Shapeshifter - Refusing to play the hand that I was dealt: what we can learn from children
Arnold (above) at age 18 deadlifting 650 to win Austrian powerlifting title
I am a shapeshifter, a transformational master. My job, my mission, my calling, is to write about, talk about, explain and coach people on how to engineer their very own radical physical transformation. I teach people how to remold and reshape the human body, how to make the organism stronger and more muscular, how to improve stamina and increase endurance. I share methodologies on how to make the body more resilient, how to retard aging, how to make the body faster and leaner, how to streamline and muscular-ize the Soft Machine, the descriptive phrase William Burroughs used to describe the human body.
I began my shapeshifter transformational apprenticeship in December of 1961. Over the next six years I engineered my own physical transformation. And it was radical. At age 11, I was gifted a 110-pound barbell set for Christmas. By age 12 I had my full height, 5-10. I began the year weighing 120-pounds. I worked hard and that same year I was able to overhead press 130 weighing 130. I muscled up 10-pounds and brought my press up 50-pounds in my first year.
Every week, every month, every year, my improvement trajectory traced the upward path of a missile. I grew bigger, stronger, leaner, fitter, faster. I experienced unrelenting progress for the next six years. By age 18, I weighed a muscled-up 200-pounds with a sub-10% body fat percentile. I had undergone a profound physical metamorphosis. I was winning national titles and setting national records in Olympic weightlifting. In hindsight I was doing many things right….
- Goal: I had a clear goal, build maximum muscle and strength
- Multiple disciplines: I had a resistance training plan, a cardio plan, a nutritional plan
- Consistency: no modern distractions; nothing else to do
- Not at cross-purposes: everything was synchronized and aimed at the lone target – muscle and strength
- Crude tools: the perceived disadvantage turns out to be an advantage; crude tools cut the deepest inroad
- Training partners: lifting with and doing sport with those whose respect you ups your game
- Fit: lots of cardio; fit athletes can train harder, longer and more often. Fit athletes are leaner
- Synced training with nutrition
- Low-stress lifestyle: excellent sleep and recovery
- Ignorance is bliss: not afflicted with the curse of too many choices
- Low information age: few sources of training info, in hindsight, the advice was uniformly excellent
I transformed myself by combining intense weight training with intense cardio and supporting the intense physical activity with power eating, i.e. the copious and purposeful consumption of excess calories, the later to fuel recovery and growth. I lived a stress-free life and got lots of deep, restorative sleep. I was consistent. I was an enthused trainer, no one had to drag me to a session, no one needed to prod me. I was fired up. Real results beget real enthusiasm.
My goal was to grow gargantuan. I sought to morph from average boy into a muscle monster, a teenage sport dominator; an athlete that vanquished enemies, set records, scored winning touchdowns, dated the cheerleaders and led a superhero life. Lucky for me, my earliest training mentors and the methods they taught were excellent. They passed along hardcore training tactics, grown men tactics. brutal and primitive. Those early mentors and strategies were retrospectively excellent.
I gleaned my earliest advice from the muscle magazines: Strength & Health, Muscle Builder and Iron Man. Those early mags proved to be excellent informational sources. I studied the articles and applied the training I read about in articles by John “Mac” McCallum, John Grimek, Bill Pearl, Tommy Suggs, Bill Starr, Morris Weisbrrot, etc. I combined brutal barbell resistance training with year-round sport training. I ate like a starving wolverine and slept like a hibernating bear.
The continual training was underpinned with continual heavy eating. The nutritional advice of that era was Simple Simon stuff: want to grow huge muscles? Eat huge amounts of food. Stuff your face. Train your ass off. Emphasize protein. I was encouraged to eat tons of calories to cope with the continual pounding I was subjecting my body to. I did not need much encouragement. At every meal I ate like Joey Chestnut looking to set a new hot dog or Big Mac (32 in 38 minutes) eating record. Food “supported” the training and was critical for coping with the severity of the effort.
At every opportunity I ate all I could of whatever was available. I was a non-discriminatory glutton. Back in the day, school lunches were .35 cents and quite good. Steam table food served by cafeteria ladies that made the food in the school kitchen and took pride in it. Pop gave me a dollar a day. I would eat two lunches and in addition to the pint of whole milk that came with each lunch, I bought another four pints. The lunch ladies loved me. I was suave and complimented the hell out of them as the stacked on extra meat loaf with extra mash potatoes with gravy or mac and cheese. I would always sleep through whatever class followed lunch.
