Customer Reviews: THE Complete Keys to Progress
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on July 4, 2000
John McCallum knew about all there was to know about weight lifting and body building back in his day. Most of what came after him was more pharmacology than physiology. Don't waste your money on the modern "bodybuilding" books.
McCallum wrote the individual chapters of this book as articles for Bob Hoffman's publication "Strength & Health" (So that's were Joe Weider got the name for his magazine "Muscle & Fitness"), and he of course had to shill for Hoffman's products. Some of his science is dated, and he oftentimes recommends too many sets and reps, but his principals are sound.
The articles read like short stories, and the reader comes to genuinely like the characters who people McCallum's stories.
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on November 25, 1999
This is the first book that any strength athlete or bodybuilder should buy. McCallum has an entertaining writing style, gives the reader exactly what he needs and provides a number of workout regimens so that anybody can be successful at building muscle. McCallum's ideas predate the current steroid era that has made bodybuilding distasteful and dirty. The concepts in this book work and require nothing more than hard work and a good diet. BTW, the other two books are "Dinosaur Training" by Brooks Kubik and "Super Squats" by Randall Strossen. Follow the advice in these books and you can't help but get big and strong!
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on March 17, 1999
Do you own one or several muscle magazines? Or maybe some books by geneticly gifted athletes promising you gains in strength and size? Good, because everybody needs good firewood. "Keys to Progress" teaches the reader all he/she needs to know about accumulating strength and bodybuilding. This book holds information geared to results for the natural athelete, not some drugged up supermen. John McCallum was packing massive amounts of muscle on his trainees before steroids were even a factor in sports. This book holds the keys to progress for the average man who wouldn't mind a little sweat and pain to get the job done. Best book you will ever read!
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on July 11, 2007
I came to this book quite skeptically, but have been really impressed with it. I put off getting it for a long time because I would rather have straightforward exposition than stories, and I figured that knowledge of effective lifting has changed a great deal since McCallum wrote. I don't think anyone will believe that most of these stories really happened, or at least happened the way they say, but they are fun stories nonetheless, and some truths are most effectively told through fiction. What has surprised me is that McCallum is a very good storyteller, and he has a tremendous sense of sly humor. That said, the stories are broken up with a lot of direct exposition, and I have found it instructive. The criticism that McCallum is writing advertisements for York is partly true but grossly overstated. Many of the entries don't mention York, York products, or even the magazine Strength & Health. I highly recommend this book as a fun and informative read.

Is it dated? One of the other reviewers has said that McCallum was ahead of his time, and I think it would be as appropriate to say that there has been very little progress in lifting theory since McCallum's time. Sure, we know a bit more about nutrition, and we know a bit more about safe and effective exercise technique, but the fundamentals--and I think most of the details--remain the same. What makes this book a gem is not, however, any proprietary insight that McCallum had, but his ability to push the fundamentals, to motivate, and to present things in perspective. Even if one knew all the facts, McCallum's writing would still be useful for tying them together in a meaningful and productive way.

I'm sorry that I put off getting this book for so long. Had this book been one of the first I had read, my training would have benefitted greatly.
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on December 10, 2005
This book is an excellent read for anyone who loves lifting and enjoys a good storyteller. It is a unique book. The book is composed from articles published by the author in Strength and Health magazine from '65-'72. However, it doesn't contain "outdated" material, these are articles that are just as useful now as then, so don't let the era deter, in fact it makes the stories even more interesting sometimes. Many of the training and nutrition principles are basic and have that simple, old fashioned feel to them, but since they work it's irrelevant if they are the "good old way" in contrast to the newest, glittery, hype-ridden methods you see now. Everything in this book is just plain time proven material and so when exactly they were first written is not very important. The book covers a broad spectrum of training topics, and you'll find many strength, eating, and mass building subjects that will catch your interest in the index; the thing that makes it unique is its informal tone, the info gets to the point at a steady pace without overdoing the explanations behind the info you are trying to get at. The way each topic is explained is story-like and interesting and this book is one of those classics that is useful to both newbies looking for simplicity and quality to the long time lifter who will enjoy reading a refreshing book on stuff he/she already knows, but will just plain find entertaining to flip through and read again and again. Its a good book for any weight trainer's library, though it is not filled with "cutting-edge" material. If you just want to get big and strong, and do it without getting a trainer and a thousand dollars in supplements or make things more complicated then they have to be, or if you already have your training figured out and just want something fun to read that reminds you how simple it can all be just get this book.
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on January 21, 2016
My honest review:
I went through pages and pages of info that ended up into a 50-page summary booklet. I know most hardcore trainers won't agree with me and say this is one of the top 5 books on training ever. I don;t want to oppose their say. But, I also defend my statement, here's why:
There are loads of stories that you would find those gain 30 lbs books, you know the kind, for eg: "Two gym buddies were training & training, the gym owner came in and asked the guys to leave, here's why he said, "You don't build muscle in the gym, you go home & sleep..the two buddies got irritated..they were young, they thought training for hours built loads of muscle.."
I mean I've read such stories over & over that these lines make me sick. 20 pages of 1 such story can be summarized into 5 simple lines. I am sure most people like to read stories, but I would rather prefer Shakespeare instead or for that matter pick a book by Clarence Bass, Arnold, Stuart McRobert etc and read their stories instead.
To be honest, I extracted the exact routines & workouts and summarized into a few tens of pages.
I know most people would argue stating the stories were a good read, believe me, this is not a novel, author should have the name of the book instead, as "Articles from the 60s, 70s..etc"
Reading the stories, I, for a moment, thought that the author lived his life in a gym (instead of going home) where either John Grimek or Reg Park trained. What about Arnold, Reeves, Sandow, Saxon, Russian Lion, don't they have good training programs ?
Sure, this is a great read for someone who lived in the 60s & 70s, it is a book NOT to be missed as well..
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on February 26, 2000
This is a great book. I loved it. it ranges for so many different specific goals and routines. whether you want to have great forearms, get stronger, build bulk, or have supplement info. this book covers it all. And not in a broad, generalized view, but rather specifically for guys that have a definite decision on why they are weightlifting. It is also very easy to read and understand and will last you for years. You must get this baby!
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on May 15, 2013
Some may be quick to dismiss this book for more contemporary works, and I think that would be a big mistake. Yes, the information in the book was taken from a serious of articles that were printed in the mid to late 60’s, but it is such good information that you can see it being regurgitated today in slightly different reincarnations. (Plus, it was written before steroids were being used or they were just beginning to be experimented with.) The 5 rep set, high rep squats (breathing or otherwise), and progressive pulls are all in this book.

