By Mike Mentzer

In part-two of this series, Mike Mentzer identified the erroneous principles that guide the training of most bodybuilders; thereby, explaining why they are agonizingly confused with regard to how to best guide their training; and, thus, fail to ever actualize their physique potential. In this last article of the series, Mentzer cites more compelling logic, but, also, the evidence required to prove that bodybuilding progress should be nothing short of spectacular, until one actualizes his potential - in one year, or less!

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Last month, in part-two of this three-part series, I denounced the exercise science establishment for failing to properly define, or identify, the nature of the training stress responsible for inducing growth stimulation. Lacking knowledge of the nature of the exercise stimulus, one cannot know anything else of value about exercise. (Remember, too, that exact definitions are an absolute, objective prerequisite for using logic.) Later in that article, I explained that many exercise scientists today deny the existence of the one fundamental that makes all science possible - namely, the universality of principles.

Recall the quote from Vladimir M. Zatsiorsky, professor of exercise science at Penn State, denying universal principles: "Each of you is unique in every way"; who then unconscionably contradicts himself later by advocating all bodybuilders perform 15-20 sets per bodypart, virtually every day, with up to 60 sets a workout. And how might he have arrived at such numbers? He claims in his book "Science and Practice of Strength," that such were arrived at "from studies which show greater hypertrophy from high volume training," and - here's the clincher - "from observations of professional bodybuilders."

A number of years ago, a book was published which maintained that many famous scientific studies at the highest levels of academia - even Galileo and John Hopkins University were accused - are bogus; all in the name of "publish or perish." Do you think exercise science would be the one academic arena exempt from the publishing of fraudulent studies? I seriously doubt it.

Not only did I contend that studies "proving the superiority of high volume training" were never done - but, later, that the contention of Zatziorsky's regarding volume training coming "from observations of professional bodybuilders" meant that he mindlessly lifted, or stole, the notion from Weider and some of his top IFBB professionals. Of course, neither Mr. Weider nor the exercise science establishment informs us that any results obtained from 60 sets per workout training is possible only with the attendant use of nightmarish quantities of steroids, growth hormone and a panoply of other drugs, many of which I have neither the time nor interest to learn how to spell or pronounce. Make no mistake, dear reader, these drugs are extremely potent recovery ability enhancers that allow a few to get away with what otherwise would constitute chronic, gross overtraining.

In part-one of this series, I made the point that Weider (and the exercise scientists) regard their operative principle 'more is better' as self-evident; which is not true. Nothing is self-evident except the material provided by sensory experience, e.g., the "redness" of tomato, as it is immediately evident to man's sensory-perceptual apparatus, requiring no proof. It is this type of epistemological ( intellectual ) savagery - failing to precisely define your concepts and mistaking the self-evident for abstract knowledge - that has left exercise science stalled indeterminately at an intellectual dead end, until recently.

I concluded part-two, contending that the two dominant training ideologies are both fallacious: Weider's and the scientists', with their "more is better" premise; and Jones' -despite his cognizance of the fact of a limited recovery ability - with his notion "less is better." With a truly scientific approach the guiding, operative principle should be "precise is best."

Medical and Exercise Science

One of the major philosophic themes of my articles over the past few years has been, in effect, because there is only one reality - which is an objective absolute guided by one set of never-changing principles - there can be only valid theory of anything. The following is a discussion of one aspect of this issue from my most recent book, Heavy Duty II: Mind and Body.

"Recently, I was discussing the 'one valid theory of bodybuilding exercise' controversy with one of my favorite clients. My client is the esteemed Gregory Kay, MD, a highly trained Western, theoretical medical scientist. An experienced cardiac surgeon, who performs close to 300 open-heart surgeries a year, the good doctor has close to a 100 percent success rate in the surgical suite. Dr. Kay made the point, in effect, that his success, not to mention the overall success rate of modern medical science is proof positive that 'there is - and can be - only one valid theory of medicine.' And I happily rejoined, ". . .indirectly it proves the same for exercise theory.

"To 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 would have close to a zero percent success rate with his patients. Then, suppose you were to introduce him to this miracle: Western, theoretical, medical science, i.e., logical diagnostic procedure, antibiotics, analgesics, sterile technique and surgery, etc. All of a sudden the witch doctor's success rate skyrockets off the charts. He can't figure it out; he thinks you're in league with God and the Devil.

"To say that there cannot be one valid theory, or, that all theories 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 highly-skilled neuro-surgeon. (The phenomenon just described is close to the intellectual state of bodybuilding today.)

