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Heavy Duty: Mike Mentzer’s Training Principles, Part 2

Last month I discussed six of the seven principles of successful bodybuilding science.

Last month I discussed six of the seven principles of successful bodybuilding science, which are:

1) Identity
2) Intensity
3) Duration
4) Frequency
5) Specificity
6) Adaptation
7) Progression

Let's continue with the last principle and then tie it all together.


How do you know if you're training intensely enough to stimulate muscle growth? Or with the optimal frequency for letting the growth you stimulate be produced? Unfortunately, most bodybuilders use the wrong standard for evaluating their progress'bodyweight increases. According to Mentzer:

'I know of bodybuilders who, every time they walk into a gym, the first thing they do is step on a scale. And if they're not gaining weight at every workout or every week, they suspect something is wrong. In most cases something is wrong, but it's not necessarily the fact that they're not gaining weight.'

The problem with using a bodyweight scale to measure your progress is that muscle growth on a daily basis'even at best'is negligible. For a best-case-scenario example, suppose that you have the genetic potential to build 30 pounds of muscle this year and also that you're going to train properly and eat adequately to make those 30 pounds a reality. As impressive a muscle gain as that is, however, it averages only slightly more than an ounce a day'which wouldn't register on a typical scale. As there are 16 ounces in a pound, if you were to weigh yourself each week on a certain day, you'd only see about a pound on the scale every 2 1/2 weeks. And if you had a haircut that day or weighed yourself after taking a sauna or engaging in some activity that caused you to sweat profusely, you might actually register a weight loss.

Since muscular gains manifest relatively slowly, a bodyweight scale is just the wrong tool for measuring your workout-to-workout progress. What's the correct way to measure it? By keeping track of your workout-to-workout increases in strength. When you're training intensely enough and at the optimum frequency, your strength will increase; that is, you'll go up in reps or weight on the bar or both on each set of every exercise. That was the standard Mentzer used to determine his clients' success, and it's also the reason he had hundreds of clients who made continuous progress for many months'and in some instances years. As he said:

All of my clients make regular, continual progress without a doubt. Most bodybuilders don't know this, but, in fact, a properly conducted bodybuilding program is essentially a strength-training program. Train for strength and evaluate your progress in terms of strength increases. Why do we use strength increases as a standard for evaluating bodybuilding progress? Simply because there's a relationship between muscular strength and muscular size. If you want to get bigger, you've got to get stronger. I emphasize that point because most bodybuilders are reluctant to accept that idea. If you want to get bigger, you've got to get stronger.

Just the other day in Gold's Gym a young man was arguing with me on this point quite vehemently and at some length. I finally stopped him and asked, 'What are you supposed to do to get bigger, get weaker?' And he saw the relationship. 'Furthermore,' I said, 'if there was no relationship between strength and muscular size, it would be conceivable that people like Dorian Yates could curl only 25 pounds'when in fact he curls more than 200 pounds. He got as big as he did, in part, because he got as strong as he did. If you want to get bigger, you've got to get stronger.'

Now, in order to bring about improvements in strength and size, you must keep increasing the intensity of your muscular contractions. You do that either by increasing the amount of weight lifted, increasing the number of repetitions performed (within limits) or reducing the time taken to do the exercise or complete the entire workout.

The principle of progression is well illustrated by the legend of Milo, a Greek who lived in a town called Crotona. Conceiving the notion of using progressive overload to increase his strength, Milo took a small bull calf and lifted it above his head, which he did with reasonable ease. Milo lifted the bull above his head every day. The bull, of course, grew steadily, but Milo's daily lifts trained his body to adapt itself to the continuous slight increase in weight. Eventually, he could lift the fully grown bull above his head. To the cheers of the crowd he carried it around the arena of the stadium during one of the ancient Grecian Games.

Obviously, Milo of Crotona could not have lifted a full-grown bull on his first attempt. By applying the principle of progressive overload, however, he was able to slowly, steadily increase the amount of resistance his muscles had to contract against, until he could lift the adult beast.

Strength Increases Precede Size Increases

All that said, it's also true that strength increases typically come before size increases. Most people get stronger for a period of time prior to getting bigger; however, as long as they continue to grow stronger as a result of their workouts, they'll eventually get bigger. Just how strong people can get or how long it takes them to gain size are difficult-to-predict factors that are dictated primarily by genetics. Even so, as long as trainees keep growing stronger, they can be certain that they're heading in the right direction. As Mentzer recalled:

'I was one of those individuals who gained strength prior to size increases. I can remember that, especially in the early part of my training career, there would be periods of even as long as four months during which I would get stronger on a regular basis and not gain any weight. As a result, I grew enormously frustrated and almost gave up more times than I care to remember. And when I say frustrated, I mean painfully, agonizingly frustrated. It was only years later that Arthur Jones pointed that out'and I saw it was true in so many cases'that for most people, strength comes first.' ALL This is an important point for aspiring bodybuilders to retain, as that will go a long way toward preventing the frustration. Mentzer used to get calls on occasion from clients who'd complain, 'Jeez, Mike, I went up 80 pounds on my squats and 120 pounds on my shrugs in two months, but I only gained three pounds!' That, Mike would point out, is precisely as it should be. He would then go into great detail, pointing out that if an aspiring bodybuilder were to gain three pounds every two months, by the end of the year he'd end up having gained 18 pounds of solid muscle'which would be a tremendous achievement.

