the joy of strength training


December 20th, 2009 at 9:55 pm

Coach Dan John answers your questions

Christmas has come early here at! Coach Dan John answers your training questions below. We got some interesting questions from people with a variety of needs and goals – from military personnel to bodybuilder to rugby player. So even if you didn’t ask a question, there is plenty to think about, try out and inspire.

Carolyn W from Sioux Falls, USA asks:

I’m in training for the USMC Officer Candidates Course for summer ’10. As a female, I have to do a 70-second flexed arm hang, 3 mile run and 100 situps. However, I’m having trouble gaining the upper body strength I need to hang on the bar (I can only hang for about 40 seconds now) and survive OCC. As a former varsity D1 athlete, I learned a variety of lifting techniques, but my progress/gain is so slow I’m frustrated. I need/want to be stronger and I also have the goal of being able to do 25 pullups before I ship in May. How can I accomplish that?

Dan says:

First, focus on what you HAVE to do versus what you want to do. If OCC wants the hang, the run and the situps, that is what we are going to do…now. So, I want you to hang for twenty seconds in groups of five sets. Easy as you can…no stress. Try to do that up to five times a day. When that becomes so easy you can’t believe you are wasting your time doing it, sneak up to 35 seconds. Same plan…lots of submaximal attempts. Then, after about a week or so, test again. I’ll be amazed if you don’t nail the test easy, but if you don’t just keep doing the submax attempts. The situps should be a breeze, but try to do some every day. I suggest sit up “races” where you pound out as many as you can in ten seconds or 15 seconds. That’s how we groove push ups at our school. Once a boy can get twenty push ups in ten seconds, we know he is good for 100.

Running? Well, run. Same idea. Submaximal…easy breathing…don’t get crushed. From here, you can add some pure strength work. If you have the background, do the powerlifts. Learn to stay tight. For the pullups (25?), you will do what I do: whenever you can, you do some easy pullups. I’m up to dozens, if not 100s a day, simply doing 1-5 at a time whenever I pass a bar. But, goal one is goal one.

John Heaton from Wakefield, UK asks:

Hi Dan
I am a Natural Bodybuilder but I am heavily into functional athletic training as opposed to isolated aesthetic exercises. Do you have any good tips for incorporating Olympic lifts and kettlebells into my weekly programme to not only imporve my strength, but also enhance my physique especially hamstrings which is my weak area?
Thanks. Loving the seminar DVD series.

Dan says:

There are thousands of options. Here is a simple one: the first part of your training is ALWAYS going to be an O lift (or variation). Press, Snatch or Jerk. Then, do the “other stuff.” At the end of the workout, use the kettlebell swing or snatch as a finisher. Then, do some Get Ups and go home!

Damien Murphy from Edinburgh, Scotland asks:

I’ve spent nearly a year trying to snatch properly. I’ve tried teaching myself, I’ve been to olympic lifting courses but all I end up doing is having a sore back and stiff shoulders. Do you think some people just shouldn’t do some exercises and if so what would you suggest instead of it?

Dan says:

Damien, you might be on to something. This is going to sound repetitive, but, first, what is your goal? I knew that I HAD (!!!) to learn the O lifts so I was sore and beat up for two years to do it. For others, it is like a cool bar trick. So, maybe the ‘want’ is there, but not the ‘need.’ As much as I love the O lifts, few of the people I work with do them. Few. We can get you from here to there with easier methods, whether kettlebell work or other basic lifts.

Instead of snatches: Vertical and Standing Long Jumps. Kbell swings and snatches (done right). Front Squats with the bar or Double Kettlebells. That’s a pretty good list!

Charlie from Dover, UK asks:

Dear Dan,

I only have time for one gym based strength session per week. I love my powerlifting and squat, deadlift and press every week. How can I best use this one session?

My goal is to be strong and get stronger for rugby.

Dan says:

Well, Jim Wendler would tell you to do all three, but why don’t you just be sure to Bench (as it is really hard to mimic that in the real world) and alternate DL and Squat each week. I strongly suggest (strongly!!!) that you do Goblet Squats with a dumbbell or kettlebell each day or as often as you can to keep the movement and that you do organize a home gym or whatever to make sure you are doing something. You can get damn strong on one or two workouts a week, but rugby is going to demand more than minimal work.

