes Back changed not only movie watching (along with Jaws, these became the summer blockbuster) but it changed the conversation for many people. Suddenly, people were talking a bit different:

“That is why you fail.” 

“Adventure. Excitement. A Jedi craves not these things.” 

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.” 

You might recognize the words of Master Yoda here. The Jedi Knights, as well as most Martial Arts traditions, have generations of traditions that help shape the vision of the modern practitioner. Much like religions, religion comes from the root “link back,” these traditions link back to their founder’s vision and keep the current generations true to these foundations.

This knowledge is brick and mortar: crystallized knowledge. But the actions must be in the now…no thinking, no judging, just action. Both Yoda and the Martial Arts masters would agree that we do. 

Or we do not. There is no try.

True mastery is so simple, so elegant that we might miss what we see. There is a wonderful story by Ryszard Kapuscinski about watching the discus throwing great, Edmund Piatowski, during a practice session. Ryszard sits down next to a local man in a sweater. The local tells him that he has heard that today Edmund might break the world record. Piatowski throws and throws. Finally, his coach announces to all gathered that, indeed, one traveled over the world record. The local laments that he expected to see something more…something perhaps exciting.

When the foundations are set firmly and the effort is effortless, the audience often misses the excellence. It’s too simple. It’s too smooth. But the performance is lovely. We expect more and the “more” comes from less.

But the audience wants excitement.

Excitement. A Jedi craves not these things.

Fluid Intelligence and King/Queen Thinking

Change is hard. Especially as you age. 

Yet, change also brings safety, health, wonder, and comfort. Clean drinking water, by itself, might be responsible for us being able to read this little point. Doctors fought against washing their hands before surgery…even after autopsies…for a long time. They didn’t want change. 

If you want to get into the Wisdom Business, that lucrative field where you give advice that no one takes but, later, wishes they did, you need to be able to embrace change….appropriately. 

Years ago, a young man named Dick Fosbury came up with a very different method of high jumping. He battled his coaches daily to allow him to jump his way. The track and field world found him to be more of a circus sideshow than an actual athlete. His gold medal at the Olympics changed a few minds, but most still fought back against his method.

Today, literally every high jumper in the world embraces his technique. In an event that strains the human body against the most basic of Newton’s laws and gravity, this technique has destroyed to old marks using other methods. 

My college coach, Ralph Maughan, was a master of fluid intelligence and Kingly vision. When one of his athletes came up to him on a Monday and told him that he had added twenty feet to his best discus throw by having a “wide leg,” Coach brought him out to the ring and had him demonstrate. 

In minutes, Coach Maughan rethought and refocused his coaching on this idea. In track and field, we constantly face the challenge of faster and farther. It’s been true since Ulysses won the discus throw in The Odyssey. Our “novel” problem, faster and farther, is a permanent challenge. 

Coach had the skill to see that what happened in the past was good, but THIS is better. And, years later, he taught me this refinement. 

Change is hard. Change is often better. 

Unless it is not. 

By keeping an eye on the lessons of the past, wisdom allows us to see how this new development may help us down the line. That’s thinking like a king or queen.

Crystalized Intelligence and King/Queen Thinking

Back in the 1980s, PBS offered us a show, The Power of Myth, with Bill Moyers interviewing Joseph Campbell. Moyers would ask a question and Campbell would sweep off into a dozen legends, myths and stories connecting the inner world with the self and the universe.

It became “Must See TV” before the invention of the phrase.

For most of human history, we had these wonderful people who could sit near the fire and tell the tales of what it means to be “us.” These storytellers reached deep into our collective history and extolled the virtues and values of our shared community and reminded us of “who we are.”

My mother’s most damaging condemnation of me happened after a football game where I picked up several personal foul penalties. She simply told me: “That’s not who we are.”

Telemachus’s teacher, Mentor, was so truthful and truth-seeking (with the help of the gods) that his name continues down to us as the wise elder who keeps us on the path. T. H. White’s Merlyn instructs young Arthur in the ways of the world through both experience and wise counsel. 

We need both: experience and wise counsel. We must be allowed to make mistakes and enjoy success. We need those brick and mortar experiences from breaking a limb climbing to working together in team to cement our adult life. Our stories soon mix with the storyteller’s adventures and we become what our community hoped for: a reasonable member able to help when needed and help when it is simply the right thing to do. 

Our legacies are the foundations of a future we probably will never see. Perhaps we shouldn’t see it; it’s up to the future storytellers to tell our stories without our meddling. I think the need for this deep wisdom of our collective wisdom is instinctive: It is part of what make us human and it is the glue that makes humanity.

End of the article

I think thinking is a good thing. 

DanWandering Weights is published each Wednesday by On Target Publications


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