My "Secret" Coaching Methods


So, Mike sat in my front room after a six hour drive from Las
Vegas to Salt Lake City and asked a simple question:

"Dan, why do people ask you to coach them?"

Now, I thought to myself, "Mike, you're here for my
coaching. Why do you come up from one of the
most exciting places on earth to, well, Utah?" Still, it's a
good question. Why do people pay me a lot of money for coaching
that almost inevitably ends up with the athlete saying, "Yeah,
you're right. I already knew that."

If everybody "knows" everything I teach, why do I have a job?
Certainly, there are people who revel in ignorance. I read a review
of one of my articles on another site that had one serious error:
it was obvious the reviewer hadn't read the article. Small thing,
but it can lead to issues of clarity.

And I'm not the only expert out there. There are dozens of 130
pound guys who are experts on gaining mass, guys like me who put on
twenty plus pounds of fat and give advice on prudence and
sacrifice, and coaches who train Olympic lifters but can't
actually lift much more than the bar.

But I'm willing to give you my secrets. I'm comfortable giving
them away because few people will really apply these simple points.
So, to quote The Man of La Mancha,
"Come, enter into my imagination and see me as I truly

The Parrot Technique

In truth, the great secret of coaching is the same as
watching Oprah or any movie with a psychiatrist:
simply repeat whatever the guest/patient says. There you go: my
best technique. And now everyone knows it.

Seriously, get a nice, soft couch and sit back and doodle while
the athlete talks about his training. During this time, I draw
fighter planes attacking dinosaurs, but that isn't the point here.

Here's the first question: "So, what's the problem?
What's going on?"

Athlete: "Well, I just don't squat right. I hate
squatting, but I know I need to do more. Any

Me: "Here's a thought. Maybe, just maybe, we could work on
your squat and get you to do it right. Then, you could do more
squats. What do you think?"

Athlete: "Wow, it's like you know me... You and I
are connected."

Me: "Yeah, that's why you pay me. Oh, and by the way,
could dinosaurs defend themselves with lightning bolts? I ask
because I'm good at drawing them."

If you say "Polly wants a cracker" enough times, Polly
speaks back to you!

Honestly, probably 90% of the time I work with people, they know
exactly what the problem is with their training, diet, or recovery.
Now, this is only true when I can actually sit down and talk with
them. On internet forums where guys weigh 175 ripped and bench over
500, there seems to be another issue or two....

But, it helps to say the words out loud to another person. My
job is usually to ask the follow-up question: "Is this
important for your goal?"

I wrote an article about Dan Gable's famous quote, "If
it is important, do it every day. If it isn't, don't do
it at all." Generally, people seem to know what's important,
like eating protein and veggies and less processed, calorie-filled
food. Hell, we all know that. We also know
smoking is bad, drinking and driving is bad, drugs are bad, and the
list goes on and on.

The Parrot Technique addresses a simple issue: the athlete knows
what to do, and often he knows the solution to whatever problems
that have arisen, too. The issue? Let's look at the next
"secret" technique...

The Lawyer Who Represents Himself

Yeah, we all know the opposite axiom to this point:
"Physician heal thyself." Fine. Good. You win. Your
cliché beat my cliché. But if I could identify the single
biggest issue with most people's training, it's this:

The coach who coaches himself has an idiot for a

Even a good surgeon doesn't pull out his own spleen. A good
coach can't coach himself. Listen, I tried it for years and
here's the problem: you simply don't have enough RAM to do it
yourself. Yep, that's the computer term. You simply don't have
enough space in your brain to do what it takes to train yourself.

First, designing a program takes a level of honesty that people
can rarely match. Oh sure, we can all see the obvious with glaring
faults and issues, but the fix might blow up some happy little
beliefs that you're afraid to confront.

Second, anyone can design a program or plan. I see it all the
time. But, in coaching yourself, you have to follow this program.
Will you give it the time to work, or like me, immediately begin to
tweak and change it so that by week two, the original plan is
completely lost? I know this by experience... thirty years of it!
So, can you follow your own plan? Some can (like Clarence Bass) but
most can't. Even Bass, by the way, changes quite a bit from
book to book.

Third, do you have enough will to push through your own program
and not find the easy way out? I'm a master of talking myself out
of tough workouts and back into my rut workouts. Like Earl
Nightingale used to say, "A rut is a grave with the ends
kicked out."

Fourth, can you honestly address your weaknesses at the start of
a workout, in a strange gym, or when other alpha males are training
near you? The moment guys who look like frat boys start training
near me, I front squat. I'm not doing sets of triples in the
pull-up when these guys are working their heavy triceps extensions, bro. Sorry, my ego can't do it.

