A Personal Note--Posted 2/16/15
The will needs a rallying point around which it can gather its force. Bodybuilding always served as a powerful stimulant that heightened the sense of meaning in my own life. The following excerpt from my training journal before my Mr. Universe victory chronicles this enhanced sense of life associated with my contest preparation efforts: "The fact that all this tortuous preparation, privation and relentless pursuit has lifted me to a higher level of existence is inescapable. Life has assumed greater meaning in the process. While there is, at times, a certain element of tension and discomfort attending this elevated existence, I can say that while in the throes of it, I feel generally stimulated in all areas - intellectually, emotionally and spiritually."
You are the agent of your own destiny, whether you realize it or not, whether you act it or not. Only you can find the motivation to exert the quality of effort to achieve your full potential as a bodybuilder. No one else can do the work for you. Developing a personal philosophy of effort based on objective principles requires time and dedication; but the rewards are commensurate. As that philosophy takes shape you will grow increasingly directed and purposeful. But you can't just think about it, you must act on it! So, take pride in your power to achieve your values and goals. Be a champion of choice and make the high-intensity effort necessary to achieve the kind of physique you desire.
Blessed and Accursed--Some Have It, Some Don't--Posted 2/16/15
Not often - (but enough to be remarkable) - while I am explaining the role of genetics in bodybuilding at a seminar or to a phone consultation client, someone complains, refusing to accept the fact that the extent to which muscles can be developed is strictly, inherently limited. And, while most bodybuilders today are at least aware of the issue of genetics, very few know precisely how crucial a role it plays, or much about specific, phenotypic (i.e. genetic materials' physical) expressions.As a youth, walking the main streets of my small hometown of Ephrata, Pennsylvania, I would regularly see non-trained women who exhibited ordinary muscular development otherwise, yet had calves on par with those of an advanced bodybuilder. Not much later, while in Air Force boot camp, I encountered two different individuals on separate occasions with muscular physiques. Upon asking each how he trained, both responded in essentially the same fashion, "Everyone thinks (I) am a bodybuilder; but I've never worked out in my life."
Mike MentzerCalf Training: You Don't Put Out a Fire With Gasoline--Posted 7/23/14
Very often, one hears it said that the calves are "stubborn" muscles because we walk, run and climb stairs, etc.; therefore, they need more work, more sets and more days per week. Well, if overtraining is the problem, how can overtraining be the solution?
Doing more work for the calves would be something akin to trying to put a fire out with gasoline.
What the calves require is not more work, but a radical departure from the type of work they are accustomed to; namely, one set of very high-intensity calf raises to failure no more than once a week. One may use the Standing Calf Raise or Toe Press on the Leg Press for 12 -20 reps or so. Perform the Seated Calf Raise only periodically, as it doesn't work the actual calf, or gastrocnemius, but the underlying soleous muscle. (While sitting in a chair normally, place the tip of one of your index fingers into the belly of the gasctocnemius, then do a calf raise, go up on your toes, and you'll see that the gastrocnemius doesn't contract. The legs must be straight and knees locked, for the gastrocnemius to be involved.)
Mentzer's Advice to Dorian Yates - and YOU!--Posted 7/23/14
"Most bodybuilders are only dimly aware that overtraining means something negative. It is, in fact, the worst training mistake they can make. Especially you, Dorian, considering your prodigious strength and size, must be willing to regulate the volume and frequency of your training. The question you should be asking yourself is not how much exercise do I need, but how little do I require.
I understand you pride yourself on being a radical individualist. Well, then, to hell with what others have thought or done. More muscle is what you're after, not approval from the pack! Break with tradition intellectually and physically. Work with these ideas, and set a new and higher standard of bodybuilding excellence. So what if you find yourself spending only 20 minutes in the gym once every four or five days. Become the first Mr. Olympia to improve dramatically on an already heavily muscled physique. Be the first Mr. Olympia to reach the upper limit allowed by his genetic potential."
