There may be no common denominator more important or more obvious in the world of bodybuilding than the frustration that surely comes with lack of gains. Plateauing is something that all of us deal with, but not everyone understands exactly what may be causing the stall in progress. Plateaus can last weeks, months or even years, and can be such a discouraging problem that people (beginners especially) quit the game altogether. But what is causing our lack of progress is what we should be asking. Why is it that we train so hard for hours at a time and see no noticeable effect? Mike Mentzer has a different view on training. Understanding and applying Mentzer’s principles may be the key to unlocking your bodybuilding potential.
Mike Mentzer is a bodybuilder from the good ‘ol days. He was the first (and only) bodybuilder to ever receive a perfect score for the Mr Universe contest. But Mentzer was more than a bodybuilder – he was a thinker. Mentzer was a trainer, and worked tirelessly to help thousands of clients reach their bodybuilding goals, with his most famous trainee being former Mr Olympia, Dorian Yates.
Mentzer’s principles revolved around a few basic ideas, but while they were well researched and highly effective, they were also horribly unpopular. The first idea of Mentzer’s is that muscle growth is stimulated not by volume, but by intensity. Second, that the human body’s capacity for recovery is much less than we make it out to be. And thirdly, that workouts should be short and infrequent to avoid overtraining.
To begin, muscle growth is triggered by high intensity exercise, and contrary to popular belief, one cannot train long and hard. Because growth is triggered by hard exercise, one can certainly not expect to truly workout hard, while also working out for a long time. If the exercise was truly hard, it would be impossible to train long. Mentzer believed in this so much that he said that muscle growth could be triggered through only one set! Of course, this one set would have to be very intense, and to be so, would need to incorporate any number of extra training techniques (rest-pause, static/negative reps, drop sets, etc). But the principle remains - intensity over volume.
But why only one set? When we lift weights we break down muscle, creating an “inroad”. When we recover, we fill in that inroad, and build up some extra – a “gain”. The more we work out, the deeper the inroad, and hens the longer it will take to not only recover to our original point, but to make any gains. The ideal is to stimulate growth, while making the smallest inroad possible. When we workout for multiple sets we deepen the inroad, and overtrain, thus stalling our progress.
Mentzer’s third principle pertains to how long it actually takes to recover. While most of us would like to think that a good night’s rest is enough for our bodies to recover and grow, it’s not. Mentzer advocated training at most 3 times a week, and even suggested later that one workout every two weeks may yield the best results for some trainees.
So, what’s the jist of all of this? Workouts should be short, intense, and infrequent.
But wait. If this is true, why do we hear about all the professional bodybuilders doing 20, 30, or 40 sets per workout and working out 5-7 days a week? Obviously, these guys know what they’re doing – they’re the best. But there are a few things that separate pros from the rest of us. The first is steroids, and a large budget to go along with them. The second is genetics. With or without steroids, the top guys would still be the top guys because of their genetics.
It’s understandable that many are still weary. We’ve been taught for years that building muscles takes long hard workouts 5 days a week. Unfortunately, that belief is causing many of us great frustration. If you are at a plateau then you may want to try a more Mentzer-esk routine.
Part II coming soon.