The biography, life, and accomplishments of Mike Mentzer

Mike Mentzer was an American IFBB professional bodybuilder born on 15 November 1951 in Germantown, Pennsylvania. Mike was also an author, and his writings were widely read and appreciated. Mentzer has been recently rising in popularity again due to his workouts and methodologies resurfacing on Tik Tok and other social media platforms.

While some bodybuilding fans considered Mentzer a genius, others called him a mystery. Sadly, the mystery could never be unraveled as Mentzer passed away at the age of 49. 

Below is a complete breakdown of Mike Mentzer’s profile, stats, biography, training, and diet regimens.

Full Name: Mike Mentzer (Golden Era Bodybuilder)

Weight Height Date Of Birth
225-235 lbs 5’8″ 15/11/1951
Division Era Nationality
Men’s Open 1970’s, ’80s American


Mike Mentzer Biography 

Heavy duty

Famed for his feud with Arnold Schwarzenegger at the 1980 Mr. Olympia contest, Mike Mentzer was considered to be one of the best bodybuilders of the golden era. It was even argued that Mentzer should have won the 1980 Olympia.

Apart from being a top-level competitive bodybuilder, Mentzer was a straight-A student in school. As a pre-med student at the University of Maryland, Mentzer spent his time away from the gym studying genetics, physical and organic chemistry. 

Mike “The Heavy Duty” Mentzer started training at the age of 12, and by the age of 15, he could bench press 370 lbs, with a bodyweight of 165 lbs. 

Mentzer entered his first bodybuilding contest in 1971, and it turned out to be a humbling year for him. Although he won his very first competition (Mr. Lancaster), he finished in tenth place (his worst ever) in the very next show (AAU Mr. America). 

Mike Mentzer suffered a severe injury to his shoulder in 1971 that disrupted his training. Mentzer started pumping iron again in 1975 after a four-year hiatus. He made a respectable comeback (1975 IFBB Mr. America), coming in at a modest third place.

Mike Mentzer’s Drug Abuse

It was no secret that Mentzer used steroids, as that is a common thing in bodybuilding, but while prepping for the 1980 Olympia, Mike Mentzer started using amphetamines. He claimed he needed it for productivity and did not use it for recreational purposes, almost like a pre-workout. The warning signs of waning health started showing soon after, but Mentzer paid no heed. 

Twice during his prep, Mike awoke to find himself, “at death’s door.” He was so fatigued that he could not even raise his arms and had to stay in bed for the remainder of the day.  

A couple of days before the 1980 Olympia, the “death’s door” feeling revisited Mike Mentzer. It wasn’t until the morning of the competition that he felt he had recovered.

Later that day, the retired Arnold Schwarzenegger announced his comeback at the 1980 Olympia. The news did not go down well with many contestants, including Mentzer. By this time, Mike Mentzer had become popular and was a judge’s favorite. On top of that, many competitors believed that Mike, with his new fame, could win the 1980 Olympia purely on popularity.

As a result, an urgent meeting was called. Reportedly, insults were exchanged between Mentzer and Schwarzenegger at the meeting, and a fight nearly broke out. Long story short, Arnie was allowed to compete and won the Sandow despite breaking formation on several occasions and receiving a warning from the judges. Mike Mentzer, on the other hand, placed 5th.

The Decline of Mike Mentzer


In protest of his poor placing in 1980, Mike Mentzer boycotted the 1981 Olympia and retired soon after at the age of 29. In 1983, Mentzer became the editor of ‘Workout Magazine‘. Although he enjoyed his work, he continued to rely upon amphetamines to meet deadlines and occasionally stayed awake for two to three days straight. 

For some reason, the owners of the magazine pulled the plug on the magazine, which dealt a crushing blow to Mentzer. Soon after ‘Workout Magazine‘ ceased operations, Mike lost his beloved father. To add to his distress, Mike’s 10-year relationship with fiancee Cathy Gelfo came to an end around the same time.

These three unfortunate events, combined with the continued (ab)use of amphetamines led to Mike Mentzer’s decline. He passed away in 2001 at 49-years-old due to a heart attack. 

The sad story does not end here. Mike’s younger brother Ray Mentzer (Mr. America 1979) discovered Mike’s dead body. The death of his beloved brother proved to be too much to bear for Ray. Ray too, died within 48 hours of Mike’s passing. 

