Tag Archives: HIT


Interview with Gordon LaVelle, Training for Mass Part 2

Gordon LaVelle is the author of 2 books: Training for Mass, and How to be Thin: An Instruction Manual for Getting Rid of Fat and Keeping It Off Forever. He is proponent of High Intensity Training (HIT), and operates 2 websites: Training for Mass, and How to be Thin: An Instruction Manual for Getting Rid of Fat and Keeping It Off Forever.

Click here to read a sample chapter from Training for Mass.

Muscle and Brawn: The squat and deadlift are generally seen as necessary lifts.  Some HIT proponents such as Markus Reinhardt and Drew Baye believe that training the deadlift to failure is acceptable. And others see this strategy as very dangerous. Do you recommend these lifts for HIT, and if so, how are they best incorporated into HIT? Trained to failure, or not?

Gordon LaVelle: Any exercise worth doing is worth taking to failure. When performed correctly, deadlifts shouldn’t be that dangerous. That exercise is a staple for some, and it works very well for a lot of them. And although I no longer squat, I owe just about all the size in my quads to very hard and heavy squatting. (I no longer squat because I now get perfectly satisfactory results from leg press). I always squatted to the point of failure. In fact, one might say that I used a variation of rest-pause: Nearing the end of a set, I always knew that I could grind out a few more reps if I fought hard enough for them. I would stand in the upright position, with the bar still on my back, waiting until I could muster enough strength to get just one more rep. I would repeat this as many times as possible. This isn’t rest-pause is the strictest sense, because the quads are still working at least a little when you’re in the top position. However, most of the fibers in your quads should be at rest. I never liked assisted reps when squatting. I think mainly I didn’t want to have to burden anyone with the task of helping me to lift the weight. Regardless, this technique proved to be very effective. So yes, I’m certainly in favor of taking these exercises to failure.

Muscle and Brawn: Many critics of High Intensity Training believe that HIT workouts over-tax the CNS. What are your thoughts on this?

Gordon LaVelle: This may very well be true. I recall it’s one of the premises that led to the invention of Hypertrophy-Specific Training (or what I call progressive mechanical load training). The crux of the argument is that when training with high levels of intensity, it’s actually your nervous system that needs a good deal of time to recover, not the muscles themselves. If it is in fact true that the only important exercise factor for muscular growth is intensity, then of course this creates a bit of a quandary: Intense lifting causes muscular growth, but it also taxes the CNS to the point that additional rest is required – rest that the muscles don’t need. I would actually be interested in the seeing the results of an experiment whereby subjects train hard, but with sub-maximal intensity, but also with fewer days of rest in between, using only a single set per exercise. (I see countless people training with sub-maximal intensity and high frequency, using high sets, and I’m not impressed with their results). Maybe this would settle the issue.

I take a purely scientific approach to things, in the following way: The nature of science is that it is self-correcting. As I mention in Training for Mass, HIT is based on a logical, viable theory. The theory is verifiable and possesses the ability to predict. It works. It has worked well for me. I’m not one of those guys that writes books about weightlifting that looks like he himself doesn’t exercise. I’m a former champion bodybuilder. On top of this, I train quite a bit differently than the vast majority of bodybuilders. The combination of all these factors compelled me to write a book on the topic. At the same time, as I mention in the book, if another theory comes along that makes more sense and gives better real-world results (and is safer), I’ll be the first one to dump HIT.

gordonlavelle7Fred Hoyle never gave up his theory of a steady-state universe, despite overwhelming evidence that surfaced debunking it. He went out looking like someone who became blinded by love for his own ideas rather than someone on a quest for truth. I’m just interested in truth. At any rate, if in fact it is somehow proven that HIT is flawed, at the very least, it can be said that it approximates the best training method (whatever that is shown to be). The reason for this is that HIT works, and it works very well.

Muscle and Brawn: You mentioned HST. I want to get your thoughts on another popular training system…DC Training. What do you think of Doggcrapp Training, and do you believe it is in the HIT family?

Gordon LaVelle: It seems to be, at least in practice. Any routine that features “brief, intense, and infrequent” workouts falls into that category. Granted, these are all relative terms. My understanding is that in DCT, the workouts for each muscle group should take place as frequently as possible – as long as strength has increased between training sessions. This period can still be labeled infrequent – because within this context, frequent workouts are those which take place before there has been adequate recovery. So they are infrequent enough. And as with HIT and really all other strategies of weight training, frequency is the biggest question mark. The rest-pause tactic which is integral to the system appears to be a variation of that employed by a good number of HIT devotees. So the workouts themselves are both intense and brief.


It’s on theoretical grounds that DCT and HIT appear to be at odds. the Wikipedia article states that DC is based on the principle that “volume and frequency are inversely related.” In HIT, volume is never dependent on frequency; it’s a constant, sort of like the speed of light (to use another physics example). At the same time, let’s not get carried away. This is just weightlifting. Who cares what the theory is as long as the system works? If a system works, then do it. The one exception is volume training. Regardless of any results, I just can’t put my seal of approval on that form of training – not when I’ve seen so many veterans limp away with complete muscle tears.

As a side note, it may seem inconsistent that on one hand I say “who cares” about theory, meanwhile praising the theoretical foundation of HIT. The reason is that without understanding the theory of HIT, no one would use it. It’s too counter-intuitive.

Muscle and Brawn: What is the worst, and/or the most dangerous training principle or routine that you’ve come across?

gordonlavelle8Gordon LaVelle: Oh man. There appear to be so many. Like I just mentioned, high-volume lifting often results in a complete muscle tear. For a bodybuilder, there are few worse things. Quads, pecs, and lats are all at risk. But biceps appear to be a little more fragile than the others. If I had to pick a dangerous routine, it could be the practice of performing a large number of sets for biceps. These workouts are common, because I don’t think there’s a single living bodybuilder that’s satisfied with his biceps development. I further think Arnold Schwarzeneggar is indirectly responsible for more torn biceps than any other single cause. His routines featured 20 working set for biceps. A lot of people made the erroneous assumption that this must be the best way to get huge biceps. Granted, there have been many great bodybuilders that got huge biceps training this way. Countless others failed using this or similar routines, and more than a few tore their biceps after enough years of such lifting. Regardless, even with this knowledge, bodybuilders until the end of time will keep doing this. Some people just cannot be swayed. For them, my only piece of advise is to get good medical insurance – since it costs many thousands of dollars to reattach torn muscles.

Muscle and Brawn: I want to ask you about one of Mike Mentzer’s most controversial theories…rest. Mike often recommended exaggerated rest periods between workouts, sometimes resting 21 days between workouts? What do you believe?

Gordon LaVelle: This seems like too infrequent an interval, even to me. However, I know better than to pass judgment before learning what Mentzer’s rationale was. If he conducted scientific studies on this, I’m not aware of them. Maybe this came about from trial-and-error. But regardless, there is limitless evidence showing that muscle can be built with less rest than this. Sometimes a very large amount of muscle can be built with a good deal less rest.

This is the old frequency variable rearing its head again. Since we’ve already discussed the nervous system vs. muscular recovery debate, maybe we should just approach the problem from the standpoint of results. Apparently there are some top professional bodybuilders that get outstanding results from training each body part as often as twice a week. Of course, it should be kept in mind that for the most part these guys have a genetic predisposition for building muscle that vastly exceeds the average human’s, and that their recovery abilities have been quite chemically enhanced. (What’s interesting is that some others train only half as often, or less, and get about the same results.)

