THE Legendary Mike Mentzer
It is a privilege to have the opportunity to express my feelings about Mike Mentzer. His influence on me and my training over the past 27 years have pervaded my lifestyle and my life.
I began lifting weights as a very skinny and weak 14 year old, inspired by the 1975 Mr. America contest on television in which Mike placed 3rd in the medium class. Weighing only 113 pounds with 10 inch arms and a persistent desire to be as big and strong as the “champs”, I would endure 3 years of misguided training, daily workouts of 3-4 hours gleaned primarily from magazines, before learning the truth about how to efficiently and effectively build strength and concomitant muscle mass.
My breakthrough came at the age of 17 in 1978 when I was invited to participate in a Mike Mentzer seminar being held at the Meadowlands Hilton Hotel in Washington, PA, sponsored by Sam Yareck of Yareck’s Health Foods. I did not know very much about Mike Mentzer at the time for I was enamored with the recent contest winners, their 20-30+ set per body part routines, claims that certain powders and pills produced 20” arms and the rest of the marketing malarkey that had been wasting my time, money, energy and potential results. I literally believed that if I followed their published routines precisely, I would develop each body part in the same way.
There is no way to describe seeing a professional bodybuilder in person – especially someone like Mike Mentzer. It is like trying to explain what the Grand Canyon looks like, or showing a photo of Michelangelo’s Pieta to someone and expecting an appreciation of reality to come from mere words and pictures. Mike was the embodiment of what I believed a man was supposed to look like and be with his thick moustache, dark hair, muscular neck, broad shoulders, those famous forearms, and thighs that sprang out in all directions whenever he took a step. What I most remember was that his thick triceps hung way below his arms and as he wrote on the blackboard, they would fill his sweater in bold relief and in perfect balance to his biceps.
Everyone in the seminar that day was awe struck by his massive appearance. Mike instructed us on the “all or none” principle, Hans Selye’s adaptation to stress theory, how to properly stimulate growth, the Colorado Experiment, training to momentary muscular failure (concentric, eccentric and static), muscle origins/insertions, the role of genetics in determining muscle shape and size, the importance of rest for over-compensation/growth, diet, pre-exhaustion techniques, rest/pause training, proper exercise order and performance (i.e. close grip palms up lat pull downs) and other eye-opening facts and information. The seminar lasted for more than four hours, and Mike continued to speak individually with the other participants and I for another hour completely missing his scheduled flight out of Pittsburgh. During the entire time, he never repeated himself and patiently answered all of our questions until we clearly understood the answers. He concluded by stating that, in a week or so, another bodybuilder will come here and tell us something completely different. He added that because this person possessed a greater number of trophies and titles, we would be inclined to believe him and thus follow his training routines. However, Mike reminded us that the number of contests a person wins has no bearing on the universally applicable physiological facts that produce muscle growth that he had just conveyed.
Afterwards, Mike graciously took photos with everyone who asked and gave me the opportunity to take, among others, a picture of his foot placed on a chair with the pant leg pulled up exposing his calf in repose. It looked like a huge square block of muscle had been bolted behind his shin – and it wasn’t even flexed! I also asked him to pose his forearm for a picture. Anyone who has ever seen Mike’s outstanding forearms can attest to the fact that they are the best in bodybuilding, indescribably muscular and unforgettable. Huge “snakes” writhed below the skin as he cocked his wrist into the gooseneck position and rotated his fist.
Overall, I was astonished by the amount, precision and common sense contained in the information he conveyed which I had scribbled down on my small pad of paper. I was determined to try it. After all, as Mike put it when contrasting the results and gym time of Arnold Schwarzenegger versus those of Casey Viator in the Colorado experiment both to affect comebacks, “There are only a certain number of hours in a day…and I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not spend them in a gym”. Who could argue with that logic? As I learned, Mike Mentzer used logic to his advantage and you cannot dispute the results. Mine were remarkable. The cessation of persistent overtraining coupled with the proper amount of stimulation to my muscles resulted in immediate strength gains with commensurate size increases.
I went from 113 pounds to near 150 pounds in about a year and soon, at that weight, I could bench press 365 pounds. None of my friends would believe my training program and I could find no one to train with who wanted to participate in something so brief yet intense. Of course, the high school wrestling and football coaches learned of, witnessed my strength, and began to pursue me for their teams. In 1980, during my freshman year of college, I entered the Teenage Mr. Pittsburgh contest and the Mr. West Virginia University contest the following year. Drug free, I did not place higher than 10th or 3rd respectively against some very puffy and vascular pump artists, but overall, I achieved some personal goals as my body was more massive as a result of Heavy Duty training and I learned a great deal about myself as a result of the intense contest preparation and dieting.
