Book Review: The Purposeful Primitive

by Josh Hanagarne on August 31, 2010

Guest post by Jon Chacon

strength training bookHonestly, anything over 200 pages is a little humbling to me, even after going to college, but once I opened The Purposeful Primitive, Marty Gallagher’s 450+ page “how-to” on “using the primordial laws of fitness to trigger inevitable, lasting, and dramatic physical change” I had a hard time putting it down. And these pages were huge; I’m talkin’ 8.5×11″ size pages!

Of course there were plenty of illustrations to go along, but with the way that he writes I could have just as easily enjoyed the book with just the words. His words flowed. This all made sense once I figured out that his two greatest passions in life were lifting and literature and he had one hell of a background in both to make his points. Without diving too much into the meat of this outstanding read, I will try to convey to you some of my thoughts and insights I recovered throughout the book.

According to Marty and his brethren of the Iron, “[their] Purposefully Primitive Methodology is a loose amalgamation of the methods and modes absorbed from genuine Masters. This cumulative, combined knowledge is grouped into one of four categories: Iron, Mind, Cardio or Nutrition. These are the four avenues of transformational progress.” (443) Simple, I thought. But one of these categories isn’t one that you might typically see in a strength and conditioning book: Mind. Should be interesting.

Ways of the Masters, Coan, Dorian Yates, and more

The main reason that I found Marty’s words and methods to be so worth the read was that he derived all of them from years and years of being in the tranches and deriving the time and performance tested methods from who he calls the Masters of each category. Before he would dive into each separate category he would lay down the groundwork by describing the ways of the Masters.

For the Iron world, this came in the form of legendary competitive powerlifters, weightlifters, and bodybuilders to include Ed Coan, Kirk Kaworski, and Dorian Yates to name just a few. Of the Mind Masters, there were two, and neither of them were typical names you would relate to the strength training realm.

There was only one Cardio Master, mostly due to his innovative theories and proven methods in the world of 3rd way hybrid cardio applications (you’ll have to read it to find out if you haven’t heard of it). And of the Nutrition Masters, there were two, and both their methods were exact opposites.

After introducing the Masters of each category he would describe how to implement the Methods of each, followed directly by a collection of Essays related to the real world application of each method. The Methods were simple and effective, but above all else Marty emphasized that they all take discipline and a determination to make progress. He describes numerous times when he would set people up for success in their transformation to look, feel, and perform better, but when they would complain of not making any progress, Marty was able to quickly pinpoint the reason for failure. They simply would not, and refused to, apply his purposefully primitive methods. Those who did succeed followed everything he told them with exactness.

Willpower and enthusiasm

One of the most interesting and interrelated ideas that Marty brought to light in applying each of the four categories was the difference between willpower and enthusiasm. For anyone to embark on a journey of physical transformation, besides obtaining the use of some basic tools, all that is required of them is the will to fully engage themselves in the program.

Without the willpower, the student will never make it off the ground towards progressive long-lasting results. The typical window for willpower to be relied upon seems to be in the realm of 14 days, or 2 weeks. After that, willpower can still exist, but without enthusiasm to pursue your goals further and develop a passion for what you do, your progress will only reach so far. The idea is that anyone can will themselves to lift, to run, to eat right, and to concentrate for a short time, but without seeing results, and without seeing the change take place before them and providing them with the urge to achieve more they will not succeed.

Doing fewer things better

“Our approach is about doing fewer things better.” (446) That’s how I would describe the Purposeful Primitive methodology in one sentence. He keeps it simple and provides few, but effective methods, leaving the rest up to the reader or anyone who wants to achieve dramatic physical and mental change in their lives. In today’s world, one of the most heard of excuses is that there are too many options out there. Well, Marty just tells you what works and says take it or leave it. The methods are proven and they continue to prove themselves as thousands are making the transformation.

I have personally used and produced results with most of the methods and ways that Marty discusses. I would be a liar and a phony if I said that absolutely nothing was new to me and I that I took nothing away from this book. His words actually put a bug in my ear about getting back to some of the original powerlifts: squats and deadlifts. Yes, I still use sandbags, kettlebells, bodyweight, and various other implements to achieve results, but that’s no reason to shun the bar with plates.

It is still challenging and helps me maintain a solid foundation in my whole-body strength. I highly suggest this read mostly because it is simply a joy to read, but also because I think anyone from any background and any amount of experience in the strength and conditioning world will find something new, useful, or interesting from this book. The true Masters, whether you be an athlete, coach, trainer, or fitness enthusiast are always learning and refuse to stay in their own little box of knowledge. Take it or leave it! The choice is yours.

About the author:

Jon Chacon is a strength and fitness enthusiast. If you’re looking for advice or more reviews of strength books, please go visit him at primalsteel.tumblr.com

PS: If you enjoyed this guest post, you might also like Logan Christopher’s post on gymnastics for adults.

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