The pro training twice a week will have a lot of guys copying his routine, because his results are so good – not because he’s proven that his approach is optimal, which he hasn’t. It’s the classic error of confusing correlation with causal relationship; many of these pros also believe in things like that training with higher reps will increase the “hardness” of a muscle. The point here is that although a lot of pros are obviously able to build large amounts of muscle, some of their routines are based more on superstition that science. Nevertheless, genetics and the right chemicals can bountifully forgive suboptimal training.

gordonlavelle9Mentzer was able to build a very large amount of muscle, considering his era, but he always placed rationale above his personal results. But most bodybuilders want instructions, an example to follow, not rationale or theory. As such, there are frightfully few, if any, serious bodybuilders who rest 21 days between workouts. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met one. So without hard research or even anecdotes (other than maybe Mentzer’s clients) it’s impossible to say if that level of frequency is superior.

Trial-and-error dictated my own rest interval, which is now nine or ten days between body parts. For a long time I trained everything once a week, but I just seem to require more time these days. After 26 years of weightlifting, I’m very much in-tune with when I’m overdoing it – and once a week would be too frequent now. I’ve never tried the 21-day approach. I guess I never saw a need for it, and like I mentioned earlier, I would go a little loco if I stayed away from the gym for that long.

Muscle and Brawn: Besides your book Training for Mass, you’ve also written a book called How to Be Thin: An Instruction Manual for Getting Rid of Fat and Keeping It Off Forever. Can you tell me a bit about what to expect from this book? And is it stickily for bodybuilders?

Gordon LaVelle: First of all, I do realize that the two titles together appear a little paradoxical. The full title of the second book is How to be Thin: An Instruction Manual for Getting Rid of Fat and Keeping It Off Forever. It would actually be more accurate if I called the second book How to be Lean. I went with the word “thin” because the book’s geared toward a general audience. It only deals with the topic of losing fat and keeping it off. It most definitely could be of use to bodybuilders, although it does not deal with any of the particulars of dieting for bodybuilding contests. There are other resources for people interested in that.

I wrote the book because of personal experience. By my mid-thirties, I was in a perpetual state of what bodybuilders refer to as “off-season” shape, and the situation was not improving. I’ve always preferred a lean appearance, so I decided to get that. I took a reasonable approach, with which I was able get lean and stay that way. Like the idea of high-intensity training, there is some degree of counter-intuition with permanent fat loss. And as with HIT, this is often unknown to or lost on the general public. An example is the fact that Nutrisystem meal plans are so popular. Apparently many people want rapid weight loss, and they want to be free from making decisions about their diets. They don’t know that rapid weight loss can rarely, if ever, be maintained, and that being able to make good decisions about what you eat is the single most important factor for permanent weight reduction. The book is centered on themes like these.

Muscle and Brawn: Any new books or projects on the horizon for you in the near future?

gordonlavelle10Gordon LaVelle: Training for Mass II is in the works, though I don’t expect it to be completed until next year. My aim is to make it a true follow-up, not a re-hashing of the first book. I’m also once more leaning away from the use of pictures. I recall that before the first book came out, I let a couple of photographers know that there would be no pictures. Both of them told me “no one’s going to buy it.” Indeed the concept was unheard of. Every training book I had ever seen was loaded with pictures of oiled-up bodybuilders – Mentzer being guilty as any of the others. Yet I knew that there were many people with an interest in building muscle who first and foremost want useful information, presented in a serious fashion. The success of the book thus far is testimony to this – and it confirms the notion that a simple repetition of the first book’s information won’t cut it. Second-rate content won’t cut it either.

The opinion of those photographers is pretty insulting to the intelligence of everyone with an interest in building muscle – that without pretty pictures to look at, a training book will fail. I’ve gotten mail from people that have read the book, some of whom are extraordinarily bright. It’s flattering that they like what I’ve written, and it’s inspired me to put forth my best effort.

Muscle and Brawn: Personally, I found the lack of pictures refreshing. After seeing a half million bodybuilder images, I didn’t need more. Any hints as to what the next book will cover?

Gordon LaVelle: I’m still batting around a few ideas. My primary goal is to keep things fresh. I would like to discuss what I consider to be some of the flaws with Mentzer’s approach – lest anyone think that I’m doing little more than rehashing his ideas. Some of these are simple and obvious, like his opposition to stretching. I’m also open to feedback. Recently when people have contacted me through the Training for Mass website I ask if there are any specific areas that they would like to see covered.

Read More

Interview with Gordon LaVelle, Training for Mass Part 1

Gordon LaVelle is the author of 2 books: Training for Mass, and How to be Thin: An Instruction Manual for Getting Rid of Fat and Keeping It Off Forever. He is proponent of High Intensity Training (HIT), and operates 2 websites: Training for Mass, and How to be Thin: An Instruction Manual for Getting Rid of Fat and Keeping It Off Forever.

Click here to read a sample chapter from Training for Mass.

Muscle and Brawn: How did you catch the “iron bug”, and how did you train in your early years?

Gordon LaVelle: I was always interested in anything of an athletic nature. In particular feats of strength impressed me. As such, as a kid I was keen on being able to do a large number of pushups, pullups, things like that. Although I think I got my first barbell at age 10, I would pretty much “work out” with it on a haphazard basis. But of course, you just can’t do a whole lot with a single barbell and a few of those old plastic-filled-with-cement weights when you have no other equipment and zero knowledge. When I was 15 I signed up for the weightlifting class my high school offered – only because the class I originally tried to get into was full. Looking back, that was a rather fateful turn of events. Once that class started, I began lifting weights and haven’t stopped. That was 26 tears ago.

My early training was horrendous. Although in the high school gym I had access to lots of reasonably good equipment, I had the same level of knowledge. As such, I would do things like train arms every single day, for the whole class, and then train them again at night when I got home (on my updated lousy weight set). Nevertheless, I made enough improvement to keep me me doing it. In the next few years my lifting scheme improved dramatically (since I now trained my entire body), though I was still lifting far too much, and far too often. As such, my enthusiasm during that period was pretty variable. I considered giving the whole thing up many times due to mental burnout, unsatisfactory results, and fatigue. Ultimately though, I love lifting far too much to have ever quit.

I suppose my crowning achievement for that era was winning a teen contest with a very impressive-sounding title. I couldn’t help but feel that the victory was hollow, however, since to be honest the other guys in my class weren’t very good. I’ve subsequently seen a few bodybuilders shamelessly trumpet similar victories, something I will never understand. I would rather place third in a first-rate show that beat a field of duds. One thing I’ve repeated to quite a few competitors is that people will not remember what shows you’ve won. They will, however, remember you if have a good physique. This is something I grasped early on, and it’s been a fundamental part of my mentality and approach ever since.

Muscle and Brawn: Your book, Training for Mass,  explores the theory and reasoning behind HIT (High Intensity Training). How did you cross the fence to HIT training, and what type of results came with that change?

gordonlavelle2Gordon LaVelle: The big change came in the mid-to-late 80’s when I read an interview of Mike Mentzer in one of the bodybuilding magazines. I can’t recall which magazine it was. Of course he didn’t outline the entire high-intensity training theory in the interview, but he mentioned a few reasons why a single set, performed with the highest level of intensity, will produce the same or better results than the typical volume-oriented bodybuilding workout. His rationale was too compelling for me to ignore. As a result, I began to ease into it. Because I had gotten decent results from doing lots of sets, I had a hard time letting go of that approach.

I began with an overall reduction of the number of sets I performed. After a couple of weeks, I realized that my results were the same, but that I was less physically and mentally burned out. Before long I was doing two sets, which I consider to be the threshold of low-volume training. One thing I advise to people who want to try HIT but are leery of it is to simply do two working sets per exercise instead of their usual four or five. Eventually I bit the bullet and went down to one set. I’ve never looked back. I’ve been very happy with my results, I’m never burned out – and very importantly, I’ve never had a serious injury.

