“Both excessive and insufficient exercise destroy one’s strength…whereas the right quantity produces, increases and preserves it.”
– Aristotle, Ancient Greek Philosopher (384-322 BCE)
The above quote by Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle defines very well Mike Mentzer’s life mission in bodybuilding and strength exercise. Indeed, Mike dedicated much of his life to answering the assumed question latent within that quote: “What exactly is the ‘right quantity?”
And that’s the journey we walk with Mike in this new HITuni course as we follow his life and his thinking on exercise through all the twists, turns and permutations, as Mentzer forged and refined his theory of exercise.
How the course came about
Two years ago, John Little contacted HITuni and asked if were interested in creating a Mike Mentzer course with him. John wanted to breakdown and analyze Mike’s life and teachings, his goal a clear one: to ensure that Mike’s message and his legacy live on for another generation benefit from.
Mike Mentzer had been a personal mentor of both John and I, when he was alive and we both understood first-hand how much value Mike’s work has to offer today. I also knew that I would personally enjoy working with John as we had a fantastic experience creating his Six Minute HIT course for HITuni a few years prior. A Mike Mentzer focused course was a new challenge that at the time neither of us realised would ultimately take over two years to bring to fruition.
Who was Mike Mentzer?
A boy from Ephrata, Pennsylvania who dreamed of becoming the world’s greatest bodybuilder
A pre-med student at University of Maryland studying genetics, physical chemistry and organic chemistry who launched his bodybuilding career by blowing away the competition at the regional and state level
Mr America winner
The first man to win Mr Universe with a perfect score
Mr Olympia Heavyweight division winner
A truth telling iconoclast who could not and would not turn a blind eye to corruption in the industry he loved
“The thinking man’s bodybuilder” who developed a revolutionary and rational approach to building muscle in both theory and practice.
Forging and refining the finest blade
Mike Mentzer was much like a master swordsmith in the diligent approach he took to refining bodybuilding exercise. The swordsmith mixes various ratios of iron and carbon to produce the right hardness of steel. Mike experimented to find out the optimal number of reps, sets and how close to failure or even beyond is required for successful muscle growth.
The swordsmith layers iron and steel, forges the blade, and shapes the weapon. Mike refined both the principles of his theory and the workouts that emerged from it; the exercises used, and their order and application.
The swordsmith hardens, tempers, and polishes the sword before adding the hilt that fits the buyer’s hands just right. Mike trained himself and thousands of individuals; from drug assisted bodybuilding stars, to genetically blessed naturals, to individuals who had struggled to gain even a pound of muscle, before presenting his theory and the various recommended workouts in finished form.
And just as the master swordsmith can make a long sword, a broadsword, a falchion, or a rapier depending on the needs of the buyer, Mike formulated routines of varying volume, frequency, and split to best suit the needs of the wide variety of individuals that made up his clients and readers.
More than that though happens when Mike presents his theory of exercise. Yes, he could give you a workout to follow but ultimately, he wanted to pass on his expertise and provide people with the tools to learn from their own bodys’ response to exercise and how to adjust volume, frequency, and exercise selection to achieve their goals most efficaciously.
Just as a sword’s edge must be sharp and not dull to fulfil its purpose, at HITuni we have spent the last two years developing and refining this course and sharpening the analysis and presentation of Mike’s material for the 21st century. When we say “sharpening”: Mike’s ideas are collated, ordered, analyzed and curated in an intuitive, engaging, and comprehensive manner. This allows you to learn in a multimedia, chronological order and to view the crucial big picture today, in hindsight.
In the course, we present and provide commentary on Mike Mentzer’s ideas and the starting workout templates he provided: those concrete examples of theory in application. This enables those of you who take the course to find out where you fall on the intensity, volume and frequency spectrums and what initial approach may suit you best: from Mike’s competitive routines, to those he developed for the genetically advantaged and those he formulated for individuals who struggle to gain muscle at all. All you then need to do is apply your learning in the gym. You can then experiment with and refine these workouts to your own individual needs with certainty.
How the course developed
Our starting point in creating the course was that it needed to be comprehensive, and provide required debate and analysis to add real value to Mike’s ideas. We decided to cover Mike’s thinking and approach to exercise from the moment he first picked up a barbell at twelve years old to the days immediately preceding his passing. The purpose of this is to fully contextualise Mike’s aproach to bodybuilding exercise.
Fairly early in the process we realized that to do this properly it also meant we needed to present Mike’s life biography, highlighting the great times when he stood atop the summit and at the same time not shying away from his greatest challenges and darkest moments.
For over two years, John Little and I held a Zoom call every week, usually lasting somewhere between 90 minutes and 2 hours. John’s sheer depth of knowledge about Mike from the perspectives of journalist, co-author and close friend, and his exclusive access to material Mike had given him, some of which has never been seen publicly before, necessitated those long, fascinating, and frequent talks. All these Zoom calls were recorded, meaning that there ended up being around two hundred hours of material that would need to be edited down. If you were wondering why the HITuni blogposts have been on pause for the past two years, you now have the answer. Apologies for the radio silence, but if you are anything like us, I think you will see it was worth the wait.
We needed to honor Mike properly whilse remaining as objective as possible, as it became apparent to John and I that of late many people who did not know Mike personally and have at best unfortunately a poor grasp of Mike’s ideas are attempting to present his material, often resulting in dilution, distortion or misrepresentation.
John Little is really the only person who we could have created this course with, and I thank him for the opportunity to delve so deeply into the inspirational life of a person he was so close to and who meant so much to him.
