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Dissolving “The Little Man Inside Your Head.”

Navy SealsA military SUV is crawling along in 1st gear, barely moving through the sands of Coronado Beach.  Inside the vehicle, an extremely muscular stone-faced man steers with one hand as he occasionally shouts through an electric bullhorn.

Another dour, athletic hard man sits in the passenger seat.  These men are Navy SEAL instructors and this is Hell Week for elite military personnel seeking to become SEALs.

The SUV is driving parallel to a straggler, the very last man in a platoon of soldiers running along the beach. The soldier is panting and moving with the awkwardness of someone on the verge of complete physical collapse. He struggles and stumbles with his attempts to jog through the deep sand. His boots, socks, and pants are waterlogged, making him feel like he has 25-pound weights strapped to both legs.  With each agonizing step, he sinks past his ankles in the deep sand.

Despite his exertion, the soldier is freezing—shivering as he runs.  The sun is low and the endless seashore breeze is especially intense this chilly morning. The soldier is completely drenched with seawater, sweat, and covered with grimy sand. He’s been subjected to one brutal physical training drill after another since 4 AM.

He lifted rubber boats overhead then ran with them on extended arms. He did sit-ups with logs, and lifted logs overhead for reps. He capsized and almost drowned while paddling a rubber boat from the shore through crashing waves. He completed a two-mile ocean swim and has already run for three miles in the sand.  He is parched, starving, freezing—and not yet halfway to the end of this drill.  Now, he has fallen 200 yards behind the second slowest member of this elite platoon.

The SUV driver is lean like a whippet with sleeve tattoos, super short hair, a mustache and sleek black sunglasses.  With a quick practiced movement, he rips the bullhorn from his lap.  His voice cracks the silence like a gunshot as he aims the bullhorn at the running soldier.

“JENKINS! Give it UP! There is no disgrace in being a pussy. Embrace your inner pussy, Jenkins. Quit.  There is no shame in quitting.  99% of those that come here quit, Jenkins. Just stop running, jump into the warm vehicle, and have some hot coffee.  Chuck, do we have any hot coffee left for Jenkins?”

The hard man in the passenger seat has heard this same question routinely and responds like a robotic thespian. His deep bass voice is loud, practiced, and gruff—he’s an articulate brute.

“Plenty of hot java, Skip!  Oh, and look Skip, it’s a whole Subway roast beef sub with extra meat and mayo!”

“Jenkins! We got coffee and Subway and heat!”

The soldier’s slow pace and labored breathing become even slower and more labored as he begins to envision sitting in the back seat of the black SUV.  He can almost feel the heater blowing on his face and frozen hands. Maybe he could take off his shoes and socks, then put his wet, shredded, white wrinkled feet in front of a rear heater vent.  That would be incredible!  He could drink the scalding-hot black coffee between bites of submarine. It would be the most incredible coffee he’d ever had and the most incredible tasting sub he’d ever eaten.

The soldier tasted the imaginary roast beef sub in this elaborate food fantasy. “And you know,” he thought, “A roast beef sub will taste just as good cold. It’s not like a meatball sub, a meatball sub has to be hot. If I could have a hot sub, I would definitely get meatballs on that Italian bread, though meatballs on honey whole wheat bread would also be excellent with provolone and extra hot peppers…”

“JENKINS! QUIT DUDE! Jenkins!!!! Listen to the Little Man inside your head, Jenkins!  The Little Man is saying it’s okay to quit—we’ve quit before and we’ll quit again—there is no shame in being a f$#!ing quitter!”  LISTEN TO THE LITTLE MAN, JENKINS!”

Jenkins was blasted out of his blissful reverie. He’d been on another planet—an imaginary food fantasy planet, then a piercing 120-decibel bullhorn message from his tormentors snapped him back into Hell Week.  Suddenly he was back on the beach, back in the reality of Hell Week.  His legs were beyond leaden, and his breathing sounded like an overloaded steam locomotive heading up Pike’s Peak.  He wanted to go back to his fantasy food world, but the gossamer strand leading to it was irreparably shattered.  Now, the Little Man inside Jenkins’ head went to work, addressing his true inner self.

“What is so bad about quitting? Seriously, do you really think you can get through the rest of the day? They are going to keep this shit up late into the night. And this is only day three. Get real, you need to think about what I’m saying.  There is no shame or disgrace in quitting.”

It was all so confusing to Jenkins.

The man in the SUV looked at his passenger and said, “I think we need to check this dude out. He looks ready to nosedive.” In cases where the trainers sense the trainee might be in real danger, usually due to hyperthermia, they will end the tryout—whether the trainee wants to continue or not. The driver shouted through the bullhorn again.

“Jenkins! Stop!”

Jenkins looked over at the stopped SUV. He wasn’t sure what he’d heard was real.  The driver motioned him over to the vehicle.  The passenger met the exhausted soldier and had him place a heart rate monitor around his chest. Jenkins was panting, sweating, and over-heated but shivering like racehorse ridden hard and put up wet.

“Where is he at?” the driver demanded of the passenger.

Chuck—the passenger—looked at the heart rate monitor, laughed mockingly and said, “121!”

The driver was incredulous. “WHAT! 121?! Oh, this figures…  Jenkins, you really should get an Academy Award.”

A soldier who’d been subjected to the same drills and conditions while exhibiting Jenkins’ outward signs of exhaustion should have had a sky-high or abnormally low heart rate. Jenkins had neither. He had a moderately elevated heart rate, one easily achieved with 75% effort on a stationary bike.  What is the significance of this physiological contradiction?  Outward exhaustion with only moderate internal stimulation can be attributed to a mind/body asynchrony.

Jenkins was far from going into hyperthermia-induced shock, he was plodding along on dead limbs with a barely elevated heart rate.  The SEAL instructors had seen this phenomenon before. When the mind and body are in conflict, a man who might be capable of passing BUDs won’t make the cut. When the mind and body are out of sync and at odds, performance deteriorates.

“I need you to end this, Jenkins. I need you to quit. This is just the beginning.”

Jenkins needed no further prodding. He sighed and said, “Roger that. I agree, sir. I quit.”

Both SEAL trainers breathed a sigh of relief. The real Jenkins breathed another sigh of relief, and the Little Man inside of Jenkins’ head who had made it all happen, clapped his little hands gleefully because he had retained control over Jenkins. But it had been a close call.  Inside the warm SUV, there really was hot coffee and a Subway sub. Yet somehow Jenkins barely tasted the coffee and wasn’t hungry anymore.