It also bears mentioning that when I started to make the switch to HIT, I was generally aware of the logic of the idea, but had yet to become fully versed in the theory. Naturally, I was still a bit apprehensive. In the book, I’ve managed to condense the theory to a single paragraph, which may help reduce the trepidation of those considering switching to it.


Muscle and Brawn: Do your HIT workouts look more like Mentzer Heavy Duty workouts, or do you perform multiple sets per body part more like a Dorian Yates style routine?

Gordon LaVelle: I definitely belong more to the Yates school. His resembled more of a traditional bodybuilding workout: visiting the gym several times per week, training a few body parts each day, and performing two or more exercises per part. I seem to recall that he was training each part once a week or so. I lifted with that frequency for several years, but now I’m down to training each part about three times a month – which has proven to be remarkably effective. The main differences between between my routine and a traditional (high-volume) routine are greater rest periods, and of course I do only one working set per exercise.

If I recall correctly, Mentzer advocated taking many days off between each and every gym session. Although apparently that approach is effective for nearly everyone that tries it in earnest, I personally would go nuts if I stayed away from the gym for that much time. Psychologically I just need to exercise more frequently than that. Mentzer was also adamantly opposed to doing any cardio, as he was convinced that any energy expended apart from the actual weightlifting workout is detrimental to progress. I don’t share this view. Mentzer even went so far as to strictly oppose stretching, which is preposterous. Mentzer’s approach seems to be most ideal for anyone that absolutely cannot devote much time or energy to weightlifting. For example, certain athletes that spend a good deal of time doing other forms of training might not have the time or energy to perform a more traditional bodybuilding workout.

So there’s difference in opinion with how to best apply the HIT theory. The root of this difference lies with the principle of frequency. The theory states that for a muscle to grow, there must be adequate rest – that training sessions must be “infrequent”. This of course begs the question of how long you should rest, and whether “rest” means abstaining from exercise entirely. This has not been resolved to universal satisfaction. Ultimately it becomes a trial-and-error thing.

Muscle and Brawn: I know what you mean about “needing” to go to the gym. I love to lift weights, and infrequent workouts are hard for me.

What type of workout and frequency would you recommend for the average volume trainee who wants to try HIT? Say this trainee has 1-2 years of volume training under his belt, and has experienced very small gains…

Gordon LaVelle: Like I said, going down to two working sets is a good first step. In fact, some people have made the switch to two, became satisfied, and have remained with that program. I always recommend performing different rep ranges for the two. For example, one set might be in the 6-8 rep range, the other being 12-15, or even higher. The hypothesis here is that the different ranges will stimulate both fast and slow-twitch fibers – both of which are present in all muscles – to an equal degree. Increased growth from this second set is only hypothetical, so I only recommend performing two as a stepping-stone. Making the switch from volume training straight to one set is ideal, but many people are initially leery of the approach, in spite of its logic. I was.

The other thing these people need to keep in mind is that every working set absolutely has to be an all-out effort. Rarely do I see volume trainers going all-out every set. Those that do very often end up with a complete muscle tear. Rich Gaspari is a good example of this (he tore a lat muscle). Volume plus intensity results in overtraining and injury. However, people like Gaspari also set a more obvious example: He trained long and hard, and the result was an amazing physique. It therefore was accepted by most as law that in order to have the physique of a champion, that you have to train like this. This isn’t an irrational deduction. However, once you factor in that the only important exercise factor for muscular growth is intensity, it reveals the fact that volume-oriented workouts are inefficient, suboptimal, and eventually dangerous – even if some people are able to get excellent results from it. In Gaspari’s case, his results were excellent up until the point that they were disastrous.

The big problem is that the idea of less-is-more in weightlifting is counter-intuitive. I could just tell someone who is disappointed with his gains “cut the number of sets you’re doing in half,” without explanation, and I guarantee he won’t do it. One thing I discovered is that once people become fully aware of HIT theory, then they are willing to give it a shot. I had been telling people in my gym for many years that I only do one set. They could see me doing this, and they could see that I got good results. These were widely attributed to superman genetics and nothing more. However, once my book came out, quite a few people made the switch. The point of all of this is that learning the theory is an instrument part of the switch. It very much allows you to believe in what you’re doing, which is a fundamental ingredient of success for anything.

Regarding frequency: That would depend on a few things. For example, the older you are, the more rest you need in between the same body parts. However, training the whole body over the course of a week is something that seems to work well for almost everyone I’ve encountered. The important thing is that there are measurable gains, and that mental and/or physical burnout doesn’t set in. Once a week might seem like a very long time between body parts for some people, but I really can’t think of any instances where people using this program, or any program, were being held back by “under-training”. It’s almost universally the opposite.

To sum this up: A good switch would consist of performing one or maybe two high-intensity sets per exercise, with each body part being trained once a week. The number of exercises per body part can be roughly the same as the previous workout, maybe a little less. The important part is to avoid redundancy. For example, don’t do both barbell and dumbbell incline presses. Don’t do wide-grip chins and wide-grip pulldowns. You’re only wasting time, energy, and recovery potential by doing this. And finally, do your “homework”. Take a few minutes to find out exactly how HIT works.

Muscle and Brawn: What do you make of the forum/Internet battles that rage over HIT vs. Volume training? Why do you feel the debate is such a “hot button” issue, and why do you think many HIT followers are labeled (such as HIT Jedi) and ridiculed? I come from the school that you debate a topic, and not put down the man. Do you think that the personal attacks are because of the inability to properly debate a subject?

Gordon LaVelle: Name-calling is usually a tactic of those on the losing side of an argument. Calling high-intensity advocates “Jedi” implies that HIT the system is founded on superstition rather than logic. In reality, the opposite is true. High-intensity training is based on a viable science scientific theory. It was deduced after taking into account two things: First, Hans Seyle’s general adaptation syndrome, which states that the body’s response to stress is proportional to the intensity of stress that it encounters; second, research conducted over the years that consistently showed that intensity is the only important exercise factor for muscular growth. And finally, a theory must have the ability to predict future events. In this case, high-intensity theory predicted that brief, intense, and infrequent weightlifting will result in muscular growth. HIT succeeds in this regard. I am proof of this as are many others.

One thing that is interesting is that in truth, whether they know it or not, all bodybuilders use HIT. Everyone does a single set to or beyond failure for each exercise. However, most bodybuilders then make the mistake of doing a lot of other sets too. They accomplish six things by doing this: They burn more calories, burn more glycogen, wear down that particular muscle and its connective tissue further, create greater demands on their overall recovery, subtract from the effectiveness of subsequent exercises, and increase their potential for injury. The last point doesn’t mean a whole lot to young guys, but as you get older – and if you intend to keep lifting weights for the rest of your days – this becomes a huge issue. Witness the parade of bodybuilders past 30 with complete muscle tears and you can see what I mean. High volume weight training can be very hard on the human body, which was never meant to absorb the punishment of long weightlifting workouts, year after year. On the other hand the body is fine with, and very responsive to, brief and infrequent bouts of extremely intense exercise.

Regarding HIT’s detractors, the majority do not even know what the theory is. They just know they’re against it. This makes the whole issue rather interesting. For example, I’d be willing to bet most of these people couldn’t describe what string theory is either. But you probably don’t see them in Internet forums, railing against string theory and calling its supporters names. So obviously this touches a nerve. But why? No one is forcing them to do it. If someone goes in the gym, trains a certain way, and gets a certain result, why would you even care?

I think maybe the idea that long, grueling workouts are not better somehow upends their world view. This may come from a mentality that I call the “Rocky syndrome”; some people want to believe that they are tougher and willing to endure more pain and hardship than anyone else, and that the degree to which they put themselves through this will dictate their level of development. Maybe they don’t like the idea that someone can train 20% as long and get as good or better results. This is the only explanation I can come up with.

