I was recently asked through an email to elaborate on my thoughts about Mike Mentzer’s hit programs (high intensity training routines). It’s funny that I received an email like that, because this was actually a podcast idea that had been on my mind for a while now, but my fear was that a podcast about may leave a few things out.
For those of you that are new to bodybuilding and/or aren’t familiar with the late Mike Mentzer, Mike was a bodybuilder who was a proponent of brief and intense workouts called HIT workouts, with more days spent out of the gym than in the gym, due to the body’s “precious recovery demands”.
Now, before we get going here, I’m not just some guy that read an article on Mike Mentzer and developed an opinion based on the need to put something out there and just talk about content. Nope. I’ve lived, eaten, and breathed HIT training for a long time and developed my own opinions on HIT training based on my own results and experiences with it.
There are parts of HIT training that I like, and there are parts of HIT training that I don’t like. Actually, let me rephrase that; there are parts of TRADITIONAL HIT TRAINING that I don’t like!
Of course, this article is based solely on my own opinions and experience with HIT training and just because I don’t agree with certain things, doesn’t mean they don’t work for someone else. So, take what you read here and throw it in your toolbox, but never discredit your own experience and intuition, and until you get the experience you simply won’t know the answers because you haven’t applied the practice.
Furthermore, I personally did not know the late Mike Mentzer and any opinions I have are based on what I’ve heard and read through books, seminars, and articles. If I say something negative then it’s based on what I’ve seen, heard, and read, and nothing more. But I’m not one to just write an article to appease the masses and sit around in some love, peace, and joy circle-jerk either.
THINGS I LIKE ABOUT HIT TRAINING & MIKE MENTZER
There is no doubt that traditional HIT training doesn’t build muscle at a rapid rate. I feel like it’s human nature to be obsessive compulsive with things that we get involved with, and HIT was developed more upon the science of muscular growth rather than this pipe dream that as long as you want something bad enough then it’ll happen.
I may want to be a millionaire one day, but I continue to work at McDonald’s. It doesn’t quite work that way, and unless you change the approach you may never get to where you want to be.
This was one thing about Mike Mentzer that I really liked, it’s that he put so much emphasis on killing it during those sets and lifting with good form, in a slow and deliberate manner. It’s harder to lift slowly and focus on feeling those contractions than it is just to heave the weights and make them move.
Over time I learned the value of good form and time under tension over simply lifting weights, and I feel like someone that can begin their journey with this in mind is off to a much better start than someone who sloppily heaves the weights around.
I also like the fact that Mike Mentzer had a similar outlook to me on nutrient values for building muscle. Mike believed that the carbohydrate was just as important as protein, if not more important, and that at the end of the day calories in versus calories out was more important than totally depleting a nutrient (like these keto clowns advocate so much nowadays!)
Another thing that I liked about Mentzer and the few others in his HIT crew was that they didn’t talk a lot about supplements, because they didn’t want you to believe that supplements were the answer to avoiding hard work and a sound diet.
There also wasn’t really any talk about performance enhancement either, and while part of me can understand this, there is a huge part of me that thinks it’s a flaw in his teachings and discredits a lot of what is just flat-out reality when it comes to muscular development. But I’ll get more into that later in this article.
I liked the fact that Mike wasn’t really big on which type of resistance you were using, as long as you were pushing your body then you were pushing your body. Now, I’m not sure if part of this theory came from Arthur Jones who was the inventor and founder of Nautilus workout machines, or if Mike formulated this opinion on his own, but I’m personally from the same camp myself!
This whole mind-frame of “squat versus leg press, bench press superior to machine press, dumbbells superior to machines and cables” is quite simply bullshit to me! The way I lift is straight up pain, a living hell that builds results no matter what the hell I’m using. So, it honestly doesn’t matter to me AT THIS POINT IN TIME.
Let me say that again, AT THIS POINT IN TIME! Do I think a beginner with no experience needs to begin with all machines and avoid exercises like the push-up, pull-up, bench press and deadlift? Nope! I feel like a beginner needs to learn to focus on lifting against gravity, pure and simple!
