Many years ago, I was employed as a Senior Writer for Flex magazine, the offices of which were then based in Woodland Hills, California. One day the desk phone rang in my little cubicle and, upon answering it, I was informed by Joe Weider’s secretary Analise that, “Mr. Weider would like to meet with you in his office.” And when the “Trainer of Champions” summoned you to his office, to his office you
In a matter of moments, I found myself in Joe’s magnificent office to witness the “Master Blaster” pouring over hard copies of articles that were slated for inclusion in the next issue of Muscle & Fitness magazine. Joe knew that I was a good friend of Mike Mentzer, who, at one time, had been one of his top columnists and most popular physique champions. Over the past 14 years, however, their relationship had become strained. And while there existed a mutual respect, the two men could not have been further apart in terms of their
approach to training nor in their approach to ethical/philosophical issues. I had been friends with Mike at this point for over 12 years and had written extensively about his beliefs regarding bodybuilding, which, for better or worse, put me at odds with certain of the editors who were then on staff regarding fundamental training issues that I was directed to write about for the magazine. High volume
training, such as that advocated by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Franco Columbu, and many of the leading bodybuilders who followed in their footsteps, was good, according to the editors, but high-intensity training, such as Mentzer advocated was not something to be embraced. Mentzer’s writings on the subject were, at this point in time (1993), tolerated, but only because the then current Mr. Olympia, Dorian Yates, employed them – much to the editors’ displeasure.
Nevertheless, I apparently needed to be brought to heel as I had just written and self-published a book extolling the virtues of a high-intensity approach to bodybuilding and Mike had graciously consented to write the Foreword to it. It had evidently been brought to Joe’s attention that this book of mine was clearly an attempt by a young upstart on staff to undermine the high volume Weider System, along with the supplement sales that the magazine existed to promote.
Moreover, the book was giving far too much credit to Mike Mentzer and no credit at all to Joe Weider. This needed to be nipped in the bud but pronto, and it was decided that no less a luminary than the Master Blaster himself should be the one to bring me to my senses. Joe had me wait in silence as he perused the photographs that were to appear in the next issue. Then, without looking up from his desk, he began.
“Hi John. Are you happy?”
“Yeah, Joe. I’m happy.”
“That’s good,” Joe replied. He then looked up from the images on his desk.
“You know John, I like to portray the bodybuilding champions as heroes in my magazines to give bodybuilders something to look up to.”
I silently acknowledged his point and Joe continued. “When I have a painting done up of me as Zeus and the other bodybuilding champions as Olympian gods, I’m not doing it because I think I’m actually Zeus.”
That much, I’m happy to relate, I had actually assumed. Then Joe made his seque into the reason for our meeting.
“And the Weider Principles; I’m not saying I invented all of these different approaches to bodybuilding, but I just wanted to organize them in a manner that bodybuilders could understand and make use of – to bring them all under one
“Okay,” I replied.
“I’m telling you this because when you write a book [Power Factor Training] making use of the Weider Partial Reps Principle, you should acknowledge it as a Weider Principle, and when, say, Mike Mentzer makes use of the Weider Reverse Gravity Principle (i.e., Negatives) he should do likewise.”
“But Joe,” I countered, “I didn’t learn of the concept for partial reps from you or your magazines. In fact, I’ve never read an article on these in any of your publications. We’ve never spoken about this until now. The data I gathered on partial reps came from my own research, my own training, analyzing the weight-per-unit-time factor in resistance training, and from interviewing various champion bodybuilders and strength athletes who told me that they had used the technique to increase their strength – and not one of them mentioned that it was a ‘Weider Principle.’ Indeed, certain athletes, such as Paul Anderson, had been using it long before you wrote about it.”
This didn’t sit well with Joe. If it was a technique that helped a bodybuilder to gain muscle, it had to have his name on it. There was no other way. He was incapable of acknowledging that meaningful contributions to gaining muscle mass and strength could come from outside of his office in Woodland Hills. His Editors-in-Chief at the time of course helped to bolster Joe’s ego in this regard, and, unfortunately, helped to diminish Joe’s legacy in such matters. In any event, Joe had communicated to me what he wanted to – that henceforth all training methodologies that I was to write about would have to be tethered to some “Weider Principle.” I was dismissed without another word said.
