Mike Mentzer’s Last Interview

/ Posted 10.01.2001

Just weeks prior to Mike Mentzer's death on June 10, 2001, and his brother Ray's death two days later, Mike submitted to a Q&A session with The Sandwich. In this, his last interview, Mike reveals for the first time some very personal things about himself and his philosophy of life. You may laugh, get pissed off, be shocked or throw this magazine down in utter disgust, but herein lies the truth according to Mentzer. It's a swan song that's likely to stir up plenty of controversy, just as Mike would've wanted it.

The Sandwich: How are things?

Mike Mentzer: Things have been going along very well. I own a mail order business, as many people know; maintain a Web site, which requires a lot of work; I write articles; and I'm working on a video. All of that takes up a lot of time, but I live up to my responsibilities, enjoying it, working up to 10, 12 hours a day. That's been my pattern for many years. I can say my life revolves around my work.

TS: After the first interview we did, you disappeared. What happened?

MM: I had a number of medical problems, including one that involved surgery on my cervical spine. I had pneumonia, bronchitis and recently discovered blood clots in my lungs. It's fairly severe, but I'm on potent blood thinners, which should take care of the problem.

For those who might be interested in why Mike Mentzer has blood clots in his lungs, it was discovered a while back when my brother, Ray, was having surgery for clots in his arms, at the places where they hook up the dialysis machine. Many people already know that my brother has a life-threatening kidney disease requiring 4 1/2-hour dialysis sessions three days a week, which is very harrowing and debilitating. During one of the procedures it was discovered that he has a genetic disorder known as antithrombin deficiency, which means his blood clots too readily. The doctor told him, if you have brothers or sisters, tell them about this because they'll have it too.

TS: What was going through your mind while you were in the hospital?

MM: It's interesting. On one level it bothered me. Of course, no one wants to have such a disorder, but it never got me down. I don't walk around biting my nails and wringing my hands all day. I take it in stride, trust the doctors and have quite an optimistic outlook. TS: How has Ray's situation affected you?

MM: It's not easy to watch a family member go through a harrowing experience. Dialysis is a very severe treatment that cleans the blood by taking it out through a vein in the arm [usually] and into a machine that swishes it around and cleans it. Ray has a rare disorder called Berger's disease, which the doctors tell me is not related to past steroid use. It's a rare disorder found mostly in white men over 35.

But he's holding up fairly well. Has down periods'there's no doubt about that'but everybody around him has been quite impressed by the way he's handling it. Most people on dialysis are put on Zoloft or Prozac or some other drug, because of the tremendous personal toll that dialysis takes, but my brother hasn't had to have such medication. He's working this thing out cognitively. He understands it's life threatening, but as long as he's on dialysis he has a fair chance of making it. He is at what's called end-stage renal failure. His kidneys aren't just bad, they're dead. Without dialysis there's no way he could survive.

In fact, he did become a little depressed recently. I had a blood test that showed I have a tissue match with Ray, and I was prepared to give him one of my kidneys. We were just getting ready to set a date for surgery when they found that I had these blood clots in my lungs, which Ray recognized immediately as a bad omen. The medical specialists are very strict about who they allow to donate a kidney. You have to be in perfect health. The slightest physical disorder, and they immediately take you off the donor list. So he went into a period of some depression but worked his way out of it, and he's getting better all the time.

TS: Has your relationship with Ray always been this close?

MM: [Laughs] Ray and I have had a rocky relationship most of our lives, although not horrible. The typical brother thing. But here, recently, with us both being sick, we've become closer. We spend a lot of time together. In a sense that's a positive because brothers should be close, not bickering. We're finally relating together as two brothers should.

TS: I understand that Ray received a surprising get-well note.

MM: Actually, he received a phone call, believe it or not, from Arnold Schwarzenegger, which I found very touching, and I thank Arnold for that. Arnold called Ray and asked him how he was doing, told Ray he could call Arnold anytime he needed something or for any reason. It was a very benevolent gesture on Arnold's part, and in my eyes it raised his stature as a human being. I was shocked when the call came! I told Joe Weider many years ago, I hope Arnold really learns to mature and actualizes his full potential, because he's quite an outstanding individual.

TS: Are your parents both gone?

