Physical training has a lot of carry over to other domains of your life. It can help you become a better husband and father, a more productive worker, and a more disciplined student. My guest today is a living manifestation of the multiplier effect that physical training produces. His name is Dan John. He holds several records in discus and the highland games, and coaches and consults top athletes in the throwing sports and Olympic lifting. Dan also holds master’s degrees in history and religious studies and was a Fulbright Scholar in religious education. He teaches religious studies for Columbia College of Missouri.
Today on the show, Dan and I discuss how physical training can make you a better man in all domains of your life. We begin our discussion on how his training has made him a better scholar and how his scholarship has improved his training. Dan then explains what “shark habits” are, how they contribute to your long-term goals, and how to develop your own shark habits.
We end our conversation getting into the specifics of strength training. Dan shares the top 3 mistakes he sees people make with their training, why you need to start carrying heavy instead of just lifting heavy, and why you need to put a premium on recovery.
This episode combines both brains and brawn for a compelling conversation on being a well-rounded man.
- How injuries actually allowed Dan greater longevity in his sport
- How Dan got into strength coaching
- The secret to longevity
- Why “fitness” encompasses the whole man
- What makes someone coachable?
- Why a coach-athlete relationship is like a soup
- Long-term thinking in both lifting and life
- Why you should welcome bad workouts
- How Dan’s intellectual scholarship and training have worked together
- The 4 different types of habits
- Why you should “shark habit” — that is, automate — as many things as you can
- How Dan starts his day to get on the right track
- The importance of de-cluttering
- How long Dan has been keeping a weightlifting journal, and how it’s motivated him over time
- What are the 3 mistakes athletes make in their training?
- Why sport specialization is a problem for kids
- Basic human movements and skills every man should practice
- The importance of recovery — and rituals you should create around your recovery
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- Know Your Lifts series
- Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder by Arnold Schwarzenegger
- Podcast: Building Your Band of Brothers
- Podcast: How to Cure Sad Clown Syndrome
- Spring Chicken by Bill Gifford
- Everything You Know About Cholesterol is Wrong
- Stone Soup
- Embracing the Grind in Barbell Training
- Hacking the Habit Loop
- The Power of Checklists
- 22 Ways to Get a Better Night’s Sleep
- Getting Ripped vs. Getting Strong
- Podcast: The Sports Gene with David Epstein
- 10 Physical Skills Every Man Should Master
- How to Master Your Recovery
- A Beginner’s Guide to Foam Rolling
- Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman
Connect With Dan
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
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Recorded with ClearCast.io.
Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. Physical training has a lot of carryover to other domains of your life that’s why we push a lot on the Art of Manliness. Come become a better husband and father, a more productive worker, and a more disciplined student. My guest today is a living manifestation of multiplier effect that physical training produces. His name is Dan John. He hold silver records in the discus and highland games and coaches and consults top athletes in the throwing sports in the Olympic lifting team.
Dan also hold Master’s Degrees in History and Religious Studies and was a full rights scholar in religious education. He teaches religious studies for Columbia College of Missouri’s online schooling. Today on the show, Dan and I discuss how physical training can make you a better man in all domains of your life. We begin our discussion on how training has made him a better scholar and how his scholarship has improved his training. Dan then explains what shark habits are, how they contribute to your long term goals and how to develop your own shark habits. We end our conversation giving the specifics of strength training. Dan shares the top three mistakes he sees people make with their training, why you need to start carrying heavy instead of just lifting heavy, and then why you need to put a premium on recovery.
This episode combines those brains and braun for a compelling conversation on being a well-rounded man. After the show is over, check out our show notes at aom.is/danjohn where you can find links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic.
Dan John, welcome to the show.
Dan John: Hey, thanks so much. I really appreciate you asking me to be here.
Brett McKay: I’ve been a big fan of your work, been following you on the interwebs for a while now with your writing about strength and conditioning on testosteronation and other places. We’ll talk about your background. In the introduction, we got that taken care of. One of the things I thought was interesting I read in some of your books and in your writings that you were a competitive thrower, discus, all that stuff. What I thought was interesting you competed into your 40s, which I think is impressive. Is that normal for throwing sports? If not, what do you attribute your longevity to?
Dan John: Throwers tend to have a lot of longevity. That’s true. Having said that, I locked out in a way. I’m going to tell you it was two things. First, I had a very active academic life. When I have to … I get a Master’s Degree, I go to the Middle East as a Full Bright Scholar, I would teach full time. I couldn’t train like the other guys. I couldn’t take six, eight hour blocks of time out everyday. That’s part one.
Part two is I have some injuries and some surgeries that literally took a year or plus to recover from. My left wrist for example, actually my left elbow took awhile to recover from. I’m looking around my body doing the surgery, which is always a lot of fun. I got great ankles though, I got to tell you that. My ankles are fine. One of the nice things about surgery and one of the nice things about these academic timeouts is when I got back in the training, I realized it’s Pareto’s principle, it’s the 80-20 rule. I know it’s a cliché in 2017 but doesn’t mean it’s not true.
What I’m beginning to pick up on, you can workout for six hours but then look at what you’re doing for six hours. Your phone roll for an hour, you talk to your buddy for 20 minutes, you mozy over, you take one throw, you walk out. If you only have an hour, you can’t do all that. What it allowed me to do was it also allowed me to have my eyes a little bit wider.
I have a different paradigm than people I competed against. To be a good strength coach for a thrower, a football coach, it comes down to this. The power lifts and the Olympic lifts. Okay good. Everyone does the power lifts and the Olympic lifts. Okay good. What if something really good is happening over there but your vision is so tunneled you miss it? Because of my other experiences, because of the injuries, the risk injury the doctor told me I would never Olympic lift again, I would never lift again with that left wrist. That’s interesting because last Saturday I broke some state records in our weightlifting meet. He might have been a little … he was right for most people was wrong for me.
