Never Let Go: A Philosophy of Lifting, Living and Learning - by Dan John

The Tabata Method — Fat Loss in Four Minutes

Take one exercise and perform it in the following manner.

  1. For twenty seconds, do as many repetitions as possible.
  2. Rest for ten seconds.
  3. Repeat seven more times.

The front squat might be the single best Tabata lift. Generally, I urge people to go light, like sixty-five to ninety-five pounds the first time. I use the lowest rep number of any of the eight sets as my measurement to compare workout to workout. If you go too heavy, that number might be two. If you go too light, you might find yourself getting fifteen reps or more.

I do either Tabata front squats or Tabata thrusters about twice a month.

If it's Important, Do it Every Day

Remember, if it’s important, do it every day. Do this with a weak body part, a weak lift, or something you’re trying to learn. Don’t force it, just keep banging away day after day and soon the body is going to grant your wish; you’re going to have some level of success here. Yes, it’s that simple: Do something you think is important every day.

The big five lifts:

  • A deadlift
  • A form of pressing
  • An explosive full-body move. He chose the heavy dumbbell swing.
  • A form of pulling. Cerutty called for pull-ups and cheat curls. Cheat curls are like a power clean with a curl grip (power curls), or that bouncing heavy bar curl you see every gym-rat in the world do when he gets tired from strict curls.
  • An abdominal exercise. If deadlifts make you go one way, the ab exercise should strengthen you in the other.

After going heavy on these lifts with two to five sets of two to five (save for swings and abs where the reps go fairly high), hang from a pull-up bar and stretch for a few minutes.

Try working a weak exercise, lift, or body part each and every workout as part of your warm-up.

  • With a body-part workout, add a few sets of a few reps with whole-body lifts you won’t be targeting.
  • Put together a series of walks, drags, carries, lifts, moves and exercises that challenge you in a variety of ways, but are still doable, and toss in a workout as a bit of dessert at the end of your training day.

Blood on the Barbell

For people living in the world of regular hours, regular meals, and regular bowel movements, I have only one bit of advice: planned spontaneity. Learn some new skills. Learn the snatch and clean and jerk. Sign up and compete in a Highland Games or Strongman contest. Learn some new lifts. Hey, there’s an idea!

New Associations, New Muscle

There are basically nine different movements you should do as a human:

  • Vertical Push
  • Vertical Pull
  • Horizontal Push
  • Horizontal Pull
  • The Squatting Motion
  • The Posterior Chain (I call these deadlifts)
  • The Anterior Chain (sit-ups, leg raises)
  • The Twist or Torque Moves
  • The Total-body Explosion Exercises (If you’re limited by time, these are the ones to do.)

The Big Five

  • Squat
  • Deadlift
  • Good Morning
  • Bentover Row
  • Plank

Before you go any further with rows, I want you to do a few sets of “bat wings.” Yes, I invented them... just after I invented the internet. Lie face down on a standard bench with two dumbbells on the floor. Now, here is where it gets confusing; I don’t care at all about your range of movement. I only want you to pull the last four inches of flexion. If you were doing push-ups, it would be from the floor to about four inches off the ground. All I want you to do is squeeze those ’bells as high as you can and cram your shoulder blades together. You can’t jump, bounce, swing, hop or do any of that crazy stuff most guys do when rowing. Do a bunch of sets of five. The next day, that really cramped-feeling muscle in your upper back is called the rhomboid. Oh, and you’re welcome. You see, the development of the rhomboids will save your shoulders, make you stand taller and lead you to a life of wisdom and wealth. Maybe.

When you row, get into that good morning V position and strive to touch the chest. Ignore the part where you have long arms and focus on the last four inches at the top. A great rowing exercise is two-part rows. Rep one comes up to the belly button and rep two comes up to the nipples. Really strive to feel how much more your elbows have to come up to make the lift. I suggest doing bat wings at least every time you do a horizontal push like bench presses or incline bench presses. And when you row, row. Finish the stroke!

I have one drill to assess all kinds of issues with my athletes. It is a one-minute plank done as follows: The first twenty seconds, the right leg is raised as high as it can be raised towards the ceiling... an Arabesque right leg, if you will. Without leaving the plank position, do the next twenty seconds with the left leg Arabesque position. Finally, do twenty seconds of the plank. This is how to increase your life: That minute will feel like forever. How do we assess what happened? Many of my athletes who have done far too many bench presses and hard baseball throws complain the planks hurt their armpits. For these athletes, we need bentover rows and bat wings. Lots of bat wings. If the athlete flops to the ground and maniacally begins stretching the hamstrings or complains about hamstring cramping, I know the goblet squat and maybe the deadlift are needed for repairing the posterior chain, especially a thing called Sleepy Butt Syndrome — wake up your glutes! These athletes probably should be doing light good mornings every day, as well as a daily dose of light goblet squats. If we just have a shaking torso and screaming in the last ten seconds, well, that’s easy: Include planks as part of your workouts, usually after you do anything heavy.