MM: My parents are deceased.

TS: Did you have a close relationship with them?

MM: Yes, I was close to my mother and father. My mother's death came first, and I found it to be an incredibly difficult time. I remember getting the call from the doctor at 5 a.m. and going out into my car and driving around, crying the biggest tears you've ever seen for hours and hours and hours. And, of course, the effect lingered for some time, but over a period of time one learns to take it in stride, understanding that death is an inevitable part of life. It's gonna happen to everybody.

My father's death was difficult as well but not quite as bad as my mother's because her death sort of prepared me for any future deaths in the family. They died many years ago, and I put those issues in their proper place.

TS: Do you believe in heaven and hell?

ALLMM: If I believed in heaven and hell, I'd have to believe in God. I don't believe in God. I have no doubt there's not a God. Therefore, there's no heaven or hell. I'm an objectivist, a student of the philosophy of Ayn Rand, whose basic tenet is that one must be fully committed to reason and reality. It's good reason that in reality it's impossible for there to be a God. There's no way, in the nature of things, for God to exist, at least as He is commonly defined.

So there's no heaven and no hell, and I have no hopes of seeing my mother and father ever again. I go through that one occasionally and it brings a tear to my eye, but that's as bad as it gets.

TS: If it was proved to you that such a place did exist and you had a ticket to go there, would you take it? Or would you stick to your convictions about the impossibility of the existence of God?

MM: There is what's called a rational view of a creator. As I said, there cannot be a God as He is commonly defined. God is infinite, God is everywhere, God created the universe'that's an interesting one. There's no such thing as creating the universe or causing the universe to come into existence, as the universe is the ground of all causation! If there was a God, He would have to consist of some material substance and He'd have to live somewhere. Therefore, existence always existed, even in the context you just gave. If, as you said, it was proven somehow beyond a shadow of a doubt there was a rational creator and a life hereafter, yes, I would grab at the chance to be with my mother and father again.

TS: You mentioned objectivism. Would you touch on that and how it relates to bodybuilding?

MM: Over the past several years I've been delighted to get many of my phone clients and some of my close personal friends who are heavily muscled bodybuilders to take up objectivism. Those who did were obviously having problems dealing with existence. They had a complete change: Their thinking became very clear, they became more productive, creative individuals, not to mention happier individuals. One such individual I'm quite proud of is Marcus Reinhart, the rising bodybuilder who's seen in a lot of the magazines as a model and the subject of articles. He's come a long way over the last four years with his thinking in objectivism, and I'm delighted that I was able to be the one to introduce him to the best philosophy ever devised. Why do I say that?

Why is objectivism the best philosophy ever devised? Because for centuries, people believed that the study of philosophy was intended to be a study of the celebrated thinkers of the past, many of whom had evil philosophies. Ayn Rand pointed out that this was wrong, that the study of philosophy doesn't involve merely the study of past philosophers, which can, in fact, clutter your subconscious with a lot of unnecessary falsehoods and so forth. Instead, philosophy is an area of study in and of itself. There is a context of knowledge in philosophy, just as there is a context of knowledge in electronics, physics, chemistry and mathematics. There is a body of knowledge, which constitutes philosophy! That was a very important discovery. Ayn Rand was the first philosopher to understand that, and her understanding was what enabled her to logically connect and tie together all five branches of philosophy. The first branch being metaphysics, which studies the fundamental nature of reality. Branch number two is epistemology, which studies the nature of man's knowledge and his means of acquiring it. Then ethics, of course, which is the study of morality, of man's values and choices. Number four, an important one, is art. Number five is politics.

She was the one to logically connect those five branches of philosophy in a noncontradictory manner and has had a tremendous impact in the world of philosophy. Of course, as is true with me in the world of bodybuilding, my offering radical new ideas, there was a long period when Ayn Rand was thoroughly rejected by everybody, but now they're teaching her objectivism in increasing numbers of colleges. Her worldwide readership has gained enormously over the past 20 years. She's having an effect. She is going to have a profound positive effect on the world if her influence continues to grow.