The men who make it through BUDs have their minds and bodies in sync.  At some point, a man has to silence the Little Man inside his head.  Otherwise, the Little Man babbles on and on and on, expressing nagging suspicions, doubt, weakness, and always providing a continuous, ongoing commentary. The Little Man is an energy drain that shatters confidence while continuously expressing self-doubt. We need to shut that idiot up, but it’s not that easy.

At some point, a man has to realize he doesn’t need this idiot’s commentary or input. It’s just a massive drain and distraction. Besides, who is this Little Man and who elected him Pope?  When a man realizes he has been debating with himself, the Little Man’s days are numbered.

Those who successfully silence the Little Man are freed to face excruciating challenges with a singular mind/body connection. There’s no guarantee that they’ll be able to rise to the challenge, but at least they will have their mental-physical synergy.  They will be empowered to operate at 105% of their realistic capacity.  Whether this amplified capacity is enough to make the grade is another question entirely.


The brain-train SEAL instructor says, “A consistent thinker is a thoughtless person, because he conforms to a pattern; he repeats phrases and thinks in a groove.”

Krishnamurti felt that the “cessation of thought was the awakening of intelligence.”  No thought, no Little Man. Krishnamurti felt the same as the SEAL instructors about the Little Man inside our head.  Krishnamurti was a sort of SEAL instructor for brain-training.  He did not suffer fools gladly and posed the rhetorical question, “How do we dissolve the observer, the always-thinking, opinioned inner voice?”  Krishnamurti held that as long as the “observer” was active and verbal, our perception of reality—which always takes place in the immediate present—was impossible.

Preoccupation precludes pure perception—the present is a fast-flowing, ever-changing river.  Reality rips past like intense rapids, only the enlightened experience reality as a serene and placid lake.  Someone engaged in an internal dialogue with an imaginary person (the thinker/observer) can’t simultaneously perceive reality.  Reality occurs at a lightning-fast pace. The human brain is incapable of creating an internal, multi-tasking split screen for a simultaneous perception of reality along with a constant internal mental conversation.

Life is not a Reality TV show with you as the star.  That’s a false mental construct, an elaborate ego trip.  Creating elaborate mental fantasies interferes with the perception of reality. Preoccupied people only glimpse reality in the gaps and spaces between their ceaseless mental chattering.  The Little Man creates the intoxicating illusion that he is real, then develops a persona that evolves and tries to dominate you over time.

Imagine a fantasy construct you’ve conjured out of thin air that takes on a life of its own then tries to convince you that he is real, a valuable companion, and a trusted advisor.  Though he’s an incredible salesman, his argument is flawed because his universe is finite—limited to your own puny life experience. Since he is you, the Little Man’s advice is worthless. You already know anything he will say.

The rational world of the thinker is mechanical, slow, ponderous, speculative, limited, and decidedly inferior.  The ideal mindset is Little Man-free: alert, vibrant, electrified, hypersensitive and not sleepy.  This mindset is effortlessly, sublimely silent. It’s not an affected silence, a clever mind-trick, or the conscious mind feigning silence to retain control.  We seek a mental silence that’s not imposed or pretend. We want  the mind to fall silent because it’s  completely engrossed with the task at hand—whatever that might be.

When completely absorbed, the mind falls silent of its own accord. We can “lose ourselves” in a myriad of activities. Someone can “become one” while building an intricate ship-in-a-bottle, or while playing an instrument. They can lose themselves quilting, painting, bowling, playing golf, performing a martial art, or cooking. The thinker falls silent during a peak athletic experience, fly fishing, or surfing. Experiences that can engage us to the point of immersion and oneness are infinite, but  uniformly identified by the same effortless silence and concentration. When we are mentally silent, it’s easy to become totally focused and absorbed by the task at hand.

Krishnamurti would claim that while a state of electric quietude is the desired default psychological status, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use our left-brained, right-handed, rational side when those unique skills are appropriate.  Optimally, every day, we should successfully modulate between both hemispheres of the brain. While one half is in use, the other is resting.  By resting our mind one half at a time, we avoid the overheated, un-rested, stressed-out mindset so common today.

How do we attain or access this “effortless silent zone,” without the conscious mind turning it into another clever construction? How do we take the steering wheel away from the fictitious Little Man?

We can’t think our way into mental silence.  That would be just another conscious act of will.  Willpower is the conscious mind’s ability to force the body to do what it commands. Willpower can be used to impose mental silence, but that type of silence does not cause the transcendental loss of self.  The observer will strain so hard to ensure his own silence that the perception of reality—the requisite precursor of transcendent performance—will be impossible.

Willpower is a mental construct, it’s G. Gordon Liddy holding his hand over a cigarette lighter until his flesh burns to impress a dinner date. By definition, every act of willpower is finite. Acts of will must come to an end.  A man can only grit his teeth for so long, stick to a diet he hates for so long, or do something he abhors for so long.

The human brain is like any other muscle—it can be “overtrained.” Similar to external muscles which can be harmed by overtraining, a consciousness continually engaged in intense and prolonged internal dialogue, debate, and amplification of real and perceived stresses, can become overheated. An overheated brain is the equivalent of an overtrained muscle.

The solution to a stressed-out overheated, un-rested brain is finding the electric silence associated with tasks that require intuitive creativity. Unlike willpower, which is finite, intuitive creativity is infinite. It runs on solar power or cold-fusion.  It’s frictionless and self-regenerating.  Once we’re able to access a consistent state of the present, Krishnamurti says we glimpse the consciousness we were intended to have. This is the primal consciousness we lost somewhere along the evolutionary pathway.  Zen masters speak of it as “reacquiring Original Mind or Original Nature.”

Elite athletes have peak athletic experiences on a regular basis—that’s a big part of being elite.  The super athlete can sync the mind and body by wordlessly psyching themselves up.  The athletic elite know that a focused and psyched-up mind improves the quality of individual workouts, causing hypertrophy while mobilizing and oxidizing stored body fat. All physical transformations begin in the mind of the trainee.  Nothing fuels enthusiasm like tangible results.  When the focused, silent mind is combined with an effective training protocol and a logical nutritional compliment, physical synergy occurs.  When this state-of-being takes hold, results will exceed any and all realistic expectations.

Transformative training is addictive.  The athlete craves to repeat these peak episodes of super human effort.  Elite athletes purposefully subject themselves to brutal training for protracted periods.  When body and mind are in sync, the resulting performance produces results. When in “the Zone” we can perform “over our heads”, setting new standards and personal records in every measurable benchmark.  The elite athlete will develop an uncanny ability to routinely access a mental zone that significantly improves workout performance.

“Intuition is the rapid, subconscious crosschecking that occurs when the ordinary mind doesn’t intervene.”

