Oddly, I am a Pear Tree

I love metaphors but sometimes I lose my audience using them. Metaphors are the wonderful bridge between what is already known and what is needed to know.


I once bought a tree. This tree taught me the key lesson in successful coaching. When you buy a tree you have almost a decade to discover something very interesting: what kind of tree did I actually buy?


My neighbors, Vance and Annelose, asked nicely if we would allow them to cut down our tree. We owned this massive tree in our backyard, but it blocked their view of the Wasatch Mountains. They paid for the work, and we agreed to the project. Soon the cutters came and they felled a jolly giant of a tree.


We gained about a quarter of our backyard in the process, and I never realized how much crap I had to rake in from that damn tree. Still, there was now a hole in that corner, and it wasn’t long until I missed my tree. A few days later, as I was leaving one of those stores that has “mart” in the title, I saw an apple tree for $1.89.


Hey, for just under two bucks, I couldn’t go wrong! As the old saying goes, “The best time to plant a fruit tree is ten years ago. The second best time is today.”


So I planted a fruit tree. After the first year, the tree was still about the size of a pencil.. Years two through five, we had a bit larger pencil, but nothing much seemed to be happening. Finally, in year seven, the pencil brought forth fruit.


We had a tree full of pears.


It was a pear tree.


It took seven years to discover that mismarked sign.


Wouldn’t it have been great to know right from the get-go what kind of tree you would be? Imagine if, on the day of my birth, Mr. and Mrs. John had been told: “Little Danny will be among the youngest in his class. Being the youngest of six, he will always be chasing others. He will hit puberty late, so most American team sports, which seem to choose ‘elite’ at age twelve or so, will not be possible. Olympic sports involving dedication and single-minded vision will be ideal. Do not waste money on Little League sports—save it for later. He will be just over six feet tall and will run a 4.7 forty-yard dash.”


Folks, I was a pear tree. Perhaps I grew up in an acre of apple trees, but I was a pear tree.


Maybe one day, people will know these kinds of things at birth. But I don’t think it will matter much. I believe willpower is, and will always be, the most powerful force in the universe. We all grew up with people faster, taller and prettier than us who ended up finding great failure in life.

What is the takeaway message here? It took years to find out I had a pear tree. If you are serious into fitness, serious into a sport or just want to look better, give yourself the time to really bloom.


In the gym, we talk about time under the bar or time under tension. I want you to think years under the bar, years on the track and years developing your craft.




IWT: an underappreciated training method

(We had some kind of issue this week; Here is a piece on sprinting and bodyweight work. )

Like many of you, I have moved a few times in my life. Dragging training equipment over a few state lines is very expensive and, frankly, a royal pain. Through the years, I have bought and rebought several Olympic bars, lots of various smaller weights and a lot of other pieces of training equipment. My gym today is still a collection of odds and ends, but my favorite equipment and training still has one key:


I love pure exercise. After every lifting workout, weather permitting, I go outside and play catch with a football, Frisbee or medicine ball. Jogging back and forth and yelling “I’m open, I’m open” is still just pure fun. Training outside gets you some sunshine, some extra “cardio” or whatever and reminds you of the athlete you still should be today.

I make my living selling training solutions to people and I have a little combination that you can use today, either outside or in many gym settings, that can be as simple as you want it to be or feel free to move up with a few of my extra suggestions.

It’s two movements you already know: the Push Up and sprinting. With the Push Up, I ask that you keep your heels together, squeeze your knees together (my usual joke here: “How Utah teaches birth control!”), and try to crush walnuts in your armpits. I want a lot of tension here.

Feel free to jog, run, sprint or just stride for the sprinting section. I’m asking you to do this: combine your running with Push Ups. There are probably a million variations, but let’s give you several simple ideas:

The basic idea:
Do a set of ten Push Ups. Pop up off the ground and accelerate up and then ease off for about a total run of 100 yards. Pop back on the ground and do ten more Push Ups. Try this for THREE total combos at first:
10 Push Ups
10 Push Ups
10 Push Ups
10 Push Ups

That’s 40 Push Ups and 300 or so yards of running. Did you notice something? What gets you tired is getting up and down off the ground! What used to exhaust me in football wasn’t just the hand fighting, the sprinting and the collisions but getting up and down over and over and over.

