Being Purposefully Primitive

by Steve "Coach Fury" Holiner on March 13, 2013

It was a particularly great day at Five Points Academy, when my boss and mentor, Steve Milles (RKC II, CK-FMS, CICS) told me in no uncertain terms that we would be going to Marty Gallagher’s Purposeful Primitive Workshop last year. Of course we were! The workshop had the added bonus of being hosted by our friend, and the man who was my RKC Level I and II Team Leader, Phil Scarito. Throw in that it was within driving distance from NYC and was literally located right next to the hotel (and a Hooters) and we were stoked.

Written by Marty Gallagher and published by Dragon Door, The Purposeful Primitive is an amazing book filled with info on how many of the world’s strongest men train. Having spent a  couple of years primarily using kettlebells, I went to the workshop hoping to sharpen up my barbell skills. I could have sliced a can in half after the PP weekend. It was two full days learning from Marty himself and the one and only Captain Kirk Karwoski. Aside from the great education you pick up at these types of events, I also got to meet some mighty fine people including Cole Summers, Tristan Phillips, John Heinz and Donald Blake Berry among others. Plus, I got to hear some ridiculously funny stories hanging out with Marty and Kirk at Hooters.

One of Marty’s core training principles is “making the light weights heavy to make the heavy weights light.” It’s all about creating and maintaining high levels of tension regardless of poundage while upholding stellar technique. This fit in perfectly with my hardstyle training and much of my own personal philosophies. I take nothing for granted and treat all weights with respect.

The small but information laden manual outlined a pretty straightforward and mildly intimidating 12 week periodization program. I was amped up to start… but I had CK-FMS the following week, then the final Summit of Strength, followed by assisting Brett Jones at a CICS, and finally assisting on Team Heinz at the Philly RKC. My barbell domination kept getting put on hold until I was able to truly focus on it. And focus on it I did.

The program is based on starting percentages of your current PR (Personal Record/Best) in the Back Squat/300, Bench Press/300, Deadlift/445 and Military Press/185. The reps sets are as follows:

Week 1-4
Squat 3×8
Bench Press 3×8
Deadlift 3×6
Military Press 3×8

Week 2-8
Squat 3×5
Bench Press 3×5
Deadlift 3×4
Military Press 3×5

Week 9-12 (or singles)
Squat 3×2
Bench Press 3×2
Deadlift 3×2
Military Press 3×2

Week 13
PRs baby!

10 pounds is added to the BS, DL and BP every week. 5 pounds is added to the MP. I trained the BS and BP on Mondays and the DL and MP on Thursdays with my  training partner Mike Patrick. I would sometimes do a third variety day consisting of barbell rows, kettlebell windmills and some arm work. Captain Kirk was gracious enough to look over my program and give me the greenlight to kill it.

Getting back on the topic of focus. Simply put, I have never been more focused in my life. I stopped doing Muay Thai kickboxing completely during these 12 weeks because I didn’t want any kicks to my legs or knees to my ribs to affect my lifts. I saved myself entirely for my lift days. My mental prep for the day’s lifts would begin as soon as I woke. By the time I arrived at the gym, I might as well have had Braveheart face-paint on. I started to develop some OCD about what rack and plates I would use.  Nothing changed but the weight on the bar.

About the OCD, it got out of hand. I found myself failing reps because something random entered my mental lifting zone. I was also relying too much on music for motivation.

As the weeks progressed, I slammed into two walls that derailed what my original goals were. The first time I missed a planned rep was on the bench press at 225. I was actually shocked. Kirk and I talked about it and he essentially told me to “get my head out of my ass and not let it happen again.” He was 100% correct. I don’t care how much you lift if you are unable to handle blunt and honest advice. Strength of character is more important than strength of body.

The next time I failed was also on the bench. 3 sets of 5×245 became extremely difficult. 400 on the deadlift became my second nemesis. Not only was a I failing the lifts, but as opposed to the 225 bench fail, this time I truly felt they were out of my reach and that my form was suffering into the hazard to myself realm. The DL struggle was expected. I had never really repped over 400 before. It was always singles leading up to the max in that range. The bench was a surprise though. After consulting with Phil Scarito, I dropped both lifts back two weeks to the last time they were accomplished under solid form and started adding 5 pounds instead of 10 a week. This was fantastic advice. After three weeks, I was able to start adding 10 again.

