Powerful Muscle Medicine

John Little

Doug McGuff, M.D., Discusses High-Intensity-Training Dose/Response for Muscle and Strength, Part 1

Page 1

I first heard of Doug McGuff, M.D., through Mike Mentzer’s Web site. Mike raved about a book titled Ultimate Exercise that had been authored by an emergency room physician in South Carolina. Once he started reading it, he couldn’t put it down, Mike said. It was chock full of “completely new ideas, fresh perspectives and wide-ranging deductive inferences” that riveted him. As Mike was not easily impressed, I took his enthusiasm seriously.

After Mike died, Joanne Sharkey, the CEO of Mentzer-Sharkey Enterprises Inc., asked me if I’d like to see a video seminar that Dr. McGuff had done. Remembering Mike’s enthusiasm for the man’s work, I said yes, and Joanne sent a copy to me.

It was a busy time for me, what with writing, film production, operating a training facility and family responsibilities, so I didn’t get around to watching it for some time. Once I played it, I could have kicked myself for having not watched it sooner, as I fully understood why Mike had been so enthusiastic.

I’d never before seen such a brilliant presentation of the realities of bodybuilding science from a medical perspective. Shortly thereafter I acquired a copy of the book. Like Mike, I read it from cover to cover in one day. That led me to visit Dr. McGuff’s Web site, where I devoured every article posted there. In time, I developed questions and also a strong desire to bring this man and his work to the attention of others who might desire a more rational, scientific and noncontradictory approach to exercise. This interview is the result.

In addition to his medical duties, Dr. McGuff has operated a one-on-one high-intensity-training center for almost 10 years. His knowledge of how the body responds to stress—such as the stress of exercise—in terms of its biological subsystems holds profound relevance for anyone who wants to better understand what it takes to achieve optimum muscle size, strength and fitness. He is, in my estimation, one of the world’s premiere authorities on high-intensity training and has broken new ground.

JL: Tell us about your work as an emergency room physician. 

DM: I work with Blue Ridge Emergency Physicians. We’re a group of 10 physicians that contracts with a community hospital. We provide 24-7 coverage for their emergency department. 

JL: How did you become interested in the science of exercise?

DM: My interest in human physiology can be traced back to Arthur Jones. Around 1977 a Nautilus gym opened up close to my home. I had just become interested in weight training to improve my performance in a sport, and I wanted to train there rather than in my garage. At my age, and at my station in life, I couldn’t afford to train there, so I went to the owner and bartered janitorial services for membership.

Now, at the time I knew nothing about Nautilus training principles or training at all, for that matter, but as I was cleaning up in the facility one weekend, I saw a yellow manual sitting on top of the owner’s desk that looked interesting to me. It was Nautilus Training Principles Bulletin 2 by Arthur Jones. I picked it up and started flipping through it, and it was very interesting, so I asked the owner if I could borrow it.

I took it home, read through the whole thing in one sitting, and it was a life-changing event. It’s what led me to major in biology in college, and it’s what ultimately led me to have an interest in medicine and go to medical school. 

JL: Did Mike Mentzer have an influence on you? 

DM: Mike had a huge influence on me. I kept track of the muscle magazines, and I knew that he was someone who had picked up on Arthur Jones’ principles and had popularized them in the bodybuilding media. He immediately became the bodybuilder I most looked up to and wanted to emulate. I read everything that was written about him or that he wrote.

Mike was a turning point for bodybuilding because I think he was the first bodybuilder who addressed the contribution of genetics to his success and challenged the dogma of the time, which was extremely high levels of training volume. And just his orientation toward life and knowledge had a profound impact on me.