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One of history's most influential bodybuilding workouts is Mike Mentzer's workout routine. Mentzer, winner of the 1979 Mr. Olympia Heavyweight Division (the overall title went to Frank Zane), retired from bodybuilding to focus on helping others achieve their goals in bodybuilding. A man who trained with legends like Arnold Schwarzenegger, he developed a high-intensity training program known as Mike Mentzer's Heavy Duty training system.
Mentzer developed this program through years of training and exploring different types of training in hopes of creating the perfect workout routine. He found a way to challenge the body beyond failure with unique training methods like negative reps and pre-exhaust supersets. In this article, we will teach you the Mike Mentzer workout routine and explore his training philosophies that have helped countless people add muscle mass.
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Mentzer utilized various splits throughout his career, using training clients as guinea pigs to test which workout routine was best for muscle gains. Nowadays, most weight training separates muscle groups using a four- or five-day split. Below is a 5-day split workout based on Mike Mentzer's workout routine.
*The overhead press behind the neck can cause unnecessary stress and injury to the rotator cuff, neck, shoulders, and joints, especially when training heavy. Feel free to do normal overhead presses, especially if you have a severe shoulder injury.
Mike Mentzer's Heavy Duty workout routine was originally designed as a two-day split, meant to be performed twice a week. Rather than divide the workouts by upper body or lower, Mentzer went with more of a push-pull type strategy. Every exercise is performed with six to eight reps.
Mike Mentzer (1951-2001) was a professional bodybuilder that is as known for his unique training philosophy and contributions to fitness as he is for competing. Mike started bodybuilding at age 11 and spent years competing in the bodybuilding scene, gaining national attention when he won the 1976 Mr. America contest. After Mike turned pro in 1979, he went on to win the heavyweight division of Mr. Olympia (over 200 lbs) but lost the overall to Frank Zane.
The Mr. Olympia contest removed weight divisions the following year in 1980, however Mentzer tied for fourth place, with Arnold Schwarzenegger winning in a controversial fashion. Several competitors, including Mentzer and 3-time defending champion Frank Zane, boycotted the 1981 Mr. Olympia in outrage over the decision to crown a noticeably smaller Arnold. Mentzer took it to another level and retired entirely from bodybuilding following the 1980 Olympia, citing the contest was rigged for Arnold to win.
Mike Mentzer Bodybuilding Notable Finishes:
After his retirement in 1980, Mentzer shifted his focus to developing a workout routine to maximize muscle growth. Mike modeled his ideas based on concepts created by Arthur Jones, the inventor of Nautilus exercise machines. Mike took Arthur Jones' high-intensity training (HIT) concept and perfected his unique twist through trial and error. He developed and published various workout programs, including his Heavy Duty training system.
He gained national attention in the early 1990s when he introduced his high-intensity training to Dorian Yates, who then went on to win six straight Mr. Olympia's from 1992 to 1997. Mentzer sadly passed away at age 49 in 2001 from cardiovascular disease. He was posthumously inducted into the IFBB Hall Of Fame in 2002. His presence and contribution to bodybuilding will live forever through his revolutionary Heavy Duty workout program.
Like all bodybuilders, Mentzer believed in altering his workout program and used several different splits. However, many of Mike's theories and training methods go against conventional wisdom. The Mike Mentzer Heavy Duty training routine is quite different from what you see in your local gym. Mentzer's heavy duty program was originally created as a two-day split, divided into a Workout A and Workout B. The workouts are meant to be high-intensity and train to failure, so you need 48 hours of rest between workouts to recover fully. It's essentially a push-pull split, except he adds legs to the push day and shoulders to the pull day.
Mentzer's Heavy Duty Two-Day Split: (routine above)
Nearly every professional bodybuilder experimented with Mentzer's heavy duty program in the 1980s and 1990s, although they went back to something more conventional. Mike adjusted this routine to a three-day split in "High-Intensity Training The Mike Mentzer Way," his final book before passing away.
