THE GREAT CONDUCTOR: MIKE MENTZER
By Melinda Bassett
(Survivor and conqueror of twelve years of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome)
“In order to lead the orchestra, you must first turn your back to the crowd.”As many of you already know, Mike Mentzer discovered the first great bodybuilding truth that so many have failed to recognize. The human body needs rest - massive amounts of compensatory rest. In a “more is better” society, this concept presents a radical departure from average thinking! Although Mentzer was not the first person to conceive of this notion in the study of hypertrophy, he was the first individual to both realize the profundity of it, and care enough about this concept to disseminate it to the rest of the world. I don’t think there can be any argument on this point, and in my mind that makes him The Great Conductor of bodybuilding training. Only someone who really understands the implications of a given truth, and is thoroughly convicted of such, takes it upon themselves to promote this truth in the manner which Mentzer has. That truth is this: the more intensely a person lives their life, the more rest that person’s body is going to require. This concept has direct application to all areas of the human physiology, not only strength-training.
As we celebrate the Late Mike Mentzer’s life on this the ninth year of his passing, I want to drive this concept home even more emphatically. Hearken to the words of The Great Conductor! If mankind continues to listen to the “popular” voices of the bodybuilding world, he will end up shriveled, weak, and diseased. This was my own story, and why the life of Mike Mentzer holds such personal meaning for me. I fell in love with bodybuilding in December of 1997, and I decided that I wanted to compete. Fashionable bodybuilding magazines told me to lift weights day in and day out, so I did! Other bodybuilders at my gym told me to use dangerous stimulants to get ripped, so I did! The pages of accepted muscle mags exhorted me to eat mass amounts of protein, to the exclusion of carbohydrate and fat, so I did! Other competitors told me to perform indiscriminate amounts of cardio to lean out, so I did. Six months into all of this behavior, my body became very ill with some kind of terrible fatigue disorder. I had no idea what was happening. Medical doctors could not explain it to me. Not only was I forced to stop working out, but my whole life came to a standstill. I had to find a solution. I knew that someone, someone out there, held the answers to my dilemma.
That someone was Mike Mentzer. I heard about him in a very round-about fashion. After living with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for four years, on June 16, 2001 I decided to move to Venice, CA, the home of Gold’s Gym. I intuitively knew that someone at the “Mecca of Bodybuilding” would have the answer to why I had become ill after training so much. I got a job working at the front desk of Gold’s for one purpose – to find the individual with the answers. Even though I was barely able to work, I knew I had to find this person, because that was the only way I was going to be able to both get out of pain, and resume my bodybuilding career. Immediately I began querying everyone I came into contact with at the gym, especially the personal trainers and competitors. “Why did I become ill after training every day?” “How often can you train while still seeing gains in strength?” “How come it is that I only experience the most growth when I work out after a long break?” “Why is it that you haven’t had the same experience I’ve had?” “How can you train every day and still think you’re growing, etc?”
Imagine my surprise when everyone gave me the same answers that I had gotten from the people at my gym up in Spokane, where I had moved from. “Yes, we train every day.” “No, we don’t have any kind of rational training program.” “No, we don’t understand why our best results come from the shortest workouts, after long lay-offs.” “Yes, we use a lot of protein supplements and stimulants to get ripped, etc.” I was confused at their responses, because I knew that my condition was very much related to over-training in the gym. Was it possible that everyone else was doing things wrong, and I was the only one to realize it? I refused to believe that I was the only person who could see something wrong with this picture.
One day soon after that, while I was working at the Front Desk, I noticed the cover of Ironman Magazine. In those days, before the gym underwent renovations, the front desk faced the pro-shop, which had all the muscle magazines displayed so I could see them from where I was working. I saw an article about “high-intensity training,” written by some guy named Mike Mentzer, and it piqued my curiosity. From word one, I knew that Mike Mentzer was the reason I had moved to Venice. It turned out that Mentzer had died just a few days before I moved here, and that was the reason why all of his articles were hitting the newsstands. Had I not moved to Venice right at that particular time, and been exposed to his writings, I might never have heard of him or learned what was wrong with me. He was the person who was to heal me. His was the only validation I’d ever seen of what I already knew to be true; which was, that the best anabolic workouts always occur when your body is fully rested, and when the workout is super-short and super-intense. I had arrived! And, it was no coincidence Mentzer was well-known at Gold’s Gym, seeing as he trained clients there from time to time. My inner voice had been correct! Someone at Gold’s had had the answers!
I devoured everything Mentzer had written. Finally, a voice of reason! Shortly after this I was able to delineate a parallel between chronic illness and over-training. And once I figured that out, I was able to learn how to get better, and rest was the key! By Mentzer opening up the door and “conducting” me to the truth, I was able to discover the principles upon which perfect health resides. Mentzer helped me to ascertain that the principles of health are not divorced from bodybuilding at all, but their comprehension will in fact only help the individual to enhance their physique goals!
As bodybuilders who want to maximize our physiological potential, we must follow Mentzer’s lead and “turn our back to the crowd”. We must shout “No!” in the faces of those who would profit financially by our demise. Excess protein intake, excess weight-training, excess cardio, and intake of stimulants all cause great amounts of waste to be generated in the body for which there must be a course of elimination. This elimination can only happen through rest, which principle is the backbone of all Mentzer’s teachings. The individual has been taught by the “standard” bodybuilding world that the fore-stated practices will lead him down the path to success, when in fact, it is the path to hell.
Listen to Mike Mentzer, The Great Conductor of the “Orchestra of Correct Principles”, as he coaxes the strains of truth out of this confounding world of muscular development. We need only to think logically as Mentzer taught! We need only to use our minds in a rational manner! We need only to align ourselves with the immutable health principles that exist in our universe, which Mentzer helped to bring to light! Only then will we be able to manipulate these truths in such a way to gain the desires of our hearts - one of these desires being the full realization of our physiques.
(Survivor and conqueror of twelve years of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome)
[Ed. Thank you, Melinda, for sharing this experience in your battle against Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Because there are a vast number of people who have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome without knowing it, surely this information might help them to realize that possibly their own symptoms could be the result of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Mike continually cautioned bodybuilders about overtraining for reasons such as this one.]