John from Stoke on Trent, UK asks:

How you would advise someone when wanting to improve over head pressing strength as mine sucks?

Dan says:

Well, John, (beautiful name) you are one of many with bad pressing strength. The good news? There is a fix. The bad news follows: you MUST press overhead every workout or, better, every day. Pressers press. It doesn’t have to be much…a total of 15-25 reps each workout. So, 3 x 5, 5 x 3, 5 x 5, 2-3-5-10 (my favorite), or any other variation is fine. Go heavy, go less heavy, go medium, it doesn’t matter. The key is to press, press, press. Give it about six weeks of multiple sessions of pressing and get back to me. It should be MILES better. Or, in your case, kilometers.

Mild attempt at international humor…humour. Ah…comedy lost a great one when I decided to go into coaching.

Dan Coats from Suffolk, UK asks:

Two questions – I just brought your excellent DVD which is actually three DVDs in one.  If you were training three times per week would you organize your training like this ie a workout of cleaning and snatching, a workout of pressing, a workout of carrying movements. Alternatively is it better to combine elements of all three lifting movements in one workout.

Secondly I do judo three times a week.  From your work with wrestlers what movements are particularly worth training and how do you ensure they are still fresh enough to grapple?

Dan says:

Wait, a question from a “John” and now a “Dan?” I’m getting set up here. Do a carry EVERY workout. If you want to do it as a warm up, it works very well. We do the Waiter Walk, the Suitcase Walk and the Farmer Walk every day. We used to do the Crosswalk, but the numbers make it hard to have enough equipment. You can snatch three days a week, and probably press three, but the Clean and Jerk, for most non O lifters, is best done once a week.


Day One:

Carries for Warm ups
Clean and press
Some kind of squat

Day Two

Serious Farmer Walk as a finisher

Day Three

Clean and Jerk
Serious drag, pull or whatever as a finisher

For fighters and wrestlers, you have to really push them to get stronger. They tend to always want to do conditioning stuff, but they will do 10,000 pushups and not be able to Bench 200 (90k). So, I work with them in a different way: get stronger and use the mat for insanity. Again, they can bench 100 for 100 and 115 for a single. It’s odd stuff.

Chris L from Shropshire,England asks:

You mentioned in your review of mike boyles functional training book that “He demands “Olympic style” Front Squats for the same reasons I do”, would you expand a little on this. Reason i ask is that i dont have any power rack or squat stands at moment [money tight] so just have a bar and some of these so front squats are all i can do. You may mention the reasons in your book [which my brother currently has installed as his toilet book].

Dan says:

Well, I beat this question to death in my live presentations, but the Front Squat “insists” on a proper, athletic body position, depth is easy to regulate, and flexibility is a must. As a coach, I teach the squat in this pattern: Goblet Squat, Front Squat, Overhead Squat, Back Squat. I actually don’t teach the BS, I just tell them that is in today’s workout and the kids explain it to the new kids. The FS is one of those lifts that if you improve on it, you tend to improve on what you are doing in the real world. Not always true with the BS…

Gubernatrix from London, UK asks:

I’ve been self-coaching for years, in powerlifting and general strength training. Sometimes I know that in order to progress, I need to do something different, since the old routine or method slows down or stops completely. But I don’t often know what. How would you approach this? How do you know what to do next?

Dan says:

Good question. I approach this one of two ways, either with concentric circles or Pareto’s 80/20 rule. The question is this “what is core?” The inner circle. What is the 20 percent that gives you 80 percent of the stuff?

From this question, it gets simple. I think “core” is this, that and this. So, we can’t ignore that EVER. The outer circles, that is what I switch in and switch out. Okay, inner circle stuff: a squat movement, a snappy full body thing, a push, a pull and a carry or drag. I always keep those. Bizarre little cool ab move? Hmmm, let’s toss it in for six weeks and give it a go!

That is literally the thought process. I’m going to keep Front Squats, Bench Press, Pull ups, deadlifts and some kind of snatch or clean in the program…well, always. The other stuff, we can bring in, test, throw out, keep, whatever.

So, the “science” is knowing what to keep, but the “art” is knowing what to tease in and out of the program. The core stuff is what really works, but the other stuff supports and gives your brain some excitement.

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