Bigger, Better, Faster, Longer

40 Minutes With Dan John

You've probably seen that photo of Coach Dan John. You know the one, where Dan is dragging a weighted sled through the Utah snow carrying a sandbag and wearing only a T-shirt?

Knowing Dan, he was probably going uphill too. Both ways.

When it comes to strength and conditioning, Dan certainly walks the walk. And drags the sled. And hoists the barbell.

Which makes interviewing Dan a breeze. Here's how you do it: Call Dan and turn on a digital recorder. Say a word or two, such as "Tabata" or "conditioning" or "kettlebell" and he's off to the races. Your job as an interviewer is complete. Dan will take it from there.

And that's exactly what happened when I talked to him last week. I mentioned that T NATION has a new forum category — conditioning— and off he went.

Dan Speaks

Dan John walkin' the walk

I went to Disneyland last weekend. It's a great place to play games. One game is, "How many couples are fighting?" You play it like tic-tac-toe. You get three in a row and you win.

Well, here's my new one: fat little kids in strollers. They were like nine years old! In strollers! And you wonder why kids are fat these days? Oh, and they each had about a year's supply of calories in there with them.

What were we talking about? Conditioning? Yeah, I think it starts here! My kids, by the way, walked.

I saw this other family who'd all rented those little electric scooters. I bet they went back to the Hilton that night and walked on the treadmill. There's our issue! It's very possible to get your conditioning taken care of without having to embarrass yourself walking on the treadmill or destroying your joints forever.

Everybody wants to do everything these days. Everything at once! You have to do HIIT, have to do Tabatas, have to do snatches and clean and jerks, have to do all the powerlifts, have to do a bodybuilding workout, then you have to periodize it. And your nine-year-old kid? He's in a stroller at Disneyland.

I almost want to call Izumi Tabata, the Japanese researcher, and apologize for all the Internet nonsense I've caused by my Tabata Method article.

The issue with Tabata is that people think it's part of a workout. The truth is,

if done right, you'd need a gun to make an athlete do another set. Izumi had to practically force his athletes to get back on those bikes.

If you do push-ups for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds and continue that for 4 minutes, it is not the Tabata protocol. Tabata is 20 seconds on and 10 seconds off for 4 minutes, but the mere fact that you can do sit-ups and "Tabata" jumping jacks afterwards tells me that you're not doing the original plan.

I made a mistake in the article saying that thrusters were okay. The more I did it and the longer I had athletes do it, the more I realized this was an absolute failure. It's terrible! There's only one weight-lifter exercise that works with Tabata: the front squat.

If you do 115 pounds in the Tabata front squat, you will not at the end of those 4 minutes look at me and say, "Now what do I do for the next 4 minutes?"

No, you're going to do what I did when I used to do these in my driveway. You're going to lay there on the ground with your dog sniffing at you, worried about your life. You do not repeat a true Tabata workout.

It's an act of will to finish the last two minutes. You should be looking at the clock and thinking, "Only one more minute until I have one more minute!" That's a Tabata workout. And it only works with front squats.

One of the things I'm trying to help people with is what I call "non-impact weight-lifting cardio." Strength athletes and bodybuilders get to a certain size and should not do contact cardio moves.

You gotta love us weightlifters because everything we do we immediately turn it into something psycho. We have no middle gears.

In the 60's, McCallum said in Keys to Progress that jogging was good. He advised strength athletes and bodybuilders to run a quarter of a mile and build up to running a mile. Do that for a day or two per week. That's all. He didn't say to run a 10k for time!

HIIT (high-intensity interval training) is great for my sprinters. But it's terrible for most T NATION readers.

Don't get me wrong, I like HIIT. I'm a big fan of it. What I don't get are these skinny-fat 145-pound guys with 20% body fat asking me if they should do HIIT. What they need to do is get their bodyweight up; just go into the gym and lift weights. Don't be fancy. Just do Arnold's big six: squat, deadlift, bentover row, pull-up, curl, and bench press.

Your body composition will improve once you "bulk up" to 154.

I have a rule for my sprinters here at school. It's the 1200 meter rule. In a normal workout they are never to run more than 1200 quality meters. People come to my workouts and say they don't understand the rule. Oh yeah? Then go run a 52-second quarter mile. And then do another one, and then another one. Take an hour and a half to do it. You will never ever want to do that workout again.

The lactic acid hit of the last 100 meters of a 400 is so big that to get athletes to run that again takes everything I know as a coach.

One of the guys who's really locked it down for us in the strength game is Kenneth Jay , this Danish kettlebell guy.

He has these mixed workouts where you do, for example, 15 seconds of left hand kettlebell snatches, rest for 15 seconds, then do 15 seconds of right hand kettlebell snatches followed by another 15 seconds of rest. Some of those guys do it for up to 40 minutes. It's like 80 sets of snatches, a pretty intensive day! Once 40 minutes gets easy, you use heavier weights.

I do something called "boost." Doing kettlebell snatches, you start off with 15 seconds left hand and 15 seconds right hand, rest for 30 seconds and repeat three times. Then you do 30 seconds left hand, 30 seconds right hand, rest for one minute, and repeat that three times. When you get good, then you add rounds.

When you do the math it's not very long. I did this workout four hours ago and I'm still wearing shorts and feeling hot. And it's a cold day here in Utah.

