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Without a doubt, no other man in bodybuilding has ever created such a stir as Mike Mentzer. His crusade against illogical traditionalist methods, and the dogma instilled within the fitness industry, has made him the quintessential spokesman for meaningful exercise.
Brian: You have often stated that exercise is a science, and, as such, there can be only one valid method, or theory, to guide one′s efforts in achieving optimal increases in strength and size. Please explain.
Mike: First of all, one must understand what is meant by theory. A theory is a set of abstract principles which claims to be a correct description of some aspect of reality and/or a guide for successful human action. And, now, the main point: Since there is only one reality, there is and can be ONLY one correct description of any aspect of it, including bodybuilding exercise; and it just so happens to be the theory of Heavy Duty, high-intensity training.
What is most curious here, Brian, is that, the theory of high-intensity training is the only theory of bodybuilding exercise that exists qua theory, i.e., as the term theory is actually defined. Those who advocate the blind, non-theoretical, volume approach to training are not even dimly aware of any of the requirements of a philosophic-scientific approach to productive bodybuilding exercise. If one were to reflect for a moment — none of the training articles in their magazines contain any logic. Such articles consist of nothing more than a series of arbitrary, biblical-like injunctions akin to: "Thou shalt train six days a week. And thou shalt perform four sets of this exercise and five sets of that one." Why? Blank Out! No reason, no logic. Essentially, do it because I tell you to.
Even a brief, logical analysis reveals that the volume approach is antithetical to a rational, scientific approach, since it is based on the arbitrary and the traditional. Why do they advocate that bodybuilders train six days a week? Because in our culture it is traditional to work six days and take the seventh day – (the Sabbath) – off for rest and religious observance. Very scientific! And why should bodybuilders do four set of every exercise? This one is so vague it almost defies comprehension. It seems to flow from the notion that ′more is better′; and since they believe that one set can′t be enough, why not do four, instead? Indeed, why not? To advocate the number four here is essentially baseless; therefore, an arbitrary assertion. And, as I′ve stated in numerous of my articles, there is no room in science for the arbitrary or the traditional.
There is no evidence that the volume of exercise is the essential ingredient, the stimulus responsible for triggering the growth mechanism into motion. In fact, all evidence points to the fact that the issue of volume in high-intensity, anaerobic bodybuilding science is a decidedly negative factor. (I ask the reader to reflect on his own experience as he considers the next point.) Whether one performs one set or 100 sets, the issue of volume is a negative; insofar that one performs any sets at all, even one, such as a negative influence for the more sets that one performs the greater the inroad into his limited reserve of physical resources, or recovery ability. Now, to understand inroad, think of it as the term clearly suggest — an "in" into the road, or – a hole being dug into your body′s limited resources. In other words, you perform one set you dig a small hole, a second set and the hole gets deeper, a third set and the hole becomes even deeper, a fourth set deeper still, and so on. That is a ′negative′ phenomenon, for the deeper that hole gets the more of your body′s resources have to be used – or wasted! – afterward merely in the attempt to fill the hole, which is what recovery is, leaving much less left over, or available, for building the mountain on top, i.e., the muscle. Of course, one must perform at least one set to have a workout. Ideally, one would stimulate growth with zero sets; that way none of the body′s resources would be wasted on recovery; they′d all be utilized for growth production; and the individual would grow so fast it would be incredible. But, I must say, at this point in time, I haven′t yet figured out how to stimulate growth with zero sets.
With low-intensity, aerobic exercise the issue of volume is a ′positive′ of sorts as the goal with aerobic activity is to increase the volume of work that one is able to perform. With high-intensity, anaerobic exercise, the purpose of the activity is merely to stimulate growth, not improve endurance. So, the purpose of a bodybuilder is not to go into the gym to discover how many sets he can do or how long he can endure. Bodybuilding is not aerobic. A bodybuilding workout is not an endurance contest! The purpose of a bodybuilder is to intelligently do what nature requires merely to activate the growth mechanism; then get the hell out of the gym, go home, rest and GROW!