It struck me as I was leaving Joe’s office that this was why Mike had fallen from grace within the house of Weider; Mentzer was the first professional bodybuilder (or at least was among the first) to conduct and employ research outside of the Weider Principles (his work on Rest/Pause was a first, as was his use of Negative-Only Training; Weider would later incorporate these into his Weider Principles but he most certainly did not originate them). Worse still, from Joe’s vantage point, Mike would often credit Nautilus inventor Arthur Jones as being the one who had influenced his training the most, and that Jones had been the only individual at the time who was actually conducting research of any kind into
the field of bodybuilding exercise. This latter concession of Mike’s being far worse, again from Joe’s perspective, than Mike’s published views that a bodybuilder didn’t need to live on protein supplements (Joe sold protein supplements as one of his many nutritional products). The pieces were now falling into place; if Mike wouldn’t endorse protein supplements (and particularly
Weider protein supplements) or the Weider Principles, he was viewed as more of a liability than an asset to Joe’s business enterprises. Besides, big muscle men were by no means in short supply in Joe’s universe, and there were plenty of impressive physiques that would be (and were) willing to barter their integrity on such matters in return for exposure in Joe’s various magazines. Mike, of course, was not of this ilk. That was one of the reasons I respected him so much throughout all the years of our friendship. Nevertheless, to his detractors, Mike was a sore thumb; a person who disrupted the natural order of things. He was different from the rest of the bodybuilders who followed a very definite chain of command – Joe, Arnold Schwarzenegger and whoever the current Mr. Olympia happened to be. This was (and to a large extent still is) the Holy Trinity of most
bodybuilding afficanados. Moreover, to the followers of this Holy Trinity Mike seemed almost too comfortable in standing apart from them, and apart from the pack of champions that endorsed Weider protein supplements, participated in daily high-volume training, and who won (not surprisingly) the bulk of Joe’s bodybuilding contests. To his fans, Mike was the one bodybuilder who had the cajones to not tow the corporate line but who actually would stand up to Joe’s
poster boy, the great Arnold Schwarzenegger (the photo of Mike pointing his finger into the face of a seated Arnold backstage at the 1980 Mr. Olympia contest has become iconic). To his friends he represented the greatest combination of brains and brawn to ever appear in the world of bodybuilding. To those of a philosophic bent he was an intellectual who sought out the light of truth and reason amid the dark and often corrupt subculture of professional bodybuilding and its supplement hucksters. To his colleagues, such as physique champion Boyer Coe, Mike was a man, “with a very high degree of integrity. Mike would never lie about anything; a rare commodity in this industry.” And while
people (being people after all) will never agree completely about everything, the one thing that seems unanimous in consensus is the fact that Mike was an individual—his own person—take him or leave him.
Mike brooked no other authority than his own for making his decisions. Indeed, as he told me during a time when we were hanging around together in the late 1980s, “Anything I am or am not is a direct result of the choices I’ve made or my
abdication thereof.” This attitude often landed him in trouble, as a man who marches to the beat of his own drum typically marches out of step with rest of the band. But it was also this aspect that made Mike Mentzer so appealing, not only as a public figure in bodybuilding circles, but also, in a more personal sense, as someone to spend time with. His dialogue was real, not statements weighed before spoken upon the scales of potential public acceptance.
Such a man will raise the ire of those who prefer to accept the comfort and direction of the herd as fair exchange for autonomy and independent thought. Over the years I have heard his detractors delight in all manner of ad hominem
attacks (most vociferously of course after Mike had passed away, as he was then unable to defend himself), labeling him as being everything from “a lunatic,” “a drug addict,” “crazy,” “misguided,” to “possessed by demons.” The vitriol is so
passionate that Mike must have been onto something for, as Bertrand Russell once observed, “The degree of one’s emotion varies inversely with one’s knowledge of the facts—the less you know the hotter you get.”