Machines are more beneficial once you’re experienced and can understand things like time under tension, training for pump, adding pounds in your mind by changing the force of a muscular contraction and/or rep tempo. But until your muscles become conditioned and accustomed to working routinely, this is not as easily achieved by beginning with machines!
Is it okay to incorporate machines into a free-weight regimen as a new lifter? Absolutely, just don’t make them a staple until you learn to build some muscle with the basics first. Hell, I’d even suggest mostly calisthenics like pushups and pull-ups as a starting point before weights!
HOWEVER, for a seasoned bodybuilder, this whole argument about free-weights versus machines simply doesn’t matter to me… I LIKE AT ALL! IT ALL WORKS FOR ME!
Another thing about Mike Mentzer’s HIT style training is that it doesn’t deplete you so bad that you cannot have a life outside of the gym. It’s a very realistic style of training for someone that is busy or more time consumed with another activity in life, such as building a business or pursuing a college degree.
There just comes a point where spending too much time in the gym and not enough time recovering can make living life extremely difficult.
Remember, not everyone is in the same place in life as the next guy or girl. While you may have 2 free hours a day to go to the gym, someone else may struggle to free up 45 minutes-1 hr. The HIT system is very good for developing results while focusing on improvements in other areas of life at the same time!
Another thing that I found positive about traditional HIT training was that I could go further on less. What I mean by that, is that if I was volume training and was starving on 3,500 calories a day, with HIT I might be able to get the same sort of results on 2,600 calories a day, since I wasn’t burning so much all week long and in a constant state of being worn down and depleted.
I may feel more awake and mentally sharp training HIT style as opposed to volume and I may be in this state of continuing to take little bites at a time to improve my body, rather than this extremist crash and burn approach that can sometimes come from high volume training.
Another positive that HIT brings to the table is high intensity techniques that serve as fantastic ways to build muscle beyond just a set and rep count. Certain HIT techniques like static holds, “superslow sets,” and extreme stretching are great ways to provide a different type of strength and stimulation to build new muscle mass.
They can also become little goals within the workout that are exciting to break through. If I did a 1 minute static hold with 2 plates on each side of a Hammer strength machine last week, and this week I was able to do 2 plates plus a 5 lb plate on each side, and hit the same 1 minute count, it can be very exciting to see your strength improving in a different sort of way!
These would all be the positives that I’ve learned through Mentzer style HIT training. It all sounds great right? By this point you might be wondering, “So what are the negatives? Why wouldn’t everybody train this way?”
Trust me, there are some negatives with traditional HIT training, and Mike Mentzer didn’t know everything! Don’t get me wrong, I give the man a ton of credit and you can certainly get results doing things the Mentzer way…
DEPENDING ON WHO YOU ARE AND WHERE YOU’RE AT WITH YOUR DEVELOPMENT.
THE GRAY AREA WITH MIKE MENTZER
Mike Mentzer trained with volume training just like everyone else did during the Golden era of bodybuilding UNTIL HE MET UP WITH ARTHUR JONES, the inventor and creator of Nautilus equipment.
Arthur Jones was a different breed, more of an innovator and analytical guy than a bodybuilder, but still a very wise person. Jones needed bodybuilders to help demonstrate and market Nautilus equipment, and the need to show why machines were superior to free weights is where some of these bodybuilders came into play.
How do I know that Mentzer trained with high volume until Arthur Jones? Easy, I’m good friends with a guy that used to train right next to him in the gym. Mike was always in shape, had a hard work ethic and great physique long before the days of touting high intensity, infrequent training sessions, so infrequent that it was almost like “Why the fuck even train at all?”
Most people would not stick the path with their diet if they were only in the gym once every 4-7 days and they simply wouldn’t be consistent with it with a feeling as if they were barely stepping foot in the gym at all.
