Mike Mentzer's Greatest Contribution
Brett N. Steenbarger, Ph.D.
Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY
It may seem strange that I am writing a tribute article regarding Mike Mentzer. I'm a psychologist who works primarily with professional traders in the financial markets, not a bodybuilder. And yet, when I wrote my first book on psychology and trading, Mike was one of the authors I chose to quote. His ideas inform my work with traders to this day.
How can this be?
Very simply, Mike's contribution was not limited to bodybuilding. He was an expert on methods for stimulating growth. Period. Muscle growth is one facet of human performance and development, but Mike stimulated other growth as well. He recognized that, in seeking ever higher levels of performance, we are ultimately stimulating the growth of competence and confidence. Most important of all, we are stimulating the development of will.
I recently completed a book in which I reviewed every piece of research I could find on the topic of human performance. I examined research with professional athletes, performing artists, surgeons, chess players, and traders. My studies took me from NASCAR racetracks and the development of world-class pit crews to the pits of the major world futures exchanges. One of the things I learned was something called the "Ten Year Rule". In a nutshell, the rule states that it takes at least ten years of sustained practice and effort to develop expertise and elite performance in any domain.
My research discovered that how this practice was structured was every bit as important as the duration of the practice. In other words, if practice did not offer the right amount of challenge -- not too easy to become boring, not too difficult to become frustrating -- and the right amount of feedback to permit learning and development, ten years of practice would simply amount to one year repeated ten times. It's not that "practice makes perfect" - rather, "perfect practice makes perfect".
Mike knew all of this before I had ever begun my research. His principles of high-intensity training are principles that govern all growth and development -- not just those of the body. The greats in any field of endeavor have tested themselves again and again to the point of failure, growing in the process. They progressively tackle challenges just past their comfort levels and thus build competence, confidence, and will.
Mike will always be remembered as a world-class bodybuilder and athlete. Let us not forget, however -- at this fifth anniversary of his passing -- that he was also a great teacher and psychologist. He understood that the gym is a metaphor for life itself: a breeding ground for making us the best we can possibly be.
Brett N. Steenbarger, Ph.D.
[Ed. If you would like to read a previously posted testimonial from Dr. Steenbarger, which he sent to Mike Mentzer in year 2000, visit the Testimonial Quote Archives and read High-Intensity for the Mind -- Posted 4/29/00]
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