I seem to recall someone mentioning that HIT was put forth as a ripoff money-making scheme, and nothing more. I don’t know where this big flow of money is, and I don’t seem to recall ever spending any money on any HIT-related enterprise. I had a Mentzer book once that someone loaned me. As for my own book, I wrote it not expecting to make a red cent. What I’ve gotten out of using HIT, however, has been of immeasurable value: Better results, in less time, with no burnout and no injury.

Muscle and Brawn
: I want to talk the nuts and bolts of HIT sets.  There are many high intensity training techniques such as slower rep cadence, slow negatives, forced reps, drop sets, etc. At what stage of training do you believe a trainee should start experimenting with these tactics, if you recommend they use them at all? And what techniques are the most important for a HIT “toolbox”?

gordonlavelle5Gordon LaVelle: Most people can start using them at a fairly early stage. The idea is that you should progress as for as long as possible just going to failure and not further. For the beginner, if you go to failure, and put forth an all-out effort in doing so, that should be enough to stimulate the muscle. In fact, using beyond-failure techniques before they’re needed removes the potential boost you would get from them had you waited. This initial phase is pretty variable; for some people it could be as little as a few months. For others, perhaps more than a year. The determining factor is rate of progress. Once progress stalls, as long as overtraining is not the culprit, an increase in intensity through the employment of beyond-failure techniques is called for.

I’m also in favor of performing two working sets, each with different rep ranges, during this initial period, for the following reasons: Because of the hypothetical effect that different twitch-types will benefit, as I mentioned before; because of the fact that recovery demands are less when beyond-failure techniques are not used; and most importantly, because of the psychological angle. Regardless of the logic, it’s often too difficult for beginners to equate growth with a single set. Also, beginners often have unabated enthusiasm (thus to tendency to far overdo it), which stands a good chance of overwhelming logic. The switch to a single set can take place later, although as I’ve said before, two sets per exercise should still be considered low-volume training. So when is later? Perhaps when another boost is needed. I personally was happy with two sets for more than a year – although deep down I knew I could get the same or better results from a single set. After dropping the extra set, my suspicions were confirmed. One set worked just as well.

All the techniques you mentioned are effective. I happen to train alone, which limits what I can do to a certain degree. Nevertheless, you can still get a great HIT workout by yourself. For example, for most exercises you can use a variation of rest-pause, whereby you take a set to failure, rack the weight until enough strength returns to do one more rep, then do another rep, then repeat.

I use a slow rep cadence for about all of my exercises, especially towards the end of a set, something I’ve found to be indispensable. I do forced reps when possible, with exercises where I’m able to help myself. Leg press is a good example of this, as are single-arm dumbbell curls. Training with a partner of course makes things a little easier, especially in the case of forced reps. The key is to lower the weight under control after getting help lifting it. You want zero assistance during the negative portion of the rep.

One thing you want to do with HIT is make each and every set as difficult as possible. You can accomplish this without using excessively heavy weights. Going slow and making every rep count, really feeling the weight, is important. If I were to name a single most-important beyond-failure technique, I’m inclined to say a slow negative rep at the end of a set. Since negative reps are capable of producing the most intense contractions, you want to take full advantage of these. In fact, if you don’t finish a set with such a rep, you haven’t truly taken the set as far as it can go. You’ve left the set before it was finished.

I see a lot of people using some pretty senseless techniques in the gym, but one of the biggest is completing the final positive rep of a set, then letting the weight come crashing down with no attempt to lower it under control. What’s even worse is that often times the final positive rep is cheated up. Cheating a weight up after positive failure has been reached is totally legitimate, and in fact a great tactic, if the weight is then lowered under control. Cheating the weight up before letting it drop accomplishes nothing – other than drawing attention the perpetrator, which is maybe the whole point.

Read More
Bodybuilding Articles

Volume and Injury: Adapted from Training for Mass, Gordon LaVelle

The following is adapted from Gordon LaVelle’s book, Training for Mass. Training for Mass is available through Amazon, and all major bookstores. Please visit the author’s website for more information. www.trainingformass.com

This excerpt is used with permission by the author.

Volume and Injury

By now a large segment of the bodybuilding community is at least casually aware of the existence of high-intensity training—in other words, the weightlifting strategy which asserts that workouts are most effective when they are brief, intense, and infrequent. The idea for HIT came about from combining Hans Seyle’s general adaptation syndrome (which asserts that an organism’s response to stress is equivalent to the intensity of stress it encounters) with research demonstrating that intensity is the only important exercise factor for muscular growth. The methodology that resulted from this pairing suggested that optimum muscular growth can be stimulated by performing a single, highly intense set of an exercise – and that additional sets are redundant and counterproductive. A fair number of bodybuilders have used HIT to good effect, which has of course lent credibility to the strategy. At the same time, the very materialization of HIT begged controversy. Asserting that HIT is the “most effective” method for training necessarily creates the accusation that the traditional bodybuilding approach of multiple set per exercise, sometimes called volume training—which HIT contradicts—is less effective.

It may have been reasonable to expect the bodybuilding community to welcome the new idea with open arms. After all, here was a new way of training that promised better results with less investment of time and energy. At the same time, if you go through life with expectations that people will act in a reasonable manner, you very well might end up disappointed. As such, the reception of HIT has been mixed. Some feel that it’s the best thing since the repeating rifle. Many remained skeptical, and almost incredibly, more than a few have met the idea with ire. The reasons for this division deal more with human psychology than results in the gym, so they are best saved for another article.

For those who are interested enough to consider researching it, the theoretical foundation of HIT makes the notion compelling. The greatly reduced investment of time should appeal to anyone. But regardless of one’s standing opinion, there’s another factor that by itself should provide ample reason for any bodybuilder to consider abandoning the orthodox strategy for the brief, intense, and infrequent alternative: volume training is a recipe for disaster. Bodybuilders stand a much greater chance of sustaining a severe injury by performing a high number of sets.

This conclusion is supported by four factors: my own personal experience; the experiences of other bodybuilders; simple numerical comparison of the opportunity for injury; and the consideration of raw data. We’ll start with the most subjective. I’m a former competitive bodybuilder, having done well in contests at a weight that nowadays would place me in the superheavyweight category of the NPC. I have also been able to maintain what I think is a respectable level of development for the decade-plus since I last stepped onstage. Overall I’ve been doing bodybuilding training for more than a quarter century, the vast majority of this time using a variation of the HIT strategy. I have also successfully avoided serious injury during this time, all the while taking note of a fair number of volume-training bodybuilders—personal acquaintances and well-known professionals alike—who went down with torn muscles, damaged rotator cuffs, and shot knees.

It was made obvious to me during this time that the human body is not some invincible machine that can take all the punishment you can throw at it. Homo Sapiens have very real physical limitations. Due to its very nature, volume training can excessively damage muscular tissue and wear down joints. Combined with inadequate recovery time, a small and unnoticeable injury can eventually turn into a nuisance or in the worst cases, a disablement (such as an acute severe injury like a complete muscle tear). In some instances, the ultimate result is a capitulation of the effort in its entirety: deprived of ability to continue training as before, the bodybuilder will quit lifting weights altogether, and all the energy spent and especially the time devoted will be forever lost—and there are few things more tragic. Some bodybuilders opt for surgery to correct the tear. Others, for whatever reason, leave the muscle in its disfigured state and compete anyway, advertising to whomever might be watching the fact that the human body can and will break down. All learn the hard way that a torn muscle has to be reattached quickly or it will forever remain as-is.

Granted, high-intensity trained bodybuilders are not impervious to injury, as evidenced by Dorian Yates’ 1994 biceps tear—although he was performing an exercise that’s particularly dangerous for that muscle, heavy reverse-grip barbell rows. Biceps appear to be particularly fragile, and a reverse straight bar (fully supinated) grip places the maximum amount of stress on that muscle. With the conventional overhand grip, the far more durable brachialis muscle bears the brunt of the punishment. Indeed, lifting any type of heavy weight, regardless of the style of training or precision of execution, creates the possibility of injury. Yet Yates’ case remains the exception.

