John McCallum on Hard Work

 If you've never read any McCallum, you're in for a treat.  I didn't read McCallum myself until after I had already become a successful lifter - not to mention a successful writer.  But I wish I had read McCallum when I first began weight training.  It would have saved me a lot of confusion, not to mention prevent me from following a lot of the foolhardy training programs I did follow, if I would have just read - and then put into practice - the great McCallum's advice on getting big.


But here's the thing: McCallum ("Mac" as he was known) didn't JUST know how to get one big and strong.  He also knew how to get someone lean and looking good.  And he was light years ahead of his time.  For instance, here's the diet he recommended about 15 to 20 years before Atkins (this article was written in 1965):

“The Definition Diet, like most good things, is simple. It’s tasty, nutritious, easy to figure, easy to follow and the ideal adjunct for the hardcore weight trainee. The secret of the diet is this – eliminate carbohydrates. Not reduce them. Eliminate them. Eliminate them completely. You don’t cut calories. You don’t count them. You don’t restrict the amount of food you eat at all. You simply don’t eat any carbohydrates at all.”

Wow!  Take that all of you "Keto" and "Paleo" followers (myself included) who thought you were doing some kind of revolutionary diet.


Anyway, we'll save McCallum's dietary and "leaning down" advice for another time (including his belief that everyone should run).  Right now, I want to focus on his "get big" stuff.  Because he wasn't "just" light years ahead of others when it came to getting lean and ripped.  He was best known for his lifting advice in Strength and Health (which I think he mainly wrote in the '60s and early '70s, but someone please correct me if I'm wrong).

The following is from an article in the July, 1967 issue of Strength and Health magazine.  It was entitled, as you may have guessed, "Hard Work".  Please enjoy the wisdom of the great John McCallum!

the GREAT John "Mac" McCallum



Hard Work

Hard work is the most important single factor for bodybuilding success. You'll improve without a lot of other things, but you won't get far without hard work.

Hard work is much more important than the program you choose. The lousiest exercise will produce results if you work hard enough on it. Hard, hard work on any program is infinitely superior to loafing through the finest program ever devised.

Remember . . . hard work is more important than your choice of exercises! Too many kids make the same mistake. They shop around for course after course. They're looking for some magic routine that'll turn them into Mr. Universe. But there's no such thing. It's the effort you put into each exercise that counts. Without maximum effort no routine will build you up very much. You've got to work hard, give it everything you've got and then some, or else forget it. You won't gain with a halfhearted effort.

Let me give you an example:

When I started training, heavy breathing squats were the thing. I squatted for six months and never gained an ounce. then I learned to do it properly. The only change I made was increasing my effort about fifty fold. I learned how to really work.

I weighed around 141 when I started working hard. I gained to a bodyweight of 305. The only difference was hard work. Really hard! 

Like this: 

Load your squat bar to what you normally use for 10 reps. Then do 20 reps with it! I'm not kidding. The 10th rep feels like the end. But you take three huge gasping breaths, block everything else out of your mind, and do the 11th rep. And you make it. You always do.

You make each repetition a world of its own. You think of nothing else but the rep you're doing. And you force it. You do the 12th. And the 13th. And the 14th. By the 15th your mind is working harder than your body.

You feel like you're isolated from the rest of the world on the last five. Nothing matters except one more rep. And then one more. And one more. Your body has fantastic power if you make your mind work hard enough. If your mind goes then the set is finished. Keep the mental wall up and finish the set.

When you finish, you should literally have trouble walking to a bench to do your pullovers. Your legs should be buckling and trying to collapse on you. If you can walk normally, then you're loafing.

That's what I mean by hard work.

Top men work that hard. They man not do 20-rep squats anymore, but they work hard on whatever they're doing. They make each rep a driving, burning necessity. That's why they're better build and stronger than you are.

I was spotting for one of the big Mr. America winners one time. He was doing bench presses. His last two reps were absolute agony. He closed his eyes, gritted his teeth, and strained on the 7th rep for what seemed like eternity. The weight inched up and he locked out with his arms trembling. I grabbed it.

He came off the bench gasping for air and madder than heck. "What are you doing?" he snarled.

I blinked and stepped back. "Nothing," I said. "Just taking the weight like we agreed." 

"I wasn't finished." 

"You sure as heck looked finished." 

"Well, I wasn't. I coulda done another rep." 

"Okay," I said. "So you coulda done another rep." 

"That woulda been the important one," he said. "Everything else is just a warmup for that last rep. If you don't do it you've wasted the whole set. There's no sense doing sets if you waste them. There's no sense training unless you do that last rep. That's the one that brings results." 

That's the way you've got to train. Everything else is just a warmup for that last rep. Work to your limit and then do one more.

A friend of mine built up from a bedridden case of rheumatic fever to a build like Hercules. He did it on a few exercises and hard, hard work. You never saw such effort. He said one time he wished he could learn to hold the bar with one hand while he was squatting and free the other one.

"What for?" I asked him.

"I could use it to hold my eyeballs in," he said.

There was a good lifter some years ago named Louis Abele. Abele built himself into world championship caliber. He had an average framework and nothing special going for him. He made it on hard work.

Abele said he worked so hard that his teeth ached from the heavy breathing. He said he worked so hard he had trouble prying his fingers off the bar.   Not many work that hard. Those that do, reach the top.
Louis Abele in the 1940s

Somebody once said that success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. It's a good thing to keep in mind. If you're not progressing like you should, it's a cinch you're not working like you should. Make up your mind to change all that. Make up your mind to pour every ounce of effort you've got into every exercise you do. Make up your mind that starting right now you're going to progress.

Remember . . . no program will work unless you do.

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