Dan John’s Advice

I’ve been training a couple of people for a two months and we’ve had good results. We do the five exercises below along with push-ups and overhead presses.
Dan John is a successful trainer who’s been around for a long time. I excerpted much of what’s below from an article he wrote called “Things That Are Good For You.” In it, he has some good advice on how to do the five exercises he thinks are important: the squat, the deadlift, good mornings, bent over rows, and the plank.


The Squat – Squats can do more for mass and strength than probably all other lifts combined. But, doing them wrong can do more damage than probably all the other moves, too.

First, find a place where no one is watching and squat down. At the “bottom,” the deepest you can go, push your knees out with your elbows. Relax and go a bit deeper. Your feet should be flat on the floor. For most people, driving your knees out with your elbows will simplify squatting forever.

Next, try this. Stand arms length from a door knob. Grab the knob with both hands and get your chest “up.” The lats naturally spread a bit and the shoulders come back “a little.” Now, lower yourself down. What people discover at this moment is a basic physiological fact: the legs are not like stilts under the torso. Rather, the torso is slung between the legs. As you go down, leaning back with arms straight, you will discover one of the true keys of lifting: you squat “between your legs.” You do not fold and unfold like an accordion; you sink between your legs.

Now, you are ready to learn the single best lifting movement of all time: the Goblet Squat. Grab a dumbbell and hold it against your chest. Hold it vertically by the one end, like you are holding a goblet against your chest. Now with the weight cradled against your chest, squat down with the goal of having your elbows (pointed down because you are cradling the dumbbell) slide past the inside of your knees. It’s okay to have the elbows push the knees out as you descend. I’m not sure I should tell you this, but I think Goblet Squats is all the squatting that most people need.

The Deadlift – Keep that dumbbell at hand. The biggest problem I see with most people’s deadlift is that they simply have forgotten how to pick things up off the floor.

Stand tall and hold the one end of the dumbbell at arm’s length pointing it straight down at the ground. The dumbbell should be slung right between your legs. These are called “Potato Sack Squats” and are a great reminder of how to deadlift. Let the dumbbell descend to a point between your feet. Keep your head up and chest proud and simply lower the bell touch and return. Simple.

Now, why don’t you deadlift like that? It’s the world’s simplest lift!

When using a barbell, always make sure when you use plates that leave the bar at the same height as with 45 pound plates. A couple of key hints:

  1. Keep the weight on the heels. I insist on teaching my athletes to “Push your heels to China.”
  2. Use the standard “opposite hands” grip from day one in the Deadlift. I do suggest, though, that you switch your grip often until you find which way allows the most weight.
  3. Your arms are steel rods in the Deadlift. Lock ‘em out and leave ‘em.
  4. Keep your head up. Many of my athletes upped their Deadlift in one workout by having the chin lead to the ceiling.

Good Mornings – Before you begin, two things. First, stand up and place your hands in the “V” that is formed where your torso meets your legs. You know what I’m talking about.

Now push your hands into the “V” and push your butt back as your hands sink into the “V.” That’s the movement of a good morning. Yes, keep your head up, shoulder blades pinched back, and hold a big chest, but the movement is simply increasing the “V.”  If you do it right, even with no weight, you’ll feel the hamstrings stretching. This is good.

I strongly suggest learning the movement with a broomstick first. A nice little adjustment is to stand with your back against the wall and push your butt BACK into the wall. Then, scoot out a few inches and push back again. Keep moving away until you literally can’t touch the wall any more. That’s the position that I recommend you go into on the good morning. Don’t make this a Yoga exercise by trying to go as deep forward as possible.

Bent Over Rows – Before you go any further with Rows, I want you to do a few sets of “Bat Wings.” Lay 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. All I want you to do is squeeze those dumbbells as high as you can and cram your shoulder blades together. Don’t bounce, swing, hop or do any of the stuff that most guys rowing do. The next day, that really cramped feeling muscle in your upper back is called the rhomboids. The development of the rhomboids will save your shoulders.

When you row, get into that good morning “V” Position and strive to touch the chest. Focus on the last four inches “at the top.” A great Rowing exercise is the “Two Part Row.” 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.

Planks – Here’s the one minute plank. The first twenty seconds, the right leg is raised as high as it can be raised towards the ceiling. Without leaving the plank position, do the next twenty seconds with the left leg up. Finally, do twenty seconds of the plank.

That’s it. You could even start out with a light dumbbell and buy a heavier one when you get too strong for the one you have.