Heavy Duty Commentary

Colin A. Eliot

Is Mentzer’s method flawed?

Although I respect Mike Mentzer, his training theory has several flaws. He claims that his methods are the only truly scientific way to train and that when properly applied will yield the best results in everyone. Then he says that there’s great variation in people’s recovery ability and uses the analogy of recovery geniuses vs. recovery morons to cover the broad spectrum. That basically undermines his whole training philosophy. If “some people recover much better than others,” why would he have recovery geniuses train in a fashion that limits their gains? Mentzer has helped many people analyze the volume and intensity of their training, but to limit everyone to one training regimen is foolish and unscientific.

Mentzer claims that you can reach your genetic potential within one year by using Heavy Duty. Just how does he define “genetic potential”? I don’t think that can be accurately quantified. In high school I ate well and worked out, yet I was stuck at 145 pounds. I got a little older and got up to 165. I stayed there for two years, even though I continued to train hard, and I assumed that was my limit. Then I surged to 185. Again I stayed there for years despite hard training, good eating habits and supplement use, and I felt that was my limit. But I’ve gotten up to 215 and was just as lean as when I was 165, so again I’ve gained after years of nothing. Had I listened to Mentzer when I was 21, I would have considered my potential to be 185 pounds and cut my training back to one set of squats and incline presses every nine days, and I never would have gotten any larger. There’s an upper limit of size, but I don’t think it can be measured by any normal means—certainly not in a matter of a year.

A third flaw in Mentzer’s theory is the lack of variety in the exercises he recommends. We know compound exercises work, but we also know that the human body is very complex. Heavy Duty is supposed to be a program for bodybuilders, yet it lacks the variety needed to adequately train the whole body from all angles. Mentzer’s regimen is more of a strength-training program, but bodybuilders need the multiangle approach.

A final problem with Heavy Duty training is the attack on volume. To Mentzer, volume training is a sin. But let’s look at it in the context of one of Mentzer’s favorite analogies: the process of suntanning. He points out that tanning is an expression of the general adaptation syndrome developed by Hans Selye and that the stimulus of the sun triggers the response of the tan, just as the stimulus of training triggers muscle growth. While that’s a great analogy, he leaves it at that and doesn’t bother mentioning that there are different ways of getting a tan.

I liken Heavy Duty training to using a tanning bed—you go for short, intense bouts of radiation and then go back in a few days. That gives most people a tan. Then there are outdoor athletes like surfers and lifeguards, who don’t get that style of radiation exposure yet also have dark tans. They’re in the sun all day long and protect themselves by using sunscreen. Well, being in the sun all day is similar to high-volume training and the use of sunscreen is similar to lowering the intensity. So putting the two together gives you low-intensity, high-volume training. Does it work? How many pale surfers have you seen? They don’t get horribly burned (overtrained); they just get tan.

As tanning and training are both responses to stressors, training would have to follow the same principles as tanning, and low-intensity, high-volume training would have to build muscle. Mentzer stated that they work on the same adaptation principles. By that logic he’d have to admit there’s no “one true method” to training.