The fact that Mike was controversial is by no means an indictment of the man. It’s actually hard for me to believe that it’s necessary to make such a statement, save perhaps for the reason that certain people obviously need to be reminded of it every now and again. His detractors seem to believe that by revealing that he wasn’t perfect, or almost saint-like, he was consequently unworthy of the attention and reception that he received. If this is true, then break out the old biographies of the gods for motivation, as you will find no human heroes
here on earth. Perfection, while a laudable target for humans to aim for (as it at least serves as a prod to individual improvement and, thus, to improvement in the various capacities of our species as a whole) is, in the grand scheme of things, an unattainable ideal. It has been placed before us for much the same reason that Browning mentioned that “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”
That one should fall short of attaining the impossible (i.e., perfection) during one’s lifetime (and a brief one it was for Mike at 49 years) seems to me a silly and meaningless critique. After all, is there a human being that has ever lived that simply sailed through life, always making all the right decisions, while simultaneously pleasing everyone and always being right about everything? Such traits are not typically found in a species that acquires its knowledge slowly over time rather than being born with it automatically hardwired into their consciousness. As Arthur Jones (who perhaps had the biggest influence on Mike next to Ayn Rand) once said, “Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.” In other words, we learn from our mistakes. And the fact that Mike Mentzer learned a lot during his brief life indicates that he made many mistakes, but unlike many people, Mike always seemed to learn from them; i.e., to find a way to right his ship and continue his journey through the rougher straits of life. As Mike once told me, “In very few arenas of human endeavor will you find anyone who finds the most direct route from objective ‘A’ to objective ‘B’ at the outset; all learning and moving ahead is accomplished by trial and error. Usually we begin by making a trial, missing the mark, noting the error, and making the proper adjustments, and then proceed to our target or goal.”
I discovered in my time with Mike that one could learn much from a person who had gone through such experiences – if you were open to it. By contrast, show me a man who has never made a mistake; never struggled to make a payment,
never dealt with adversity, and I’ll show you a man who not only has little to teach you but who also has never fully experienced a very meaningful part of being a human being. The bulk of the content of The Mike Mentzer Encyclopedia was drawn from observations Mike made when he was a “seeker after truth,” rather than his later writings when he believed he had found it. His later writings stand on their own merit and, for the most part, I have left them that way. It might be said that there were two Mike Mentzers; the first was the thinker and seeker who made temporary conclusions based upon his own independent investigations; the second was the Objectivist who believed that Ayn Rand had revealed the most rational way for all reasonable people to adopt and act upon. It is obvious from his own words that when Mentzer was in the depths of his own emotional crisis that a particular observation of Rand’s (that everything, including emotions has a nature and identity) is what had helped to pull him out of it.
Knowing this, Rand became to Mentzer not merely an abstract philosopher and novelist, but an author who possessed the capacity to literally right a capsized intellectual ship and change (and in his case save) lives; a writer with a profound message that represented a light out of the darkness for those who might be caught in a similar emotional thicket. In AA meetings, alcoholics are taught that
“God will provide;” Mentzer was delighted to learn that there existed an alternative to this theological based deliverance, and that the medicine for most human emotional suffering resided in better understanding the workings of one’s own mind (and that the individual has the ability, via volition and reason, to, in effect, bring about his own salvation).
While I have included some of Mike’s Objectivist writings in this lexicon (it would be an incomplete “Mentzer” book were they excluded), the reader is better served to read Mike’s book Heavy Duty II: Mind and Body for a full contextual
presentation of Mike’s philosophical beliefs in the final years of his life. The Mike Mentzer you will find within these pages is largely the one who, perhaps like the reader, was attempting to discover his own path in both bodybuilding and life. He speaks with the confidence of youth but always with the insights of one much older. This was the first Mike Mentzer that I was privileged to know and the one who became a very bright light in the otherwise dark sky that is known as professional bodybuilding.
Within these pages you will find easy reference to the thoughts and belief system of Mike Mentzer himself, as well as the evolution of his bodybuilding system known as “Heavy Duty.” In selecting these entries, I have gone through Mike’s entire oeuvre, from articles, interviews, books, courses, videos, seminars and personal correspondence covering a period from 1970 through till 2001 (the last year of his life). As a result, and particularly in regard to bodybuilding training, the reader will witness the evolution of his thought; moving from a beginner’s three days per week program to one involving a higher volume of exercise performed more frequently during his days as an international bodybuilding champion (i.e., five sets a bodypart performed four days a week) to his final perspective of lower volume performed less frequently (two exercises performed once every four to seven days) when he was coaxing progress from personal training clients who did not share his Olympian genetic predisposition for exercise tolerance. It is important to note the context of this evolution, particularly when his critics are quick to attempt to encapsulate him as someone who simply advocated the performance of two sets once every seven-to-ten days for everybody at all times—and then attack this position as not being applicable to everybody. This is not only deceitful, but simply not true.