It is further interesting to note that worn-down biceps have also been known to tear outside of the gym: by lifting heavy objects, fighting, throwing a football, or even bowling! Apparently these muscles can be sufficiently traumatized in the gym, and later, a sudden incidence of stress will precipitate the tear. These incidences also belie the notion that muscle tears, when they happen, are the result of using a particularly heavy weight and nothing else. Although tears take place during heavy sets, they have been know to take place during warm-ups as well, and in the cases of biceps and hamstrings (when running), outside of the gym. Muscles tears are, very literally, the breaking-point from overuse.

Unfortunately there have not been any scientific studies to specifically compare the rate and severity of weight-training injuries for the purpose of assessing the relative safety of the two styles in question, although a large and growing number of real-life examples support the claim that the potential for injury increases with the amount of sets performed. But in addition to these anecdotes, a study comparing rates of injury between powerlifters and bodybuilders provides related evidence. In his article entitled “Minimizing Weight Training Injuries in Bodybuilders and Athletes,” first published in Topics in Clinical Chiropractic, Ben Weitz, DC, noted the following:

Many weight training injuries may be related to stressing the same joints repeatedly until muscular or tendinous failure occurs. Repeatedly training to failure without any periodization or cycling of the intensity or duration of the workouts increases the risk of tendinitis and other injuries. So, too, does the large volume and frequency of training.

He further noted:

…there is some evidence that power lifters and Olympic lifters may actually have a slightly lower rate of injuries than bodybuilders. For example, despite using much heavier weight in the bench press than bodybuilders, power lifters seem to have a lower incidence of pectoralis major tears. Reynolds and colleagues (who performed the study) concluded that part of the problem was the total volume of work that bodybuilders perform.

What makes this conclusion most compelling is Weitz’s description of a typical amount of volume involved with a normal bodybuilding subject’s training:

…it would not be unusual for a bodybuilder to perform five different exercises for his or her chest with four to five sets of each exercise using 6 to 15 repetitions. At least two or three of these sets will typically be taken to failure (ie, the point at which no more repetitions [reps] can be performed). Advanced techniques are also often employed. These techniques include forced reps, cheating reps, drop the weight sets, negatives, and supersets.

In the higher-volume subjects mentioned in the above paragraph, Weitz describes a workout in which up to 15 sets are taken to, or beyond, failure. I have personally witnessed bodybuilders performing double this.

That there is a greater incidence of injury among these people should come as no surprise to anyone. To provide an opposite example, my current chest routine consists of taking a total of two sets beyond failure: One set of Smith machine inclines, and one set of Hammer Strength decline presses. That’s it: two sets—and the results have been very good. Despite the fact that I will rest as many as ten days between each chest workout, I often feel as though I would be overtrained if I were to perform more sets.

It’s easy to imagine that the accumulation of wear-and-tear will contribute to a higher rate of injury among volume versus high-intensity trainers, especially considering that high-intensity training by itself does not imply the use of very heavy weights, as is the case with powerlifting. In fact, the amount of weight used by the low and high-volume camps is not significantly different. Volume trainers with excellent recovery abilities are sometimes quite strong. But a clear and objective way to compare the risk of injury between the two styles can be based on a simple comparison of the amount of training itself, or the sheer amount of opportunity for injury.

An injury can come at any time, during any set. My two-set chest workout, apart from obviously being very low volume, is also very infrequent: I train chest about once every nine days. To contrast this, quite a few bodybuilders perform about 20 working sets for chest. Of these, let’s suppose that half are so-called “finishing” movements such as dumbbell and machine flies. These exercises tend to involve fewer muscle fibers and less weight, so the risk of injury with each is low. We will therefore eliminate these from the comparison. The volume trainers are now left with ten sets per workout that carry a risk of injury. And since many of these people train on a four-on, one-off split, we can calculate the following: Supposing that all subjects in this example (my own workout included as the high-intensity version) take a total of one month off from training over the course of a year, here are the total number of workouts and sets performed during that year:

High-intensity: 36 training sessions, 72 sets
Volume training: 66 training sessions, 660 sets

We can see that the volume trainer has more than nine times the opportunity to suffer major injury (in this case, a pectoral tear) than his high-intensity counterpart. This does not even take into account the greater predisposition to injury that the volume trainer possesses due to wear-and-tear. This accumulating damage will often manifest itself in the less dramatic but equally disabling rotator cuff injury, a common occurrence.

Studies measuring rate of injury among athletes and bodybuilders include both muscle tears and various rotator cuff problems, and a host of other occurrences. What is most telling about these studies is the simple fact that they almost always reflect the number of injuries per hours of activity. For example: In 1995 and again in 2000, according to The American Journal of Sports Medicine, there were 2.6 injuries reported per 1000 hours of activity.  As incredible as it may sound, there are some volume trainers that exercise as many as 1000 hours in a single year. Since wear-and-tear is cumulative, these people (or those training even half as often) should consider major injury to be an eventuality.

For someone with an unrelenting desire to be a success in bodybuilding, would not a complete muscle tear be a horrible nightmare? When you’re an athlete or a bodybuilder who has suffered a serious injury, your thoughts are consumed with a desire to be uninjured; to go back in time and change things; to curse fate; to seek blame. In the real world, these tears require immediate surgery, long layoff and rehabilitation periods, and the torn muscle is very rarely returned to its previous state. And of course, huge hospital bills await the victim that doesn’t have good medical insurance.

The growing list of bodybuilders who have torn muscles should be enough to scare anyone into thinking long and hard about his training approach. The number of these people I personally know stands at eleven. Famous examples that have been reported include Lee Priest (bicep), Johnny Fuller (pec), Tom Platz (bicep) Kevin Levrone (pec), Rich Gaspari (lat), Jimmy Lee (lat), Milos Sarcev (quad), Jean-Pierre Fux (both quads), Shaun Crump (pec), Toney Freeman (pec), Branch Warren (tricep), Adorthus Cherry (pec), Markus Ruhl (pec), and professional wrestler Scott Steiner (pec). Ronnie Coleman may have at least partially torn his tricep and lat muscles.

Numerous others are rumored to be among the casualties listed above. If this number seems excessive, stay tuned. More are certain to follow. If you’re reading this, and you’re both an avid or aspiring bodybuilder and convinced that volume training is the way to go, beware, because you may one day join them. Granted, other factors may be in play. As far as whether chemical enhancement makes someone more susceptible to tears like these, draw your own conclusions. Whatever the case, many if not all of the people listed above regularly performed high-volume workouts. An equal number incurred the unnecessary wear-and tear of redundant and excessive strenuous exercise. Many passionately sang the praises of high-volume workouts.

Human skeletal muscles were designed to efficiently meet the needs of the nomadic hunter/gatherer, because for the majority of time humans have occupied this planet, that’s what we did to survive. Our muscles and their attachments were never intended to absorb the punishment of long and heavy weightlifting workouts, day in and day out, for years. The incidence of injury among bodybuilders of the 20th and 21st centuries provides ample testimony to this claim. It has been well-established that despite the nonexistent theoretical foundation of volume training, and faced with evidence that high-intensity training is effective, some people still refuse to forsake the volume approach. But forget the logic. Forget the proof. If there is just one reason why bodybuilders should at least try high-intensity training, this is it: It’s safer.

Read More
Bodybuilding Articles Bodybuilding Workouts

6 Intense Workout Routines

Looking for an intense workout routines that is off the well-worn path? Tired of the same old uninspiring training splits, training techniques, and cookie cutter training approaches? Then look no further.