Now, I have another idea to help you with this, but let's
continue to unpack this concept. Let's just say it the
opposite way. On the Velocity Diet, I drank
six shakes a day. Why? Chris said so. If I follow Alwyn's
workout and you ask me "why?" I answer, "Alwyn said
so." When Dick Notmeyer coached me, the answer was the same:
"Coach said so."

"Said so" is genius. It completely divorces you – and
I mean completely – from any responsibility for your training. Why
seven sets of four? Coach said so. Why fish oil? Coach said so.
It's an amazing moment of clarity: you can pawn off all your
responsibility to someone else. It's genius.

David Allen talks about how a neat desk, a neat car, and some
basic efficiency in life can literally free up your brain to take
care of what's important. I tested this during the last two weeks
(I finished the Velocity Diet and found new energy to tackle the
world) and cleaned my garage, my desk, and my library.

Allen is right. All of a sudden I was finishing things that
should've been finished during the Lincoln administration and
taking care of business. I actually think this carries over into
getting yourself someone else to take care of the program for you.
I think that's the draw of all the "Westside" hybrids and
the popularity of this site: Hey, do this!

I'm trying to listen to my own advice

These first two points usually go a long way in working with
someone who comes over to try my coaching. Most of the time, the
person knows exactly what's missing. My job is to come up with some
ideas to incorporate these missing elements into a program.

Just giving me the right to tell them what to do seems to free
up some new enthusiasm for training and the stuff they need to do
in training. So, how do we implement these ideas?

Seriously, Go Home!

If there's a bit of advice that I could probably give every
fitness enthusiast in the world, it would be to train at home...

Okay, we decide that you've been cheating on your bench by
bouncing the bar off your chest and raising your hips. I convince
you to change your ways. Then, you go back to the 24/7 fitness
center and all your buddies are benching with a big bounce and hips
making sweet love to the ceiling. You unload most of the weight and
insist on perfect reps. Or you tell your friends, "Don't
count any reps unless they're perfect!"

Sure, that's what's going to happen. Yep, that's
right, we'll all strip the bar and go lighter in front of friends,
buddies, and the girls on the treadmills.

I'm also going to make you go deeper in the squat, use full
movements in the pull-up, and challenge you to slash rest periods.
It's going to be hard in a public setting, especially when you've
allowed yourself to be comfortable. And we all know the Comfortable

• Treadmill watching TV (usually Oprah, but ESPN is
fine, too)

• A couple of arm waves called

• Several sets of benching and calling people

• A really long set of curls to make your 13 inch arms grow to
13 1/4

• Sauna

• Steam

• Shower

To move in another direction, I suggest a few pieces of

• A dumbbell. I like something around 25 pounds for most people,
but go heavier if you like.

• Those push-up handles that cost ten bucks. It allows you to
really drop down deep.

• A "doorway" pull up bar


• An ab wheel

The total investment here is maybe fifty dollars, although I've
found that most people have this stuff in a closet or "find them"
in a friend's closet. I have "borrowed" thousands of
dollars of good equipment from my friends and neighbors that was
usually found holding laundry or living in the back of a closet
with shoes and other sports equipment that was never to be used

Here's a great home workout that allows you to train and work on
the usual issues that I find ailing most people:

1. Right leg Bulgarian split squats with the dumbbell in the
suitcase position: 10 reps

2. Left leg Bulgarian split squats with the dumbbell in the
suitcase position: 10 reps

3. "Goblet" squats with the dumbbell cradled on the
chest: 10 reps

4. Deep push-ups, chest touching the floor, with the push-up
handles: 10 reps

5. Doorway chin-ups or pull-ups: 10 reps

6. Ab wheel: 10 reps

Try to do these six exercises one after another straight through
without resting much between movements. Repeat this sequence, after
a minute or two of rest, three to five times.

This short workout, a supplement to your regular training, will
help with cardio, help with muscular development, and help with
general training. But most important, it'll help you work by
yourself on full movements and applying the lessons of coaching.

Training at home is the opposite, if you will, of having a
coach. It demands some free will, it demands some integrity, and it
asks you to monitor your own technique. But, without the peer
pressure of the spa or gym, or the pressure that simply comes from
trying to not look stupid in public, you can focus on taking the
time to do things right.

Your dog doesn't care if you struggle for a few weeks with
25 pounds in the goblet squat... nor should you.

Look at What You're Missing!

"Hey guys, wish you were here!" I love vacation
postcards. The picture on the front usually has blue skies and a
sandy beach. Now, is it just me, or do you worry when someone sends
you a "wish you were here" card on their honeymoon? Just

The idea of a good vacation postcard is to let others know that
you're off having fun while they're at work. It's a level of
"one-upmanship" that I appreciate. Look at what you're
missing while you slave away at the worthless quarterly

For most people, they also seem to miss a few things in
training. Generally, I can fix a person's training with just
one or two simple "hmmms" while reviewing their training
program. The biggest issue? The most common, usually, is ignoring
half the human body. Not a big issue if you weigh around two
hundred pounds; you're only missing a hundred!

