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The 7 Most Unforgivable GYM SINS!

David Letterman used to have a regularly occurring comedy segment on his late night TV show with “Top Ten” lists. One of his examples might be, “The Top Ten Reasons why Irish and Russian Men Love to Drink Themselves into a Catatonic Stupor.”  I have created a fitness-related list of shame. There’s only room for seven rants about the unforgivable gym sins perpetually perpetrated at commercial fitness facilities.

Here are the seven gym infractions that boil my blood:

Sin Number 7: Not unloading barbells or machines when you’re done. This is blatant, passive aggressive gym territory piss marking.  Usually committed by the facility’s nighttime clique of faux bodybuilders (who never compete), poseur lifters (who never compete), and “athletes” (who never compete). This unpardonable sin is committed by the male bimbos who close down the gym—do they have nowhere else to be? These late-night macho boys love to act out and strut in all their peacock glory, imagining they’re in a personalized version of their favorite reality TV show, Jersey Shore.  They seem to know just how much they can get away with before they’re kicked out.

Imagine coming in for a blissful 6AM workout and strolling into the deserted free-weight area of your local fitness facility only to find your favorite power bench—where you’d start the training session—is burdened with a barbell loaded to 365 pounds.  And the squat rack has a barbell with 505 pounds on it, the leg press machine has nine 45s on both sides, the hack machine has four 45lb plates per side, plus as a gift from the last idiot who decided to shrug last night, the deadlift bar is set on a high pin position in the squat rack with five 45s per side!  What moron would purposefully leave a weight loaded for a perfect stranger? When the pure hearted early morning trainees arrive, the message from the night crew is, “Hey! Morning-time pussies! We left our bars and machines loaded to show you how f*%king strong, badass, and incredible we are!  Now, we need you morning sissies to be nice little boys and girls and unload our bars and machines.”

These types need to leave their weights loaded in order to get to Hooters before their muscle pump deflates.  This arrogant, aggressive, ‘You clean up my shit!’ attitude is the clearest sign that a facility’s night shift is out of control. A manager should stroll up and down the gym floor right before closing and loudly announce, “When you are done lifting, strip the plates or else!” A facility should have nonnegotiable penalties—first offense, a verbal warning; second offense, a one week suspension; third offense, a permanent ban from the facility. Leaving bars and machines loaded is an act of aggression and serial abusers need to experience harsh retaliation.

Sin Number 6: Personal trainers alternately torturing or babying clients. The success of the TV show The Biggest Loser has allowed personal trainers with a sadistic streak to run wild. Sadism masquerading as fitness is still sadism. I routinely see overweight, out-of-shape clients being beaten up and torn down to tears, while subjected to a mean-assed loud mouth—yet totally ineffectual—personal trainer who doesn’t know jack squat about obtaining real results. Their “boot camps” should be called “jack boot camps.” Much of the uninformed public associates “fitness” with physical torture and a certain type of personal trainer is happy to oblige. Too many personal trainers are embracing this “concentration camp prison guard” ethos. They love to dish out sadistic workouts that would result in war crimes indictments if Gitmo prison guards forced terrorist prisoners to do them. And these mean-ass personal trainers are paid to do this to their doe-eyed clients! The personal trainers who serve up this type of torture with such yawning nonchalance never engage in this type of training in their own pathetic workouts. Where do these savage trainers get their sadistic ideas?  These Hitler-youth-gone-mad types are practitioners of fitness malpractice.

At the other extreme are the personal trainers who baby their clients. They’re paid friends, rep counters, life coaches, and chuckleheads who continually push “quality” products on their gullible clients to earn a commission.  These sensitive good listeners and expert advice givers would be perfect if they could obtain any results at all. This type of personal trainer will seek to change the client’s perspective, maneuvering them to believe that there is more to fitness than just results.  In other words they say real results are less important than developing a positive self-image. Unfortunately real results are the only thing that matters in real fitness. Pretend fitness is another matter entirely.  The good-time smiley face personal trainer seeks to put the client on the magical path of subjective fitness, full of “healing”, “health”, fuzzy goals and warm scented baths. Some of these personal trainers coddle clients with ridiculous happy-time exercises that can’t possibly produce any measurable physiological results. At the other extreme the sadistic personal trainer beats helpless clients to a bloody pulp with crazed workouts that produce zero results. Both types give the personal training profession a black eye.

Sin Number 5: Loud and obnoxious screaming, yelling and cursing. We get it, you are young, immature, and full of piss and vinegar. These people populate every serious commercial gym at night and between noon and 5PM on weekends. They naturally cluster together and form training cliques. Once a tribe is formed, it’s just a matter of time before the acting-out begins. It starts with loud yelling and screaming. If management doesn’t stop it, the show escalates into foul-mouthed cursing, role playing, and macho posturing. This mutual admiration society of preening-peacocks shouts fitness clichés without the slightest hint of irony. With no concern for the women or children who might be within earshot, these macho man-boys have something to prove. They act as if they were cast as professional wrestlers.  Eventually they assume pretend personas when they “train.” The tribe members take turns engaging in amazing (to each other) feats of strength and will do anything to grab attention.