These 6 routines will satisfy your craving for something different. They are intense training approaches, and should not be performed by beginners. Nor should they be performed for extended periods of time. Try each routine – get to know it – then cycle them in every now to shock your body and break up training monotony.

But a warning! These routines will cause other gym members to stop dead in their tracks and stare. And once they pick their jaws up off the ground, you will be hit with a barrage of questions.

German Volume Training

German volume training is the very definition of an intense workout. Instead of performing a set, taking a long rest, and knocking out another, German volume training has you perform 10 total sets – with only 60 to 90 seconds of rest between each set. Sounds relatively easy, doesn’t it?

Far from it. By set 5 on squat day, you’ll start to see your life passing before your eyes. After 10 sets of squats, you’ll start hallucinating. 30 minutes after your squat workout is finished, you’ll be wondering how the heck you’re going to drive home. And 6 days later, when your quads are still sore, you’ll consider trading in the sport of bodybuilding for knitting.

hypergrowthHyper Growth

The Hyper Growth Muscle Mass System, created by Doberman Dan (if that doesn’t scream intensity, I don’t know what does), is a distant cousin to German volume training.

The Hyper Growth routine also involves shortened rest period between sets, as well as higher volume. But Hyper Growth is also very scientific in its approach to training volume, training time, and workout splits.

Hyper Growth is a routine that delivers results, and muscle soreness, in a convenient, one hour package

Doggcrapp Training

Doggcrapp training, or DC training, is an intense workout system that doesn’t play around. Workouts are short (well, shorter then 90-120 minute volume training marathons), but excruciatingly painful.

DC training utilizes rest pause training and slow, 6 second negatives, to punish your body into submission. On top of this, the DC training style also swears by 20 rep squats and more frequent workouts.

You might be in and out of the gym more quickly with DC training, but you’ll be back in 4 short days to hammer the same body parts all over again.


HIT, or high intensity training, may very well be the most controversial training system on the planet. But despite the forum prattling that pits HIT Jedis versus Multi-Set Saviors, HIT is a very intense and effective approach to training.

High intensity training advocates full body workouts, consisting of 8-12 exercises per day. Trainees perform 1 set per exercise, training to failure on each set. Other training techniques – such as slow negatives and post-failure techniques – can also be incorporated into a HIT workout to up the ante.

Mike Mentzer’s Heavy Duty

Mike Mentzer’s Heavy Duty training is a HIT routine on steroids. It’s an extremely intense approach to training, and focuses on slower rep, non-momental sets performed to failure.

Heavy Duty workouts are very brief, ultra-taxing, and demand greater recovery periods. Generally, you perform only one set to failure per exercise.

Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates trained with a derivative style of Heavy Duty training. Despite this, the validity of Mentzer’s training system is a highly debated topic.

Demon Training

If ever there was a training system carved in the very bowels of hell itself, it would be Demon training. While the previous 5 workout routines are intense – and aren’t for lightweights – Demon training is the king of all intense weight training routines.

In Demon training, you train to failure on a set, then knock out 8 forced reps with that weight. Then, without resting, you drop the weight and perform more reps to failure, then more forced reps. As if twice through this cycle wasn’t enough, you drop the weight a second time, and do it all over again.

And after you recover from this hellacious journey into pain, you perform yet another macro set.

Read More
Training Techniques

Negative Reps – Negative Repetitions

Negative Reps – Negative Repetitions. What is a negative rep?

Each bodybuilding exercise has 2 phases; the eccentric and concentric phase. The actual rep itself – or the act of exertion required to push or pull a weight – is known as the concentric phase of the repetition. The eccentric phase of the rep is the lowering of the weight required to move it into position so you can perform another rep.

Negative reps are generally additional eccentric repetitions performed after reaching positive (or near positive) concentric failure during a set. Negative reps are performed with a varying tempo, with some training systems encouraging negative reps that take 10 seconds or more to complete.

Also, some powerlifting and HIT advocates will on occasion perform sets with negative reps only.

Research has shown that negative reps are a valid and effective training tool. Eccentric reps stress muscle as much, if not more then the concentric motion. Because of this, a focus on the controlled lowering of a weight during a set of repetitions is recommended. This “controlled lowering” does not have to take more then a couple of seconds, as long as the weight is not allowed to be lowered entirely by the force of gravity.

Some examples of negative reps…

Bench Press. During the bench press, the act of pushing the weight off the chest is the concentric motion, and the lowering of the weight to your chest is the eccentric motion. A negative bench press rep involves the controlled lowering of the bar to your chest, taking anywhere form 2-10 seconds or more.

Barbell Bicep Curl. The curling of the barbell towards the chest is the eccentric phase of the bicep curl. Lowering the weight from the chest is the concentric phase. A negative bicep curl rep involves the controlled lowering of the bar from the chest to a position in which the arms are nearly straight.

Doggcrapp training – DC training – advocates a 6 second negative rep in between every positive repetition. Also, some forms of volume training, as well as High Intensity Training, advocate slower negative rep phases.

Negative Rep Videos.

Read More

Mike Mentzer’s HIT Video

Mike Mentzer’s HIT exercise video can now be watched in its entirety.  The 8 clips in this series feature Mike Mentzer training natural bodybuilding Markus Reinhardt.

Read More
Bodybuilding Articles

Heavy Duty, The Mentzer and Yates Training Sessions

Heavy Duty, The Mentzer and Yates Training Sessions

by John Little

How many sets should a bodybuilder perform when the goal is to build maximum muscle mass? A quick look at the history of our sport shows that people have developed massive muscles from all sorts of training protocols. The legendary John Grimek made great gains when performing three to six sets per bodypart, Steve Reeves made his best gains performing nine sets per bodypart, Bill Pearl did up to 30 sets per bodypart, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Frank Zane were 20-sets-per-bodypart men, while Lee Haney made his best gains on roughly 12 sets per bodypart. In reviewing those figures, one might conclude that performing multiple sets is the key to massive muscles, which is precisely what most bodybuilders and bodybuilding writers have concluded. That paradigm was challenged in 1992, however, when Mike Mentzer successfully tested a one-set-per-exercise protocol that led to Dorian Yates winning the Mr. Olympia title.

Heavy Duty, The Mentzer and Yates Training SessionsFor many months Mentzer had theorized that one set to failure was sufficient to stimulate maximum gains in muscle mass. The bodybuilding community looked down its collective nose at Mentzer and his proposition. After all, Ellington Darden, Ph.D., had advanced that same notion (which he had learned from Nautilus pioneer Arthur Jones) in several bodybuilding books throughout the 80s, but Darden’s publications, while enjoying solid sales among Nautilus aficionados, caused nary a ripple in the waters of professional bodybuilding.

Mentzer’s proposition was somewhat different from the good doctor’s, however, for whereas Darden recommended workouts that were upward of 20 sets in length, Mentzer had refined the application to the point where his clients were performing no more than five to seven sets total in a split routine, with each workout covering two to three bodyparts and never more than one set of each exercise. Rumor had it that Yates was performing that type of workout under Mentzer’s watchful eye.

That was incredible if true, for never before in the history of bodybuilding had a superadvanced bodybuilder, let alone a top Mr. Olympia contender, trained with a mere one-set-per-exercise protocol in an attempt to gain more muscle mass. In fact, in bodybuilding circles it was equal to the resurrection of Christ – a miracle! While the more liberal bodybuilders conceded that one set to failure could be seen as a practical approach for beginners, whose bodies were not accustomed to the rigors of bodybuilding training, they were skeptical as to how it could yield meaningful results for a seasoned bodybuilder. The conservative bodybuilders, having long since closed their minds to alternative modes of training, dismissed it outright as a yarn propagated to test their gullibility.

