Heavy Duty by Mike Mentzer...is it the Holy Grail?

UPDATE : thanks for all the feedback on Mentzer's ideas, and on HIT in general. Greatly appreciated.

We'll be discussing these in much more detail in this week's Gymchat, over on Google+. See you there.

Anyone who has been in gyms long enough has come across Mike Mentzer's system of heavy duty training at some point. Mike Mentzer, Mr. America, Mr Universe (with perfect score) was an extremely talented, massive and yes, intelligent bodybuilder.
During his early career, he followed the school of Schwarzenegger and Weider, which was a high volume approach. This way of training brought him an immense amount of mass and density, as seen in the photo. After the infamous 1980 Mr. Olympia, Mike retired from competing and started researching training and nutrition.

In the late 70s /early 80s it wasn't uncommon to train 4 hours a day and consume 500 grams of protein a day (yes, I did follow this routine when I was 17...hey, I lived in rural Germany and there was no internet, so please forgive me). Unsatisfied with the gains of the average non-steroid assisted trainee, he became convinced that the majority of people were over trained and drastically shortened his and his clients' workouts. In conjunction with Arthur Jones, he created his system of High Intensity Training or HIT. Basically, the trainee trained infrequently, 3-4 times every 2 weeks and did only one set beyond failure. He also added drop sets, negatives, partials etc.

There are many variations of heavy duty training. Dorian Yates, who is said to have been a heavy duty trainee, used in fact a much higher volume than Mike Mentzer ever prescribed.

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Mike Gillette's 'Rings of Power' explains the various ways to use - progressively - this incredible tool. With clear emphases on both strength and rehabilitation, it's an ideal starting point for many. Particularly the 'over 40' (of which I'm a proud member) crowd. For a glimpse into the world of 'Rings of Power', a brief quote from the review page :
If you care about getting strong, staying strong, and remaining injury free, Rings of Power is essential reading. I incorporated rings into my own training program a couple of years ago and am glad I did. At 45 years old, I am able to continue my strength pursuits unhindered by the joint and tendon injuries that plague many in the over-40 athletic community. - Dr Chris Hardy
Mike Gillette's 'Rings of Power'. Perfect.
NB : To see the other training-related books we recommend, swing by the 'Recommended Reading' page. And for a complete list, head on over to Goodreads.

Mike Mentzer became the somewhat anti-Arnold, anti-volume guy and spent 20 years of his life educating people about his style of training. He wrote several books on it (I highly recommend "Heavy Duty"), made training videos etc. In fact, he died in the midst of a DVD shoot in 2001 due to heart failure.

While this philosophy looks great in theory, there are several problems with it. First off, it is impossible to always train with maximum intensity. Mike is said to have used amphetamines to keep his training intensity high. The problem with that approach is that it will overload the CNS and lead to burn out. Remember, muscles recover quicker than the nervous system.

Secondly, the average person does not have sufficient neuro-muscular efficiency to reach all muscle fibers in one set. In fact, we only use about 10% of all available fibers per set. Hence, 2 or more sets are needed, the science is pretty clear about it. Thirdly, constantly training at maximum intensity makes you very injury prone; just ask Dorian Yates.

Does this mean that Mentzer was wrong? Not at all. He was the the first to point out that the majority of athletes do not sufficiently recover, restricted training to 60 minutes and he gave us negative reps.

The slow, controlled negative is probably Mike's greatest gift to us, as we now learn that the sarcomere damage it causes is in large part responsible for the strength gain.

A shortened full-body heavy duty routine is also an excellent way to stay in shape when traveling or if work demands the most of your life and you can only dedicate 60 min/week to your training.

Thanks Mike!

Love a dose of strength history? Check out the other great bodybuilders in this series :

Maik Wiedenbach

Maik Wiedenbach is an Olympic athlete, personal trainer, and nutritionist. He shares his training wisdom in the 101 Fitness Myths and 30 Secrets for Bigger Arms! ebooks, and the Desk Athlete DVD. Superb.

When not in the gym, he may be found training clients over at Adler Training; and also on Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+. Swing on by.

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