Mike Mentzer’s Heavy Duty Workout Sucks For Naturals One work set per workout? Training once every two weeks? WTF?

| October 17, 2014 by Truth Seeker |

Mike Mentzer created a lot of controversy in bodybuilding. He was one of the few who dared to call out Arnold and Joe Weider. Mentzer wasn’t afraid to express his rather negative and yet very true opinion of the whole bodybuilding industry. Unfortunately, not all that came from Mike Mentzer was truth and honesty. His so-called Heavy Duty training system assembled under the principles of High-Intensity Training does not work as advertised unless you’re taking steroids.


What is Heavy Duty training?

The popular version of heavy duty training answers the following criteria:

1. Five work sets per workout
2. One work set to complete muscular failure per exercise
3. 4 to 10 days of rest between workouts
4. Compound exercises combined with machines
5. Implementation of techniques such as complete muscular failure, pre-exhaustion, forced negatives, assisted reps, isometric holds…etc.

A heavy duty workout should be relatively short, but the intensity must be taken to the ultimate limit. The work set should leave the lifter on the floor with vivid hallucinations before the eyes.

The exercises of choice are usually solid compound movements (e.g., bench press, dips, squats, deadlifts). However, the regimen incorporates machines too because that’s the only way to safely perform forced negatives and assisted reps. It’s much safer to do negatives on a bench press machine than with an actual barbell.

Many of the principles presented in Mentzer’s books were a breath of fresh air compared to the dominant high volume approach at the time. Arnold and his friends were training six days a week, two times a day.

Mentzer’s principles had a superb goal – to finally place quality over quantity. Sadly, he took everything to the other extreme.

Will High-intensity Heavy Duty routines work for naturals?

High-Intensity Heavy Duty workouts come with some good properties, but they also carry a lot of baggage that would hold naturals down.

a. Too hard on the CNS. Heavy duty training leaves the muscles in agony, but the most damage is actually eaten by the Central Nervous System. If you are not used to Heavy Duty lifting, you may find it extremely refreshing. However, after a few weeks, you will feel mentally drained. If that’s not the case, you are either a genetic freak, a beginner or your intensity is not that high.

When you begin every set knowing that you will go to complete failure, you will start to hate training.

b. Infrequent training causes de-adaptation. In order for adaptation to occur, there must be stress. When the stress is too infrequent “de-adaptation” takes place.

You can try the following experiment to understand this point.

Start training a muscle group every seven or ten days. You will be sore after every workout. Then, begin training the same body part 2 times a week. The soreness after your workouts will be significantly less. Why? Simple. When your training is infrequent, the downtime is too long, and the body starts reverting to its previous weaker state. Conversely, when you train more often, the body has no time to lose its condition. That’s why you are less sore. In addition, frequent training improves the recovering capabilities of the organism.

Since Heavy Duty calls for infrequent training, you will be sore after each workout because of “de-adaptation” rather than “perfect training”.

c. Not enough volume. Growth requires both – intensity and volume. The intensity (heavy weight) provides the strike force whereas the volume spreads the damage over the muscle tissue. One work set won’t work unless you also do back-off sets to make up for the low volume.

But Mentzer had an insane physique! How could he be wrong about training?

Mike Mentzer had a solid physique, no doubt. However, he was on steroids like the rest of the bodybuilders that he was competing against {more here}. Also, before switching to Heavy Duty training, he was doing regular volume workouts like his rivals.

In other words, he acquired his massive physique before converting to High-Intensity Training. Moreover, many of the athletes that he trained were not natural as well.

What’s you message to the H.I.T. Jedis?

Enjoy your super slow machine sets, but it’s not happening.

But Dorian Yates says that H.I.T. is the bet way to train?

Dorian Yates has been on steroids for longer than you’ve been alive. In addition, he also used volume in the beginning, just like Mentzer.

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  1. Rmj

    I totally agree. Heavy duty was that whole too good to be true scam. It promoted the idea that you only train once a week or two weeks in some cases and you’ll build a body of a Greek god. Total crap. I’ve seen guys train with heavy duty and they all look like they don’t lift due to the low frequency of the training. You HIT the nail on the head with this one. Heavy duty does suck for is naturals.

