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John McCallum's Keys to Progress

Saw a thread about this a little while ago. this book’s possibly one of the best i’ve ever read…informative, effective and entertaining. I’ve tweaked one of his programs (the high sets from the high sets/high protein article) and it seems to be pretty effective for some mass gains. I train on an alternate day basis; legs/calves on monday; chest,shoulders, and back (no arm exercises) on wed; etc. Like McCallum suggested, i do 5 sets of 6 of a heavy basic (eg incline barbell press), and follow it up with either 8 sets of 8 on another compound movement (dips), or do 4 supersets of 8 (incline db flyes and dips). The sets of 6 are done with about 2 min in between, and the sets of 8 are done with only 30s. rest between sets…pretty darn hard. This way, all possible fiber types are activated and fatigued. McCallum originally wanted people to train 6 days a week like this, but that’s a bit severe. The modified program I use would probably be excellent when combined with Massive Eating. Give it a shot (or critique it!). thanks
Rest in Peace, Mr. McCallum

I agree, McCallum’s book is great. I enjoyed reading and have gone back and read certain articles again. Many of his programs are good but do need some tweaking as you have done! Good luck with the program and keep us up-to-date on your progress! I’m currently on my last week of 5x5 training. After a week off, I’ll resume with 6x2(4) for four more weeks. Then it’s off to Staley’s Convergent Phase Training. McCallum’s book really motivated me to get my ass in gear and hit the weights hard and heavy. His advice on nutrition is pretty good too! And his article about “measurements” should be ready by everyone. It will definitely give you an idea of what you can truly accomplish naturally.

good point about the motivation…McCallum always said you’ve got to squat, and HEAVY. That’s the way Reg Park and Grimek did it, and who wouldn’t like a physique like those guys! Nate, have you tried the 20 rep breathing squats? an exercise in total intensity - I did a program emphasizing them and went from doing 185 (just above bodyweight) to doing 24 reps with 245! (damn set lasted something like three minutes - one set and I was done). thanks for the encouragement. keep squatting and pushing the real big iron!


Jonah, I will definitely be giving them a try in the future. My training is mapped out right now, so I don’t plan on focusing on 20-rep squats right now. But I do want to do them. I’m still working on getting my strength back from a knee injury. I’ll most likely work the 20-rep squats in this fall. Should be killer! Sounds like you made awesome progress! Good luck!

My instincts, and to some extent results, are that the “all workouts in one” arent optimal. Short rests arent optimal for activating all fibres or heavy lifts whereas longer rests are. However, longer rests dont appear to give the same stimulus for hypertrophy. I dont think the answer is a mix or medium length rests though … Similarly, hypertrophy rep ranges may interfere with strength stimulus gains (possibly in a similar way to cardio) and any volume of strength reps seem to counteract hypertrophy gains. And what about speed? I guess my feeling is to do a full workout focused on a primary outcome (strength or hypertrophy) and recover from that stimulus before focussing on a different outcome. Its my “horses for courses” principle and, to some extent accords with Nate’s military KISS principle.

I agree with John’s set and rep prescriptions: multiple sets of low reps. The only thing I don’t agree with is banging yourself into the ground with failure. I think sometimes that people that think they are “hardgainers” would gain better if they stayed the hell away from going to failure. I have not gone near failure for almost 5 months and have put on more mass this year than the last 2 years combined!

thanks for the input, guys…i do have a couple of insights on those points you raised. Firstly, i’ve actually been getting stronger on this program, and bigger. i think that the strength effects of the 5x6’s are still there even if the 8x8’s are performed later. i think i shouldv’e been clearer too - the 5x6’s are done with “normal” rest between sets - around 2 min.s for me. thus, i can use the max amount of weight for that amount of reps. i think that i may be getting stronger also because of the repeated stimulation to the motorneuron pathway that results from using high sets and high reps. and i’m definitely getting bigger as well. this program does actually target my goal for this month: increased size and strength (focused on particular areas etc), so i do believe that this is an effective program (for those goals) even though it is “mixed” in it’s construction.
As far as “beating myself into the ground” with failure, i only intend to do this program for four weeks and i think that training to failure is an important variation just like set and rep ranges (pavel would shoot me for this!). I just finished a four-week program where i did multiple 1 rep sets and whole-body routines not to failure and reaped some pretty good results. i figured i’d create a radical stimulus like McCallum’s program to promote some new growth and shock my body…it seems to be working! thanks for the input…keep it coming!


I read the entire book in two days. I loved it…extremely motivational. I worked out HIT for over a year and a great number of popular HIT writer’s are actually Mcallumites. I like some of his programs but alot of others seem like they have too much volume for me. The chapter 1 program did a good job of getting my strength endurance levels back to respectable after HIT. Jonah what chapter is your program from? and what’s the title?