Mentzer's Three-Day Split:
Over the years, Mentzer continued to expand his Heavy Duty workout routine into various splits to accommodate every lifter. A sample four-day split would look like the following:
Mentzer's Four-Day Split:
Mike Mentzer's training philosophy was a simple approach where "less is more" for building mass, so the goal is short, intense workouts that take the muscles to failure. The concept of HIT is to perform an exercise in one set to failure in the 20 rep range. The idea is to build size and strength by focusing on intensity rather than volume. Both Jones and Mentzer believed that high-intensity training that emphasizes quality over quantity is best for muscle growth because it minimizes muscle damage, allowing you to lift heavier.
Mentzer took Jones' HIT approach and tweaked it so you perform 6-8 reps using heavy weights to failure. The work is far from over once you reach this failure point after 6-8 reps. Mentzer developed his program based on the concept of training beyond failure, which he called Mike Mentzer's Heavy Duty system. The four main concepts are forced reps, negative reps, rest-pause, and pre-exhaustion supersets.
Mike developed these concepts in training sessions with his brother Ray Mentzer, another successful professional bodybuilder. Mike encourages people to have a training partner because they can assist with training past failure and motivate you to train harder.
Mike Mentzer's workout routine followed a low-volume approach considering the high intensity level. Mike likes to work in the 6-8 rep range to failure. Each workout should have roughly 3-6 working sets per body part, with 1-2 light warm-up sets at no more than 75% of the working set weight. Keeping a low-volume approach, combined with a proper recovery, is essential to prevent burnout. There is a place for high-volume training, but Mike believed this training style was best for constant muscle growth.
Since the workouts are high-intensity and low volume, having perfect form is essential. It's more important to focus on having a full range-of-motion with a slow, controlled form rather than adding more weight. Mentzer advocated for lifters to spend two to four seconds on each portion of the lift to really emphasize strain on the muscle fibers. Form is even more important when training to failure and using techniques like negative reps because you are at a higher risk of injury.
A big part of the Heavy Duty training program focuses on progression. Progression is needed to stimulate muscle growth, which Mike believed can be done in three ways. The three ways that Mentzer used for progression were:
Mentzer advocated for keeping a workout journal to track progress and ensure you are making gains.
Mike Mentzer stressed that a workout routine is not enough to increase muscle mass; you need to follow a strict diet and maximize recovery. Mike's diet strategy is fairly different from the typical bodybuilding routine. Rather than focusing on eating as much protein as possible, Mike believed that more carbohydrates are the key to maximum muscle growth.
The total macronutrient breakdown should be roughly 60% carbs, 25% protein, and 15% fats. Mentzer is one of the only bodybuilders advocating such low protein, but it clearly worked for him. Feel free to increase your protein, depending on your specific goals.
While Mike primarily focuses his writing on lifting techniques and workout routines, he gives insight into his diet in his book "Heavy Duty Nutrition." Mike wasn't super strict about his diet in the sense of what he ate, but he believed in a balanced diet and making sure you reach your calorie goal. Mentzer is one of the first bodybuilders to emphasize calorie count and macros, showing he was ahead of his time.¹
In his book, he divided food with nutritional value into four categories.
1. Cereal and Grains:
Foods include baked goods, cereals, breads, and flour products. This group contains a good source of carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, and minerals. It represents a cheap but valuable way to hit your macros, especially for carbs. Mike recommends four servings daily from this group. His breakfast is primarily from this group, usually having bran muffins and whole wheat toast.
2. Fruits and Vegetables:
Mentzer recommends four servings a day from this group, which includes any fruits or vegetables, as well as potatoes. This group is key for getting vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates.
3. High-Protein Group
Foods include meat, poultry, eggs, fish, and protein-containing vegetables such as beans, nuts, and peas. This group is vital for muscle growth, providing the body with B vitamins, iron, other nutrients, and protein. Mike recommends at least two servings a day from here, which is far less than the average bodybuilding diet.
4. Milk and Milk Products
Milk, cheese, and other milk products provide a great source of protein, vitamin B2, and calcium. Be careful not to have more than two servings a day, as milk contains saturated fats and excess calories.