Philosophy is very important. It is, as she said, the wholesaler of man's affairs: the most powerful force in human life. Everybody has a philosophy. However, what philosophy you have is a matter of choice, and most people don't make a conscious choice with regard to what philosophy they accept. Their philosophies are a grab bag of random, disconnected and contradictory notions gained from television, newspapers, books, family, the church and so forth. As a result, their philosophies are full of contradictions. A philosophy full of contradictions can prove to be very lethal.

TS: What would be the lethal philosophies?

MM: The most remarkable or outstanding one is the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Two hundred years ago he wrote a book titled Critique of Pure Reason. He set out to destroy man's mind by undercutting his confidence in reason. It's an evil philosophy, and it has an effect even today. Kantianism, which, believe it or not, teaches that reality is not real and that man's mind is impotent, is the predominant philosophy taught in the majority of our schools, including the top universities. So entrenched is Kantianism that it's very difficult for an objectivist philosopher with a Ph.D. to get a job in any of the universities.

TS: I always thought that philosophy was pretty popular at the colleges.

MM: Well, it's usually a required course, and it's taught in the fashion that I described earlier: The purpose of philosophy is the study of the thinking of the great or celebrated philosophers. We have to make a distinction between great and celebrated. We must question the notion that the purpose of philosophy is to study the thoughts of the celebrated thinkers of the past and learn how to appreciate them. Why would we want to learn to appreciate an evil philosophy?

TS: What made you decide to write Heavy Duty II?

MM: Eleven years ago I decided to become a personal trainer, and I took my job very seriously. It's my job to use all of my knowledge to help my clients achieve their goals. When I first started training people, I used Arthur Jones' basic theory of high-intensity training, having my clients do 12 to 20 sets three times a week, which is certainly less than is suggested by the volume advocates. But I had to admit that they weren't making the progress that was possible. Progress was faltering, coming in tiny dribbles here and there. I knew something had to be wrong, and I knew the problem couldn't be undertraining; it had to be overtraining. I don't think any athletes in the world, including bodybuilders, undertrain. In fact, the predominant mistake in all of athletics is chronic gross overtraining.

I knew there was a problem with Arthur's theory. It says, in effect, that to be productive, exercise must be intense, brief and infrequent. Well, I realized after long study and thought that he was correct on the first principle of the theory of high-intensity training'that, yes, to be productive, exercise must be intense.

But what the hell is brief and infrequent? Those are two very broad terms that weren't given sufficient explanation. Joe Weider's system suggested that everyone perform 20 sets per bodypart, six days a week. Arthur merely reacted and arbitrarily said, No, doing 20 sets per muscle while training six days a week is too much. He decided to cut it in half and said, train three times a week and do 12 to 20 sets for the whole body, not for each bodypart. That was his flaw. His interpretation of brief and infrequent was arbitrary. What I did was continue to methodically reduce the volume and frequency of my clients' training over a period of time until finally I got it down to two to four sets per workout once every four to seven'sometimes 10 or even 14'days, and finally, finally, my clients were making the kind of progress I always knew was possible after properly applying a valid theory.

Arthur made an enormous contribution with the basic theory of high-intensity training, and I take pride in having refined it, developing it to a point where I can say that, at least in terms of practical necessity, I've perfected the theory of high-intensity training. The evidence is not just the logic of my system of thought but my clients' progress. Almost every client who has come to me over the past 11 years had been doing volume training, was very frustrated, made little or no progress. Once I put them on the Heavy Duty program and worked out their volume and frequency requirements, they made progress that ranged from satisfactory to literally phenomenal'off the charts.

TS: Why would anyone recommend a training routine that wasn't productive for the great majority of people'a training philosophy that doesn't help anyone who isn't genetically gifted and taking quite a bit of drugs?

MM: It's the understandable mistake of thinking that more is better. More money, more knowledge, more values are better than less. Therefore, more training must be better than less. Over a period of time Weider kept publishing that until it became associated with his name, and that ended up giving him a strong emotional investment in the idea of volume training. He just refuses to see otherwise. It's too late, in other words. He can't backtrack now and say he was wrong. That would be a personal blow to Joe's ego.

By the way, the first interview I did with you, I said that Joe was small-minded. Upon reading that, I was a bit disturbed because I'd recently had lunch with Joe, and I was surprised. At the age of 80 Joe has a very active mind, not a small mind. We sat at the restaurant for an hour and a half, and he lectured me the whole time on his particular philosophy of life. It's not objectivism, but I can respect someone who's not an objectivist so long as they have strong convictions with regard to their philosophy, and Joe most certainly does have strong convictions.

