Lessons Learned

John - can we expect a “things I learned” installment from 2014?

John – where is your annual article about things you learned? That shit is golden.

John - Love the TTMJ blog. I know it hasn't been updated in a while, but I was wondering if John might be doing another 'Things I Learned' post for 2014. Loved the previous two, so insightful!


Two years, I sat down to answer all the questions I had received to "Talk To Me Johnnie" in one fell swoop. What ended up happening was the “42 things I learned leading up to 2013”. I was shocked at the reception it got, as I wrote it in around an hour after the kids had gone to sleep, and I had a few drinks. The post when viral and received 75k hits in 24 hours, 125k hits in 72 hours and, two years later, it still gets a lot of traffic.

For the last 6 months I have been getting the question, “will I do another one?” My answer is always, “chances are strong”, as I never stop learning.

The year 2014 was an extremely insightful year for my company, Power Athlete, and myself. PowerAthleteHQ.com had been primarily a informational resource for CrossFit Football but, earlier this year, after hundreds of requests, I morphed it into a membership site that offers comprehensive programming, video demos, premium content and personal access to me and my coaches via private forums.

But where did it all start?

I launched the CrossFit Football website in late March of 2009 and the football seminar shortly after. This was done at the request of CrossFit headquarters as part of my specialty matter expert status for CrossFit HQ’s seminar and certification. The goal of the CFFB site and seminar was to instruct the CrossFit and greater training community on how to train field sport athletes and those athletes whose focus extended past general to the specific.

Case in point, a few years ago when NFL players were locked out during the negotiation of the NFL collective bargaining agreement, CrossFit gym owners found NFL players walking into their gyms for training. I received dozens of “911” emails and calls from coaches I had instructed asking what they should do. It was simple: apply the program and the methodology, be smart, and don’t hurt your athletes. Many coaches cut their teeth with these athletes, benefited from the experience and got a chance to work with some of the worlds best.

This demonstrated a need for me to create a resource to develop the coaches, athletes and community I had fostered in a way the extended well beyond just a weekend seminar and daily workouts. This is where the Power Athlete HQ was born and the Field Strong program was crafted.

Years ago I answered a question on TTMJ about the foundations of my program in a blog titled, Power Athlete Template. It laid out the volume/intensity model and showed how I arrange my training. I thought that it would be of benefit to many but it just created more questions. Instead of just answering the questions one by one, I theorized that creating daily programming based on this model, complete with narratives and experiences from own training, would be of more benefit to my community. I launched Field Strong in March of 2014.


The name “Field Strong” has depth, meaning it relates to a phenomenon I observed in the NFL as I categorized players into weight room strong and field strong. Ask anyone who played a sport like football or wrestled and they know exactly what I am talking about. You might know this as “dad strength” or heard it referred to as “cock strong”. This is a strength that extends past simply lifting weights and is inherent in some athletes. Some people have it, others don’t, but you know it when you face it on the field. After observing this for years and being labeled as one of those guys, I started evaluating my own training, and began to understand the training that allowed me to demonstrate that strength on the field, not just pushing a barbell in the weight room.

The training done on Field Strong is that precise training. It is built on progression, creating a foundation and establishing the process of becoming fucking awesome. Rome wasn’t built in a day; the pyramids have only survived because of their wide bases and the Leaning Tower of Pisa leans for a reason.

I was personally frustrated with the lack of consistency and ability to track progress via CrossFit Football. I could only tell with about 30% accuracy how people were doing because I could only track progress with logins or the occasional email. Then I would go to a seminar and meet someone that had put 200 pounds on their squat, added 40 pounds of lean muscle to their frame and could tear phone books with a steely gaze. They would talk about their progress and how great it was. I would ask what their handle was, and they would tell them they didn’t post on the site. I was deflated, as this was my daily interaction, my barometer from the training, and simply whether I knew the program was working or not. Unlike most "experts" who offer advice and programming, I actually want to know if what I was creating was working. Surprisingly, this helps the process.

Field Strong solved these issues. I got my daily posting, I got a forum that was free of trolls, miscreants and dip-shits and I got my testing and tracking.

While all of this is amazing positive, the interaction with people following the site was the most educating.

1. You make their own prisons in life, regardless of how much you want to blame those around you.


If 20 bucks or 60 minutes a day is what is preventing you from reaching your goals, get a new job or set an alarm clock. You have to make time for it. No goal was ever attained by just thinking about. No amount of dreaming gets your ass in shape.

