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Resistance Training Facts-of-Life

How to Operate a Barbell

The optimal transformation tool is misused and misunderstood by the uninformed

Marty Gallagher coached Ed Coan

Marty Gallagher coached the great Ed Coan, pictured above

The lowly, barbaric barbell is the most neglected, misused, and abused tool in nearly every fitness facility.  But used properly, it is also the most effective transformational tool available. No other device comes close to delivering the same transformative results as correct barbell technique combined with old school hardcore progressive resistance training strategies.

The purpose of resistance training is to acquire indisputable physiological results.  These results are specifically defined as new muscle mass and significant increases in strength levels and power capacities.

A barbell can and will transform a human body dramatically, radically, and quickly if the right exercises are performed using the proper techniques and protocols.

The four biggest mistakes amateurs make when attempting to operate a barbell:

  • Picking the wrong exercises. There is an exercise hierarchy in hardcore resistance training.  Generally speaking, all resistance exercises break down into two generalized categories: compound and isolation. An isolation exercise targets a specific muscle while excluding neighboring muscles. A compound exercise requires groups of muscles to work together in a synchronized fashion.  Compound exercises trump isolation exercises and should be given the lion’s share of your available training time.  Resistance machines are usually designed for isolation exercises, which is another reason to avoid working with machines.
  • Shortening the rep stroke on purpose. If a man can move 100 pounds in a given exercise using a full and complete rep stroke, he can move 200 pounds if he cuts the rep stroke in half, and 300 pounds if he only uses a third of the potential stroke length. Men love to shorten the rep stroke in difficult exercises so they can move more weight than they’re actually capable of lifting.  But partial reps deliver partial results. The iron elite champion full range of motion exercises and so should you.
  • Lack of sheer physical effort. In fitness, “intensity” refers to the level of  exertion during resistance training.  The average trainee usually doesn’t train hard enough to trigger hypertrophy and other adaptive responses.  The elite know that sheer physical effort is the key to strength training success. We need to consistently equal or exceed our current limits and capacities in some way during every workout.
  • Believing machines and free-weights give equal results. Wrong! Resistance training exercise machines are inferior to free-weights when it comes to results. Machines are alluring because they are comfortable and easy to use. But, a chest press on a machine is not as effective at building muscle and strength as a free-weight barbell or dumbbell flat bench.  The machine eliminates the 3rd dimension of tension, which activates stabilizing muscles as the trainee fights to control side-to-side movement.

By recognizing and correcting these fatal flaws we can stop wasting time with sub-maximal effort on exercise machines. Make the most productive use of your training time with these four productive changes:

  • Reduce the number of exercises you perform. Concentrate your resistance training efforts on mastering the “four core” exercisesthe squat, bench press, deadlift, and overhead press. Dedicate the majority of your training to these lifts, and practice them almost exclusively. Perform fewer exercises, but do them with far greater precision, focus and effort.
  • Refine exercise techniques. Each of the “core four” exercises has a specific technique.  Seek technical mastery in each lifteach lift has subtle variations used for different physiological effects. Technique should be honed and refined over time.  We worship at the altar of technique and perform perfect lifts with incredible effort.
  • Have a plan. Elite iron men always have a resistance training goal and they use the strategy of periodization to build strength incrementally.  Progress continues each successive week for 8-16 weeks.  Reps, sets and poundage are tweaked to ensure progress.
  • Embrace struggle. The hardest lesson for the novice is to accept that effective resistance training must include real struggle and effort.  Struggle and effort trigger the adaptive response which brings all the positive benefits of effective resistance training.  Any resistance program that avoids intense effort is a waste of time at bestat worst, it’s pure fraud.

Optimal barbell use involves learning how to properly perform the “core four” exercises with the preferred motor-pathways and full range-of-motion techniques. We must also concentrate on a limited number of compound multi-joint exercises. With a limited menu of exercises, the trainee gets very good at those few select exercises quickly.  The hardcore strength athlete’s philosophy involves “doing fewer things better.”

Elite athletes and Tier I spec ops types understand and embrace our purposefully primitive, streamlined strength-training approach.  They understand the system’s profound simplicity and obtain dramatic results from diligent practice. The elite athlete who uses our system with precision, respect, and reverence will obtain outstanding results every single time.

