Last updated on November 22, 2023
You know when you start seeing someone or something everywhere? That’s been me with the Mike Mentzer heavy duty workout on my Instagram feed lately.
Thanks to this Instagram blitz, I’ve been soaking up info about Mike Mentzer and his unconventional “Heavy Duty” training philosophy. The younger gym-goers are absolutely hooked on Heavy Duty, and I get why.
But it wasn’t just about looks; he was a bit of a philosopher too. With his scholarly vibes and love for deep thinking (especially into Ayn Rand’s Objectivism), art, and good tunes, he was the full package for a lot of folks – brains and brawn in one.
Now, why’s Heavy Duty blowing up?
Because it promises massive muscle growth with potentially just one set of exercises per body part per week.
Crazy, right? Especially when you consider that back in the ’70s and ’80s, the big thing was high-volume workouts.
Guys like Arnold Schwarzenegger were hitting the gym for hours, twice a day, every day. It was all about pumping those muscles with tons of sets to make them grow.
Mentzer, influenced by Arthur Jones’ high-intensity training philosophy, thought all that excessive training was a waste of time and didn’t give the best results.
So, the Heavy Duty approach was a game-changer, challenging the bodybuilding norms of the time.
Curious about all the buzz around Heavy Duty, I dove in deep to uncover how it works and whether it lives up to the hype. Here’s what I discovered about this program and whether it’s the real deal.
What you'll learn:
➤ Mike Mentzer Heavy Duty Principles
Heavy Duty isn’t a brand-new idea in training. It’s actually a spin-off of high-intensity training, where the goal is to push your muscles to their absolute limit.
Remember Arthur Jones? He laid the groundwork for this style, and Mentzer played a big role in making it popular, especially through his work with Dorian Yates.
Mentzer’s Heavy Duty plan changed over time. Initially, most experts agree he had some solid ideas. But as time went on, he got pretty extreme, especially about how much and how often you should train.
Now, here’s the thing about Mentzer: he had some serious genetic advantages for bodybuilding, plus he didn’t shy away from using steroids to get that physique.
But here’s the kicker: he believed his training routines could work for regular folks who didn’t have his genetics or the help of steroids.
High Intensity Training (HIT)
So, here’s the deal with Heavy Duty: intensity is everything. According to Mentzer, how hard you push during your workout matters more than how much you do. But what does he mean by intensity?
He breaks it down as “the percentage of effort your muscles give at that exact moment.”
For Mentzer, you’ve got to aim for reps that push you to almost 100% effort to really make those muscles grow. And you only hit that point by going all the way until you can’t do another rep.
Mentzer gets hyped about this last rep where you’re basically giving it your all – teeth gritted, shaking, maybe needing a hand. That’s the golden rep for him, the one that triggers your body to grow.
Science actually backs this up. When you’re struggling through those last tough reps, your muscles get all this tension that kickstarts growth.
You’ll notice it when those lifts start feeling slower and tougher – those are the reps that tell your body, “Hey, time to grow more muscle!”
To nail that intensity, it’s all about control. Lift and lower that weight smoothly, no sudden movements to make it easier. And there’s a rhythm to it: two seconds up, two-second pause, and four seconds down. That slow and steady approach is key.
Mentzer had tricks up his sleeve, too. Things like tiring out a muscle before hitting it hard or getting a little help from a friend for those last tough reps. All these tactics were aimed at getting you closer to that failure point faster.
So, the bottom line: to make those muscles grow, you’ve got to push them to their absolute limit. It’s Heavy Duty all the way!
One of the big attractions of Heavy Duty is its low-volume approach.
Here’s the deal: you can get that muscle-building tension with high or low reps. But it’s easier to hit that intense spot with fewer reps.
Picture this: If you’re using lighter weights, you’ll have to do loads of reps before your muscles start feeling that tension. It’s exhausting and might slow down muscle growth.
But grab heavier weights, and you hit that tension sweet spot faster with fewer reps. Think bicep curls with a 10-pound dumbbell needing 50 reps versus curling a 50-pound dumbbell for just 3 reps. Less fatigue, quicker muscle-building.
Mentzer’s take? Use that saved time for some brainy stuff like philosophy or art.
Initially, Mentzer recommended 1 to 2 sets of 6 to 8 reps per exercise, pushed to failure. If you hit 12 reps, up the weight by 10%, drop to 6 reps, and work back up.
So, what’s a Mentzer-style workout like? Let’s say you’re working those quads:
- Leg extensions: 2 sets (till failure)
- Squats: 1 set (till failure)
- Leg press: 1 set (till failure)
Compare that to a high-volume workout, which might have you doing 4 sets of each exercise – that’s 12 sets for the quads.
