Morphing humanity one body at a time

Featured Weightlifting Equipment: bench press, barbell, weightlifting belt, Olympic bar, barbell set, weightlifting straps

When an old friend sent Ross Gore my direction, it was like the waiter brought the wrong entrée. Mic McMick and I go back a decade. While there was nothing wrong with Ross Gore, for a guy used to working with the uber-elite, Ross wasn't going to set my coaches heart aflutter. In the end McMick was vindicated and Ross Gore was a beneath the radar stealth dude. McMick and deadlift world record holder and my old training partner Mark Challiet used to work together at the CIA back in the cold war days - but that is a whole other story in itself.

McMick is a double-pale Irishman and a Brainiac with a wild streak. He keeps tempting me to go to Spain with him on an eating tour. He knows Spain like the back of his hand and the plan is to hit Michelin stared restaurants in every region and engage in sanctioned gluttony on a nationwide basis. There also might be drinking involved.

Ross turned out to be a highly educated 35-year old ex-college professor that had entered one powerlifting competition. He weighed 155 and had squatted 320, bench pressed 240 and deadlifted 370. Nice stuff for a regular American. Though living in Northern Virginia, he was a Marylander with family roots on the eastern shore. As we talked, I got the vibe that this was a serious dude that actually might do the work. At this stage of my life, I do not suffer fools lightly and for the past decade I haven't worked with anyone other than top athletes and spec ops types.

To be honest, I had wanted to work with a 'normal' person for a while. I knew past a shadow of doubt that our strength strategies worked with the elite – but how about for regular folks? Not Tier 1 warfighters, not world champion strength athletes, not Jack Bauer deep-cover types, could we obtain the same sensational results when not working with someone in the top 1% of the favorable gene pool.

Could we replicate the sensational results we obtained for the top 1% of the top 1% in normal people, normal folks leading normal lives with jobs and responsibilities? So out of the blue, here comes smart, earnest Ross Gore. He was game to become our crash test dummy. We had strategies that I had wanted to use on normal people. The problem was I had become so hermetic I didn't know any normal people anymore.

So much was dependent on him being open to a brand new way of doing things. He needed to be realistic in his expectations – I was not going to waste my time with some starry-eyed middleweight that wanted to add 100-pounds to their bench press in six weeks. I needed to totally tear down and rebuild his exercise techniques. We had ten weeks before his competition and faced a daunting task: completely revamp the techniques used in all three lifts, acclimatize and then register a 10% increase across the board on all three lifts – and all in 70 days – like I said, daunting.

He agreed to do what I asked and I agreed to give his situation the time and attention it deserved. Fate conspired to allow us to train together. He is a busy man with a serious job and lots of commitments; still, he was agreeable to traveling one hour to Wing Chung instructor Don Berry's country gym in Fred-Neck, Maryland. I agreed to travel thirty minutes from south central Pennsylvania through the Catoctin mountains and every Sunday morning at nine am we'd meet; a half dozen powerlifters would gather to squat, bench press and deadlift. We threw Ross into the deep end of the pool and he thrived.

He and I had arrived at mutually agreeable goals: we sought that precise tipping point where the goals are realistic enough to be obtainable yet high enough to be inspiring and motivational; psychologically the athlete needs to stay fired up. Seeing him in person helped sculpt the game plan. Physically he was lean, light-boned and proportional; at 5-7 and 155 pounds he was definitely athletic. I told him he could use some muscle. He agreed. The middleweight class limit is 165 pounds. It made sense to have Ross add one pound of bodyweight each week for ten successive weeks.

To keep weight gain lean, he would stick to his current diet (which obviously was working – I guesstimated his body fat percentile at 155 at 10 or 11%) and create the caloric excess needed to grow new muscle with lean proteins and potent supplements – not pizza, beer and ice cream. His one-pound-per-week weight gain assured that he would stay anabolic and in positive nitrogen balance, the prerequisites needed for muscle growth would be present and accounted for. When anabolism is established, all that is needed to spark the muscle gains that beget strength increases are a series of hardcore training sessions.

The rationale behind the training was a rhetorical question: how little progressive resistance training could you do – and still obtain radical results.

This would be the premise of my experiment in ultra-minimalism for normal people.