Meanwhile, the general public doesn’t understand or want our ancient approach with the barbell and its “mini-me” cousins, dumbbells.  Our system delivers what all fitness adherents seektangible physical results on a consistent and ongoing basis.  Yet, the general public will not give our simple muscle and strength strategy even a casual test drive.

John Q. and Mary J. Public prefer to be seduced by fitness pied pipers who say that a magical elixir, system, tool or fitness product will enable themfor a priceto bypass the effort, sweat and discomfort associated with a profound physical transformation.  Here is a “chocolate flavored factoid” (as Norman Mailer once called bon mots) for you to ponderwhy would the human body radically adapt to modest exertion?  Why would the body undergo a profound adaptation in response to anything less than a profound degree of sustained physical effort?

Modern man is cursed with too many choices. He desperately wants to believe that an easy, effective alternative exists instead of facing the gruesome reality of a purposefully primitive free-weight regimen rooted in disciplined adherence and egoless effort.  Perhaps the delusional seeker simply thinks it’s impossible to find the golden needle of progress hidden so deeply in the fitness haystack.

People want fitness equipment manufacturers to make resistance training easier and more user-friendly. People want to emasculate resistance training even though doing so will negate any possible physiological benefits.  Watered down resistance training might be fun, but it is so ineffective that playing golf or going bowling would be a better use of your time.  An exercise session performed at 60% of max exertion using a dozen different exercises on smooth-as-glass machines, is neutered, emasculated resistance training.  But, this sub-maximal strategy is widely practiced and taught at modern commercial fitness facilities.

Less is known about using a barbell correctly as compared to any other fitness tool in a commercial gym. Gym staff “experts” may claim to know about effective barbell training, but 99.9% of the time they don’t know jack squat.  In today’s fitness landscape, the training possibilities and potential protocols to choose from are vast and daunting unless you are lucky enough to be instructed by a rare iron expert.  A normal person knows as much about using a barbell properly as much as they know how to fly an F-15 fighter jet.

The Bottom Line: If you want to reap the rewards from an effective resistance program, base your thinking on the strategies we’ve discussed.  Understand the exercise hierarchy and realize that all resistance exercises are not created equal.  Resistance training is ineffective without effort and struggle. For results, we need a periodized game plan, the right exercises (performed correctly), and enough effort required to trigger hypertrophy.  Exert profound physical effort and reap dramatic physical 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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10 Tactical Training Tips to Exponentially Increase Your Transformational Fitness Results

“My job is to take the best in the world – and make them better.”

Mr. Marty,

Hope you had fun ripping us “earnest fitness types” to shreds in your recent rant against anyone and everyone that uses a commercial training facility.  I will admit that I am a “result-free” early morning trainee. Your article was dead on, and pointed out everyone’s flaws. Except for criticizing the glowering gruesome person—you— standing in the corner taking it all in like an East German Stasi secret police agent. But, your article didn’t have any positive advice for anyone.   I won’t be doing any ass-on-heels squatting with 365 pounds for 5 reps in the near future, and I won’t be turning myself into a human steamed lobster afterwards.  Are you simply the world’s best critic or are you capable of any constructive thoughts or advice?

—A ticked-off result-free cardio gerbil from parts unknown looking for training tips

Greetings! You must have recognized your result-free training approach in the article several times. Theoretically you could be a female oldster cardio gerbil treadmill user and manic resistance machine user and cleaner. Theoretically I could have insulted you a half dozen times within the same article.  Indeed, I am that glowering, gruesome, person taking it all in.

I am also a world-class strength coach having coached for five national team powerlifting championships, and I took Team USA to the IPF world championship in 1991.  I’ve regularly turned out regional, national and international level lifters.  And I work with active duty Tier 1 military spec ops—so to answer to your question, I have plenty of advice and it’s all freaking excellent.

The only question is this, are you ready, willing, and able to use the result-producing advice I’m offering?

