Who was Mike Mentzer? Mike Mentzer was a legendary bodybuilder who won the 1978 Mr. Universe, becoming the first bodybuilder ever to get a perfect score from the judges. Considering the lack of science-based knowledge, supplements and the variety of elaborate training techniques we have today, that win was a huge accomplishment that launched Mike’s future career.
During the next two decades, Mike Mentzer created a lot of fuss with the unconventional training philosophy he wrote about in his Heavy Duty articles and which emphasized brief, intensive and infrequent workouts. His popularity waned after the infamous Mr. Olympia contest in 1980, when he lost the title to Arnold Schwarzenegger and had the crowds shout “Fix!” at him.
Mike Mentzer ‘once a week’ training philosophy
Mentzer believed that almost all bodybuilders were overtraining and that this slowed down their progress. At that time, most top-level bodybuilders had long training sessions that included more than 20 sets per body part, 5-6 days a week, and Mike thought they were doing it completely wrong. He himself typically trained three times a week and his 30-minute workouts incorporated no more than 5 sets per body part.
Mentzer preached high-intensity exercise once a week or once every five to seven days and stressed that 20-30 minutes were ideal for achieving maximum muscle stimulation. But as his shape and health deteriorated throughout the 90’s, Mike lost a big part of his followers.
Mike Mentzer’s once a week training philosophy was so unconventional that, to this very day, different bodybuilders hold radically different views on his approach. While some truly believe he was a genius, others think he was completely crazy.
The study on “once a week” Training
However, some new scientific studies proved that there is some truth in Mike Mentzer’s “once a week” training claims. One team of researchers tried to examine how muscle mass and strength were influenced by reducing the number of training sessions per week to one. For this purpose, 70 healthy adults were divided into two groups according to their age.
The first group consisted of young adults between ages 20 and 35, while the other consisted of older adults, aged 60-75. During the first phase of the study, which lasted 16 weeks, both groups performed three sets of three resistance-training exercises three times a week.
Then, they were divided into three groups for the second, de-training phase: one group completely stopped training, the second group reduced the training days from three to one but kept the same number of sets, and the third group also reduced the training days from three to one but reduced the training sets from three to one as well.
The results from this elaborate study showed that when it comes to Mentzer’s once a week training method, age makes a big difference. In other words, in the group of older adults, nobody maintained their muscle size after cutting down to one session per week, even though they managed to maintain their strength.
On the other hand, the younger bodybuilders who reduced both the number of sessions per week (from 3 to 1) and the exercise volume (from 3 sets to 1) maintained their muscle size, while those who cut down to exercising once a week but maintained the exercise volume (3 sets) managed to increase their muscle size.
The researchers concluded that once a week training with an adequate exercise volume can successfully stimulate muscle growth in younger adults, but older gym goers who want to maintain their muscle mass should stick to longer and more frequent training sessions.
You haven’t mentioned Intensity. Train with less intensity and you will need more volume. Train with more intensity and you will need less volume. Mentzers training was based around intensity. Training to failure, otherwise low volume doesn’t work as well.
Your conclusion for the older group of 60 to 75 year old trainees makes no sense at all. If trainees in this group with less volume and loss muscle mass than how in the hell is increasing the volume of training going to increase muscle mass. Once again just like Mentzer stated you are falling into the trap that many body builders are confused in that the more is better like more money is better, more women are better, taking more s******s is better! Increasing the volume also increases the amount of recovery time need to make the gains needed. The body has a limited amount chemical reserves and when used up only rest can restore those reserves. Unless one is on drugs (s******s) can one get away with insane high volume workouts. It is possible to not make gains using a once a week workout with only 3 sets if the intensity is not there you will not make gains. You can train long or hard but you can’t do both. Another point I would like to make is muscle size and strength are inter related meaning a muscle can not increase in size with out an increase in strength and an increase in strength can not occur unless the weight used is increased. Muscle size increase is a result of the body fighting the stress put upon it by increased muscle mass. Muscles will not shrink unless their is a loss of strength so your statement that the trainees in the 65 to 70 age group lost strength but not mass again makes no sense. It is physical and biologically impossible! This kind of research is the kind of mindless dribble that has lead to the confusion still common in body building today! Please to anyone reading this, Read up on Mike Mentzer on his training methods and learn what true productive weight training is really about. Youtube is a great place to start and also check out John Littles youtube channel. He was a close friend of Mike’s and is and has been great writer for many years on productive bodybuilding.
Hi John, You are right as I doubt that the training intensity part of this study probably never even crossed their minds.
Read the rest of my comments below!
If this was a true test of Mike Mentzer’s HIT training than why did this study start out with training 3 days a week instead of one. The study was suppose to be training one day a week not 3. The study did not mention what exercises were being done. Were the same ones being done each workout for 3 times in a week. That right there is over training. A muscle does not need to be trained more than once in a 7 day period. The conclusion was that age does make a difference. Dam, it took 16 weeks for you to figure that one out. Gosh, how stupid can one be. You changed the rules if there really were any in this study to your own to fit your narrative that one workout per week was not effective in gaining both size and strength. A proper training protocol should have been about 3 different exercise of one set each in a high intensity method of taking each set to failure once every 7 days.
Mike trained about 500 clients using this method and the gains were not just good but dramatic with clients gaining 20 to 30 pounds in a 3 month period. All drug free and of all different ages.
Good point. It seems like many people claim to understand the principles and speak for Mentzer, but most have no real understanding of the HIT system. Intensity is the real factor. It is probably the case that performing one se to less than failure once a week will not produce much in the way of strength or muscle gains. In that case we’re just not following Mentzer’s program. No mention of intensity in the study.
I have to agree with you Jon. As I age, my recovery ability lessens. Why would I train more and deplete my recovery resources even more?? Mentzer always pushed one set to “muscular failure”. If you are not “pushing yourself”, then No, you will not gain. I think this “test” was another way to further Mike’s training programs in favor of the more is better camp.
Remember, when Mentzer did a curl, it was not just the external resistance of the weight he was lifting, that caused the tension, but in addition, he was also “isometrically” tensing the muscle from inside the bicep, adding to the external resistance of the weight. That’s why he advocated only one day per week. It was so that his nervous system could repair itself. Like Eugene Sandow and his “light weight” Method both men were doing isometric contractions (all the way up/out and all the down/back) as part of every exercise. Sandow’s method uses weights to build the mind/nervous system/muscle-connection contraction feed back loop so that, if your lifting a 10lb dumbbell, with the isometric contraction added, inside your arm, it feels like your lifting a much heavier weight. Especially if you lift slowly, instead of quickly pumping out 12-15 mindless curls. Try doing that with to a count of five going up and down with the added aforementioned added isometric contraction. One set may gas you out.
Yes Robert you are right on the money. As we age we should be training less but not more. As men and even women for that matter age our hormone levels drop as we age making it harder and harder to do the things we once did say in our 20’s as compared to my age now which is 64.
I hope that anyone reading this article does not take is seriously. Mike Mentzer’s workouts are perfect for any age. Meaning that your routine should be setup for what gives you the best gains like he once said ” not more or less but what is exact”