The Wisdom of Mike Mentzer
Exercise Makes You Fat?
Q: I’ve heard that using Mike Mentzer’s Consolidation Routine will make you stronger but that you’ll get fat. My friends at the gym tell me that performing only two to three sets once a week simply isn’t enough exercise to build muscle. I don’t know what to tell them.
A: Ask them to tell you precisely how many sets are enough exercise to build muscle and then ask why training before recovery takes place helps build muscle while training after recovery has taken place prevents muscle from being built. That is the issue after all: how many sets are necessary to stimulate the body to produce more muscle and how often you should train to enable the growth your training stimulated to occur.
The scientific literature has repeatedly established that one set taken to failure is at least the equal of two, three or more sets per muscle group for building strength and size. It also suggests that training before recovery occurs simply digs a deeper hole into your energy reserves, such as glycogen, which are replenished instantaneously but require time—and considerable time if the workout stimulus, such as negative-only training, was particularly intense.
Whenever we’ve tested subjects at Nautilus North Strength & Fitness Centre using a high-tech body composition testing machine called a Bod Pod, we’ve observed that the average time it takes for the average trainee to replenish the energy debt caused by a workout and build more lean tissue is 6.6 days. We’ve supervised more than 55,000 workouts over the past four years in situations where clients are trained once a week. Despite what your friends at the gym say, our clients are all getting stronger and building muscle. The sets per workout are low—two to six on average, which is the same volume as Mike’s Consolidated and Ideal Routine workouts. We and others have established that performing one set per muscle group, two to six sets total per workout, once a week builds muscle. That’s no longer debatable.
Your friends at the gym need to tell you why doing more sets and not allowing recovery to take place will somehow produce significantly better results. What data back up that conclusion? For every set performed above one set, you would need to see 100 percent more results to justify a 100 percent increase in volume. We’ve never seen such a phenomenon, and we’ve been testing it consistently for more than four years.
As for the idea that a workout that stimulates muscle growth and allows time for recovery to produce the growth somehow makes you fat, that’s a bizarre claim. You get fat from taking in too many calories relative to your maintenance calorie count. A workout—whether it’s a two-sets once-a-week routine like the Consolidation program or a high-set multiday-a-week routine—does two things: 1) It burns calories, and 2) it stimulates the production of muscle tissue that raises the metabolic rate and thus burns more calories. The workout doesn’t provide the trainee with calories above maintenance, so it does nothing to make you fat.
If you’re stimulating muscular growth and allowing it to be produced, then you will in fact be burning more calories than you were prior to having added the new muscle tissue. Getting fat after adding more muscle has more to do with excessive calorie intake than with the workout itself.
Discover what your maintenance calories are and eat fewer than that to get lean. Most of our subjects who train as described above do. As Mike pointed out:
“For those interested in losing fat, reduce your caloric intake by 500 to 1,000 a day below your maintenance calories, and you’ll lose one to two pounds of fat a week. As long as you’re training on a proper high-intensity program, you won’t lose muscle and may even gain some, depending upon a constellation of genetic factors, none of which you can visually detect. One of my clients reported recently that, while on a calorie-deficit diet, he lost 11 pounds of bodyfat over a three-month period, increased his strength enormously, and gained half an inch on his arms. None of the lost weight was muscle, as he grew stronger and increased the size of his arms.