TS: You've done well as a retired professional bodybuilder. What recommendations could you give soon-to-be-retired bodybuilders who'll leave the scene due to drug-related health problems?

MM: Good question. I'm still involved in the sport. I keep a fairly close eye on what's going on with regard to the top guys today. It seems to me that many of them, including some of the last generation of bodybuilders, didn't take the time to cultivate other interests. As with some of the last generation of bodybuilders, these people are going to end up bereft. Not having bodybuilding, they're not gonna have much else either. They're gonna end up broke, having a difficult time emotionally. I see the markings already in some of these people.

TS: What do you see?

MM: In terms of their character, their philosophy of life. These people are solely committed to bodybuilding as the one central issue of their life, many spending up to $70,000 dollars a year consuming nightmarish quantities of a panoply of drugs'steroids, growth hormone and a vast number of others I haven't taken the time to learn how to pronounce, let alone spell. They made this their primary concern in life, and I see that some of them have minimal interests outside of that'like going to the movies, being with their girlfriend, going to the beach.

In talking with them, I see that they're limited intellectually. They're not concerned about their future. They're going to have a very difficult time. It does concern me a little bit, as I have a passionate interest in bodybuilding and concern for the sport. But, there's nothing I can do. I've been writing for 23 years, and I view myself primarily as a teacher. I don't grant these people that they've been unconscious for 23 years. They could have read my material and gained the message that there's more to life than bodybuilding, that learning how to think is equally important'it's more important, in fact.

As I mentioned before, I do a number of things. As a retired bodybuilder I continue writing for magazines, primarily IRONMAN, which I'm proud of, as IRONMAN is the only magazine seeking to take an objective approach to this thing. I don't know of any other magazine that has given any positive attention to high-intensity training, whereas over the past several years we've seen an increasing number of articles written by a variety of writers in IRONMAN, giving it a more balanced editorial thrust. And I thank John Balik for it.

John has been a friend of mine for 25 years. I can recall 25 years ago when he lived in Virginia and I was going to the University of Maryland. Once every few months he would drive over and take photographs of me out in the field behind my apartment. He still has those photos, and he's published some of them. In addition, he followed me all over the world, photographing me and others in all the top contests for many, many years. I know him well enough to say he's probably the most decent, the fairest man in bodybuilding publishing right now. In fact, I've thanked him before, but I'll thank him again.

Eleven years ago I was having a difficult time financially, and John knew about it. Out of sheer good will he ran a series of quarter-page ads for free'ads mentioning the fact that I was starting a phone-consultation business. Once that first ad appeared, my phone started ringing immediately, and it hasn't stopped ringing since. In fact, if I wanted to, I could make my living solely on phone consultations. All I'd have to do is take out a sizable ad in any of the magazines focusing on my phone-consultation business. All I do presently is mention the fact at the end of my articles in IRONMAN.

TS: For bodybuilders who are going to be retiring, like Shawn Ray, Kevin Levrone, Ronnie Coleman'

MM: [Interrupts] Those are good examples of the opposite of what we were talking about. Kevin Levrone and Shawn Ray are both bright individuals who seem to have taken the time to engage in a diversity of interests, and their future looks bright.

TS: I know you have a Web site that's very popular.

MM: I'm quite proud of my Web site. It's not real fancy, but it's a good-looking Web site whose primary purpose is to educate. I have a [guest] editorial page that I'm quite proud of, as everyone who writes an editorial for me is an objectivist; that is, someone who understands very clearly the importance of reason and logic and therefore is an unusually good thinker. In fact, IRONMAN contributor Richard Winett, Ph.D., is a regular contributor to my Web site in the article section. I particularly admire him for the fact that years ago he was a vociferous advocate of volume training, refusing to believe that there could be any validity to high-intensity training. But he finally took the time, unlike anyone else in the upper echelons of this sport, to read Arthur Jones' material and mine, did the requisite critical processing of that material and ended up seeing that unequivocally, without a doubt, high-intensity training is superior to volume training.

