In Praise of Dan John

Dan John is fitness guru. He is also a genius teacher. I say this not because he is the most credentialed, good-looking, accomplished, best-selling this or that. He may embody some of these things, but I have a different reason to praise him this way.

I claim that he’s a genius teacher because he reduces fitness complexity to simplicity, giving non-fitness gurus (like me) more understanding. The most important fitness advice I have ever absorbed is in this article (describing a strength program which also deserves attention.) Dan teaches that there are five essential human movements:

  • Hip Hinge
  • Squat
  • Upper Body Push
  • Upper Body Pull
  • Loaded Carry/Core

That’s it!

He gives examples in the article, which would be a worthwhile read. But the takeaway is to remember and use the five movements as a template, so you can always build strength no matter where you are. If you have access to a barbell and a pullup bar, you might perform these five movements:

  • Deadlift for the Hip Hinge
  • Front squat for the Squat
  • Strict press for the Upper Body Push
  • Pullups for the Upper Body Pull
  • Farmer’s carry for the Loaded Carry/Core

But let’s say you’re traveling. The hotel’s catabolic wasteland fitness center has neither a barbell nor pullup bar; however, it does have dumbells, some of them heavy. You could still get everything you need with this scheme:

  • Dumbell snatch for the Hip Hinge
  • Dumbell squat for the Squat
  • Dumbell press for the Upper Body Push
  • Dumbell row for the Upper Body Pull
  • Dumbell farmer’s carry for the Loaded Carry/Core

If you can keep these five movements in mind, you can get a good workout anywhere. Obviously, you have to choose a weight/rep/set scheme that taxes you; but it’s good to use these movements (not body parts) as a template when you’re standing in the fitness center thinking, “Now what?”