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Book Review – The Complete Keys to Progress by John McCallum

keys to progress McCallumJohn McCallum wrote for Strength and Health magazine from 1965 to 1972. His series was called Keys to Progress. Ironmind later, in the early 90s, I believe, issued a compilation of McCallum’s strength training and bodybuilding essays in the book The Complete Keys to Progress.

I had been hearing about this book for years but never got around to picking up a copy until recently. I’m glad I did. First and foremost, I’m a writer that loves good writing, and it’s all the more satisfying when it comes from another passionate Ironhead. John McCallum’s love for lifting is only rivaled in these pages by his ability to write. He tells wonderful stories, he is funny–I laugh at something on nearly every page–and while his methods always come back to basics, basics, basics, he is never monotonous or redundant.

Now, about those basics. McCallum was a big advocate of the twenty rep breathing squat program which Ironmind also published a book about: Super Squats. That link goes to my book review. He preaches eating big, and he has a concoction he calls the “Get big drink” which I am tempted to try for a couple of weeks. Squats, deadlifts, protein, big movements, desire, and muscle. There is nothing here that is groundbreaking information, and even at the time the essays were being written I would be surprised if much of it was truly revolutionary.

But that’s kind of the point: it would have been eye-opening to most of the weight training population, because most of them do not do what works. They do what the magazines say will work in order to sell products and supplements. On that front, not much has changed today. Magazines sell and sell, the basics still work, and anyone with the balls to say that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes often gets touted as a renegade, simply by imploring everyone to tune out the noise and hype.

The people that do what works get bigger and stronger. The people who do the same old thing or try to imitate the routines of the pro bodybuilders stand still at best, or get injured and regress at worse.

McCallum’s book is just over 250 pages. Every single one of the pages made me smile. My ideas about hard work differ strongly from the author’s, but our passion comes from the same place–a knowledge that weight training is the best activity that someone can pursue. For their health, for their confidence, their longevity and quality of life. Getting stronger and building a powerful body  is never a waste of time if done productively. It is a gift we can give ourselves every day.

Or, as McCallum would probably tell you, two or three times each week, given how difficult the work is going to be.

If you are a lifter who follows set programs and loves to study and read, I cannot recommend this book too highly. It is a fun read and a great look inside the mind of a man who loved the world of strength training and muscle building.

I find most self-improvement literature to be useless. However, if I read a self-help book every day, I’m sure I would find at least one sentence that resonated with me, even if it simply functioned as a reminder of something I already knew.

That is why I continue to read about fitness, health, weight training, and the wonderful world of strength. There are always going to be sentences and ideas that mesh with my own, or give me new avenues to experiment with, or that remind me of things that I knew at one time but had forgotten.

The Complete Keys to Progress is like that, but there are so many more hits than messes that I wouldn’t be surprised if I revisit this book every couple of years for the rest of my life.

If you’re a fan of strength, buy John McCallum’s book and have fun.


Strength training for body and mind

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Boris December 4, 2010, 9:00 am

    I’ve never read this. I might pick up a copy – thanks for the review.

    When I was in college, my friend and I probably ate more “get big drinks” than real food – I know we tried oatmeal, pancake mix, peanut butter, yogurt, ice cream, milk, frozen fruit, bananas, instant coffee, etc. in them. Some of them weren’t bad – others were awful.

    • Josh Hanagarne December 4, 2010, 8:47 pm

      Boris, did any of them give you results you were happy with?

  • Brent Partner December 5, 2010, 1:12 pm

    Glad to see you read it. I love this book. Like Dan John’s “Never Let Go” I constantly find myself picking it up, reading an article and just smiling. There is an enthusiasm there that is addictive and if I am on a low energy ebb, reading one of these articles usually gets me to the gym anyway. I’m a fan of old-school bodybuilding and strength training and base a lot of my workouts around the squat or deadlift so this book is quite pertinent to me although I am more of a 5×5 squatter than a twenty rep trainer. Certainly this book delivers no false promises or quick fixes only results through diligence and hard work…