-Neil Claremont

Who is running the show when we are at our best?  Is the conscious mind—the thinker, observer, the Little Man—responsible for our actions during the rapid-fire action of full-speed, high-level athletics? For example, how can someone mindlessly play third base—reacting fast enough with spontaneous precision to catch a five inch ball traveling at 100 miles an hour?

Does the Little Man supervise our actions as the batter makes contact with the baseball? Once the ball is hit, in less than a second, it will be in the field. The thinking mind doesn’t have time to supervise and say, “Okay, now let’s move eleven feet left on a northeast heading of 163 degrees. No, wait! The baseball just hit a depression on its first hop and bounced, we need a tangential course correction.  The new interception point requires you to travel three feet southeast on a 47-degree course. Please begin to open your glove and lower it to a point six inches off the ground.”

Meanwhile the baseball will have flown by three seconds ago like it was shot out of a rifle.

So, who is driving? Who exactly is in charge, guiding the human body to intercept an object traveling over 100 miles per hour and liable to bounce in any direction at the last possible second? In baseball, an experienced 3rd baseman will make this catch nine times out of ten with mindless, practiced ease.

What guides us to move and adjust to return a 150-mph racquetball serve?  Who makes all the trajectory and velocity calculations that allow a pro to shoot a basketball through a hoop from forty feet away twenty times in a row without missing?  I want to get to know this deaf-mute consciousness that guides and improves my athletic performance.

I know it sure isn’t the Little Man.

We can only access the intuitive, creative state that enables the elite to achieve a transcendental level of performance when we surrender our control to the subconscious, letting it wordlessly guide body, mind and spirit. We do our best work when we apply undivided attention to what is happening—not what is about to happen or what has happened—those are artificial sparkly objects designed to distract us. What’s about to happen is a projection of the future, and what has happened is a reflection of the past.  Both are constructs of the Little Man.   What is happening should be our primary concern.

Right now, it’s very probable that the Little Man inside your head is saying, “Well that was a stupid-ass blog post. How ridiculous!”


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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Failure Minus One

Marty photographs Karwoski in 1993 just prior to his winning the world championship in the 242-pound class; Kirk squatted 904 to shatter the 110 kilo class world squat record by forty pounds. Kirk deadlifted 770 to eclipse John Kuc’s immortal 2,204 world record total, only to have the barbell pop out of his hands as the head referee was giving Kirk the “Down!” command to signify a good lift.

Note how his thumbs are purposely not wrapped around the bar. This makes shrugging much harder and places all the stress on keeping his fingers wrapped around the barbell. This is a grip exercise and not a back exercise. Kirk would perform one set of thumbless shrugs to failure at the conclusion of his once-a-week deadlift/back training routine.  After working up to 750 + for reps in the deadlift, Kirk would hit some biceps and shrugs.

He would usually load the shrug barbell to 405 and repped to utter and complete failure. The barbell literally unbent his fighting fingers until it came loose from his grip and fell on the pins. He would get up to about 25 reps before failure. Ed Coan gave us this savage grip exercise.  Note the degree of pure physical effort displayed in his face.  I saw this look a lot while watching him—year after year—in weekly training sessions. When Kirk trained it was not casual or friendly—it was the holy sacred training session where 105% was given. We sought ways to demand this level of effort from ourselves, and didn’t reserve this degree of effort for competition. We tried to exert this degree of pure physical effort in every training session.

We sought ways to make progressive resistance training harder. This countered prevailing strength trends towards ideas, tools and devices to make strength training easier.  Kirk’s face shows his degree of effort.  We forcibly morphed our bodies with intense, all out effort.

Defining Resistance Training Possibilities and Impossibilities

At the highest levels of progressive resistance training, we seek to skillfully stress muscles or a group of muscles enough to trigger muscle hypertrophy.  Hypertrophy creates muscle growth.  We want to induce the adaptive response, the self-inflicted physiological stress required for reactions within the body on a cellular level. Elite physical trainers seek two fundamental benefits from their training efforts—a dramatic increase in raw power and strength, with an increase in lean muscle mass. Both benefits invariably result in improved athletic performance.  Here are ten guidelines to help define our approach:

  • Purposefully limit the exercise menu. Devote 80% of the total training time to the Core Four lifts—variations of squats, bench presses, deadlifts and overhead presses.
  • Compound multi-joint exercises receive priority, Isolation exercises are used 20% of the time to “fill in the gaps” for muscles such as hamstrings, biceps and triceps.
  • Limit the number of training sessions to 2-3 per week. Session length should range from 15 to 60 minutes, depending on the trainee’s strength.
  • Use a full range-of-motion on all exercises. Experiment with pauses, slow reps, explosive reps, drop sets, and intensity-amping techniques.
  • Always give goals timeframes. Reverse-engineer results and establish weekly mini-goals.  Small weekly gains will compound over 10-12 weeks.
  • We train each lift once a week—we have one opportunity per week to hit our periodized goal.
  • Continually refer back to the core goals of adding power, strength and size. To create hypertrophy, we train powerfully and establish anabolism with nutrition and rest.
  • If all the preconditions for muscle growth have been met, all that’s needed for anabolism is a savage, limit-exceeding workout.
  • To trigger hypertrophy, resistance efforts must happen in an anabolic environment.
  • Capacity is a shifting target. The only way to trigger the adaptive response—hypertrophy—is to exceed capacity.

This is everything to know about our particular progressive resistance training system. Lifetimes of accumulated experience, knowledge and wisdom are contained in these ten points of power.

The Subtle Concept of “Failure Minus One.”
“To fail or not to fail, that is the question…”

Having trained under and alongside some of the greatest lifters in the world, it’s often difficult to describe how hard they train.  How do you communicate a degree of effort? You could say an 855lb squat was so heavy that on the 3rd rep of 5, Karwoski’s right nostril shot a spray of blood all down his white t-shirt. The nasal explosion occurred as he was maximally exerting himself, pushing his guts—and apparently his nasal membranes—out. He went on to make all five reps, turning a realistic triple into a five rep set through the strength of his iron will. He did this week in, week out—calling upon his warrior-Samurai psyche to consistently exceed realistic capacity.

Just looking at the numbers on paper does not tell the intensity story. When I tell people that men like Karwoski, Furnas, Kaz and Coan could go through an entire 12-16 week training cycle without missing a single planned training poundage or rep target, people assume that powerlifters train sub-maximally.  How could they be training maximally and not miss a rep?  Brother, all I can say is you had to be there.  Anyone who’s trained with a national or world champion strength athlete will attest to their sheer amount of physical effort.  The hardcore strength elite are not training sub-maximally or leaving ‘reps in the tank.’ They are consistently calling on higher mental powers to up their efforts. Kirk Karwoski felt a proper competitive training mentality added a full 5% to his performance.