    1. Ryan Oleary

      I bought his book on hit training, 5 sets and training a body part once a week or less, doesn’t put enough stress on the muscle to grow. He was already at his peak when he changed to hit training with few sets. Arnie trained 6 days a week twice a day. He did better than Mike in bodybuilding. If you’re gonna get a book. Buy Arnold’s encyclopaedia on bodybuilding

      1. Concerned

        Mike believed that it was necessary to train less frequently because the body was becoming overtaxed. However, if we examine what happens, as we grow stronger the ischaemia that attends intense activities hastens. Mike readily acknowledged this in his early books, and is the main reason he turned to Rest Pause.
        What he should have gleaned from this is that if you were able to do a set of eight reps with your 1RM – c(onstant) lbs, and the ischaemia increased, you become only capable of doing seven reps. The fact that you are capable of doing fewer reps per set means that you are capable of doing less work in the same amount of time. Ergo, despite assertions to the contrary, the emphasis needs to be on increasing the intensity of the exercise, not prolonging the recovery period, which as everybody has acknowledged here doesn’t work for steroid-free mortals.
        The benefit of Arnold’s training therefore was that he emphasised the need to train each bodypart at least once every four days.

        1. Eduardo

          I think you’re missing the point. Ischemia isn’t the key thing. Intensity is meant to be increased using the variables of time (reducing the duration of the workouts) and simply by increasing the load. It’s simple: if you can work-up to a set of Squats with 600 lbs for 10 reps (to m.m.f.); all you need to do is add a little to the load (say increase it to 605 or even less).
          If you reach the upper-limit of your potential and can’t add any more to the load and have tried reducing volume and frequency, then you could look at other ways to make training more difficult.
          So, if you were very strong and did that Squat workout above, training soon after it would not only be a waste of time, it would be draining you further.
          Increasing the recovery periods does work. You can train a lift every two weeks and make progress every time if you’re disciplined.
          Arnold was not armed with logic. Listening to Arnold about training is listening to somebody who had no clue to what extent in reality the variables in his training affected his success.

          1. Concerned

            Ischemia serves to demonstrate that the intensity of each set diminishes with the physiologic changes that attend strength increases.
            If you don’t agree that’s fine; I can’t see the point in going round in circles repeating the same old rhetoric.
            Good luck!

        2. Simon

          Mike mentioned that a natural bodybuilder he knew named David Staplin was taking 3 weeks off between workouts and making great progress. See my post above.
          I’m not trying to be antagonistic. I don’t see the above as rhetoric. As I say, if Mike was being honest, it’s fact.
          What a natural bodybuilder does when he’s very close to his genetic limit, I don’t know. Four weeks between workouts, low rep sets like weightlifters do perhaps. Rest-Pause is a bad idea for naturals, I’d say.
          What would you recommend?

  2. David

    Well, all I can say is that I’ve never used steroids and I built huge muscle gains in super short periods of time using heavy duty training after years of getting nowhere with frequent high volume training. And every friend that I put on the program saw amazing results in a short amount of time except for one who would not follow the program and not rest enough and not eat enough.

    1. Scott

      ^^ This.

      From my own experience as well as friends’, we all overcame our plateaus with HD. I honestly couldn’t believe it… but it made me giddy. Actually, what really struck me was the fact that no one else was doing it. I admit it though, I initially refused to believe it would work, as it went against everything I had learned up to that point. But, with my gains at a long time standstill with traditional routines, I had nothing to lose. Now fifteen years later, I still incorporate HD into my routine … and it still works. I guess it’ll always work for me as long as I’m a human being…

    2. Zaman

      That’s true Bro,
      The people who are saying Heavy duty does not work are the people who does not push them up to true failure or not eat or sleep good enough.

      Hence natural bodybuilders most concerned about recovery and unlike steroids user, the excess hormone they are putting in from outside, those hormone will make sure their recovery even though they over training,
      So for natural bodybuilders heavy duty program should be the best approach because it provides the most recovery.

      I am a natural bodybuilder and I’m glad to hear your experience with Heavy duty. Thanks

  3. Greg

    I started training heavy duty when I turned 40 years old after I read mentzers book. In the past five yeats, I have gained more mass and strength than I did in the previous ten years doing all the 3, 4 and 5 day splits that every muscle head preaches. If you heavy duty training the right way, it works. But as mentioned in the article, it is not for everybody. Roo scary for some, too different for others. I am a steroid free athelete and heavy duty was a life changer for me. 45 years old, 5’10” tall, 230 pounds with 11 percent body fat. Strength gains have been continuous for the past few years. The trick is, mix up the exercises just as the book says. Take breaks. Enjoy life. I’m an advocate for heavy duty training as it works for me and my goals and my quality of life.

    1. Rmj11

      I very much doubt that. More like you have a invested interested in HD and spread this garbage all over the net. HD sucks for natty’s.

