Dan John: Wandering Weights, Issue # 255
Our Epic Journey Through All Things Heavy, Issue # 255
Once again, I find myself sitting in a Delta Sky Club. I get it, the choices I make to do what I do.
I’m going to be home for a few weeks. I have some big family events coming up including Practice Thanksgiving in two weekends. It’s one of my favorite events of the year and we get a chance to work out the mistakes that will come up on the actual day. I’m thinking two turkeys this year because this is a packed event.
Training is going well, too. Every week seems to open up a new level of “Wow…this feels good!”
This week I have TWO Pat Flynn podcasts for you. We had a technical glitch, as I understand it. Both are on this one page.
Also, Mimi and I have a wonderful discussion here: Dan John on why we should reread great books, plus more Sword in the Stone! ⋆ Sifu Mimi Chan.
This week on DanJohnWorkouts.com:
Here’s a link to Episode 4 of the podcast.
Thank you for all the questions. Keep them coming! Send them to [email protected].
New essays posted this week:
It’s Not What You Eat, It’s What You Ate
Training for the Crazy Life
Assessing and Addressing “Everyone Else”
Everyone has been enjoying the daily workouts posted on Facebook recently, but I want to remind everyone that there are free Park Bench workouts available every day on the website here.
If you enjoy those workouts, you can create your own customized workouts by creating an account within the site. You can tailor your workouts to your fitness level, desired schedule, and even what equipment you have access to. If you haven’t started the free trial, do.
Thank you, Brian. Trainers are starting to figure out the value of the site: load in the equipment, the time and the goals and I take care of the rest.
This is long, but I hope you find some value in this post on Easy Strength: The Mild, The Wild and No.
I’ve never been sure why I was able to handle the original 40 Day Workout without any issues. It was clear enough to me:
“For the next forty workouts, pick five lifts. Do them every workout. Never miss a rep, in fact, never even get close to struggling. Go as light as you need to go and don’t go over ten reps for any of the movements in a workout. It is going to seem easy. When the weights feel light, simply add more weight.”
Since beginning this over a decade and a half ago (as I write this), I am always stunned how people can simply screw it up. Sure, there were some lessons to be learned.
First, I had serious maximum lifts. So, doing a “light workout,” about 50% of maximum, still involved loads from 165 pounds in the Incline Bench to over 300 in the deadlift. My body, and this would be true for any “body,” was getting stimulus from these “light” loads.
I’m not sure if 50 pounds or 100 pounds would really gear the body up for accommodation. And, oddly, I’m not sure that these loads would NOT make the body adapt.
Next, I always chose lifts that were not my best movements. I could bench, at the time, 405 pounds in the bench press in a polo shirt and khaki pants after work. My incline bench was 300 when I started my first attempt at Easy Strength.
I had never really done thick bar deadlifts, but I had pulled 628 at 3:00 in the morning at a powerlifting meet. Doing a 265-pound deadlift, even with a thick bar, wasn’t exactly crushing me.
By choosing lifts that I knew, but hadn’t really mastered or maxed out, I would get a nice free learning curve. Strength, like flexibility, is neurological and Easy Strength is based, basically, on learning.
I often explain that ES is more like learning to type: you can’t force someone to go faster in typing until they know where the keys are and then lay down some synapses and systems to enable more speed and accuracy.
But don’t think it ends there: when the load begins to climb, the body realizes something is going on and we get that marvelous and magical hormonal cascade that increases muscle mass in all its mysterious ways. If anyone tells you that they know EXACTLY how this process works (at least as of this writing), you may have someone is practicing the gym rat’s version of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Here:
“Coined in 1999 by then-Cornell psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger, the eponymous Dunning-Kruger Effect is a cognitive bias whereby people who are incompetent at something are unable to recognize their own incompetence. And not only do they fail to recognize their incompetence, they’re also likely to feel confident that they actually are competent.”
Finally, I may simply be a genius. I like this answer best (my own Dunning-Kruger Effect). Or, on a different level of full of myself, perhaps I can simply follow a program.
As every trainer and coach knows, that is rare.
With the benefit of all these years of experience, there are certain movements that work well:
Swings (as a warmup)
Ab Wheel Roll
We have had many forum discussions about making squats work, but, basically, they don’t work well. Toss in some Goblet Squats in the warmup or whenever and maintain the positions for the 40 days of training. Horizontal presses, like benches, are fine, but the need for spotters has taught me that for most of the people doing this, overwhelmingly home trainees, it isn’t a good option. Horizontal pulls, basically rowing, seem to just beat up the back…so experience tells us “no.”
