Dan John’s Rules of Life

You may have seen the picture of Coach Dan. You know, the one of Dan dragging a laden sled through the Utah snows, carrying a sandbag, wearing our logo T-shirt? Knowing Dan, I can tell you he’s going uphill. In both senses.

As far as strength training and fitness goes, Dan knows exactly what he’s doing. And he pulls skids. And lifting weights.

Dan John’s monologues on strength, life, health
So interviewing him is easy. Here’s how it’s done: you call Dan and turn on the recorder. You say a word or two, like tabata, split, or kettlebell, and he kicks off. Your work is done, Dan finishes it himself. That’s exactly what happened when I called him last week. I only hinted that our website was starting a new section, about physical fitness, and he started talking.

About Disneyland.

We went to Disneyland last weekend. Here’s something new there: fat kids in prams! They look about nine years old! In prams! Yeah, and they’re carrying a year’s supply of food! And we wonder why the kids got so fat.

I also saw a family that rented these little electric scooters. I bet they got back to their Hilton in the evening and worked out on the treadmills. That’s what I’m talking about! Trust me, you can take care of your fitness without embarrassing yourself on treadmills and killing your knees.

About everything at once

Today, everyone wants to do everything. Everything at once! You should have interval cardio, a Tabata protocol, a snatch, a jerk, all three powerlifting exercises, a bodybuilder’s block as well, and then it’s all over again so there’s periodisation. And your nine-year-old son? In a pram at Disneyland.

About Tabatha.
I’m about to call Japanese scientist Izumi Tabata and apologise for all the nonsense they say about him because of my article about the Tabata method (Zojnik has an article on “What is Tabata training”).

The main mistake in understanding Tabata is that people think it’s part of a workout. In fact, if you do one exercise according to Tabata protocol, the athlete can only continue at gunpoint. Izumi practically forced his subjects to continue.

If you do push-ups for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds, then do push-ups again, and so on for 4 minutes, this is not the Tabata method. Yes, Tabata prescribes doing the exercise for 20 seconds and resting for 10 seconds for 4 minutes, but if you can “pro-tab” the twists and then move on to the leg lifts in the hang, it is immediately clear to me that you are not following the Tabata protocol.

I was wrong when in that article about Tabata I suggested doing outliers (Russian for “trasters”). The more I and my students did them, the more I realized that this was a big mistake. A terrible mistake! Only one strength exercise fits the Tabata protocol: the front squat.

If you take 50-55kg for front squats using the Tabata method, you won’t be looking at me after those 4 minutes asking: “What do I do for the next four minutes?”

No, it’ll be the same with you as it was with me when I tried it in front of my garage. You will lie on the ground and your dog will sniff you anxiously, worrying for your life. You won’t be able to continue after a proper Tabatha workout.

The last two minutes are a feat. You’ll look at the clock and think, “Just one minute to go before there’s only one minute left!” Now that’s a Tabata workout! And it only works out with a front squat.

“A no-impact strength cardio workout.”

One of the ideas I’m trying to help people with is what I call a “no-impact strength cardio workout”. When athletes, bodybuilders get to a certain weight class, they don’t need an aerobic load hitting their joints.

We iron lifters should be loved for turning any exercise we do into a battle. We have no half measures.

In the ’60s, McCullum said in his book Keys to Success that jogging was beneficial. He advised weightlifters and bodybuilders to start by running a quarter of a mile (400m) and gradually get to a mile (1.6km). Do it once or twice a week. And that’s it. He didn’t say to run 10km cross-country races for a time!

VITT (high intensity interval training) is great for my sprinters. But it’s completely unnecessary for most T Nation readers.

Arnold’s Big Six

Don’t get me wrong, I like VIIT. I’m a big fan of interval training. But something has gone wrong – and weak, underweight and at the same time 20% fat guys weighing 65kg ask me if they should try VIIT. When they just need to gain muscle; just go to the gym and work out with iron. Don’t be fancy. Only do the big six of the Arnold’s: squat, deadlift, bent-over, pull-ups, arm bends and bench press.

Your appearance will improve when you ‘rock up’ to 70kg.

The 1200 metre rule

At my school, I have established a rule for sprinters: the 1200 metre rule. In normal training they never run more than 1200 quality metres. People who come to my training sessions say they don’t understand why that is. Oh, really?! Then run 400 metres in 52 seconds. And then do it again. And again. You can stretch this workout for an hour and a half. You won’t want to do it again.

The volume of lactic acid from the last 100 metres of the 400 is so great that I have to use all my coaching experience to get the guys to run again.

About the kettlebells.

One of the people who really pushed us forward in the “iron game”: Kenneth Jay, a Danish kettlebell lifter.

He introduced alternating workouts: when you, for example, do a jerk with a kettlebell with your left hand for 15 seconds, then rest for 15 seconds, then do a jerk with your right hand for 15 seconds and rest again for 15 seconds. So you do it all in a circle. Some guys train like that for 40 minutes. That’s 80 reps, so it’s a hell of a workout! When those 40 minutes are over, you get a bigger barbell.