  4. Robert H

    Hmm…”Naturals do better with higher volume and moderate intensity”, so why is there another article on this site called “The minimalists guide to bodybuilding: Do less, achieve more”? This is exactly the message Mike Mentzer promoted!

    1. natty fan

      that article talks about progressive overload and importance of compound exercises btw by more volume he means more sets like 3 work sets or 1 work set with backoff sets also what Mike Mentzer promoted was training to failure not to progress. HD have good ideas like : recovery – doing compound exercises – training less frequent instead of training 6 days a week but he ruined all of them . a good routine should be like this : each lift once or twice a week – train to progress not to failure – do more sets like 3 – 4

      1. Robert H

        Think your missing the point fan boy…
        Moreover, Mike didnt merely promote training to failure, he emphasised progressive intensity and overload and ajusting one’s frequency accordingly.

  5. Glen

    I tried working out once per week a few times and it worked great.

    If you account for weights used and time under tension (including negatives, focus on eccentrics,drop sets, and rest pause sets) and actually calculate, an HD workout actually has a lot more volume than a typical 5×5 workout. On paper it looks like less than it really is, unless you actually do the calculations and analyze it.

    With that in mind, here’s food for thought: if a genetic potential exists, then any workout that causes muscle growth at a reasonable rate will give the same exact end result over the long term as any other. That end result is reaching and maintaining one’s genetic potential. That means for the most part that most fairly designed routines will work for the same purpose. With that being the case, I’ll pick the one that requires less gym time.

    Remember, only steroids can get one past their genetic potential, not a magic routine. There is no best routine.

    Also, with HD training you get past burnout by simply changing exercises when necessary. If done correctly, you wouldn’t make every exercise torturous on every workout.

  6. Glen

    You sound like the biggest loser on the planet. Nothing works for natties according to you. High volume don’t work, 20 rep squats don’t work, HIT don’t work, make up you’re fucking mind.

    Heck man, any one of those routines will work for a natty, of course until they reach their genetic potential. And at that point only steroids can make one progress further.

    With that being true, I’ll choose HIT. At least that way I won’t spend my life in the gym. And I’ll work hard and stay strong and it won’t matter 1 set or more I won’t make excuses.

    1. eddie

      true words hit works i have never used steroids and i have used it for years it is the only form of training that got my incline up 50 pounds in 2 months.it works maybe u just have shit genetics.and i agree with the guy above according to the author volume sucks for nattys and hit make up ur mind.

  7. Justin

    Pple dont get it. Any proper lifting word. Rest enough and this works. Its nothing but intense TUT. Condensed. This article is clearly opinion based, not off experience . And turns out theres a different article glorifying minimalist training. Figures

  8. Robert H

    Actually ive a very good understanding of HIT, the principles have severed me well (and the dozens of people ive trained) since the mid 90s. I understand that results are proportional to the intensity of effort put forth, I understand the intensity and volume coexist on an inverse ratio, and I understand that intense training must be kept relatively infrequent.
    Its the laws of nature the dictate training requirements.

  9. Rey Leon

    I don’t know about the extremes of HD Vs. high volume training, but from my own experience I think there may also be a physiological difference for older men.
    I’m 47, and although I’m the strongest I’ve ever been, I’m no longer as energetic, agile or recuperative as I once was.
    I’m finding I get great results if there’s about 4-5 days between hitting each of my splits – for example back, shoulders and triceps every five days. And it also gives me the longer time I need for those muscles to recuperate.
    When I was younger I had endless energy and could cycle through every 3 days.

  10. Rupert Christ

    I’ll never go back to volume training. I’ll stick to my constant progression on an abbreviated program. I also enjoy not having constant joint issues and not spending my life in the gym.

  11. kenneth raine

    Heavy duty at least laid to rest the” requirement” of 20 sets/ body part. However, being brief should not be allowed to interfere with proper warmups, especially as the body response can feel different, workout to workout. Abbreviated pyramiding, seems to me to contain proper warmup, instinctive feel, refining groove and imposing a natural volume limit. I have also found like another contributor that five days rest between body-parts seems to keep cropping up as an optimum pause.

  12. William

    Actually, Heavy Duty is ideal for a natural trainer as it stop the ridiculous, high volume practice that leads to over training and into which most trainees fall into.

    Who ever wrote this article was looking for an excuse because he simply was not willing to put in the effort necessary to do the hard work that Heavy Duty requires.