The men I work with are the best of the best—modern samurai warriors and the finest strength athletes on the planet.  My job is to take the best in the world and make them better.  Here are ten tactical training tips that I use on a regularly reoccurring basis with the uber-elite. Put some or all of these ten tips into play and you will rock your gerbil-wheel fitness world to its core—assuming you’re in a position to actually incorporate these battle-tested tips. These concepts are broad and within each, there’s a subtle maze requiring intricate maneuvering.  We will delve into the subtleties within subtleties of each tip in future posts…

  1. Forget everything you think you know about fitness. They say that too much knowledge is a dangerous thing and nowhere is this cliché truer than the world of athletic training. Preconceptions are problematic and should be eradicated. Our mature strength philosophy was handed down through four generations since WWII. Frankly we aren’t interested in your little thoughts and insights about power and strength. Misinformation about strength training abounds. Now, every trainee has a strength theory, a guru, and an opinion. Give me an aggressive, wrong-side-of-the-tracks, empty-headed 12-year old alpha male any day of the week over an opinionated fitness-type.  Here’s a news flash—you don’t know jack about physical transformation or how to attain it, if you did, you would have already transformed. We can save time if we don’t have to deprogram you.Our system is an integrated philosophy that needs be implemented in its totality. It’s not an ideological cafeteria where trainees can embrace or reject aspects of our holistic approach based on their likes and dislikes. The component parts of the system amplify each other. The system in a nutshell: combine power training with gourmet power eating and perform cardio to keep the metabolism amped up.
  2. Not one, or the other—both.  The name of the game is utter and complete, radical physical transformation. Our template is pure non-dualistic Zen—we weave together three disparate disciplines: resistance training, cardiovascular training, and nutrition. The skillful blending of these three disciplines builds muscle and strength while melting off body fat.  Cardio needs to be manly, sweaty, old-school and mostly outside. We choose old school, real world cardio combined with old school hardcore power free-weight training.  Intense cardio and intense resistance exercise are supported by nutrient-dense gourmet peasant food, eaten in ample amounts. This food nourishes and heals.We empower our athletes by teaching them balance. It’s better to have a little of the three core disciplines than a whole lot of one or two, at the expense of the other(s).  When all three parts are in place and executed in a balanced holistic fashion, physical synergy takes place and results exceed all realistic expectations.
  3. Divide available training time between resistance and cardio.  We seek a balanced blending of two distinctly different types of exercise.  Combining resistance and cardio far exceeds the potential of performing one type to the exclusion of the other.  Combining the two triggers transformation—if the training is sufficiently intense, periodized, and synchronized with a nutrient-dense diet strategy. Lifting and cardio are two sides of the same fitness and strength coin.One discipline does not trump the other; we need to practice both. Power training maximizes brute strength and builds functional athletic muscle; cardio burns off body fat and keeps the metabolism revved-up while ensuring internal organ health. We need to strengthen and improve the functionality of our internal organs as much as we need to strengthen our skeletal muscles. To ignite a radical physical transformation, we need to practice “Not one, or the other—both!
  4. Simplify resistance training. Clear the table of every resistance exercise you’re currently doing and begin anew.  Practice a purposefully limited menu of compound multi-joint exercise movements.  The irreducible “core four” resistance exercises are squat, bench press, deadlift, and overhead press. A second small tier of assistance exercises complements the core four. Our philosophy is to do fewer things better.  Sessions are short, intense, infrequent, and body shattering.We worship at the altar of exercise technique, continually striving to hone and refine our lifting. Unlike bodybuilding, pure strength training values intensity over volume. A bodybuilder will train long and often with moderate weight, while a strength athlete will train in short infrequent sessions with maximum intensity. A strength athlete uses heavy weight for low reps with a full range-of-motion. Pristine exercise technique results in maximum muscle fiber stimulation.
  5. Sweat during cardio. You’d think this was a given. It’s mind-blowing to see how many cardio machine riders never sweat. Coincidentally, their physiques also never change. When physical exertion generates sweat, progress occurs. We need to breathe hard and continually bump up against our oxygen-debt threshold.  Use cardio to burn calories, stimulate the metabolism, and improve internal organ health and functionality.The goal is to trigger an adaptive response to cardio. 90% of the gym goers tool along at 60% of their capacity—a comfortable pace on a comfortable, familiar machine.  Why would the body burn fat in response to 60% exertion? Why would we reap outstanding results from easy workouts? Unless we work at and past our capacities, the body will stubbornly stay the same.
