I first came across Dan John at a Perform Better Summit a few years ago. Since then, I’ve heard his name pop up over and over again.
More recently, BuiltLean contributor Steve Bergeron reviewed the 8-Week BuiltLean Transformation Program I developed. Steve suggested I incorporate more hip-dominant movements and recommended I check out Intervention by Dan John. I bought the book and excitedly starting digging into it.
Dan John is an accomplished strength coach, discus thrower, and Olympic lifter. He has developed a large following of trainers and coaches who enjoy his no frills, strength-based approach to getting very strong and very athletic.
If you are in the fitness field, it’s definitely worth getting the book. As a general consumer, I think you’ll get a lot out of just reading this review.
Intervention Book Structure
The backbone of Intervention (affiliate link) is 10 Questions & 5 Principles. The first question for example is “What is Your Goal?”, which delves into understanding where you are right now to better inform where you want to go. The book seeks to help you find the most direct route from Point A to Point B.
The book is split into 2 Parts, with the first part containing 8 questions and the second part containing the last two questions along with several chapters that delve into more granular exercise advice.
There are 264 pages with 28 chapters. The version I read (affiliate link) was published in 2013.
Intervention 5 Principles
Dan John’s 5 principles help guide all of his advice and serve as the foundation on which the book is built. These principles are very powerful so I hope you take some time to think about them and apply them:
1. Strength training for lean body mass and joint mobility trumps everything else
As we age, we may start to lose muscle and stiffen up. By focusing on building muscle (or at least preserving muscle) and staying flexible, we will have a higher quality of life in the long run. These two facets should be the focus of training.
2. Fundamental human movements are fundamental
Train based on movement patterns, not muscle groups. The more I learn about exercise and teach people how to exercise, the more I realize exercise is all about movement. The body is one interconnected unit.
3. Standards and gaps must be constantly assessed
Dan recommends attacking any weaknesses you have and assessing if they are improving. He’s a big fan of the Functional Movement Screen to identify muscle imbalances and movement dysfunction.
4. The notion of park bench and bus bench workouts must be applied throughout one’s lifetime
A park bench is a metaphor for maintenance style workouts and nutrition approach. The bus bench is a metaphor for more intense programs that are finite, like an 8-week or 12-week program. Alternating between both is what Dan John recommends, but spend most of the time on the park bench.
5. Constantly strive for mastery and grace
Dan introduces a really important concept of grace while working out. Using proper form during exercise is great, but grace takes this concept to a different level. True mastery of an exercise almost makes it look effortless, or graceful. Our goal during exercise is to make exercise look as graceful and efficient as possible.
Intervention 5 Movement Patterns
I’ve written about movement patterns before, but Dan simplifies the concept even further with his take on movement patterns to train:
1. Push – anything from bench press to half kneeling presses.
2. Pull – anything from pull-ups to bent-over-rows.
3. Hinge – this means hinging, or bending the hips. Hip and hamstring flexibility is critical in order to hinge your hips effectively. Dan’s favorite exercise is kettlebell swings, which he talks about often. Needless to say, I’ve added more to my workouts. Deadlifts are also in the hinge category.
4. Squat – Dan loves goblet squats holding a kettlebell, but also discusses front and back squats if you have proper flexibility to do them.
5. Loaded Carry – examples include farmer’s walk where you hold dumbbells, or kettlebells in each hand, or sandbag carries. I have also incorporated farmer’s carries into my workouts and the grip strength benefits alone make me feel stronger.
Dan then describes the “Sixth Movement” which represents all the other stuff, like single leg exercises and running, jumping, and kicking etc.
Simplicity – Dan has a minimalist philosophy, which I love. His instinct is to take stuff out versus add stuff in. The idea is that a workout, or workout plan does not need to be complex to generate exceptional results, even for elite athletes. A workout can be as simple as 1, 2, or even just 3 exercises completed intensely.
Nuggets of wisdom – Dan has a lot of experience, so he includes a lot of pearls of wisdom from exercise, to nutrition, to life. I’ve shared some of them with you here, like the 5 principles.
Exercise ideas – Dan offers a lot of interesting exercise ideas, which I am playing around with in my own workouts. I’m a major fan of the basics, and Dan offers a lot of fundamental exercises you may not use now, but can add to your routine.
No workout sheets – Workouts are typically very simple, which is the strength of the book, but it would have been cool to have workout sheets, or maybe even an appendix of workouts versus having the workouts embedded throughout the book and in paragraphs.
No photos of exercises – As you are reading you may want to see a photo of an exercise, but there are none. You need to search online.
Concepts can get confusing – The book is organized by 10 questions, but there are several chapters added in between some questions. The combination of all the different questions and several different conceptual frameworks got a bit confusing at times. For example, the 4 quadrants of identifying what type of exerciser you are tripped me up a bit. If you are not a fitness professional, some of the exercise jargon may get confusing.
I have not checked out the Intervention DVD (affiliate link) set yet, but many of the cons are apparently addressed in the DVD where more visual examples are given. If you are more of a visual learner, from what I’ve heard from friends, get the DVD over the book. I’m more of a bookworm.
While it may seem like I’ve said a lot, there is a lot I haven’t mentioned. For example, Dan’s thoughts on how strong men and women should be for each movement pattern are intriguing (it’s more than you think). But in order to learn them, you can check out the book.
Hope you enjoyed this review and gleaned a few nuggets of wisdom.
Good write up on Dan’s book. I’ve read some of his other stuff and watched some of his seminar presentations, he has a lot of advocates and followers, so he’s obviously doing something right.
I have suffered a fair bit with some hip disfunction, stiffness, lack of mobility etc, and using the goblet squats he recommends has really helped me big time.
I like Dan John, he doesn’t have that air of arrogance that some ‘experts’ do, he’s just a down to earth guy who seems to know what works, what doesn’t, and how to incorporate strength and mobility drills to remove disfunction.
I know that he aligns pretty well with Mike Boyle and Gray Cook, what a trio!!
Anyway, excellent evaluation, I will definitely be taking a read of that in the near future