I saw Mike and Ray Mentzer off and on in various contests and posing exhibitions in the Pittsburgh area. During question and answer portions of the show, Mike always called on me in the audience and I would ask questions to which I knew the answers only to illuminate specific points of Heavy Duty training to the rest of the spectators. I spoke to Mike on the phone several times, and virtually memorized everything he had ever written and recorded. Regrettably, despite his personal call to my home answering machine, I did not take advantage of the opportunity to train under him when he was working out at Olympus Gym in Falls Church, VA. In retrospect, I think I was apprehensive about being able to keep up with him or about embarrassing myself in front of my mentor. I still lament not being personally trained by the Master. My good friend, Gary Bianucci, Owner of Olympus Gym’s, and I never miss an opportunity to reminisce about the good old days of the “iron game”, Mike’s presence in the gym, his unbelievable training routines, and the total lack of heroes like Mike in the sport.
One day, about 2 years before Mike’s untimely passing, I decided to call and order Doug McGuff’s book and Joanne Sharkey answered the phone. She recognized my zeal for the sport and respect for Mike and asked if I would like to speak to him… “He’s right here” and in an instant I was speaking to “the Man”. In a matter of about 10 minutes, Mike Mentzer adjusted my training routine, pace of exercises and attitude about trying to lift more weight at the expense of proper form. “I can tell, Gary, from the fact that you just used the term ‘throw’ the weights up, that you are using momentum and risking injury.” “The purpose you seek in bodybuilding is not to see how much you can lift, but to allow the muscle to do all the work in proper form until you reach the point of momentary muscular failure.” Mike was right and I knew it. I was succumbing to the power and ego trip gained by using impressive poundage, weight stacks plus plates, and moving fast while risking injury at the expense of proper form and cadence. After our brief discussion, I was reeling and eager to get back to basics.
Further enhancing my understanding of proper training were Mike’s most recent training books and his magnificent audio tapes. Using the principles of static reps, a 4-2-4 cadence, longer rest periods, a training journal, pre-exhaustion and rest-pause techniques, I obtained and documented immediate and constant improvement in my every workout for over 3 years. At a height of 5’8” and a bodyweight of 223 pounds (100 pound gain since starting Heavy Duty training), I incline bench press 315 pounds, perform dumbbell flies with 115 pound dumbbells, and military press 250 pounds among other “bests” for me – all for multiple repetitions to failure with a 4-2-4 cadence. I never perform more than 8 sets in a workout and rest a minimum of between 4-5 days between training sessions. Some body parts continue to improve with only one set of exercise every 20 days such as my arms, which now exceed 19” cold.
The mental toughness imbued through enduring Heavy Duty training and the feeling of immense satisfaction I have when handling heavy weights are but a few of the lifelong benefits of meeting and knowing Mike Mentzer. I also learned that the truth is often found in places and from people who do not always have the greatest crowd following - that with an open mind, personal experience, private research and common sense, one can find the keys to success that seem to elude the most diligent and persistent. Try as I might to “convert” many friends to the Heavy Duty way of training, they would never accept that something so simple could work and that once a muscle is adequately stimulated, no amount of further work will produce an iota of greater result and is, in fact, detrimental. Knowing and learning from Mike Mentzer has given me more time for my life, greater satisfaction and results from my training in terms of both strength and size, more confidence, more independence, more energy, greater health and resilience, and the thrill of making progress in each and every workout.
We are all diminished by the loss of Mike and Ray Mentzer. Somehow, knowing Mike was somewhere on this Earth made each successful workout a kind of connection with him for me. Now, in addition to these words, each workout has become a tribute to him, his ideals, his intellect, mental and physical strength and spirit. I had wanted to share my past years training journals with him but I am certain the results would not have surprised him for he knew the truth - as do all who embrace, understand and employ Heavy Duty training.
Further, we’re all indebted to the tireless efforts of Joanne Sharkey who maintains the tremendous legacy of the great Mentzers and manages to fill the void of darkness by continuing to propagate truth and knowledge. She is a gift to the world of bodybuilding and physical culture that is always willing to do what it takes to keep the flame of truth alive. Her kindness is overwhelming and her friendship something to be cherished.
Gary Yerace (8/8/05)
This article is written exclusively for www.Mikementzer.com and Joanne Sharkey. It cannot be used as a download for another website or used in any form of publication in part or in whole, unless written permission is granted. © 2002-2005.