The Heavy Duty Challenge
My challenge is that you at least consider the possibility that the solution to your physical-training problem, you lack of meaningful progress, begins with the reclamation of your soul; which is your mind. What is the root, or source, of every greater achievement made by man? The intellectual sovereignty of the individual mind! Just as one might ask: where would mankind be were it not for intransigent individualists (men who held no value higher than that of their own independent judgment) such as Columbus and Galileo - - so, you might ask of yourself: what will the consequences be, what will become of my soul, if I never learn to think and judge for myself?
So what if Mark, Dylan, John, Glenn and the others at the gym blindly, uncritically accept the fuzzy "notion" that "more is better?" You never really respected their opinions anyway. And so what if most of the top IFBB champs endorse volume training? You know damned well that they are genetic freaks on the lunatic fringe of this sport who are willing and (financially) able to risk their very lives by taking nightmarish quantities of more drugs than you'd care to even imagine. (It's been estimated that these freaks are taking $50,000.00 to $70,000.00 worth of steroids and growth hormones, not to mention a panoply of other drugs I haven't even taken the time to learn how to pronounce.) Like practically everyone else, you, too, have lost considerable respect for them.
Recovery Ability Enhancers
The drugs mentioned above serve as recovery ability enhancers. Nothing in the universe is literally infinite - including recovery ability, i.e, the reserve of biochemical resources used after the workout to overcome the deficit, the inroad, made by the extraordinary demands of bodybuilding/weight training stressors. Without these recovery ability enhancing drugs, the training that the top IFBB champs engage in would soon amount to gross overtraining, and they would quickly lose muscle mass and functional ability due to "overuse atrophy."
Since, you, the natural, non-steroid bodybuilder, don't use the exogenous recovery ability enhancers, you cannot expect any results from the blind, non-theoretical, volume approach. You require a radically different approach to training.
Toward A Better Understanding
Recently, one of my phone consultation clients expressed considerable astonishment that he had realized so much unbreached progress with Heavy Duty, high-intensity training. And I explained that such should not be a surprise; that there's no mystery; that people have been growing muscles beyond normal levels for at least thousands of years; that we live in a knowable universe of absolute, clear-cut identity guided by one set of immutable, never-changing principles; and that the "cause-and-effect" relationship between intense exercise and muscle growth has been well understood for some time, even though the majority of "experts" in this field fail to grasp it.
I concluded by pointing out to this individual that it is reality and its laws - the laws of nature - that dictate the precise causes that must be enacted to effect the build-up of muscle mass beyond normal levels; and, that, once these causes are clearly understood, the task of developing larger muscles, whilst requiring high-intensity effort, is actually rather simple.
Mind and Body
Nature also dictates what mental causes must be enacted to effect the build-up of knowledge, or an intellectual understanding of any subject or issue. One must first recognize that all human knowledge has a nature, or identity; it is hierarchical in structure. It has a base, or foundation, of "fundamental" principles which must be fully grasped before moving up the logical ladder, or hierarchy, to more complex, "derivative" ideas.
This may be most readily observed in the area of mathematics where the fundamentals are addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. It is only on the basis of first grasping these fundamentals that one may successfully deal with derivatives, such as algebra and calculus.
The major reason why most bodybuilders are confused is that they don't understand that the context of knowledge which constitutes bodybuilding/exercise science has a base of fundamental principles; and that they relate to the issues of "intensity," "volume," and "frequency." In fact, I hear bodybuilders asking questions everyday that are something like the equivalent in algebra and calculus, while they have yet to grasp the 2+2=4 of bodybuilding science. The material in my latest book HEAVY DUTY II: Mind and Body and my audio tape series Mike Mentzer's New Advanced High-Intensity Training were intended primarily to impart that knowledge.
As gratifying as one may imagine the actualization of his muscular potential to be, many bodybuilders are missing a more crucial issue: The importance of achieving one's full human stature by learning to think and judge independently. There is nothing wrong with developing a muscular physique, but it is by no means a viable substitute for a mature, rational mind. As a member of the species man, your biologically distinguishable trait - your means or survival - is your mind; therefore, there can be nothing more rewarding than "knowing," i.e. having a full conceptual grasp (a noncontradictory philosophy) of reality - including you own inner life - appropriate to an adult human being.