Impact on the knees is so minimal that the strength athlete and the bodybuilder could do these three days per week and not have their joints fall apart.

Never compare a 140-pound guy who's in the early learning curve with a guy that weighs 240. When you weigh 240 you can lie on the ground and stand up ten times, and that's a hard workout.

You have to ask yourself, as I move up in weight, how much pounding can I take? But you're only going to answer that question incorrectly. The only correct answer is, "I did too much when I had to get that surgery." And you just don't recover from that. That's why big guys shouldn't jump rope.

Health is the optimal interplay of the internal organs. Fitness is the ability to do a task.

I'm extremely fit to compete in Highland games or a discus throwing competition. The problem is that in the last couple of years people are starting to use the word "fitness" to mean all kinds of things.

These guys tell me all the time, "Oh, I can do this and this and this." I ask them what their goal is. They say it's to lose 5 pounds of body fat. Did they reach that goal? No. Then they don't have the ability to do that task.

Conditioning is a support system for fitness. If I throw a discus 244, feet I've broken the world record. If I have to sit down from that 1.6 seconds of exertion and rest a full minute, then I'm still the most fit discus thrower of all time. Conditioning is a support system for fitness: it's just enough.

Am I talking too much?

At the end of the football season, the power athletes are in the worst shape they've been in all year. They come out of summer after training twice a day, looking like Mr. Universe, strong, and able to run six miles. At the end of the season they can barely get out of their own way. But, they play football better. So, in July they're in better condition. But in November they play better football.

Most T NATION members want hypertrophy and they want fat loss. Well, the harder you work on fat loss, the less hypertrophy you can get. But the harder you work on hypertrophy, the more you tend to lose fat. Welcome to the great dilemma in what we try to do!

This is why the Velocity Diet is brilliant. A friend of mine came up with it. Don't know what happened to him; guy just disappeared and doesn't call me anymore.

With the V-Diet you're going to do it for 28 days and you're going to lose fat. That seems to me about the optimal time you want to spend focusing on fat loss. Then you can get yourself back on a basic lifting program. After 6 weeks of that, people won't recognize you.

When I did the V-Diet, my abs came out overnight. I snatched the state record two weeks after the diet. Why? Because I'd dealt with the excess fat as quickly and as furiously as I could, then I moved on.

Conditioning? Conditioning for what? Nothing drives me more crazy than a cop saying he has to be ready for anything. Ninety-nine percent of the problems he encounters will be answered by that badge, that gun, and that car. That one percent? Okay, I get it. So learn how to defend yourself against knives or whatever. But I despise this idea of "ready for anything." There's no way I, as a coach, can help support you with that goal.

Hey, maybe a flying saucer lands on your police cruiser and aliens attack you. I don't know of a conditioning plan to help you with that. What is the "UFO Landing On Your Car Special Workout?" Maybe CrossFit has one for that.

When people ask me about running my answer is always, "Running from what?"

"Hey, Dan! Do you run?"

Me: "From what?"

The follow-up to that is, "Conditioning for what?"

CrossFit is struggling right now. Oh, affiliates are opening up right and left, but the quality of the affiliates is really bad now.

You really want to ramp up EPOC (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption)? Do one 400 meter as fast as you can. The lactic acid you're going to build up, and the furnace you're going to stoke, is going to stay with you for days. You'll cough your lungs up for hours. You work up to 1200 meters per workout and I can't imagine your body fat ever being over 9%. It's the best fat-loss program I know.

There is no couch-lifting certification. You just show up and help out.

A big component of being "in shape" is games. Think fun and games. Go lift a few days per week, then play games: pick-up basketball, football, frisbee... In a touch football game with your buddies, you may do seventeen 30-meter sprints. There's your conditioning, and you won't even realize you're getting it because you're having fun.

The sweetest word is fartlek. It means "speed play."

Never do a genetic freak's program.

The hardest workouts of my life were done on bets. I once squatted 315 pounds for 30 reps, then 275 for 30, then 226 for 30. All in one workout. Yeah, that was a bet.

I also squatted 225 pounds for 50 reps one time. Someone bet me that I couldn't do that for 25 reps, so I doubled it. Then I was able to say, "See, I told you I could do it." I didn't walk correctly for days.

There's no way in hell you can not be fully attentive to the barbell on a heavy bench press. You might die. When you're at the top of your game in the gym, there's very little room for bullshit. When you're really focusing on your workout, everything else just disappears, even that hot chick in the thong.

Read Arnold's Education of a Bodybuilder. Take a bar and some weights, get some girls, get some meat, go out into the woods, pick one exercise, do it until you pass out. When you wake up, eat the meat, make love in the afternoon, lift some more. There you go.

At my house we have Meat Fest. Mark Twight and others who train seriously will come over. Everyone brings meat. We'll do farmer's walks and snatches and anything else we can think of. It's all open-ended. About three-quarters of the way through the workout we put the grill on. After the workout, we all sit on the patio and just stuff down meat.

Good stuff, Chris. Good stuff.

Chris Shugart is T Nation's Chief Content Officer and the creator of the Velocity Diet. As part of his investigative journalism for T Nation, Chris was featured on HBO’s "Real Sports with Bryant Gumble." Follow on Instagram