Heavy Duty I
Your Exercise Rx: A Narrow Therapeutic Window--Posted 7/23/14
In medicine, the first thing researchers must do is establish the identity of the chemical compound, or drug, that will induce the desired physical effect. Once that is accomplished, they must then discover how much (the dose) and how often (dosing frequency), i.e., the "narrow therapeutic window," to give the individual. Just the right amount will produce a positive effect; anymore, a negative effect.
That very principle from medical theory carries over and has direct application to exercise theory. In bodybuilding, the first thing was to establish the identity, or nature, of the training stress that would induce growth stimulation; namely, high-intensity, anaerobic activity. That done, the next step was to discover the volume, or dose, and the frequency; again, the narrow therapeutic window. Just the right amount in terms of volume and frequency produces a positive effect; anymore, a negative effect.
As M. Doug McGuff, MD, and President of Ultimate Exercise, Inc., states, "You wouldn't take any medicine if it didn't come with a correct dose and dosing frequency; why should you expect anything less from your exercise Rx?"
Mike MentzerIndividual Exercise Stress Tolerance
I find it curious, given the truth of the above, that a number of exercise scientists advocate that everyone do up to 60 sets a day, virtually every day. Individual exercise stress tolerance is a genetically determined trait; and like all such traits is expressed across a broad continuum. The most readily observed genetic trait is height; where you have midgets at one extreme, and giants at the other. With regard to intelligence, there are literal morons at one end and super-geniuses at the other. In the area of individual sunlight stress tolerance, there are light-skinned people who tolerate very little high-intensity sunlight stress and dark-skinned people who tolerate a lot more. The same is true with individual exercise stress tolerance: with those at one extreme who tolerate very, very little intense exercise stress and those at the other end who tolerate more. This is one of the major flaws in the volume (over) training approach: their failure to account for individual differences in exercise stress tolerance.
Mike MentzerInducing Muscular Hypertrophy
In the field of bodybuilding/exercise science, the idea is not to inject a chemical compound to induce muscular hypertrophy. Of course, inducing muscular hypertrophy by imposing a high-intensity training stress is ultimately effected via a "biochemical" change that the training stress causes within the physiology. It is conceivable that, in the near future, researchers could isolate and identify the biochemistry of growth stimulation; then develop a chemical, or drug, that would be injected into the human being to induce muscle growth beyond normal levels, all without requiring a training stress - unlike steroids, which do facilitate protein synthesis, but require training to be optimally effective.
Mike MentzerA Fundamental Error
Most bodybuilders make a single mistake, a fundamental error, which is largely responsible for all their other mistakes: They fail to take cognizance of the fact that bodybuilding is a part of exercise science; which flows from medical science. And that science is an exact- and an exacting - discipline which absolutely requires that man use a specific, rigorous method of thought (logic) to gain precise knowledge of reality - (the one reality we all live in, the one where "what goes up, must come down" and 2+2=4) - so that he may successfully achieve his goals.
Mike MentzerUniversal Principles
Medical science - and exercise science - is based on an understanding of the universality of the principles of human physiology. While this last statement may seem redundant to some, considering the near-universal confusion concerning the fact that "there is and can be only one valid theory of productive bodybuilding exercise," such tautology is necessary. It is precisely this fact: That, birth defects and genetic anomalies notwithstanding, the principles of human anatomy and physiology are universal, or applicable to all members of the species; which renders the sciences of medicine and exercise viable intellectual disciplines. To refute the validity of any one of these theoretical sciences, one would have to marshal irrefutable evidence that humans exist who do not possess an animal's anatomy and physiology - nor a rational faculty. Don't hold your breath whilst searching for such a creature.
Mike MentzerTo Stress the Point One More Step
If you were to find yourself in the jungle tomorrow, and you happened upon a voodoo witch doctor, he'd have close to a zero percent success rate with his patients. Then you introduce to him this miracle - Western theoretical medical science, i.e., logical diagnostic procedure, sterile technique, surgery, analgesics and antibiotics, etc. All of a sudden, the witch doctor's success rate skyrockets off the charts.