The Rational Bodybuilder
A rational bodybuilder understands that, once he has established a goal, it is crucial that he successfully achieves it - as the implications to his self-esteem, confidence and happiness are profound. Not only does he want to avoid failure, but being conscientious, he also earnestly seeks the most productive, or time-saving, method to achieve his goal.
Since none of us has the luxury of knowing from the start just how much muscle we can ultimately develop (as potential is something that can only be assessed accurately in retrospect), such a consideration should have no relevance in formulating a bodybuilding program.
What is relevant is the fact that anyone, no matter what his genetic endowment, can improve upon his existing condition. And, with the proper high-intensity training program, he will witness progress each and every workout; from the start of his training until he actualizes the upper limits of his strength/muscular potential.
Adaptive-Specific Training for Best Results
There is a principle in exercise physiology referred to as SAID, or specific adaptation to imposed demands; which means that the body adapts in a specific fashion to specific demands. If your specific goal is to improve upon your ability to carry out large volumes of work, then you must train in a specific fashion, i.e., with low to moderate intensity, employing a large volume of sets. If, on the other hand, your goal is to increase your muscular strength and size you must also train in a specific manner, i.e., with high-intensity and a carefully regulated, brief and infrequent protocol. It's not as if your body has 100 units of adaptive energy available for increases in strength and size, and another 100 units available for adapting with increased endurance. Training guided by mixed premises will not yield the same results as will adaptive-specific training.
If you had just arrived from the planet Mars onto the earth and decided you wanted to build your muscles, and I told you that all that is required is one workout lasting 15 minutes or so every four to seven days, such wouldn't strike you as too much or too little. As a fresh arrival from Mars, your thinking would be unhampered by all of the false generalizations, unwarranted assumptions and undefined contradictions about weight training that floating like so much cognitive detritus, polluting the intellectual atmosphere of the earth's bodybuilding subculture.
[My advice to volume bodybuilders is that you discard everything you thought you knew about training, as you didn't really "know" anything; and take a fresh, new, unobstructed look at the subject of productive bodybuilding exercise.]
Mike Mentzer, Heavy Duty II: Mind and Body
Genetics and Response to Exercise
While potential can only be assessed accurately in retrospect, there are certain indices (genetically mediated, physical traits) that provide a solid suggestion. These include bone size, muscle belly length, innate recovery ability and muscle fiber density. Also important, but less amenable to visual scrutiny, is the individual's array of genetic/physiologic traits that regulate the rate and degree of response to exercise. I am referring to those traits whose specific task is to shut off the process of muscle growth that occurs in response to singular bouts of intense exercise and, then, permanently once individual potential has been fully actualized. These regulatory traits, like most genetic traits, are expressed across a broad continuum; which helps to explain why there exists such a wide range of variation regarding individual response to exercise.
Time Under Load (TUL): Improved Form and Precise Measurement
Many people assume that the goal of performing an exercise is to simply make the weight go up and down. They get into a machine or pick up a barbell and do what they believe they're supposed to do - lift and lower the weight as many times as they can. Then, when they begin to approach muscular failure, they attempt to move faster, and lose their form for the sake of achieving what they believe to be the goal of the exercise: to keep the weight moving up and down.
People who view exercise this way often perform it as if they're trying to "beat the machine" or "beat the barbell". However, simply making the weight go up and down is not the goal of performing an exercise. Each repetition is simply a means to accomplishing the real end: inroading the target muscles' strength levels to stimulate a growth mechanism. In other words, the real objective is not to "beat the machine" or "beat the barbell", the real objective is use the barbell or machine to "beat the muscles".
Using the repetition count as a means of measuring progress can encourage such poor form in some people, since in a way it implies that the goal of an exercise is to simply perform as many repetitions as possible. Such people assume that the more repetitions they perform, no matter how they perform them, the better they have done. Exercising under this erroneous assumption typically leads one to sacrifice proper form towards the end of an exercise for the sake of a few extra fast, sloppy, relatively unproductive reps. This wastes valuable recovery energy and increases one's risk of injury.