Most of the willpower generated for high-level resistance training is used to increase the pain tolerance threshold of the athlete. It’s actually not pain, but intense discomfort. Continuing to push or pull past physical discomfort is a learn skill.  Pain tolerance increases with experience. At the highest levels, the brain improves performance within the workout, taking the training session to the next level.

In 1970, Hugh “Huge” Cassidy was three reps into a five rep limit squat set with 685 pounds when his legs felt like jelly and he sensed real danger of collapse. His coping strategy was to stand erect with 685 pounds on his shoulders while locking his knees and taking huff breaths. He took five giant breaths between reps 3 & 4 and seven between reps 4 & 5.  The forced breathing allowed his legs and back to recover from the first three reps, somewhat revitalized, he barely made rep four. After standing erect once again and chugging breaths, he finally dunked with rep 5 and made it.  How do you convey that level of effort in a workout?

One time before the national championships, during a critical top set of squats in a critical workout, Huge announced in his stentorian voice that everyone needed to leave the room. The boys were incredulous and asked him why. Hugh replied, “Because I want to die or get seriously injured if I miss this.” Leaving the room was not up for debate, it was a command.  They left the room and Huge made the required reps, emerging uninjured and unscathed.  On paper, only the date, poundage, and reps would have been recorded—the psychological depths he plumbed wouldn’t have been noted. Cassidy employed a ritualistic mindset—he sucked in three rapid “cooling breaths” and the hairs on the back of his arms stood erect as his pores opened. He was a Zen psych master demonstrating the physical manifestations of an aroused and elevated mental state.

My friend of forty years, Kirk Karwoski, was a psych master of the first order. He routinely morphed himself into an insane maniac before a big lift. It was a grand sight to see this Viking mound of muscle psych himself up before storming onstage to shatter yet another world record.  Karwoski psyched himself up to increase his ability in both training and competition, not for show. Why would men like Karwoski need the ability to psych up to high degrees if they never attempted to exceed their capacity? Do we ever need to get psyched up over a sub-maximal attempt?  Yes, for the following reasons:

  • To learn how to focus in training
  • Focused training leads to concentration, resulting in more reps
  • Focus and concentration are necessary to hone technique
  • The little man inside our head falls silent as we are absorbed by the training
  • At the highest level, the entire workout is performed with a concentrated focus
  • We psych up to increase the quality and productivity of the workout
  • Alternate intensity-based training with volume-based training is useful for the required contrasting effects

The amount of sheer physical effort required to trigger hypertrophy—and acquire new levels of strength and power—is a hotly debated topic.  Many believe that low volume/moderate intensity will get the job done as well or better than a classical “hardcore power” approach (high intensity/low volume).  The safe and sane orthodox approach to resistance training advises to ‘always leave a rep or two in reserve.’ With a high volume/moderate intensity approach, the trainee would work up to 5 sets of 5 reps, and if the trainee was capable of performing 6-8 reps, he’ll squat 5×5 with power in reserve.

I came up in the world of hardcore low volume/high intensity strength training. Our approach was decidedly different—we trained together only once or twice a week. The classical pre-competition power session workouts were:

Saturday:    squat and bench press
Wednesday:    deadlift and overhead press

“They did not build that muscle with sub-maximal effort.”

The giants of yesteryear displayed incredible muscle mass that made it easy to see why and how they could achieve world records. They bore the weight, not the equipment. They didn’t build their incredible muscle mass with sub-maximal effort. They built thick, functional muscle by exerting incredible physical effort in every training session.  This effort was of such magnitude and intensity that it threw the hypertrophic switch.  When a muscle is taxed up to or past its capacity, the muscle is forced to adapt. With self-inflicted stress of a certain magnitude, adaptation and growth must occur.  We strategically utilized only a few exercises to repeatedly stress specific muscles or muscle groups.

During the workout, something sufficiently stressful—the cellular equivalent of a nuclear detonation—must occur to trigger hypertrophy. This will not happen with casual, contained, sensible effort. Something as profound as the creation of new muscle fiber only occurs with a great magnitude of effort. The resulting cellular fission and creation brings concurrent increases in power and strength.  Dramatic increases in power, strength and muscle size can only occur as a result of profound, self-inflicted muscular stress. How else could it happen?

Muscular stress must occur in the fertile fields of anabolism.  The eternal prescription for building power is to satisfy the anabolic prerequisites, then engage in a hardcore power training session. The anabolic prerequisites include consuming plenty of potent, nutrient-dense food, while staying rested and stress-free. This kind of training and lifestyle, followed diligently will forcibly transform a man. One crucial secret is the ability to approach or exceed limits without injury. The old pros knew how to miss a rep safely and they also know that 90% of resistance training injuries occur when a lifter strays outside the technical boundaries of a lift. We never contort, twist, bend, or jerk during a lift.


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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Psych and the Almighty Workout

Krishnamurti, Zen and how to employ Brain-Train to enhance a workout: To change your body you must first change your mind

I coined the phrase Brain-Train to describe mental methods of focusing and sharpening the mind to improve the quality of a workout.  In our world, success is achieved when the trainee intertwines lifting, cardio and nutrition in a periodized program designed to engineer a dramatic physical transformation. The conscious mind can be the trainee’s best friend or worst enemy. Old-time hardcore pros—men that have been there and done that—will tell you the key to both short and long-term success is rooted in the effectiveness of each individual workout.  Regardless of the workout’s content, were the goals—planned in advance—for the specific session met? Yes or no?  We want to want to compile a lot of “yes” workouts.

Those who’ve transformed will say the goal is to string a long, uninterrupted sequential series of quality workouts together like pearls on a strand.  A proper mindset can turn a bad workout into a good workout—and a good workout into a great workout.  Transformative success is built upon the success of the actual individual workout. All good things spring from the ability to consistently conduct a productive workout. How do we define productive?

  • A productive workout induces hypertrophy, releases blissful endorphins, and oxidizes body fat. Limits are equaled or exceeded. Remember that limits shift hour to hour, day to day, session to session.
  • Each workout represents an opportunity to improve in some way, shape, or form. The almighty workout is our ritual and religion—the gym our church.

Let’s get elemental—all tangible physical results have their beginning in a productive workout.  Once we are able to successfully create a results-producing workout, something marvelous happens: the self-inflicted trauma unleashes a hormonal tidal wave. Blissful endorphins mingle with spent adrenaline to create a feeling of exaltation and triumph. Physically, you’ve just decimated some part of your body and are awash in sea of hormones which induce a heightened sense of alertness, awareness and perception.