With load, the advice is simple: “When the weights feel light, simply add more weight”
This has caused me more headaches than anything.
“What do you mean by light?” You know: not heavy!
With my years in the weightroom, I have developed another sense when it comes to perceived exertion. My internal monitoring system seems to have a skill of saying quickly:
This is a stupid idea!!!!
For me, when 165 felt light, I went to 185. Oddly, that felt light quicker than 165. Progress is nearly impossible to plane.
Adding load brings us to fractals and the work of Benoit B. Mandelbrot (I include a full article below for reference). When it comes to adding load, I follow Mandelbrot’s three-part insight on variation:
Mild sounds like “mild:” if you want variation in the press simply go from bench to incline to decline. That’s mild. When it comes to load, you can perhaps decide to add ten pounds for upper body work and twenty for lower body work; the vanilla approach to training.
It has the same issues as linear periodization: if you bench 100 pounds and add ten pounds a week, next year at this time you will be benching in the low 600s.
And….good luck with that.
So, mild has its value: it’s excellent for exercise selection changes and gives a bit of a path. There is a real chance that the improvement curve is going to flatten out fast.
Wild changes in exercise could be fun. Tommy Kono, the outstanding O lifter and Mr. Universe, used to focus on an upcoming Olympic lifting meet for eight weeks. After the meet, on the following Monday, he would bodybuild with all the pumping and isolation. When an O lifting meet was within eight weeks, he flipped back to the press, snatch and clean and jerk.
Improving high school athletes is often a matter of having them go from wrestling to the hurdles to football. (By the way, that is brilliant advice.) Playing one sport year round doesn’t seem to teach the lessons of sport very well (see Epstein’s “Range” for details).
In terms of load, on the ES program, I like wild. At Utah State, when I first was a strength coach, we only had 45s and 25s. So, here were the loads:
145 (25s only)
(Certainly, you could play with the multiple 25s, but it was ugly.)
When working with a freshman lifter, we could do certain lifts rather easily up to a point. Then, a decision had to be made! Jumping up in the snatch from 135 to 185 was a big leap. Yet, we thrived.
Literally, it was wild!
This big leap idea works well with a full set of plates, too. Why take a 395-pound attempt for a new personal record in a lift…toss on the additional load and get 400!
I liked light reasonable lifts on ES and then the crazy jumps up.
It was wild!
The final option on variation is:
That’s right. If you ask if we should change exercises during the 40 days, the answer is:
Oddly, not changing LOAD is another option!!!
One of the least known, but most informative, strength writers of all time is John McKean. He reintroduced Heavy Hands to strength people (with his own amazing additions) and was the first person I know to recommend training with bands. This classic article (read the whole thing) sums his great insight on Constant Weight Lifting:
These days I train almost entirely with fixed poundages, and relatively light ones at that, utilizing Dick Hartzell’s Flex Bands along with the barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell to increase resistance near completion of a lift and to train acceleration. Even though it does not seem possible at this stage of life, my competitive all-round lifts are increasing steadily and faster than any time previously! And a note to some of you that may feel there are no “new oceans to explore” simply because you can flip around the heaviest solid kettlebell-stay with your favorite piece of equipment and you’ll always find new strength; if it worked for old Herman Goernor it’ll be good to you too!
Is it possible to improve just doing two sets of five with five basic lifts with the same load for 40 days? Yes, I think so. I haven’t tried it yet, but my experiences have taught me that we should never ignore the simple (but elegant).
There is a truth in ES: for forty days, you are choosing to “Do This!” In a world where opinion and fashion change faster than a chameleon, the ES approach is like fine wine or great music:
It seems to get better over time.
The Fractals Article
I just finished reading The Fractalist: Memoir of a Scientific Maverick. The autobiography, finished after the scientist and author’s death, is a rare insight into the mind of Benoit B. Mandelbrot. Obviously, the man was born with an extraordinary mind, but circumstances…and well-timed advice…allow him to dip his toes into the waters of many different disciplines.
Because he was able to talk and read and discuss materials from areas across the academic spectrum (dam building and telephone issues basically at once), he was able to see patterns emerge.
I base much of my coaching on his work and I don’t think I realized this. We have all been stealing Pareto’s Law (Paredo), or the 80/20 Rule since…well, whenever it became a cliché in the fitness business. The 80/20 rule has now morphed more into the worlds of minimalism and bio-hacking, but the basic truths are certainly evident in coaching.
