Simplify and Add Lightness
by Steven M. Ledbetter
3 minute read
For the last two years at exactly this time, I’ve packed up the Coach Stevo Show and flown to tiny Denison University in Granveille, Ohio to hang out with Dan John and the extended family of John Powell’s Throws Camp, aka “Discus Camp.” I’m not a thrower. I’m not a track athlete. But every year I learn more than I could doing just about anything else with my week. This year, I realized that Discus Camp is enlightening not because of all the stuff we do, but all the stuff we don’t do. We sleep in dorms. We eat 3 meals at the same time every day in the cafeteria. When we do not eat in the cafeteria, we eat at Taco Dan’s. A few dozen throwers go through a handful of drills, and the world’s best throws coaches talk about coaching throws. We wake up, coach, eat, talk, coach, eat, talk, coach, eat, coach, then sleep. That’s it. That’s Discus Camp.
So do you want to know how to become a world class thrower? Here’s everything you need to know about becoming a world class thrower in a sentence: “If you want to throw far, you need to lift heavy stuff and throw things.” What’s missing from that sentence? All the stuff you don’t need to do. To quote Dan, “it’s the stuff you throw out of your program that makes you throw farther.”
This reminded me of another one of my favorite quotes from another hero of mine. Colin Chapman was the founder of Lotus Cars and one of the most important racing engineers in history. Under his direction between 1962 and 1978, Team Lotus won seven Formula One Constructors’ titles, six Drivers’ Championships, and the Indianapolis 500 in the United States. He invented the monocoque chassis, composite body panels, aerodynamics, ground effects, and many other little things that race engineers take for granted today because of his unwavering focus on one motto: “Simplify and add lightness.”
Colin Chapman and Dan John are fantastic examples of people who end up thinking way outside the box, because of a laser focus on a single mission. Does the disc go further? Does the car go faster? These are simple metrics. Staying focused on them means that Chapman and Dan John can have the courage to test out crazy stuff (like slosh pipes or the Lotus 79) and know if it works. Does the disc go further? Does the car go faster? But that focus also gives them the courage to throw out some very conventional wisdom, too (like that you have to throw an actual discus or the tube-chassis) and know that they’re right. Because the disc went further and the car went faster. Throwing out the 80% you don’t need means you can put more time into the 20% that really works. The reason Chapman’s motto is “add lightness” and not “cut weight” is because making a lighter car adds so much more to the car. Every gram he shaved made it more of a race car. Every moment that Dan’s throwers spend doing full turns means they are going to be more of a thrower. To quote Pat Flynn, it’s “addition by subtraction” because you get to spend all that time doing what actually works.
All of my programming uses what Dan calls “The Five Human Movements plus One.” Push, Pull, Hinge Squat, Loaded Carry, then “everything else.” I know that if I get people stronger in these movements, they will almost universally reach their goals. I vary the ways we do the movements, but I do not waiver from these. I do not constantly vary them, because I want my clients to get better at them. Throwers throw. Sprinters sprint. My clients Push, Pull, Hinge Squat, Loaded Carry, then “everything else.” Their progress is defined by what they don’t do, so they can focus what works. We simplify, then we add weight.