Over time it became clear to us that the course was becoming a full presentation of Mike’s approach to exercise and a biography of his life. Then it dawned on us we would be doing Mike an injustice if we didn’t cover one other subject truly deep to his heart, one that ultimately defined the man- philosophy. Over the last couple of decades of Mike’s life philosophy became even more important to him than strength training. It was an interest that had been present since he was a young man, but to some degree got put on pause during his competitive bodybuilding days. This being the case, the course also presents an overview and explorationof Mike’s interest in both psychology and philosophy and how his thoughts on those subjects developed throughout his life.
Stop treading water
Mike frequently pointed out that the bodybuilding milieu “is literally awash in a sea of false ideas” and most of all he wanted to look out for the naïve innocents entering this sea of false ideas for the first time, and those too who have been treading water for months or even years. John explains that Mike abhorred the idea that anyone should have to suffer or “waste even one week with non-productive training.” Most people of course end up wasting far more time than that flailing around in the stormy waves of conflicting hypertrophy advice.
The situation appears to have only got worse since Mike’s death, with no one apparently inclined or capable of stepping up to the mantel that Mike departed. With the advent and spread of social media this sea of false ideas has only deepened and widened. John Little makes a strong case that Mike’s ideas provide a steady and true ship to climb aboard and navigate a safe passage to the destination of your own full muscular potential.
Throughout the course we have curated and provide links to the very best publically available video and audio recordings of Mike, in a logical, orderly structure so that you can see, hear and learn directly from the man himself. Then we dive deeper via John Little’s explanatory exegesis and commentary on Mike’s work, providing essential analysis, context and nuance.
Straw man attacks of Mike’s ideas, such as: “Mike recommended that everyone should train with one exercise for one set every seven days” are thoroughly dismantled. By the way and for the record, Mike’s position is this:
For an exercise physiologist to tell everybody to do the exact same program is an admission of his ignorance about very essential and actually simple points of genetics and the body’s response to stress.
Many have attempted to dumb down, water down or attack Mike’s thinking on exercise based on a misunderstanding of what he actually taught, for far too long now. If you are interested in learning how to apply high intensity bodybuilding exercise you owe it to yourself to hear it directly from the man himself, and from the individual most qualified in terms of lineage to comment on Mike’s work, alive today: John Little.
Mike is the man!
I personally made first contact with Mike in Fall of 1999 after reading several of his columns in Iron Man magazine. When I initially spoke with him, I quickly learned that not only was his physique Herculean but that he also had the mind of a professor along with the calm, reassuring demeanour of a mentor.
Mike was these things and more: a student, a lover of knowledge, a bodybuilder, and a teacher. He was an inspiration for me, for John Little, and for countless others, some of whom were lucky enough to train with Mike in person, others to consult with him via phone and multitudes more who waited to read his column each week in Iron Man magazine.
He was a man who stood up not only for his beliefs but also to a corrupt industry in a way that no one had done before or has done since. At times Mike paid a very heavy price for doing the right thing but he wouldn’t and couldn’t have done it any other way. This is a large part of the reason that Mike is a shining example, a touchstone and an inspiration for so many still till this day.
Most of all though Mike was a human in the fullest sense of that term, as he himself would say, quoting the Roman playwright Terrence, “nothing human is foreign to me”. He fully experienced and embraced both the highest highs and the lowest lows life had to offer. He wasn’t, nor did he ever claim to be perfect or infallible, and he certainly wasn’t dogmatic as some of his detractors would suggest, but he was always growing and learning through till his last breaths on June 10th, 2001.
All of these are reasons in addition to and beyond exercise, that Mike more than any other bodybuilder, has much of great value to pass on to people today over twenty years after his death.
In the course, you will learn about Mike’s philosophy for living a productive life, a philosophy that enabled him to pick himself up off the ground he’d been knocked down to by those who feared his rise. A philosophy that allowed him to cut his own path through the wilderness he found himself in, and ultimately to soar once again renewed. The measure of the man is that when he had done that, he went on to spend his time and effort in helping others learn to navigate their own routes to success.
Mike recognised bodybuilding for the corrupt industry it was, one built of smoke and mirrors, rather than the illusion of a “sport” the powers-that-be would rather have you believe. Mike had been the naïve young bodybuilder who followed in the footsteps of his idols in a quest to build a body worthy of a Greek God. He had the genetics, the desire, the drive, and the willingness to take the performance enhancing drugs required to fulfil this aim. He was able to compete and succeed at the very highest levels of the sport of bodybuilding.
He competed at a time when steroid use went unmentioned in the magazines, the Weider message to the masses was the secret formula to a champion’s body was Weider’s own brand protein powder and associated supplements. The muscle magazines were the medium to carry this message throughout the 70’s and 80’s and steroid use was glossed over.
Mike was that very rare specimen who had the body and also the intelligence and desire to nurture and expand his mind. He did not and could not subjugate that mind for the sake of simply staying on the money-making locomotive. Mike had the need to speak out and he didn’t care who that suited or who that offended. He spoke openly about his own steroid usage, openly about the fact that protein powders weren’t required and that other “wonder supplements” could not produce a champion physique. He spoke about genetics, and he spoke about the importance of the mind- the asset above all, that he recommended not wasting.
Mike Mentzer’s Approach to Bodybuilding Exercise
Ultimately our chief underlying goal with this course mirrors Mike’s own words perfectly:
My primary objective here is to help you develop a firm understanding of some basic facts and truly valid scientific principles of exercise and nutrition so that you can learn to think more clearly, more logically about those subjects for yourself and thus guide your own efforts more successfully with a greater degree of confidence and certainty about what you’re doing.
Mike called his work on bodybuilding a “rational approach” based on logic, science, and reality. His aim to present the detailed knowledge he had accumulated over nearly 40 years of training himself and his many clients, so that his audience would be able to achieve the goal of muscle and strength gain efficaciously.
Long live Mike’s message!