This thought always pops in my mind…”How much was real truth and how much of HIT was purely a selling point piggy-backed on Arthur Jones and his nazi type lectures? You see, Jones was an odd guy that compared bodybuilders to animals like gorillas and lions.
His thought process was that an animal such as a lion could lay around all day, but when he needed to act out then he could tear something limb from limb and could be as ferocious as ever. Well Sir, humans aren’t gorillas and lions.
We don’t get strong like gorillas do eating a diet based on nothing but plants, nor do we climb trees like gorillas. The comparisons that Jones made between humans and animals sounded nice, but it’s apples and oranges to me.
Remember earlier on in this article when I explained that Mentzer didn’t talk about anabolics as they pertained to this superior HIT training system? Well, as much of a positive is that could be to emphasize intense training and good nutrition, it’s also something that simply cannot be compared to a bodybuilder using anabolics to build muscle.
I don’t give a flying fuck if you take a week off between training sessions, eat boatloads of food, and rub your magic genie lamp all day long to show that there is a superior way to train that surpasses someone on performance enhancement. I’m smarter than that AND I DON’T FUCKING BUY INTO IT!
Jones even had the audacity to explain that the only athlete using anabolics under his tutelage was Sergio Oliva, because his body simply couldn’t go through the shock of coming off steroids and training under his system, it would be too much.
So, all of these so called “experimental pupils” were training 100% natural under Arthur Jones.
YEAH… FUCKING BULLSHIT!
Mentzer talked about health and recovery constantly as it pertained to HIT training, meanwhile he had a speed addiction that damn near left him on the streets homeless. Just because someone preaches something doesn’t mean I’m eating what they’re giving me whole if they’re not living it.
Mentzer eventually stopped training, chain-smoked cigarettes, and never got over that 5th place finish at the 1980 Mr. Olympia.
Mike also took the stage around 215 lbs, so clearly not the largest guy in the pack by any means. Wait, so there were guys training with volume that were larger than Mentzer? You bet your ass there were!
I could better understand the superiority of traditional HIT training if you showed me the numbers. But the truth is, outside of just a few guys training HIT style, there just haven’t been a lot of bodybuilders on a stage who got there by doing strictly HIT training!
And no, I wouldn’t even consider Dorian Yates one of them, because even Dorian went to the gym about 4x a week, he just didn’t do an insane amount of volume while he was in there. This I can get with; this I can better understand!
But like I said before, why the fuck even lift at all if your goal is to build muscle by going to the gym once or twice a week? How many people are great at what they do by doing it as little as possible? VERY FEW!
There was a story about Dorian Yates talking to Mike Mentzer about how much volume he should be doing while preparing for a Mr. Olympia competition. Mike’s answer to the question of what Dorian should be doing on back day was a single exercise of wide grip pulldowns.
That’s right, 215 lb Mike Mentzer was trying to kick some knowledge to 265 lb mass monster Dorian Yates, about how Dorian could be even better…and out of all things he was suggesting what he should be doing for his fucking back! Have you seen Dorian’s back photos when he was a competitive bodybuilder? This would be like trying to tell a guy like Elon Musk how to make money.
Dude, just shut the fuck up already, we’ve heard enough out of you!
With these guys it was their way or the highway, they were the furthest thing from open-minded when it came to talking about bodybuilding! This brings me to the negatives about HIT training, again, through experience!
THINGS I DO NOT LIKE ABOUT HIT TRAINING
Let me just start out by saying it’s more of the infrequency and rep schemes of HIT training that I’m not crazy about, based on where I’m at with my own bodybuilding journey. While I can appreciate the slow and methodical reps that HIT training advocates, the rep schemes in most HIT programs are still a bit on the low end for myself.
While the rep schemes of HIT are effective for someone newer to training and still growing, there is sort of a missing link in there for someone BRAND NEW to resistance training. In my opinion, it’s safer and more effective to work in slightly higher rep schemes and move downward as your muscles become more accustomed to work output.
I feel like someone would benefit more from doing sets of pushups in the 20-25 rep range and then move into weights as they become stronger rather than to simply start off with 6-8 reps to failure. But hey, that’s just me.