Some of his favorite foods that belong to these categories include:
Mike was a believer in following a balanced diet year round and avoiding drastic weight changes. He believed that too many professional bodybuilders would pack on size too fast, which causes fat accumulation. If you follow a steady training method, you won't have to cut so drastically.
Along these same "slow and steady" principles, Mentzer believes people can add 10 pounds of muscle in a year by following his program. In the book, Mike states that one pound of human muscle tissue contains 600 calories, while one pound of fat has 3500 calories. So, to gain ten pounds of muscle in one year, that means you need an excess of 6,000 total calories.
That translates to an extra 16 calories a day. Since only about a quarter of muscle tissue is protein, we only need a quarter of the extra calories from protein, which would be four calories (4/16). One gram of protein is four calories, so in theory, you only need to eat one extra gram of protein a day above your maintenance level to gain 10 pounds in one year.
Tissue Type Caloric Content
Considering Mentzer passed away in 2001 and stopped competing in 1980, the use of supplements wasn't as prevalent as it is today. The only supplement Mike openly approved of was a multivitamin and mineral combo.
He believed that food was the best and most important way to get your nutritional needs, but supplements can be a nice complement. It's also important to note that anabolic steroids were far more accepted in the sport during Mike's prime, and he openly discussed steroid use on multiple occasions.
There is a large divide across internet forums when it comes to the Mike Mentzer Heavy Duty training method and his philosophies. Many people refer to Mike as crazy due to his amphetamine drug abuse and deteriorating mental health in the later parts of his bodybuilding career. Some of his theories, such as a lower-protein diet, go against conventional wisdom that weight lifters rely on.
In the subreddit "Mike Mentzers' Beyond Failure' Training," users debate if the program is too intense for someone natural (not on steroids). Many users defended and supported the training method, with one user stating, "What I tell everyone who is skeptical of HIT is try it, once you try it you'll see how well it works. It's also important to note that he didn't advocate going beyond failure except for really advanced lifters."²
User LordChaoticX also shared a positive review, praising Mentzer, "heavy Duty has put 30 pounds on me in the past two months with proper diet and execution."³ Users agree that following the diet and rest protocols is essential to recover when following a high intensity training routine fully.
Another common trend is that people short on time tend to like Mike Mentzer's workout because it doesn't require hours in the gym. Between work and family life, it can be difficult to get to the gym more than three days a week, so Mentzer's splits are ideal. User formerfattie90 posted, "with HIT, you spend minimal time at the gym. So if you can only go to the gym 2-3 times a week, HIT is a more optimal way to train."⁴ This shows how a wide range of people can benefit from trying Mike Mentzer's training routine.
The general consensus is that Mentzer had effective training programs and significantly contributed to bodybuilding with his concepts, such as negative reps, but it's best to combine his ideas with modern knowledge, such as increased protein consumption.
Although Mike Mentzer passed away in 2001, his presence in the bodybuilding world is still felt today. The Mike Mentzer training philosophy follows an old-school approach, a high-intensity workout routine that emphasizes form and pushing the body beyond its limits. Mike believed that a workout session shouldn't take hours, so he found a way to train all muscle groups in just two workouts.
The most important aspects of Mike Mentzer workout's are lifting heavy weights with perfect form and training the body past failure. The primary complaint with the Mike Mentzer workout routine is that it's too intense, which is why rest and nutrition are so valuable. Another flawed concept that Mentzer advocated was that a person's protein requirement depends strictly on body weight, not physical activity. People tend to agree that the best way to utilize the Mike Mentzer workout routine is to adjust your diet, specifically adding more protein.
If you were fortunate enough to watch Mike Mentzer train, you would have seen an intensity that many professional bodybuilders lack today. Mentzer trained with some of the biggest legends in bodybuilding, from Schwarzengger to Zane, and his influence reached thousands more, including Dorian Yates. You can perform the Mike Mentzer workout in various splits, from two-day up to five-day, so there is an option for everyone. If you have trouble building muscle mass with your current routine, we encourage you to try a Mike Mentzer training session.
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