I’m training with more time. I do left hand jerk for 15 seconds, right hand for 15 seconds, then rest for half a minute, and so on three times. Then I do left jerk for 30 seconds, right jerk for 30 seconds, rest for a minute, and then three times. When it gets easy, you add another round.

If you add up all the time, it’s not very long. I did this workout 4 hours ago and I’m still wearing shorts, I’m hot. And we’re having a cold day in Utah today.

The load on the knees is minimal, a power lifter or bodybuilder can train like this three times a week without destroying the joints.

About weight

Never compare a guy who weighs 60kg and is just learning how to exercise with a guy who weighs 110kg. When you weigh 110kg, getting down on the floor and standing up 10 times is already a tough workout.

You have to ask yourself, when you put on weight, how much can I stand? But any answer would be wrong. The correct answer is, ‘I overdid it that time I had surgery. And you can’t recover from that. That’s why the big guys don’t have to jump rope.

These guys keep saying, “Well, I can do this, and this, and this.” I ask them what their goal is. They say to lose 2.5 kilos of fat. Do they achieve their goal? No. They don’t have the ability to meet that goal.

On health and fitness
Health is the optimal interaction of internal organs. Fitness is the ability to accomplish the task.

About fitness

Fitness? Fitness for what? The most infuriating thing is when some police officer states that he has to be prepared for any test. 99% of the tests he faces are eliminated with his badge, his gun and his car. The remaining 1%? OK, I get it. Let him learn how to fight off a knife or something. But the “prepare for anything” idea is still stupid. You can’t prepare for anything, that’s my coaching opinion.

I’m perfectly prepared for the Highland Games (in Russian: Highland Games) or the discus throw competition. The problem is that lately the word ‘fitness’ has been used to describe everything.

Fitness keeps you in shape. If I throw the discus 75 metres, I’ll break the world record. If I have to rest for a full minute after that 1.6 seconds of effort, I will still be the best trained discus thrower of all time. Physical fitness keeps me in shape: that’s all.

At the end of the playing season, rugby players/US players are in their worst form all year. When they emerge from the summer break with training sessions twice a day, they look like Mr. Universe, strong and able to run 10km. At the end of the season, they can barely walk. But – they are better at football. So they are in great physical shape in July, but they still play better in November.

Either muscle or get rid of the fat

Most T Nation readers want to build muscle and get rid of excess fat. Well, the harder you burn fat, the less muscle you manage to gain. But the more muscle you gain, the more fat you burn. Welcome to the mysterious land of iron!

That’s why the Velocity diet is so good. A friend of mine started it. I don’t know what happened to him; the guy just disappeared and never called me again.

On the Velocity diet you fight fat for 28 days. In my opinion, this is the optimum time for a fat-burning programme. Then you go back to regular strength training. After 6 weeks of this regime people won’t recognise you.

When I’m on this diet, every day my abs get better and better visible. I set a state record in the snatch after 2 weeks on the diet. Why? Because I’ve decimated the extra fat as fiercely and precipitously as I can and then went about my business.

About running.
When people ask me about running, my answer is, “Running from what?”

“Hey Dan! Do you run?”

Me: “Running from what?”

Similarly, “Training for what?”

About CrossFit

Crossfit isn’t having the best of days. Yes, branches are opening up everywhere, but the quality is very low.

About the fat-burning programme
Do you really want to raise your PPPK (Increased Post Exercise Oxygen Intake)? Run 400 metres as fast as you can. The lactic acid that builds up in your body and the stove you end up in will stay with you for days. You’ll immediately cough up your lungs for hours on end. But when you get to 1200 metres per workout, you won’t have more than 9% fat. This is the best fat-burning programme I know.

About the effectiveness of entertainment

Playing games is extremely effective for getting ‘fit’. Lift iron a few days a week and then play: basketball, football, frisbee… Playing football with your buddies can make you run seventy 30-metre sprints. Here’s your workout for fitness and you won’t even notice it because you’re having fun.

About hard training

Never train on a genetic mutant programme.

The hardest workouts I’ve ever had were on a dare. Once I sat down 30 times with 145kg, then 30 times with 125kg, then 30 times with 100kg. In one training session. That’s how I made a bet.

I also once sat down 50 times at 100 kg. A guy bet me that I couldn’t do 25 reps, and I doubled up. Then I told him: “See, I told you I could do it.” And I couldn’t walk properly for days.

Never, under any circumstances, be careless in the bench press. You could die. When you put yourself out there fully in the gym, there’s no time for ‘bullshit’. When you really concentrate on your workout, everything else around you just disappears, even pretty girls in swimming costumes.

About meat

Read Arnold’s Encyclopaedia of Bodybuilding. Load the barbell, pancakes, call the girls, cook the meat, go to the countryside, pick one exercise and do it until you pass out. When you wake up, eat meat, have fun with your girlfriends on a sunny day and work out some more. Keep it up.

I’m hosting a MeatFest at home. Mark Twite and other buddies who are serious about iron come along. Everyone brings meat. We do farmer’s walks and jerks and whatever else we want. Free programme. When 3/4 of the workout is done, we start the grill. After the workout we sit on the veranda and eat whatever we’ve cooked.


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