When I got injured, I would have to look around and see how can I get around that. I think my entire career has been based on, not necessarily throwing out which works but working with what works and then combine it with something that might be just as good without such a high, high cost. Then, it was just remarkable in the early thousands, it was strange. About 2001, that’s 2002, 2003, and 2004, were the best years of my throwing career, I was 47 years old. I was throwing marks. I was beating up very good college throwers and their coaches would yell at them, “He’s old enough to be your dad”. But why? Because I was instead of just squatting, set of three, rest five minutes, set of three, I was pulling sleds, I was doing wheel barrow carries, I was putting on heavy backpacks and carrying rocks and trying new and different ways to build up a system to throw farther.
Because of that, because of a little bit more general training, it allowed to have a little bit more snap. I didn’t burn up so much nervous energy so I could snap the discus just a little farther than it was a year or so before.
Brett McKay: That’s awesome. We’ll talk about some of your “unconventional” training methods here in a bit.
Dan John: It’s funny, 2017 everyone’s going to go, “yeah, we all know that”, yet you’re welcome, you’re welcome.
Brett McKay: My Globo Gym has a wheelbarrow that we push around.
Dan John: There you go, yeah.
Brett McKay: Okay. Let’s talk about your career as a coach, how long have you been coaching? Is this something you picked up as you got older in life and you though, “Okay, my career as a thrower is going to start winding down, I’m going to start coaching”, have you been coaching even during the prime of your throwing career?
Dan John: It doesn’t seem that long ago to me, but 1979 when I graduated in college, Coach had noticed that his track and field athletes were starting to train like bodybuilders in the gym, curls, reverse curls, tricep extensions, and it really bothered him because he believes in the cleans and the squats, a little bit different than we do things now. He believe in sled poles and stuff.
About 1975, because of the Arnold the educational bodybuilder, the world view of weightlifting became hypertrophy – bodybuilding. Coach asked me to run his track and field programs strength. I taught everybody, the Olympic lifts, what a squat should look like, and when we were done with that I would say do whatever you need but if you snatch and clean and jerk and front squat, you’re not that interested in doing what’s more to be honest with you.
I might have been one of the first strength coaches for collegiate track and field. Having said that, I’ve always had my hand in helping people. My neighbors, I want back years ago and they said, she called me the pied piper because I was always helping the young kids with stuff. I guess it’s my blood a little bit. One thing when people ask me, “I want to be a strength coach when I grow up”, and I always tell them, “You can do try my path, get a Master’s Degree, teach high school history and economics and keep the weight room open for an hour every day after school, and teach whoever walks in the door because if you only coach football, you only understand the needs of a football player, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If all you do is coach track athletes, your answer can’t be snatch, and clean and jerk and you’re perfect.
If you coach a swimmer, a diver, a wrestler, your toolkit has to expand. You coach the 39-year old English teacher who wants to lose a few pounds, your toolkit, your quiver has to expand. Today, I still coach … mostly I … a lot of the coaching I do now outside of workshops is consulting. Every day at my house at 9:30, people from all over the world come to workout with me for free. Today, we had, I would say, a difficult workout. You just show up and if you’re working on kettle bell cert, well today, everyone’s going to be in kettle bell training. You come in and another person comes in next week, wants to be an Olympic lifter, today, we’re all going to help you. Olympic lift, we call this intentional community. The idea that all of us together is better than any one of us.
There are times when people come in and say, “I’m just broken, just help me”, and so we’ll do a lot more mobility, original strength that day. I love it. I love what I do. I really like to coach people.
Brett McKay: Yeah, I love that idea. We talked about in the Art of Manliness before there’s a lot of men who are lonely, they don’t have friends, and I think it’s so important in your life. They’re like, “Well, how do I get friends?” One of the things I do is get a squat rack, get some weights in your garage and you instantly have something to do with a bunch of guys that it’s making you strong, getting you stronger in the process but during the rest sets you’re talking. What’s amazing is guys like they want to do that.
Do you invite a guy over to watch a game, those guys are like, “Okay, that’s boring, I don’t want to watch that”, but you say, “Hey, you want to come over to my place and dead lift?” You get three or four guys over there and it’s fantastic.
Dan John: I don’t know if you know the book “Spring Chicken”, but I think it’s brilliant. It comes down that longevity is based on a few interesting things. About a hundred minutes a week of exercise, I do that some days. Some fasting in your life, this is for longevity now, but the next two I want you to listen to. More coffee, more red wine. The funny thing is they keep trying to break what’s the magic ingredient of coffee, what’s the magic ingredient of red wine?
I tell people this, it’s not the coffee, it’s not the wine, it’s the fact that you’re sitting with someone very often, “Let’s go get a cup of coffee. Hey, come one, I’m going to get a cup of coffee. Hey, let’s go out.” It’s the connections you make when you’re with other people, I think that’s the key to longevity. I had a good visit with my doctor the other day, things are great. My LDL levels are wonderful it makes me very happy. My HDL was high, all of those good things. I talked to him about … I don’t mind the fact that statistically I’ll probably not be around a ton of time more because the tapestry of my wife, you don’t see me but I’m interlocking my fingers.
The word fitness comes from the old Nordic word, “to knit”. I see a fit person as a knitted person. I look at life as … I remember to look at life, I got this from my buddy, Joe Hormier, as a tapestry. All these different color of threads woven together to something beautiful comes from it. I keep trying to let my young interns, my assistants, my friends, my other coaching colleagues is I always ask them how knitted are you? What’s your tapestry like? If all you are is a 6-pack abs, if you’re divorced or your kids hate you, the dog growls at you, in my definition of fit, you’re not very fit, if this makes sense.
Brett McKay: No, it makes perfect sense. I really love that idea. Let’s talk about this. You’ve coached lots of people, high school athletes, you said the English teacher wants to lose 25 pounds, high performance Olympic lifters and throwers, based on your experience of coaching these different types of people, what do you think makes an ideal client? What makes someone coachable?
