“Collecting the Links:” My fly on the wall review of Chip Conrad’s Talk

Collecting the Links
Note from Dan John: I’m sure I will expand this for the DVD. If you are not in the know, Chip and I gave talks for a new DVD this weekend and these are just some of my notes from his talk. I thought it would be interesting to put my parallel insights into a post.

Josh Vert intuitively knew that Chip Conrad and I would knit together a presentation without ever having met face to face. I have long been a big fan of Chip’s work at Body Tribe and, with just a touch of pride, it is nice to see that they use what they call “Dan John Complexes.” A true “Dan John Complex” would be always trying to have the most fun and win everything, but Body Tribe uses a series of exercises back to back to back. It’s all semantics.

So, when we all rolled into Arcata at 21 Grams Gym (the weight, some argue, of the soul and an interesting way to hint that the gym is holistic) to film our DVD, I was finally able to shake Chip’s hand. At the end of the day, I felt like our approaches linked together in a dynamic living model worthy of further exploration.

I have booklet only available to my online college students called “Collecting the Links.” My side job as a religious studies professor keeps my wife in chocolate and pantyhose, as I always tell her. The word, “religion,” is actually from the same root as ligament and it literally means: “to link back.” My twin careers in strength and religious studies have both been strongly influenced by the notion that we constantly have to reach back and study the methods of the masters.

“Collecting the Links” is my attempt to clear out the clutter for my students and show them the gems that can be mined from every religious tradition. Trust me, “Respect your parents,” a concept in every tradition, makes more and more sense as you age. With this vision, I would like to spend a few minutes connecting Chip’s insights with my vision of strength training and hint about the process of achieving both personal and communal success from the lessons learned here.

After the workshop, as we were parting, Chip noted we should subtitle the Workshop: “The Holy Trinity and the Four Horsemen.” Many know my addiction to the Fibonacci Numbers (1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 55, 89) has been a lifelong issue. I was number 89 in football (I have a famous story, “F— You 89!,” worthy of retelling) and my programs live in the world of 3 x 8, 5 x 2, Big 21, and Big Five 55. But, the number three holds a special place for both me and nearly all religious traditions. The Pythagoreans established the number as perhaps the basis of the universe (Past, Present and Future would be the simplest example) and their understanding of Geometry shaped philosophy. Plato famously insisted: “”Let no one destitute of geometry enter my doors.” And, of course, Christianity is based squarely on threes and the Holy Trinity.

Chip lives in the “Fours,” it would seem. His workshop: “Strength Rituals: Creating the Holistic Athlete” was subtitled “The Four Horsemen of Coaching.” Now, growing up Irish, there has to be a moment for clarity as all my Uncles thought of this when one mentioned the Four Horsemen:

Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore their names are Death, Destruction, Pestilence, and Famine. But those are aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Crowley, Miller and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds this afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plain below. (Grantland Rice)

Chip’s Four Horsemen probably have more application to the masses:
Technique….the How
Program Design…the What
Personality…the Who
Purpose…the Why.

In Chip’s mind, the most important is the “Why.” In this DVD, it may seem like I ignore the “Why,” but I have presented many workshops on this key pillar of lifelong (and beyond) success. I have pulled deeply from the Epic of Gilgamesh, Earl Nightingale and Viktor Frankl to unpack the importance of answering the “why” of every goal before pursuing the “how.”

Chip’s seven levels of choosing our “why” truly illumines a deep reflection of the fitness industry. The physical, when set apart, are almost laughable. As we move upward from “Looking good nekkid” to finally, “I want to win,” we see the basic problems with attempting to learn anything from internet forums. Rarely, do we visit and find discussion of the next step, the metaphysical.

My systems approach is truly based in these “lower four,” sadly. Once I discover your goal, I drive you towards the simplest program/system/approach I can with laser beam intensity. “This is what you want…then, THIS is what you must do!” Now, in total candor, I am prouder that my former athletes are lawyers, doctors, professors, educators and successful citizens. This concept, explained in the third part of my talk, I simply called being “Knitted,” the proper definition of fitness.

So, in this first principle of Chip’s talk, the emphasis on “Why,” we can see the value of Josh’s insight of bring us both together. It’s a crucial point I will try not to forget: I have this “Why Workshop” floating around, but I forget to bridge it with the “How.” Chip’s next three principles, the Metaphysical (literally, the “after physical”) reflect the best of the human community: Participating, Giving, and Being. It blends in well with my personal mission: make a difference.

It would be a rare person in the teaching and coaching industries that comes in and remains purely for the money. Certainly, in my experience, being the head track coach, and its $1200 stipend for a year’s work, would be the farthest example of doing something for the money.

After discussing “threes” and “fours” with Chip, I suggested that he link the “other three together” with the overriding quality being the Why. There is no question in my mind that the Why trumps all the other Horsemen, in this case.

As our presentations began to turn towards the physical, I used my “truths” of Systems to highlight the importance of planning in training:

1. The body is one magnificent piece. This must remain at the forefront in all training systems.

2. Everything works.

3. Everything works…for about six weeks.

4. Time will magnify all errors and omissions.

5. A system is not a collection of workouts, programs or e-books.

Chip summed this brilliantly with: “Do things better.” As he began his discussion on the How of things, he broke down training into four shapes:

How to stand
How to sit
How to crawl
How to flow

There may be some who see a divide between this and my use of the Five (Plus One) Fundamental Human Movements:

Loaded Carry
“Everything Else”

In his explanations and our discussions, Chip and I agreed on everything. During the break, I offered this idea to Chip: instead of four movements, think three plus the flow between them:


Good stuff

As I began to think about some of the adult training programs I have been pushing on my clients recently, plus the great insights of Tim Anderson considering learning from babies, I think Chip is on to something here. We have been challenging the “needs” of Middle Age with this, and similar, complexes:

Swings x 15
Goblet Squats x 5
Push Ups x 5 (Repeat the cluster as needed)

Now, obviously, there is a cardio hit here, and we see the essentials of standing, sitting and crawling. But, as we have all noted who do this workout, it is the transitions that make it worthy of Chip’s insights. Athletics and life are lived in the flux and the transitions as Chip emphasized here. Between “How to Crawl” and “How to Stand,” one can easily argue that this is the walking and sprinting of Loaded Carries, as well as the “one size serves all” of the Sixth Movement: the Turkish Get Up. So, as much as I love coaching the basic movements, I need to remind myself constantly of the flow between them.

More later…when I feel the love.

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