The Wisdom of Mike Mentzer
“Forced and negative reps can be beneficial,” Mike Mentzer wrote in his book Heavy Duty, “but only when used on an occasional basis. When used with every set of every workout, they soon result in overtraining.”
Having trained and kept records on more than 2,000 clients, Mike was among the first to recognize that too much intensity, like too much volume or too much frequency, can quickly create an overtrained condition that the human body simply can’t recover from within seven days.
Forced repetitions are a method of taking a muscle beyond positive failure. While that can be viewed as a good way of ensuring that you’ve milked the last bit of fiber involvement out of a set, it can also be bad if you do it at every workout. That’s because some fibers, such as fast-twitch fibers, once tapped, require a very long recovery period. Indeed, recent research on sprinters, who almost exclusively use fast-twitch motor units, reveals that recovery of those fibers can take upwards of three weeks.
Wishing to stimulate as many muscle fibers as possible while working within the confines of the body’s limited recovery ability, you can’t employ “advanced” Heavy Duty techniques such as forced reps, negatives, hyper reps, rest/pause and static holds on a whim or just because you “feel” your body’s up to it. The fact that you feel fresh after four or five days of recovery means merely that the postworkout symptoms of the previous workout have abated, not that the recovery process has run its course or that the overcompensation process has been initiated.
Should you employ such advanced techniques as forced reps, and what exactly are they? This month we’ll begin to examine such questions as they apply to all of the training weapons in the Heavy Duty trainee’s arsenal. Mike Mentzer will be your guide.
When Mike first appeared on the bodybuilding scene in the late 1970s, he roared in like a lion, winning the ’76 Mr. America contest handily and shortly thereafter coming in a close second to bodybuilding legend Robby Robinson at the IFBB World Championships in Montreal. Robinson was at the time considered well nigh unbeatable. Even veteran scribes were forced to describe Mike’s rapid rise as “almost miraculous.” Rick Wayne, a journalist who’d seen it all in bodybuilding, was impressed:
“His training methods indicate a certain strength of will…for he is not afraid to challenge old concepts, not afraid to debunk old myths…like a scientist discovering new ways to greater bodybuilding gains. Many will find Mike’s ideas totally revolutionary, which they might not necessarily be. It’s just that so many bodybuilders are afraid to push themselves to the limits of their capabilities, while Mike Mentzer, on the other hand, thrives on his exploration of the outer limits.”
One of the techniques that Mike used during that stage of his competitive career was forced reps. Most of us have heard of and perhaps even employed the technique from time to time, but Mike had specific reasons for, and a specific way of, including them in his training. What worked for Mike, however, has to be considered in the context of his superior genetic constitution. That enabled him to tolerate greater intensity and still recover from it within a three-to-seven-day period. The average trainee probably won’t be able to recover so readily. Let’s hear from Mike how he employed the technique:
“I believe forced reps should be used only at the conclusion of a number of strict repetitions. I use a training partner to help go beyond ‘normal failure’ in training. So you might do as many strict repetitions as possible, then use a training partner who’s in tune with your training style to help you make the last couple of repetitions that would otherwise have been impossible.”
Next up, Mike’s explanation of how he’d normally perform a given set before making use of the forced-reps principle.
“I don’t like to go beyond eight repetitions and not under five. So I train heavy enough that I can only perhaps force out—