Within their tribe, they are incredible, extraordinary individuals who richly deserve the undivided attention of the entire gym. The tribe grows increasingly loud and profane to draw this attention. The exclamations increase in direct proportion to the weight lifted in the featured lift of the night—usually bench press.   Unless stopped by management, the tribe will act out with ever increasing ferocity. Their profane screaming, cursing, and antics are impossible to ignore. By screaming the loudest during the biggest man’s heaviest lift, they ensure a captive, resentful audience. Most of the iron elite avoid a facility when these tribes are present, but when forced into the same space, real men use iPods to drown out these attention-starved knuckleheads.

Sin Number 4: Sanctimonious stretching before lifting weights. This one used to get my goat, now I just laugh. Back when fitness and bodybuilding went mainstream at the 1985 inception of the so-called “fitness revolution”, personal trainers made clients “stretch out” before lifting weights. The stretching devotees were young, had advanced college degrees in physical education and sports psychology, and were uniformly attractive—perfect hair, great teeth, and fashionably lean. They’d tell us Neanderthal non-stretchers how stupid we were, “Study after study shows that stretching before a lifting session reduces injuries by 88%. Only a Luddite or someone who doesn’t care about their clients would neglect stretching out before lifting.” The loony “stretch to reduce lifting injuries” idea existed for decades.

Stretching before lifting was “settled science,” and beyond questioning. But, we questioned it, since static stretches with cold muscles at the beginning of a training session was ridiculous. For decades the iron elite have known that the best possible way to warm up a muscle or group of muscles is performing the specific weight training exercise that is to be trained using light poundage for high reps with a purposefully exaggerated range-of-motion. How will 25 reps in an ice-cold toe-touch or a full minute in the static hurdler stretch going to make muscles loose, warm, neurologically fit, and firing on all cylinders? It’s lunacy!

Hip personal trainers would spend thirty minutes stretching clients before taking them through a worthless all-machine, sub-maximal 30 minute “weightlifting workout.”  I used to take great pleasure in walking in off the street, finishing a high-intensity back workout in 25 minutes—then leaving. I’d work up to an all out set of deadlifts for a limit triple, then rest and observe the stretchers before hitting a final, all out deadlift set of five reps, with less weight and more precise technique.  After finishing my deadlifts in 15 minutes, I’d super-set heavy alternating seated dumbbell curls with weighted chins for five sets each, adding weight each set. I was blasted, body-shocked to my core, my back and arm muscles engorged, exhausted, and decimated in 23 minutes. I’d leave, wobbling as I walked while the tanned, spandex-wearing personal trainer was still only 2/3 through his stretch-a-thon. Most of these trainers loved to lecture their clients while guiding them through a stretch session. Lots of meaningful talk as everyone “eased into the posture.” The “pre-lift safety stretch” session was a joke and a complete waste of time. Good-bye and good riddance to pre-lift stretching.

Sin Number 3: Manic and Accusatory Sweat Wiping. The sweat wiper spends more time wiping sweat off a resistance machine then performing the actual set.  They wipe and polish the cardio or resistance machines with more vigor and effort than when performing their sub-maximal set. The Clean Brigade will only use exercise and cardio machines. Before they dream of even touching a machine, the Clean Brigade will grab an ever-present spray bottle of disinfectant and vigorously scrub the machine handles and back pad with a wad of paper towels. The instant they’re done using the machine the same procedure is repeated with such rabid ferocity you’d think they’d exuded a bucket of putrid sweat during their set. Obsessive-compulsive machine wipers make sure any potential points of bodily contact get special scrub attention. The Clean Brigade has high standards of cleanliness and feels that it is only proper that YOU also abide by them. Any particle of sweat left on an exercise machine represents a biological weapon of mass destruction, and if you refuse to buy into their germ phobia, you’ll be the subject of glares, stares, and muffled complaints to management.

The Clean Brigade is usually incensed and irate. They hate anyone who may insinuate that they’re excessive or overbearing. Only a criminal or a hillbilly would use an exercise machine and just walk away without giving it a cursory swipe. These germ phobic people tend to be older, better-educated individuals—and female. They are in constant conflict with the hardcore gym goers, and love to complain to management. Their high and pious mission is the eradication of sweat from fitness facilities, and their true calling is to eliminate germs, no matter the cost to fitness gains. Heretics—those that don’t wipe—should immediately be banned from the fitness facility for life. They also think serial banning of the hardcore types would create a far more civil and sensible “fitness” environment.

Sin Number 2: Waiting in line to use a piece of fitness equipment. Have you been to a large urban or suburban fitness facility at prime time? Standard operating procedure is  putting your name down on a freaking clipboard hanging off a piece of equipment to schedule your time to use it!  People will line up to use a favorite cardio machine, the preacher curl bench, and the leg extension machine. Don’t you love having to change your entire workout at the last second because people are monopolizing the equipment  you need to perform the exercises in your plan? This is the greatest single workout buzz-kill of all time! Waiting for equipment kills flow, timing, inspiration, and ruins time efficiency. The atmosphere of an over-crowded gym is like a manic madhouse, stuffed to the rafters with frantic exercisers. I’d rather have a barbell on a piece of plywood in an unheated garage with a single bare light bulb in February.