To say that there is no one valid theory, or that all approaches have merit, is tantamount to stating that the intellectual method of the voodoo witch doctor is as likely to correct a brain aneurysm as would that of a neuro-surgeon. Obviously, there is a life-and-death difference between the application of true ideas and false ideas. In bodybuilding, the difference between the application of true and false ideas is: Actualize you full muscular potential in a relatively short period - or, fail to ever achieve it.
Mike MentzerThe Absolutism of Reality
If you abdicate the responsibility of learning the nature of your consciousness, your means of survival, then you can never control it; thus, you unknowingly deliver yourself into the power of those who wish you the worst - whether he's trying to sell you a used wig, an erroneous training theory, or that evil theory of politics known as socialism. Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed. The absolutism of reality dictates how you must guide your training efforts to successfully develop larger muscles, and the absolutism of reason determines how you must direct your thinking so as to achieve intellectual success - truth and knowledge; and the greatest power possible to man - certainty!
Mike MentzerThe Big Picture
Many bodybuilders apparently don't understand that the big picture in bodybuilding involves two elements of equal value, literally 50-50, not 60-40 or 70-30 - but 50-50.
There's no gain saying that the workout itself is important, it's only 50 percent of the big picture. The second element, not one scintilla less important than the workout, is the rest period between workouts. And here's why. The workout understand doesn't actually "produce" muscular growth; it serves merely to "stimulate" the body's growth mechanism into motion. It is the body itself - of course - that produces the growth, but ONLY if left undisturbed during a sufficient rest period. If you don't rest enough, you don't grow enough - if at all!
Mike MentzerStrength and Size
For many bodybuilders, not all, strength increases precede size increases. In other words, they grow stronger for a while without getting bigger. It is important that this be understood for reasons related to motivation. As one continues to grow stronger, however, his strength increases will ultimately yield a muscle mass increase.
I was just such an individual who gained mass cyclically. I can recall numerous stretches during which my strength increased regularly for a few months without an accompanying size increase. Not knowing at the time that for some strength increases precede size increases; this was very frustrating for me. In fact, I was tempted to cease my training efforts a number of times, but I persisted: and my burgeoning strength always finally gave way to an appreciable size increase. I have observed this same phenomenon with some of my personal training clients. They'll gain continuously in strength for two to three months, with little or no mass increase and then - BOOM! - within a short period they'll find themselves six or seven pounds heavier.
Mike MentzerContinuous Increases
On the other hand, some bodybuilders experience consistent, proportional strength and size increases. An outstanding example of this was one of my personal clients. During a four-month period, his strength went up on every set of every exercise each and every workout, for a total of close to 400 sets! And every time we weighed him before a workout he was heavier. In that time, he put on 35 pounds of bodyweight, most, if not all, in the form of lean mass, as evidenced by his increased definition. This individual, Christian Obrest, was all but ecstatic as he gained more muscle mass in that four month period with his two to three weekly workouts averaging 17 minutes, than he had gained in the preceding four years working out two hours a day six days a week!
Mike MentzerQuantity vs. Quality of Effort
Where does one launch an investigation aimed at discovering the type of effort responsible for stimulating growth? The most likely place to start is by looking at one of the more readily observed qualities of the things that exists in reality; namely, quantity. The growth stimulus cannot be directly related to quantity of exercise effort or bodybuilders would see better and better results for every additional hour they spent training.
Since it obviously is not the quantity of effort that's important, there is but one place left to look - the quality, or intensity, of the effort. If a person could curl a 100 pound barbell for 10 reps to failure which rep would be more productive in terms of stimulating an increase in strength and size, the first, the least intense, or the last, the most intense? Obviously it is the last. Do you see where it stands to reason that if the last rep is better than the first, it will be better than the second, third, fourth and so on? That is irrefutable proof that it is the quality of the effort, not the quantity, which is responsible for growth stimulation. Quantity of effort is important only for building endurance, not strength and muscle mass. Don't confuse training long with training hard. Training hard, intensely, is what is required to build muscle mass.
