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An Introduction to Heavy Duty Training, Part 3

The routine must not be so long that it causes the body to deplete its recuperative capacity in an attmept to cope with the exhaustive effects of exercise.

This month I present a sample training program that was designed by Mike Mentzer and incorporates the three principles of his Heavy Duty Training System. To get you started, let's hear from Mentzer himself:

The biochemical changes that result in muscular growth are essentially the same in all individuals, and the stimulation required to induce those changes is the same for the entire species. Though it's true that no two individuals are identical, as there will always be variations in anatomical structure and stress tolerance, the variations fall within a limited range. Where one bodybuilder may respond better than another to a particular exercise because of some structural advantage, both of them have limited physical resources, and each of them will better stimulate muscle growth if they engage in high-intensity training.

A training routine can be productive only if it stimulates muscular growth. It shouldn't be so long that it depletes the body's recuperative capacity. An ideal routine, then, would:

1) Induce maximum possible growth stimulation.

2) Use up a minimum of the body's recuperative capacities.

The following high-intensity training program fulfills these requirements. We know by now that high intensity of effort is an absolute must for stimulating rapid increases in size and strength and that since high-intensity training must be of short duration, it will deplete relatively little of the body's resources. Initially, you'll train only once every four days, alternating between workout 1 (chest and back), workout 2 (legs), workout 3 (shoulders and arms) and workout 4 (legs).

Why so infrequently? Keep in mind that strength increases are your goal as well as the standard by which you'll measure your progress. Don't forget that when your strength plateaus, assuming that your intensity is high, it's because you're not giving your body adequate time for recovery and overcompensation. So you'll need to work out even less frequently and perhaps add one or two extra rest days between workouts.

You can find a detailed breakdown and description of the exercises for these workouts in Mentzer's books High Intensity: Training the Mike Mentzer Way and Heavy Duty II: Mind and Body. The routine we're looking at here should indicate how to apply the principles of Heavy Duty training.

Workout 1:
Chest and Back

Start with a superset: one set of flat-bench dumbbell flyes or pec deck flyes, followed immediately by a set of close-grip incline presses, preferably on a guided mechanism like a Smith machine.

Dumbbell flyes. This is a great exercise for isolating the pecs and preserving the strength of the triceps for the incline press. Recline on a flat bench and hold a pair of dumbbells at arm's length over your face. Lower to the sides, with your elbows pulled back and out to the sides, a position that puts the dumbbells just below the plane of your torso. No farther, or you might injure a shoulder. Keeping the angles of your elbows consistent while you raise the weight back to the top will stress the pecs, preserve triceps strength and reduce strain on the connective tissue in the crook of the elbow. It doesn't matter if the weights touch at the top; at that point there's no resistance anyway. After one set of six to 10 repetitions'to the point of muscular failure'go immediately to the next exercise.

Incline presses. Your grip for these should be slightly closer than shoulder width. Although many bodybuilders have been taught that they should use a wide grip when performing this exercise, It's not your hand spacing that should be wide but your elbows, which should be flared back and out from your torso toward your ears. The closer grip will enable your pectoral muscles to contract more thoroughly. To see why, place your arms out in front of you, as in a wide-grip bench press position. Now, without moving your hands, flex your pecs. Next, put your arms in a close-grip position and, again without moving them, flex your pecs. You can feel a fuller contraction with a closer grip.

Technically, high-intensity training is really about high-intensity muscular contractions; that is, the harder a muscle is made to contract, the greater the growth stimulation. Muscles perform work by contracting, or reducing their length. The more intense the contraction, the greater the growth stimulation.

Mentzer used to have his clients perform incline press on an Icarian incline-bench machine. If you don't have access to a similar machine, you can use a regular incline bench. Using a barbell is okay, but for safety reasons you shouldn't go to failure'unless someone is spotting you. With a guided mechanism none of your effort or focus is diverted into coordinating and balancing the weight, which means you can direct all of your effort into moving the resistance and achieving a high-intensity contraction. Perform one set of one to three repetitions until failure.

Now take a brief rest, and then move on and train your back.

Close-grip palms-up pulldowns. Most bodybuilders use the palms-down overhand grip on pulldowns, which places the biceps in a weak position, limiting how much you can work your back. Another common mistake is to use a wide grip in order to stretch the lats, but that actually reduces the stretch, or range of motion over which the lats contract. Instead, this program calls for a palms-up grip, which places the biceps in the strongest position.

ALLPlace your upper arm up by your head and feel how much the lat is stretched. Then lower to the side, as in a wide-grip position, and you'll see that the stretch is greatly diminished. To perform this exercise properly, pull the bar from a full stretch, overhead position down into your upper chest. Hold the bar at that point for a distinct pause, and then let it return slowly, under control, back to the top. Perform one set of six to 10 repetitions until failure.

Take a brief rest (there is no superset here) and then proceed to the next back exercise.