Here’s an epidemic variation of waiting in line: someone sits on the resistance-training machine until he’s completed all of his sets. I used to think this behavior was limited to senior citizens, but recently I was running late and had to hit the commercial facility at 9AM on Saturday—a big mistake, people were everywhere. I saw an oaf on the leg press machine as soon as I entered the resistance training area. With ten 45-pound plates on each side, our hero sat on leg press like it was a Lazy-Boy recliner in his living room.  I knew this yahoo’s exact modus operandi and sure enough, he stirred, set his legs and pushed the 900 pounds upward to unlock the weight. He began to rep, but his leg presses might have moved up and down six to eight inches. Ridiculous! This man couldn’t push three plates per side using a full range of motion. Then he had to let out a blood-curdling scream on the final mini-rep. His grand finale for the set was dropping the 900lbs onto the support pins to make an awful racket before just sitting there awaiting applause. He performed two more goofy sets, between which he sat on the leg press pad like a couch potato. After doing three sets in fifteen minutes, he finally stood up.  He was big, 6’4”, 240lbs, and he thought he had it going on—despite a lack of muscles.  He wore a skimpy tank top and tiny shorts even though it was a freezing November morning. His legs were pathetic—a perfect testament to the ineffectiveness of his leg presses.  He moved onto leg extensions and repeated his stare-into-space stupor between sets of grunting partial-rep leg curls.  Between sets of lying leg curls, he laid frozen on the machine, like a zombie.  Men like this are everywhere.

Sin Number 1: Putting the curl bar in the squat rack. This is the ultimate sacrilege.  Just think about the lazy, ludicrous nature of this iron travesty! The guy doing curls is too lazy to pick the curl bar up from the floor! He thinks picking the 45-pound EZ-curl bar off the floor would waste valuable curl strength. This idiot ties up the sacred squat rack, desecrating the holy leg altar with set after set of cheat curls that go on forever—while keeping squatters from using the squat rack. Between sets, the squat rack curl dude spends ten minutes “recovering” while wandering around talking with whoever is dumb enough to listen. This guy knows only one subject: himself. Watch his eyes as he lovingly stares at the mirror while doing his squat rack cheat curls.

This type runs to management and squeals like a little tattletale if confronted or told to hurry it up. He’ll say, “I have as much right to do squat rack curls as you do to do squat rack squats!”   Management loves this type because they pay in advance and their checks don’t bounce. In a confrontation between the hardcore and the pre-paying squat rack curler, the hardcore squatters are at the disadvantage. Management will just shrug their shoulders and say, “Well, the squat-rack curl dude has a point, he was there first and he is paid up for a year in advance.” Murder or maiming is an unacceptable conflict resolver in this situation, but this is yet another reason for creating a home gym.


Marty Gallagher, author of The Purposeful Primitive, is an underground legend.  Mentored by a Hall-of-Fame strength athlete as a teenager, Marty set his first national record in 1967 as a 17-year old Olympic weightlifter; he set his most recent national record in 2013 as a 63-year old powerlifter. He is a former world powerlifting champion who turned his attention to coaching athletes and devising individualized training templates for the finest strength athletes in the world.  Read more about Marty here.

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The Unarticulated Consensus of the Power Elite

Understanding the politically incorrect relationship between calories, strength and muscle

In the history of strength and muscle building, no other group of athletes has come close to developing the power, strength and gigantic muscle size that elite American powerlifters regularly attained from the mid-1970s through the mid-1990s. The massive—but functional and athletic—physiques these men routinely built on a widespread basis have not been matched before or since. Using an elegantly simplistic method, these athletes obtained results and world records which remain unsurpassed to this day.

Their system was the unarticulated consensus of the power elite. Instead of having a single author, the system was the distilled essence of the training experience shared by hundreds of elite strength athletes obtained over 20 years. It was the power and strength equivalent of the Manhattan Project—the athletes conducted their own scientific strength research but shared the same allegiance to the truth. This truth about training and obtaining factual results had to be untainted by commercial interests. In commercial fitness, miraculous results are first proclaimed for a fitness tool, product or system. Next, flawed, faux “science” and outright lies are spun to sell the miracle product.

The power and strength system based on the unspoken consensus was universally used by the uber-elite. It is pure and completely untainted by commercial interests. The system is devoted to tangible, measurable, finite, real-not-imagined results. The power elite of that time followed the truth of real results wherever it led them. They were strength monks hammering out their Iron Bible. The eventual truths led these power monks to a strange final destination, a destination so odd and so unexpected that its lessons and methods—despite being unbelievably effective—have been purged from the annals of resistance training.

On rare occasions you will see an article about a great lifter of yesteryear, but his methods and their universal effectiveness are forgotten and ignored. Why? It’s because the truth about power and strength has fallen afoul of our politically correct times. Some truths are too hard to swallow and too harsh to be accepted—or even allowed.

The finalized strength system that eventually evolved was a true consensus of the power elite. The system’s widespread usage was due to its success on the lifting platform. Its proponents were the athletes who kicked sand in the faces of all the other powerlifters nationally and internationally. No spin machines were behind this system, it was popular for one simple reason—the incredible results it obtained on a widespread basis.

The system worked for average men and elite athletes. No matter how high or low the physiological starting point, a diligent user of this system always obtained real results. Executed correctly, it was physiologically impossible not to add strength and size. This uniquely American strength system was initially conceptualized in the mid-1960s by pioneering power men like my iron mentor, Hugh “Huge” Cassidy, the first superheavyweight world powerlifting champion. Huge and other early power pioneers—superstar lifter/athlete John Cole, John Kuc and Larry Pacifico—were feeling their way along while creating a never-before-seen system with a progress-inducing strength template specific to this strange new sport of powerlifting.