    Having grown up in the “Arnold” era, high volume was the rule and so was years upon years of little to no improvement or gain in muscle size especially for those who were training without the assistance of steroid and other PEDs.

    Arthur Jones, Ellington Darden and Mike Mentzer changed all of that along with destroying the myth that one had to literally live in the gym.

    If you are man enough to have the will, psychologically and physically to do the work, Heavy Duty is the way to go.

  13. Jimmy Snuka

    The people on this page that say it does not work, are not going as heavy as they can with intensity. They are doing the I think I am going as heavy as you can. Training heavy for 1 set helps more than doing 5 to 15 at medium weight.

  14. Jon

    Anyone trying H.I.T probably needs to keep it up for 2 or 3 months in order to develop proper technique. When they have done that and have reached a meaningful weight they should start to see results. It works better with a friend or an instructor to help you through to failure. Difficult for most people to go there on there own. Its not an easy protocol.

    1. Duane

      Truthfully….Most people don’t have the balls to ever do these high intensity workouts…
      I’ve rarely noticed a roid retard ever go to failure on a single set….

  15. Suraj

    It works just like any other workout if you do it right. It is best for breaking out of pleatues and it will work best if you modify it a little. Google for some modification. Not a scam, never was.

  16. Duane

    I remember the original HD articles Mike wrote in Weider’s “Muscle Builder and Power” back in 78′ and 79’….Mike was advocating about 7 sets per body part to failure….Which was about right….(when throwing in rest/pause, negatives, statics, 2 up one down, drop sets etc…)….
    Mike (along with Casey Viator) worked for Arthur (Nautilus) Jones who trained them using one set….Mike wrote that whenever Arthur turned around he and Casey did a “few more sets”…..
    Later in Heavy Duty II he cut everything to a single isolation/compound set…..Mon- Chest and Tris. Wed- Back and arms. Fri- Legs and shoulders….
    I went ALL OUT on this routine….The isolation/compound and rest pause sets were initially a shock but the muscles became accustomed to them after a few workouts…In the later 90’s I did MIke’s HDII back routine (pull overs SS with seated front reverse grip lat pulldowns…) When I went back to strict full range pull ups and chins the reps was able to do dropped from 14 to 7 reps….
    Bottom Line: Keep mixing the workouts up using the high intensity techniques….7-10 set per body part…. Those HDII techniques are about as valid as Zane’s 20 sets per body part….

  17. Tristen

    Just starting HD as of tonight or rather one of mikes workouts http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/becker22.htm
    Currently my bench is 315 , squat and DL staying around 3 plates for now coming off an injury. I’ve always used Arnold’s encyclopedia but I have a BB competition coming up next summer and I’m gonna give this a try for 1-3 months. I’ll let you guys know how it goes. Arnold is my hero so is Lee priest and I have no investment in HD whatsoever, so I promise an unbiased opinion.

  18. Brett

    After 2-3 weeks I can see noticeable gains. Not dramatic but noticeable.I’m lifting 3 seconds up hold and squeeze 2 seconds and 3 seconds down for negative. Lifting heavy enough to perform 6-8 reps in this fashion. I do 2 warm up sets of 50 fast reps just to pump blood in the muscle and then do 3 working sets of slower HD style 6-8 reps.

  19. Paul

    I find HVT and HIT extreme dogmas. The truth is in the middle. I’ve always trained in a personal progressive pyramidal style with very good results :

    A. 8-10 sets / small body part (2-3 exercises x 3-4 sets)
    B. 12-14 sets / big body part (3-4 exercises x 3-4 sets)
    C. every set increase the load and decrease the reps
    D. reps only between 10 and 4, sometimes 2 (for exemple: 10, 8, 6, 4, 2)
    E. the sets after first are all to failure
    F. the movement is natural, corect as posible and do not stress the negative part
    G. be instinctive, listen to your body regarding the number of exercises, sets and reps
    H. train the body part once per week

  20. David Henshall

    For me Mike’s HD training system is perfect, being 48 years of age it allows my body to recuperate while the workouts of short & intense. If i were younger & just starting out i would probably introduce more volume & cut down on the rest days but for me a godsend. Mike rest in peace brother.