What do I mean? Well, let's break down the body by
movements, rather than by muscle:

• Vertical Push: militaries, overhead stuff

• Vertical Pull: pull-up, chin-up, lat pulldown

• Horizontal Push: bench press

• Horizontal Pull: row and the gang

•"Posterior Chain" or Deadlift

• Quad Dominant Lower Body: squat

• Abs: crunch or ab wheel

• Rotation or twist and torque movers: Russian

• Single arm/single leg push/pulls: This can go on

Now, we can argue about this all day. For example, I don't
do any twisting motions because I've done them all and I've never
seen any benefit. Let me add one more point: I'm going to be doing
them again in about two months because I'm trying a new variation.

So what does this all mean? I'm not so sure rotational work
helps rotation, but I believe that there's value in doing some
anyway. Not clear? Neither am I, so refer to the point above about
"having a coach tell you what to do." Why am I going to
do them again? Coach said so.

I can help a guy who only bench presses simply by encouraging
him to do military presses for a few weeks. The ego hit will be
hard: a 400 plus bencher hates the first days of
struggling with 135 to 225. But, it helps. I can make a good
athlete who squats often run faster by adding the deadlift to his
training. Give it eight weeks and boom, I'm a
miracle worker.

So, how do you get yourself to do all or most of these
movements? Well, a good coach can program these easily, but let me
add one more point. Let me repeat Dan Gable: "If it's
important, do it every day."

Do all the movements – or most of them – in the daily movement
warm-up! I've stolen an idea from both Steve Javorek and Alwyn
Cosgrove. Do complexes to warm up. Here's one of mine, only mildly

• Power Snatch for 8 reps

• Overhead Squat for 8 reps

• Back Squat for 8 reps

• Good Morning for 8 reps

• Row for 8 reps

• Deadlift for 8 reps

Do these all in a row without letting go of the bar. Rest a
minute, a minute and a half, or two minutes, and do it again. Try
three to five sets of this little complex. This particular one is
ideal for a day dedicated to vertical or horizontal pushing. If you
do five of these complexes, you've done 240 movements that cover
practically all the other moves.

I like this approach for most people. It's certainly a
"volume" answer to the question of covering all the moves
and, generally, most of the athletes I work with would rather
do more to fix an issue than less.

The other easy fix is to take a standard calendar (I use the
free kind given out by the mortuary) and have the athlete take the
last month or the next planned month and simply note when every
basic movement was covered. For some of us, "never" is
going to be an issue sooner or later.

If you find that you have a ratio of five push workouts to one
pull, this could indicate trouble over time. Now, here's the thing:
for some who read this article, you might not ever come up with
these imbalance issues.

We all know guys with toothpick thighs and an upper body that's
out of balance and "too big." We also know that this guy
would be bigger with some leg work, but that just might not be a
big deal for him. And, it's not wise (but you can do it) to train
for years ignoring things like vertical or horizontal pulls and not
get injured or, really, even bothered by it. But, for those of us
who throw logs or bang into people or toss weights overhead, this
is going to lead to issues.

A few minutes reviewing the calendar can really spotlight issues
with your approach to training. Generally though, most of the
athletes I work with already know what they're missing in their
training. The nice thing about identifying these gaps is usually it
isn't that big a deal to fix. Let's be honest, in a week
of training, tossing in a few sets of pull-ups or rows or even
deadlift variations just isn't that hard to address.

Now, after a few minutes of having the athlete tell me what's
wrong with his training, convincing him to listen to another voice
in program design, discussing some home training ideas for dealing
with performance issues, and over-viewing long term training
omissions, the athlete discovers that he already knows all of this

Now, there's a range of technical issues that I can help with to
help the athlete with the squat, the Olympic lifts, and various
other moves, but honestly, usually we've found the core issues.
Sure, we'll continue to tweak things as we battle the greatest
challenge: to master something, you have to do it over and over and
over again.

My mantra: specificity works...but at a price. The price? Yep,
doing something for a million repetitions incurs the wrath of
injury and boredom. To be honest, I think the boredom is worse as
we can address injuries with proper training, rehab and, my
favorite, surgery.

Dealing with this challenge will probably need another couch
session, some additional coaching, further personalized work, and
some review of the program... and we'll give it a few months to see
how it all pans out.

So now you know what you know and you told someone else to tell
you what you know, so how can I help you? I don't

Dan John is an elite-level strength and weightlifting coach. He is also an All-American discus thrower, holds the American record in the Weight Pentathlon, and has competed at the highest levels of Olympic lifting and Highland Games. Follow Dan John on Facebook