Beginning with the publication of Arthur Jones’ various high-intensity, short-duration training theories in 1970, Iron Man established and helped demystify the basic connection between intensity, duration and recovery. Jones wrote a number of hard-hitting articles for IM over the years, as the magazine stood alone in the belief that high-volume training isn’t for everyone and that more isn’t necessarily better.
In the ’80s Mike and Ray Mentzer became outspoken disciples of Arthur Jones, which made Mike’s Heavy Duty column a perfect fit for IRONMAN. Mike wrote for this publication in the ’80s and ’90s. His work was always popular and usually controversial, but then came his untimely passing on June 10, 2001, along with Ray’s only a few days later. That double tragedy left a considerable void in the world of Heavy Duty training, but John Little, a philosophical descendant of the Mentzers and Arthur Jones, has come forward to fill that void and continue Heavy Duty in the pages of IRONMAN. Little had a 20-plus-year friendship with Mike, and he’s the co-author of Mike’s last book, which will be published in 2002. John’s own Power Factor Training, written with Pete Sisco, left an indelible high-intensity mark on bodybuilders and bodybuilding history, and now John brings his unique perspective to the philosophy and execution of Heavy Duty training. I’m proud and excited that John has chosen IRONMAN in which to continue the Mentzer legacy, and I’m sure Mike would approve wholeheartedly.
As Mike wrote in the preface to Power Factor Training, “John has exerted considerable effort over a period of time studying the actual science of productive bodybuilding exercise; i.e., he has acquired a firm intellectual understanding of the theory of high-intensity training.” He’ll prove that beyond a shadow of a doubt in the coming months. Welcome aboard, John.
“The idea should be not to discover who’s right, necessarily, but instead, what is true. What’s the difference who says it? We all benefit by gaining the truth. The truth is our best friend.”
Apart from being a close friend of Mike Mentzer’s, I have long considered him to be a genuine hero; a man who not only represented the very pinnacle of physical perfection in the world of bodybuilding’becoming for many one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time’but also gave himself so courageously to a cause that he risked his well-being (both financially and, as a corollary, physically). The cause was truth, and his adversaries in the sport of bodybuilding were legion.
Anytime a man stands up for the sake of principle (or, in Mentzer’s case, principles), he is worthy of respect. When he does it at great personal cost and in the face of great adversity, he is rightly considered a hero. In the mid-1970s, when bodybuilding was just starting to become fashionable, Mentzer whistled through its murky and pungent halls like a breath’no, a cyclone’of fresh air, decimating myths and exploding falsehoods. In time he built quite a following among seekers of truth in the bodybuilding community. Mentzer’s well-reasoned conclusions, based on logical thinking and scientific evidence rather than sales of supplements and equipment, brought bodybuilding out of its self-imposed dark ages and into the world of modern technology. Eventually, he sparked a revolution in the way bodybuilding was performed and bodybuilders were perceived.
The year 2001 was something of a renaissance for Mike. He began production of his new Heavy Duty video and was preparing to launch a series of audiotapes. Magazine publishers in North America and overseas were preparing to carry his ads and to run new articles he’d written. I had the privilege of working with him on his last book, High Intensity Training’The Mike Mentzer Way, which will be released by McGraw Hill in the fall of 2002. He was very excited about it, and I’m pleased that he was able to see and approve the final draft of the manuscript.
Mike single-handedly changed the face of bodybuilding. As a result of his insights, people discovered a better and more efficient way to train, to diet’and to live. Mike’s first passion was always bodybuilding and, unlike many champions, he sought clarity and truth rather than reputation and fame. Ironically, it was his devotion to the first two virtues that brought him the latter two.
He was a voice of reason in an industry rife with hucksters and propaganda. He once said, “I don’t care to have many friends and acquaintances, but the few good friends I possess are very close to me.” How true that was. He never attempted to curry favor, nor did he subscribe to the adage that one must go along to get along. He was his own person always.