I have a good friend that runs one of the largest mortgage companies in the country with a few hundred offices with a ½ billion in revenue. He has 3 kids, a wife and works 70 hours a week. The wakes up at 4 AM to train each day and hasn’t missed a day of training since 2005. He made the New Year’s resolution to not miss a day of training, which means 365 days a year of workouts, for a full year. Each year since 2005, he has made the same resolution and has kept it.

If it is important, you will find a way to make it happen. If $20 is the difference between success and failure, ride a bike, skip the bar one night a month, or brew your coffee at home and save the $1.45 at Starbucks.

If meeting your goals by fitting in your training into your busy schedule means you have to wake up at 4 AM to get in your training, throw away your TV and go to bed.

Because there are thousands of people meeting their goals by prioritizing what is important, waking up early and making it work. I always smile when I see a video of a guy squatting in his home garage gym at 5 AM with snow on the ground.

Whining about 20 bucks makes you sound like an unsuccessful fucking loser. And complaining you can’t find 60 minutes a few days a week to train makes you sound like a lazy incompetent fuck.

2. No amount of supplements, macronutrient timing or stretching will replace sleep and sunlight when it comes to performance.


Sleep is the single best thing you can do to keep the notches in the win category. But just looking at sleep as the time with your eyes closed is looking at superficially. You need to take it a step further and work within your circadian rhythms to reap the benefits of sleep. And sunlight plays a vital role in healthy circadian rhythms.

For those of you frantically googling “circadian rhythms”, they are regulated by small nuclei in the middle of the brain. These small nuclei are called the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) and act as a control center. The SCN are connected to other parts of the brain where they work together to control circadian rhythms. A pathway runs from your eyes to the SCN. Your exposure to sunlight plays a massive role in setting your circadian "clock." Sunlight and other time cues are used to keep your clock set from day to day which runs in 24 hour cycles.

A healthy sleep cycle for a person that gets enough direct sunlight a day is between 10 PM and 2 AM, with a second sleep cycle from 2 PM to 4 PM. The sleep between these hours is the most vital for you as an athlete.

People that don’t get enough sunlight a day, just don’t end up with Vitamin D deficiency but shitty sleep and recovery. And in case you weren’t’ aware, Vitamin D is vital for healthy bones and allowing the body to use calcium.

This is where number 13 on my list from 2013 came from, “it is better to live like a farmer than a bartender.”

This statement caused a lot of butt hurt when I posted it two year ago. My stance has not changed. Farmers have to go to bed early because they wake up when the rooster crows and they have to get their work done before the sun goes down. Bartenders go to bed late because bars close at 2 AM (in most places), sleep late because that is what happens when you go to bed at 3 AM and work in the neon light.

3. "Don’t miss the forest for the trees."


I find examples of this daily in my life. People get so stuck in the minutia they never see the big picture. I had the opportunity to attend an MBA weekend through the NFL a few years ago and met several people that were influential on me. One of them talked about the difference between the captain and the crew. The captain stands on the deck of the ship and must be able to see the shore through the fog. The crew only knows the task laid in front of them by the Captain and only succeeds if the Captain steers them safely to shore.

I see this no more frequently than when it comes to training and lifting weights. People get so stuck in the minutia of training and diet they forget that much of the progress and work is done with the basics.

One of the first questions I get asked about any program is what assistance work should be done. When it comes to nutrition, it is always what supplement to take.

How about just squatting, pressing and picking up a heavy barbell? How about doing that 3-4 days a week for a few months, and then check back with me? Instead of asking what supplements you should take, how going to the meat counter and buying ground beef in 5 pound bundles? Take it home, cook, eat it, when it runs out go back and buy more. Do that for a few months then lets see how far you have come.

Be a captain.

4. “Everyone pities the weak, jealousy you have to earn.” - Arnold


This quote is more applicable today than it was when Arnold first made it. In today’s world, a person can create an entire persona via social media and blogs (like this one) while never venturing out of the comfort of their home.

Sadly, the world is full of people that make themselves feel better about their sub-par, shitty existence by putting down others and being negative. These are the people that dismiss an 800 pound squat because the depth didn’t produce splinters in their ass, yet shit out their spines when they get taco'd with 225 lbs on their back. These same keyboard warriors discredit everyone that is stronger and in better shape to taking drugs. Reminds me of the media in the National Football League. Every week I would see these obese, out of shape reporters waddle into the locker room for a story only breaking to shovel down donuts and hot chocolate. A few days later their columns and stories would come out where these “models of athletic achievement” would curb stomp my team's performance and effort on the field.