I feel like HIT training has more of its place with someone that has about 1 year of consistent weight training under their belt rather than starting off your resistance training this way. But after that first year and that base foundation then I think it’s a great way to build muscle and make gains quickly.
I also feel like the whole notebook thing and jotting everything down week to week takes some of the fun out of the gym and just isn’t always necessary. When I hit a set and do X number of lbs for X number of reps, that number and weight is stored in my mind for the following workout because it was meaningful to me.
I don’t need to necessarily write everything down and have one more thing to fuck with when I’m at the gym. I simply don’t feel the need to overcomplicate a process that doesn’t need to be that involved to make great progress.
Also, I’m sort of on the fence about the infrequency of traditional Mentzer style HIT training for a newer trainee. I believe that immersing yourself in frequent muscle stimulation can lead to fantastic results for the simple fact that everything is new and is stimulation when you’re new.
And it’s also good to strike when the iron is hot. Go in that gym regularly when you’re new and your motivation is through the roof and live in the moment! I gained roughly 36 lbs of mostly lean mass my first year of resistance training and I was training regularly in the gym about 5-6x per week.
I was still recovering enough to get stronger because at that stage of the game you’re sending a signal to your body to adapt and overcome from the stress you’re putting yourself through lifting weights. Bottom line is frequency and consistency worked for me, and I wasn’t using steroids or supplements in that first year that I gained that mass.
Would infrequent, HIT workouts have given me more? I doubt it, because the weight room would be almost new to me again every time I stepped foot in there since I’d be training so infrequently. I think it’s best to take advantage of the new stimulus of weight training and hit it regularly!
And let’s just face the reality of it all, how many people can really lay out of the gym for even a few days between workouts when they’re passionate about it and they have that newbie fire under their belts? PROBABLY NONE!
Let’s not forget that everyone that was being used under Arthur Jones, including Mike Mentzer, wasn’t new to training! Guys like Boyer Coe, Ray and Mike Mentzer, and Casey Viator already had crazy development and experience before they ever jumped on that HIT bandwagon.
That tells me that volume training got them to where they needed to be for someone to market them. Again, missing links and gray areas!
Also, how about the mental benefit from regular gym sessions 4-6 times a week? This is something that the “Mentzer way” never talked about! Sure, maybe you can get other things done by laying out of the gym more, but what about the person who just lost a spouse or a child and needs an outlet?
What about the person who just filed a bankruptcy or went through a separation? Would it be better for that person to lay out of the gym more than days they go? I think not!
Bodybuilding is about so much more than taking a fucking pen to jot your shit down in a gym and analyze the ever-loving shit out of it on your days off! That takes some of the fun and positives away from it.
HIT training is based solely on progressive overload, beating your last best lifts week to week or “you’re wasting your time.” Really?
Well, how about someone dieting who is inevitably going to get weaker as their caloric intake becomes lower and they get leaner? I must have missed those chapters in all of those HIT books I’ve read!
What about the guy running Winstrol who is getting dryer as the weeks move forward? Is this whole “beat what you did last week” a safe way for him to train? FUCK NO!
How about the person that’s working through an injury or a muscle tear? Is traditional HIT the way to go for this person? FUCK NO!
How about someone who is in their 40s and has already gained 80 lbs of mass from where they were when they started? Should they just focus on this style of training and forget about the use of testosterone, Deca, Primobolan and HGH? I mean if the system is so superior then surely we can still make gains by laying out of the gym most of the week, right? WRONG!
Does a boxer only train once a week when he’s preparing for a title fight?
Do basketball players only practice once in a while to save their energy for game day?
Does a professional skateboarder land a trick and then go take a seat and jot it down in his stupid fucking notebook? NO, HE REMEMBERS IT!
Not to mention, with so few sets and exercises involved in a traditional HIT workout, do you really need to write everything down?
Mike Mentzer also thought that doing cardio was a waste of time.