Prior to Mike’s coming on the bodybuilding scene in the late 1970s, the sport had been crying out for a watchdog, a protector of young bodybuilders who might fall prey to the blandishments of the corporate interests that had infiltrated the sport. His well-reasoned articles, imploring us to use our minds and to make bodybuilding an adjunct to, rather than the reason for, our existence, helped to lift bodybuilding out of a carnival atmosphere where the caricature of the pinheaded behemoth was, though we are loath to admit it, the rule rather than the exception. With Mentzer on the scene, that charge could no longer stick.
Here was a man who was a bona fide intellectual, a man who spoke of the noble ethos of using one’s mind to build one’s body into living, breathing art. Moreover, his knowledge of science caused no small revolution in the field of bodybuilding training. No longer did aspiring trainees have to live in the gym or blindly accept the statements of some champion merely because he won a contest or was featured as the flavor of the month in a bodybuilding magazine. Mike not only spoke of a better way to train, he actually created one. Some of Mike’s fondest moments were spent training and educating those who sought to improve themselves through bodybuilding. Loved by some, feared by others and ignored by no one, Mentzer always inspired respect.
Is it any wonder, then, that those who sought truth in life and a more reasonable approach to building muscle were drawn, like moths to a very illuminating light, to Mike’s ideas? He was happiest when he could open young bodybuilders’ eyes to the possibility of their true potential in terms of both body and mind. The range of trainees he inspired includes CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, celebrities like Tony Robbins and proponents of high-intensity training such as yours truly. Above all, he inspired trainees who wanted results, honesty and a clearer perspective of exercise science. In truth, there may have been science in bodybuilding before Mike Mentzer came on the scene, but there was never a science of bodybuilding. Mentzer gave us that.
Mentzer’s life, as well as his death, speak to the issue of genetics. It’s a subject he stressed often and resolutely in his writings and seminars. Genetics, he often said, is the prime determinant of not only muscular success but also the building of a superior intellect and overall health and longevity. Although he was only 49 when he passed away, there can be no doubt that he lived a full and rewarding life. He traveled the world, created a new approach to bodybuilding, introduced thousands of people to philosophy, competed successfully at the highest levels of amateur and professional bodybuilding, appeared on national television numerous times, had an internationally best-selling poster, earned and spent several small fortunes, had three books published by major publishers and self-published 10 more. He was the first bodybuilder to see the value in videotapes, offering instructional videos as far back as 1980. He competed in the ‘Superstars’ contest, which was televised on CBS, very successfully against some of the world’s best athletes in various sporting events’proving that at least some bodybuilders were not simply all show and no go. The fact that he lived an accomplished life does not diminish the loss to his friends, colleagues, fans and family. Suddenly, the world has become a much smaller place. Mike was that rarest of creatures: a genuinely benevolent human being who cared deeply about people and went out of his way to help all who came into his circle. He did not keep much of the money he made in his life, not because he had lavish tastes, but because he was forever helping out people he encountered who couldn’t pay their rent, needed money for food, wanted to further their education or had some other needs.
On a personal note, I shall miss Mike dearly. Many was the time over the past 22 years or so that we would talk philosophy, bodybuilding and other life issues into the wee hours. And it was always his benevolence and decency, rather than his phenomenal muscular development, that impressed me most. I shall miss those conversations. I shall also miss the excitement of reading his articles in IRONMAN, for when Mentzer wrote, gods and dynasties fell. Every sentence pulsated with the current of truth. There has never been another bodybuilding writer of his caliber. Not only could he talk the talk, but he most certainly walked the walk’his incredibly muscled physique bearing ample witness to the potency of his prose.
The spirit of Mike Mentzer still emanates from his written words, making him an enduring voice in the battle for truth. As I read over the writings from which I have selected excerpts for this piece, I could hear Mike’s voice prodding bodybuilders to question the supposed leaders of our industry and the products they pitch and exhorting us to develop our minds as well as our bodies. Each decade brings with it a new crop of champions, but they’re quickly forgotten after they’re harvested by the corporate machine. The name and legacy of Mike Mentzer will endure not just because he spoke the truth about training but because he stood for something greater than that. In doing that, he revealed the potential we all have to become fuller human beings living healthier, more meaningful lives. When all the hype and the clouds of confusion that linger in bodybuilding’s skies eventually lift, Mike Mentzer will stand out as one of the few peaks, and his ideas and example will inspire bodybuilders not yet born. That, indeed, will prove his immortality.