Feel free to increase the total number of combos, add more reps in the Push Ups or increase the distance. I would also suggest that you consider cutting back the reps to as few as one and decreasing the distance but increase the speed.

If you want to try something a bit more “leggy,” bring out a dumbbell or Kettlebell and do some Goblet Squats, drop the load, and sprint away. I use these for anyone in a collision sport or collision occupation to teach that odd “gear change” you need for dealing with multiple priorities. You can also mix Goblet Squats, Push Up and sprints into a delightful “one stop shop” for conditioning purposes.

Training never has to be complex. It never should be, either. Also, stop trying to worry about every detail and every percentage and get out there and have some fun again.


The One Arm Press…one of my favorites

The one arm overhead press might be the best single overall upperbody lift for the adult male. It works the deltoids and triceps as well as all the supporting muscles for the entire body. Along with a squat or deadlift, you might have the perfect combination for basic simple training for most men.


My favorite workout scheme for one arm presses is also the method I use in my book, “Mass Made Simple.” I strongly believe that one arm presses allow you to handle a lot of volume, so I use two “ladder” schemes for almost any purpose (sports help, hypertrophy, fat loss, this is “one size fits all”):


The 2-3-5(-10) method.

I have discussed this scheme before, but very simply the first variation is to do this:

Two reps left arm

Two reps right arm

Three reps left arm

Three reps right arm

Five reps left arm

Five reps right arm

If light enough, to a set of ten left and right, too. This is not always possible. This workout (with the tens) is forty total reps. It won’t “feel” like forty as you moved back and forth between limbs and the reps changed. If you do this a number of times, well, this will be a lot of time under load. And, that is a good thing!


I suggest for most people to do the entire workout with one weight. Let the volume be the issue and not your technique under heavy loads. If you decide to go up, an interesting way to do this is simply:

2-3-5 (Both Sides)

Add Weight

2-3-5 (Both Sides)

Add Weight

2-3-5 (Both Sides)

I don’t suggest doing this much more than this, but occasionally it would be fun to push up another round. Oh, and skip the tens on this variation as we are trying to get the biggest bells we can in the last round of five.


For the older trainee, the one arm press works all the muscles that Janda explained weakened with age. In other words, if a 50 plus man asked me “that question,” “If you could only do one lift, what would it be?,” I would answer one arm presses. Yes, it even works the glute as you can’t have a saggy butt when pressing half bodyweight overhead with one arm.


Experiment with increasing the amount to one arm pressing that you do. There is no contest or Gold Medal for one arm pressing, but the rewards are great.


Thinking!!!!…and the Strength Coach

Years ago, a friend of mine was spending a lot of time on the road selling whatever he was selling at the time. He took some good advice and decided to turn his travels into a “Mobile University” and he began collecting audiotape books. These came in large boxes with dozens of cassettes inside. Part of the fun of a road trip was pulling out the right one and hoping to flip it in on the correct side.

As he bought more and more, he would often give me his overflow. When he gave me Earl Nightingale’s “Lead the Field,” my life changed. Nightingale, a survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor (he was a Marine on the Arizona), he was the pioneer of recorded motivational work. His website sums the key point:


“When he was 29, Earl’s enlightenment had come to him as a bolt out of the blue while reading, ‘Think and Grow Rich’. It came when he realized that the six words he read were the answer to the question he had been looking for! That, ‘we become what we think about.’”


I have often argued that we need to spend more time thinking about our training. Earl’s advice to all problems was to get out a legal pad and come up with every idea, no matter how crazy, to solve this problem. My athletic career reflects the insight ‘we become what we think about.’” I have a shelf of training journals, yards of magazines and books and my telephone contact list is worth gold in this industry. I would like to talk about just three “little ideas” in the three key areas of strength training that I think are the basis of improvement: repetitions, workouts and programming.


