The Ultimate Mike Mentzer Workout and Diet

The Heavy Duty training routine

Mike Mentzer was a Golden Era bodybuilder famed for his usage of the heavy duty training system that helped him add muscle mass and compete with some of the greatest bodybuilders of that time, even clashing with Arnold Schwarzenegger at the 1980 Mr. Olympia contest. This heavy duty training system utilized high intensity training, which Mentzer had adopted from Arthur Jones and transformed into his own heavy duty system. Under Mentzer’s new system, reps got lower, weights got heavier, and the sets got much harder, seriously forcing the body to grow and adapt.

Over forty years later, Mentzer’s training is resurfacing and becoming popular again amongst younger gym goers. So, what exactly did the Mike Mentzer workout look like?

Mike Mentzer’s Workout Philosophy

While Arthur Jones’ workout philosophy advocated for one set of 20 reps per exercise, Mike Mentzer’s take on this workout style concluded that the ideal range was 6-8 reps for each set. However, on the last rep you would be reaching absolute muscular failure, meaning you could not complete another rep with a full range of motion, and it did not stop there. Mike Mentzer’s workout involved going beyond failure (a philosophy also adopted by Tom Platz), utilizing forced reps, negative reps, rest-pause, and pre-exhaust supersets. What do these terms mean? 

Term Meaning
Forced Reps A spotter helps to move the weight for additional reps
Negative Reps A spotter helps on the positive halves of reps, the the lifter slowly lowers the weight for about 6 seconds
Res-Pause After hitting failure, rest for 15 seconds then perform another rep. Mentzer would repeat that process for 4-6 more reps
Pre-Exhaust Supersets Do a set of an isolation exercise before a set of a compound exercise for the same body part without resting.

It is important to note that Mike Mentzer would workout with at least one training partner each session who would spot him and help assist him when he reached failure. Upon reaching failure, Mentzer would use forced reps, which is where his spotter came in and helped so he could complete those reps. Usually, Mentzer’s partner was his brother, Ray, who won the 1979 Mr. America. 

Mike and Ray Mentzer

Another key part of Mike Mentzer’s workout is the low volume. That’s right, the high intensity workout routine was not high volume at all, as it was argued that if you actually trained with high intensity that you would not need high volume, and it clearly worked for Mike. Mike Mentzer’s workout only 3-6 working sets per body part (supersets counted as two sets), and typically only 1-2 warm up sets with lighter weight. 

Another thing about Mike Mentzer’s workout that may shock you is the frequency of training, he only trained three days per week. The Heavy Duty workout called for training body parts twice every 8-9 days, while most bodybuilders will work each muscle group twice every 5-7 days. Mentzer wrote for the people that were skeptical of the low volume, “your subconscious child is telling you that more is better. In some cases, that’s true. More money is better than less. But you can’t take that principle and blindly apply it to exercise and expect to get anything out of it”. 

Mike Mentzer’s Workout Routine

Now that you have seen the training philosophy, let’s take a look at Mike Mentzer’s actual workout routine. Mentzer split up his workout into two workouts, Workout A and Workout B. Let’s take a look at each.

Workout A (Legs, Chest, and Triceps)

Exercise Sets  Reps
Leg Extension (superset with leg press) 2 sets of each 6-8
Squat 1 6-8
Leg Curl 2 6-8
Standing Calf Raise 2 6-8
Calf Press 1 6-8
Dumbbell Fly or Pec Deck 2 6-8
Incline Barbell Press 2 6-8
Dips 2 6-8
Pushdown (superset with dips again) 1 set of each 6-8
Lying Triceps Extension 2 6-8

Workout B (Back, Traps, Shoulders, Biceps)

Exercise Sets  Reps
Machine Pullover (ss with Close Grip Underhand Pulldown) 2 of each 6-8
Barbell Row 2 6-8
Machine Shrug (ss with Upright Row) 2 sets of each 6-8
Side lateral raises (ss with Machine Shoulder Press) 2 sets of each 6-8
Dumbbell or Machine Rear Lateral 2 6-8
Standing Barbell Curl 1 6-8
Dumbbell Concentration Curl 2 6-8

Though it may not look like much, Mentzer trained to absolutely brutalize each muscle that he trained. The Heavy Duty training method meant leaving the gym with absolutely nothing left in the tank, meaning the muscle could not endure anymore stress. 