I invite you now to give Mike a minute or two of your time and allow him to share his thoughts with you on his favorite topic’bodybuilding. As it was with most of us who had the good fortune to know him, your time will be rewarded. One cannot spend time in the company of intelligence and decency without being a little finer for the experience.
The Key to Building Big Muscles
The key to building big muscles is simply training intensity. That’s backed up by scientific facts. The harder a man trains, the less training he will be able to do. It’s like the long-distance runner and the sprinter. The sprinter always has larger calves, and yet he actually engages in only a small fraction of the work done by the distance runner. The distance runner has great lean muscles, while the other tends to have more muscular mass. It’s the type of running he does that prevents the sprinter from doing a lot of long-distance work, but he builds massive calves. Doing hard bursts of training is exactly what it takes to build big muscles.
No Mystery’All Alike
The truth of the matter is that no mystery involving the nature of muscle growth exists at all; the cause-and-effect relationships have been known for years. The biochemical changes within the body that result in muscle growth are essentially the same in all human beings on the face of the earth. If the laws of physiology weren’t immutable, if they were subject to arbitrary change, the science of medicine could not exist. The fact that the data derived from research conducted on a few specific individuals can be applied to the entire human population makes modern medicine a viable discipline. It follows logically, then, that the stimulus required to induce the biochemical changes that result in additional muscle growth is universal, the same in everyone.
Think About These Things
The specific demand required to effect the fastest possible increases in muscular size and strength is directly related to the intensity of muscular contraction. The closer we come to performing at a level where we cause a muscle to contract up to 100 percent, the greater the possibility of inducing a size-and-strength increase.
Resistance, Physiology and Biomechanics
The resistance imposed on the muscle must be sufficient to require it to contract maximally. The all-or-nothing principle of muscular function states that individual muscle fibers are incapable of performing varying degrees of work; they are either working as hard as possible or not at all.
Performing a light movement does not require the slight involvement of the entire muscle; rather, only the exact number of fibers needed to perform that movement will be involved, but they will be contracting to the limit of their momentary ability. It follows, then, that to involve the entire bulk of a muscle in a movement, a load must be imposed that requires all of the fibers of that muscle to contract. Since a muscle must be in its shortest, fully contracted position to involve all of its fibers in a contraction, sufficient resistance must be provided in the contracted position.
Overcoming the Limitations of the Mind
The greatest resistance encountered on the road to great athletic achievement is not the body but the mind! It’s not the weights, the equipment, the weather, astrology; it’s your own mind. A well-trained body is capable of near maximum or maximum effort at any time, but the kind of effort it takes to build a great physique, intense Heavy Duty effort, imposes demands on the body of a high order. That’s why it’s so productive. But the mind, in an effort to protect the precious limited reserves of resources that are used up in maximum efforts, will throw up roadblocks. “Oh, wow! I’d better not push myself too hard. I might hurt myself!” Or, “Jeez, why should I push so hard when the other guys in the gym don’t push half as hard as I do anyway?” This kind of mental jabberwocky that often precedes a hard workout is the result of a general mental and physical disinclination to go all out in your training so as to preserve and conserve energy and resources.
It’s true, man is by nature a lazy animal. To be stimulated to break through such mental barriers and perform at consistently higher functional levels, some “unusual stimulus must fill you with emotional excitement or some idea of necessity must induce you to make the extra effort of will,” as William James put it. You must enter each training session excited by some idea of necessity. Well, that shouldn’t be hard. You want to be the best, don’t you? If that doesn’t get you excited, nothing will.
Logic, Bodybuilding and Life
In the process of learning how to think logically about bodybuilding, you’ll learn something about the nature of thought itself, which can then be extended to other areas of life. And with continued study and effort, you’ll soon make the delightful discovery that you’ve been developing your intellectual range and, thereby, maturing as a human being should. The practical result is that you become a more efficacious individual, with considerable dominion, or control, over your being.