The questions they asked were: What is the best way to maximize our three-lift performance? What is the best way to increase our single-repetition maximum in each of the three powerlifts?

Formal powerlifting began in 1964. Early powerlifters constructed training templates drawn from the premier strength sport at the time, Olympic weightlifting. Other primordial power men constructed their training templates using the power bodybuilding tactics of men like Reg Park and Marvin Eder.

While it seemed logical and appropriate to use these existing strength and muscle-building systems as a starting point for creating pure power templates, both Olympic weightlifting and bodybuilding were ultimately a bad fit. Weightlifting and bodybuilding are primarily volume-based training strategies.

The new sport of powerlifting had characteristics which led pioneers to conclude that the body-shattering poundage they routinely handled needed an intensity-based approach. Elite weightlifters and bodybuilders trained a lot. There’s nothing wrong with volume, Reg Park, Marvin, Bill Pearl, Ray Hiligren, Pat Casey, and a slew of other 1950s greats built incredible bodies and awesome power with marathon lifting sessions. But, power pioneers reasoned that for their own purposes, less volume would be better.

The proponents of high volume training were working with the flawed science of the times. This faux science dictated that lifters and bodybuilders had to train the same muscle every 48 hours, or risk losing physiological gains. At the time, they falsely believed a muscle began to rapidly atrophy and weaken 48 hours after training. Trainees were told that their strength and power would start disintegrating within a few days of a session.

Muscles were described as balloons with slow leaks requiring a refill every 48-hours or they would deflate completely.

Men were told to train the same muscle three times weekly to preserve it and progress. Training three times a week wasn’t a big deal to John Q.

Average bench pressing 100 pounds for 8 reps and back deadlifting 185 for 5 reps. But, power men discovered that benching 440 raw for 5 reps, squatting 600 for 5 reps, and deadlifting 635 for 5 reps—all in the same week, three times per week—was physiological suicide. Woody Allen was once asked if sex was dirty. “If it’s done right!” he responded. It’s the same with hardcore do-it-right power training. If it’s done right, power training sessions are savage, brutal, and body-shocking in the extreme.

While the orthodox experts of the time issued dire warnings to the opposite opinion, early power pioneers found out the hard way that too much powerlifting in any one week was counterproductive. Tangible results led the pioneer powerlifters in a very different direction. The truth—manifested as tangible results—led the power elite to consider far more radical methods.

— Olympic weightlifting consisted of the clean and press, snatch (floor to arms length in one motion) and clean and jerk (floor to arms length in two movements). The classical Olympic lifting template of the 1960s trained the press, power snatch, full-squat snatch (or split snatch), power clean, clean and jerk, and front and back squat twice a week in two long “whole body” sessions. On Saturday, the lifter would “total out” by turning the weekend training session into a 3-lift mini-competition, working up to a single rep in the clean and press, snatch, and clean and jerk. Then the lifter would finish the workout with 1-5 rep sets of heavy squats.

— Power bodybuilding in the 1960s was primal and excruciating. The orthodox training template trained the entire body three times a week. Exercises for body parts could be substituted session to session. Sessions were incredibly long—bodybuilders would routinely perform 3-4 exercises per body part and 3-5 sets per exercise. Imagine endless hours spent performing upwards of seventy sets per session! Reps were high, in the 8-15 range.

Powerlifters discovered they were not recuperating between sessions when they attempted a three-times-per-week training template. A top powerlifter could handle 600 to 700 pounds in the raw squat—imagine trying to squat 600 x 5 reps on Monday, 610 x 5 on Wednesday, and 620 x 5 on Friday? What a horrendous strain on thighs, hips, lower back, hamstrings and spinal column—not to mention the central nervous system! Then add some more trauma to this squat horror show by simultaneously (in the same week) deadlifting 615 x 5 on Monday, 625 x 5 on Wednesday and 635 x 5 on Friday. The squat/deadlift duo doubled the damage because limit deadlifts and limit squats work many of the same muscles—hips, upper thighs, lower back and hamstrings.

For any man handling 500+ pounds, squatting three times a week was proving impossible even before adding three 500+ deadlift sessions! Too much heavy training created massive negative effects which couldn’t be ignored or overcome. Frequent training with truly heavy weight was impossible. So, for pure power purposes, too much powerlifting was proving counterproductive.

Power sessions were slashed from three times a week to twice a week. This was a huge break from orthodox conventional thinking. Next, any and all exercises that didn’t contribute to the lone power goal of building a bigger squat, bench press and deadlift were removed from the workouts. Snatches, cleans, jerks, and non-essential bodybuilding exercises were all jettisoned. The misty outlines of the system began to emerge. Each month the best American lifters’ training was outlined in our bible, Powerlifting USA Magazine. We developed a primitive communication network, and for the first time strength information was shared and pondered on a widespread basis. By the 1980s one system had emerged and was being used almost exclusively.