Before I conclude on this issue, I will state unequivocally that the growth stimulus is related to – not volume, but – the intensity of effort. The closer that the trainee gets to 100 percent intensity of effort, where he is exerting himself maximally and barely completes the rep, the greater the likelihood that he will stimulate growth.
Brian: Considering the popularity and effectiveness of high-intensity training, why do you suppose so many other leaders in the fitness industry still don′t embrace or endorse it?
Mike: That is because they possess a different ′sense of life′ than you or I, Brian; and, therefore, they have a different explicit philosophy. A person′s sense of life is his subconscious, emotionally integrated view of existence; it represents his basic, early value integrations; and such is what determines his adult – (i.e., conscious, explicit) philosophy of life. Very few of these individuals ever learned early on to properly value truth, knowledge, science, ethics and justice. As a result they′ve wrecked the functioning of their cognitive mechanism; which means, simply, they can′t properly identify or evaluate the facts of reality, i.e., they can′t think. These individuals are primarily motivated by the irrational desire to project and protect an image of incontestable superiority and, even, god-like omniscient infallibility; which serve, of course, only to make them appear ridiculously pathetic. They just can′t admit that after all the years of endorsing the non-theoretical, volume approach that maybe, just maybe, they made a mistake. They′ve never granted any slightest plausibility to the theory of high-intensity training, and, instead, continue to evade the issue involved and/or resort to unwarranted impeachment of the moral characters of those who advocate high-intensity. For instance, high-intensity can′t be valid because "Arthur Jones is insane" or "Mike Mentzer is an alcoholic," or whatever.
Brian: There are those who have tried high-intensity, and have claimed that it did not make any noticeable difference. What do you suspect could be the problem, and what recommendations do you suggest?
Mike: Because of the universality of the theory of high-intensity, it is not difficult at all to uncover the cause(s) of failure to make meaningful progress. All one has to do is check the individual with regard to his application of the theoretical fundamentals. First of all is the principle of intensity. Is he training to a point of momentary muscular failure? Most bodybuilders don′t have difficulty here, although I have had a number of phone clients over the years visit me in Los Angeles for hands-on supervision who I found were not training to failure, either because they misunderstood the concept and/or because they were afraid to train at that level of intensity. Usually, after I explained that the last rep of a set is the safest rep, safer than the first so long as they retain use of proper form throughout the set, their fear vanishes.
If a given individual is carrying his sets to failure and he′s not making progress, then you check him on the next two fundamentals, namely, volume and frequency of exercise. More often than not, those failing to realize satisfactory progress with high-intensity training are performing too much exercise both in the way of volume and frequency. In such cases, the first thing I do is recommend a two week layoff so that their bodies have the opportunity to overcome the exercise inroad into its recovery ability, then regulate their volume and frequency downward until progress is forthcoming. How much downward regulation is necessary or possible? I have one client, possibly my best gaining client ever – he′s gained 135 pounds of almost all muscle in four years!
Brian: Periodization (altering work loads and training styles) is a popular item with some bodybuilders and strength athletes. What are your thoughts on this European method of training?
Mike: It is the intellectual product of severely self-arrested mentalities, minds who understand little or nothing of the theoretical principles of exercise science; and some of these are exercise scientists! Advocates of periodization appear to know nothing of the training stress (high-intensity) required to stimulate growth. Nor are they aware of the issue of recovery ability; which is an absolute requirement for understanding why the volume and frequency of exercise must be cautiously regulated, similar to why the administering of medicines must be regulated.
Whatever ideas make up periodization or any other training approach are not properly validated, non-contradictory, abstract principles but are, instead, a wanton assemblage of inconsistent, contradictory and disconnected "notions." My advice to the reader is steer clear of periodization training unless, of course, you enjoy chronic, mind-numbing fatigue, gut-searing frustration, wasting time and utter lack of progress. Why do I say all this? Because the morons posing as periodization experts are advising that you train with up to 60 sets per workout virtually every day! But given that someone was dumb enough to devise such a scheme, there will be those who don′t mind being beasts of burden and will try it. Be my guest. Train like that, waste time, burn yourself out so you′re weaker and more fatigued than an AIDS patient.
Mike Mentzer Books