Bent-over barbell rows. This exercise can be done with a barbell, dumbbell or a machine. Those with lower-back problems should use machine rows or one-arm dumbbell rows. Most back machines have you sitting against a pad, taking all the stress off your lower back, and on dumbbell rows you support yourself with your free hand on the edge of the bench, reducing the stress on your lower back. For those using a barbell, stand directly behind the bar while bending over so your back is as flat as possible, parallel to the floor, with your head up. Grasp the bar with a shoulder-width grip, and without changing your back position, raise slightly so the barbell isn't touching the floor. Then row, by pulling the bar straight up so it hits your lower chest. Because of the physics involved, this is one exercise that won't let you hold the bar statically at the top of the movement. Just lower the bar, under control, and repeat. Perform one set of six to 10 repetitions until failure. Take a brief rest, and then move on to the final back exercise.

Shrugs.Shrugs primarily work the trapezius, the upper-back muscle just about the shoulder. Do them with a barbell, a pair of dumbbells or a machine. Mike preferred using the bench press station of a Universal machine because the guided mechanism made the movement less wieldy. No matter which device you use, start the movement with the weight at arm's length. Think of your arms as chains (straight up and down) with hooks on the end (your hands). Without bending your arms, merely shrug your shoulders straight up toward your ears as far as they'll go'and don't roll your shoulders. If your back is rounded, you can't contract your traps fully. Hold the top position for a couple of seconds and then lower, under control. Perform one set of six to 10 repetitions until failure.

There you have it: workout 1. Do your next Heavy Duty workout (legs) four days later, and the next (shoulders and arms) four days after that. Then do your final workout in the cycle (legs again) four days after that. After four more days of rest the cycle begins again with workout 1.

Bodybuilders accustomed to conventional, high-set training might ask whether the low number of sets in this workout is enough exercise to stimulate a muscle mass increase. My answer is Mentzer's first principle of bodybuilding: intensity. He depicts the last rep of a single set of barbell curls as sufficient to trigger the body's muscle-growth mechanism. If one set of curls can flip the switch, so will one set of an exercise for any other bodypart'providing you take that set to legitimate muscular failure. From that perspective the two sets of chest and three sets of back exercise offer more than adequate growth stimulation, but you'll only know whether you've triggered the growth mechanism if you aren't stronger when you perform the same workout again. Remember: The proper standard for gauging your progress is an increase in strength.

Weight Selection and Reps

Mentzer's vast experience in training clients convinced him that six to 10 reps is ideal for most exercises. Other bodyparts, such as calves, he noted, responded more favorably to higher reps (i.e., 12 to 20). On a superset or preexhaust set trainees got better results on the compound portion of the superset when the reps were reduced to one to three (on incline presses) or three to five (on dips). So for the majority of exercises select a weight that lets you complete six to 10 reps in reasonably strict fashion. As you grow stronger and find that you can do more than 10 reps, increase the weight by about 10 or 20 percent (or any amount you believe necessary) so that you're back to six or 10 again. I say 'about'for of course there will be workouts where you misjudge. Let's say you're doing curls and by the eighth rep you clearly recognize that you're not going to fail at 10 but 13. That's fine, but the key to flipping on the growth switch is to train to failure.

Mentzer also advised performing all repetitions in a reasonably strict fashion; don't bounce, jerk, yank or thrust the bar to get the movement started or to keep it moving. Lift, hold and lower the bar under control. Remember, Heavy Duty training is about high-intensity muscular contraction'not muscle throwing or torquing. In other words, the harder the muscle itself is made to work, the greater the stress on the muscle and the greater the growth stimulation.

Heavy Duty training is a high-intensity/moderate-force program. It's safer than ballistic low-rep programs that are high-intensity/high-force and that yield a far greater potential for injury.


Mentzer trained people for more than nine years, and he prided himself on the fact that not one of his clients had a single injury. The reason was that he put their safety first. He recommended warming up on most exercises. For example, in training your chest, make sure that your shoulders and triceps are adequately warmed up before you perform the second exercise in your superset or preexhaustion cycle (i.e., the incline press). Before starting your chest superset, warm up with one set of incline presses with a light-to-moderate weight for seven reps. Then perform a warmup set of dumbbell flyes with a light-to-moderate weight. After that you're ready for your superset cycle.

Progress Chart

When you're training properly, you'll be getting stronger on virtually every set of every workout. In order to determine if you are in fact getting stronger, keep an accurate progress chart so that you can monitor your progress and know that you're training properly. The final word on this, of course, belongs to Mike Mentzer:

I can't guarantee with 100 percent certainty that this training protocol is exactly what you need in terms of volume and frequency. Only if there was a God could He look inside your DNA and say that you have to train once every 59 1/2 hours and that any more or less will compromise your progress. I do know that the theory that every human being requires intense, brief and infrequent training is universally valid. What we don't know for everyone is just how brief or just how infrequent. So keep a progress chart.

This introduction to Mike Mentzer's Heavy Duty Training System is by no means exhaustive. Mentzer refined his system in his numerous books and articles. Think of this three-part series as a good place to start an earnest exploration and understanding of the principles and training approach that made Mike Mentzer so deservedly famous.

Editor's note: John Little is now available for phone consultations on Mike Mentzer's revolutionary Heavy Duty' Training System. For information on rates and information, contact Joanne Sharkey at (310) 316-4519, visit her at Mike Mentzer's official Web site, Article copyright ' 2003, John Little. All rights reserved. Mike Mentzer quotations contained that appear in this series provided courtesy of Joanne Sharkey ' 2003 and used with permission. IM

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