Virtually every elite lifter and world record holder used this particular approach, despite the fact there was no reason to use it other than wanting to obtain results. Its lack of commercial value ensured its purity and contributed to its demise. The system’s broad outlines and protocols can be summed up in a few sentences:

— Devote 85% of available training time to the squat, bench press and deadlift

— Above all else, try to increase single rep max strength in the three lifts

— Compliment the three power lifts with a select few “assistance” exercises

— Perform each core exercise once per week

— Goals are set in a classic “straight-line 12-week periodization cycle”

— Each week for 12 weeks, training poundage is raised and reps are lowered

— “Signature” techniques should be developed, honed and refined

— For 10-12 straight weeks, the lifter seeks to purposefully increase his body weight

The last point, purposefully adding body weight, is—and forever shall remain—the deal breaker for the modern trainee. It’s why this amazing system became extinct. The idea of trying to purposefully gain body weight is counter to everything modern fitness believes. With the entire fitness world geared towards dieting, eating less, leaning out and becoming “healthy and fit,” adding body weight sounds insane. People are starving in Botswana and here you are stuffing your face. Besides, you are going to blur the delineation of your beach muscles. Are you really willing to outgrow those $300 size 32 Tommy Hilfiger custom jeans?

Consuming substantial amounts of the demonic dietary nutrient, saturated fat intensifies the nutritional immorality. Purposefully eating excess calories was bad enough, now this system purposefully sanctions consuming saturated fat? This is nutritional water boarding for the modern metro sexual.

Old time adherents like Huge Cassidy would routinely guzzle four quarts of whole milk each and every day—in addition to eating regular meals—for the necessary supplemental calories to recover, heal and grow after his bi-weekly slaughter-fest power sessions.

Old timers will tell you, fat at 9 calories per gram, is fabulous for accelerating muscle-healing, inducing muscle growth, and increasing power after a crushing workout. The idea of high intensity power training combined with high calorie eating—including saturated fat—was just too much for the sensible modern man.

Modern man might want additional muscle, but he certainly doesn’t want it bad enough to engage in sanctioned gluttony. One can see why the most effective muscle-building progressive resistance system was destined to die a slow and tortured death. Despite its continued and unrivalled effectiveness, it was—and is—too politically incorrect to exist. This system is a public health menace on par with smoking. To recklessly recommend this lift-and-stuff system—even to eager young American alpha males seeking size and power—is evil, akin to handing out packs of cigarettes to trick-or-treaters on Halloween. Those who recommend it should be attacked by packs of wild lawsuit lawyers seeking damages for youth whose lives were wrecked as a result of following this system.

The system was driven into exile and died in direct proportion to the new “fitness revolution” of the 1980s. This “revolution” ushered in the low-fat and no-fat era, soy products, aerobics, Nautilus, and the old Jane Fonda aerobic dance craze.

I am here to resurrect and defend the most politically incorrect of all strength systems. Power training combined with unapologetic calorie slamming is far too effective a muscle and strength system to be allowed to die for PC reasons. Damn the preconceptions of the imperious fitness elite. I hope there still remains a sizable number of reckless, crazed, alpha-male types, MEN in the relentless pursuit of power and functional athletic muscle—MEN unafraid to try radical methods for radical results. This is a call to arms for the thin and pathetically weak. System practitioners routinely add 10-30 pounds of muscle while increasing raw strength and power from 5% to 25% in the same 90 days. That’s the reason the system was so popular: rapid and radical results.


Marty Gallagher, author of The Purposeful Primitive, is an underground legend.  Mentored by a Hall-of-Fame strength athlete as a teenager, Marty set his first national record in 1967 as a 17-year old Olympic weightlifter; he set his most recent national record in 2013 as a 63-year old powerlifter. He is a former world powerlifting champion who turned his attention to coaching athletes and devising individualized training templates for the finest strength athletes in the world.  Read more about Marty here.

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Iron Roots—

A Perfect Storm of Spartan Maleness

I came up in an era when our transformational tools were crude, primitive, ultra-basic and limited. The lack of  choices worked to our benefit. In hindsight, even though our choices were limited, they were damned excellent—to this day we use and recommend subtle variations of those ancient modes. The exercises, systems and techniques I first used in the 1960s are the same ones we use and recommend today. We had to kiss a lot of fitness frogs in the interim to grok that those first tools, techniques and tactics were better than any others offered up since.

During the past half century, I have examined and test-driven every significant resistance training system designed to enhance strength, power, human performance and body composition.  The fundamental truth of resistance training is that nothing trumps the muscle-building, strength-infusing benefits gained from prolonged and expert use of barbells and dumbbells.

When I began training in 1961, resistance machines hadn’t been invented. Other than barbells, dumbbells, and flat and incline benches, the only “machines” we had were a chin/pull-up bar and a homemade set of dip bars. The lat pull-down/push-down device could only be found at the few commercial gyms in existence. Being children of the space age, we assumed that crude barbells and dumbbells would be swept away by a wave of high-tech resistance machines that would allow Joe Average to transform himself into Arnold with one or two machine workouts per week. We were sure this was just around the corner.

In the 1970s, the great egotist Arthur Jones actually played into the idea that high-tech would inevitably sweep aside the low-tech, in a fitness version of the industrial revolution. Jones mocked us, portraying barbell and dumbbell users as idiotic modern versions of Ned Luddite throwing sand into the gears of the machines eliminating his job.

As it turns out, resistance machines are inferior at producing muscle strength and size. We weren’t tempted and that worked to our advantage. Without the sweet seduction of effortless/ineffectual resistance machines, we brutalized ourselves in long sessions exerting savage intensity with our crude tools. When it comes to building power, the cruder—and more difficult—the better. We were forced to use an unwieldy barbell in a time when elaborate overhead lifting was in vogue.  I was a baby boomer and we were legion. When the like-minded neighborhood alpha males decided to establish a training lair, my basement was selected.