Dan John: How do I say it? They do it. They take a lesson and apply it. It’s the application that’s the key. I can tell you, I can literally take every person in your audience and we can all go out the field and I could teach them, “stretch, one, two, three”, the basic four steps of being a discus thrower. At the end of … if you had me for a week, a couple of hour session every day, I can teach every single one of you to throw the discus. Then I say, “Let’s all come back in a year and see how we did.” There is going to be a few who come back and they’re mistaking the science and say, “I like what you said here. Here’s what I did.” Then, “I noticed this, I looked on that”, that to me makes a great athlete. The person who takes the foundation, the fundamentals, the basics, great coaching, great coach-athlete relationships, it’s very much like making soup.
I know that sounds crazy to you but if you put that hand boat in there and you give it enough time and you take that bag of split peas and you put it in there, and you give it time, you’re going to end up with split peas soup. I just told you that recipe but this lady raises a hand and says, “I added bay leaves and it was even better.” This other guys over there says this, “There’s this great parable called Stone Soup. If you don’t know what, cut and paste that and put it into this somehow.” Let me tell you or just trust me on that.
Brett McKay: Just trust you on that, yeah. I think people are familiar with it, the basic thing.
Dan John: Yeah, but to me, the story of Stone Soup is the story of coaching, of great coaching. By yourself, all you’ve got is, all I have as a coach is a pot. I’ve got this pot. This is a weird way of explaining coaching but it’s not bad. I’ve got this pot, you need to bring in the water, Bob over there brings the split peas, Edna brings the hand bone, and pretty soon we got this magnificent athlete but you got to add to it yourself. It’s how you apply the lessons.
I got this really nice feedback from this group of military guys I work with. To a person were amazed at how much I did not tell them “do this”. What i told them to do was I told them, “Here, take this and make it better.” I think that’s the key to what you called coachability.
Brett McKay: Right. Listen but also take ownership and try to improve off of it.
Dan John: Isn’t that true about everything?
Brett McKay: Right.
Dan John: Let’s talk about finances. You have some great stuff at the Art of Manliness on … you had one about, in your 20s, your 30s, your 40s, but you give back to it, “Okay, let’s be honest, if you’re 19 years old and you put a thousand dollars into some thing like an IRA, and never look at it again, when you’re 60, 65”, I’m 60 I will just, “When you’re 60, you look at this nice little letter in the mail that tells you you’re doing pretty good for your retirement.
Little and often over the long haul, it’s true in every aspect of life. In love, in finances, nutrition, and yet it’s so simple that people just want to … that’s when people always like to listen to me when they’re young is because my answer is so simple but they’re not. You take this idea, this foundation, and you do it and you do it, and then one day you’re marvelous at it. People said … A couple of months ago I was in the Atlanta airport Sky Club. A guy turned around, funny, where the soup was and the guy looked down and I go, “You’re Gary Player, the great golfer.” He goes, “And you lift weights”, which I thought was fun.
We talked for a few minutes, the story about Gary Player having a bad day one time. He got really frustrated and someone from the crowd yelled, “I’d give anything for one of your bad days.” Supposedly, as we say now, he went off and said, “No you wouldn’t. You wouldn’t swing club till your hands bled. You wouldn’t do this, you wouldn’t do that, you wouldn’t do this.” I’ve always taken a lot from that story because every person in your audience knows what it takes to be a great golfer, a great pool player, a great swimmer, but it’s that ability to take it on yourself and dive in the pool each and every day and get those reps in.
Brett McKay: Speaking of that idea of young people downplaying the long term … there is a great line in the recent book, “Now What?”, where you talk about how a lot of athletes, they overemphasize what they can do in a day or in a week and really de-emphasize what can be accomplished in a year. I know some of my own training where it’s just like, you have a bad day, it doesn’t go as planned, you don’t get all the lifts, and then you’re like you think it’s the end of the world but then you look back and just like, “Well, I’ve added 50 pounds to my dead lift in a year. That’s an accomplishment.”
Dan John: You’re very right. I was just down in Las Vegas doing a workshop for Nick Rames and Fit Ranks. I was telling a story about how I had this bad day at this track meet down at UNLV a long time ago. I look back now on the numbers that I threw that day and I think, “Those were pretty spectacular numbers for a bad day.” Of course, you have to be 60 to look back in your 20, 21 year old self and understand that you’re very right. I argued that about a fifth of your workouts are bad. That’s one of my little principles. I tell people just put your arms around a bad workout, in fact, welcome them. That means you’re going to have a better one tomorrow statistically.
Brett McKay: Yeah. My coach, Matt Reynolds, he calls those like bad workout. Those are your hard hat and cover-alls day. You just get in, you do the work, you clock in, you check out, you do it because you’re going to wait for the next time.
Dan John: I call those punch the clock workout, yeah.
Brett McKay: That’s awesome.
Dan John: Okay, that’s funny. Same concept, yeah.
Brett McKay: I thought that’s interesting about you. Maybe we can tie this into your training as well. You mentioned earlier you were a Full Bright scholar, you went to the Middle East. I think it’s religion is what you were studying, correct?
Dan John: I studied Religious Education Systems, yeah.
Brett McKay: Okay. I’m curious about this because that’s makes you a Renaissance man. This guy throws heavy things, lifts heavy things but also you’re studying religious education systems. I’m curious, how has your scholarship influenced your training and coaching? Here’s the other one, how has your training and coaching made you a better scholar?
Dan John: Nice you put that together. Okay. Let me just give you a real quick fit. In religious education like all good education, basically comes down to few simple principles. First, you got to tell a story, you got to go and tell a story. In fact, the word gospel basically means good news. You got to find out the news. Generally, they follow it up with a picture, show a picture. Of course, in this day and age, you can probably show a video but that’s not always been the case.
You’ll notice that most churches are covered with pictures. That supplement, the story, and then the third thing at some level they ask you to memorize something whether it’s the pledge of allegiance or the Lord’s prayer or the Five Pillars, something … the idea is that you’re joining the club by understanding these basic, simple things that we do.
