Background: In the early ’70s, Arnold Schwarzenegger burst onto the bodybuilding scene. And he brought up the idea of ”volume training.” After all … if it made Arnold a champion, then surely pumping iron for 3 hours a day was the way to go. Right? Right?
Well … maybe not.
While many men tried tackling the Herculean volume training regimen that Arnold developed … it didn’t work for 99.9% of trainers.
The reason? The volume of training Arnold recommended was too much for the average young man.
Enter Mike Mentzer.
Mike Mentzer made a name for himself by saying the opposite of what everyone else in bodybuilding said.
While all the muscle freaks were telling people to exercise six days a week … Mentzer talked about exercising once every 14 days.
When professionals advised people to hit the muscle from all different angles and perform multiple exercises for each part of the body, Mentzer said that one exercise per part of the body was sufficient.
When most bodybuilders recommended 15-20 sets per body part, Mentzer recommended only one set per exercise.
The argument: While most bodybuilders believe that it was necessary to include a variety of exercises and a large volume of sets to properly work the muscle and activate the growth mechanism, Mentzer differed.
Mentzer reasoned that if you go through one set … and do that set until your muscles can’t move the weight anymore … wouldn’t that be enough to activate the growth mechanism?
The Experiment: I was intrigued by Mentzer’s approach and thought the idea of a failed series made sense. So in 1999 I hired Mike Mentzer for a series of phone consultations.
There wasn’t much talk, but I remember Mike specifically asking me about a new website that had just been launched at the time. It seems that the method of getting attention was to go after Mike and try to criticize not only his theories, but everything else about him as well.
Mike started me with only two workouts per week. He also told me that the actual amount of protein, carbohydrate, and fat that I was eating per day was not important. He said that a balanced diet was fine and that I should eat frequently but not obsess over nutrition.
After a month, I had gained weight, but my strength gains were moderate at best. Mike reduced my training workout to one workout every seven days. In the end, he cut all of this down to once every nine days, but I never gained much strength or made much progress in the gym.
The result: the result of this training program was a failure. I gained very little strength and my overall level of conditioning actually got worse from so much inactivity.
The Good: I personally think Mike Mentzer made a lot of progress in the sport of bodybuilding by questioning whether or not it is really necessary to do more than one set to fail.
This principle … and the logic behind this principle … still guides much of what I do today in my training programs.
The Bad: Unfortunately, I think Mike’s version of high intensity training had some serious flaws.
First, Mike’s thinking about nutrition was seriously flawed. Without adequate protein intake, you simply cannot gain large amounts of muscle.
Second, Mike only had one solution to every problem. You know the saying, when all you have is a hammer … everyone looks like a nail?
Well, Mike took it seriously. For example, if progress stagnated, his proposed solution was always to train less or take more time off.
At times, he took this to extremes. For example, I told him that my calves were one of my biggest weak points and asked what we could do about it. Your solution? Stop training your calves altogether and see if they grow from the indirect work of squats and other leg workouts.
Needless to say, this approach didn’t work. Although many times I have wished my muscles would grow simply by doing nothing … it just doesn’t happen.
Another flaw of the program is assuming that each person is capable of generating the kind of intensity necessary to trigger muscle growth in a single set.
For example, it’s relatively easy to fry your biceps with a series of bicep curls. But when was the last time you saw someone actually perform a series of heavy bar squats to COMPLETE muscle failure? Or go to complete muscle failure with 1400 pounds on the leg press machine? Frankly, it just doesn’t happen because it’s incredibly taxing on both the body and the mind.
Overall: If you’ve been training volume for years and you’re feeling frazzled, Mike Mentzer’s HIT might be a nice change of pace. You will probably experience new muscle and strength gains in the first few weeks.
But unless you address the nutritional and intensity flaws of the program, your progress will eventually stagnate.
White Dude’s average final score for Mike Mentzer’s high intensity workout: 6/10.
It’s not the worst training program, but it’s far from effective for most average guys.