John McCallum: Beginner and Intermediate Mass Gaining Program

There’s a young man down the street from me who trains with weights. He’s been at it for about three years now but you’d never know to look at him. He’s got no build at all. My grandmother’s been dead for twelve years and she probably still look better that he does.

hardgainerThese are the words that first drew me into the world of John McCallum – and what a world to be drawn in to. He was a bit of a mysterious figure in the strength world but wrote a series of compelling articles for “Strength and Health” in the Sixties and early Seventies that fuelled a generation of young bodybuilders and strength enthusiasts and defined the modern day strength article.


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His writing style was truly unique. He combined an ongoing narrative with a cast of compelling characters with McCallum writing himself in the first person, his best friend Ollie who acts as a sounding board for training ideas and concepts, his erstwhile son in law Marvin who is a metaphor for every young wannabe lifter out there and a cranky old gym owner who might or might not be another version of McCallum himself.

Marty Gallagher speculates that McCallum was a student of the Russian masters, comparing his style to Tolstoy or Chekov. He may be right but I like to go a step further and say that he wrote a classical Russian narrative with characters lifted from a Hanna-Barbera cartoon.

However he did it he dispensed superb advice in a style that really made you want to train hard.

The quote above that originally drew me into his heady world of might and muscle came from one of his first articles that taught me the benefits of training less to gain more strength and muscle mass.

He indicates that any serious weight training that takes longer than an hour is not only probably not beneficial but actually detrimental. In a hilarious article he manages to pull in the advice of Reg Park, Peary Rader and Harry Paschall and culminate it all in a workable program for beginner and intermediate trainees.

McCallum’s Mass Gaining Program for Beginner and Intermediate Trainees

  • Press behind the neck: 2 x 12 reps
  • Bent-over row: 3 x 15 reps
  • Bench Press: 3 x 12 reps
  • Barbell curls: 1 x 10 reps
  • Back squats: 2 x 15 reps
  • Pullovers: 2 x 20 reps
  • Stiff-legged deadlift: 1 x 15 reps
  • Leg raises: 1 x 25 reps

McCallum recommends supersetting the squats with the pullovers. The squat gets progressively heavier but keep the pullovers light as a means of stretching the ribs.

This is a progressive resistance program so you should be looking at adding weight to the bar each workout. This means, like the 5×5 workout, you should start a little lighter at your initial workout and progress consistently over time. This will help to prevent stalling on your lifts too early in your workout regime. This is not about training to failure this is about progressing consistently with something left in the tank for your next workout

This program would probably take an hour at most to complete and McCallum cites it should be carried out three times a week. I would suggest that if you are a true hardgainer perhaps do it twice a week or even three times every two weeks if you are struggling to recover.

Remember you actually grow in your rest periods not as you train. Get your eight hours sleep, eat plenty of nutritious food, hydrate and you will get significant mass gains.

This is only a tiny portion of McCallums’s wisdom and he conveys his message in a masterful way. I would suggest buying the collection of John McCallum’s articles compiled and edited by strength guru Randall Strossen . It’s called the Complete Keys to Progress and you can buy it by clicking the link below.




4 / 5 stars