After reading his article on the subject and discussing it with him, I believe Doug McGuff, MD has found the solution to the above problem: using time under load (TUL) as a standard of measurement, rather than the repetition count. Not only does TUL provide a far more precise standard of measurement than the repetition count; it also encourages better form during exercise, since it places the emphasis where it should be, on quality muscular loading. Using TUL as a measure of progress encourages one to take their time and make each repetition as intense as they can, getting as much muscular stimulation as possible out of every second of the exercise, rather than simply trying to complete each rep for the sake of completing it.
Dr. McGuff also made the following important point regarding accurate measurement of progress. The repetition count is nothing more than a representation of a particular TUL. By prescribing a particular repetition range for an exercise and setting an upper guide number by which to determine when to increase the resistance, we are attempting to consistently achieve momentary muscular failure within that particular TUL. However, repetition count is a relatively inaccurate means of measuring this. As Terry Carter, an instructor at Ultimate Exercise, Dr. McGuff's training facility in Seneca, SC, says, "counting reps for record-keeping purposes is like using miles to measure the length of your house".
Even if one attempts to use a relatively constant repetition speed from workout to workout, which is necessary for a repetition count or measurement of TUL to provide a meaningful comparison of performance, it is impossible to perform every repetition of an exercise with the exact same speed every time one trains. Since an increase in TUL of several seconds represents a significant increase in strength when one is moving in a slow, controlled manner and contracting as intensely as possible, and a decrease in TUL of only a few seconds, even though the rep count may be the same, may be an indication of regression and the need for more recovery time between workouts or a reduction in training volume, every second of an exercise counts. And, what if during one workout you perform 5 and 1/2 repetitions on a particular exercise, and the next time you perform 5 and 3/4? During the final repetition of a set to failure you will probably be just barely moving, in which case 1/4 of a repetition would represent several seconds of muscular loading. These seconds would be missed entirely if one simply used the repetition count as a measure of the set. TUL provides a much more precise measure of performance and progress from workout to workout.
Andrew M. Baye
Starve the Adiposity, Feed the Lean Mass
Reducing body fat can be done safely (without losing muscle), simply, methodically and in a predictable fashion so that the individual achieves his goal on a predetermined date. The process begins by establishing one's present maintenance level of calories. This can be accomplished by keeping a five-day food diary wherein you record everything you eat, including the quantity, for that period. At the end of each day, sit down with a good calorie-counting book and tally the total calories for that day. On the fifth day, take the five daily totals, add them up for a grand total, divide by five, and you'll have your daily average calorie intake. If you didn't gain or lose weight over that five day period, your daily average calorie intake will also represent your daily maintenance level of calories.
Once you've established your daily maintenance level of calories, reduce your food intake so that you are 500 calories below maintenance. Since there are 3500 calories in a pound of fat, a 500 calorie daily deficit will lead invariably to a loss of one pound of fat a week. Over a period of time, as you continue to lose weight, your maintenance level of calories will go down, and weight loss will slow down or come to a halt. When this happens, reduce your calories another 500 or so and the weight-fat loss will proceed.
I had one of my phone consultation clients do this recently, and he lost exactly 12 pounds in 12 weeks. Did he lose any muscle? Considering that his strength sky-rocketed during this period, not to mention that he gained one-half inch on his arms, it's safe to conclude that he didn't lose any muscle. Monitoring strength levels during periods of weight loss is almost a sure-fire method for determining whether or not one is losing muscle. One cannot lose muscle if he is growing stronger during a weight loss program. I emphasize this because I have clients call me to complain that they are losing muscle while following the training and nutritional program (involving a calorie-deficit diet) I put them on. And in every case, when I ask if they're still gaining in strength, they respond in the affirmative; whereupon I explain that one cannot be losing the contractile protein element in the muscle if gaining strength while losing weight. What they perceive as muscle loss is actually water loss. You see, after several days of calorie-deficit dieting, the muscles lose all or some of their stored glycogen. It just so happens that glycogen chemically bonds with and "holds" water in the muscle, with three grams of water bonded to each gram of glycogen. Since the glycogen is not fully restored during periods of heavy training and calorie-deficit dieting, the water is not replaced, and the muscle dehydrates somewhat, causing it to lose fluid pressure and to feel flaccid, i.e., softer and smaller. And remember: muscle is not mostly protein but water, 72 percent, in fact. So, although muscle is mostly water, it can lose a lot of its stored water and, thus, appear smaller. The important thing, of course, is that you don't lose the contractile protein element of the muscle, as the muscle can be readily rehydrated by increasing one's calories - primarily from carbohydrates - above maintenance level.
