Dan John: Wandering Weights, Issue # 63

Wandering Weights
Our Epic Journey Through All Things Heavy, Issue # 63

I enjoyed my time in Houston at the Deer Park Strength and Conditioning Clinic. I sat with an old friend, Steve Shafley, and it was nice to have someone to discuss things with on breaks. Sometimes I hear something at a workshop and I need to bounce it off of somebody who understands the width and length of things like Steve does.

I like conferences and workshops, but sometimes I hear things that sound good, but might not work in “my” world. One thing I learned years ago, from Denny Kelsch, was to keep a short list of key ideas from a workshop. This idea was this: after every presentation, write down one or two big ideas or insights. As the day or days go by, keep editing your “Do This” list so that when you get back home and the energy and enthusiasm of the workshop has waned, you can add these gems or insights into what you usually do.

This list also allows me to see connections between the speakers. I discovered that as I looked over the talk on center of mass and change of direction, the work seemed to tie right back to the discussion of ankle mobility from another talk. Generally, good coaching and teaching seems to focus on the same fundamentals no matter the goal, but the terms, the language, can be confusing. Oddly, for throwing, my best insights have come from a swim coach, an actuary, and a math wizard.

Let’s look around the web this week.

The first article reminded me of Nassim Taleb’s work. I’m a big fan of playing chess, but this article opens up the discussion of applying the real world lessons from having stuff thrown at you.

“But real life isn’t causal. There is always a distribution of possible events. Things happen that are one in a billion. There is no direct, predictable response to our actions. Our lives are open systems, where any number of unobservable events can change our outlooks and perspectives in moments. Even life’s biggest decisions are hardly calculable — that’s why lots of marriages end in divorce.

“Don’t try to guess what pieces are coming when you try to improve your situation. Like Tetris, you can simply put yourself in the best possible position without seeking to completely control the system you play in. By all means, control and challenge yourself — seriously, go for that Tetris — but don’t expect any favors just because you did.”

Oddly, this Tetris discussion tied into something I had heard about with Improv years ago. I am pretty sure the internet age is a study in improv and I enjoyed this whole small article.

“7. Follow the fear. It seems like the simplest thing in the world, but the scariest and most difficult at all once. You just have to gulp and jump right in.”

I can’t really describe this post. Just read it.


Vince McConnell really did a nice job of discussing training after 50, but this whole article is true for everybody. It doesn’t matter if you are an older athlete, someone just trying to keep on keeping on, or a school child, this article has a lot of truths.


  • There’s a difference in training age . . . and the number of candles on your upcoming birthday cake.
  • Training is a microcosm of life . . . there are greater consequences to doing stupid, ego-driven things at 50 than there are at 20.
  • Each training session has its own thumbprint . . . and is impacted by your past, and will influence your projected future.
  • You need to understand what’s in “the box” . . . before going outside of it.
  • Training principles are essential . . . and your straightest line of progress is to apply them.
  • Biofeedback and Kinesthetic Efficiency . . . are your greatest assets
  • Success in training is much like winning tennis . . . holding serve, you can win the match with a single break.
  • Intensity is critical . . . and workload is just as relevant.
  • Numbers are great servants . . . but horrible masters.
  • Preserving muscle tissue is the key to getting lean . . . not burning calories.
  • It’s about the process . . . rather than any single workout.
  • Mental clarity . . . is more important than just doing work.

If you know my work, you know my love of Monty Python. John Cleese continues to be an influence in comedy, obviously, but he also shares some insights on success in every field.

“Gordon the guided missile sets off in pursuit of its target. It immediately sends out signals to discover if it is on the right course to hit that target. Signals come back: ‘No, you are not on course. So change it. Up a bit and slightly to the left.’ And Gordon changes course as instructed and then, rational little fellow that he is, sends out another signal. ‘Am I on course now?’ Back comes the answer, ‘No, but if you adjust your present course a bit further up and a bit further to the left, you will be.’ He adjusts his course again and sends out another request for information. Back comes the answer, ‘No, Gordon, you’ve still got it wrong. Now you must come down a bit and a foot to the right.’ And the guided missile goes on and on making mistakes, and on and on listening to feedback and on and on correcting its behavior until it blows up the nasty enemy thing. And we applaud the missile for its skill. If, however some critic says, ‘Well, it certainly made a lot of mistakes on the way’, we reply, ‘Yes, but that didn’t matter, did it? It got there in the end.’ All its mistakes were little ones, in the sense that they could be immediately corrected. And as a results of making many hundreds of mistakes, eventually the missile succeeded in avoiding the one mistake which really would have mattered: missing the target.”

The rocket analogy is popular in sports, too. Cleese’s discussion reminded me of this classic Barry Ross article.


Here is the basic plan, based on strength training sessions on 3 consecutive days:

1. Dynamic stretch before each session, static stretch after each session

2. Deadlift every session, 2-3 sets of 2-3 reps @ 85-95% 1RM, TIMED

  • Plyometrics at the end of each set, within 1 minute of set completion
  • Usually depth jumps from varying heights but occasionally used stand triple jump or long jump, generally 6 jumps or less. The focus is on delivering maximum strength in minimum time.

3. One of the following at each session, 2-3 sets of 2-3 reps, TIMED

  • Push Press
  • Bench Press
  • Push-ups or Box Push-ups

4. One of the following at each session, 2-3 sets of 2-3 reps, TIMED

  • Power Clean
  • Clean and Jerk (this would replace #3 above for the session)

5. Abdominal exercises each session, 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps.

  • Always isometric and always timed

6. No Lifts To Failure!!

The opposite of sprint training, which I label a QIV activity, would be the training of nearly everyone else. This article by Danny Clark brings in a lot of threads from strength training to educational theory, and he makes some interesting insights about training in the natural movements and environment. I first heard this concept fromFrank Forencich, an underappreciated genius.

“The driving force of perceptual motor development (PMD) is motor learning in response to environmental demands, which is a step beyond learning new movement patterns in isolation. For example, balancing on a new surface requires far more sensory integration and adaptive movement, and thus perceptual motor skill, than deadlifting a heavier load. Complex, highly practical, functional movement drills, such as crawling, become perceptual motor drills when unfamiliar obstacles or other environmental complexities are gradually introduced. Any external challenges that demand complex, adaptive movement patterns stimulate the brain to refine and build its neural pathways, increasing its ability to adapt via this neuroplasticity.”

Until next time, keep lifting and learning…and crawling around the park.



Publisher’s note: Last week on OTPbooks.com, Robert Yang covered nutrition for active aging athletes.

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