As much as I struggled with my deadlift and bench, I excelled in the squat and military press. The back squat literally felt easier every week. Same with the MP. At this point, I want to add that all of my formal strength training started in the kettlebell world. I never truly trained with barbells properly before. My max lifts aren’t jaw dropping but as a 40 year old banged up skateboarder, I’m damn proud of them.

Eventually, week 13 came up and I managed to hit two new PRs. I added 25 to my back squat with 325 and added 10 to my military press with 195. I broke even on the DL and BP though I know my form is better and that I’m stronger in the higher weights within my PR range.

Here are my exact numbers through the program:

WEEK 1: SQUAT 3X8 195. BENCH 3×8 185. DEAD 3×6 345. PRESS 3×8 105.

WEEK 2: SQUAT 3X8 205. BENCH 3×8 195. DEAD 3×6 355. PRESS 3×8 110.

WEEK 3: SQUAT 3X8 215. BENCH 3×8 205. DEAD 3×6 365. PRESS 3×8 115.

WEEK 4: SQUAT 3X8 225. BENCH 3×8 215. DEAD 3×4 375. PRESS 3×8 120.

WEEK 5: SQUAT 3X5 235. BENCH 3×5 225. DEAD 3×4 385. PRESS 3×5 125.

WEEK 6: SQUAT 3X5 245. BENCH 3×5 245. DEAD 3×4 395. PRESS 3×5 130.

WEEK 7: SQUAT 3X5 255. BENCH 3×5 245. DEAD 3×405. PRESS 3×5 135.

WEEK 8: SQUAT 3X5 265. BENCH 3×5 255. DEAD 3×4 385. PRESS 3×5 140.

WEEK 9: SQUAT 3X3 275. BENCH 3×3 255. DEAD 3×3 390. PRESS 3×3 145.

WEEK 10: SQUAT 3X3 285. BENCH 3×3 265. DEAD 3×3 400. PRESS 3×3 150.

WEEK 11: SQUAT 3X2 295 BENCH 2×2 275. 1×275. DEAD 3×405 2×1 405. PRESS 3×2 165.

WEEK 12: SQUAT 3X2 305. BENCH 3×1 285. DEAD 2×405. 2×415. 2×1 425. PRESS 3×2 175.

WEEK 13: SQUAT 325. Failed at 355. BENCH 295. Failed at 305. DEAD 425. Failed at 455. PRESS 195. Failed at 205.

This was a great program. Five Points Academy Instructors, Chris Nagel and Lance Turnbow, both went through it and added impressive pounds to their previous best. Chris added a whopping 55 pounds to his back squat and 25 to his bench.

Marty’s book is amazing and the workshop is everything you would hope for. Not to mention it makes your soul feel good when someone of Marty Gallagher’s stature compliments you on a lift. I often feel that workshops that are not directly run by one of the bigger organizations are often overlooked. This is one of them. Do not miss it the next time the opportunity arises. It deserves to be on your must do list. Now go buy the book while you wait for the next workshop to be scheduled.

Yours in strength and fury,


Steve “Coach Fury” Holiner

About Steve “Coach Fury” Holiner, RKC II, CK-FMS, CICS, DVRT 2:   Proudly claiming Five Points Academy in NYC as his home base, Steve “Coach Fury” Holiner is an RKCLevel II Certified Kettlebell Instructor, a Certified Indian Club Specialist and a Primal Move Coach. He is also CK-FMS Certified and uses the Functional Movement System to help predict and avoid the possibility of injury in his clients. As a DVRT Level 2 Coach, Steve created the first dedicated Ultimate Sandbag class program. Steve is a certified TRX Training Instructor and an Assistant Muay Thai Kickboxing Instructor. Through his guidance, Steve has helped people pass their HKC, RKC and RKC Level II certifications. With over 35 people registered, Steve was the lead coach for the Five Points Academy team in the May 2012 Tactical Strength Challenge. Two of Steve’s female clients qualified for the Power To The People Deadlift Team at the TSC. Steve has been published in the Power by Pavel newsletter, had articles and videos shared by Josh Henkin and written guest blogs.

Founded by Steve in 2011, Coach Fury’s Kettlebell Club (CFKC) has brought hardstyle kettlebell training to Brooklyn, NY.


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