The first symptom indicating protein loss is a significant reduction in strength, or functional capacity. A slight reduction in functional capacity, such as being able to perform one or two less reps, in a given workout may not be cause for concern as it could be from greater glycogen depletion that day. A significant reduction in functional capacity over a period of time, however, and you almost certainly are losing protein from the muscle. When this happens there will also be a dramatic increase in the rate of weight loss for, again, where a pound of fat contains 3500 calories, a pound of muscle only contains about 600 calories. The point here is that one must burn, or use, approximately six times as much muscle to obtain the same energy yield he would get from burning one pound of fat. People who overtrain and overdiet - and thus lose muscle - often report as much as six to 10 pounds of weight lost a week!
With a modest calorie-deficit diet of 500-750 calories, you will sufficiently starve the adiposity and lose fat on a continual basis, yet obtain sufficient nutrients to feed the lean mass so that you grow stronger and larger. And it doesn't matter, in one sense, whether you reduce carbs or fats, so long as you reduce calories to below maintenance level. While all weight loss diets are calorie-deficit diets, the best are those which reduce total calories while roughly conforming to a ratio of 60:25:15 of carbohydrates to protein to fats, as all of the world's top, reputable nutritional scientists agree.
Repetitions vs. Inroads
I just completed a workout that included a single set of leg presses to momentary muscular failure. A set to failure is just that - a set where you can no longer perform the positive portion of a rep in GOOD FORM. Once you get to this point, however, you don't stop; you try with all the muscular effort you can muster to continue to move the resistance for a few seconds. The goal is to create as deep an inroad into your current functional ability as possible.
It is often possible to go to positive failure but still perform a couple of more repetitions by letting your exercise technique breakdown and "cheating" the resistance through the sticking point. For example, in the leg press you can lift your back off the pad and get the weight through the sticking point. I believe this is a grave mistake. First, you greatly increase the chances of injury. Indeed, the vast majority of injuries associated with weight training are caused by poor exercise form and not by the resistance per se. Second, if you count the cheated repetitions in your training diary, you are not providing an accurate record of your performance. The next time you perform that exercise again, you won't remember that in your last workout the final couple of repetitions were cheated and therefore you'll be unable to adequately assess whether the current workout represents progression or not. Given these considerations, I find it very helpful prior to performing a given exercise to think to myself, "I will inroad the target muscles as thoroughly as is possible" rather than "I need to get 10 repetitions no matter what." Obviously the performance of repetitions is the means by which we inroad our muscles, but do not confuse "getting the reps" with creating sufficient inroad to turn on the growth switch.
Intensity and Overtraining
The cardinal fundamental of bodybuilding science is the principle of intensity, i.e., only by training to a point of momentary muscular failure, where 100 percent intensity of effort is required to complete the last rep, can one be assured that growth is stimulated. And because the magnitude of the demand made by such training on the bodyís limited reserve of biochemical resources, or recovery ability, is literally enormous, that training must be cautiously regulated in terms of both volume and frequency - lest it result in overtraining.
Overtraining, dear reader, is not something merely "kinda" or "sorta" negative - it is much worse than that. Overtraining is the worst training mistake a bodybuilder can make; it is precisely that which militates against the desired result. Overtraining, by definition, means performing any more exercise than is minimally required to trigger the growth mechanism into motion. Most bodybuilders today still operate on the notion that their purpose is to discover how many sets they can do, how much they can take or how long they can endure. And such is erroneous because bodybuilding is not aerobic. A bodybuilding workout is not an endurance contest! The actual, literal purpose of a bodybuilder is not to discover how many sets he can endure, but to intelligently do what nature requires merely to trigger the growth mechanism into motion, then get the hell out of the gym, go home, rest and GROW!
