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Review of Mike Mentzer’s High Intensity Training
Background: Arnold Schwarzenegger burst onto the bodybuilding scene in the early 1970s. And he brought the idea of ”volume training” to lime. After all… if that’s what made Arnold a champion, then surely pumping iron 3 hours a day would be the right thing to do. Right? Right?
Well… maybe not.
While many guys have tried to tackle the Herculean volume training regimen that Arnold developed, it just doesn’t work for 99.9% of trainers.
Reason? The volume of training that Arnold recommended was too much for the average joe.
Enter Mike Mentzer.
Mike Mentzer made a name for himself by saying the opposite of what everyone else in bodybuilding was saying.
While all the muscle guys were telling people to work out six days a week…Mentzer talked about working out once every 14 days.
When professionals advise people to hit the muscle from all different angles and do multiple exercises for each body part, Mentzer said one exercise per body part is enough.
When most bodybuilders recommended 15-20 sets per body part, Mentzer recommended only one set per exercise.
Argument: While most bodybuilders believe that you had to include a variety of exercises and a high volume of sets to sufficiently train the muscle and activate the growth mechanism, Mentzer begs to differ.
Mentzer reasoned that if you do one set… and you do that set until your muscles can no longer move the weight… wouldn’t that be enough to activate the growth mechanism?
Experiment: Mentzer’s approach intrigued me and I thought the one-set to failure idea made sense. So in 1999 I hired Mike Mentzer for a series of telephone consultations.
It wasn’t much, but I remember Mike specifically asking me about a brand new website that had just launched at the time. It seems the method of getting attention was to go after Mike and try to disprove not only his theories but everything else about him.
Mike started me with only two workouts a week. He also told me that the actual amount of protein, carbs and fat I was taking in daily was not important. He said that a balanced diet is fine and that I should eat often, but not obsess over the nutritional aspect.
After a month I gained weight, but the increase in strength was modest at best. Mike reduced my training sessions to one session every seven days. He eventually cut it all down to once every nine days, but I still never gained much strength or made much progress in the gym.
Result: This training program resulted in failure. I have gained very little strength and my overall fitness level has actually deteriorated from so much inactivity.
The Good: I personally believe that Mike Mentzer has greatly advanced the sport of bodybuilding by questioning whether or not it is really necessary to do more than one set to failure.
This principle… and the logic of this principle… still drives much of what I do in my training programs today.
The Bad: Unfortunately, I think Mike’s version of High Intensity Training had some serious flaws.
First of all, Mike’s thinking about nutrition was seriously flawed. You simply cannot gain massive amounts of muscle without proper protein intake.
Second, Mike only had one solution for each problem. You know that saying when all you have is a hammer… the whole world looks like a nail?
Well, Mike took it to heart. For example, if progress stalled, the solution he suggested was always to train less or take more time off.
Sometimes he took it to extremes. For example, I told him that my calves were one of my biggest weaknesses and asked him what we could do about it. His solution? Stop training your calves all together and see if they grow from the indirect work of squats and other leg training.
Needless to say… this approach didn’t work. Even though I have wished many times that my muscles would grow simply by doing nothing… it just doesn’t happen.
Another flaw in the program is the assumption that each person is capable of generating the intensity needed to trigger muscle growth in a single set.
For example, it’s relatively easy to fry your biceps with one set of bicep curls. But when was the last time you saw someone actually perform one set of squats with a heavy barbell to COMPLETE muscular failure? Or go to full muscle failure with 1400 lbs on the leg press machine? Honestly, it just doesn’t happen because it’s incredibly draining on the body and mind.
Overall: If you’ve been volume training for years and feel burned out, you might find Mike Mentzer’s HIT a nice change of pace. You will likely experience some new muscle and strength gains during the first few weeks.
But if you don’t address deficiencies in nutrition and program intensity, your progress will eventually stall.
White Dude Average Final Rating for Mike Mentzer’s High Intensity Workout: 6/10.
Not the worst workout program, but far from effective for most average guys.
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