interpreting Coach Dan John's matrix

I am a huge fan of Coach Dan John's writing. I re-read (at least) 2 of his many books every year because they are classics. And also because there are just so many nuggets in there that many are missed by me because I lack the experience and knowledge to understand what he's trying to say. And some day, something I've read before will suddenly click and the meaning of something he says will dawn on me, and it turns into one more tool in my toolbox!

For example, his simple fat-loss goal of "Be 1 lb lighter on Dec 31st of this year, than you were on Jan 1" took me only a year to comprehend. It is just genius but if your first thought is "pfft! I need to lose 10 kilos", come back next year and try reading the above line again.

Coach John talks about how many of his ideas and thoughts have been poorly interpreted, and from my sample size of 1, I can agree. While his writing is clear, funny, and simple - it is not easy to internalize. Only when I am ready for his lesson does his lesson become clear. So, I thought I'd interpret some of his brilliant insights and see if breaking them down further might elucidate it for others like me. Please note that this is my interpretation and I cannot be 100% certain that this is what he meant.

The Reasonable-Tough Matrix

Most of us want to train hard all the time, and our nutrition varies from eating like crap all the time to being in the strictest craziest diet for a few weeks. How do we balance these two out? Obviously nutrition plays a huge role in losing fat, and intelligent exercise adds to it. And to maintain or build muscle, training becomes more important and nutrition, well, stays equally important.

The words Coach uses are reasonable and tough. Fairly straightforward, right.

Reasonable can mean light, something that does not stress you out too much physically or mentally, where you can afford to make more mistakes and have given yourself a lot of leeway. Tough means trying to get it as right as possible, and rather intense - whether it is nutrition or training.

Most of us want tough training all the time because that's sexy. And most of us never want tough nutrition, ever. Coz it sucks, and it is hard to have a social life, or fight those cravings.

But we need to figure out a way to balance out the four choices, and our calendar year.

  1. Reasonable Training + Reasonable Nutrition
  2. Reasonable Training + Tough Nutrition
  3. Tough Training + Reasonable Nutrition
  4. Tough Training + Tough Nutrition

Let's look at how I apply this, over a calendar year. January to March, with the Daily9's Fat Loss Challenge is a time where nutrition is on point! And I had just had a relaxed 6 weeks of training prior to this, so I was able to apply #4 for January to March.

My training for this quarter (April-June) is a lot more relaxed, where I wave my light days and heavy days based on how I feel. And I do not stress about missing a training session, and have enough leeway built into not hitting a target. So, while am slowly making progress towards my goal of squatting 64kgs for 10 reps (Double KB Front Squat), my training is reasonable. My nutrition is strict over the weekdays and relaxed over the weekends, and to be honest, that means it is reasonable as well. My weight maintains, and my strength numbers make progress with easy strength work.

In August, am preparing for the Quad certification and in September, am hoping to assist and re-test for my StrongFirst certification. Which translates to tough training! My nutrition will continue to be reasonable i.e. strict over the weekdays and relaxed over the weekends. And even my strict is not FLC-strict. For example, sugar in my tea does happen. In September, am hoping to visit the USA, which means reasonable nutrition will be downgraded even more.

For Q4, I'll have 6-8 weeks of reasonable training but tough nutrition, because of the unreasonable activities I'll be doing in September. And then finish the year with some tough training for just 3-4 weeks but reasonable nutrition.

And every quarter, I have a week where my nutrition becomes extremely relaxed i.e. I eat anything and everything I can get my hands on. This does not really fit into Coach's framework here, but such is life.

This is how I interpret Coach John's matrix for myself. It comes down to

  • Reasonable training + Reasonable nutrition = ~20 weeks
  • Reasonable training + Tough nutrition = ~8 weeks
  • Tough training + Reasonable nutrition = ~12 weeks
  • Tough training + Tough nutrition = ~12 weeks

And my goals for the year, and every year, are

  • improve skill and technique and continue to learn
  • stay healthy
  • improve body composition (even if my waist on Jan 1 2020 is 1cm lesser than Jan 1 2019, that counts)
  • maintain my sanity, and have fun!

In Conclusion

Life happens. And how we live life matters. It is important to consider that there's no one right way, but this is a beautiful framework to use personally.

Contrary to what you might think, there's less than a quarter of the year when am trying to get everything right. But then, my 'normal' is normal and not too difficult for me i.e. eating right 5 days of the week and having a relaxed weekend works rather well. That's reasonable for me.

And to be transparent, I do go overboard. When I break my weekend rule, and it stretches into a week or longer is when I do real damage to myself and my goals. And it does happen. At least twice a year. But that's the time to use the other tools in the toolbox and bring in some tough nutrition.

And just in the process of writing this down, I realise maybe I have too much of tough training going on. And that does not seem accurate to me because a lot of what I do is either based off of "Easy Strength" or "Simple + Sinister" which are just exemplars of reasonable training. Anyways, that's for me to muse further on.

Now, about you. Think about your year. Think about your training. Your goals. And check out Coach John's writings, and build your toolbox.

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