But wait, there’s more! In the ’90s, Mentzer rolled out Heavy Duty II, where you’d do just one set for a muscle group. One program could look like:
- Squats: 1 set (till failure)
- Close-grip, palms-up pulldowns: 1 set (till failure)
- Dips: 1 set (till failure)
- Deadlift: 1 set (till failure)
- Presses behind neck: 1 set (till failure)
- Standing calf raises: 1 set (till failure)
Experts and studies seem to agree that 8 sets per muscle group per week might be the sweet spot. More than that might just tire you out without extra gains.
But the volume debate – it’s endless! Some swear by more, like 12-20 sets weekly, for better muscle growth.
The bros were arguing about volume ages ago online, and guess what? They’re still at it today on TikTok. Bet they’ll still be at it in some futuristic virtual reality platform!
Here’s the bottom line: lift to failure, and both high and low volume work. Go with what suits you. Low volume? You’ll get swole quicker and have more time for other things.
Recovery is a big deal in Mentzer’s Heavy Duty plan because that’s when our muscles grow after all the lifting. His idea was to give plenty of time between workouts for top-notch recovery.
In the extreme version, you’d hit a muscle group with just 1 or 2 sets once a week, giving the other six days for recovery.
Now, the science is a bit all over the place on whether training less often helps or hurts muscle growth. Some studies say if you hit those do-to-failure sets for a muscle group during the week, it doesn’t matter if you train once or twice.
So, imagine you’re aiming for 6 sets a week for your chest, with reps in that 6-8 range (sometimes up to 12 as you get stronger).
You could smash those 6 sets all in one chest day:
- Fly deck: 2 sets, go all out
- Incline bench press: 2 sets, max effort
- Cable crossover: 2 sets, give it your all
Then, repeat the chest day a week later.
Or, spread those 6 sets over 2 workouts:
- Fly deck: 2 sets, push to the limit
- Incline bench: 1 set, max effort
- Cable crossover: 2 sets, go all out
- Bench press: 1 set, give it everything
The science folks say both ways work fine.
But here’s the twist: a recent study hints that training a muscle group more than once a week might have extra benefits, even if the total sets remain the same.
The bodybuilding community doesn’t have a clear winner on this. Some like once-a-week blasts, some prefer more frequent hits.
As long as you’re hitting that 3 to 8 sets per week for a muscle group, how often you train comes down to what you feel works best.
For Mentzer, making progress is the key to knowing if your workout plan is doing its job.
If you can:
- add more reps or
- lift heavier weights or
- do the same workout in less time
during each session before hitting that muscle fatigue point, your muscles are making the right changes for growth.
Here’s a heads-up from Mentzer: when it comes to muscle growth, strength comes first. You’ll actually notice yourself getting stronger before you see those muscles getting bigger.
That’s because our bodies learn to lift heavier weights before they start really building muscle. So, don’t worry if it takes a few months before you start seeing those noticeable muscle gains.
👉 Discover More: The Muscle and Strength Pyramid (Nutrition Summary)
Mike Mentzer Heavy Duty 1 Ideal Routine
On his original Heavy Duty book, Mentzer suggested the following routine while resting 1 day between workouts and 2 days at the end of each week. All sets to be done to failure between 6-10 reps.
|1||Pecs||Dumbbell Flyes, Cable Cross or Pec Deck||Superset with Incline Presses|
|Bent-over Dumbbell Laterals or Pec Deck||(for rear delts)|
|Triceps||Lying French Presses||Superset with Triceps Pressdowns|
|2||Lats||Pullovers||Superset with Close-grip Pulldowns|
|Close-grip, palms-up Pulldowns|
|Bent-over Barbell Rows|
|Erectors||Hyperextensions or Deadlifts|
|3||Legs||Leg Extensions||Superset with Leg Presses or Squats|
|Leg Presses or Squats (alternate each workout)|
Mike Mentzer Heavy Duty 2 Ideal Routine
This is the ideal routine as suggested by Mike Mentzer in his book Heavy Duty 2: Mind and Body. Suggested recovery between workouts is 3-4 days.
|1||Chest – Back||Peck Deck – superset||6-10 reps|
|Incline Press||1-3 reps|
|Close Grip Pulldown||6-10 reps|
|2||Legs||Leg Extensions – superset||8-15 reps|
|Leg Press||8-15 reps|
|Calf Raise||12-20 reps|
|3||Delts – Arms||Lateral Raise||6-10 reps|
|Bent Over Raise||6-10 reps|
|Barbell Curl||6-10 reps|
|Triceps Extensions – superset||6-10 reps|
|4||Legs||Leg Extensions – Static Hold||1 rep|
|Calf Raise||12-20 reps|
Mike Mentzer Consolidation Workout
Mike suggests moving into the consolidation workout once you become stronger and start hitting plateaus to avoid overtraining by alternating workouts each week.