Off the Charts
Most people's average daily efforts are minimal in intensity, until they reach that point in the day when doing a set of heavy Barbell Squats to failure. Then. . . .!
Heavy Duty, high-intensity training is very demanding; more demanding, in fact, than most realize, until they try it. Such training certainly isn't easier than volume training, as some have wrongly asserted. It is much more demanding than volume training; which is why it is more productive; and why some are reluctant to engage in it. However, training to failure need not be feared, it is not an apocalyptic experience. Most, like myself, find training to failure to be an exhilarating experience; and once having done it find it impossible to go back to the blind, non-theoretical, volume approach. Such training isn't so very demanding, however, that it should scare away anyone, perhaps except the timorous, namby-pamby types; those quivering, quaking neurotics who never developed enough life-assertive self-respect to ever engage in any heavy physical exertion their whole lives.
The following may help you better understand just how demanding Heavy Duty is, and why only one set need be performed. "Imagine a straight horizontal line, drawn across a piece of paper from left to right, representing zero effort. If you were to graph your daily efforts -- getting out of bed, driving to work, walking up stairs, doing aerobics -- off of that flat line, again going from left to right, it would be a sinusoidal wave of minimal, fluctuating amplitude. Then you come to that juncture in the day where you perform ONE set of heavy Barbell Squats to failure--and the low amplitude sine wave takes a sudden, dramatic departure straight up, off the paper and across the street!"
"The distance from the flat line to the apex of the spike represents not only how much more severe, or intense, the effort involved in the set of Squats is but, also, the much greater degree to which the body's limited reserve of resources are used up, as a result of brief, high-intensity exercise." (Chapter Three of my book, Heavy Duty I)
The crucial importance of strictly limiting the volume of high-intensity muscular effort might be made even more clear when looked at in terms of the body's capacity for coping with stress. (Bodybuilding science, remember, is the science of high-intensity, anaerobic exercise, stress physiology.) While we are exposed to multitudinous forms of stress every day, three more readily recognizable ones are: high-intensity sunlight on the skin, friction on the palms of the hands and that of high-intensity exercise on the muscles.
Up to a very definite point, exposure to intense ultra-violet sunlight will lead to the formation of a tan. One minute more exposure than that required by nature to stimulate suntan development, however, results in a burn. Carried to radical extremes, overexposure to the sun's rays will cause stroke, poisoning and death.
The formation of a tan is the result of a compensatory build-up of the body designed to allow us to cope more successfully with the same stress in the future; which, is to say, with less disturbance of the body's limited reserve of resources. The burn is an example of a reverse process, one of depletion; instead of building up a protective barrier (tan), the body decompensated and lost tissue (burned).
The buildup of a callous on the palm of the hand is the result of a similar process. The skin of the palms is generally thicker than the skin on other parts of the body to protect the palms from regular contact with abrasive objects. But the repeated handling of extremely rough objects, like the knurled grip of a barbell, may be too abrasive for even the palms to endure without breaking down.
If friction is abrasive enough, the formation of a callous will be stimulated. And if the amount of friction is not excessive so as to wear away the callous as it is forming, a callous will, indeed, be produced. While the friction has to be abrasive enough to stimulate callous formation, too much would cause the skin to wear away completely and become lacerated.
Exercise, too, is a form of stress. Intense exercise can result in the compensatory buildup of muscle tissue, which enables the body to cope with the same stress in the near future, with less disturbance of the body's limited reserve of resources. When carried on beyond the least amount required to stimulate the adaptive response, the excess drains the reserve of resources needed for recovery and, thus, prevents the buildup of added muscle tissue.
The amount of stress that the body can successfully cope with is directly related to the intensity of the stress. While the stress must be intense enough to stimulate an adaptive response - (with no amount of stress below the required level will producing the desired effect)--only a very small amount of high-intensity stress is required to stimulate the buildup of new tissue. And the greater the intensity, the less the body will tolerate before overuse atrophy sets in.