TS: You advocate doing only a few sets for a large bodypart, such as back. Do you believe you can get an efficient back workout with only three exercises or so?

MM: The operative word there is large. You said I recommend training large muscles with very few sets. Well, the size of the muscle doesn't matter. You shouldn't do more than one set to stimulate growth.

The question arises, How many sets should I do? If you were to launch an investigation aimed at discovering how many sets were required to achieve optimal results, where would you start? If you started at 20 sets and that didn't work, where would you go? Down to 19 sets or up to 21? The logical place to launch such an investigation is with the least amount possible, namely one set. You can't go any lower than one set. If one set doesn't work, then you try two. But I can tell you unequivocally, without question, that one set per exercise is all that's required to achieve optimal results.

Most bodybuilders seem to regard bodybuilding training as an endurance contest, which it is not. That, again, is operating off the notion that more is better. The idea is not to go into the gym to see how many sets you can do or how long you can mindlessly endure. Your purpose is to go into the gym as an informed, intelligent, rational human being and perform only the precise amount of exercise required to stimulate growth. Note the distinction. Your purpose is not to engage in an endurance contest but to do what is required by nature to stimulate growth. And, as it turns out, the precise amount of exercise required to stimulate growth isn't nearly as much as people have been led to believe or would like to believe.

One of the central issues in my book Heavy Duty II: Mind and Body is that the mistake over all these decades has been this: More is better, and less is better. Both of those ideas are wrong, and they'll both lead to training problems and a lack of satisfactory progress.

The idea is not more is better or less is better but that precise is best. Precision is the key. Exactly how many sets per workout and how often? It's similar to what happens when you take a medication. Once you discover what medication is required, the next logical step is to discover how much'the dosage. How much of the drug should you take and how often? In fact, I make the point again in Heavy Duty II that exercise science should be properly viewed as flowing from medical science, with some of the principles from medical science carrying over and having application to exercise science.

In medicine the first job of the researcher is to discover exactly what chemical compound will effect the desired physical result. And as I said, the next step is to discover how much and how often. In bodybuilding we're also looking to effect the desired physical result, in this case not by taking a drug but by imposing the appropriate training stimulus, namely high intensity. Once we know that, the next ineluctable, logical step is to discover how much in terms of volume and frequency.

The majority of volume bodybuilders are performing a random, arbitrary number of sets, with the exercise science establishment advocating up to 60 sets a day, six or seven days a week. You and I both know that represents gross overtraining, and for the bodybuilder who is not genetically gifted or taking steroids, it's useless. For those not taking extremely large amounts of recovery-ability enhancers, such as steroids and growth hormone, it's even counterproductive.

TS: When is the last time you cried?

MM: [Laughs and pauses] Last night, while watching Meg Ryan in a movie where she played a helicopter pilot who died heroically on the warfront. I couldn't help but cry.

TS: Do you have a problem showing your emotions?

MM: Not at all. I've never had a problem with that. I don't wear my emotions on my sleeve. It's kind of an interesting question. How much emotion is one supposed to show? In fact, that's an interesting philosophical question, one that has to be determined through a long process of thought. TS: The late Dan Duchaine said that Heavy Duty, when it first came out, seemed all fine and dandy until we heard about the numerous injuries, painkillers and amphetamines that Heavy Duty proponents were taking to sustain that type of exercise. What are your thoughts on that?

MM: I don't know of any high-intensity theorist or advocate who suggests the use of amphetamines or any other drugs. With regard to injuries, that's an outright falsehood. I've been training people for 11 years, having trained close to 2,000 people in person and over the phone, and in only one instance did I have a client incur a slight injury. He was doing extremely heavy dips, and for whatever reason he had a slight pull in his pec muscle at the sternum. Heavy Duty is not a typical powerlifting program, where we advocate performance of one-to-three or three-to-five reps per exercise. That would require, of course, enormous weights or, I should say, heavy weights for the individual, thus increasing the likelihood of injury. We suggest that individuals perform six to 10 reps per exercise for the upper body and eight to 15 for the lower body. That represents a low-to-moderate exercise force.

In fact, what we advocate is properly designated as high-intensity, low-force exercise. Performing your reps slowly, four seconds up and four seconds down, doesn't allow for the use of extremely heavy weights. Safety factors are essential. I don't know that anyone'and I know a lot of high-intensity trainers'who have had anybody have any injuries of any sort. TS: What about Dorian Yates?

