Mike Mentzer on his prime

How to Train Like Mike Mentzer: The Heavy Duty Way

If you're seeking a method to rapidly develop muscle mass and strength it might be worth considering the wisdom of a bodybuilding legend; Mike Mentzer. Mentzer was an innovator in high intensity training (HIT) , a system that prioritizes quality over quantity, intensity over volume and results over effort. In this article we'll delve into what HIT entails, how Mentzer incorporated it into his training routine and how you can follow his lead to train similarly.

What is high-intensity training (HIT)?

High intensity training (HIT) is a fitness approach that highlights the significance of pushing your muscles to their capacity through focused and dedicated effort. The primary objective is to activate muscle fibers in a manner that encourages adaptation ultimately leading to amplified muscle growth and enhanced strength.

HIT gained popularity thanks to Arthur Jones, the creator of machines. Jones conducted experiments using training methods measuring their impact on muscle size and strength. His findings revealed that many bodybuilders were actually overtraining by wasting time and energy, on sets and exercises rather than pushing themselves hard enough to achieve significant progress.

One of Jones’ disciples was Mike Mentzer, who took HIT to the next level and developed his own version of it: Heavy Duty. Heavy Duty was based on the principles of HIT, but with some modifications and additions that made it even more effective and efficient.

How did Mike Mentzer train?

Mike Mentzer gained recognition for his physique particularly in his chest, arms and legs. He achieved bodybuilding accolades such as Mr. America, Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia (in the heavyweight division). Additionally he garnered attention due to his perspectives on training methods, nutrition practices and philosophical outlooks.

Distinguishing himself from the majority of bodybuilders during his time Mike Mentzer adopted an approach to training. Unlike the high volume routines that involved multiple sets of 10-15 repetitions for each muscle group several times a week he opted for a low volume high intensity regimen. This routine consisted of one or two sets of 6-10 repetitions for each muscle group once or twice a week.

He also used advanced techniques to increase the intensity and effectiveness of his sets, such as:

  • Forced reps: After reaching failure, he would get assistance from a partner to complete a few more reps.
  • Negative reps: After reaching failure, he would get assistance from a partner to lift the weight up, and then lower it slowly by himself.
  • Rest-pause: After reaching failure, he would rest for 10-15 seconds and then perform another rep or two.
  • Pre-exhaust: He would perform an isolation exercise for a muscle group before a compound exercise for the same muscle group, without resting in between.

He also paid attention to other factors that influenced his training results, such as:

  • Form: He performed each rep with strict technique, full range of motion, and controlled speed.
  • Tempo: He lifted the weight explosively on the positive phase and lowered it slowly on the negative phase.
  • Focus: He concentrated on the muscle being worked and felt every contraction and stretch.
  • Recovery: He allowed enough time between workouts for his muscles to rest and grow.

How can you train like Mike Mentzer?

Mike Mentzer flexing his arm

If you want to train like Mike Mentzer and experience the benefits of HIT and Heavy Duty, you need to follow some guidelines:

  • Choose a weight that allows you to perform 6-10 reps with perfect form. If you can do more than 10 reps, increase the weight. If you can’t do at least 6 reps, decrease the weight.
  • Perform only one or two sets per exercise. The first set should be a warm-up set with 50% of your working weight. The second set should be your working set where you go all out until failure.
  • Use advanced techniques to increase the intensity of your working set. You can use forced reps, negative reps, rest-pause, or pre-exhaust depending on your preference and availability of a partner.
  • Train each muscle group once or twice a week. You can split your routine into two workouts: one for chest, triceps, and legs; and another for back, biceps, and shoulders. Alternatively, you can do a full-body workout once or twice a week.
  • Make sure to give yourself a rest of at least 48 hours between workouts. It's important to allow your muscles enough time to recover and grow after the workout. During this recovery period try to avoid engaging in any physical activities that might hinder the process.
  • To build muscle, you need calories and protein. Get at least 0.8 grams of protein per pound. Increase your calorie intake to gain weight and reduce it to shed fat.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated. To avoid cramps and stay hydrated, drink eight glasses of water everyday.
  • To optimize hormone production and tissue repair it is recommended that you get a night's sleep, for at least eight hours each night. Avoid consuming caffeine, alcohol or any other stimulants that could potentially disrupt the quality of your sleep.


Mike Mentzer, the figure in bodybuilding brought about a significant transformation in the way people approach muscle and strength training. He introduced a high intensity system called Heavy Duty, which involves pushing oneself to failure with one or two sets per exercise. To intensify the workout advanced techniques are incorporated while allowing time for recovery. By following the training methods of Mike Mentzer you can witness results in a shorter span of time using minimal equipment and frequency. However it is crucial to be prepared for training sessions, maintain a nutritious diet and prioritize ample rest. If you are up for the challenge give Heavy Duty a go. Experience its potential firsthand.

James Freeman


Meet James Freeman, a California native whose passion for fitness emerged during challenging times, reshaping his life. With over two decades of coaching experience, he's not just a coach; he's a real-life example, shedding over 100 pounds in a journey to a healthier lifestyle. Beyond his coaching career, James is passionate about inspiring at-risk youth and promoting wellness in schools. In his downtime, he enjoys swimming and cycling, connecting with nature. Join him on his Instagram and LinkedIn profiles for insights into his empowering fitness journey.