I was encouraged to eat big by my muscle mentors, most particularly John McCallum. Mac emphasized the value of protein for the athlete/progressive resistance trainer. Mac urged weight trainers seeking to add muscle mass to get serious about food. Calories make the body anabolic, i.e. fertile for muscle growth. If a well-fed body is blasted in a hardcore weight training session, muscle is grown. He took the quest for additional protein and calories to outrageous extremes.
The “Get Big Drink” was written by Mac in December 1965 and posted in his Keys to Progress column. This article was, perhaps, the most politically incorrect dietary article of all time. Its premise was simple: want to add muscle? You need supplemental protein and calories. To that end, Mac suggested supplementing the three (giant) square meals we were expected to eat each and every day with a liquid protein/calorie concoction of his own creation…
“Start with a really good protein supplement. Put a day’s worth in a big bowl or pitcher. Now add two quarts of whole milk and two cups of skim milk powder Now dump in two raw eggs and four tablespoons of peanut butter. Mix it with an eggbeater till its mixed thoroughly. Now we add a little more protein, beef up the calories and make it taste good. Put in a pint of ice cream. Add a small banana. Add four tablespoons of chocolate syrup, four tablespoons of malted milk powder and four tablespoons of maple syrup. This brings the calories to 3,000 and the protein to 200 grams. Put it in the refrigerator. It makes ten big glasses. Spread it out. One glass with each of the three big regular meals and the other seven glasses drunk throughout the day.”
The hardest part was mixing it with my father’s pathetic hand-held “eggbeater” What red-blooded 15-year old alpha male would not love to be told that this absolutely delicious mixture was recommended, beneficial and would pack on muscle?! We were already doing the crazed training. The Get Big Drink caused me to gain ten pounds in three weeks. The drink was drunk in addition to the regular eating (school lunch was only one of three meals.) After three weeks of conscientiously making and drinking the Get Big Drink, I felt like a tick bloated on blood and ready to explode - but for a 15-year old it worked fabulously.
A big part of why this anabolic burst worked so well was that I really believed it would work. Why didn’t I gain an unacceptable amount of body fat? Continual cardio: I was a hyper-active teen athlete with a blazing metabolism. Every day I did hours of sport totally outside of and separate from weightlifting. I could throw anything down my gullet and not risk getting fat – particularly when the Lion’s share of the calories was dedicated to protein.
No one counted micro-nutrients or worried about sugar. This was an era when there was no labeling of nutrient breakdowns on food. There were also no seatbelts, no warning labels on cigarettes and we smoked Marlboros at the dinner table and in restaurants. We were irresponsible oafs. We threw our empty beer cans (and the pop-tops) out of the window of our gas-guzzling muscle cars.
The key to staying lean while indiscriminately slamming calories was (and remains) continual, daily cardio: sweaty, intense aerobic exercise. Running hills, not playing golf. Sprinting for reps, not bowling. My cardio was sport-related: high intensity, metabolism-spiking, calorie-burning cardiovascular activities of all types and kinds, all related to my year-round participation in team and individual sports.
As preteens, we ran and biked everywhere and played whatever sport was in season. In hindsight, this combination was genius: thrice weekly hardcore barbell strength training, copious cardio done daily, all “supported” by heavy eating with an emphasis on protein. The eating and training were paired with ample sleep and stress-free living.
It all combined to create a shapeshifter transformational perfect storm.
I started as a classic mesomorph. I was a highly motivated self-starter. I acquired the transformative tool (the barbell) early in life and miraculously discovered advanced protocols. Add to this already favorable mix a final critical factor: I was going through puberty. My body was being turbocharged with a brand-new substance: testosterone. I was jacked on test.
Up until puberty, boys and girls are pretty much the same. I had an early puberty, no doubt due to heavy weight training. At age 13, I began a drug cycle: male testosterone was suddenly fuel injected into my virgin bloodstream. Suddenly the weights felt light, my strength skyrocketed. I gained 40-pounds of muscle in two years. Like I said, it was the shapeshifter transformational perfect storm.
The 2020 trainee serious about engineering their very own radical physical transformation should rip a page from this oldest of Old School playbooks: formulate a goal, create an overarching template that includes a multiplicity of disciplines. Create periodized strategies: synchronize weight training with cardiovascular training and nutrition. Rest and recovery need be factored in.
No, you do not need to eat two lunches or drink ten giant glasses of the Get Big Drink every day seven days a week - but you should create definable goals in multiple disciplines. Set the goals into timeframes and pursue them simultaneously. Dramatic change only occurs when a multi-disciplinary approach is implemented and executed with consistency and ferocity. Are you synchronized and periodized? You should be. Even kids can do it.
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.