Funny thing is, I just told you how most of us coach sports too. I’m very proud to be a Utah State University discus thrower. Since the 1930s, Utah States has been a leader in the discus throw. In the late 1950s, one of the young men trying to beat his own brother, let his leg dangle out and it rained a little bit more, and everyone said it was unsound but every single thrower at the Olympics last time uses a variation of the Utah State University technique. I can tell you that our history and I’m very proud of that story.
To understand what that leg looks like, we have to … I could show you a picture of the wide leg technique. Then of course I can tell you stretch one, two, three and have you memorize that. Actually my religious education background really helped me as a coach because it keeps me grounded that you’re going to pick up … Next year, I have a whole new sophomore football and I’ll have to start off and I have to explain to them how we lost a football game one time because of this very simple rule, you have to have at least seven men on the line of scrimmage and only the ends are eligible. ‘one young man step back so we only had six, five yard penalty, we didn’t get what we needed to get and we lost the game.
I start with that story because what I’m trying to point out is what you’re learning here on August 12 is going to be impacted in November 2nd or 3rd or whatever. If I still do that, when I coach someone, I try to tell a little bit of story about why this particular thing even though it might not seem very important today down the line might be the key. When you come to perform at the sports at my end I have stories about showing up to track meets not my fault. I was sitting on a van one time and I hear, “Last call, men’s discus”. My coach had the wrong schedule. I hear that and coach goes, “Why don’t you go down and check it out.” Thankfully, I brought my gym bag with me. I ran down, the head officials said, “we were wondering where you were.” Then I went, “What?” I look around and everybody else is there. My first warm-up was my first throw. My second throw was my lifetime best.
I changed my uniform because I had a very nice family hold up a blanket while I put my uniform on for my street clothes. When I say warmups can be important but you might not always need them, I tell the story to explain when they call your name, you stop, that’s what performance is. When they call your name, you step in the ring, you step in front of the mic, you step on the stage and you perform. I don’t want to hear about your excuses. That’s how those two things work. Does that make sense?
Brett McKay: Yeah, that makes sense. How’s your being a discus thrower and a competitive lifter? How’s that helped you with your scholarship for your intellectual pursuits?
Dan John: First thing I would say is I know what it feels to be in pain. I know what it feels to have a hard time sleeping. Yet, at 8:00 when the kids walk in the door, you teach. My job is to … the discipline of sports, I think, made me a very good academic. The Olympic trials are going to be on July 16 at 9:00. Remember that, July 16, 9:00. The final grades are due Friday at 3:00. To me, I was never late ever in my entire career on grades, attendance anything like that because I understood the discipline of the deadline and how if I screwed up on the deadline, it hurts somebody else down stream.
Brett McKay: I love that. It’s fantastic. What I love about your writing you do get really specific with your programming and your training like that but I also love about, I think I get the most value out of is your insights about discipline, about habits, and then this latest book, “Now What?”, you talk about … there’s different types of habits, four different kinds. What are those? Would you want to use it, one of those different type of habits at different times of your life or in different situations?
Dan John: Are we talking about the quadrants here? Yeah, you bet. Let’s go through that. Do you mind? It’ll take a few minutes, okay?
Brett McKay: Yeah, let’s do it.
Dan John: The concept of shark habits comes from Rob Wolf. We’re at a workshop for the Navy. He mentioned this and I thought that’s the word I’ve been trying to use. A shark habit is like a light switch, off, on. He only give the most basic example. You’ll notice that when you email me, I email you right back? Because if I open an email, I answer the email. There is no … if I haven’t been online in 12 hours, and I open them up, I might have a hundred emails. I will answer every single one of them because if I open my email, I answer my email. You’re supposed to floss your teeth every day, right? You know that. I keep floss sticks in that little cubby that’s on the left side of the car. A steering wheel is here, there’s that little cubby down there.
I floss my teeth when I do errands. That’s a shark habit. I buy four, five, six bags of dental floss sticks so I have them scatter all over the place so I floss my teeth without even thinking about it, shark habits. If we get a letter in the mail that’s for a wedding, and the bride asks for an RSVP, I call up Tiffany instantly and I say, can we make it? Then I say yes or no, we pick whether we want Filet Mignon or Tuna Fish. Then I go online to where they’re registered and I buy the present. Then I x out that box on my calendar and I don’t … what shark habits do, and you might miss this, is it frees up brain space.
I’m right now talking about my schedule with somebody for the upcoming year. I will give this person yes and nos on every single event and be done with it, put it into my calendar. I’ve already got two workshop done by the way because that’s the way my brain works. The idea of a shark habit is that one bite and it’s done, one bite and it’s done. People make fun of me because literally I own 16 of the exact same black polo shirt. Why 16? Because that’s all they had in North America when I bought it. I bought all 16 black polos in my size in North America. I have four pairs of the exact same jeans. In the book it says I have four pairs of exact same shoes, now it’s up to six because the company who made them is discontinuing that brand.
I don’t think a lot about what I’m going to wear. I don’t think about when I should floss. I don’t think a lot about … here’s another one. I have a shopping list, I have a weekly menu, and I shop after brunch on Sunday. I shop to the menu and I … meals are made mentally on Sunday. Here’s another one. I do white laundry on Monday, dark laundry on Tuesday, Wednesdays I clean the bathrooms. If I walk past the white laundry basket on Friday, I don’t even notice it in my head because Monday is white laundry day. Those are shark habits. The more you can shark habit life, the easier performance and important stuff is.
As we slide up, we then slide into what we call pirate maps. This comes from Pat Flynn. Pat’s idea is this, is that, Josh and I wrote a book and I think it’s really good, “Fat Loss Happens on Monday”. That’s a nice book but most people would just really want, just tell me what to do.
Pirate maps are tell me what to dos. This is how I prepared for the state record breakers meet. Pirate map … just for more clarity, a pirate map says go to St. John’s island, find the white coconut tree, take six paces to the west, dig down six feet, and there’s the treasure. Pretty simple.