"Obviously, there is a life-and-death difference between the application of false ideas and the application of true ideas. Knowledge (truly valid ideas), remember, is man's means of achieving all of his goals, including that final goal, or end, which makes all the others possible - the maintenance of his life."

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If you were to undergo surgery, you would obviously very much want the anesthesiologist to apply the precise amount of chemical compound required to induce a state of anesthesia. If, instead, as you were being wheeled into the surgical suite, you overheard the anesthesiologist say, "Pump him up," something like is said in bodybuilding, "pump the patient up! Give him more, more anesthesia is better than less," you wouldn't feel very confident about the situation. In fact, even a semi-rational individual would jump up and run out the door. Or, if you heard the doctor say something slightly different, "Let's give this patient less anesthesia than we gave that one yesterday; we killed the poor man" you wouldn't feel much better. In this particular case, where life-and-death clearly is the issue, it's quite easy to grasp why scientific precision is so very important. However, that same principle from medical theory carries over and has direct practical application to bodybuilding/exercise science theory. (Keep in mind that exercise science derives from medical science; and that the ideal in both situations is to correct, or improve, human physiology with as high a degree of precision as is required.)

In bodybuilding, the idea is to impose a training stress onto the body that will serve to induce the biochemical changes which result in muscular hypertrophy. Applying any more of the training stress (high-intensity) than is required by nature will result in the equivalent of over-dosing on a medicine; or, as we say typically in bodybuilding - overtraining.

A person exposed to the sun's ultraviolet rays at the equator in summer would not have the slightest concern whether the intensity of the sunlight stress is high enough to disturb the physiology sufficiently to induce an adaptive response, i.e., the buildup of a suntan. His only concern, his overriding consideration, would be to properly regulate the volume (or duration) and frequency of exposure time so as not to overdose on the stress/stimulus; and, thereby, incur a sunburn or, in extreme cases, death. A person seeking to develop a suntan at the equator, or wherever the intensity of the sunlight is high has no concern that he will develop a suntan; but only if he doesn't overexpose. (Note that bodybuilding science is largely based on the medical discipline of stress physiology. Also, that the end result of the healing of a sunburn is not a suntan, just as the end result of the healing of overtraining is not greater strength or added muscle.)

Bodybuilders utilizing the blind, nontheoretical volume approach to training do fret continuously over the prospect of ever developing their muscles because they know next to nothing about the nature of the specific stress/stimulus required to induce a buildup of muscle tissue beyond normal levels. Their obsession is with the volume, or amount, of training. Unlike the suntanner, however, who is rationally concerned with the proper regulation of the imposition of the sunlight stress, the bodybuilder has an irrational obsession with (over)imposing the training stress; and, unwittingly, allows his workouts to degenerate into an endurance contest.

An Air Bubble in the Sea of Causality?

Since I had my earlier clients performing considerably less than what Jones advocated - 7 to 9 sets three days a week versus 12-20 sets three days a week - I initially found it near impossible to believe that their less-than-satisfactory, long-range progress was due to overtraining. I, also, realized that it couldn't be the effect of undertraining. So, what was the cause?

At about the time I was considering this question, I signed up a wildly enthusiastic training client, one who had studied Heavy Duty, high-intensity training theory rather seriously; and thought he had found the "answer," after years of practically no progress with volume training. Interestingly, after two months on the seven to nine sets of three days a week training, it became starkly evident that the program was not working. His strength had only increased negligibly at best; and he had even started decompensating - losing strength - slightly by the end of eight weeks. And, of course, there was no visible increase in muscle mass.

Since I had informed this young man of some of the results my other clients were obtaining with the same routine, and we were both conversant with the theory, it was decided to reduce his program to only five sets once every 72 hours, or third day. And after a few weeks, it was once again apparent that something was wrong, as he made absolutely no progress.

This threw me into a bit of a quandary. This was the first time that I had ever trained someone who was so thoroughly nonresponsive to high-intensity; at least as I was practically applying it; and, to the best of my knowledge, I was the only trainer in the world who had any of his clients performing so little exercise. Could it be that I was wrong about the universal validity of these training principles? Or, was this a species of metaphysical churlishness, an air bubble in the sea of causality? I knew better, of course, because the laws of nature are universal and immutable. Just because I had a firm grasp of the theory, however, didn't mean I possessed certain ancillary knowledge that might be crucial. There had to be something about this individual's physiology which could be cited for his lack of progress with the given routine. There had to be something that would explain why on so brief and infrequent a program, this individual was still overtraining.