Mike MentzerReserve Ability
Executing that last, almost impossible, rep causes the body to dip into its reserve ability. Since it only has a small amount of this reserve to draw upon before depletion occurs, the body protects itself from future assaults upon its reserves by enlarging upon its existing ability through the compensatory build-up of more muscle mass.
Only high-intensity effort can force the body to resort to its reserve ability sufficiently to stimulate an adaptive response in the form of a muscle mass increase. Repeating tasks that are within your existing capacity do nothing to stimulate growth, there's no need. Ending a set before failure, just because an arbitrary number of reps have been completed simply will not induce growth.
Mike MentzerA Second Set?
On occasion, I will have a phone client ask, "Mike, you make such a big deal about doing only one set per exercise. Would it really matter if I did a second set?" Having stimulated the growth mechanism by going to failure on the first set it is neither necessary nor desirable to do a second set; not just a waste of time, but counterproductive. Going from one set to two is not just a mistake: it is the biggest mistake possible because going from one set to two represents the biggest increase possible. It is not merely a linear increase of one unit; it represents a 100 percent increase in the volume of exercise; which is a negative factor.
Mike MentzerLook Deeper
I find it curious that the great majority of bodybuilders, knowing that overtraining means something decidedly negative, never look into the issue more seriously. The term is always used in a negative context. In fact, try using the concept in a positive light, and you'll quickly realize it's impossible. By definition, overtraining means performing any more exercise than is required in terms of both volume and frequency than is minimally required to stimulate growth.
Mike MentzerSurvival: The First Requisite
Nature does not allow living creatures to be inactive. In all levels of biology, inactivity means death. Life is growing. When not moving forward, it falls backward. We survive, then, only so long as we advance. Humankind evolved through continuous struggle and effort. Since man is distinguished from all other creatures because he has a mind - a conceptual faculty - he will only get the best out of himself when employing his rational/critical faculty to focus on the future, that is, to achieve goals. The individual who wants to evolve mentally and physically, therefore, must be willing to exert continuous effort.
Effort and Pride
An individual's self-esteem stems from a sense of control over reality. Whenever we carry out a conscious effort, such as, completing a record Bench Press, an A+ in school or writing a book, we feel a specific power rising, a sense of will. The abundant self-esteem associated with successful people flows from their having achieved goals by exerting the proper effort - long range. People are not successful due to an accident of birth; they took the time and expended the necessary effort to develop their self-respect. They sufficiently value life and happiness to exert complete effort. As a result, they experience what Aristotle referred to as the "crown of all virtues": Pride.
Special Tip for Lagging Body Parts
For some, even one set for certain body parts may prove more than the individual can tolerate or even need. For instance, over the years, I have had training clients, who informed me at the start that they couldn't stimulate growth in their calves, whether they were training them with 12 sets three times a week or just one set once a week. They took my advice, acknowledging the possibility that even one set may be too much, then ceased training their calves entirely. These individuals reported to me on a regular basis, claiming calf increases of 3/4" to 1 1/2" in several months.
Similarly, I've had clients who gained quite well overall with their greatest circumference increase in the neck. These examples prove the reality of "indirect effect", i.e., when growth is stimulated in one muscle, growth is stimulated through the entire musculature - though to a lesser degree; and the larger the muscle being worked, the greater the degree of indirect effect.
The calf increases reported above were likely the result of the effect provided by Leg Presses, Squats and Deadlifts; with those experiencing tremendous increases in their neck being the indirect result of growth stimulation induced by Shrugs and Deadlifts.
Conclusion: If you have a lagging body part, stop training that part entirely for a few weeks, then resume training with a lesser number of sets, or, with calves and neck, stop training them entirely.
