Mike Mentzer’s Training Routine & Heavy Duty Workouts

Mike Mentzer workout

Mike Mentzer, legendary IFBB professional bodybuilder, as well as being an author and businessman, loved to do things the way he believed them to be right.

Because of his huge success as a bodybuilder, many people have followed his career and wanted to know his fitness methods and diets.

Many say he was a bodybuilding genius.

Some said he was a bodybuilding mystery. But the fact remains that he was still one of the most intriguing characters to be on the Olympian stage.

Even though Mike was a straight-As student, bodybuilding was also on his mind.

At just 12 years old, he began to do bodybuilding. He was greatly inspired by the physiques he saw in the fitness magazines. He was determined to mold his body just like that.

In 1965, Mike went to his first Mr. Olympia contest with his father’s old workout partner. There, he met Larry Scott.

He was the guy who had won the first two Olympia titles. Mike decided that he too would one day become a Mr. Olympian.

He was very intrigued by how the body and the mind worked. Mike first competed in 1969 when he was 18-years old. It was also the year he enrolled in the Air Force.

He also made contact with another promising bodybuilder, Arthur Jones, and the course of his life changed after that.

In 1978, he was the first man who managed to rack up a perfect score in the Mr. Universe contest.

In 1980, he was defeated in the Mr. Olympia competition. He battled to come to terms with this defeat. In fact, it was in 1980 that he retired from the sport because of questionable judging.

Nevertheless, he made a name for himself in the bodybuilding community. He was a legend even though he never achieved an Olympian title.

Current Stats

  • Age: 1951-2001 (49- years old at time of death)
  • Weight: 102 kg. /224 lbs.
  • Birthday: 15 November 1951
  • Birthplace: Ephrata, Pennsylvania, USA
  • 1971 – ‘Mr. Lancaster’
  • 1976 – ‘IFBB Mr. America – overall winner’
  • 1976 – ‘IFBB Mr. America – 1st in medium weights’
  • 1977 – ‘IFBB North American Championships – overall winner’
  • 1977 – ‘IFBB North American Championships – 1st in medium weights’
  • 1978 – ‘IFBB USA vs the World – 1st in heavyweights’
  • 1978 – ‘IFBB World Amateur Championships – 1st in heavyweights’
  • 1979 – ‘IFBB Florida Pro Invitational’
  • 1979 – ‘IFBB Mr. Olympia – 1st in heavyweights’
  • 1979 – ‘IFBB Southern Pro Cup’

Workout Principles of Mike Mentzer

There was a lot of fuss around Mike Mentzer’s ‘different’ workout principles and training philosophy which he would discuss in his heavy-duty articles.

These were all about intensive, brief, and infrequent workouts.

Mike believed that bodybuilders of the day actually over-trained, and it was this that slowed down their progress.

Bodybuilders back then had long workout sessions that would consist of five to six days a week of more than 20 sets per body part. Mike himself trained three times a week with 30-minute workouts.

There would be no more than 5 sets for each body part.

He advocated high-intensity exercises only once every 5-7 days. He further stressed that it only required 20-30 minutes to get the muscles stimulated to their maximum.

But then when his health and also his shape started changing or deteriorating in the 1990s, some followers fell away.

Mike Mentzer’s Training Methods

It was Arthur Jones who was the one to transform Mike’s thinking to the point that Mike said, “Jones wrought a fundamental change in how I thought about training, but an even greater influence was the one he had on my thinking. While my parents and teachers had paid what amounted to, in retrospect, only superficial lip service to the values of thought, logic, and reason, Arthur Jones was absolutely passionate about those values.”

So his training methods changed then and he intensified his intensity so to speak.

He discovered that the results were transforming.

Unfortunately, he never got much of a chance to show off these changes because he had a shoulder injury and much more responsibilities in the Air Force, so much so that he became quite inactive with bodybuilding until 1974.

Mike Mentzer’s Workout Routine

Mike Mentzer said of his workout routine,

“The routine I followed was the essential basic Heavy Duty routine consisting of four to five sets per body part and broken into two workouts – The first workout would be legs, chest, and triceps; the second workout was back, shoulders and biceps.


I always selected weights for my exercises that allowed me to get at least six good positive repetitions and then continue with forced and negative reps.


I would take no rest at all between exercises, but I would rest long enough to catch my breath, and I’d only do the negatives once a week on each exercise.”