Although I was living in Canada at the time, I had heard about the Yates-Mentzer get-together. Enough bodybuilders in Gold’s Gym, Venice, California, had actually witnessed the event, and more than a few of them had begun talking about it. Gold’s Gym being, as its moniker states, the mecca of bodybuilding, it wasn’t long before word of the Mentzer-Yates experiment began to circulate through gyms around the world (when a barbell plate is dropped in Venice, it’s heard in Cairo).

I decided to call Mentzer and inquire about the rumor. I was highly intrigued. Anytime two bodybuilding legends get together to train, it’s newsworthy, and given that the sport is highly competitive, it seldom, if ever, happened that a bodybuilding luminary would publicly submit to the training methods of another luminary. After all, it might seal off a potential avenue of revenue for one champion in the form of his training methods in favor of the other’s. Even though Yates was just a Mr. Olympia competitor at that point, the buzz already had him pegged as the man to watch. I dialed the number, and Mr. Heavy Duty picked up the phone. After some preliminary banter, I asked him about the workout he had put Dorian through and what his impressions were of the young lion. Mike related that they had met at Gold’s Gym, Venice, where Mentzer conducted his personal-training business. Yates, having been a fan of Mentzer’s during the latter’s competitive days, had approached him to talk training.

I’d noticed that Dorian had increased his sets and reps of late, Mentzer recollected, and, quite frankly, he hadn’t made any progress.

Yates evidently conceded that it was so, and the two high-intensity advocates began comparing notes on their training experiences. Mentzer relayed his opinion that Yates was training too often and then offered the following suggestion: I’ll put you through a biceps workout that will consist of only one set, but that one set will do more for your biceps than all the rest of the exercises, sets and reps you’ve done for the past year.

Yates was by no means an amateur. He had already built himself up to absolutely behemoth proportions, weighing a rock-solid 275 pounds during the off-season, and he’d just come off a second-place finish at the ’91 Mr. Olympia. I mention that to correct a misperception that Mentzer’s guidance was directly responsible for all of the muscle that layered Yates’ physique, a rumor that Mentzer had denied repeatedly to me over the years.

Yates was obviously no slouch in the bodybuilding department, but he had nothing to lose by spending an hour or so with his hero. Plus, he knew that he wanted to progress more than his current training methods seemed to be allowing. He agreed that he would put his skepticism about one set to failure aside and try out Mentzer’s radical training protocol. The two men made their way to the back of Gold’s Gym, where the Nautilus Multi-Biceps machine was located.

Mentzer had Yates position himself in the machine and perform a brief warmup set to get the blood flowing into the biceps, preparing them for the assault that was to follow. Under Mentzer’s supervision, Yates launched into his set of curls with a ferocity that is seldom witnessed in a commercial gymnasium. Anticipating Yates’ immense strength, Mentzer had placed the selector pin at the bottom of the machine’s weight stack to ensure that Dorian would hit failure before he got to eight reps.

Yates performed each repetition in true Heavy Duty high-intensity fashion, taking three seconds to complete the concentric, or lifting, phase, pausing for one to two seconds in the fully contracted position and then taking four seconds in the eccentric, or lowering, phase. That continued until he hit failure at around seven repetitions, at which point Mentzer assisted him in performing two forced reps, each with some added negative pressure coming from Mentzer pushing down on the weight stack. Yates’ biceps were screaming and swollen almost beyond recognition, but the set wasn’t finished. Mentzer pinned an additional 25 pounds to the weight stack, lifted the arm of the machine up to the top and had Yates grab it and hold it in the fully contracted position for 15 seconds. As Mentzer called out the seconds, the weight stack began inching downward, the fibers in Yates’ biceps growing more and more fatigued until, finally, they could no longer sustain the contraction.

As soon as the weight stack was lowered, Yates let out a growl and immediately began massaging his biceps. After a brief break Mentzer had Yates repeat the exercise for his other arm, and the workout was done.

Dorian called me the next day, Mentzer recalled of the historic moment, and said, ˜You won’t believe this, but my arms are bigger this morning than they were yesterday!” Then it hit him again, and he said, I’ve grown from only one workout! I’ve grown from only one set! I want you to put me through a series of workouts just like that for the rest of my bodyparts so I can train this way when I go back to England!

Back to the Gym

The next day Yates and Mentzer met again at Gold’s, where Mentzer explained the fundamentals of his new approach to training in greater detail. I say new approach because Mentzer had not always advocated one-set training. In fact, during his competitive days he typically performed four to five sets per bodypart which, in an era when most of the top champions were performing more than 20, was just as shocking as the one-set-to-failure theory. Over time Mentzer recognized that even two to four sets might have been overkill. He once commented to me that the one major training mistake I made was that, despite having been the arch advocate of less training, I was still overtraining; i.e., training too long and too frequently.

Mentzer had learned a lot about the science of exercise since his competitive days and had used Gold’s Gym as his laboratory to test his various hypotheses. His clients were now training but once every four to seven days for about 12 minutes per workout, and none was using more than one set per exercise or more than three exercises maximum per bodypart. He shared that information with Yates and then outlined a similar program that would allow Dorian to stimulate maximum muscle growth while giving him ample recovery time. That, Mentzer believed, would better Yates’ chances of winning the ’92 Mr. Olympia contest, allowing him to come in bigger and more muscular.

I set up a program for Dorian that would have him training no more than three days per week, Mentzer said. I don’t mean a three-on/one-off type of program, which is both unnecessary and actually counterproductive, but a workout regimen that would have him in the gym only three days per week – Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I split the routine into chest, shoulders and triceps on Monday; back and biceps on Wednesday and legs by themselves on Friday. All other days were rest days.

Monday: Chest, Delts and Triceps

Mentzer started Yates by training his chest, a routine that consisted of one set of dumbbell flyes to failure followed immediately by one set of incline barbell presses to failure. That was it for Yates’ chest: two sets or roughly two minutes worth of direct chest work. Then they moved on to shoulders, with Yates performing one set to failure on the Nautilus lateral raise machine followed by one set to failure on the Nautilus rear-deltoid machine. Again, it was a total of two sets lasting about one minute each.

For triceps it was equally basic and brief. “Dorian told me that he was having some problems with his elbows, said Mentzer, so I had him forgo dips, an exercise I normally recommend for triceps. Instead, I had him do one set to failure of two different exercises: the Nautilus Multi-Triceps machine followed by cable pushdowns. That was it. He was finished for the day. Yates returned to his hotel and prepared for his next workout 48 hours later.

Wednesday: Back and Biceps

The Wednesday workout saw Mentzer and Yates getting together at noon. After a brief warmup Mentzer had Yates sit in the Nautilus pullover machine, where Dorian strapped himself in and, again under Mentzer’s strict supervision, performed 15 repetitions with the entire weight stack. With no rest whatsoever Yates was rushed over to the lat pulldown machine, which had been loaded with 300 pounds in anticipation of his arrival. Yates, who was perhaps the strongest competitive bodybuilder of all time, then proceeded to startle the assembled crowd at Gold’s Gym who, prior to witnessing this Heavy Duty workout, thought they’d seen everything in the way of training by performing seven reps with the poundage. After a very brief rest, during which Yates barely had time to catch his breath, he was hustled off to the Hammer Strength row machine, where he unilaterally performed seven reps with 165 pounds.

“I remember the crowd was all around at that point, Mentzer recalled, and what they were seeing was the real thing! This was not a fellow who would disappoint his fans by curling 25-pound dumbbells while covered in baby oil and spandex. This was a Heavy Duty bodybuilder in the purest sense of the term! Dorian put forth so much effort that the 275-pound monster was shaking from his head to his toes and grunting like a bear trying to make those last reps.