Talking with Pat Flynn recently, we were, as we often do, discussing the particular issues with early specialization. David Epstein’s new book, Range, dismantles the notion of 10,000 hours of practice save in areas that have instant feedback like:
Parents who push their kids here can “win.” Sadly, of course, early specialization leads to mental and emotional burnout and lifelong issues with injuries (in some sports). Specialization is fine for fish, but humans seem to need to fit in any and all environments.
Pat is a fan of Generalism; the idea that learning something from, for example, the guitar might help you in your interests in another area. Certainly, we find that young athletes that play multiple sports transfer skills and tactics from this to that. One of my MLB guys told me that his youth spent doing gymnastics and BMX racing did far more for him long-term than his friends who spent all their time in the diamond.
Successful athletes often note that soccer made them better at basketball or whatever. As a coach, I always found that kids that wrestled then competed in track and field arrived to football practice with a set of skills we simply couldn’t teach.
Pareto’s Law leads down this popular path to minimalism. I bought, off of EBay, the first workout booklet I had ever seen written by baseball legend Ted Williams. In it, he basically recommends:
Put weights overhead
Pick weights off the floor
Focus on two sets of five.
I read this in 1965 and it remains true today. In 2002, I added:
Carry weights for time or distance
But Williams’ point is still valid. There are many minimalist training programs that are simply:
Deadlift (or KB Swing or KB Snatch)
I just saved you a lot of money in books!
Fractals are, sadly, now tougher for me to define. Mandelbrot said this:
“Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line.” Thankfully, I have always been helped by Jurassic Park defining this concept of fractal:
“And that’s how things are. A day is like a whole life. You start out doing one thing, but end up doing something else, plan to run an errand, but never get there. . . . And at the end of your life, your whole existence has the same haphazard quality, too. Your whole life has the same shape as a single day.” ~ Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park
This is how I use the concept: I use the athletic career as the model for planning the year, the week and the day. We want to end on a “high note,” so we finish practice with a bang. “Last throw, best throw!”
With normal people, general population, I try to have the difficult part of the workout (like Middle Age!) in the middle and finish on the ground at the beginning and the end easing up things (like a baby and, sadly, a corpse).
Mandelbrot also provides me with an insight about planning changes with athletes and everybody else:
Mild is the standard of “Little and Often over the Long Haul.” It’s how you save for retirement and how you learn to read and do math. It’s also a great way to stay in shape, diet and prepare for most things in life.
Changes in a training program, especially exercise selection, is usually best described as “Same, but different.” Change the angle, change the piece of equipment, or change body position (from standing to half-kneeling) is all we usually need to do. Add a little load and continue down this path.
It works. You will be fine.
Sometimes, however, there is a need for big changes, sweeping changes.
This is the time for “Wild!”
I think that most of the time I train people, the workouts should be basic and repeatable. Most of the time the diet should be fairly tame: protein, veggies, water and whatever else fills the plate. But, the body…and it seems all of nature…likes an occasional shakeup.
This is the time for those two to six-week programs and diets I call “Bus Bench:” we are EXPECTING a change.
It’s time to go wild.
Years ago, I did the Velocity Diet, six protein shakes a day…and that’s it. It completely changed my vision as an athlete. Oh, and “yes:” it was REALLY hard! Getting my throwers ready for track season, we do the three week “Big 21” and by week three their sleep is disrupted by the fear of the next session.
The key is “after:” after the workouts…after the diet. The athlete is rewired after these programs physically, emotionally, and mentally.
After the disasters, nature returns much faster than anyone thinks. After the “Wild” diets and training programs, the athlete (and normal person) rebound much quicker than they can imagine while dreaming about desserts and painless walking.
Reading Mandelbrot’s book changed my understanding about how I coach and compete. I understand much better about why some things work and worked and why other great ideas failed miserably.
“Mild” and “Wild” approaches both have value. Most of the time, stay mild.
And sometimes, not often: go wild.
End Easy Strength
As I type this, I am desperately in need of sleep. That’s not good as we see in this piece: You Have to Choose Between Sleep or Exercise. Make the Right Choice.
“Thirty minutes of exercise is more impactful health-wise than 30 minutes of extra sleep,” Kline says, “however, that’s only if you are getting the basal amount of your necessary sleep need, meaning at least 6.5 or 7 hours a night. So if you get, say, seven hours, so you’re at the lower end of the healthy range, then I’d definitely say exercise instead of moving to from seven to 7.5 hours of sleep.”