One, make coffee at night. Every night and after dinner, I make coffee for the following morning. Basically I wake up when I smell the coffee, literally when I smell the coffee every day. It then says honor the sleep ritual. My sleep ritual is this, I either sauna or hot tub every night and then take a cold shower and that literally knocks me out as good as six bottles of scotch I got to tell you. Before a hot tub, I take my supplements. It’s one, make coffee, two, take supplements. Hot tub, ice shower. Three, when I wake up in the morning, I take a moment to be grateful. I think it’s important because starts me off on a good day. Grateful for my grandchildren, my daughters, my great dog over here, my wife, the house that I have, my friends, you guys at the Art of Manliness, all those things that made my life better.
After that I do a little app called one minute meditation. I just … it’s actually funny I’ve noticed that by counting my breaths, if I struggle at all my breathing I might be overstrained. The next one is this, three days of a week I Olympic lift, two days are front squats and light snatch and clean and jerk, one day is a little bit heavier snatch and clean and jerk. Two to three days a week, I do mobility work and a little tinny bit of hypertrophy work. That’s how I prepared for this state record makers meet and I had a good meet.
You’re going to say now, “wait a sec”. Last one I forgot, I apologize. Eat eight different vegetables a day. I didn’t say eight servings, I said eight different vegetables. What happens is this with my pirate map, every time I go to make a meal and I seek a different veg, make sure I have eight vegetables in there, it makes my brain think about Olympic lifting, my position in the meet. When I make coffee, I’m kind of in the gym snatching. When I take my supplements, I’m clean and jerking. You follow how a pirate map works?
If the bulk of the people we knew could just shark habit all the easy things in life and them pirate map the other stuff, everyone would have all the health longevity and fitness books. What they want is the other quadrant which is called programs. My knock on programs and in diets too is that this isn’t a long term cure. I did the Soviet’s walk program when I had a problem with my front squat. It’s six weeks of squat habit. There is a workout where you do six sets of six in the front squat with 80% and it brutalized me. It really was hard.
Most people look at our world of fitness, health, longevity and what program one a day. Really, as everyone knows, diets don’t work. Appropriate eating does, reasonable workouts do. I see programs and diets as these short terms fixes. If you take care of shark habits and you have a pirate map, shark habits clears the clutter out of your brain, pirate maps make you, each day I want to do this, this, this and this. One of them is outrageous. Every one of them is reasonable and doable. There are times in your life, you’re one of those who wait I guess for the 40-year high school reunion, your daughter is getting married and you want to look better, you’re getting married and you want to look better for the pictures, whatever, that a diet and exercise program might be a good idea. But for the bulk of the time, show up to the gym, two to three times a week, get a little stronger, get sweaty two or three times a week pirate map stuff and you’ll be a lot happier.
The fourth quadrant is really … it’s really performance and performance is based on principles. In football of 1931, John Heissman said, “Black tag would fall on the ball and you’d make yourself a great football coach if you stop with that principle. You’d perform well. That the principle in discus throwing is throw far.” I stood down after the meet and I say, “Did you throw far?” If you say no then I have this little called the why, why, why, why, why matrix. I keep asking you why until we find something I can coach you on to prevent that in the future and all my other athletes in the future to not making that same mistake.
Those are the four quadrants, shark habits, pirate maps, programs and principles. If you’re an athlete shark habit as many things as you can in life. To be honest with you, I shark habited my academics because I was paying for my school with MP3 athletics. Shark habit as many things you can, have some basic pirate map. Here’s Coach Mon’s pirate map, lift weights three days a week, throw the discus four days a week for the next eight years.
Shark habit, pirate map and the principle is did you throw farther. If there is a glaring problem with you, we would slide down to a program. For almost every other person listening, you should shark habit so many things you can in your life. I have so many check list, I have a fall check list, a spring check list, you’ve had check list on the Art of manliness, I love those. You have the house maintenance check list. Why you’re not using them? You should have a financial check list. I would argue this. Automate everything. Everything should be automated.
I haven’t save money for years, I’ve never looked at it because it’s automatic. It just comes out of my paychecks. Enough on that. If most people would just focus on shark habiting so much of their life and having this very simple pirate map that a good day starts the night before I believe, always have. Get quality sleep. Darken your room, make it cool, all those things, everybody knows about this, everybody as my wife always says, everybody knows this. Start your day with a moment of gratitude, take a moment to calm down, have some exercise program. Two days a week you’re going to strength train, three days a week you and your wife are going to go for a walk before dinner. That’s not bad.
Eat a vegetable everyday, start there, eat a vegetable at every meal, go there, eat eight different vegetables a day. That’s what I try to get across with my athletes. It’s that simple. You know what’s funny? It’s that simple. I mean that. Getting people to get that momentum to just get going, and I tell you why, it’s because they have so much clutter, they have too many unanswered emails, they have too many unanswered bills, they have too many unanswered this, they’ve got all this backed up and honestly, sometime the very best thing you can do for your health is to de-clutter all of your life. I tell you, that has been a formula that has worked in my life over and over and over.
Brett McKay: I think the other reason why people have a hard time with it is because, again, like we were saying earlier, they downplay what could they accomplish in a year and overemphasize what they can accomplish in a day. They don’t feel like they’re doing so much. They look at the results and say, “Well nothing’s really happening in my life. I’ve been doing it for a week. I’ve lost a pound but that fluctuates up and down but they don’t realize they keep doing that for a year, they might be back down five, ten pounds.
Dan John: The nice thing that I have going for me, and this might be unusual for a lot of you. I have been keeping my journal, my weightlifting journal, since 1971.
Brett McKay: That’s awesome.
Dan John: I can look back on the bench pressing 65 pounds. For Saturday, I’m supposed to go 864 in the workout but I felt strong so I did 884. I can look at that workout, did you hear what I said about that 65-pound bench press?
Brett McKay: Yeah, 65-pound bench press.