Remember, you earn jealousy...wear it like a badge of honor.

5. Consistency.

Each year that passes, it affirms my belief that consistency is the key to success whether it is personal, financial or physical. If you make a plan, regardless of whether it was a good plan or bad, follow it. It has to take you farther than sitting on your sorry ass.

I have client who is forever making excuses. I honestly, have never met anyone who has to the volume of excuses he has. The hard part is he acknowledges it and owns it, yet he never makes the change. He will never meet his goal to retake his life as long as he keep making excuses.

6. Don’t be afraid to fail.


I tell my girls this every day whether is teaching them to ride their scooters, working on their swimming or simply coloring. Paralysis prevents most people from ever realizing their dreams. And I want to instill in my kids fear is something you face head on, you never turn your back on it. As Hunter S. Thompson said, "never turn your back on fear. It should be always be in front of you, like something that might need to be killed."

7. Speed.


Speed is the single most important deciding factor among athletes. When you train this should be at the forefront of your mind. Over the last two years, every time I have touched a weight, the goal has been to move that weight or implement fast as possible.

Have you ever seen anyone in the Olympics snatch the weight slowly for a gold medal?

Does the guy that runs the slowest 40-yard test at the NFL combine get drafted?

8. Erectors are the new biceps, hamstrings are the new black.


The gold standard for the athletes I train is a set of erectors that look like loaves of French bread and a set of hamstrings like steel cables.

The spinal erector muscles run the length of the back, from the sacrum to the base of the skull. When working unilaterally, the erectors work to laterally flex the spine. When working bilaterally, they work to extend the head and spine.

Hamstrings play a vital role in generating power between the hip and knee during dynamic movements. When an athlete jumps, the hip knee, and ankle don’t extend all at once but in sequence. The hamstrings are the first to be activated and if they are weak and lack adequate strength or coordination, this sequence will be altered and performance will decrease. Simply, if you want to run faster, jump higher and drive a motherfucker through a wall, train the hamstrings.

9. You can still get fat eating organic, free range, grass-fed, all natural foods. At the end of the day, if you want to be a smaller version of yourself, you are going to have expend more calories than you shovel down your gullet.

10. Gather the low hanging fruit.


Earlier this year, Compex contacted me about their EMS (electric muscle stimulation) unit and how I would incorporate it in my training program. Having used EMS protocols influence by Charlie Francis’s training, I was very familiar how to use it for performance but had not come across a unit this comprehensive. We started using the Compex units in our training and have seen results that far exceed expectation.

EMS fires all the motor units the current comes in contact with. This translates to a stronger muscle contraction and the recruitment of more motor units than what is possible during normal training. Where things get interesting is when you combine this non-specific muscle fiber firing with specific/unique firing patterns. The EMS teaches the body to recruit more muscle fibers, which when used in conjunction with a comprehensive strength and conditioning program results in big performance leaps. I count this as low hanging fruit, as incorporating it in your training will pay massive dividends.

11. Leave this world a better place.


In 2012, we started Wade’s Army to bring awareness and raise money to aid in the fight against neuroblastoma, an aggressive form of pediatric cancer developing in the nerve tissues. For those of you that have never heard of neuroblastoma, it is the most common form of pediatric cancer and not much is known about it. Neuroblastoma made headlines this year, when NFL player Devon Stills' daughter was diagnosed with it. In 2012, we raised 18k and donated the money to pediatric cancer charity. Last year, we doubled that number and were able to fund a treatment for 90 children with this rare from of pediatric cancer. This year acting as a 501(c)3, we exceeded out goal of raising 50k and will donate to families battling neuroblastoma and funding research. I want to thank everyone that joined Wade’s Army and let you know that your support means the world to my family.

12. Training is a long slow road.

Sylvester Stallone Rambo First Blood movie image

And it requires you to prepare for your long journey by learning the basics. If you never take the time to learn the basics, you will fall for every lie and piece of bullshit charlatans peddle. Nine out of 10 times, the most successful plans are the simplest ones. Stop dieting and make food quality a lifestyle. Stop exercising and start training. People who exercise just want to get sweaty; training implies you have a plan and a goal.