This led me to review some of what I knew about the role of genetics. I reasoned that, since genetically mediated traits such as height, sunlight stress tolerance and intelligence were expressed across a broad continuum, such would most likely be true of individual exercise stress tolerance. With regard to height, there are midgets at the left end of the continuum and giants at the other. In the area of individual sunlight stress tolerance, there are light-skinned people, such as Scandinavians at one end, who tolerate very little in the way of sunlight stress, and dark-skinned people who obviously tolerate more. And with intelligence, you have literal medical morons at one extreme and super geniuses at the other. I was very excited upon recognizing that a similar situation had to be true for individual exercise stress tolerance, with those at one extreme who tolerated a lot less exercise than those at the other.

As my client liked to tease and cut up a lot, I met him at the gym - armed with my new understanding - and referred to him as a midget, or moron, of recovery ability. Although even hard for me to accept at first, my conclusion about genetics led me to reduce this fellow's workouts again - this time to only three sets once every four to seven days. And it worked; he finally began growing stronger and larger on a regular basis, although his progress was never dramatic. He properly concluded that he didn't have the genetic predisposition to gain in strength and size at the greater rate exhibited by some of my other clients.

Where I had been very apprehensive earlier at the prospect of reducing training volume and frequency to so low a level with other clients, my success with our "recovery moron" emboldened me. It was at this time, about five years ago, that I finally reduced all my clients' training to three to five sets once every four to seven days, or less, depending upon their innate recovery ability, or individual exercise stress tolerance. (Interestingly, while thousands of people around are the world are individually establishing their own exercise prescriptions based on their own exercise stress tolerance, the orthodoxy and the exercise science community are still advocating everyone train everyday with up to 60 sets!)

What's Possible

With a properly conducted high-intensity training program, the individual will grow stronger every workout, without any serious breach in progress, until he has actualized his strength/muscular potential. I had a client several years ago who improved the functional ability of his quadriceps such that he was able to perform 10 reps with the whole stack, or 250 pounds, on the Nautilus Leg Extension after only being able to do seven reps with 170 pounds two months prior, a tremendous increase. (This type of response is not experienced by every one of my trainees; but it is far from atypical.)

The strongest client I ever had was able to perform 33 reps on the Nautilus Leg-Extension with the whole stack. And that was an incredibly well-developed, strong "genetic freak," the famed David Paul of the Barbarian Brothers. When David first started having me supervise his workouts, he performed 15 reps on the Leg-Extension and then went immediately, in superset fashion, to the Nautilus Leg Press where he performed 18 reps to complete failure with the full stack, 510 pounds. One week later David performed 25 reps on the Leg-Extension and immediately ran to the Leg Press where he did 38 reps. Impressive? You better believe it. But, keep reading.

One week after that, he did 33 reps on the Leg-Extension followed by a hard-to-believe 71 reps on the Leg Press! In both exercises, he again, employed the entire weight stacks. No, the above is not a misprint. David improved his Leg-Extension from 15 to 33 reps and his Leg Press from 18 to 71 reps as a result of only two leg workouts that lasted less than 15 minutes each. That represents an improvement of 388 percent in the functional ability of the quadriceps of an already highly advanced bodybuilder. In the one month I trained David, he gained seven pounds of muscle. These are phenomenal increases, especially when considered against the fact that for the previous five years, David's volume training, involving training sessions that lasted for at least two hours (sometimes twice a day ) six days a week, yielded zero strength and size increases.

Since David was capable of such a rate of improvement, imagine what a rank beginner - (with similar genetics) - might achieve on such a program. I've already provided you an indication, with the description of the first individual. If a beginner can improve as I described above, going from 170 for seven reps to 250 for 10 reps on the Leg-Extension in two months, he has only 23 reps to go with the same weight before achieving the functional capacity of a super genetic freak. How long would that take him? He'd probably never achieve it, as he, by all appearances, was only average - or slightly above - in genetics. My point is: Given the enormous improvement he made in only two months, it wouldn't even take year before he actualized his strength/muscle potential. (We'll never know exactly; because of enormous career pressures he had to cease training after two months.)

Bear in mind that a prerequisite for growing larger muscles is that one grow stronger. Since the individual I described would cease growing in strength in less than one year, his muscle growth would cease soon thereafter.


I am not suggesting that everyone who buys my books and/or tries a Heavy Duty, high-intensity training program will actualize his potential in so short a time. This is because, as I've learned through conversations with those who have read my books, that they don't always fully understand the theory's proper, practical application.

My main point is that with a sound, valid theoretical approach to training, progress should be immediate, continuous and worthwhile all the way to the full actualization of one's potential. Also, that the actualization of one's potential, too, is a genetically determined trait; therefore, there will be those who reach their upper limits in a matter of a few months, some a year and others slightly longer.

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