Dan John: I bench a lot more than that now. What people miss is that next week I got up to 70 pounds, 85 pounds, 90 pounds. I remember the first time I benched a hundred. I thought I was a world killer. Talking to a teacher about how strong you felt because I benched a hundred pounds. Of course, my joke with my athletes is Rome wasn’t built in a day, of course I wasn’t the foreman on that job. Everybody … there’s that great line on the Brother’s Karamazov where Father is talking to the woman. She says, “I lost my faith.” Father leans in and goes, how did you lose it? She goes, “You know, bit by bit.”
Then he follows up and goes, “do you want it back?” And she goes, “yes.” You have to get it back bit by bit. If you are the superstar greatest shape of your life at age 17, and now you’re 37 and you’re in not a very good shape, you got out of shape bit by bit for 20 years. You have to give me at least two weeks to get you back in the best shape of your life, at least two weeks. Okay, that’s a joke, but you get things. I agree with your point here. You get back bit by bit. I think that’s the nice thing about where I’m at in my life.
I’m age 60, I’ve got grandkids. Basically, I’m … basically retired retired but I still work. I still work every day because I love what I do. I doubt I’ll ever retire. When people ask about how did you … I write about two books a year and they say, “What do you do? You just sit down and write it?” No, you can never write a book and what … these people think you sit for 18 to 30-40 hours in a row and write a book. It would be non-sensical, it wouldn’t make any sense. You write a book, you work on this part here, this part here suddenly leaps off at you. Two weeks labor, you come back and go, this is garbage, you rewrite it and it’s better. What you thought was beautiful is awful. Yeah, you build on a book bit by bit.
It’s like trying to cook a turkey. Your wife comes home and she says, “Honey, we’re going to … it’s Thanksgiving Day, here’s a frozen turkey I bought at the store.” She slaps it on the table and table and says, “Cook that. We have family coming in and out.” Like what? You have a frozen turkey. You can’t cook, unthaw and cook a turkey in an hour. You just can’t do it. Maybe you can, I don’t know how to do it. It’s like making good soup, it’s like making a good Thanksgiving dinner. Success of all fields in life is bit by bit. Like Coach Mon told me, little and often over the long haul.
Brett McKay: Talking pretty macro here. Let’s get into like some specifics about training. One of the questions I always like to ask coaches is not like what but they see athletes do that is good. What do they often are the most common mistakes athletes make when it comes to their training? I often think that’s more instructive than asking what do they do well.
Dan John: Sure. Would you mind if I gave it in three answers, three part?
Brett McKay: Yeah, I would love that, yeah.
Dan John: The first part, let’s go from my world as a strength coach. The first problem is it’s called, we call it looks like Tarzan plays like Jane. Since 1975 or so, this paradigm of weightlifting is has become hypertrophy bodybuilding work. One of the biggest problems we have is that, especially the generation I was working with a while ago, they want to look the part and yet looking good doesn’t make the discus go far, the shot go far, you high jump higher, in fact, doing a bunch of curls might impact your high jump. That to me has always been number one in the last decade.
Fifty years ago, I was told that weightlifting will make me muscle-bound and all these other idiotic things. Fifty years ago, we were being told not to lift weights. Now, I’m trying to tell people we needed to lift weights appropriately to the task at hand.
Number two, the second area I would look at is this, the general concept of conditioning. It gets down to enough is enough. People love garbage conditioning now. I mentioned in some of my articles about that, ever since the movie Rocky came out with that montage thing, “Dan, dada dan, dada dan, dada dan.” You’re going to run around the block and then I’m going to high five you, and that’s going to answer all racism on our team. It’s going to deal with sexism, it’s going to deal with all of the world’s problems because we had a 5-minute running up and down the stairs, high fiving.
The truth is situational preparation trumps idiotic conditioning. If your team never went through a two-point conversion drill like my team did, there’s a good chance for or what the overtime rules are, or special situations of all kind. I think what’s happened is that many coaches have fallen in love with having their athletes in a … I’ve got error quotes going here in shape. Of course, it’s always in shape for what, fit for what?
The third area is a difficult one for me because it wasn’t a problem for me. The third area we have now is the early specialization. That comes from helicopter parents mostly, most kids just want to play and have fun. I told the story, it was my dad’s anniversary of his death a couple of days ago. Do you mind me talking about this, it’s OK?
Brett McKay: No, yeah, feel free. This is great.
Dan John: I tell the story about, it was 1977. My junior college coach came up to me angry. I’m like, he goes, “Dan!” I go, “Yeah?” He goes, ” “Usually, coaches who will recruit my athletes speak to me first.” I said, “What? I’m sorry, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He goes, “You know, after every meet, this little guy comes up to you wears a suit and tie and eh talks to you. Generally, coaches should talk … other coaches should talk to me first.” I go, “What? I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He points over to that guy there and I go, “Coach, that’s my dad.” He went, “What?” I said … here’s the funny thing about the story.
I was at that time already had letters of freshmen of this most inspirational athlete as a freshman. This season, I was going to be a state champion I the discus, captain of this state championship track team, and is MVP, and he had never met my father. He’d never met my dad. My dad was sitting on the stands on his hands and just come up after very quietly and talked to me every meet about how proud he was or some situation he saw at the meet and just said, “I know you could come back, you’ll get him next time”, or whatever.
My father wouldn’t let us to play sports until the 9th grade. He didn’t like us because he didn’t want us to burn out. I look back at my father and the lessons he taught me and he was right about everything. My biggest concern right now with these poor, young athletes is that massive amount of burnout. If you look at it globally what I said, I almost said enough is enough three times.
Brett McKay: Right, yeah. In regards to that last point, young people in athletics, they actually found studies that kids who specialize too early actually end up being worse athletes than kids who don’t specialize. We had a guy in the podcast, Epstein is his last name talking about it.
Dan John: Yeah, sports jeans.
Brett McKay: Sports jeans. He’s talking about like, “You had these kids in America, they’re going to these high cost clinics and camps and they’re not making the pros but then you have these kids who live in the Dominican Republic who they use a lunch bag for a glove because they’re just playing. There is no structure whatsoever.