Posted in Talk to Me Johnnie | Tagged , , , , , | 42 Comments

42 Responses to Lessons Learned

  1. tyler

    dying at the whitlock picture. for those of you who don’t know, he used to work at the KC Star

  2. Robb Wolf

    John- I cannot describe what an honor it is to ahve you as a friend.

    That was a damn good bit’o’writ’n.

  3. DavidMck

    Awesome. Some much needed inspiration to keep grinding.
    Thanks for everything you do/have done John. Grateful for the journey.

  4. Travis Jewett


    Another goddamn masterpiece. Having joined the interesting world of traveling and teaching, this is all so true.

  5. Corey

    Another great article John!! Thanks for all you do.

  6. Karenh

    Excellent Mr.Welbourn!

  7. Steven (a.k.a. Professor Booty) Platek

    this is wonderful. so glad to be involved with PA.

  8. Thanks Big Man, Your keep it simple approach is just what the power athletes in my high school weight room need to hear. Cant thank you enough for all youve done. dan

  9. Paula

    Wow. Outstanding article! So proud to be a part of this community and many thanks for all you do.

  10. matteischens

    Words of wisdom.

    Thanks, John!

  11. Stop exercising, start training. Power is in simplicity, looking forward to 2015. Only appropriate this Cash song played in the background throughout the read:

  12. George B.


  13. shredalert

    Bang-a-rang dude. I feel like Tank in the move “The Matrix” when he meet Neo for the first time.


  14. Gavin

    Tremendous wisdom.

  15. David

    Loved every bit of this article John. Thank you for everything you and your team does. Lookin forward to the new year.

  16. Very inspirational and thanks for sharing. Leaving the world a better place is one of my visions as well for 2015. Hence I started my blog at http://www.smartbeard.com . Hopefully it can inspire more men.

  17. NoColonBT

    Great stuff.

    Time to get to work and shovel more coal. Thanks John for working the hand brake keeping all of us on the tracks.


  18. George

    Outstanding article and well worth the 8 month wait!

    Don’t make 8 months between posts a habit please.

    Thank you!

  19. Denny K

    John- great article brother and thank you for being you. Your words and attitude towards life are part of the reason I started following CFFB back in the day. I’m honored to be part of the Power Athlete family and look forward to the vision of 2015!

    And kudos to you for posting the pic of Yate’s back…he was my favorite bodybuilder in the 90’s!

  20. Amber

    Awesome read. I loved it! Once again, thank you coach.

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  25. manlydanley

    Another great article to re-read occasionally throughout the year for focus and perspective.

    A comment about sunlight: where I live (Umeå, Sweden) we get a little less than 5 hours of “sunlight” per day, but if we are lucky and the clouds are not out then it is only bright for a maximum of 2.5 hours. I have my vitamin D supplement, but the wife and I just got a light therapy alarm clock for Christmas and I have been using it 1-2 times a day. I was surprised how it kept me from getting tired at 3pm when I normally feel like I need 2-3 cups of coffee. Another strategy I will re-instate from last winter is setting an alarm for myself at a few time intervals during the night so I get a signal of what time it actually is. This helped last year. Any insights that you or other Power Athletes have would be appreciated. I understand you have a following in Fairbanks, AK. Maybe you have discussed the subject with someone there?

  26. Nick

    Having my question to you as the ‘quote/headline’ on this article is like getting a fucking letter from your childhood superhero.
    As good as ever. Team Strong.

  27. bernie

    Hey John, great article! And thanks again for the Seminar in Nürnberg last Year together with Tex! It was awesome!

  28. woconn1

    Great read John! Thanks for all you do!

  29. Dustin C

    Great post! Get back to writing. Really enjoy your articles on here.

  30. Dan "Mex" Warren

    As usual, GOLD.

    thanks John

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  33. Some days I get sad because John doesn’t write all that often. Then he writes pure badassery like this, and I remember:


  34. menacedolan

    So glad Whitlock is out of KC!
    Thank you sir for the read and inspiration. Always ahead of the curve, I love being a part of this community.

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  38. How do u train to be explosive laterally

  39. Mark

    thanks for your comments, thoughts and wisdom. i really, really appreciated all that you have written. time to put it to use with a wod

  40. Aaron

    Hey John,
    After re-reading this post and viewing the youtube video you did with Matt Vincent last summer I decided to grab a compex unit while they were on sale for the 2017 games. Coincidentally, after ordering the compex recently I watched the TTMJ episode with Freddy and Chyna and heard you recommend the powerdot instead. Should I return the compex and pick up a powerdot?

    Thanks for the great resources,


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