The chattering little man inside your head who loves to control your thoughts and actions has been silenced by the monumental exertion of engaging in limit-equaling/limit-exceeding lifts or athletic tasks. The elite athlete is no longer preoccupied as the workout unfolds, pulling him or her under the silent “spell” that accompanies a savage workout.

Workout Grand Maestro Bill Pearl is famous for working out at 4AM. Civilians thought Bill’s early morning training was some grand act of willpower, like standing under a freezing waterfall.  I know his secret—those early morning endorphin-releasing workouts are often the highpoint of the entire day. Bill got up at 3:30AM out of love, not duty.  He couldn’t wait to do his next incredible workout. Bill absolutely loved the early morning purity of working out. By doing it first, he could take his time, get it right and still be done before the rest of the world woke up. He used to tell me, “The spaces between the sets are as important as the actual sets themselves.” He attained and retained a heightened, engaged state-of-being as he performed his exercises. He did them notably better once he achieved centeredness, focus and stayed in the zone. After a half century of weight training six days a week, he possessed an ability to access the optimal workout zone within the first five minutes of his 90-minute ritual workouts.

Sustained psych versus instantaneous psyche

We reserve psyching ourselves up for all out, top set efforts done with the heaviest poundage. Everything before the all out top set has been preparatory. The athlete will do 2-4 warm-up sets preceding the all out set or sets. As the warm-up progresses, the elite lifter concentrates on finding the technique zone. He knows from past experience that attaining near technical perfection will improve his performance in the unfolding workout. Focusing 100% of one’s mental abilities on the sole task of technical perfection is an elemental act of concentration.

Workout success is determined by success or failure with the top set rep and poundage.  Only the top set is sufficiently intense to trigger the strength-inducing adaptive response. Everything else is just preparation for the main event. The elite iron athlete becomes more and more centered, focused, and aggressive during the warm up sets.  His own experience tells him that allowing some aggressive, primal emotions to surface—but not too much—will improve workout performance. If his focus is deep and intense, when it’s time to perform the actual top set, the elite iron man will attack the barbell.

Workout gains reside in effort—the degree to which you’re willing to struggle and push or pull your guts out. The gains lie in those final, excruciating, limit-equaling or limit-exceeding reps which are so often barely achieved.

We must exert this degree of effort to throw the hypertrophy switch and unleash the hormonal tidal wave. Only by engaging in grueling physical effort can physiological changes occur. Spectacular gains only manifest in response to maximum effort. If we could reap all the muscle and strength gains with less than maximum efforts, then why not dispense with doing the top set altogether?

While performing the excruciating final rep of the top set, and exerting 100% effort, there is no preoccupation or mental fuzziness.  There is no distraction or lackadaisical attitudes—there is only single-minded focus and the effortless concentration that comes with doing something dangerous. Krishnamurti described this state of mind as, “The observer must fall silent on his own—if we force the silence this is another act of will.” In a high intensity workout, the toughest reps—where a millisecond of concentration lapse will cause instantaneous failure—will effortlessly silence the thinker/observer/little man in our head. The lifter will assume the athletic version of a Zen Samadhi state—perfect, effortless, silent, thought-free concentration. This is an addictive peak athletic experience. How wonderful to be addicted to a beneficial habit.

Real, measurable results keep us coming back for more.  That and the magnificent ‘altered mental state’ that accompanies peak athletic performance. The hormonal afterglow is one of life’s true natural pleasures.  Anyone—regardless of their fitness level—can experience the altered-state hormonal bliss that inevitably and invariably accompanies a perfect workout. Everything of physical and transformative consequence begins inside an actual workout. Within the workout, what matters is the degree of effort we use in dealing with the toughest reps.

We need to learn to conduct a productive resistance training workout, then string a series of them together. Our workout results can then be amplified with a wholesome, organic, nutrient-dense nutritional program. Add metabolism-boosting cardio and a complete physical transformation is now longer a matter of “if” but “when.”

The iron elite knows that twelve weeks of consistent quality workouts—week in, week out—will result in an earth-shattering physical transformation. A successful workout is pleasurable on many levels, and humans repeat what’s pleasurable.  The idea is to fall in love with the whole workout experience. This pleasurable experience is not illegal, immoral or unethical.  In fact, this pleasure-inducing “vice” is actually good for you. Physiological effort creates psychological momentum.

The quality of the workout can be amplified and enhanced by a proper multidimensional mindset.  The results from that workout will be substantially increased.

Martial Master Mentor

Bob Smith throws a powerhouse haymaker to the gut of Hsing I master Wang Shujin

In the early 1970s I saw a notice in the Washington Post that a famous local martial arts master was providing free lessons every Saturday morning at 7am in a nearby park. The dude teaching these well attended free classes was a charismatic man with the vanilla name of Robert Smith. I studied with him for five years.

Smith was anything but vanilla—he was a CIA operative rumored to have been a field agent and station chief.  Smith spoke several dialects of Chinese fluently and was martial arts Renaissance man.  He was a judo expert who became enamored with the  (at the time) unknown Chinese “internal” martial arts. The three interlinked internal arts were Hsing I, a straight line attack style, Pa Kua, a style based on intricate circles, and tai chi which actually has a combat component.  I began studying with him twice a week.

Smith had been stationed in Taiwan. Between performing clandestine assignments, he immersed himself in the internal martial arts. He studied hard and long under the very best and he brought all that knowledge back to the states.  Once he organized his thoughts, he wrote a series of books about the Masters and their methods. Bob was arguably the best martial arts writer ever. With often time partner Donn Draeger, he wrote Comprehensive Asian Fighting Arts, the best single-volume martial book. Bob also penned a dozen other books and his magazine articles were read worldwide.

Bob was a real man—mustached and stocky at about 5’9″. He was the polar opposite of pretentious martial arts “masters” that routinely wear costumes, demand to be addressed reverentially, and use props and pomp to enhance their thin credentials.  Bob Smith was demanding and brilliant, and he routinely used me as his shoulder punch demo dummy.

While talking about a Pa Kua or Hsing I punch, he’d grin slyly and search the assembled class for me, the beefy weightlifter dude. He’d catch my eye, smile and motion me to the front of the class. Once up front, he’d say with a twinkle, “Assume the position son!” The class would laugh as resignation crossed my face. Naturally he hit hard as hell, and naturally I was not going to show any emotion. A rivalry developed. “You will NOT uproot me, Boss.” I’d quip as I sank and readied myself. “We’ll see about that, son!” Then he’d haul back and blast me with the punch he was demonstrating. He almost always rocked me off my balanced stance, no matter how deep I sank or how heavily I weighted myself.