You must understand that the workout does not actually produce muscular growth. The workout is merely a trigger that sets the body's growth mechanism into motion. It is the body itself, of course, that produces growth; but it does so only during a sufficient rest period.
Let's look at it in a slightly different way. Perhaps you have heard of the concept "S-R," or stimulus-response. It is used in a variety of contexts, and has application in bodybuilding. The workout is literally merely a stimulus that causes a response in the body. The response process consists of two aspects--recovery and growth production. Of crucial importance here is that the recovery response itself may take up to several days or longer to be completed. And it is only once the recovery process has been completed that the growth production process will begin. If the individual stimulates the body again with another workout before it has a chance to respond with recovery and growth, he short-circuits the response process before it is completed, compromising results short of 100 possible units.
And this is what the vast majority of bodybuilders do continuously: they are hyper-obsessive with chronically over stimulating the body, never allowing the body the opportunity during a sufficient rest period to fully respond to the stimulus. In short, they are "stimulus freaks" moved by some warm, fuzzy notion, in effect, "Hey, the more often I'm in the gym working out the more I must be doing something for myself." What they don't understand is that they should only be in the gym long enough and often enough to merely trigger a recovery-growth response, not to satisfy some obsessive (i.e., mindless) need or, addiction, to train or to be in the gym. To be a successful bodybuilder, one must tone his awareness that the rest period between workouts is just as important as the workout, for this is when the most important thing of all has a chance to happen; namely, the completion of that which prompted him to workout in the first place, GROWTH.
If you recognize the truth of the premise that the rest period between workouts is just as important as the workout itself, do you see where it follows logically that there has to be a perfect or, optimum, number of days of rest? I have discovered through vast experience as a personal trainer that one workout every four to seven days is miraculous compared to any other protocol. Four to seven days--and longer in some cases--is how long it takes the body to fully complete the recovery-growth process.
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.
It is most certainly true that high-intensity training places a considerable demand not only on the adrenals, but all anatomic-physiologic subsystems; which is, in large part, why such training is so very, very productive. In fact, all stressors - not merely intense exercise - but heat, pain, sexual passion, emotional problems and physical labor, etc. - stimulate the adrenal glands to secrete ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) and other, related substances.
The effects of stress are cumulative; therefore, one can't necessarily blame overburdened adrenals on one type of stress, such as high-intensity exercise. If an individual were experiencing a particularly stressful period in his life due, for instance, to career pressures, loss of a loved one, or financial problems, then, yes, the added stress of a very demanding training program - Heavy Duty or otherwise - could be the straw that breaks the camel's back.
Any type of weight training program - be it Heavy Duty or the superannuated volume approach - places considerable stress/demands on all of the body's physiologic processes, not just that of the adrenal glands. However, Heavy Duty, high-intensity training is very brief - (20 minutes or less a workout) - and infrequent - (conducted once every four to seven days) - precisely to allow for sufficient recovery of the adrenals and all of the recuperative subsystems of the body. High-intensity effort is the sole factor responsible for inducing growth stimulation, and its brevity and infrequency are what allow for full recovery and growth production.
Training two to four hours a day - the volume approach - prevents an individual from training with the degree of intensity required to stimulate an optimal increase. As well, because such training is carried on for such inordinate lengths of time and is repeated so frequently, it never allows for the possibility of full recovery let alone growth production unless the individual is taking enormous quantities of recovery enhancing steroids, growth hormone and other dangerous drugs. Obviously this is the type of training that inevitably results in overtraining and adrenal burnout, not brief and infrequent high-intensity. This is simple common sense.
While brief and infrequent Heavy Duty, high-intensity training is the only type of training that prevents overtraining, one can't predict the onset of extremely stressful life situations. When life's stresses become too great, one would be prudent to not only lower the intensity of his training, but to cease training entirely until life stabilizes.
During periods of stability and normal stress, it is not necessary to cycle your training intensity. With a properly conducted Heavy Duty training program, progress is continuous because the volume and frequency are regulated to allow for full recovery and growth production. Why would any right-thinking individual want to cycle, periodize or stop the desired result?