If your extra sleep comes in the form of a nap, there’s a caveat: Keep it short. “Research shows that power naps of 30 minutes or less can result in a significant increase in energy and alertness,” Kline says. “And because you’re not getting into the deepest stages of sleep, a short nap won’t impair the following night’s sleep like a longer nap will. The problem, though, is if you are sleep deprived, it’s difficult to stop that nap at 30 minutes. Longer naps and those placed later in the day, such as at 2 or 3 p.m., set forth a vicious cycle of sleeping terribly that night, then needing a nap the next day, then sleeping terribly again the next night.”
Zee agrees that the decision to snooze or exercise depends on your tiredness level. If you got a decent amount sleep the night before but have just hit a midday energy slump, then don’t nap, she says. Instead, take a 30-minute walk or do some other form of exercise, which will also help you sleep better and deeper that night.
Trust me, next week I will have an “eggs are bad for you” piece. But, for now, scramble away after you read this: The truth about eating eggs.
And when it comes to eggs, cholesterol may pose even less of a health risk. Cholesterol is more harmful when oxidised in our arteries, but oxidisation doesn’t happen to the cholesterol in eggs, says Blesso.
“When cholesterol is oxidised, it may be more inflammatory, and there are all kinds of antioxidants in eggs that protect it from being oxidised,” he says.
Also, some cholesterol may actually be good for us. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol travels to the liver, where it’s broken down and removed from the body. HDL is thought to have a protective effect against cardiovascular disease by preventing cholesterol from building up in the blood.
“People should be concerned about cholesterol that circulates in their blood, which is the one that leads to heart disease,” says Fernandez.
What matters is the ratio of HDL to LDL in our bodies, as elevated HDL counteracts the effects of LDL.
However, while most of us are able to buffer the cholesterol we consume with the cholesterol we synthesise in our livers, Blesso says around a third of us will experience an increase in blood cholesterol by 10% to 15% after consuming it.
Trials have found that lean and healthy people are more likely to see an increase in LDL after eating eggs. Those who are overweight, obese or diabetic will see a smaller increase in LDL and more HDL molecules, Blesso says. So, if you’re healthier to begin with, eggs potentially could have a more negative effect than if you’re overweight – but if you’re healthier, you’re also more likely to have good HDL levels, so an increase in LDL probably isn’t very harmful.
Greg is probably the best person I know for this kind of hypertrophy. I have many of his books and the log is very good. I think this article ties in well to Easy Strength.
For starters, low-volume training gives you the freedom to have abundant time on your hands to do whatever you want. Start that business, move up in your career, read books, pick up hobbies, watch more movies, spend time with your friends and family. Literally, whatever you want!
Low-volume training is the limitless pill of the gym.
Low-volume training is exactly what it sounds like — it’s reducing: the number of days you work out; the amount of time you work out; the number of sets and reps you do; and the selection of exercises you perform. It’s the opposite of what most fitness gurus have you believe.
With low-volume training, you’ll have higher quality workouts. No more wasted time in the gym. Instead, you utilize every second you’re there.
One of the best advantages of low-volume training is that you’ll be able to hold onto muscle with more sustainability. That’s because low-volume training requires lifting with heavier weight, which targets your myofibrils. This creates myofibrillar hypertrophy. This type of muscle growth is easy to maintain and hard to lose. If you take a few weeks off from the gym and then come back, you won’t notice much change in your physique.
We are in an interesting period of diet and fat loss discussions. This article adds to the dialogue.
Twelve years ago, Elizabeth immigrated to the Bay Area from Germany with her husband and three kids — and weight gain followed. By the time of the study, the number on the scale had climbed to 191 pounds.
The reasons Elizabeth gained weight in America are clear to her: Growing up in Germany, her family rarely ate in restaurants and cooked most of their food at home. She also relied on public transit and walked a lot every day. “It’s super easy to get your 10,000 steps in in Europe,” she said. “You don’t pay attention or have to make any effort.”
In car-dependent California, she’s had the opposite experience. “I have to take at least an hour walk [at lunch] to get close to 10,000 steps,” she said. Eating healthfully outside home feels a lot more challenging too: Many of the default options are highly processed, sugary foods, served in giant portions. “It’s just so insanely exhausting to just have a relatively baseline healthy lifestyle [here],” she said.