While Mike’s overview of exercise was general (i.e., the principles applied to all members of our species); his application was very much based upon the needs and response of the individual in question. He always started the trainee off with a slightly higher volume of exercise and then, as the trainee’s strength and energy output increased, he would adjust the intensity and the dosing frequency of the exercise sessions accordingly.
Wherever you are in your training, there is something within the pages of this book that will speak to your needs and capabilities – whether your needs rival those of Mike when he was a bodybuilding champion or more closely parallel those of Mike when he was simply looking to keep in good muscular shape, or those of his clients who wanted to take advantage of any insights he possessed that would allow them to reach the upper limits of their own genetic potential. When you need a change or an adjustment to your workouts, you will find that
within these pages as well.
All entries are arranged alphabetically by the topic a given statement from Mentzer pertains to. In the case of individual names, the last name is given first, followed by the given name (i.e., Rand, Ayn; Jones, Arthur). The topics are many,
ranging from abdominal training, alcohol, concepts, intensity, Heavy Duty, Nautilus machines and philosophy to sex appeal, self-esteem, bodybuilding training, nutrition and spirituality (and hundreds more in between). The content is not subdivided into specialized headings (such as Part One: Training; Part Two: Nutrition; Part Three: Philosophy) but rather it is integrated, as, indeed, this was how Mike viewed knowledge of every stripe (which is why you will find his thoughts on Aristotle right next to his thoughts on arm training). To Mentzer, “man is an integrated unit of consciousness and matter, of mind and body. He is not a disembodied soul or a decerebrated body.” Therefore, you will find philosophical concepts right next to training techniques and vice versa, as all knowledge from Mentzer’s perspective, comes together in synthesis to strengthen both psyche and soma and, hopefully, to create a “healthy mind in
a healthy body” (mens sauna en corpore sano).
It’s doubtful that any bodybuilder (before or since) was either as prolific or as deep in intellect as Mike Mentzer. Certainly, none of the champions of the sport have come close as not one of them ever wrote (with the exception of Rick Wayne and perhaps Larry Scott) a single paragraph during their careers on their training approach, life or philosophy. Even the great Dorian Yates never wrote any of the articles or books that bore his byline when I was working at Flex magazine. Bob Wolff wrote his first book, and Peter McGough wrote the second, as well as any articles that carried the byline of the former Olympian.
And, while on this subject, I can say as a witness that Mike did, in fact, train Dorian Yates in two workouts that I witnessed, which consisted of protocols and exercises that Mike suggested. I can further confirm how impressed Dorian was with the effects of Mike’s intense yet brief workouts as I heard him testify to this in front of me. This was an interesting moment in time where two radical thinking bodybuilders came together. Mike was no longer competing and Dorian was just coming into his own as one of the greatest bodybuilders of the twentieth century (if not of all time). This is not to suggest that Dorian was a disciple of Mike’s, nor that Mike required anybody else (even a champion bodybuilder) to legitimize his training approach. But it was a fascinating (albeit brief) intersection of two powerful forces of like mindset coming together and throwing off a lot of sparks that set the training of a new generation of bodybuilders on fire. Dorian was intrigued by Mike’s thoughts on training and it is my hope that the reader will be likewise intrigued, and get to know the real Mike Mentzer a little better as well. You will see the evolution of his thoughts on training, his actual workout routines, his views on nutrition, his thoughts on being an individual, what he came to view as right and wrong, and the value of
independent thought. For, despite the criticism that has been leveled at the man, his contributions to both the practice of bodybuilding and to making his fans and readers think for themselves, is what has cemented his place in bodybuilding
history and why many of us continue to find him such a fascinating individual. Mike Mentzer’s legacy was, is and remains his thought—and you will find it between the covers of this book.
Next: Abdominal Definition