Any aspiring bodybuilder or physical culturist type would be well served to read this book. In fact, it should probably be close to required reading for anyone interested in weight training and fitness at all. (I absolutely loved the article on running progression.)

There are two reasons I deducted a star. The first reason is that most of the exercise programs were presented in story form (not a good description). The routines are presented in a chard or list format. Obviously, you should read the articles, but it would nice to have the recommended workout neatly displayed at the end of each article. The second reason (arguably more important) is that a lot of the workouts look like an awful lot of volume and time. I think one would have to be careful about overtraining and spending 2 hours in the gym. However, most people should be able to figure how to slightly modify the programs as necessary.
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on May 21, 2013
This is one of those books that always popped up in my "Amazon recommends for you" feeds, but I never paid a lot of attention to it until I finished Dan John's excellent Never Let Go. In the bibliography at the end, Dan recommend this book with the notation "we are all just footnotes to McCallum"

That struck me as a pretty bold statement, so I figured this was probably worth reading. And it turns out it is, up to a point.

The Complete Keys to Progress is a collection of articles by the same name, originally published in a magazine called Strength and Health in the 1960s. The articles cover a range of topics related to strength training, from basic bulking programs, to ways to specialize on particular body parts, to how to train for general health and fitness (and even one article for scuba divers, of all things). In reading it, I can see exactly what Dan John means. In these articles, you'll find things like the 20 Rep Squat program (Super Squats), the importance of a high protein, low-carb, grain-free diet (Atkins/Paleo), and a whole bunch of other "modern" ideas. There is enough information in here that someone could easily spend years just working on the ideas in this book, and probably make some very solid progress to boot. I have no doubt that some of the science is outdated, and certainly, some of the products mentioned probably no longer exist, but a lot of the basic ideas seem quite sound.

The articles do have a heavy bodybuilding bias, which is understandable, but may not suit everyone.

The writing is...interesting. McCallum doesn't write in a particularly direct way. Instead, he shares his information in the form of stories and dialogues. Throughout the articles, we are gradually introduced to a recurring cast of characters, including the lecherous but amazingly health Uncle Harry, the disappointment of a future son-in-law Marvin, an unnamed suffering gym owner who is plagued by foolish questions from foolish members, and more.

This is the kind of writing that most readers will probably really like, or really hate. I waffled, personally. Initially, I enjoyed it and found it rather endearing, but as the book wore on, I found myself getting as impatient with McCallum as some of the characters in his stories. Sometimes it felt less like he was using the story to really convey anything useful, and more like he was using it to pad out an article. Maybe he was, for all I know. In any case, I found myself alternating between irritation and enjoyment by pages.

But if you get past the writing, a lot of the information is good, probably just as good or better than you'll find in some modern training manuals.

If you are a strength and conditioning geek, this is worth reading if for no other reason than the historical understanding. Agree with him or not, McCallum clearly had a huge influence on the world that followed him. If you're a casual weightlifter (in the generic, not Olympic sense), this book could give you some great information and programs to work with, if you like the writing. There is definitely a strong bodybuilding bias to the book, so combat athletes or others looking for a sport-specific program probably won't find it here. It might not be the first thing I'd give to someone looking to start training, but it might be the second or third. There's a lot of good stuff in here.
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on October 7, 2013
This is an old school book on articles written many years ago in Strength and Health magazine,back in the 60's and 70's.This was before the Steroid craze took over and guys wanted to get stronger,eat clean,and build a better body.The routines in this book will work for those who want to build a proper foundation for football,power lifting,bodybuilding and so on.But,with this,you will have to work hard. It shows their is no easy way..just dedicated training and results will be yours.Great purchase.
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