Skip to content

6 Heavy Duty training tactics

6 Heavy Duty Trainingstaktiken

A brief look at the history of bodybuilding

Mike Mentzer was a very influential bodybuilder in the seventies. He was a student of Arthur Jones and an advocate of Jones HIT (High Intensity Training) training methods.

After retiring from active bodybuilding, he took HIT even further, promoting very low volume, low reps, heavy training and several days rest between workouts. Each brutal training session consisted of a small number of exercises of which 6 to 9 repetitions were performed to muscle failure and beyond. Forced repetitions, super slow negative repetitions and rest-pause were common.

This became known as Heavy Duty Training and like Mike Mentzer himself, this workout was highly controversial and hotly debated, even though six-time Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates used a variation of it.

Many say that Mike Mentzer took the idea of HIT too far, but his ideas are still thought-provoking. Here's what you can learn from them.

1. use high-intensity muscle contractions to grow

Mentzer believed in training with maximum effort at very low volume followed by recovery - sometimes taking up to ten days before training the muscle again.

Mentzer's definition of intensity refers not to the percentage of maximum weight for a repetition but to the difficulty of an exercise and how close you go to absolute muscle failure.

Volume seems to be too low to produce results, but research by Carpinelli and Otto (1998) and Smith and Bruce-Low (2004) concluded that one set per exercise can produce good results. In their work, they found that a single set produced optimal results in 33 of the 35 trials they looked at.

Mentzer focused on gradually increasing training intensity rather than training to muscle failure from the start. Once a trainee is able to generate enough tension in their muscles, the key to building more muscle mass is not to train longer and with more volume, but to use progressively more intense methods and make the training harder.

Mentzer used rest-pause, descending sets and pre-fatigue techniques to push the workout to absolute muscle failure. He believed that such a level of intensity was the key to further gains in strength and muscle mass.

In addition, he was a keen advocate of incorporating tempos into his training to focus purely on generating the hardest possible muscle contractions, rather than using momentum to throw the weights around.

While you may not agree with Mentzer's ultra-low frequency, ultra-low volume approach, you can still benefit from his wisdom. Control each repetition to maximize intramuscular tension. Bring the intensity to the point of technical muscle failure on each set and occasionally to complete muscle failure. Chances are you will benefit from doing less in your training sessions, but doing it better.

2. perform the minimum effective dose of training and maximize recovery

Mentzer believed that most exercisers overtrain and get too little recovery, which limits muscle growth. He believed that any exercise performed in excess of the minimum effective dose was wasteful and counterproductive when combined with low overall training volume and comparatively irregular training sessions.

He focused on one or two total work sets per exercise with two training sessions per week. A time interval of at least 48 hours. A classic rotation of three workouts might look like this:

  • Workout one: chest, shoulders, triceps
  • Training session two: back, biceps
  • Training session three: legs, abs

Here is an example training session for chest, shoulders and triceps:

For each exercise, perform one to two warm-up sets and then one set to complete muscle failure:






Flying movements with dumbbells on an incline bench



1 min.


Barbell incline bench press



1 min.


Side raise



1 min.


Lateral raise lying down



1 min.


Tricep press on cable pulley



1 min.


Dips on parallel bars



1 min.

According to Mentzer's training methodologies, his philosophy reflected the idea of "come in, train hard and recover". Among his best analogies was comparing workouts to digging a hole.

I found the passage from "High Intensity Training the Mike Mentzer Way" by John Little particularly telling:

"...we train too often without adequate recovery. When training digs a hole, we must first fill it to the top to get back to where we started. To grow, we need to 'add soil' and fully regenerate.

This advice is even more relevant in today's culture. People are working out more and harder than ever before. At the same time, they are more stressed, sleeping less and recovering less than ever before. The often neglected truth? You can only grow through training that you can recover from.

Taken to an extreme level, this led Mentzer to allegedly train each muscle group only once every 10 to 12 days. I can't imagine training a muscle group that infrequently, but almost every exerciser would benefit from a little more focus on recovery.

Remember that your recovery needs will increase as your strength increases and the intensity of your training sessions increases. Stress is necessary for growth, but growth only occurs when you can fully recover. Most exercisers do not recover well enough to grow as much as they really could.

Keep Mentzer's words in mind: abnormal strength and abnormal muscle growth require abnormal focus and abnormal recovery.

3. emphasize slow, deliberate tension

Mentzer used slow and controlled repetitions to maximize intramuscular tension and control. Mentzer believed that if you can't pause a movement and consciously contract the muscle, you're using momentum.

This is where it gets interesting. Mentzer is seen as an advocate of low volume and this is correct if you classically define training volume as "sets x reps". However, the duration of a repetition and therefore the duration of the training session is often ignored.

For example, a repetition with a 5150 tempo (5 seconds for lowering, 1 second pause at the lowest point of the movement and 5 seconds for lifting the weight) would take 11 seconds.

This means that a set of 5 repetitions would take almost a minute. This also means that a set of 5 reps, which would classically be considered a repetition range for strength building, would be more towards a muscle building stimulus in terms of time under tension.

As we have seen from anecdotal reports and scientific research (by Hulmi et al), the anabolic effects of mTOR and AMPK are more pronounced in hypertrophy repetition range training programs.

When compared to the average exerciser who is primarily focused on moving a weight with no particular attention to tempo, the volume of Mike Mentzer's workouts could indeed be compared to the volume of a more typical bodybuilding program.

In this regard, even Mentzer's lower volume programs feature more time under tension with more intensity than the average exerciser's workout. This could lead to better gains in terms of effort in the gym.