Around this same time, I delved into different Eastern schools of thought. Before Smith wrote about it in his seminal book, I was intrigued by the Moko-San procedures Kendo experts used before their highly formalized practice sessions and competitions. . It was an interesting twist of fate that both my mentors, Hugh Cassidy in lifting, and Bob Smith in martial arts, were both superb writers. Smith’s biographies of the various martial arts masters helped shape my emerging literary style. Bob brought them to life along with their style, personality, and important contributions. He did this in compact vignettes chocked full of obscure but appropriate quotes that reaffirmed a point or exemplified the personality he was profiling.

Martial Masters lineage chart: systems passed down generation to generation

The martial arts, Chinese Taoists, and the Japanese Zen/Samurai/Budo traditions have formalized mental techniques inexorably linked to superior performance in battle or competition. Neil Claremon has a brilliant observation…

“The way of knowing,” the master said, “depends on subtle adjustments that occur with mindful repetition of form and the ingraining of a consciousness that tells us ‘when’ rather than ‘how’ to do something.  This intuitive faculty—although innate—must be trained and organized if it is to become reliable.”

Smith was a big believer in chi and intuitive responses to threats. He spoke of ‘squaring the circle’ that existed between lock-step katas and being instantly intuitive when attacked. When rote training becomes so ingrained in both the conscious and subconscious mind, its use becomes instinctual, effective and spontaneous. Bob would say the perfect mindset for dealing with an attack is silent yet alert. I was fascinated—training for the brain, fantastic! Where do I sign up!

I wanted to learn more. Maybe these various martial masters had tapped into the same peak performance state I experienced when I accessed “the zone” during training and competition. Perhaps these mysterious Eastern martial masters had mental secrets that could take my performance and physique to the next level. I eventually developed a friendship with a high level Hindu “realized being” and genuine guru, Sri Chinmoy Ghose. I wondered if specific methodologies existed for improving the abilities of the human mind. And could this ‘improved ability’ convert into improved athletic performance.

Eventually all roads led to Krishnamurti, the man who resonated with me most profoundly.  His strategy was stripped of any religion and ceremony—his approach was about logic, science, and deductive reasoning. Rene Descartes crawled out of a bread oven after two days muttering, “I think, therefore I am.” In the West we are big on thinking, and it doesn’t get much bigger than “I think therefore I am.”  Krishnamurti would counter with, ‘I do not think, therefore I perceive reality as it unfolds in the ever-occurring present.’ He was all business and led listeners like a farmer leading a herd of dumb cows into a grassy pasture. He guided us to his ultimate conclusion, ‘the cessation of thought is the awakening of intelligence.’ In the same breath he cautioned students not to fall into the trap of allowing the mind to silence the mind—‘just one more mental trick designed to retain control while pretending to give up control.’

Forty five years later, I’m still working on the Koan that is Krishnamurti and his conclusions,—especially his idea that mental chatter creates an inky film blurring the immediacy of perception.  He pointed out that reality is always occurring in the immediacy of the ever-unfolding present. If you allow the ‘thinker,’ ‘observer,’ or the internal voice, to carry on a conversation, then you are preoccupied. Preoccupation prevents perception. The internal voice needs to fall silent for clear perception of the immediate present to occur. One proven way to silence “little man inside your head” is to engage in intense exercise—intense enough for adrenaline and endorphins to flow.

Through the use of willpower, a strong-minded individual can force the inner voice to be silent, but every act of will is finite. Just like G. Gordon Liddy holding his hand over a cigarette lighter to impress a date, all acts of will must end. Enforced silence is filled with tension—exactly what we don’t want. How do we cause the brain to fall silent of its own accord?  Krishnamurti says it’s a matter of always and forever being in the exact present. One way to spend more time in the present and enhance our ability to silence the mind without subduing it in an act of will, is to engage in absorptive activities. An absorptive activity is so engrossing that the ‘little man inside your head’ falls silent of his own accord.

The little man inside our head falls silent when presented the opportunity to become involved in a absorptive task—cooking, gardening, painting, dance, or any sport. In a perfect world you would spend your day rolling from one absorptive activity to the next, until the day ends and you go to sleep, relaxed and in a synchronous yin-yang balance.  Activities that absorb our attention are usually conducted in an Alpha state, 8-12 Hz.  The little man in our head wants to create his own movie, a separate and real existence in a parallel mental universe instead of your primal absorptive state. While concentration and contemplation are the friends of absorption, projection and reflection are its enemies. The little man wants to be in charge of projecting (mulling over the future) and reflecting (mulling over the past). Neither have any relevance to the immediate present, and if you give in and daydream, you’ll be seduced by the fascinating movie being made in your brain. It is far more interesting than the cold reality of the ever-unfolding present….


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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Exercise Pomposity: Are you a mindless exerciser – or a TRAINER with a purpose?

america-fitness-sI love training incognito at commercial gyms, YMCAs and fitness clubs. The wacky antics I see on a never-ending and continual basis have provided column fodder for my magazine articles for decades.  Just yesterday I arrived at my local upscale training facility for a 6:30 AM workout. In the early morning you run into the serious fitness folks—the people smart enough to understand the need for fitness and need to fit it into their hectic lives. These folks are disciplined enough to haul themselves out of bed at 4 or 5 AM to dress, drive to the training facility, hit a workout at 6, be done by 7, then shower for their stress-filled job by 8 or 9.  Admirable.

The early morning crowd is far different then the macho meatball crew of 18-35 year old males that start rolling into the weight room at 5 PM to strut and preen for their meatball brethren or in front of their beloved mirrors. This is a male mutual admiration society that congregates at every commercial gym in America every evening. They’re the reason I won’t train at a commercial gym past 5 pm.  However, macho punk arrogance in the weight room is understandable—these idiots are overflowing with testosterone and probably not coping with real life very well, but in this controllable little corner of the universe, these baboons can act out their WWE wrestler fantasies.  They get off on acting out in front of strangers—finally someone is paying attention to them.

The Macho Boys have a captive audience: the gerbil-wheel aerobic machine riders. The captive cardio audience— whether they like it or not—has a ringside view of the free weight area. The boys can’t help but to act out in front of an audience with profanity, posturing, yelling, back and face slapping, while screaming fitness platitudes. These boys are starved for praise and attention, because outside this finite fitness universe they are mostly losers, barely getting by.  In stark contrast the early morning fitness crowd is sincere, with careers and responsibilities. Yet they can exhibit delusional arrogance as unwarranted and outrageous as that of the testosterone-poisoned evening crowd. Morning is the time for sophisticated sophistry.