Dan John: Think about how many more lessons I learned. We played street football, we played pickup basketball, we played … here is the nice thing I learned. I only played just pickup baseball games but very often, like for example you’d have, we used to call invisible runner on first. Then you have to call your field because it wasn’t enough outfielders or infielders. You had to keep playing pitchers hands so instead of first basemen you throw it to the pitcher and the the pitcher caught it. You’re constantly in it discussing whether or not the person was out or not and you are compromising with the other team about where the rules should be.
I learned so much more about humanity and sportsmanship by playing these friendly games. I also, like I’ve choked many times, I probably also caught the ball 50, 60. 70,000 times in competition. I’ve probably thrown the ball as many times. Whatever, I just had more chances to play because we played every day. I didn’t start throwing the discus since 9th grade. I never won on those little kid regional things because those kids threw about 80 feet. In high school, you got to throw about 170. I love, by the way, “Sports Dream”. I strongly recommend the book. I love it for one small little extra reason is, I’m the youngest of six and he has that great thing in there about how truly being the youngest of an athletic family what a boon that is. I look at that and I thought, “I never thought of it that day because I was constantly trying to keep up, catch up.”
Brett McKay: I love the second point about this idea of just, you have to get on the pain train in order to get in shape, and that’s not true. Guys might be derailing your progress, thrashing yourself every single workout.
Dan John: Of course, the downside of that too is now we’ve turned this back into theology. I work with people who are atheist agnostics. Their paradigm for why they got out of shape is one or the two seven deadly sins, gluttony and sloth. “I got out of shape”. “How did you get out of shape?” “I just got lazy.” “Oh, slow to sloth. okay.” “Yeah, I eat to too much”. “Oh I see you’re a glut.” “Yeah.” You don’t believe any of this stuff but you’re going to answer for all your issues are the seven deadly sins. That’s just not true because the problem is this, if you follow this across, the answer to those two things are aestheticism, which is to become a monk.
I’m only going to eat one piece of lettuce every day and I’m going to run 300 miles a day, to undo the day I was relaxed in five years. That’s just, to me, is insane. Getting back to our other principle that we seem to have in this discussion, you’d be surprised how much you can do in a year and sometimes how little you can do in a day. But at the end of 365 good days, amazing things happen.
Brett McKay: Besides the barbell, the Olympic lifting, what are the things you talk about over and over again are your training, which is different from a lot of … we don’t see a lot of strength and conditioning coaches talk about is carrying underload or carrying load.
Dan John: Yeah. There’s a hundred ways to do a million ways. You can do it as simple as pulling sleds or pushing cars, or you can do far more walks with heavy loads in both hands or single loads that we would call suitcase carry. That just comes from my experience. I couldn’t believe the change in my throwing when I started adopting these. In our gym, we put on heavy backpacks, we carry bags, we carry anything you can possibly think of, barbells, cattle bells, dumb bells, farmer bars.
Stu McGill went up to his lab up and McMaster and said, “Yeah, this stuff is better than most of the junk we do in the weight room.” What I did is I looked and I broke the world of weightlifting down into basically six parts. I call the first five the fundamental human moves, push, pull, hinge, squat, and loaded carrying. What I look for first is are you doing those? Most people do way too much push and pull, most people don’t do authentic squatting, most people don’t hinge well, and most people don’t do any loaded carries. I’m a miracle worker and the first week I work with you because I having these farmer walks and squats at it changes your whole life.
Then of course, someone’s going to raise their hand and say, “What about this, this and this?” That’s what we call the sixth movement. Sixth movement is everything else. I’m getting more and more to the point that crawling and climbing are probably the most important movements. If bad stuff comes down, being able to climb is very valuable in a flood. Being able to crawl is very valuable if you got to stay down. Those are the life-saving moves. Turkish getups would be there, tumbling, rolling all the other stuff, only the exercises that came to your mind would be sixth movements.
What I notice is that the more loaded carries I did it seemed to amp my two things, amp my work capacity. The harder I did loaded carries, it seemed like the more throws I could get in without the dropoff having. The second very weirded thing and I learned this from Stu’s work is what the loaded carries were building, it was building my stone. He has this concept called hammer and stone. Hammer is the kick, the block of the left leg when you’re a right-handed thrower. It’s that “Bam!” The stone is you. The problem that a lot of athletes have is they have a big strength, a big hit, they hit the ground hard and then their body goes, “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!”, wobbles a bit. What I noticed with people who do a lot of loaded carries is when you push them, they don’t get pushed. They’ve got a better stone if that makes sense to you. I can go on more depth if you like, I’d be happy to. I’m going to.
I break the stone training into three parts. The first is what I call anaconda strength and that’s internal pressure. If you ever get a chance to do highland games and turn the cave or, one of the things you’re going to discover is that you have to run with this … I’ve done 185-pound caber. You’re running with this 185-pound vertical object running with a fit and your body has to push out against it like an energy. We call that anaconda strength and you build that with basically heavy bag carries and a few other things. It teaches your body internal pressure.
Then there’s armor building, which if you’ve ever wrestled or played any contact sport, the first couple of days you’re in there, your skin, you just get bruised all the time. Then pretty soon it’s gone. I trained armor basically with tumbling and also double kettle bell clings having something hit your body.
The third area, the third A of stone is arrow. Arrow is turning yourself into an arrow. That would be planks and basically deadlifts. To me, the loaded carry family makes your stone harder and also increases your work capacity without having … my concern about increasing the discus throw is work capacity having to throw 12 throws this week, 80 throws next week, 120 throws, is that very few things happen when you’re like that when it comes to technique. I’d rather build your work capacity to something that doesn’t look remotely like throwing and yet you’re able to have more quality throws, more quality dives, more quality pitches or whatever it is.
Brett McKay: Another important aspect to training that people overlook is recovery.
Dan John: Yeah.
Brett McKay: What’s your philosophy towards recovery?
Dan John: Let’s start with the one’s I can’t make any money. Okay?
Brett McKay: Right.