Elizabeth didn’t shift her diet much for the study, she says. She had already been cooking a lot at home and focusing on high-quality, fresh ingredients — though she did manage to eat fewer carbs throughout the year. Still, she found it difficult to fit in regular exercise. And the study emphasized food quality rather than cutting calories — something she feels may have also contributed to her weight gain.
“I was substituting the sweet foods with super-yummy low-carb foods. I would make eggs, tomatoes, avocados, which are healthy — but if you eat too much, you’re still going to gain.”
I just love this piece: The Real Secret of Youth Is Complexity.
So if you dream of retiring to a quiet beach or to the woods, like Thoreau, “to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life,” I invite you to embrace a new mantra: Complexity, complexity, complexity!
This all should keep you busy for a 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 108
“Tell it,” said the Wart.
“This Legend,” said the snake in its sing-song voice, after a preparatory cough, “comes from Burma, a place of which you have probably never heard.”
Once upon a time there was only one poisonous serpent in the world, and this was the python. As you know, he is no longer venomous, and the story of how he lost his venom is an interesting one. In those days he was perfectly white. He happened to make the acquaintance of the wife of a human being, whose name was Aunt Eu, and in course of a time they fell in love with each other. Aunt Eu left her husband and went off to live with the python, whose name was P. reticulatus. She was in some ways an old-fashioned kind of person, the kind which delights in making carpet-slippers for curates among the humans, and she soon set about weaving a most handsome and closely woven skin for her python. It was an ornamental affair, what with black lozenges and yellow dots, and here and there at regular intervals cubes and cross-stiches of amber, such as the humans use in rug-making or working samplers. P. reticulatus was pleased with it, and wear it always, so that now he is not white any more.
At this time the python was interested in making experiments with his unique venom. Since he was the only poisonous snake, he naturally contained within himself all the poison which is nowadays spread out among the snakes. So concentrated was this terrible poison, therefore, that he could a man, however far away he was, simply by biting any footprint which the man had happened to leave on the ground. P. reticulatus was naturally proud of this accomplishment, but he could never get ocular proof of it. He could not be there to see the man die, and at the same time three or four miles away to bite his footprint. Yet he wanted to establish the truth of the experiment.
One day he decided that he would have to rely on evidence. He persuaded a crow that was a friend of his to go off to a village of the Karens-this was the name of the men in this district-and to watch and see if the man did die while he was biting the footprint.
Now the Karens had a curious habit of celebrating a death or a funeral, not by tears and lamentations, but by laughing, singing, dancing, jumping and beating on drums. When the crow arrived to watch events from a tree, and after the man had died, the Karens began to perform their usual rites in front of the hut in which he lay stricken. So the crow, after looking on for some time, returned to the python, and reported that, so far from slaying by the venom of his bit, it had only the effect of causing extreme joy to the human beings and of transporting them into the seventh heaven. The python was so furious that he climbed up to the very top of a tree and sicked up every ounce of his useless poison.
Of course, the poison had to fall on something. Although the python had lost his power to sting, the tree itself became venomous-and its juice is used to this day to poison arrows-while several creatures which happened to be underneath it received a fair due. The Cobra, the Water Snake and the Frog were among them.
Now Aunt Eu naturally had a soft spot for her fellow mortals, and, when it was discovered that the poison was venomous after all, she upbraided P. reticulatus for spreading the power to slay among so many beings. P. reticulatus who was grateful for his woven coat, felt remorse for what he had done, and hurried off to see how he could improve matters. He explained the nature of poison to all the creatures which had received it, and asked them to promise that their use of it should not be tyrannical.
The Cobra agreed to the remarks of the python, and said, “If there be transgressions so as to dazzle my eyes, to make my tears fall seven times in one day, I will bite, but only then.” So said most of the kindlier creatures. But the Water Snake and the sill Frog said that they did not see what all this had to do with the python, and that they intended, for their part, to bite whenever they felt like it. The python immediately set upon them, chased them into the water, and there, of course, the poison was dissolved and washed away.
This is an interesting, but long story. Frankly, I never fully caught the meaning of what was happening here, so I probably need to dream about it when I hibernate.
Oddly, “reticulatus” doesn’t mean what I always assumed. I simply thought, wrongly, that the word had something to do with squeezing. Actually, it means “small net” and it relates to the pattern of the skin of the snake. Eu’s knitting gives us the name of the snake.
I need to stop assuming.
And, if your day needs to be ruined, look up the stories of python’s eating humans. You have been warned.
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