The Wisdom of Dan John

Who is Dan John? Dan John is an all-american discus thrower and has competed at the highest levels of Olympic lifting, the Highland Games, and the Weight Pentathlon. In the past, he worked as a strength coach and track coach at Juan Diego High School in Utah. He is also a religious studies instructor, and has advanced degrees in both history and religious education. He has been published in Men’s Health and Outside Magazine. He may just be one of the strength and conditioning world’s most interesting men. I have learned an endless amount of thought provoking concepts from him. Even though he is someone that I have never met, I consider him one of my mentors. There are two things that I really enjoy about his teaching and coaching, 1) He has the ability to make things simple 2) He intertwines his lessons with humor. I wanted to share some of the words of wisdom I have learned from him.

“The secret to success is free will. Free will? Sure, call it what you want: self discipline, habits, free agency, or my personal favorite, no other damn choice.” -Dan John

Why are some people successful when it comes to sticking to an exercise plan, eating healthy, or anything else that takes discipline? A research study published in 1998 showed that exercising willpower may actually be a finite resource. One group in the study was allowed to eat radishes that were placed in the same room as a plate of cookies, the other group was allowed to eat the cookies, and all this happened a half hour before trying to solve a complex geometric puzzle. The cookie eating group persevered much longer on the puzzle than the radish eating (cookie resisting) group. However, in more recent research, it appears that if someone is told that there is no limit to their willpower, they can overcome willpower depletion. It appears that positive attitudes and beliefs can help strengthen willpower. The moral here, if you want to have the strength and discipline to reach your goals, maintain a positive attitude and limit temptations that may weaken your self control. Put more simply, watch a lot of comedies, listen to a lot of jokes, and throw out the cookies that are sitting in your cupboard tempting you!

“The rule of five. In a group of five workouts, I tend to have one great workout that makes me think in a few weeks I could be an Olympic champion, plus Mr. Olympia. Then, I have one workout that is so awful the mere fact that I continue to exist as a somewhat higher form of life is a miracle. Finally, the other three workouts are the punch-the-clock workouts: I go in, work out, and walk out. Most people experience this.” -Dan John

Now days, more than ever, people seem to think that every workout needs to take them to the edge of puking and leave them sore for days. As Dan mentions in his book, think of other areas of your life and most everyone experiences highs and lows. Think about work, relationships, and sleep for examples. We don’t expect all those things to get better, every single day. Why would we expect that with workouts? On days that you are feeling good, embrace it, and the days that you are feeling bad, embrace those to, because something good is probably about to happen around the corner. Some days you may just feel so-so, but keep at it, keep consistent, and the magical days will happen.

“The Warnings (The first four)

 1.Beware of anything that makes no sense.