Dan John: This is why I hate … I do these workshops, my wife would be there, “You know, you’re never going to make a dime in this business.” Number one is sleep. That’s why I really emphasize and I notice, you’ll notice I emphasized it earlier today, that the importance of the sleep, what we call sleep hygiene, that’s what I tell the special forces guys, we call it sleep hygiene because they have their own issues but with my athletes, I call it sleep ritual.
I want you to imagine … you know your dog starts making those little circles before they lay down to their sleep? I’m trying to get my athletes to think about sleep as a ritual. I don’t know what you guys think about blue blocking glasses, I’m a big fan of those, they’re not very expensive now but they take the blue out of the computer screen and the TV set. There’s a show called Game Of Thrones and I watched an episode with the blue blockers on then I pulled them all up, just slid them up my eyes about halfway through. I couldn’t believe the difference in how my body responded to the show.
Whether you turn the TV off at 8:00, or turn the computer down at 8:00, I’d tell you one thing. If you could just sip hot water with lemon and read a good book when the sun goes down, no TV and just start to wind yourself down, I find heat with an ice shower to be very helpful for my sleep ritual. Your bed should be … you should spend good money on a mattress. You should darken your room as dark as you can, keep it as reasonably cool as you can, and throw your arms around quality sleep. If you’re an athlete, you’re not getting 8 or 9 you’re crazy.
I also tell my athletes, if you can teach yourself to fall asleep, there’s a book called, by Bud Winter, it’s called “Relax and Win”. I think you’d like this book. From what I’ve read in your website, “Relax and Wind”, it’s how about how he trained the World War II fighter pilots to fall asleep on command, to take naps anytime. I think it would do very well on your website. Of course, comes sleep.
Number two is another one I’m not going to make a ton of money on. I’m not a water psychopath but many of my athletes are … they make themselves dehydrated with the soda pop or the caffeinated products that they drink and there are so many of them now. Then those weird little drinks they show up with that they come in aluminum, neon-covered aluminum cans that have names like, Monster and Neon. I’m very concerned about that but they’re not getting enough water, water.
I not going to tell you to drink a gallon of water a day. There’s no research that proves that any amount is better. You shouldn’t be thirsty, we know that, but I do think athletes need to really be better about water. A lot of people are making fun of Tom Brady’s new book, “The TV 12 method”. I bought it, I read it, I liked it. That’s an odd thing I do by the way. I don’t comment on something until I read it or try it. I think that’s appropriate. He really pushes water a lot. I applaud that.
For me, sleep first, water is right there with it. Then from there, I think you have to dedicate yourself to a recovery protocol that fits your pocketbook, it fits your lifestyle. I don’t like my athletes foam rolling during training but I sure like you foam rolling when you’re watching TV. I have a hot tub, I have a sauna in my home. In the summer, I have an ice shower outside. I live in Utah, you can’t use it any other time here.
I have made a financial commitment to recovery but what you need to do now like this TV 12 book has self-massage as a big part. John Jerome’s book, that great book, “Staying Supple” not only had self-massage but these nice gentle stretches that you could do but you got to … I think you need to plan some level of recovery into your life. For me, because of the resources that I have, my wife and I, we call it, “Ma Spa”.
We have an electronic massage bed called a Megan bed. You take a Megan while you’re meganning, you crank up the sauna. You take this electronic massage which is very calming, you take a hot sauna, and you take an ice shower and you could repeat as much as you want or not, whatever. I’m a big believer in it but you also have to reflect at how much you have … if you’re not doing … if you’re struggling, the best role I ever get, find a nice, thick PVC pipe and cut a section off of it. It’ll cost you, if you have a friend, it’s free. You’re going to use that for a roller. Self-massage is pretty cheap. There’s a great section in the book in Dan Millman’s “warrior”, the book is … “Peaceful Warrior” book where he and Socrates, they go through, they try to put their thumb and fingers between every bone and muscle in their body and they suggest doing that about for a week, once a year or something.
I’m a big believer in recovery but it has to fit your pocketbook, has to fit your goal set and at the same time, have to fit your … you don’t want to be too crazy. Like for us, if I’m hot tubbing with a nice glass of red wine, on paper that’s recovering but really it’s also just having a nice time.
Brett McKay: Dan, this has been great conversation. There’s so much more we could talk about. Where can people go to learn more about your work?
Dan John: I got a website called danjohn.net. Then also to, you can buy my books at OTP, On Target Publishing. Laree Draper, you guys should do something about … her husband is Dave Draper, who is Mr. Universe and he was on the Beverly Hillbillies Show. Laree and Dave have been wonderful. They have changed my life. I can’t thank them enough. On target, you could read books by Gray Cook, DVDs with Mark Chang. It’s a real interesting site. Lots of bodybuilding stuff from Dave. Mike Boyle’s work is there. I’m convinced that On Target Publishing is the hidden little leader in our fitness industry. I say hidden leader because I don’t think people appreciate the honesty of the site. None of us has magic wands, none of us gives the fairy dust out. If you follow my point, we’re all pretty realistic, which is unusual. I don’t think any of the books have the “f” bomb in it. Real coaches tough giving you real answers.
Brett McKay: Dan John, thank you so much for your time, it’s been a pleasure.
Dan John: This has been fantastic. Again, I shoutout the Art of Manliness at every opportunity I can. I think you guys are doing a wonderful service for us, not only on the Internet but the real world too. Thank you.
Brett McKay: Thanks, I really appreciate that. My guest it was Dan John. He is the author of several books, they’re all available on Amazon.com you could find more information about his work at DanJohn.net. Also check out our show notes at aom.is/danjohn where you can find links to resources, where you can delve deeper into our conversation.
That wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure you check out the Art of manliness website at ArtofManliness.com. If you enjoyed the podcast as you’ve been listening. I really appreciate you take one minute to give us your review on iTunes or Stitcher. If you’ve already done that, thank you and just go share the podcast with some friends, it’s the best way to get the word out of the show. The more the merrier around here. As always, thank you for your continued support. Until next time, this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.
Last updated: December 13, 2017