  21. nf

    Ellington Darden, one of the foremost exercise physiolgists, has published numerous books/studies that espouses Mentzner’s theories. One of his most recent books, Fat Loss Break Through, had a group of men and women doing 90 second reps (ONE SET PER BODY PART) and had them train once every 5 to seven days–and they achieved astounding results. Muscle isnt built in the gym–that is when intense exercise will cause micro tears in the muscle; then, during the recuperative phase, the muscles will rebuild themselves. All of the participants were able to build muscle and had amazing fat loss results!! NONE of them used steroids. There is too much Bro science that floats around gyms, forums, and the internet. Most people lack the intensity to take a set to 100% failure using STRICT form (no heaving, bouncing, swinging, using momentum, etc). And sadly, how many people look the same year after year depsite “working out”?

  22. James M Yerian

    It works if you’re natty. Worked for me. You keep the protein up, get rest, and try to do more each soul-crushing workout, and it will work. Too long workouts and too many reps only force the muscles to adapt if you’re already on roids.

    Trust me. It takes self discipline. Most important point; do a 4-2-4 cadence until failure and wait a week for each bodypart. It isn’t that complicated.

  23. Jay

    People that say HIT doesn’t work for natty are simply not reading the actual manual written by Mentzer – or if they are, they are not understanding it. HIT is by far the best way to build solid muscle quickly and safely for natties. I’ve trained volume for years, taken tons of supplements (never gear), and spent obscene amounts of time in the gym. Now, at 45, I am in and out of the gym in 10 to 15 minutes once every four days – unless I have to wait for a piece of equipment, but I try to go on off peak hours, and my results (both in weight lifted, and muscle gained) are blowing away anything I ever did in my 20s and 30s, using only a BCAA supplement and Creatine.
    For anyone reading this who is on the fence abouot HIT – High Intensity Training – Heavy Duty – get teh actual HIT book (Amazon has it) and read it, then follow it. Don’t get your info from poorly summarized third person articles that miss many of the important details of the HIT method. If you are doing this correctly, as a natty, you will literally feel yourself growing after your first workout. And don’t give in to temptation to frequent the gym too soon – a very key part of HIT is recuperation. Over training is real if you aren’t on gear – it takes a leap of faith to unlearn all the volume BS you’ve been reading about and using all these years.

      1. James M Yerian

        You’re exactly right. Less is more with HIT. And you have to get past volume routines. Only on gear will volume really help. HIT gives you great gains and incredible strength. It is just very tempting to equate 2 hours in the gym with work when you’re really overtraining. 15-20 mins and trust the down time and you’ll be blown away.

        Mentzer was a genius. Sure he was on roids. But let’s remember: in a sport full of gear users, Mentzer got a perfect score. And should’ve beaten Arnold in 80. His workout philosophy mattered.

        And it works for me.

  24. Simon

    I do think this way of training works. For example, I’ve trained my crushing grip regularly with eighteen days between workouts and still made progress. So, I can’t see how detraining is an issue.

    In one of Mike’s magazine columns he mentioned somebody who’d gone even further than this. He wrote:

    ”Earlier this year, I received a phone call from David Staplin, a writer for my web site. It seems that Mr. Staplin had made great progress for many months with the Consolidation Program listed in Heavy Duty II; Mind and Body (as well as on the tapes). Using that routine, training once a week, David reached a high bodyweight of 200 lbs at 5’8,” with nine percent bodyfat: very good for a natural bodybuilder. But, after months of unbreached progress, he hit a plateau, unable to gain any more, either in size or strength. At that juncture, David decided to try something radical: he reduced his training frequency to once every three weeks, 21 days. After several months of unbreached progress with the new frequency protocol, he weighs 237 pounds with only a slight increase in fat, and he’s still increasing in strength at a rate of ten percent per workout.”

    I’m still trying to find where I stand with training to failure. I’ve had some success with it but not to the extent above.
    The good thing about it is you certainly do work intensely. Even with the best of intentions, it’s very difficult with sets of 3 or 5 (not to failure) whether you’re leaving too much in the tank.

  25. justin

    Lame brain article, its clear you didnt comprehend. In my op If you ain’t sore you ain’t growing. With cadence 4-2-4 , trust me more volume is needless. takes at least 3-4 weeks to begin losing strength/muscle on avg. at least 2 weeks for your body to readjust. its virtually impossible not to grow doing HIT correctly! Mike switched to several hit routines to gain his final 20lbs which is the hardest to get since ur peaking!Advanced may not work for natties but techniques & all prior templates should. Customize it & u cant go wrong

  26. Pelasgos

    It works better for nattys. But requires great amount of concentration that the average joe or beginner plainly doesnt have. The problem is that HIT hits your cns like nothing you ever experienced before, but thats the reason you have to take days off. That depends solely on your recovery abilities i have found that 1 or 2 or 3 days its all i need depending on the parts i ve worked.

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