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  1. Use free weights to near exclusion. The very rawness of hoisting barbells and dumbbells is what makes them so effective for muscle and strength building. When it comes to triggering primitive fitness gains (including increased power, plus neurological balance-building effects), smooth and efficient is not nearly as effective as crude and difficult. So stick with free weights.
  2. Center sessions around core, compound multijoint exercises. Large, sweeping exercises allow individual muscles to exceed individual capacity; their neighbors pitch in to help. Performing an isolation movement prior to performing the compound multijoint exercise sabotages strength available for the multijoint movement. Perform isolation exercises after multijoint exercises.
  3. Make sessions intense. In order for muscle growth to occur and muscle strength to increase, the targeted muscle must be stressed in some manner or fashion. Unless some element of stress is present, the adaptive response will not be triggered. Muscle fiber does not thicken and strengthen in response to submaximal effort.
  4. Keep sessions short. If you work hard enough to trip the adaptive response, muscles become traumatized and fatigued. Even the athletic elite recognize that after an hour or so of intense training, a point of diminishing returns sets in and further training is not only fruitless but counterproductive.
  5. Rest and recover. Shocked and traumatized muscles need to be rested and refueled before training them again. When a muscle is trained properly, muscle fibers are torn down. To subject that muscle to intense stress before it has recovered from the initial pounding is counterproductive and disruptive to the adaptation cycle. Rest is critical. So is good nutrition.
  6. Seek technical proficiency in all exercises. Concentrate on rep speed, length of stroke, and attention to technical execution prior to and during each and every set. Get tips from a professional if you can. Strive to refine your technique over time.

Marty Gallagher is a world-renowned athlete and respected fitness journalist. A three-time World Master Powerlifting Champion, he coached the United States team to victory at the World Powerlifting Championships in 1991. Over the last 30 years Gallagher has published over 1,000 articles in two dozen fitness publications. He also writes a highly acclaimed weekly Live Online column for Washingtonpost.com. This article is adapted and excerpted from Gallagher’s book, The Purposeful Primitive: Using the Primordial Laws of Fitness to Trigger Inevitable, Lasting and Dramatic Physical Change (Dragon Door Publications, 2008). The book presents Gallagher’s integrated fitness philosophy, along with his proven training, nutrition and mind-body protocols for achieving an optimal level of strength, endurance and vitality.

This was excerpted from “Purposefully Primitive” which was published in the June 2009 issue of Experience Life magazine.

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