The Basics Will Never Fail You: Dan John Talks The Future of Fitness

Sports Performance | Strength & Conditioning


Dan John

Dan John has spent his life with one foot in the world of lifting and throwing, and the other foot in academia. An All-American discus thrower, Dan has also competed at the highest levels of Olympic lifting, Highland Games and the Weight Pentathlon, an event in which he holds the American record.

I get asked a fair amount of questions at parties. If you train people, party go-ers want you to sum up 52 years of experience in one sentence…then, they argue with you using something they read on the internet.

Since I also teach Religious Studies, I also get hammered by questions about ghosts, dead aunts communicating, and aliens. I used to answer as best I could, but I discovered the key:

The follow up question.

“Dan, I’m not religious, but I am VERY spiritual.”

“What do YOU mean by that?”

“Oh, I read my horoscope daily.”


So, when I get asked about the direction of the wide, wide world of fitness, I ask a question first:

“What do YOU mean by that?”

“Mean by what?”

Let me help out. Let’s just look at a few words that come to mind when the word “fitness” gets used:

  • Health
  • Longevity
  • Nutrition (Diet)
  • Fitness
  • Performance

You see, these five words are not redundant. Let me say that again, they are not redundant (I understand that few of you will get that joke).

The problem we have is this: since many people put those words under one hat, all sorts of problems come up.

// Health

I use Phil Maffetone’s definition for health: the optimal interplay of the human organs. You can be big, weak, small, bony, tired, and anything else you can think about… and still be healthy.

Healthy is lack of disease. I always think that “dis-ease” would be a better way to write the word because it is literally the lack of ease in moving blood, waste materials, food, and yourself around that is the problem.

Health is discovered by blood profiles, some machines, and a visit to someone who went to medical, dental, or optometry school. No matter how many crystals you dangle over my chest, you won’t find skin cancer on my leg doing this method.

The future of health does NOT look good. Obesity is statistically growing so fast, researchers have a hard time keeping up with how to make the charts work to explain how fast obesity is growing. Obesity leads to a cascade of health issues and “eat less, move more” is right, but it can’t work alone.

// Longevity

I can answer questions about longevity easily: Don’t Die.

You’re welcome.

If you don’t have health, you might not want longevity, but that is a personal issue. I love reading and studying about longevity because it is something my family doesn’t seem to have!

Bill Gifford’s book, Spring Chicken, does a wonderful job outlining the various issues with longevity. As we boil down the essentials, we find nothing new under the sun:

  • Exercise (probably as little as 100 minutes a week)
  • Fast (at some level; religious traditions all tend to have this concept)
  • Drink more coffee and wine (Yes, true. Here’s the thing: these are two “social” beverages and perhaps the connections you have are more important than whether or not you take some exotic herb).

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Mostly, it helps to be from long living families…and don’t die.

For me, it is always about the quality of life over quantity, but I also think that the two concepts intertwine.

// Nutrition

I can tell you what most people think about nutrition and diet:

Rabbit Food and Starvation

I just returned from a conference in Norway and one thing the presenters hammered down on in talk after talk:

Our brains are NOT wired to deal with the noise.

We expect feast and famine. The advertisers hit us with literally hours a day of food and eating out. When you get to the café, you see dozens of breakfast selections. When you get to the store, you see a dozen different kinds of milk.

Recently, two friends visited from Scotland. The discussion was about orange juice. In Scotland, you buy OJ.


Low pulp, no pulp, extra pulp. Vitamin D added. Calcium added.

It’s like going into a chain coffee store and asking for a damn cup of coffee. They respond with a bunch of Italian sounding names, various languages for drink size, and a price tag equivalent of buying a coffee maker for yourself and a pound of coffee.

My NFL coaching friends all have stories of the players’ cars being loaded with fast food bags in the back seats. At 22 years of age and 60 hours of training a week, you can probably deal with that mess.

The rest of us just keep getting fatter.

The best thing we can do for the future is CUT BACK on choices. Get cartoon characters off of breakfast cereal, simplify shopping, and do not allow companies to compete with evermore enticing food.

No, that won’t happen. Capitalism defines democracy for most people and the food industry studies the same things nutritionists study except they flip the orientation from health to profit.

And that is just the way it is and will continue to be.

Less choice, less fat (around the waist).

// Fitness

I use Darwin’s definition of fitness: the ability to do a task.

That’s it.

Sooooooo…I don’t want to hear that a marathoner is “The Fittest Person on the Planet.” Or, really, anyone. You can fill in the blank with whatever sport or thing you want. If a 103-year-old man becomes a father (Props!…in all ways of the word!), he is fit for fatherhood. He might not be able to do all the tasks of a dad, but he is fit for the task.

And, that’s it.

I think the future of the fitness world is going to continue to stumble around this concept.

“Fit for what?” must be part of your language.

If you want to be an elite thrower, you can’t also compete in a marathon. NFL offensive lineman would not make good Kentucky Derby jockeys….even if they want to.

// Performance

Performance? That’s when they call your name and you step under the lights and compete. I coach people to be better in these moments. One of the ways I do it is with clarity of health, longevity, diet, and fitness.

// And Now Your Answer…

So, what’s the future of this industry? It seems this:

We will follow the model of fast food and junk food: the future of fitness will be crowded with many conflicting choices that make lots of claims and promises.

Save yourself now: focus on the fundamentals, the basics. Eat like an adult. Have a social life. Go for a walk. Do fundamental human movements and master them. Keep coming back.

And, soon, at a party, someone will ask how you keep so fit. You may want to follow up on “what do YOU mean by that?”

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Be Your Best,

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