4 - Maximize three levels of muscle contraction

To stimulate muscle growth, you need to master all three types of muscle contraction: concentric, eccentric and isometric.

Mentzer's philosophy on training tempo for these three phases of movement increases their intensity. Hence the term high-intensity training. Here is what he believed in for each of these three types of contraction:

For isometric contractions

This refers to an exercise (or phase of repetition) during which there is no shortening or lengthening of the muscle despite maximum contraction. In other words, you contract your muscles as hard as possible while not moving anything, which allows you to maximize muscle fiber recruitment and improve your mind-muscle connection without excessive stress on the joints. But even that wasn't intense enough for Mentzer.

He used isolation exercises as well as multi-joint exercises and different muscle positions for isometric holds. Upper body exercises usually lasted 8 to 12 seconds, while lower body exercises generally lasted 12 to 30 seconds. Holding an isometric contraction was often followed by a very slow negative repetition with the help of a training partner.

For example, when performing a repetition of biceps curls in this manner, he would begin with 12 seconds of isometric hold followed by an emphatically slow eccentric/negative repetition.

This obviously needs to be done in a safe manner. Mentzer paid careful attention to the leverage ratios during the isometric hold in combination with the eccentric tempo. He often used isolation exercises and exercises on machines to limit the risk of injury.

He recommended the assistance of a training partner to bring a supramaximal weight to the center of the range of motion of an exercise, where it is then held for some time. I wouldn't recommend this for most people due to the risk, but you can achieve similar benefits by moving a near-maximal weight and holding a position within the range of motion of the exercise (for 8 to 12 seconds for upper body exercises and for 12 to 30 seconds for lower body exercises) before lowering the weight as slowly as possible.

For concentric repetitions

This is the classic phase of lifting the weight, during which the muscles shorten. During this phase you use a range of different tempos, from slow to fast.

For eccentric repetitions

This is the lowering phase of the movement, during which the muscle lengthens. In this phase you should use long negative repetitions and overloaded exercises. Use the widest possible range of motion to achieve a complete stretch of the muscles. Use a slow tempo to generate as much tension as possible. Keep the weight heavy to stimulate maximum contraction.

Mentzer often used tempos such as a 5150 tempo, which includes a 5 second eccentric phase, a one second pause at the lowest point of the movement to eliminate the stretch reflex, a 5 second lifting phase and no pause at the highest point, but a direct transition to the next repetition.

Mentzer's tempo is brutal. Here are a few examples using a similar tempo:

  • Lat pulldown: 1x6-9 (4220)
  • Leg press: 1x6-9 (4220)

5. be patient

Mentzer nailed it when he said "A training method attributed to a champion is not the way he has always trained."

Basically what this means is that you shouldn't put the cart before the horse. There is no need to train like a bodybuilder in competition preparation - especially if you don't have their base of strength, exercise quality and general lifestyle to maximize the demands of such workouts.

The biggest mistake young trainers make? Adopting the advanced training methodologies of elite athletes before they've built a sufficient base of strength and exercise quality (I was no different myself, starting every training session by training my lanky biceps and praying for them to grow).

Ironically, Mentzer's bitterest rival, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was known for his marathon training sessions and insane volume, was an advocate of full-body workouts three days a his Golden Six program for beginners.

6 - Adopt the "siege mentality"

Mentzer was equal parts intense and patient. He often preached the idea of the siege mentality: a fully committed mindset focused on battling it out in the gym. He firmly believed that humans evolved through hard effort and struggle, and that the gym is the modern arena of all those who want to fight and ultimately grow.

However, this mindset can also be misguidedly understood as a lack of patience. Mentzer preached that physical change is cyclical rather than linear. This means that changes in leanness and muscle growth suddenly become visible after prolonged periods of focused work and are not linear.

This is true. You need the intensity to approach training in the gym with focus and determination, while at the same time you need the patience to endure weeks and months of seemingly stagnant progress. And if you push yourself hard enough, rapid changes in your body can happen seemingly overnight.

In our modern society, where everyone is after instant results, this is something we can apply both inside and outside the gym. Practice patience in the gym and go at it with full commitment. Accept the challenge. But remember that progress is rarely linear, it is usually cyclical in nature. Those who stay on track are the ones who will succeed.

Start with heavy duty

Love him or hate him - Mike Mentzer was like a rock and was always willing to break with convention despite decades of resistance.

Even if you don't have to agree with all points of his philosophy, there is something you can learn from him in any case:

  • Occasionally increase the intensity while dramatically decreasing the volume
  • Vary your muscle contractions to maximize your muscle growth
  • Be steadfast even in the face of doubt.


  1. Carpinelli RN, Otto RM. Strength training. Single versus multiple sets. Sports Med. 1998 Aug;26(2):73-84.
  2. Hulmi, JJ, Walker, S, Ahtiainen, JP, Nyman, K, Kraemer, WJ, and Hakkinen, K. Molecular signaling in muscle is affected by the specificity of resistance exercise protocol. Scand. J. Med. Sci. Sports , 2010.
  3. Mentzer, M. Heavy Dury II: Mind and Body. Redondo Beach, California: Mentzer-Sharkey Enterprises, 1996.
  4. Mentzer, M, Little J. High Intensity Training the Mike Mentzer Way. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 2003.
  5. Smith D, Bruce-Low S. Strength training and the work of Arthur Jones. J Exerc Physiol 2004; 7: 52-68.


By Eric Bach

Previous article Tip of the week tip: The 14-minute fat burner
Next article Tips of the week 2 ways to achieve a skin bursting pump