It was Aristotle, the discoverer of the laws of logic, the principles of thought, who said that ‘a friend is that other person in whom one sees himself’one’s values reflected in the person of another. Those who find my philosophy interesting and attractive share a certain mutuality of values with me, if not always on the level of explicit, verbalized understanding, at least in terms of subconscious, emotional or sense of life affinity. I find this encouraging, as I have worked conscientiously over a span of many years developing my philosophy, especially that aspect of most central significance: my values, which are of a positive nature. Specifically, I value reason, objectivity, logic, knowledge, science, human progress and happiness. The reason why the world has descended to the lowest rung of hell in man’s history is because, despite the lip service paid them, such life-affirming values no longer dominate. The fact that so many bodybuilders possess a promind, prolife philosophy’or sense of life’means that there is still hope for man’s long-range survival and success.
Bodybuilding and Life
Bear in mind that bodybuilding does not exist in a vacuum apart from the rest of life, and that knowledge is your means of achieving your goals. So, of course, the greater your knowledge, the greater your ability to reason, the more likely you’ll achieve your goals. Lacking the rudiments of rationality necessary to critically analyze ideas, the average bodybuilder today finds himself impotently bewildered, awash in an oceanic proliferation of new theories on training and nutrition. Unable to even begin to properly evaluate or judge the flood of conflicting, contradictory misinformation, most bodybuilders flounder helplessly, taking years and years to develop a physique they could have, should have, obtained in months. Or, allowing the flame of their passion for a more muscular physique to be extinguished, they either cease their training efforts entirely or continue going to the gym merely as a social ritual to temporarily stave off the inevitable consequences of their refusal to think; namely, anxiety and fear.
Get a Life!
Just a few days ago, while I was explaining to one of my local training clients the reasons for working out only once every four to seven days, a man in his mid-30s, whom I’ve seen in the gym training every day for years’and with nothing to show for it’had apparently overheard my explanation. ‘Mr. Mentzer,’ he intoned, ‘what you just said about training so infrequently sounded logical, but if I don’t train every day, what else am I going to do with my time?’
I was astonished at such a question, as the man obviously didn’t understand that he was implicitly admitting that his life had been one enormous betrayal. ‘Why, sir,’ I responded, ‘I might suggest a number of things for your consideration: read a novel or philosophy book by Ayn Rand; learn the laws of logic; translate what you have merely sensed about the nature of existence into an explicit philosophy of life. Why you might even study neuroanatomy and physiology’yes, neuroanatomy and physiology (I’m always amazed at how much human beings take for granted their sacred existence)’or take up a trade, enroll in a class, go to the movies, take walks in the park. You might even learn about the true nature of romantic love. In short, you might seek to actualize your human stature.’ He scratched his head and said halfheartedly, “Yeah, I suppose I could find something to do.”
We’re All the Same Physiologically
Pick up any textbook on exercise physiology and nutritional science and you’ll be reading about what goes on inside yourself, and your neighbor, and your training partner and everyone. So, while we each possess the unique stamp of an unrepeatable, irreplaceable personality, we’re not all that different inside. We all need protein, we all require sleep, we all burn carbohydrates at the rate of four calories per gram, we all need intense exercise to stimulate growth, we all possess a limited recovery ability, and, as bodybuilders know, muscle growth beyond normal levels is never fast enough.
Doing Nothing to Get Stronger
I’ve come to understand more clearly that if you are imposing a sufficiently intense training stress on your musculature and you are neither training too long nor too frequently, then you should be witnessing progress’not on a haphazard, occasional basis but at every single workout. Now here comes the part that’s difficult for most people: The general theory advanced by Arthur Jones more than 20 years ago “Train hard, train brief and infrequently” was valid, [but] I’m seeing a wide range of variation among individuals in terms of recovery ability and the ability to tolerate intense exercise. What a person has to work with is the application [of intensity, duration and frequency]. Everybody needs intense contractions to stimulate growth. What the individual has to work on is just how much volume and frequency he can tolerate. [Haven’t you] always noticed that even after a two-to-three-week layoff you come back and you’re stronger? I have noted with all of my clients’I’ve had clients who were either forced to take layoffs or just took layoffs for whatever reason’that almost all of them expressed the anxiety, “Jeez, I’m afraid I’m going to lose something.” I’ve had people take up to three weeks off, and in almost every single case they came back stronger. I asked Dorian Yates the same thing the other week, and he said, “You know, Mike, that’s true.” This is not just a minor point to be glossed over. I’m beginning to suspect this thing with frequency has a hell of a lot to do with it.