Perhaps the best way to answer the allegation that high-intensity training results in overburdened adrenals is to point to the success of the thousands of individual bodybuilders the world over, including yours truly, Ray Mentzer, Casey Viator, Dorian Yates, Aaron Baker, David Paul, David Dearth, Roland Kickinger and my hundreds of personal training clients have had with it. How could individuals with burnt out adrenals have succeeded with such training?
The reason I never refer to descending sets is because, in reality, descending sets are not a high-intensity training technique.
A descending set is one in which an arbitrary amount of weight is removed from the bar or machine at the conclusion of a set carried to normal positive failure, whereupon the individual continues to another point of positive failure. The rep that is performed subsequent to removing the weight is not a maximum intensity rep, but usually low to moderate; therefore it contributes nothing to growth stimulation; and even though the individual may go to failure on the descending set it doesn't matter in terms of stimulating growth. Optimum growth was already stimulated by going to failure initially; no further growth stimulation is achieved by doing it again. What does happen, however, by going to failure again is that you make a further, undesirable inroad into recovery ability; and to that precise extent you compromise the body's growth production capacity.
To stimulate optimal size and strength increases, it's imperative that you regularly attempt the momentarily impossible. For example, if you can curl 100 pounds for a maximum of 10 reps, but never attempt the 11th, your body has no reason to enlarge upon its existing capacity. It is only by regularly attempting to go beyond your existing capacity that inroads are made into your body's reserves. Since these reserves are strictly limited, the body is threatened when they are used, and compensates with increased strength and size so that the same workload in the future won't use the same amount of this precious, limited reserve.
On a random basis, performing a forced and/or negative rep immediately after reaching positive failure will help some individuals maximize growth stimulation. But be careful! Don't perform forced and/or negative reps with each set of every workout. They intensify the effort to such an extent that, if not used judiciously, will prove too taxing and result in overtraining. Like I said, include them on a random basis, then check your progress next workout. If progress is enhanced, continue with them; if not, exclude them.
Descending sets, you see, extend your effort, thus serving more as an endurance training technique. Combined with high-intensity training, descending sets are decidedly counterproductive as, again, they make for unnecessary and undesirable inroads into recovery ability, especially when the descent involves two, three or more arbitrary weight unloadings after the initial set to normal, positive failure. Forced and negative reps intensify the effort, and therefore serve properly as high-intensity techniques. The point to keep in mind is just that: intensify your efforts, don't extend them, and the results will be commensurate.
A New Perspective on the Number One
Flex Wheeler trains at Gold's Gym in Venice, California, where I conduct my personal training business. He trains quite often with a partner named Ricco McClinton. Flex and Ricco have seen me train Dorian Yates in Gold's before, and have also apparently read some of my material. Over the past year or so, Ricco has taken to teasing me, albeit in a good-natured fashion. Periodically, whilst my training a client, Ricco would yell out, "Mentzer, do you actually believe that crap - that only one set is all you need?" Understanding that this individual honestly couldn't grasp that one set of an exercise could possibly be enough because of a lack of sufficient thought on his part, I'd use varying analogies to jog his thinking, to provide him with a different perspective on the number one. For instance, "Ricco, it only takes one bullet to kill a person, so why can't one set be enough to stimulate muscle growth beyond normal levels?" On another occasion, I said, "It only takes one well-placed blow from a hammer to stimulate the explosion of a stick of dynamite, with no amount of lesser blows achieving the same."
Such never impressed my heckler; he'd cavalierly dismiss my statements with comments like, "Yea, yea. I heard Dorian say someting like that once at a seminar. Big deal." More recently, Ricco started in on me again, although with a bit more sincerity. He even used the proper terminology. "Mike, do you really believe that only one set is all that is required to stimulate growth." This time I responded with perhaps the best analogy possible to provide someone with a different perspective on the isssue of number one. "Ricco," I enjoined, "it took only one sperm from your Father to stimulate the growth of your Mother's egg into a fully fashioned baby, namely you. Literally only one sperm was required to stimulate the growth of all your skeletal muscles, and your skeleton, skin, guts, hair and teeth, etc." "Mike," he shot back, "I never would have thought of that in a million years. That was a good one. I'll never bother you on the subject again."