Some bodybuilders don't look at their training careers in terms of the long range and so have difficulty envisioning just how much muscle 18 pounds really is. For their benefit, Mentzer would offer the following image:

'Take a moment and visualize sitting at your dinner table with a single, one-pound beefsteak in front of you. Now imagine 18 of them! That would probably be enough to almost cover your table. If you were able to sustain that rate of growth for two years, you'd end up gaining 36 pounds'that's 36 beefsteaks on your dinner table!'

Frustration is often the greatest hindrance to bodybuilding progress. The good news is that you don't need to be ignorant'or frustrated. There is a rational perspective on your bodybuilding training that will allow you to fulfill your genetic potential for building muscle'whatever it may be.


While dedication was not officially one of Mike's seven principles of high-intensity training, it's implied in your application of the others. There can be no doubt that Mike Mentzer was one of the most dedicated bodybuilders of his time. He recognized the importance of mastering that element in his training, and he excelled because of it.

All bodybuilders and other athletes face all sorts of problems, both physical and psychological in their training. The average bodybuilder quickly becomes bored with training and even more bored with the fact that he or she must keep doing it. Mike found a way to overcome those psychological problems to bring absolute dedication to his training program. The psychological factors are what make champions. Regardless of the quality of their bones, muscles and blood, their drive keeps going and overcomes all the drawbacks and opposition they meet. Said Mike:

'The first step toward developing a herculean physique is to be able to create a strong and vivid image of the type of body you want. Without such a strong orienting vision, your workouts will lack the direction required for you to make maximum progress. It's important to not only visualize the long-range, ultimate goals but also be able to summon your deepest energies for each and every workout. An impending contest will provide such a stimulus for many. For those who aren't that far along in their bodybuilding careers or perhaps aren't interested in competition, something else is needed'some emotional excitement, some idea of necessity to stimulate the will for that all-out effort in the gym.'

Keep Training

Mentzer realized that, while it might take people a long time to reach peak condition, once they stop training, the rate at which their fitness level deteriorates may be quite rapid. He also knew that it doesn't take nearly as much effort to maintain your fitness level once you've achieved it. If you stop training, however, you'll deteriorate at a faster rate than the rate at which you built yourself up. The moral? You've got to keep at it. Atrophy and Hypertrophy

The principles of atrophy and hypertrophy play roles in all this. If the body's tissues are not used, they'll deteriorate, degenerate and atrophy, becoming less efficient. That applies to all organs of the body, not merely the muscles, although it particularly applies to muscles that aren't used. On the other hand, more intense use will develop parts of the body both in structure and function. The higher the intensity you subject a muscle to, the bigger it will get. With intense use, then, the muscles hypertrophy, or grow, and improve in their function. Indeed, there is no training scheme that does not depend upon hard work for success.

Hard Work' Intensity Revisited

So it's evident that you must work hard with increasing levels of intensity to get any beneficial effect from training. Given time, incentive and the necessary guidance, people should be able'at least theoretically'to achieve truly outstanding results from their bodybuilding efforts and develop to their own individual potential, just as Mentzer did. Time, however, is always a problem. So they must engineer their workouts to give them intense, concentrated effort in the available training time. And yet, no matter how effectively or how scientifically training programs are improved and intensified, it remains true, as Mentzer said, that 'you can train hard or you can train long'you just can't do both. And it just so happens that it takes hard training to build big muscles.'

Editor's note: For a complete presentation of Mike Mentzer's Heavy Duty training system, consult his books Heavy Duty II and High Intensity Training the Mike Mentzer Way, available through the ad on page 195 of this issue, from Home Gym Warehouse, (800) 447-008, or by visiting Mentzer's official Web site,

John Little is available for phone consultation on Mike Mentzer's Heavy Duty training system. For rates and information, contact Joanne Sharkey at (310) 316-4519 or at, or see the ad listed above.

Article copyright ' 2004, John Little. All rights reserved. Mike Mentzer quotations that appear in this series provided courtesy of Joanne Sharkey, ' 2004 and used with permission. IM

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