  6. Work at or past your (shifting) limits in every workout.  Limits and capacities shift day to day and workout to workout.  On a peak day, we might be capable of a 102% effort, while on an off day our 100% capacity might only be 77% of our actual capability. However—and this is critical—we can have a hypertrophy-inducing, strength-increasing, productive workout on an off day if we still work up to or past that day’s actual capacity.In resistance training we record our best weight and rep performances in all our lifts. We know our one-rep max best in a particular lift, and we also record rep/weight records for double rep sets, triples, 5-rep set max, and 8 and 10-rep sets. We know our all-time best lifts in each rep range so we know the capacities to equal or exceed. The elite lifter will also have different rep records at different bodyweights.
  7. Have a periodized battle plan. Elite athletes think in three-month chunks. Time and experience have shown that the optimal length for a transformational program is 12-weeks. Within the 12-week, three-month timeframe, sets and reps (along with cardio and nutrition) are tweaked every four weeks to drive poundage ever upward. The first step is to establish realistic but motivating strength and muscle goals. The goal in strength training is to continue increasing the amount of weight lifted in the core four lifts. By becoming significantly stronger in the core four lifts, all our athletic attributes are improved.  We gain significant muscle as we push and pull our way through the 12-weeks.The main idea is to reverse-engineer small, weekly, mini-goals. We start off light and easy, but three months later we’ve often made it past our goal threshold. Typically, our 12-week power cycle will start at 10% below capacity, with the goal set at 2%- 5% past current lifting capacity. Simultaneously, we’ll experience a proportional increase in functional muscle mass.
  8. Replenish post-workout. After a body-crushing progressive resistance workout—the only kind worth a damn—a ‘window of opportunity’ opens. During that time, any nutrients ingested are distributed and assimilated at a dramatically accelerated (some say 300% faster) rate. Science and experience dictates that the right nutrients in the right amounts after a high-intensity workout will improve workout results.  And workout results are greater if the athlete consumes these nutrients while the window is open.The window of opportunity opens at the end of the workout and remains open for one to three hours.   The ideal post-workout meal or drink should consist of 50% high-value protein and 50% non-insulin spiking carbs. Most of the iron elite prefers to drink a fast-acting shake containing 30 to 50 grams of protein and carbs at the conclusion of the workout.
  9. Invoke workout contrast. Don’t perform the same favorite training routine over and over and expect continual results. Periodically revamp your training to keep your progress on track.  After the completion of a full-bore, 12-week power cycle, shift to a contrasting training template.  If you’ve just completed a period of three-times-a-week power training, concentrated on back squat, barbell bench, conventional deadlift and barbell overhead press, then why not shift to a volume approach? Try something radically different like performing multiple top static sets (2-5) using higher rep sets (8 to 12 reps per set).After the explosive lifting of the power cycle, why not slash the poundage and shift to grind speed?  Why not change up the exercises? How about multiple high-rep top sets for front squats, dumbbell bench presses, sumo deadlifts (or drop deads in favor of power cleans) and seated presses behind the neck.  Or you could accelerate the workout pace, or add arm work twice a week. Sync up the new higher volume, less intensity approach with more cardio, and longer more frequent sessions. During this time, cut back the calories and lean out maximally. This will create the lean-out antithesis to the power & muscle 12-week program you just completed.
  10. Synchronize seasonally appropriate eating with training. Training heavy? Why not eat heavy? Why not look to add power, strength and size in the cold winter months? The 12-weeks of winter is the same length of time as a power cycle. Winter is the perfect time to consume rich foods, delicious soups and thick stews. Heavy cuts of meat taste delicious in cold weather and root vegetables are winter vegetables. Think of fall and winter as optimal times for adding power, strength and muscle mass.  Looking to get maximally lean? What better time than during the high heat of summer!Coordinate the heat and added activity of the summer months with a reduction in calories. Cut back on the rich foods, increase cardio frequency and duration, and shift to a high-volume/moderate-intensity weight training strategy. Optimally, nutrition and training are synchronized with each other and are coordinated seasonally. It’s logical, sensible and primal to create a plan appropriate for the season. Train like a berserker and support your savage training with seasonally-appropriate organic peasant food.  Sleep like the dead.  Hold this course for 90 short days and transform. Details to follow.

How’s that for some expert advice?


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 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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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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© 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.