“Many bodybuilders sell themselves short. Erroneously attributing their lack of satisfactory progress to a poverty of the requisite genetic traits, instead of to their irrational training and dietary practices, they give up training. Don’t make the same mistake.” – Mike Mentzer

Mike Mentzer Competition History

1980 olympia

  • 1971 Mr. Lancaster – 1st
  • 1971 AAU Mr. America – 10th
  • 1971 AAU Teen Mr. America – 2nd
  • 1975 IFBB Mr. America – 3rd (Medium)
  • 1975 ABBA Mr. USA – 2nd (Medium)
  • 1976 IFBB Mr. America – 1st (Overall)
  • 1976 IFBB Mr. America – 1st (Medium)
  • 1976 IFBB Mr. Universe – 2nd (MW)
  • 1977 IFBB North American Championships – 1st (Overall)
  • 1977 IFBB North American Championships – 1st (MW)
  • 1977 IFBB Mr. Universe – 2nd (HW)
  • 1978 IFBB USA vs the World – 1st (HW)
  • 1978 IFBB World Amateur Championships – 1st (HW)
  • 1979 IFBB Canada Pro Cup – 2nd
  • 1979 IFBB Florida Pro Invitational – 1st
  • 1979 IFBB Night of Champions – 3rd
  • 1979 IFBB Mr. Olympia – 1st (HW)
  • 1979 IFBB Pittsburgh Pro Invitational – 2nd
  • 1979 IFBB Southern Pro Cup – 1st
  • 1980 IFBB Mr. Olympia – 5th

Mike Mentzer Training

Mentzer brothers

Mike Mentzer followed a HIIT training routine. He followed a ‘heavy duty’ variation of the model. He believed in a “less is more” type of deal, where he would make sure to get the absolutely most out of the reps and sets he performed, but trained relatively low volume. Mentzer was known to do a few warm up sets until he got to his working weight, where he would use a weight that would take him to failure between 6-9 reps. 

When he hit failure, Mike Mentzer kept going and performed 2-3 forced reps while using a spotter. Mike advocated following perfect form while training. 

Mike Mentzer’s training often involved a lot of rest days, to let the muscle recover and grow. Metnzer’s training would often be kept down to 3 working days with 4 for rest. Later, as his bodybuilding progressed, he would take between 4-7 days rest in between workouts.

Mike Mentzer stated that high volume training is for enhanced lifters, as steroids are primarily a recovery assistant that places the lifter in a constant state of growth and repair, so when enhanced lifters constantly break down the muscle, they can recover faster and better. However, Mentzer stated that with natural lifters, they need more time in between training sessions, as they do not have that enhanced recovery. With more time in between their training sessions, natural lifters need to really brutalize the muscles and make the most out of each session.

Mentzer’s training methodologies combined the high intensity training, as well as the enhanced recovery and adequate time in between training sessions, to provide great results.

Mike Mentzer’s training regimen looked like this:

Monday: Legs, Chest, Triceps

1. Legs: Giant-set
2. Chest: Triset
3. Triceps: Triset
  • Pushdown: 1 set of 6-8 reps
  • Dips: 1 set of 6-8 reps
  • Lying triceps extension: 2 sets of 6-8 reps

Wednesday: Back, Traps, Shoulders, Biceps

1. Back: Tri-set
  • Nautilus pull-over: 2 sets of 6-8 reps
  • Close-grip pulldown2 sets of 6-8 reps
  • Bent-over barbell row: 2 sets of 6-8 reps
2. Traps: Superset
  • Universal machine shrug: 2 sets of 6-8 reps
  • Upright row2 sets of 6-8 reps
3. Shoulders & Biceps: Giant-set
  • Nautilus lateral raise: 2 sets of 6-8 reps
  • Nautilus press: 2 sets of 6-8 reps
  • Rear delt row: 2 sets of 6-8 reps
  • Standing barbell curl1 set of 6-8 reps
  • Concentration curl: 2 sets of 6-8 reps


Mike Mentzer’s diet was nothing short of interesting. He believed that bodybuilders did not need the levels of protein they were sold by fitness magazines and the bodybuilders they featured. He stated that while protein is crucial for building muscle mass, the muscle is made up mostly of water, but bodybuilders and their magazines cannot sell you water, so they say that you need protein. Mentzer took a broad approach to his nutrition in terms of food sources and macronutrients, and he would eat according to four food groups.

Mike Mentzer’s diet program consisted of:

  • Cereal and grain: Four or more servings per day
  • Fruits and vegetables: Four or more servings per day
  • The high-protein group (fish, meat, eggs): Two or more servings each day (Basic serving of meat = 3.5 ounces)
  • Dairy products (milk and cheese): Two servings per day.

Wrap Up

Overall, Mike Mentzer is one of the most interesting bodybuilders of all time. He used low volume training, incorporated more rest days than training days each week, and did not eat what bodybuilders typically eat, yet he still stepped on stage with great amounts of muscle mass and shreds.

Do you agree with Mentzer’s approach?

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Dylan Wolf
I work mainly in content writing, focusing my free time on bodybuilding and strength sports. I was introduced to fitness in high school and after watching Generation Iron movies. I love to train. I have competed multiple times, even winning a junior title in classic physique. I have a bachelor's in criminal justice and business obtained through Alvernia University. When I am not focused on work or training, I enjoy watching films or reading about anything and everything.