I am not a big fan of pomposity.  Oscar Wilde once described the moralistic preaching of an opponent, “He speaks with the easy assurance of the blissfully ignorant.”   I see Wilde’s blissfully ignorant types each and every morning. Yesterday morning I arrived to squat. My strategy was—as always—simple: work up to a single ‘top set’ of five reps in the ultra-deep, paused back squat without wearing any gear.  I thought that after my top set of five, if I still had any gas, I would perform one additional higher-rep/lighter poundage squat set of about eight reps.   Then I would leave.  Squat and leave. Can’t get much simpler then that.

After I squat, I walk to the locker room, strip, and sit in a scalding steam room. After being boiled alive as long as I can take it, I immediately take an ice cold shower, then return to the horrific steam room. I go back and forth three times. It takes me longer to steam and shower than to squat.  I love to steam, sauna, or whirlpool after a workout.  It purposefully heat the body before dousing it in cold water. The heat opens the pores; the cold water snaps the pores shut, squeezing out toxins. After two or three rounds of heat and cold, I actually enter an altered state.  The super intense, endorphin-releasing, hypertrophy-inducing squats have shattered me—in the tradition of ‘that which does not kill me makes me stronger.’ Add a body-shocking steam/sauna/whirlpool/cold shower session can create a fitness-induced acid trip.  And I am totally down with that,  actually it keeps me coming back for more….

But, I digress—back to the training session…

I set up a barbell in a power cage in the right front corner of the free-weight section.  I placed the safety supports a few inches below the deepest point of my squat range-of-motion. So, if I have to eat a rep, I can ride the squat bar down to the pins, slide out and not get squashed like a cockroach.  I loaded the barbell to 135 pounds and stealthily glanced around the large facility—naturally the bulk of early morning attendees are on the carnival ride, gerbil-wheel, high-tech cardio machines. I’ve used this facility for years and in the early morning could predict with 80% accuracy which trainee will be sitting, standing or riding atop their favorite cardio machine—using it the same exact same way as yesterday or tomorrow. Humans are creatures of habit.  But, habit is bad when it comes to physical progress.  To trigger progress we need true exertion.

The facility has 40 high-tech cardio devices—ten per row, four rows deep—like battle tanks in formation.  What a huge financial investment. Many of these machines have built-in TVs even though the gym has three 60-inch Sony TVs hanging high. All the gerbil-wheel riders can watch TV and hopefully distract themselves from the mind-numbing drudgery of riding these cardio devices.    No matter what day, or cardio machine, everyone had one subtle, startling, disturbing commonality: no one ever changed or improved the shape or contours of their physique.  They all looked exactly the same as the day I first say them.

That’s mean to point out, isn’t it?  In our politically correct culture, pointing out a lack of tangible results is rude, hateful, disrespectful and just plain mean.  “Now just a doggone minute Mr. Rude Neanderthal, these morning trainees are sincere, disciplined, intelligent, hard-working individuals. They get up at the crack of dawn and drive to the facility to exercise! They serve as wonderful examples to our youth and are to be praised, not damned, by a missing-link, win-at-any-cost, strive-for-excellence type like you.  Who elected you Pope, Mr. Mean Man?!”

How horrible of me to point out that these shining examples are getting zero results for all those hours engaged in their mindless gerbil-wheel activity. Couldn’t the PC police at least collectively hook up all the diligent, result-free cardio machine riders to some master generator that could provide free electricity to poor people?  At least the collective effort could be put towards the collective good—exercise Marxism, “From each according to his ability to pedal, to each according to his electrical needs and inability to pay.”  The lack of cardio results for these exercisers is directly proportional to the amount of sweat being generated by the group—zero.  In aerobic world, no sweat equals no results, and lots of sweat equals lots of results.  The PC folks would call this “an inconvenient truth.”

No one sweats in this aerobic squadron.  They kinda/sorta exert themselves, but sweat is in short supply in this little community. They obtain zero collective results because they all do the same favorite exercise in the same way, without varying pace, duration or intensity, over and over again. Obviously, their bodies have long since neutralized any “training effect” these pet cardio strategies initially produced.  Using one cardio device exclusively, performing the same workout over and over while exerting sub-maximal effort, cannot and will not produce any tangible results, it’s a physiological impossibility.

I return to squatting, and step under the squat bar, un-rack it, step back and perform 10 reps. On reps 1-5 I feel stiff and awkward, but by the last rep of the set I feel awake.  I will take this same weight again in two minutes.  Light weight lifted for a few sets flushes the blood and hones technique.

I hit my second set with 135—it feels good, tight and precise. I load the bar to 185.  As is my habit between sets, I like to stroll to a nearby set of windows and watch the early morning racquetball players; these men are mostly overweight, but are sweating their asses off. Some are quite quick and agile, despite being chubby.  At least the R-Ball players are exerting themselves, sweating buckets, and getting some real cardio benefits.

While watching the R-Ball players, my attention fell on a slightly underweight individual working out in the resistance machine area. This 30-something was 5’8″ and weighed around 150 pounds. He had a slightly athletic build and looked like a successful accountant or tax attorney that might compete in 5K events.  He caught my attention by performing plyometric leaps onto a two-foot bench, which is hardly dunk height.  He did a manic set of eight leaps on and off the bench immediately followed by a set of deltoid-isolating standing lateral raises with a pair of 5-pound dumbbells.  I was dumfounded. I wanted to quiz him on his strategy. I am sure he would eloquently explain—with the easy assurance of the blissfully ignorant—the incredible benefits of his cross-pollinated exercise strategy.

I slipped around the corner and did another deep and precise 5-rep warm-up set with 185.  Then, I loaded 225 on the squat bar and slipped back to the R-Ball window to watch my man work—and he did work—at least in terms of exercise volume. He’d perform a pathetic set of eight little leaps my 5-year old grandson could do before grabbing tiny dumbbells my grandson could handle.  It was all so serious: leaps, lateral raises, leaps, lateral raises. Even though he wore only a t-shirt, I didn’t see a drop of sweat. While he had the exercise volume bases covered, his exercise intensity was non-existent.

