3 Training Lessons Learned While Chatting With Dan John
Sitting down with someone smarter than you is always a good thing. Even if you have massive differences in opinion you’re still bound to learn something. But when you have massive similarities in opinion with someone, and that person just happens to have about fifty percent more experience than you the conversation leaves you with a lot to think about, and work on, for some time to come. It’s even better when the guy you’re training with unexpectedly lets out a gem of knowledge just as you finish a set of swings.
And that’s been my last week. Quite often my trips to the United States are stealth missions - fly in, teach something, fly straight back out again before I even adjust to the time difference. But this week I’ve spent some time training in one city before heading to another to teach. What makes this significant is that the city I was in was Salt Lake City, Utah. While I was there to train with the crew from Gym Jones I happened to get an invite from Dan John to train at his place.
Dan and I spoke a lot over the following few days and here are some of the things we discussed that are good lessons for all of us to work on:
You’re not a Navy SEAL-ninja-astronaut, so don’t try to train like one.
Seriously, what is up with people wanting to train like SEALs or get “tactical” fitness? Do you know the best definition of tactical fitness? Going on a mission and coming home alive. If your daily mission is to get out of bed, drive thirty minutes to the office, and return home, and the most dangerous thing you do all day long is try not to die of boredom while the boss goes on about the front cover of the TPS reports, you probably won’t even survive trying to train like a SEAL.
I even met a guy who went to a program that is supposed to replicate Hell Week. For those who don’t know, Hell Week is a physically-testing, weeklong, epic sufferfest that Navy SEAL candidates are put through. So this guy told me that he did a two-day “Hell Week.” Do you see the problem? This guy was determined to validate himself by attending a version of an event he was only capable of handling for two-sevenths of the time it actually runs for. That’s like me saying I run like Usain Bolt, while running a thirty second 100m. So whatever the SEALs are doing is immaterial, because you’re probably not ready to handle it and what you really need is something far more basic.
Which leads me to the next standout point, one that I’d already very much had on my mind since beginning using the Coach Summers Handstand and Foundation series.
Every exercise needs a mobility exercise to go with it.
Not many of us move very well these days and as Aussie great Ian King says, we should spend an equal amount of time on recovery and flexibility work as we do actual work. If you look back at what I wrote about training and recovery you’ll see that for many people the key is not to work harder, but to recover harder. That is, to spend more effort on movement quality and recovery issues, such as sleep and adequate nutrition, to support their goals. For many this means actually training less to make more progress.
But you can also simply achieve this by adding mobility into every session. I’m not talking about a few minutes of half-assed stretches thrown into the end of a workout, but performing range-of-motion (ROM) activities in between every single work set. So each exercise should have a corresponding ROM activity that goes with it. One example is RKC armbars and pressing. Or another could be cobra stretches and swings. Many people go from a work activity to a work activity - like planks and swings - but you’ll get a much better effect later in life if you do “work plus movement,” than you will if you do “work plus work.”
You need more general physical preparedness (GPP).
Look, there’s a fair chance with the way the world is getting weaker that you’re just not ready for specialized training. In fact, looking at the customers who walk through my doors at Read Performance Training, and this includes elite athletes and guys actually training for special forces selection in Australia, there’s a great many people who just need more base training.
People go bananas over catch phrases and fitness buzzwords like GPP, but the truth is that GPP is what you do until you’re ready to train for something specific. It’s general, it’s base layer, and it’s foundational. The bigger that foundation layer, the better your eventual peak will be when you add specificity.
Having a bigger GPP base also allows you to enjoy more active pastimes. Sure, you won’t be as fast in a fun run as your friend who runs daily, but if you run a few times per week as part of your continual cross-training ethos you’ll still do just fine. The same goes for playing paintball, going rock climbing, or doing a boxing class - the broader your base the more things you an enjoy. The older I get the more I see the great value in just “staying in shape.” Even though I’m entering races and events, my main goal is still just to have fun. Can you believe that I’m fortyish and just starting to have fun training now, because I spent the last thirty years always competing in things?
I feel like a little kid with training most days because my plan is loose and I get ample variety. For instance, I’m in a hotel room right now and my original plan for the day was a decent run along the beach. But now my plan is to do some small intervals on a treadmill and come back to the room for some core work and mobility drills. I know that I’ll finish that workout feeling great and will sleep like a baby tonight. I’ll still have run, so I tick that box, but I’ve adjusted the plan based on what I need today. For real old schoolers you’ll remember the Weider Instinctive Training principle. They always advocated that it took many years to learn your body, and it does, but a good trainer should be able to modify your session if you show up indicating that today may not be the day to test your 1RM squat.
And finally a word to all the trainers out there - what you give your clients should reflect what you do yourself. In other words, your clients share the exact same sort of physiology you do. You’re not gifted or unique. If you were you’d have an Olympic medal around your neck or a professional contract. Whatever it was that you did to get in shape is what they also should be doing (or a scaled version of it). If your training is repeating basics at high level over time, as it should be, why on Earth do you think they’ll get in shape by changing their workouts every session and including random acts of variety? (Thanks to good friend Mark Reifkind for this awesome summation of most people’s training).
The world doesn’t need Zumba or Insanity. What the world needs is something like Foundation One, Enter the Kettlebell by Pavel, or basic barbell lifting (pick any mode that you enjoy as they’ll all work just fine), and then to walk and run on alternate days. Do that for twenty years and you’ll be amazed at the kind of shape you get in. Maybe even enough to keep up with those pesky SEALs for a day.