MM: Dorian does not follow Heavy Duty training to a T. He's making the mistake of thinking, as I mentioned earlier, that less is better, not that precise is best. Beyond that, he uses momentum, thrust and ballistics to get the weight started and keep it moving. That's why he injured himself. We suggest safe training'again, with a higher number of reps done fairly slowly over a full range of motion. That's the safest, most productive exercise possible. I'd like to see anyone provide evidence to the contrary.

TS: Let's talk about the abuse of recreational drugs and the homosexual hustling among the top bodybuilders. What exactly is going on there? MM: You're right; there is this phenomenon of bodybuilders, including some of the top bodybuilders, taking recreational drugs such as cocaine and marijuana. Of course, everyone knows of the problems. Didn't Mike Christian have a cocaine problem a couple of years ago? I hope he's over it now, but he had a severe problem with it that led to his personal downfall and his almost losing his business. I bring his name up only because he did an interview in IRONMAN wherein he talked quite a bit about this [December '96 and January '97]. But Mike's not the only one who took or is taking drugs. There are quite a few. I'm not gonna mention names.

And it's also true that there's a lot of homosexual hustling going on. It's been going on since the inception of bodybuilding in the early part of the century. It appears that there's a faction of homosexuals who find bodybuilders irresistible and are willing to pay them considerable sums of money for sexual favors. I know a number of bodybuilders who have done this, too, but for obvious reasons I'm not going to reveal their names.

Yes, bodybuilding is not quite the pristine pursuit as portrayed in some of the magazines.

TS: What are some secrets about you that others wouldn't know?

MM: [Laughs] Well, of course there are things in my life that are personal and I don't want published in an international magazine. I was reluctant to inform people about my lung problem because some people will automatically jump at the notion that Mentzer has these problems because he took steroids. Well, I never hid the fact that I took steroids; it wasn't a secret. In fact, I had a column in Muscle Builder, now Muscle & Fitness, years ago wherein I talked about the use of drugs, so it was never a secret. But there are a lot of bodybuilders who would not like that particular subject mentioned about themselves, and I understand that. I chose to do it because, in the context of my having consciously chosen to use drugs, I didn't regard it as something shameful. I weighed the risks against the benefits and decided that I would use steroids. And as far as I know, I've never had any problems.

The blood clots, again, are most likely due to my having a genetic disorder. Beyond that, there are people who have problems with their kidneys, liver, heart and so forth who never touched weights or steroids. It's the law of averages. Of course, given a certain number of bodybuilders, you're going to have some who incur medical problems.

TS: Dan Duchaine wrote one time that you had a breakdown'

MM: [Interrupts] By the way, I never cared for Dan Duchaine.

TS: You didn't?

MM: [Long pause] Particularly because he was a power luster who sought innocent and vulnerable young females and got them interested in taking drugs. Everybody in Venice [California] knows that he was providing drugs to female bodybuilders because all the ones he trained started growing beards, developing thick, heavy voices and a number of masculine traits.

Dan was definitely a bright guy, but there was a strong strain of evil in him, which I didn't care for. It's not the fact that he attacked me personally, alleging a number of ridiculous things about me that I supposedly did. It was primarily the drug use. Dan was obsessed by drugs!

TS: Dan wrote that you were involved in some things regarding amphetamine abuse and drinking your own urine.

MM: [Chuckles] I don't know where he got that one. How would anyone know I drank urine?

TS: I don't know, but a lot of people believed it.

MM: Yes, a lot of people like to see celebrated figures come down a notch or two because their own self-esteem is not very high. They gain a sense of self-esteem when they can say, Look, I'm not like that; that person has shortcomings. And that's not the proper way to gain self-esteem. That's irrational.

No, I never drank my own urine. Where that notion arose, I have no idea. I did take doctor-prescribed amphetamines for a while, because as a competing bodybuilder and writer I found it difficult during periods of severe dieting to sustain the energy required to train and then go home and write for hours. But it was always doctor prescribed.

TS: Sergio Oliva is coming out with a new book where he talks about Joe Weider fixing numerous contests for

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