A few years ago, Brian Oldfield (former world record holder in the Shot Put) and I were just sitting around talking about lifting. He told me about a Polish school where the kids were lifting and he came away with this gem: instead of counting “up,” like most Americans, they were counting down, like a takeoff at NASA: 5-4-3-2-1. Brian loved the idea because the concept of “Blast Off” was perfect with the explosive nature of training.


It’s not a big deal, but it is worth a try. I am a huge fan of the 5 x 5 workout for most people and this would little change might be very valuable on those tough sets at four and five. I have always thought that the second to last set is the toughest mentally and this is a way to maybe get around that issue.


In programming, I keep my eye on two basic concepts which open the way for a third. First, I am all about looking for gaps in training. Gaps are anything you should be doing but you are not doing. Here is my list of the fundamental human movements (there are other lists and all have value, but as a strength coach, you have to keep it simple and clear):





Loaded Carry

(Everything Else)


Most people skip squats and loaded carries. I have argued for years that just adding goblet squats and farmer walks to most workouts will take care of most people’s training problems. When we train, Mike Brown does the math after every session to see if we are really getting a balance across our movements. It is always a challenge, of course, to judge a 700 pound deadlift (hinge) with light goblet squats and see if there is a balance, but even looking for gaps is all I ask.


Next, logically, comes the standards. I have been working on dozens of standards and I have shared them with my readers in the past. The key to understanding standards is that you have to have them adjusted for your goal. A special operator would probably be best at fives on a scale of ten. The NUMBER of things the SO should be at a five might go into the hundreds.


I have found that when a high school boy gets over 200 in the bench press, clean and front squat, good things seem to happen. Here is my “Big Blue Club,” the basic standard for being a Varsity athlete:

Power Clean 205

Deadlift 315

Back Squat 255

Front Squat 205

Standing Press 115

One Arm Bench 32kg5 Right/5 left

Power Clean & Jerk 165

Bench Press 205


This should be easy enough for the boy to do all in one training session.


The third idea to help your programming is to trust yourself and train with your intuition. A decade ago, it was called “Instinctive Training,” but it is simply this: when you have put the time, effort and energy into your training and your training thinking, you can sometimes “get a hint” that you need to do x, y or z.


Many of my morning sessions are done with a group of people from various ages and athletic backgrounds. I often ask: “does anyone need to work on anything?” Sometimes, a participant will say something very simple and direct and the group will all be now working on this issue or problem. Generally, within a few minutes, we all agree that we needed the exact same corrections.


If you keep a running log of checking your gaps and trying to be up to standards, you can allow yourself a lot more flexibility in your training because you can see over a week or month whether your “instinct” is right or wrong. I have never thought it was wrong or ill to focus on an issue, a weakness or a gap for up to two years to bring it up to standard. Your strengths will stay, in fact, they tend to actually improve when the whole system is improved. So, when it comes to training on intuition: “Trust, but verify.”


I spend a fair amount of time simply “thinking” about how to make my training and my athletes’ training better. Time spent with a yellow legal pad might be far better than much of what you do in the gym each day.

Forgot my Blog??? A new interview and a question

Did I forget my Blog? Sorry!

New Interview here from my back porch.


“Dan, I train in tight quarters. I want to learn the Olympic style lifts, but I can’t afford to miss a lift, otherwise damage will be done. How should I train”

That is where my Transformation Program came from

I only had two 25 pound plates, two 35s, and a bar. I trained in my guest room a few feet from bookshelves, trophy cases and lots of porcelein dolls.

My transformation program is based on 3 sets of 8 with a minute rest:

Day One
Military Press
Power Curl

Day Two
Front Squat
Overhead Squat

Day Three
Whip Snatch (or High Hang Power Snatches)
Clean Grip Snatch from the Knee

I literally never missed, because I couldn’t. I went to a meet on this program, never cleaning or squatting with more than 165 and Clean and Jerked 308. So, it is possible to do this.