Yes it's true that analogies are rarely perfect; but that doesn't mean that they can't contribute to a better understanding. My intention with the examples above was merely to provide the reader with an alternate perspective on the issue of number.
Systemic Vs. Localized Recovery
Many ask the question as to whether it's all right to train a given muscle more than once a week if using a split routine, as that muscle is afforded rest on the days that other muscles are being trained. And the answer is - NO! This is because exercise, in addition to having a localized effect on the muscle being worked, also has a systemic effect, i.e., it effects the overall, general, physical system, as well. In fact, localized recovery may be completed fairly rapidly, while systemic recovery may take several days or longer to be completed. ( Remember, too, that one must rest long enough between workouts to allow not just for recovery, but the completion of the growth production process, too. If one trains again before recovery and growth production are completed, he will short-circuit growth shy of 100 possible units.)
Most have had the experience of a great leg workout, say on a Friday afternoon. You used 20 pounds more on the Squat than ever before, and even did more reps than your previous best. You left the gym feeling triumphant but, also, quite exhausted. Then you intentionally rested all weekend, laying around watching ballgames on t.v. and rereading my books and articles, thinking you'd wake up Monday fully recovered and ready to work out again. To your surprize, however, you woke up on Monday still feeling generally fatigued. Your legs felt recovered; but you felt systemically tired - proof that exercise has a systemic effect along with a localized effect.
Heavy Duty... High Intensity, Low Force Exercise
A Heavy Duty, high intensity training program is very, very safe. It is not like a typical powerlifting program involving the use of very heavy weights that allow for only one to three reps. That would be properly designated a high-intensity, high-force program. The level of force imposed on the joints, connective tissue and muscles would be very high; and if extreme caution was not exercised, and any bouncing, jerking or yanking occured, the impact (G-force) could multiply several times that of the actual weight itself and, of course, cause an injury.
A properly conducted Heavy Duty workout involves the utilization of weights that allow for up to ten or more reps to failure. Such is properly referred to as a high-intensity, low-force program, and is quite safe.
Some are reluctant to embark on a high-intensity program because they mistakenly believe that the last rep of a set carried to a point of momentary muscular failure is dangerous. On the contrary. The last rep of a set carried to failure should be the safest because, by the last rep, the trainee is at his weakest, barely able to generate enough force to complete the rep. It is the first few reps, when the trainee is freshest, and able to exert more force than required to move the weight, that are the most dangerous. If, for instance, you are doing a set of Barbell Curls with 100 pounds for ten reps to failure, no rep requires that you exert much more than 100 pounds of force to complete it. On the first few reps, when the individual is fresh, he usually completes them relatively quickly, exerting well above 100 pounds of force. On the last rep, he is barely able to move the weight at all, exerting just enough force to complete it - maybe 101.1 pounds. Therefore, the last rep is the safest so long as proper technique is employed.
I agree with Mike Mentzer, and many others, that the deadlift is the best exercise to increase overall bodily mass and power. However, it is essential that one utilize correct form throughout the entire movement. First of all, start with the bar rolled back, flush against the shins. Grasp the bar with an interlocking hand grip, i.e., one hand overhand, the other underhand. Squat down in such as fashion so that your hips are considerably lower than your shoulders; and, most important, keep your back flat and your head up! Allow me to reiterate the last point: keep your back flat - even concave - and your head up, at all times.
Now, visualize your arms as chains with hooks, your hands, at the end. Deliberately and evenly, lift the bar smoothly off the floor without any attempt to jerk or yank it with your arms. Keep your arms perfectly straight. Stand up until you are in the perfectly vertical, straight up and down position; there's no need to arch backwards at the top; then replace the bar under control onto the floor, reset, and repeat.
In addition to the correct form, here are few points that I employ to further help my deadlifitng:
- When using a heavy weight, wear a belt.
- A little chalk on your hands can help with a slipping grip.
- Keep the bar on, or very close, to your thighs from beginning to end.
- A positive attitude and sufficient rest count for a lot.