As the Body Changes, Training Requirements Change:
Sticking Points are NOT Inevitable!
Very often an individual's progress ceases entirely because he failed to account for a very important consideration: that during periods of physical-muscular progress the body is not static, it is in a process of change; and that as the body changes training requirements change. (This was only touched upon briefly in Heavy Duty I; but elaborated thoroughly in Heavy Duty II.) In fact, this is the most important issue in bodybuilding science once the fundamentals of intensity, volume and frequency are grasped.
A properly conducted bodybuilding program is essentially a strength training program. Or, in other words, if one wants to grow larger he must grow stronger. When someone starts to argue with me on this point, I say, "What is one supposed to do to grow larger, get weaker? As one grows stronger, i.e., as the weights grow progressively greater, the stresses on the body become progressively greater; and must be compensated for. (This is the conceptual link that high-intensity theorists have been missing; and which explains their inability to answer the question of sticking points.)
Perhaps the easiest way to understand this phenomenon is to observe the stresses on your body when performing a warm-up set of Squats compared to those experienced during the actual workout set to failure. On the heavier workout set, you immediately recognize the much greater stress on the bones compared to that with the warm-up set; then the much greater demands on the cardio-respiratory system, and so forth. (Not available to conscious awareness are the physiologic-metabolic stresses.) Now simply extrapolate that into the situation over time, as you lift progressively greater weights workout to workout.
As the stresses grow progressively greater, they will eventually reach a critical point such that they constitute overtraining. The first symptom will be a slow down in progress; and if the individual continues with the same volume and frequency protocol, the stresses will continue to increase until there is a complete cessation of progress, typically referred to as a "sticking point." One need not ever experience a slow down in progress, let alone a sticking point, if he bears in mind all the while that as the weights grow progressively greater so do the stresses; and he must do certain specific things to compensate for them.
Within two to three weeks upon embarking on a Heavy Duty, high-intensity training program, a bodybuilder should begin inserting an extra rest day or even two at random beyond the suggested every fourth day workout so that he's compensating for the increasing stresses; and, then, with increasing regularity until he is training but once every five days with an extra rest day or two added beyond that.
To quell any fear about the progressive reduction of training frequency, consider this. An individual making progress training once every fourth day, i.e., whose body is overcompensating--(i.e., growing stronger and larger)--cannot lose anything by taking a further day or two of rest. If his body is overcompensating on day four, how is it that he would decompensate on day five or six? So, while there is no risk of a negative, no threat of a loss, by inserting an extra day or two of rest, there is the actuality of a positive; which is - with the extra rest day(s) you have that much greater certainty that enough time has elapsed between workouts to allow the body sufficient opportunity to complete both the recovery and the growth processes. The implication here is that if the individual trains again before the body's growth production process is completed, it will be short-circuited; and less than 100 units of possible progress realized.
Once the individual is training once every seven days, I suggest a reduction in the volume of training as outlined in my new book Heavy Duty II: Mind and Body. Reduced volume will necessitate switching from the Suggested Workout #1 to the Consolidation Program. With a consolidation routine, there is a decided shift in emphasis to predominately compound exercises, i.e., ones that involve multiple muscle groups, such as Squats, Dips and Deadlifts, etc. A workout program consisting of compound exercises still works all of the major muscle groups, but with fewer total sets, making for a minimal inroad into recovery ability. (Ideally, growth would be stimulated with zero sets; then none of the body's limited recovery ability would be used for recovery, it would all be used for growth production; and you'd grow so fast as to stagger the imagination. At this juncture, however, no one knows how to stimulate growth with zero sets.)
Following the above advice, you'll never hit a sticking point; you will experience unbreached progress with your training. As I have written before: if scientists can send a man to the moon and bring him back safely each time, we should be able to succeed with every one of our missions to the gym here on earth. Building bigger muscles should be a cake walk compared to moon walk.