The Power of High-Intensity Training
You’ve got to be real careful with this heavy high-intensity stuff. I may have mentioned it to you before, but what I’m beginning to see a lot more clearly is just how demanding it is. Arthur Jones said some years ago that for every slight increase in intensity there has to be a disproportionate decrease in volume’and he was not joking. This high-intensity stuff places a demand on the body of an order that is phenomenal. If you were to draw a horizontal line from left to right across a piece of paper, with that line representing zero effort, and graph your daily effort output from that line, i.e., you get up in the morning, you take a shower, you scrub yourself down, you dry yourself, you walk to the car, you climb some steps to get into a building, you push a pencil, etc.–the graph representing that kind of effort output would barely leave the flat line; it would be a little squiggly sine wave. Then you go into the gym, and you perform a heavy set of partial bench presses, Nautilus laterals or whatever, and all of a sudden that little squiggly line becomes a straight vertical line, going off the paper, out the door, down the street and around the block. [That illustrates] how much more biochemical resources are used up. See how dramatic that is?
Arm Training High-Intensity Style
For biceps I usually perform two to four sets, and for triceps usually two to four sets also. Then, of course, I continue beyond that with forced reps and negative reps Heavy Duty style. Nothing elaborate or exotic, just very, very hard work. And the harder the work you do, the less work you are capable of doing. It’s not even a debatable point: You can train hard or you can train long, but you can’t do both’and it just so happens that it takes hard training to build big muscles.
A Simple Formula
If you want to build big muscles, don’t overtrain. Train hard, get adequate rest, eat a well-balanced diet, don’t abuse yourself too much’and you’ll grow.
Training (Not Nutrition) Is the Key
It is a fact that most bodybuilders are grossly overnourished, just as they are overtrained! Most bodybuilders eat way more than they need to sustain physical mass and contribute to the negligible amount of growth they can experience in any given day. They overnourish themselves, and they still don’t grow! That fact demonstrates that nutrition is not the problem. The problem is in a lack of training knowledge.
Training More Is Not the Answer
While it is true that many top bodybuilders train six days a week for up to several hours a day, it does not necessarily follow that such methods were directly responsible for their development. These men are genetic freaks who would grow on any system. Had they trained for shorter periods, using high-intensity methods, many of them could have developed further or might have reached their current levels much sooner.
Train Less, Gain More
Always remember this point: If you are not making progress, it’s rarely because you are doing too little work, your problem is you’re doing too much overall work! If you’re not making the kind of progress you would like, then you should concentrate your efforts into a smaller amount of overall work and train more intensely! Very rarely have I seen bodybuilders train for too short a period of time. They usually make the mistake of thinking that longer training time means more productive training time, which is a fallacy.
Bodybuilding and Competitive Bodybuilding
I will die a bodybuilder; I’m just not competitive anymore. And I will never be competitive again because I cannot accept the tacit code that top bodybuilders have unconsciously adopted: No matter what happens, positive or negative, the code demands unquestioned acceptance and validation of the sport. Because I love the sport, I believe that only through periodic, rigorous self-examination will it survive and flourish. We cannot abstain from making moral judgments because such abstention encourages evil and discourages good.
Keep Your Bodybuilding in Perspective
It would be nice if we could make steady, uninterrupted progress until we reached the limits of our genetic potential. To do so, however, would require such continuous sacrifice in other areas of our lives that it might not be worth it. A Mr. America physique is great, but without the added meaning other activities such as sport, family and love would provide, a muscular physique would be worthless.
Editor’s note: Mike Mentzer’s HIT video is available from Home Gym Warehouse. To order, call 1-800-447-0008, visit www.home-gym.com or see the ad below. IM