He also said that he used this routine throughout his professional bodybuilding career.  This is Mike’s type of workout routine:

Day 1 was Workout 1

Legs – Superset
  • ‘Leg presses – 1 x 6-8’
  • ‘Leg extensions – 1 x 6-8’
  • ‘Squats – 1 x 6-8’
  • ‘Leg curls – 2 x 6-8’
  • ‘Toe presses – 1 x 6-8’
  • ‘Calf raises – 2 x 6-8’
Chest – Superset
  • ‘Dumbbell flyes or pec deck – 1-2 x 6-8’
  • ‘Dips – 2 x 6-8’
  • ‘Incline presses – 1-2 x 6-8’
Triceps – Superset
  • ‘Pushdowns – 1 x 6-8’
  • ‘Dips – 1 x 6-8’
  • ‘Lying triceps extensions – 2 x 6-8’

Day 2 – A Day Off

Day 3 – Workout 2

Back Superset
  • ‘Close-grip pulldowns – 2 x 6-8’
  • ‘Nautilus pullovers – 2 x 6-8’
  • ‘Bent-over barbell rows – 2 x 6-8’
Traps Superset
  • ‘Universal machine shrugs – 2 x 6-8’
  • ‘Upright rows – 2 x 6-8’
Shoulders Superset
  • ‘Nautilus laterals – 2 x 6-8’
  • ‘Nautilus presses – 2 x 6-8’
  • ‘Rear-delt rows – 2 x 6-8’
  • ‘Standing barbell curls – 1 x 6-8’
  • ‘Concentration curls – 2 x 6-8’

Day 4 – Day Off

(Then return to Day 1)

Mike explains about the rest days

“Since growth was our primary goal along with getting defined, at that point we realized that it would have been counter-productive – perhaps even harmful – to our progress to have trained before we allowed recovery and growth to take place.”

Mike Mentzer’s Diet Plan

During the 1970s and early 1980s, bodybuilding diets were still quite amateurish.

Bodybuilders would often and usually cut out carbs before a contest, or they would rigorously eat copious amounts of protein like meat and eggs, and just drink water.

In Mike Mentzer’s day, calorie counting, which today has become the common way to diet in competitions wasn’t really around.

But Mike was the exception.

Before Mr. Olympia in 1979 where Mike won in the heavyweight division, he had a very straightforward approach to his diet

Even though Mike counted calories, he did not feel that he needed to deprive himself of the foods he enjoyed.

He said…

“If you’re on a well-balanced diet and have a caloric deficit in your daily budget, it will not hurt your weight loss efforts to eat refined carbohydrates such as ice cream or a candy bar.


The last two weeks before the 1979 Mr. Olympia, I was consuming more than 200 grams of carbs a day — I had pancakes three times a week and ice cream almost every day.


I didn’t do this sort of thing recklessly, however; I kept my daily caloric intake below 2,000 and was very active.” 

Even though he came second, many considered him the most defined competitor there

He was lean and ripped and you can imagine that even so, his dietary rules weren’t as popular as his training advice was.

Nevertheless, in 2010, his quote above was touted by the IIFYN people as proof of its effectiveness.

Mike also said that the most important thing when it came to nutrition for a bodybuilder was that it came from a well-balanced diet.

He said this could be accomplished by getting daily complements of the four basic food groups which are:

  • Fruits and veggies
  • Grains and cereals
  • Fish, meat, and poultry
  • Milk and other dairy products

If you follow that, you would give you the proper ratio of nutrients, i.e. 60% of carbs, 25% of protein, and 15% of fats. He said you should never underestimate the value of a diet that was well-balanced and that covered all your nutritional needs.

This is what he further had to say about diet

“The only other possibility is an unbalanced diet. There are “nutritionals” that help enhance recovery ability. The two best ones are human growth hormone (HGH) and DHEA.


I strongly recommend you try them for at least three months in conjunction with a properly conducted Heavy Duty, high-intensity training program.”

Mike Mentzer’s Supplements

Mike reckoned that if you were getting in all the minerals, vitamins, fats, proteins, and carbs, as well as water, you didn’t really need supplements.

But he did realize that that was not always possible, what with time pressures, family pressures, and job pressures. Sometimes you skip meals.

He felt that if you weren’t getting a well-balanced diet, then, by all means, take supplements – ”But don’t waste hundreds of dollars a month on useless vitamins and minerals that you’re just going to piss out anyway.”  

Mike took supplements when he was training for a contest and was on a low-calorie diet.

“Nutritional scientists say once you go below 1,500 calories, then it’s impossible to get all the vitamins, proteins, minerals, and so forth that you need to maintain proper health and, of course, build a big, muscular, beautiful physique, which is why we’re all here.”

Mike Mentzer’s noteworthy recommendations

Noteworthy recommendations from the late Mike Mentzer

  • “Young bodybuilders reading this should be cautioned against doing too many sets on too many days for all body parts. Their enthusiasm is often a hindrance; they’re so willing and able to train marathon-style to acquire a muscular physique that they often over-train.”
  • “I would just suggest that no matter what methods you use, you don’t do more than four to six sets per body part, use strict form, train to failure, use forced reps occasionally, and don’t over-train.”
  • That is, don’t train so frequently so that you exceed your body’s ability to overcome the exhaustive effects of exercise and don’t have enough recovery ability left over for growth.”

“It is the body that produces growth but only if left undisturbed during a sufficient rest period.”Mike Mentzer