|Reverse-Grip Lat Pulldowns||6-10 reps|
Important Points to Remember
|The Ideal Routine||Details|
|1. One Set, Investigate Efficient Methods||Start with one set of listed exercises to explore the most effective approach, even if you doubt it.|
|2. Minimal Rest, Optimize Sets||For supersets, avoid rest to keep all muscles engaged. Minimize rest between non-superset sets for efficiency.|
|3. Reduce Workout Time, Increase Intensity||Aim to cut down on workout duration for higher intensity and productivity. Maintain a balanced pace.|
|4. Keep Warm-ups Concise||Apply the principle of minimal exercise even to warm-ups.|
|5. Execute Exercises Properly||Perform exercises deliberately and smoothly with control throughout the motion.|
|6. Adjust Weight for Optimal Rep Range||Choose weights allowing 6-10 reps to muscle failure. Increase weight as strength grows.|
|7. Use Forced and Negative Reps Sparingly||Occasionally incorporate forced and negative reps to avoid overtraining.|
|8. Manage Training Frequency||Initially, train every other day, taking two full days off after every three-day cycle.|
|9. Recognize Signs of Overtraining||If progress halts for two weeks, take a full week off, then gradually reduce workout volume and frequency.|
|10. Prioritize Strength for Muscle Growth||Strength gains often precede muscle size increases.|
|11. Track Progress Consistently||Keep a detailed record of workout dates, weights, and reps to monitor strength gains.|
|12. Change Exercises, Keep Principles||You can switch exercises while adhering to the core principles.|
|13. No Guarantee of Specific Physique||This routine won’t promise a specific physique; genetics play a role. Following these principles optimizes progress toward your full physical potential.|
Mike Mentzer Nutrition
Mike was a big advocate of a balanced diet (up to 60% carbs, 25% protein, and 15% fat). Although he maintained a strict workout routine, his approach to diet stood in contrast.
Unlike his intense High-Intensity Training (HIT) philosophy, he didn’t overly obsess about his food choices. While he didn’t neglect his diet entirely, he didn’t adhere to the carb-restrictive trends prevalent among bodybuilders during his time.
Mentzer’s perspective on calorie intake was straightforward: for gaining 10 pounds of muscle in a year, an additional 6000 calories were necessary, considering that each pound of muscle requires about 600 calories.
This roughly translates to a mere 16 extra calories per day, with only four originating from protein, as muscle consists of approximately 22% protein.
His approach deviated from the typical focus on high-carb diets. Instead, he recommended incorporating four servings of quality grains and fruits, along with two portions of dairy and protein into daily meals.
Mentzer’s muscle-building food choices were:
- Oatmeal & whole grains: Providing complex carbs for sustained energy and satiety.
- Eggs: Serving as a convenient source of protein.
- Chicken breast: Offering lean protein for various culinary preparations.
- Fish (salmon and tuna): Providing Omega-3 fatty acids for enhanced health benefits.
- Fruits: His preferences included apples, oranges, strawberries, apricots, grapes, blueberries, and bananas.
- Lentils: Incorporating fiber-rich legumes for both fullness and improved digestion.
- Vegetables: He favored a green salad featuring broccoli, green beans, spinach, zucchini squash, and onions.
- Juice: Combining orange and grape juice with a protein shake for added nutrients.
- Additional options like bread, granola, poultry, low-fat milk, and ample water intake were also part of his dietary regimen.
Despite his departure from conventional practices, Mentzer found this approach effective for his goals.
While his diet remained balanced overall, he stressed the importance of meeting calorie targets over obsessively tracking macronutrients. He often recommended beginners keep a food diary to refine their dietary plans.
Additionally, Mentzer indulged in what he termed “intelligent cheating.” Once a week, he allowed himself an extra meal where he could enjoy whatever he desired, such as pizza or ice cream.
Despite these indulgences, he ensured his calorie intake remained below 2000 during these occasions.
➤ Final Thoughts
So, here’s how I’ve taken a page from Mentzer’s Heavy Duty playbook and added it to my training routine.
I’ve made failure my training buddy, aiming for around 8 reps before hitting that point. It’s the most significant influence from Mentzer that I’ve brought into my workouts.
When it comes to sets, I’m targeting 6 to 8 per muscle group each week. It’s not quite as minimal as Mentzer’s Heavy Duty II, but it aligns more with his original approach.
In terms of how often I hit the gym, I split my workouts into upper body on Mondays and Thursdays, lower body on Tuesdays and Fridays. This way, I spread out my sets for each muscle group across two sessions a week.
Oh, and in every session, I’m all about pushing for progress – adding more reps or weight to keep that overload going.
Exploring the world of muscle growth and hypertrophy has been a blast. Mentzer’s philosophy isn’t the end-all for me, but it’s been a fantastic gateway into the high-intensity training world. I’m loving the journey and can’t wait to keep experimenting and learning more.
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