It was perfect. My father was a widower who worked long hours. He kicked out our Nazi Nanny the day I turned 12—a tale in itself— from that point, it was just two young brothers and a father alone in the big house.  Most importantly, the basement had an outside entrance so guys could come and go without disturbing life upstairs. On Monday through Friday, Pop was gone from 6 AM to 6 PM. He’d be around all day Saturday and Sunday. He encouraged our basement lifting scene as long as it was quiet. He never came down—ever. Though he might poke his head down to call on me. Yet, he was friendly and I’d often come home to find my training partners watching TV with my old man. He was brilliant and conversationally engaging, but remote and detached on many levels.

We lifted three times a week in my large, open, dry, well-lit basement. Our five-foot exercise bars were on plywood platforms with plates strewn everywhere. We reinforced a picnic bench for bench pressing and created a set of homemade wooden squat racks, set to one height. We made a dipping station using a basement stair-step and a stepladder. That was our gym. We hit every exercise we could think of in a long straight row…bang! bang! bang!

When a competitive alpha male lifts in front of his peers— superiors and inferiors—it’s easy to generate extraordinary physical effort.  In continual show-off mode, a boy learns how to rise to the occasion.  Every set of every exercise in every session was a competition. We always tried to best each other, in every lift. We eventually had to set up second and third lifting platforms on weekends to handle the sheer number of teen and pre-teen lifters.

You would think a bunch of prepubescent boys would get bored out of their minds hoisting a stupid barbell in various exercises and quit within a few weeks. One gigantic factor kept that from happening: real, tangible physical results; a stronger, more muscular, leaner, superior athlete. The fantastic thing about weight training is that progress is totally objective— if you overhead press a 155lb barbell for 8 reps on Monday, then make 9 reps on Wednesday, that is tangible progress. When a man adds 100 pounds to his squat in six weeks, that is tangible progress, or when a boy adds ten pounds of lean muscle and girls start noticing. These results fire up an alpha and cause him to redouble his efforts.

I was living in a perfect storm of Spartan maleness: I could dedicate my whole life to muscle and strength building. I was self-motivated—this was my trip, not a case of being pushed by a parent into a sport I hated—I wanted to transform myself into comic book hero proportions.  Now I had a large cluster of equally “into the muscle trip” alpha boys who were also digging the results. Plus we were all experiencing a sudden and dramatic raging infusion of testosterone. We ate like pigs, drank milk by the gallon, and stayed lean by playing team sports and running and biking everywhere. We lifted hard, heavy and often before the runaway gusher of male hormones were dumped into our bloodstreams.

We exploded with growth, muscle, and power. Weighing 195 at age 17, I pressed 205 for 10 reps, squatted 405 for 10 reps, and 500 for one raw.  My number one training partner, Red Ruggles, benched 350 raw weighing 170. We were hardcore a decade before the term came into existence.  I was the group strategist took my cues from 1960s Strength & Health magazines.  I wanted to become a lifter, not a bodybuilder and I’ve been grateful I decided to favor function over form ever since. Bodybuilding training concepts are divorced from the reality of poundage or performance. We sought usable athletic power—the kind that could be taken onto the ball field to run people over, or into the ring to knock opponents unconscious.

The earliest strength strategies we embraced as a group were copied from the training templates of elite lifters and power bodybuilders of the day, men like Olympic champion Tommy Kono, Reg Park, and Marvin Eder. The routines could best described as high-volume/high-intensity weight training. The entire body was worked in a single session using a list of exercises as long as your arm. These herculean workouts were done three times per week and some form of improvement was expected in every exercise, every session.

Our training was all barbell (except for dips and chins) and mostly used exercises that allowed us to stand. We would only lie down for bench presses. Starting in 1962, I’d read S&H cover-to-cover and absorbed a lot of solid training information. In retrospect, I feel like the early training tactics I provided our group were dead-on.  I was the cruise director for our training group—I provided the exercises and their prescribed order. We did so damn many exercises that everyone’s favorite was included. I took my cues from the lifting and power bodybuilding routines I found in the magazines. As I came across new and exciting stuff in S&H, I would rotate the new exercises in and pull out exercises we were bored with.

  • Practiced a wide variety of lifts
  • Trained the entire body three times a week
  • Limited to barbell training with technical and tactical inventiveness
  • 90% of all exercises were compound multi-joint movements
  • Strove for technical perfection
  • Sought to get stronger
  • Sought to add muscle size
  • Reps rarely exceeded 10, and were usually in the range of 3-5 reps with many maximum attempts
  • Ate big to support intense training
  • Created an alpha-male training group
  • Began competing at age 12
  • Fell in with grown-man lifters by age 15

If you were looking to create a positive environment for an aggressive, athletic, super-intense young teen or preteen which would set them on an effective, intelligent, result-producing strength pathway, you would be hard pressed to come up with a better scenario of circumstance than I had when I first took up the barbell.

