On Mentzer

HD training

Man's proper stature is not one of mediocrity, failure, frustration, or defeat, but one of achievement, strength, and nobility. In short, man can and ought to be a hero. - Mike Mentzer

In spending nearly all of his adulthood refining his Heavy Duty training system, Mike Mentzer (1951–2001) had only one goal. Bodybuilding’s original critical thinker, Mr. Universe and creator of Heavy Duty Training (HD) didn’t care about lifting weights; he didn’t care about strength for strength’s sake. All of Mentzer’s training explorations were designed to help one put on as much muscle as genetic potential would allow in the fastest time while doing the least amount of exercise possible. This is the modern mans dream.

What Mike Mentzer knew was bodybuilding. Mentzer was unorthodox and unrepentant about his iconoclastic training views. He railed against researchers who, in his eyes, essentially were false prophets of speculation, not true scientific work. He ranted against bodybuilding officials whom he felt failed to honor his physique accomplishments, cheating him of the 1980 Mr. Olympia title (Mentzer finished 5th, Arnold won the competition). And he dismissed bodybuilders who adhered to the more-is-better school of training without question.

To say his low-volume theories worked or didn’t can become an exhausting effort. Countless trainees swore by his approach, while others scoffed. Whatever one thought about Mentzer’s training philosophy, one had to applaud his near-perfect marriage of symmetry and mass. Clearly, Heavy Duty worked for him. But how well would his approach work for today’s fitness culture in which people still want to put on muscle, but increasingly want to be able to do something functional with that muscle?

Mike Mentzer was a bodybuilding genius. He was also a bodybuilding mystery. These two truths exist simultaneously and surround one of the most fascinating characters to grace an Olympia stage. So, what if one melded modern needs, ideas, and research with adaptations of some of Mentzer’s time-tested strategies to create a post-modern post-Mentzer training protocol for the man who wants muscle?

What can be devised is a system that combines a number of modern theories while adapting some of Mentzer’s. The result is a wholly original approach. Not only will it build muscle, but that muscle will be strong and functional. And each highly intense workout lasts 30 minutes or less — another modern prerequisite.

Shakespeare, in some sense, helped create the modern man, didn't he, his influence is that pervasive. He held the mirror up to nature, but he also created that mirror: so the image he created is the very one we hold ourselves up to. - Jess Winfield

Why Post-Modern Works

Each of the workouts consists of a series of compound sets (multiple sets for the same muscle without rest between sets). Other than some minor variations, the compound sets are essentially identical for workouts A and C and B and D, respectively. The major difference is that identical sets are each treated to different aspects of High-Intensity Training (HIT) depending on which workout they appear.

The primary focus of workouts A and C is concentric in nature. Concentric training pumps glucose and volumizing fluids into muscle cells, producing a twofold effect: energy and increase in muscle size. Concentric work helps you produce force, allowing you to move powerfully. Evidence suggests that concentric work actually results in insulin sensitivity, which aids fat metabolism.

Workouts B and D focus on eccentric work. Mentzer always preached that each rep consists of three phases: the concentric or positive portion, the static and the negative or eccentric. The eccentric was the strongest phase and was thus last to fail, and science bears this out. Eccentric work allows one to absorb and stabilize a load. If a body or muscle cannot absorb or support a load eccentrically, it cannot move effectively concentrically.

Eccentric work also provides for additional muscle growth: The fascia, the soft tissue casing that surrounds muscle, is the limiting factor of how much your muscle can grow. An eccentric focus, especially on the last rep of a set, actually stretches the fascia, allowing for more room for muscles to grow. To enhance this effect, the current workout recommends at certain points that one take more time during the lowering phase than the four seconds espoused by Mentzer.

Another point of departure from Mentzer’s HIT-style workout is much greater use of dumbbells and cables. In addition to providing training options, these improve a muscle’s functionality. Generally, the first exercise of a compound set has one doing heavy maximum reps with free weights or cables — the idea is to pre-fatigue or pre-exhaust primary movers and stabilizing muscles. Most often, the stabilizers will exhaust first. This way the primary movers, the larger muscles of the group, will do most of the work on the second exercise and reach maximal contraction/failure.

One should assess how much weight one will need for each exercise so that one fails between six to eight reps. If one is able to do more than eight reps during the first couple of times one tries the workout, increase the load at the next workout so that one fails on the appropriate rep. Thereafter, whenever one can complete a rep range and still have more steam, adjust the load at the next workout. And congratulate oneself for getting stronger.

Training Frequency

One should rest one to three days between workouts A and B, and two to four days between C and D. Take a bit more time off if one senses one needs it, something Mentzer himself advocated. The reason for some of this variability, has to do with the concept of “auto regulation,” espoused by Mel C. Siff, PhD and author of the sixth edition of Supertraining, an iconic work about all things strength-related. The bottom line is that recovery has to be somewhat subjective. One ends up monitoring ones body, from a sense of muscle soreness to systemic fatigue, knowing when it’s time to take an additional day off or to hit it hard. Keep in mind that this workout provides additional time off between eccentric workouts because negative training generates much more tissue breakdown and soreness. If one feels one needs more time off, take it.

These workouts are highly intense, digging deep into ones body’s ability to recover fully. The eccentric-based workouts, for example, not only fatigue the deepest layers of muscle tissue, they can also significantly impact ones nervous system, which can require more recovery than muscle tissue. Over time, without adequate recovery one runs the risk of overtraining. With these factors in mind, take seven to 10 days off completely from training each time one has completed 24 workouts, the equivalent of six cycles of this four-workout system.

The Modern Mentzer Workout

Each of the four workouts consists of a series of compound sets. After the designated number of warm-up sets for the first exercise of each couplet, complete a single all-out set of six to eight reps to failure. Then move right to the next exercise for another maximum effort. One may rest between compound sets, but do not rest between exercises of the same set.“That last rep where you’re trying as hard as you can and you barely make it!

That is what turns on the growth mechanism in your body. That last almost impossible rep where you’re bearing your teeth, you’re shaking all over, you need assistance! That rep is very special, that rep is very different. There’s something special going on inside your body when that happens.” – Mike Mentzer

In sum, Mentzer is often overshadowed by other bodybuilding legends like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Serge Nubret. Both of whom he competed against in the 1970’s. Although, Mentzer didn’t have their stardom, his revolutionary approach to bodybuilding makes him a contender for one of the greatest bodybuilders to ever live. So reach that limit quickly, then move on to the next thing.