Never Let Go by Dan John

Never Let Go Book Review

Never Let Go cover. Dan John in the snow.

A long time ago, Dan John had a realisation. All his friends were bigger and tougher than he was. He was too weak and needed to get stronger. So he went to the library to find out how to do it. He was twelve years old and he’s been getting stronger ever since.

This is the book that made me realise lifting weights might not just be for Meatheads. Hell, it might even make you smarter. Dan is a well educated man, a Fulbright Scholar with multiple degrees who doesn’t need to write about picking stuff up to make a living. Lucky for us that he does.

Never Let Go is a collection of his thoughts and writing from various places, it’s subtitled, ‘A Philosophy of Lifting, Living and Learning’. It’s the sort of book that you can pick up at any time and dive into a random chapter without losing the flow.

A lifelong athlete, Dan competed in discus to a high level, played football (what the non-American parts of the planet sometimes call Grid Iron) at high school and still competes in Highland Games. He was a highschool teacher and coached large amounts of kids. All of this experience oozes off the page. He’ll tell you that just about all exercises are good but you can’t do them all at once. And that squats don’t hurt your knees, but the way you do squats hurts your knees.

A gifted storyteller, Dan never just tells you to lift something for some amount of reps and then repeat. He always has a story of how he discovered something, learned from someone then tested it out. It worked or sometimes it didn’t.

In a refreshing change from the usual experts who only talk about their constant success, Dan will tell stories of how he was wrong, often for years at a time. He switched to HIT training for a couple of years and even though his performance with the discus kept getting worse and worse he stuck with it. He dabbled in Crossfit. He’s often put on too much weight and then had to get it off again. He uses these to show how we can all get distracted by a shiny new workout plan that promises the world.

He always gives credit to where he learned something, pays constant tribute to the mentors that showed him how to lift and train. There are stories featuring Olympic Weightlifters and Bodybuilders, Basketball players and Discus Throwers.

Through the way that he writes and the stories that he uses, Dan is the counterpoint to the get-fit-quick crowd. He doesn’t have an infomercial promising you three minute abs. He’ll talk about how he got so big and strong that he was lifting heavy weights with ease but when he had to walk up some stairs it nearly killed him. He realised that something needed to change in his training and his eating.

All of this means that he’s tried everything. He’s been training longer than most people have been wishing they didn’t spend so much time on the couch. He’s seen fads come and go and come back around again. And he’s kept training logs of all of them. He can look back to a training journal from the 70’s and see what he was doing, how it made him feel and perform.

One of the themes of the book is simplicity. Dan’s the embodiment of the Einstein quote, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler”. But simple doesn’t mean easy. His One Lift a Day programme might be simple to remember but try telling your shaking legs halfway through that it’s ‘easy’.

If there is one single  book to read about lifting weights then Never Let Go is it. It made me want to lift (and write, for that matter) and keep lifting. I’ve read this book multiple times and learn something each time. Now that I’ve been lifting for a couple of years the book is even more enjoyable.

Lifting weights is much like writing, or jiu-jitsu, or any other hard thing. The only way to get better at it is to do it. And then keep doing it. You don’t get strong by training for a month, you get strong by training for years.

If you want to be better Never Let Go by Dan John is a great place to start. I also love his newsletter each week and I devour anything of his I encounter.

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