I tore myself away from watching “Sky King” long enough to dispatch 225 for 5 reps. This felt good and I loaded the bar to 275.  Now I needed to get serious.  In the free-weight section a husband and wife duo began their exercise routines.  The stern woman started with worthless shallow walking lunges which she performed while facing the mirror, transfixed by her own image.  Her pompous husband was a tall good-looking guy wearing a big-ass lifting belt and gloves.  He started his “grueling” workout with standing dumbbell curls.  He grabbed a pair of 15s off the dumbbell rack and stood five feet from the mirror, staring as if trying to hypnotize his own image.  I hit 275 for 5, which was a 50 pound jump and didn’t feel quite as snappy as I had hoped. I loaded the barbell to 315 and checked on the leaping lateral raiser who was still at it.  I reckon he had 5-6 super-sets under his belt at this point and still wasn’t sweating.

The older women roll in at 7AM.  I hit my first squat set at 6:35AM and am feeling antsy—I want to get the hell out of here because the facility is getting overcrowded. The older women use the resistance exercise machines in the most pathetic, detached, and clueless fashion. They’ll do a half-assed set of 8 reps at 30% of their capacity then sit on the device as they “recover” for their second of three sets. They’ll sit on a machine for 15 minutes to complete their three sets, and take mortal offense if you ask to use the machine for a quick set.  They spend more time and effort rubbing the machines down with disinfectant after their sweat-less sets. There’s no contagious sweat anywhere on the machine. You’d think there had been an outbreak of Bird Flu!

Everywhere I look I see people engaged in mindless, result-free exercise. Everyone is in motion but no one is training.  In fact, 99% of the 70+ people using the facility could be bowling, playing golf, disco dancing or playing badminton and getting the same results—none—while having a lot more fun.  But they’d lose their patina of fitness nobility. “Look at me! I am noble, disciplined, and up at the crack of dawn doing fitness!” This is the same self-importance I see in the joggers who insist on running along major highways, facing oncoming traffic while making eye contact with all the drivers. “Look at me! Praise me! I am doing fitness!””  They could be jogging in beautiful, quiet, picturesque neighborhoods one block away, but that would deprive them of the attention. Never mind they’re inhaling toxic exhaust fumes with every breath, it’s all about their need for attention.

I hit 315 for 5 ultra-deep paused reps, which felt heavy.  Not good.  I decide on one more set and add a 25-pound plate on each side—my top set of the day would be 365 for 5.  I had to get my game face on for this one.  I took the entire two minutes between 315 and 365 psyching myself up.  As an Old Pro totally attuned to his body, I knew after the 315 pound set that I was having an off day.  Anything less than 100% effort, and I would not make 5 reps. That would be an unacceptable outcome.  Psyched and ready, I stepped under the bar and snapped it out of the rack. I set up and began, reps 1-3 felt heavy as hell and sluggish, rep 4 felt like I was lifting a house and rep 5 was a tooth-grinding, pants-splitting, tomato-faced effort which required 101% of my diminished capacity to complete.

I racked the weight and collapsed onto a nearby bench. Even though I was having an off day, I felt really good about the set. I’d worked hard enough to trigger hypertrophy and release endorphins.   I never broke form while working through the squat sticking point and had pushed my guts out.  My legs were shaking and I felt like I’d been run over by a garbage truck or struck by lighting.  I actually laughed out loud when my brain said, “Hey, what about that 8-rep back-off set?”  After my body-crushing set with 365, I would have only been able to use 50 pounds!  On a good day, that same 365 would feel light on my back. At rep 5, I’d feel like I could perform one, two, or—on a super good day—three more reps. On those days I would perform a back-off set of 8 with about 315.  But not today. Today I was toast, fried.

I had bled so much energy and exerted so much pure hellacious physical effort on the 365 pound set that if I had attempted an 8-rep back-off set I would have had to use so few pounds that there would have been no “training effect” or adaptation.   After the 365 x 5 set, if I used willpower and continued to train, I’d throw myself down the black hole of catabolism and overtraining.   Even so, it would take my legs 4-5 days to normalize after today’s 101% 5-rep effort.

Make no mistake, I purposefully traumatize my body.  I am successful when I shatter myself, from neck to calves.  I glanced at my watch: 7:05AM, my entire session had lasted for 29 minutes.  The gym was suddenly a beehive of activity. On the floor mats by the racquetball window, a spandex-clad personal trainer was starting his 7AM “weightlifting for women” class. The pompous personal trainer with perfectly dyed hair, sparkling teeth, and Botox forehead insisted his class of a dozen middle-aged women spend a full 30 minutes “stretching out to avoid injury” before their 30-minute all-machine submaximal weight training session.  To his credit, he made sure that the women thoroughly cleaned their machines with disinfectant when done.

By now, the gym was packed, and there was manic activity everywhere—mindless, directionless, useless exercise that was obviously not producing results for anyone.  Yet no seemed to notice or mind. Personal trainers pretended to train and trainees pretended that they were getting results. Everywhere, everyone was exercising, but no one was training or exerting nearly enough effort to burn fat, spark hypertrophy, create endorphins, or cause an adaptive response.  No one was sweating or progressing. Yet, in this society, it’s enough to show up and the prevailing sentiment seemed to be that everyone deserves a participation trophy, winning, success, and results are overrated. And that most people are not destined to become winners—the overemphasis on winning and results is unhealthy!  We used to have a motto at Chaillet’s hardcore gym back in the 80s, “Effort is no substitute for success.” Nowadays the motto would be, “Strive for mediocrity!  Feel good about yourself!”

I literally wobbled as I walked out of the gym after my workout and steam/ice baths.  I was physically blasted yet as centered as a Zen monk. My mind was silent, the ‘thinker,’ the ‘little man inside your head’—as SEAL trainers label the conscious mind—had been bludgeoned into silence by the degree of intense physical effort and severity of the steam/shower.  I was experiencing my predictable blissed-out altered-state of exercise nirvana.  My legs were so shot that pushing the clutch to the floor was hard.  I had body tremors all the way home.  I drank my post-workout smart-bomb shake and then lied down. I went into a virtual coma for an hour and swore I could feel my body growing and reconfiguring.   Exerting this degree of effort meant I only needed to squat one time a week. I needed four to six days to fully recover.

A high-intensity, low volume, minimalistic training approach can enable you to experience the same blissful, endorphin-releasing, hypertrophy-inducing, result-producing workout that I experienced in my squat workout and that I experience in all my workouts to varying degrees.  Let’s vow to stop mindless exercising and instead embrace intense training.  Participation trophies are for losers.  We’re about creating success and results. In one of his movies, the great Sean Connery muttered these immortal lines,  “The losers whine and moan and complain about the unfairness of it all—the winners kick ass then go home and F@#K the cheerleaders!”

Amen to that my Brother.  Iron Bible words to live by.


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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© 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.