Within the wolf pack alpha males initially seek recognition, respect and acceptance. Eventually the true alpha seeks dominance.  One surefire way to up your status within the alpha pack is to morph yourself into a physical giant: large, muscular, bull strong and scary. Big and strong always ups a man’s game. I unlocked the secret to big and strong early on…

  • Savage weight training
  • Continual athletic participation in baseball, football, track, and wrestling
  • A blast-furnace metabolism
  • Early exposure to harsh natural elements
  • Eating ample amounts of recuperative/regenerating calories

My early iron efforts were all directed towards increasing my single rep max in the overhead press, snatch, clean and jerk, squat, deadlift, bench press and chin-ups. Naturally, when the testosterone spigot was suddenly turned on, young master Gallagher gained 20 pounds of muscle every year for four straight years! I began competing and won regional titles almost immediately. I captured my first national Olympic weightlifting title at age 17 and set my first national records: a 260 press and 225 snatch. I power-clean and jerked 330, only to have the lift turned down for press-out. Pete Miller, the longtime president of the District of Columbia Amateur Athletic Union was my first coach. These early experiences and influences molded me physically and psychologically.

I watched in horror as the “fitness revolution” occurred. Suddenly there was money to be made in fitness and dieting and the plain-vanilla old school barbell and dumbbell training was labeled antiquated by a new breed of resistance machine manufacturers. The space age machine people and burgeoning supplement and diet book “experts” seized the fitness soapbox and declared barbell training as nothing more than injurious garbage to be thrown into history’s trash-bin.

The alpha male barbell boys from the basement survived. All the “revolutionary” Nautilus Machines are now piled high in history’s garbage dump, deservedly forgotten.  My kind and I have been in self-imposed exile from mainstream fitness for longer than Moses wandered in the desert.  Only now do we feel inclined to emerge from our rural and subterranean hideouts and share our collective wisdom with those truly intent on physical transformation. We know exactly how to do it.

The single most important element in the overarching transformational matrix is the art and science of hardcore resistance training.  Over the years our tactics and techniques have evolved while staying true to the tools. A barbell, some dumbbells, enough basic equipment to perform our “core four” exercises.  That is all we ever wanted or needed.

We understood very early that the panacea promised by resistance machines was a false god, a magnificent golden calf meant to sway us from the true path of progress. Cleaning up the core movements by creating false precision machines that mimicked these movements never fulfilled the promise. Sanitizing resistance training, making it easier and more user friendly, only emasculated it, making it ineffective. Machine devotees are exercise eunuchs who not too long ago lectured and admonished us, driving us into basements, unheated outdoor garages and run down buildings. After the hardcore exodus from mainstream fitness, we went into self-imposed exile. While in exile we continued our eternal quest for improvement. We found ways to survive, thrive, and up our game—mightily.

And now we are back…

In 2008, the mainstream fitness industry underwent a financial Armageddon. The ranks were thinned and it was no accident that the rise of the no-frills CrossFit empire announced the dawn of a new “frugal fitness” era. In the old days—before 2008 and the fall of Fitness Rome—the template for a successful fitness facility was to purchase a franchise, sign a five-year lease, then have enough money and room for twenty high-tech resistance machines and twenty high-tech cardio/aerobic devices. Don’t forget childcare, protein shakes, personal training and tanning. You will also need the services of an on-call techno-dude to keep the expensive gear rolling when it breaks. This business model requires big bank and lots of clients.

While this business model was pure gold in the 80s thorough the 00s, the glitz and lavishness, the excess and hipness crested in 2008. Suddenly the public stopped showing up and the whole house of cards collapsed. In tight times, folks were done paying $120 per month for individuals or $200 for a couple—especially for an activity that delivered negligible results. Honestly, in flush times they loved to go the health club for fun 30-minute workouts on the push/pull machines. They could watch the news on the built-in TV while walking on the stair-stepper. Afterwards club members could take a soak in the steam room, grab a shower, towel off in the sauna, then get a pitcher of beer and a burger at the club grill. As entertainment and fun, it was fabulous—as a result-producing fitness formula, it sucked.

Club members found more important uses—like making a car payment—for the money that had been allotted for dues. The pendulum began a definitive counter-stroke towards a primal revival of old school hardcore progressive resistance training tactics. Like the Sex Pistols destroying the vapid corporate rock of their era, or Nirvana’s angst decimating the soulless hair bands of the 80s, the time is right for primordial training to reemerge into the sunlight. Let us crack our knuckles and share with you all that we’ve learned during our time in deep contemplation and reexamination of the transformational arts.

Time to share what we’ve learned.


Marty Gallagher, author of The Purposeful Primitive, is an underground legend.  Mentored by a Hall-of-Fame strength athlete as a teenager, Marty set his first national record in 1967 as a 17-year old Olympic weightlifter; he set his most recent national record in 2013 as a 63-year old powerlifter. He is a former world powerlifting champion who turned his attention to coaching athletes and devising individualized training templates for the finest strength athletes in the world.  Read more about Marty here.

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The Iron Guild

An off-the-grid consortium of transformational experts—who we are and why you should listen to us



Unknown to you, there exists an underground Guild of like-minded strength athletes, coaches and sports medicine doctors. In the Dark Ages, trade guilds emerged with the goal of sharing any and all information they had learned in their trade. Within the guild they shared trade secrets instead of jealousy guarding them like family heirlooms or privileged information. Sharing information was also the price of entry.  A Strength Guild—a consortium or loose confederation of men—exists and shares information on an ongoing basis. The goal is profound—to dramatically improve the form and function of the human body.

