John McCallum - Fountain of Youth
As is my habit, when I get stuck for article ideas (which isn’t too often) I will reread the table of contents of a classic book written by John McCallum, Keys to Progress. Many years ago, Randy Strossen, the owner of Milo Magazine, did a wonderful thing and put out a compilation of all 98 feature length articles John McCallum wrote for Strength & Health magazine between 1965 and 1971. As a writer, just reading the article titles gives me inspiration.
Here are a few timeless themes…Building your calves…The Home Gym…The high protein/high set program…Parallel bar dips: squats for the upper body…Shoulder specialization…The case for the Breathing Squat…Concentration (psych)…The Power Look….simply rereading his titles spurs my brain into a creative headspace. I will hit on a title that catches my imagination and think, what would be my modern take on this McCallum theme?
As a longtime student of Russian classical literature, I have long thought that John McCallum and Ivan Turgenev, the early 19th century Russian master, had many stylistic similarities. Mac and Turgenev had a lot in common. Both introduced unique characters into the story narrative and expertly bought them to life, a damn tough literary challenge - especially when limited to 1500 words, as Mac was.
Turgenev used peasants and hunters to illustrate and ornament his folksy tales. McCallum used his weight training friends and relatives to propel his humorous tales that always had an underlying theme. John McCallum introduced us to a cast of reoccurring characters: his misguided friends, gym Dumbo’s, iron heroes, iconic immortals, moronic boyfriends dating his daughter, Harry, his swinger uncle…
McCallum’s area of expertise was the acquisition of power and strength – and the concurrent muscle size increase that always occurs when a man finds a way to become dramatically stronger. The acquisition of muscle and power are themes that never go out of style or grow stale for true alpha males. McCallum’s training advice was as good as any I’ve ever gotten.
His emphasis on the barbell squat, and most particularly, the 5-rep squat, was again, prophetic and profound. He stressed excellent technique and always told his readers how damned hard it is to build strength, increase muscle size and transform the physique. He made the difficultly, the stresses the strain, the gut-busting effort a clarion call, he challenged his readers, if you have the grit and gumption, here are the transformative techniques and tactics of the Iron Gods.
Very recently, I was bored with my own ideas. I picked up my well-worn copy of Keys to Progress and began scrolling down the table of contents until it caught my eye – an article, a series of articles on anti-aging. Mac labeled it, Fountain of Youth training. Reading his thoughts on the subject, penned 55 years ago, has a Nostradamus-like ring to them. Per usual, John McCallum proved prophetic. He his anti-aging prescription was timeless…
- weight training
- running (cardio)
He added a 4th category, his version of “brain-train,” mental recalibration to improve performance in the gym. He called it “concentration,” mental recalibration that enabled the trainee to change their eating habits, mental recalibration that must prefigure changes in physique. To quote John McCallum, “No one casually acquits a 500-pound squat or a powerful, rugged physique.” He was big on the Mind thing.
He was prophetic on nutrition. “First off, eliminate all junk food from your diet. All the gooey cakes, candies, cookies, soft drinks, sugar and processed grains. Eliminate them completely. They are junk and you don’t need them. Slash your carbohydrates to the bone, they don’t do much for you, other than make you fat.” What was on his approved list? “The bulk of your diet should consist of protein food. Round it out with fresh fruits and vegetables, many raw.” I use this advice to this day.
John McCallum intuitively knew that dietary fat was not the nutritional enemy, the enemy was refined carbs, industrial foods, sugar, trans-fat and chemical pollutants. In Mac’s time, before the advent of the national chain grocery stores, all food was local and organic. The quality of the proteins and produce was excellent. He stressed combining power foods with power training.
John McCallum was a hardcore weight trainer that took methods from the iron greats of his era and passed them along to us, his young readers. He took his training ques from Bill Pearl, Reg Park, John Grimek, Maurice Jones, Harold Cleghorn and a slew of elite Olympic weightlifters. He would relate of mythical training sessions undertaken by these Iron Gods that would get me so fired up I would rush to my basement gym and begin training manically.
John McCallum was prophetic on the inclusion of aerobics into the weight trainers training template. Mac lived in British Columbia and ran in the woods to “stay in shape.” The conventional thinking of the time was to avoid any type of aerobic activity because it would “tear down” muscle. Mac said this was utter nonsense. Fit athletes can train harder, longer and more often. Hard cardio spikes the metabolism, accelerates calorie burning and improves internal organ function.
He worked as a skin diver and had to be fit to do his job. “What good is it to be able to bench press 500-pounds if you get gassed after walking up three flights of stairs?” Fit lifters recover quicker than their out-of-shape training partners. His philosophy could be encapsulated as, eat better, lift heavier, harder and smarter. Don’t neglect cardio.
Put it all together, lifting, nutrition and cardio, and you have a blueprint for physical transformation. This is the strategy elite athletes use to maximize physique and performance. This identical strategy should be used by those on the wrong side of 50 seeking to retain youthfulness. The best way to retain function and mobility (attributes that are going, going, gone, as we age) is to strength train and engage in copious cardio.
Naturally a man in his 50's, 60's or 70's cannot be expected to match strength levels exhibited in their prime strength years, the 20's and 30's. Here is the motto for the over 50-trainee: we can always improve on our current self – that is enough, that is profound.
His postulating about how best to retard aging rings true to this day. Progressive resistance training strengthens the body and limbs. Strength equates to function. Full ROM resistance movements ensure oldsters retain functional strength and retain mobility by every measure and standard.
While an oldster might not be able to run, they most certainly can find an acceptable cardio alternative. The goal of cardio exercise is to purposefully elevate the heart rate and keep it elevated for a protracted period. In Mac's world, be you young or old, sweat is the barometer, insofar as cardio effectiveness. As Mac once quipped, “If you are not sweating, you need to find another gear.”
If I were to start working with an average 60-year old, regardless gender or degree of fitness, I would have them begin an elementary progressive resistance program under my tight supervision. I would have them clean up their diet, jettisoning all carbs, except fiber and complex natural carbs. I would have them begin an aerobic regimen, based on their situation, degree of fitness and availability of tools and gear.
This approach is straight out of the 1965 Mac playbook. And like John McCallum, I would dedicate time and energy to brain-train: using psych to take resistance and cardiovascular training to the next level. Brain-train manifests itself by generating the bulldog adherence needed to succeed. Brain-train is used to break bad habits and establish new and beneficial habits. From a philosophic standpoint, while we might have refined the categories he demarcated, we were just rearranging the furniture: he designed the room and built the house it sits in.
About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of multiple books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher biography here.