The bodybuilding world changed with the emergence of Mike Mentzer on the competitive scene. Mentzer made his first impression on the bodybuilding consciousness when he won the 1976 IFBB Mr. America contest.
However, it was not until he began giving interviews for the bodybuilding magazines about his training methods that Mentzer really began to cause waves in the bodybuilding community.
At the time of Mentzer’s first big bodybuilding victory, the vast majority of bodybuilders trained using the high volume approach. This involved performing as many as 30 sets per muscle group and training each bodypart 2-3 days per week. The magazines often cited Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Olympia training program (training six days a week, twice a day with each muscle group being worked three times per week) as the most effective way of building a championship physique.
Mentzer, on the other hand, claimed that he only trained three days per week and each workout only lasted approximately one hour in length. Furthermore, Mentzer shocked the bodybuilding world with the revelation that he only performed a total of 5-6 sets for each muscle group. The new IFBB Mr. America said that his physique improved dramatically (he was a distant third place in his height class in the previous years Mr. America competition) when he began training each muscle group with less sets and less time in the gym.
Mentzer theorized that an individual could train a muscle either hard or long but it is impossible to do both. In other words, a bodybuilder who is using 30 sets to train a bodypart could not possibly be training that muscle hard. A bodybuilder who trains like that is pacing himself to get through the high volume of training for that workout. If a bodybuilder was really training hard each and every set, it would be impossible to perform that many sets. It would be equivalent to sprinting a marathon.
The HIT Method of Training
Mike Mentzer’s method of training eventually became known as HIT (High Intensity Training). This training philosophy involves using high intensity training for each set until the muscle reaches total failure. Due to the degree of intensity involved, each muscle group is trained with a limited number of sets.
Mike Mentzer used several different training techniques that allowed him to train a muscle to total failure. He did more than just train with heavy weights and continue the set until his muscles failed. He also used other methods to extend the set beyond the normal range of muscular exhaustion. Here are some of the training techniques Mike Mentzer utilized in his training:
- Forced Reps – This method involves using a training partner (or your own free hand during some dumbbell exercises) to assist the weight up after the muscle reaches failure. Performed correctly, you should only be able to perform 1-2 forced reps. If you can do more than this amount, your partner is probably carrying too much of the load. Forced reps can be used on most barbell and dumbbell exercises as well as nearly any movement involving a machine.
- Partial Reps – If you don’t have a training partner, you can still extend a set beyond normal failure by doing half reps or quarter reps until the muscle cannot move another inch. Partial reps are effective on many back exercises that are inconvenient for forced reps. They also work well with some leg exercises.
- Negatives – Since a muscle is always stronger in the eccentric, or negative, phase of a repetition, you can continue a set after normal concentric, or positive, failure by having a partner or partners lift the weight through the positive phase of the movement so you can resist the weight through the negative portion. You can also occasionally do negatives without first doing the concentric part of an exercise by having a training partner (or partners) lift the weight to the starting position while you perform the eccentric part of the rep under control.
- Drop sets – This technique is similar to forced reps but you do it without the help of a partner. After you hit failure during a set, immediately reduce the weight so you can continue doing the set. You can do several drop sets before total failure takes place. Cable exercises in which you can quickly and easily reduce the weight work well for drop sets as does any exercise involving dumbbells. You can also do drop sets with barbell exercises or plate loaded machines if you have a training partner who can quickly reduce the weight.
- Rest/pause – The rest/pause technique involves using a very heavy poundage for a single repetition and then pausing – either by racking the weight or putting the weight down – for several seconds before doing another single repetition. The normal rep range when using the rest/pause technique is 5-6 repetitions in a single set. There is normally a 10 second pause between each rep when using the Rest Pause technique.
- Pre-exhaust – Another favorite training technique of Mike Mentzer was actually originated from MuscleMag International founder Robert Kennedy. The pre-exhaust method of training involves using an isolation exercise followed immediately by a compound exercise. The theory is that you will exhaust the primary muscle using an isolation movement before taking the muscle further into failure with the help of the auxiliary muscles used in the compound exercise. For example, if you used the leg extension exercise to exhaust the quadriceps, you could superset that exercise with the squat or leg press which would use the muscles of the hips and glutes to continue the assault on the quadriceps.
If you decide to use any of these techniques in your next workout, make sure you adjust the volume of your workout. When using more intensity in your training, reduce the total number of sets and put more effort into each individual set. Also be careful to do several warm-up sets for a muscle group before utilizing any of the high-intensity techniques listed above. The muscles, tendons and ligaments need to thoroughly warmed up before pushing a set to total failure.
About the Author
John Hansen is a competitive natural bodybuilder who has won the first Natural Mr. Olympia title and is a three time Natural Mr. Universe winner. John has appeared in various magazine covers and contributes material to various online and traditional magazines, including IRONMAN Magazine, where he has a monthly column.
It should be mentioned that at 49 years old, John Hansen also won the 2012 Natural Mr. Universe in the Professional Masters division; 20 years after winning his first Natural Mr. Universe title in 1992! You can follow John through his several websites including www.naturalolympia.com, www.johnhansenfitness.com, www.musclesatthemovies.com and his YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/naturalolympia. To contact John, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org