2. Beware the real estate professor who doesn’t own real estate.

3. Beware of overkill.

4. Everything works for about two weeks. Nothing works after about six weeks.”

-Dan John

1) If someone tells you that they have a machine that reconstructs DNA and it’s the same machine that kept Lance Armstrong competing at his best in the Tour De France, shake your head in agreement, “uh huh”, and slowly step backwards out of the room, and then run! I actually had someone tell me this at the gym, and he said I should come over and he could hook me up to the machine. I decided that it was in my best interest not to take him up on his offer and end up locked in a dungeon somewhere. There was also the time that I stopped by an alternative health clinic with some brochures for my training business. After commenting on an interesting contraption that was in one of the back rooms, the next thing I know, I was being told to sit inside the room for a demonstration of the machine. Before entering the room, the person did a so called muscle test (testing my grip, which they couldn’t break, until I realized they were asking my body how long I should sit by the machine, so I let them break my grip to shorten the time I would have to spend inside the room). I proceeded into the room so I wouldn’t offend the alternative health care practitioner. It was supposed to clean my aura or something, but all it really did was make a lot of noise and display a lot of strange lights. I was happy when I left the room without my face melting off. Who knows, maybe it added years to my life, but in reality, it probably did nothing. If it doesn’t make sense, it probably doesn’t work. 2) Maybe this is rude of me, but if someone is in a specific line of work, I believe they should walk the walk. I have seen a few fitness professionals, even some who are leaders of a whole fitness movement, who look like they haven’t worked out in years. How can you trust someone as an expert if they are not out there, practicing what they teach and experimenting with new ways of doing things? Maybe it’s just me. I understand that some people may have physical limitations that may be beyond their control, but I think fitness professionals should have some elevated level of fitness. 3) This kind of ties in to the previous paragraph. People think they haven’t had a good workout unless they are constantly sore, and if 3 sets are good, maybe 20 sets will be better. This is a good prescription for overtraining. I come across this one often. Soreness is often associated with a new workout, one that your body hasn’t adapted to yet. Then it adapts and the soreness goes away, but it is not necessary or necessarily healthy to be sore all the time. 4) If you haven’t been doing it, every workout will work for awhile, and then it won’t. Small changes generally work best when you’re progressing towards a goal, but sometimes your program may need to be completely changed. There’s this guy at the gym that’s been doing pretty much the same workout now for the last decade, and lifts close to the same weight every time, the same reps and so on. He hasn’t changed much over that time period, and maybe that’s his goal, but I get bored, and my goals are ever changing (dynamic). If you want to make changes to your body, strength, etc. make changes to your program after a maximum of 6 weeks.

“My philosophy for strength training – and no surprise here – is based on three concepts:

  1. Movements, not muscle
  2. “If it is important, do it everyday. If it isn’t, don’t do it all.” – Dan Gable, Wrestling Olympic Gold Medalist
  3. Repetitions…Lots of repetitions”

-Dan John

Here is Dan John’s list of important workout movements.

  1. Horizontal Push (bench Press, Push-Up)
  2. Horizontal Pull (Rows and variations)
  3. Vertical Push (Overhead Press and variations)
  4. Vertical Pull (Pull-Ups, Pull-downs)
  5. Explosive Full Body (Swings/Snatches/Cleans/Jerks)
  6. Quad-Dominant Lower Body (Squats)
  7. Posterior Chain (Deadlift)
  8. Anterior Chain (Medicine Ball Slam)
  9. Rotational/Torque

If these movements are included in a program, it is a complete program. How often should you do them? Remember number two, “If it’s Important, do it everyday.” -Dan Gable. This brings me to more of Dan John’s words of wisdom, “The warm-up is the workout.” No matter what you are working on in your training session, you can include these movements in your warm-up. It helps you develop good form. He believes in different rep ranges that vary depending on your goals. For maximum effort, he believes you have about ten quality reps in you, and it’s up to you to decide how you want to get there. Three sets of three, five sets of two, and so on. Speed work, he believes in more total repetitions, but not more per set. An example is eight sets of five, and you can add more sets for more total reps. For Isometric method lifts, where you use a heavy weight that you hold in your sticking point, he recommends one rep, but it may take up to five to find the right weight. Notice that his list contained three key points. He has noted before that all the great coaches and teachers can narrow good advice down to about three key points. I usually try to shoot for three when I relay important information.

This is not Dan’s own wisdom, but something he relayed from his book, the One Minute Manager:

  • Look at your goals.
  • Look at your behavior.
  • Does your behavior match your goals?

It’s so simple. Hopefully you have set some goals, or at least one goal, look at your behavior, and ask, does it match up? If it doesn’t match your goals, then you change your goals or your behavior.

The quotes could continue on and on, seemingly forever. I recommend reading Dan John’s books and blogs for more words of wisdom, and probably more than a few laughs. I also recommend watching his DVD’s. Maybe this will be the start of a trend where I go into details about a few of my mentors and maybe it will give you a better understanding of where I am coming from when I think about strength and conditioning. Just make sure to watch out for Fake Dan John. ;)

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