Funny, I get great results from cardio on a regular basis, and so do countless others that do it to shed body fat and maintain cardiac health!
But maybe we should just disregard all of this nonsense and continue to focus on a style of training that is strictly 1 dimensional as it was laid out and marketed to the masses.
Because that’s what traditional HIT training is, a 1 dimensional training system that is best suited for select individuals who are at the right place in their development where it can be implemented and effective.
I’m not saying it’s not effective here, it’s hella effective…for certain people. But this whole 1 size-fits all thing that HIT tried to blanket as a superior training system for everyone, I don’t think so.
BUT JD, YOU TALKED HIGHLY ABOUT HIT IN YOUR PAST ARTICLES?
Listen, HIT is effective! As I’ve gone through different phases of my own training, I’ve just found ways to take bits and pieces of training systems and implement them into superior training systems that worked better for me and where I’m at with bodybuilding.
At certain points HIT was the best thing I could have done! There were times when I began looking better by taking more time off from the gym between workouts. There were times when I did write down my sets and reps in a little memo book and take it with me to the gym.
There were times when I was going to the gym on limited time and HIT seemed more realistic for me than volume training.
But then there were times where HIT was short lived, progressive resistance no longer worked, heavier training led to injuries, I felt like a few more warmup sets were needed, and I learned that high rep sets actually worked for growth!
I had basically gotten so advanced that the traditional “3-5 reps for strength, 8-10 reps for hypertrophy” became irrelevant to where I was at and this cliche, one size-fits all approach just wasn’t the best fit for me anymore.
HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean that I still don’t use some HIT principles. But it just doesn’t work like “set 1- light warmup, set 2- moderate warmup, set 3- heavy warmup, set 4- all out to where you fail at 6-8 reps.”
Nope, that shit doesn’t work for me anymore! Nowadays, it might be something like “set 1- rip out 100 reps straight through, sets 2, 3 & 4- 6-8 reps with a 10 second negative and 10 second positive (you see? a Mentzer HIT technique in there!)
So, I do take some parts of Mentzer style training and apply them to my own routines. I’m just smart enough to think for myself sometimes and I don’t need to look at a program and do it EXACTLY AS IT’S WRITTEN WITH THE EXACT EXERCISES LAID OUT!
Like I said before, there was a lot about the late Mike Mentzer that is incredible (let’s just call it for what it really was, Arthur Jones system translated through Mike Mentzer). Mike had a way of explaining some things that made sense, but the nazi-like & condescending manner in which Jones and Mentzer explained things was just far too one sided and arrogant for my liking.
It would be a different story if we collectively had all of these bodybuilders with inferior physiques on one side of the fence, and a group of individuals who were over the top and put them to shame on the other side of the fence, but the truth is we don’t. Therefore, I can’t just come forward and say that this training style is so superior that it makes every other training style garbage.
Time and place, that’s my opinion on “the Mentzer way.” It has its advantages and disadvantages depending on your time and your place in bodybuilding, muscular development, and life.
By no means is it not effective, it’s just not the best of the best training style for everyone depending on where they’re at. Try it out and see what kind of results you can get from it. Listen to some of the Mike Mentzer videos and read some of the books and articles he’s written, because it’s not useless information at all!
Mike Mentzer had an incredible physique, and he wasn’t an idiot by any stretch. But be open-minded enough to think for yourself, because so very few of these guys are telling you 100% of the story. Mike built his physique with high volume before Jones got a hold of him.
Mike became an extension of Arthur Jones, who was more of an inventor and salesman than he ever was a bodybuilder. Don’t swallow everything in the fitness industry as whole. Chew that shit up first and figure out what truly works best for you! Just because someone said it doesn’t mean it’s 100% gospel.
(For anyone interested in a different type of training program that provides reps, time under tension, and some HIT principles, in a realistic and effective program for getting in top shape, try Shredded Ops. Shredded Ops is a super effective workout routine that was developed from years of experience taking pieces of things from different training styles and combining them together in a routine that works extremely well!)