Mike M, jonah is referring to the high sets high protein article. It’s basically GVT on steroids…performed for a total of 15 sets and done six days a week. Now that is some serious overtraining. But if you tweak it to four days a week (mon,tues,thur,fri) you could probably pull it off for a month!

like Nate Dogg said…the program outlined in “the high protein, high sets program” (p.60) is pretty severe. you could split it up like Nate said and work four days/wk, which is what i’m doing right now, minus the arm work, and only using 8 sets of 8 instead of the 10 sets of 8 that McCallum recommends. seems to be working really well, but like Nate cautions, it should probably be only done for short-term


Jonah, your program interests me. However, how long did one workout session take? Did you follow the same protocol for chest, back, and shoulders? How did you handle your legs? Please respond, I’d like to give it a try. Thanks in advance.

Ah, best book ever.

Lift. Eat. Sleep.

Seems easy enough.

The Complete Keys to Progress along with Dave Draper’s book form the backbone of my weightlifting motivation. I read the entire book in less than 24 hours. I sat down and read for almost 5 straight hours. I just couldn’t put it down.

Most of the programs are a lot higher of a workload than HIT usually advocates. But you don’t take each set to failure and I think that’s something that’s important to realize.

RE: the high volume/ high protein program. I’m doing it right now. Overtraining? We’ll see. If you don’t eat enough and only get 7 hours of sleep… you aren’t gonna make it.

The reason I feel the program is and will work is I'm changing from a lower rep/lower # of sets lifting program. It's changes like this that can result in your body adapting by getting bigger and stronger.

And to the other guy who said he was doing the program. Good luck. Stick with it. And eat. then, after say 4 weeks of doing the program, reduce the volume and number of sets and you’ll grow even more. Your strength will shoot up and your body will continue to grow.

Throughout a single 6 day cycle, I really pushed my body. My strength has actually went up (incline,curls,standing presses,squats,bent rows, weighted chins are all up around 5-10 lbs).

I’m sore all over :slight_smile: But I seem to be getting slightly thicker. And I also sometimes feel like I have a constant pump. Nice. As long as I eat and get enough sleep.

I can't tell you about weight increases because I don't weight myself for mental reasons (it drives me insane) but I'd guess that my strength increases have added a little meat to my frame.

20 rep squats. God. Pain to the 10th power. But growth if you down that gallon of milk every day. Guaranteed.

For GREIG: my workouts generally take about 1.5 hours to complete. I originally had the program split upper body/lower body, but i changed to a three way split (3 on, 1 off) that seems to be working well. so my workouts are: day1, chest and shoulders; day 2, back, calves, and 2-3 sets for arms; day 3, quads and hamstrings. i use the same protocol for all bodyparts except calves and arms. for calves, i do 8 sets of 15 (on the same exercise -usually standing calf raises) with 30 seconds rest between sets (john mccallum actually recommends 10 sets of 15, which i’m working towards). for arms, i usually only do 3 sets each for biceps and triceps. as far as legs, mccallum recommends only using squats for both quads and hamstrings, but that’s not enough focused work for me. so, my leg workouts usually look like this:
barbell back squats 5x6 (2-3min rest)
Leg press 8-9x8 (30-sec rest)
romanian deadlifts 5x6 (2-3min rest)
lying leg curls 8-9x8 (30-sec rest)
if i’m feeling ambitious, i may take the second exercise for that bodypart and do 4 or 5 compound sets, which usually look like this:
quads-5x6sets of squats followed by
compound set of leg extensions and leg press, with 30 sec rest between sets, completed 4 or 5 times
hamstrings-5x6 sets of romanian deads followed by compound sets of lying leg curls and hamstring leg press (feet high and together on the platform) with 30 sec rest…etc.
the compound set technique is pretty tough, but gets the work out of the way quick and is a strong stimulus for growth.
the rest of my bodyparts use the same set/rep/rest protocol (5x6, normal rest, followed by 8to10 sets of 8, with 30 sec rest in between), and i almost exclusively rely on heavy compound movements.
I would recommend doing the program four days a week (m,w,f,sun) if splitting upper/lower or using the actual mccallum split, or splitting it up three ways as i have done and going six days/wk (3 on, 1 off). i think that you’d have to be completely crazy to do the actual program unless you’re juicing or are really slamming back some serious cal’s.
sorry about the long post…just wanted to get everything in. good luck with the program if you try it (keep us updated). it’s working wonders for me right now in terms of hardness, strength and overall endurance. go at it!