This modern Iron Guild is strictly unofficial and ad hoc; yet, we stay in contact and share information on how to best create progress.  How do we transform the human body—how do we best improve its performance and function across every definable benchmark?  We want it all—to be lean and more muscular, with superior performance in every athletic category. You can’t join our Iron Guild unless you are a national and world champion athlete, a national or preferably international level coach, a member of an elite military spec ops unit, a governmental counter terrorism operative, or a cutting-edge sports medicine human-performance doctor.

You haven’t heard of us because we are off the commercial fitness grid, and we are not included in the mainstream fitness world.  We hone our strength kraftwerk in private—some would say in secret. We keep to ourselves and network with each other.  The Strength Guild’s raison d’être is to cross-compare techniques, tactics, modes, and methods to up our collective game and improve our collective results. A rising tide lifts all boats.

Guild members accumulate empirical training data on an ongoing basis by observing the results—or lack thereof—as it relates to our own training efforts.  Virtually all Guild power-players are at the apex of a pyramid of local athletes.  These athletes take their training and transformative cues from the Guild participant.  To aid our own efforts, we share ideas and strategies with our strength collaborators.  The Guild has members all across the United States, and in every geographic region including members throughout Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the Far East.

Membership is based on accomplishment and is not formalized—there is no secret initiation, no secret handshake, and no fee. The coin of our realm is information—information about strength training, human performance, and methods of altering body composition. The inner circle shares technical and tactical ways to up our own respective games.

I bring 50 years of immersion in the world of progressive resistance training to the table.  I set my first national weightlifting records in 1967, and my most recent national powerlifting records in 2013.  I was mentored by a hall of fame strength athlete, and now I mentor hall of fame strength athletes.  Our strength System— passed along to me by my mentors—is a full-blown, fully realized progressive resistance training system.  It’s ancient yet pliable, an inch wide and a mile deep, with limitless variations and possibilities within the System’s self-imposed boundaries.

The Way of Power is both subtle and overt, hard and soft. It’s sophisticated in its simplicity, yet complex in its totality—the individual component parts are easily understood, but the complexity springs from the layers of various disciplines, which create a logical (and potentially confusing) transformational matrix.

Our resistance training strategy is second to none—we do not need your approval or praise.  Now it’s time to break our self-imposed silence and create a manifesto—a summation of our collective knowledge and conclusions to date.  The Strength Guild has had an unwritten Iron Bible for generations.  Until now, no one has taken the trouble to make the System public.

Being a longtime inner circle Strength Guild member and professional writer, I was the logical choice to compose this Iron Bible, The Tao of Power. This book, to be published next year by Dragon Door, will be a manual of techniques and tactics that define and differentiate our approach from all the others.  There is no doubt that our approach works— we hold too many current world records for there to be any lingering questions about its effectiveness. The athletic and military elite has passed judgment; their continual use of our combined services is testament to the effectiveness of the System and the tangible results we obtain.

The only real question is this: do you have the guts, gumption, the situation and favorable circumstance, the drive, desire, motivation, and the burning primal urge to transform? Believing that a transformation is actually doable creates sustainable, renewable motivation.  A vision of the finished physical product—and a sincere belief in the system—will overcome the force of habit.  When vision trumps habit, success is assured.  We’ve found a sizable, identifiable segment of the fitness public, which intuitively embraces and senses the truth of our counter-intuitive, unorthodox, and heretical approach when exposed to it.  We seek this radical fringe of men and women who sense the truth, logic, and positivity of our approach—and immediately embrace it totally.

We’re really big on totality. Our System is not a progressive resistance cafeteria where the reader peruses the contents, embracing one aspect or tactic while rejecting another. Our System is an integrated strength system.  We represent a style—a strength art—and have a specific arsenal of techniques and tactics that define who and what we are.


Marty Gallagher, author of The Purposeful Primitive, is an underground legend.  Mentored by a Hall-of-Fame strength athlete as a teenager, Marty set his first national record in 1967 as a 17-year old Olympic weightlifter; he set his most recent national record in 2013 as a 63-year old powerlifter. He is a former world powerlifting champion who turned his attention to coaching athletes and devising individualized training templates for the finest strength athletes in the world. Gallagher was the personal coach for national and world champion Mark Chaillet.  Gallagher is best known for guiding the career of strength legend and six-time world champion, hall-of-fame powerlifter Kirk Karwoski for a decade. Marty was the competition coach for the greatest strength athlete in modern history: Ed Coan.

Marty coached the United States powerlifting team to the world team title and has six national team coaching titles to his credit.  His writings, musings, speculations and observations on “physical transformation” and all things strength and power related since 1978 when he penned his first article. Since then he has had over 1,000 articles published. He has mainstream journalism credentials, having written 230 fitness columns for the Washington Post.com.

For the past decade Gallagher has worked officially and individually with Tier 1 Spec Ops commando both in this country and abroad. His work with spec ops has flourished because of the measurable results he obtains from men already at 95% of their genetic potential.

For hands-on instruction in the Strength Guild’s methods, check out The Purposefully Primitive Strength Training Seminar.

Marty Gallagher is currently completing a new title for Dragon Door Publications, to be released in the Spring of 2014, The Iron Bible: The Tao of Power.

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© 2018 Dragon Door Publications / The author(s) and publisher of this material are not responsible in any manner whatsoever for any injury that may occur through following the instructions or opinions contained in this material. The activities, physical and otherwise, described herein for informational purposes only, may be too strenuous or dangerous for some people, and the reader(s) should consult a physician before engaging in them.