Did Anyone Else Use Mentzer’s Workout?

Mike Mentzer was a phenomenon, even winning the heavyweight division of the 1979 Mr. Olympia (Frank Zane won the overall). But in 1980, Mentzer released two Heavy Duty booklets detailing his training, and through his seminars, articles, and other forms of exposure, his training philosophy was becoming widely popular. Other bodybuilders began training like Mike Mentzer, but eventually returned to a more moderate training model.

Then came the 1980 Olympia, where Mentzer placed a controversial fifth place, and retired after this. Sadly, Mike Mentzer passed away in 2001 at the age of 49, but not without leaving behind a legacy.

Perhaps you have heard of Dorian Yates, a 6x Mr. Olympia winner, also considered to be the original mass monster. Yates changed the game of bodybuilding with the size he brought. As far as his training, Dorian Yates followed the workouts of none other than Mike Mentzer. Yates had trained with far less frequency, and much more intensity. 

Mike Mentzer and Dorian Yates

To this day, the Mike Mentzer workout is followed by gym goers across the world.

Training Tips 

Mike Mentzer followed a strict set of rules that he followed and did not stray from. Let’s take a look at what those are. 

Divide the Body

Mentzer advocated for dividing your body parts into two workouts, and to allow for 48 hours in between each training session. For example, if you do workout A on Monday, do Workout B on Wednesday, then Workout A on Friday and so on. This allows for adequate recovery time, so you will be able to feel refreshed for the next training session. 

Follow the Push-Pull System

To maximize recovery, workouts should follow the push-pull system. But, since Mentzer divided his body into two separate workouts, he included legs on push day and shoulders on pull day. 

Sets and Reps 

Always do 1-3 warmup sets before the working sets, and the last warmup set should be about 75% of your working weight. 

For the working sets, go to full-rep failure in the 6-8 rep range, and try to grow stronger in this range. Utilize things like pre-exhaust supersets, such as flyes immediately before incline presses. 

Form and Failure

When following the Mike Mentzer workout, ALWAYS maintain proper form. Proper form ensures you are hitting the desired muscle, and decreases your risk of injury

Take your sets beyond failure, using forced reps, negatives, and rest-pause. 

The Mentzer Diet

Now, for a workout routine this intense, what exactly was Mike Mentzer eating throughout this time period? Let’s take a look.

Oatmeal: Oats are a great source of complex carbs, and that makes them a good source of energy. They also will keep you fuller for longer, which is great for getting through the grueling Mike Mentzer workout.

Eggs: Eggs are a great and easy source of protein, and don’t take up too much space in the fridge. There are many different ways to make them as well.

Chicken breast: Perhaps the most common of bodybuilding foods, chicken breast is high in protein, low in fat, and has no carbs. It is also versatile; you can use it in a wide range of dishes, from stir-fries to curries or salads.

Fish (salmon and tuna): Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are known for doing things such as reducing inflammation, improving brain function, and lowering the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

Fruits: Mike Mentzer himself recommended eating various fruits every day, such as apples, oranges, grapes, strawberries, apricots, blueberries, and bananas.

Lentils (red or green): Greens are packed full of fiber which means they help keep you fuller for longer, but also help with a healthy digestive system.

Vegetables: Some of Mike Mentzer’s favorite vegetables consisted of broccoli, green beans, zucchini squash, spinach, and onions.

Juice: No, not the anabolic juice. Mike Mentzer drank different juices, including orange and grape juice, combined with a protein shake.

You also need to drink plenty of water to flush everything throughout your system.

Mike Mentzer Wrap Up

Overall, Mike Mentzer’s workouts were far different than most modern bodybuilders. Many times you will see bodybuilders doing far more frequency and volume, but not Mike Mentzer. Instead he followed a high intensity training routine, where he would absolutely brutalize the muscle groups with low volume, heavy sets, and only train three times per week. 

Do you agree with Mike Mentzer’s training routine?

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Images courtesy of Instagram (@mentzerhit)

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.