It’s rumored that the whole gym stopped to watch Yates perform his next exercise: Hammer Strength machine shrugs with 800 pounds, all the weight the machine could accommodate. He would shrug that mammoth weight not once, not twice, but 14 times, with Mentzer encouraging him on each repetition.

I was telling him with each rep, “This is for the Olympia, Dorian! This next rep is worth a million dollars to you!” Mentzer related with a laugh. This guy was highly motivated to succeed. He would have to be in order to have trained that intensely.

That one set of shrugs ended Yates’ back training for the day. The workout had consisted of three exercises for his lats performed for one set each – or roughly three minutes of direct training stimulation followed by one set of shrugs. It was now time to revisit the Nautilus Multi-Biceps machine, the same exercise that had started the whole one-set series of workouts. Again, Mentzer had Yates perform one set to failure.

Dorian’s biceps were so pumped, they were cramping up, so I had him shake it off and then lift the weight up again and hold it in the fully contracted position for an additional 15 seconds before lowering slowly back to the fully extended position, Mentzer recalled. Normally, that would be all I’d have a client do for biceps, but I also put Dorian on a 90 degree preacher bench to do one set of preachers superstrict. He went to failure on that one, too, with a weight of 150 pounds. When he hit failure, I had him do three or four half reps and, to let you know how whipped his biceps were at that point, each half rep took him four seconds to complete. Needless to say, his biceps had had it for the day!

Friday: Legs

The next day was a rest day, but Mentzer and Yates were back in the gym again that Friday to work Yates’ legs with another Heavy Duty workout. Mentzer started him off on the Nautilus leg extension machine doing one set to failure, which came at rep number 15. With no rest and the seat cranked as far forward as it would go to ensure a greater range of motion, Yates then proceeded to blast the hell out of his thighs with another 15 reps on the Nautilus Compound Leg Press. “He was using the stack on this exercise, Mentzer related, and his quads were swollen up like balloons after he finished it.

After a very brief rest Yates walked over to the squat rack, where he shouldered a barbell and performed seven ultrastrict reps with a whopping 540 pounds. And that was after he had hit failure on both the leg extensions and the leg presses, Mentzer recollected enthusiastically, “Dorian is phenomenally strong!

The routine continued with one set to failure on two exercises – leg curls and stiff-legged deadlifts for the glutes and hamstrings and then concluded with two sets of calf raises.

Dorian was always keen to get back into the gym for his next workout, Mentzer said, and when he returned home to England, he was positive that less is better in terms of training for muscle mass. He realized that he had gotten so big with high-intensity training before, and that to get even bigger, he had to increase the intensity of his training, which, as we all know by now, can only be done by decreasing the number of sets you do in any given workout.

Mentzer then condensed his training system into two propositions:

Over the past two years I’ve trained more than 200 people, and I’ve discovered some very important things about building muscle mass. Success on this front boils down to two things: overtraining and knowing when to change routines. On the issue of overtraining, one set more than the least amount required to stimulate growth is overtraining – that is, it’s counterproductive, and the least amount required is, obviously, one set. There should never be an impasse to progress. My clients don’t progress slowly, and they don’t have stale periods. They progress from workout to workout just as Dorian Yates is doing.

Ironically, while Mentzer quite liked Dorian and obviously thought he had tremendous potential, he confided to me many years after the fact that at the time he was training him, he honestly didn’t think Yates would win the ’92 Mr. Olympia contest.

I didn’t think he had the kind of physique they were looking for, Mentzer admitted. That plus his association with me I thought would have caused some political problems. But then I hadn’t taken into account that the contest was being held in Europe, and I know how the fans are over there about real muscle.

History Is Made

The rest, as the popular saying goes, is history. Yates would use the training principles Mentzer advocated, pack on even more muscle and win the ’92 Mr. Olympia contest in a cakewalk. When word trickled back to Mentzer in the United States, he was happy and, again, surprised.

You know it’s curious because Dorian is kind of a low-key guy, Mentzer said. He never said that much about our workouts to me. Even when he left here many months ago, I talked to him until I was blue in the face, almost like I’m doing to you now, but he’s the kind of guy who doesn’t really respond much, so you don’t really know if it’s clicking. Then the next thing I hear, the guy wins the Mr. Olympia and he’s telling all the interviewers that he did take my advice and he did cut back to one set per exercise and it really did work. I was delighted. I honestly didn’t think that he would win.

Back in Gold’s Gym

Mentzer was also undeniably pleased to have his unique approach to bodybuilding training espoused by Mr. Olympia. Conversely, it seemed obvious to me that Yates was just as impressed with Mentzer’s methods, for when I went into Gold’s Gym a year after their famous get-together, he was hard at work training chest and biceps under Mentzer’s supervision. I watched the pair closely, wanting to see for myself what kind of intensity a bona fide Mr. Olympia winner was capable of generating, and, fortuitously, I happened to have my camera with me.

I noted that one set to failure was employed but with something that made me smile: partial repetitions and static holds performed at the end of Dorian’s regular sets. Yates’ strength had obviously skyrocketed, as it now required no less than three spotters, including Mentzer, to assist in lifting the incredibly heavy weights he was using into the fully contracted position of the exercise for him to hold statically. Yates used not only the entire weight stack on the incline-press machine but also four additional 45-pound plates.

The protocol I observed that day had Dorian performing a very heavy set to failure and then holding the resistance in a position of full contraction. Yates’ gritted his teeth and summoned all the energy he could muster to keep that weight from coming down. His forearms bulged as he gripped the handles of the machine, and his pecs looked as if they were about to explode through his sweatshirt! When the weight finally came down, Mentzer quickly reduced the poundage and lifted the movement arm of the machine so that Yates could again hold the weight in the fully contracted position. Sweat was now pouring freely down Dorian’s face, and his arms shook until he could no longer contract against the resistance, at which point he lowered the weight (rather quickly) and massaged his now swollen chest. Nice job! Mentzer said as he slapped Yates on the back. Now let’s hit the biceps!

Mentzer then proceeded to put Yates through one set for the biceps, again finishing with static holds in the fully contracted position. At the conclusion of the workout Yates’ biceps were quivering but pumped at least an inch and a half and he seemed quite pleased as a result.

Mike and John, he said, beckoning to us, I want to show you something. Yates gestured for us to accompany him into the posing room at the back of Gold’s. Mentzer and I followed him, me with camera in hand to shoot the effect of the workout he’d just completed. Yates stripped off his sweats and hit several poses under the watchful eye of Mentzer, who just stood there with his arms folded over his chest, smiling. The muscle that Yates put on display in that back room that day was nothing short of mind-blowing.

There’s the ’93 Mr. Olympia right there! Mike said prophetically. It was obvious to all three of us that if Dorian was making that type of progress, he could go on winning the Mr. Olympia title for as long as he wanted.

Make no mistake, it was Yates who did the work and Yates who deserved all the credit for his Mr. Olympia victories. After all, when he returned to England, which is where his real contest preparations took place, he was his own trainer. It must also be pointed out, however, that it was Mentzer’s approach that Yates employed to stimulate his muscles into such incredible growth. He might well have won the Mr. Olympia had he trained without Mike’s Heavy Duty method. All we know is that he chose to do otherwise, and the results of his decision are now a matter of record.

I should mention that Mentzer further refined and evolved the Heavy Duty workout protocol that he prescribed for Yates, reducing the sets and spacing the workouts further apart. In ’92, however, this program worked like a charm for the majority of those Mike trained on it. Even so, it should not be taken as representing his final word on Heavy Duty high-intensity training protocol.

Does one set to failure work? One look at the photographs accompanying this article should answer that question categorically. Will one set to failure work for you? That’s the real question and one that can only be answered in retrospect. Who knows? You may only be one set away from the greatest muscular gains of your bodybuilding career. IM

Read More