  • Total session length (five lifters rotating) lasted 90 minutes
  • Ross' actual 'time under tension' was approximately 30 minutes per session
  • Squat, bench press and deadlift were performed in that order in every session
  • No other resistance exercises; the three lifts done once a week, no lifting during the week
  • Each Sunday session work up to a single "top set" in each lift, then move on
  • Ross and I devised a 10-week periodized game plan
  • Weeks 1-3, 5-rep sets; weeks 4-6, triples; weeks 7-8 doubles; weeks 9-10, singles.

Each Sunday morning we would work through squats, benches and deadlifts, all in a single session. This would be all the weight training done for the entire week. No assistance work of any kind at any time; no other weight workouts during the week. This was an experiment in uber-minimalism.

I devised this time-compressed minimalistic system for my time-pressed active duty spec ops buddies. The totality of the system is expandable – but this is the irreducible core. Would it work as sensationally for regular athletes as it did for elite athletes? Ross represented an opportunity to test drive this strategy. We were after something quite profound: he would obtain maximum muscle size gains and maximum strength increases and with a bare-minimum time investment.

Despite his being a near perfect student, unlearning and relearning completely new squat/bench/dead exercise techniques in the compressed ten week timeframe, even for Ross was a bitch: we had a very small window to work within. Each session he would perform 4-5 sets in each lift, not much for me to coach, really fleeting. He would average 4-5 total sets per lift, three lifts per session. That works out to 12-15 sets per session, 120 to 150 over a ten week period. By way of contrast, Arnold Schwarzenegger would routinely perform 85 sets in a single session and 700 sets per week. Ross would perform 40-50 sets per lift for the entire ten-weeks.

His squat revamp was relatively easy: I opened up his stance, got him upright and took his barbell depth down a few inches. I wanted him using nothing but legs to power his squats. By the time the competition rolled around he had morphed his style and became a bona fide squat technician. His technique is now a prototypical benchmark for perfect, IPF legal, completely raw squatting. In the past he used his weightlifting belt. I took the weight belt away as I wanted his results to be the purest expression of raw. No belt for squats and no belt for deadlifts.

Ross is a natural bench presser and a flawless technician: he arches like a pro, has a great foot base and naturally uses a version of the "Fantano arch." I gave him the 'pull the Olympic bar down with tension' speech and he effortlessly incorporated the purposefully slowed lowering we use. In the completion he blasted 265 to completion and I felt certain 275 would have been toast: still, he is benching 100-pounds over bodyweight, 1.6 times bodyweight – and done with a long pause on the chest and super strict judging.

Per usual, the conventional deadlift proved to be the most contentious. It was hard for Ross to get his legs into the deadlift. Like the rest of the world, he wanted to use his hip-hinge to bust the barbell set from the floor. Our 'slowed negative' was also problematic, however, as we were finishing the cycle his deadlift really began to click for him. I had him use weightlifting straps for the whole cycle: the competition was the first time he hadn't worn barbell straps to pull. He held his third attempt deadlift with 396 pounds extra-long just to show he had grip to spare.

He had a perfect training cycle...

Squat 45 sets 220 reps
Bench press 52 sets 270 reps
Deadlift 44 sets 180 reps
141 sets 670 reps total rep misses = 1

So he performed 670 reps and missed ONE. That is mind-blowing consistency. At the competition he had a perfect meet: he made all nine of his competition attempts and got three white lights from three judges on every attempt: in power parlance this is called going 9 for 9 with 27 whites. This type of perfection comes from cold self-analysis, lack of ego and adherence to the totality of the program. He added ten pounds of solid muscle and after ten weeks looked rather formidable; whereas before he had a 'nice physique,' now he packed obvious muscular firepower.

I did my part by each week bringing him a canister of one of the amazing Parrillo powder products: Hi-Protein, 50-50 Plus or Pro-Carb. He was instructed to kill the canister each week, 20 + servings. These powders are nutritional dynamite: potent whey protein and slow release carbohydrate with no sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Ross took it down one week at a time and in the end attained every predetermined goal. All of which was and is quite remarkable; we shall see if he continues to lift competitively or if this is a passing fancy, was it an itch that needed scratching or is this the start of a promising career?

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 numerous 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.