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Q. In his new book, Heavy Duty II: Mind and Body, Mike Mentzer claims his clients are now routinely gaining 10 to 20 pounds in a month and 30-40 pounds in three or four months - by training once every four or five days on a split routine consisting of only 3 to 5 very hard work sets in each workout. Mike says the breakthrough came when he switched his personal training clients from training every two or three days to every four or five days. Does this sound feasible or even possible to you? By the way, Mentzer also recommends eliminating aerobics if your goal is to develop maximum muscle mass in the shortest possible time.
(See photos of Mike below)
A. Anything is possible (in his new book Steve Reeves says in his first year of training he gained 30 pounds of solid muscle in just four months) but I'm a bit skeptical that 30 to 40 pounds of muscle can be routinely gained in three or four months - on any training program. That doesn't mean, however, that I dismiss out of hand what Mike says in Heavy Duty II. I'm a believer in short, hard and infrequent training; and I'm always interested in Mike Mentzer and his Arthur Jones-inspired Heavy Duty system of weight training.
As I explain in Ripped 2, rest is very important to the success of any training program. Muscle growth is stimulated by hard training, but you must permit growth by resting. George Sheehan, the famous doctor-runner-philosopher, may have put it best. He said, "The body can be trained to greater performance by induced stress. But the amount of stress and the time allowed for recovery are critical to the success of the process."
Stress and rest, of course, are precisely the issues Mentzer confronts in Heavy Duty II. How much training? How much rest? What is the ideal combination? Mentzer has the questions right, and that's probably more than half the battle. But what about the answers? Mike says there is "only one valid theory of bodybuilding exercise." HIS. I'm not so sure about that. But I do think what he has to say is worth serious consideration.
Mentzer has long advocated very brief and very hard weight workouts. The routines in Heavy Duty II are somewhat shorter than those recommended in Mike's earlier books, but not by much. What's really new is his challenge to the generally accepted dogma that detraining starts within 96 hours, 4 days, after your last workout. To the contrary, says Mike, "decomposition doesn't even start after a two-week layoff - let alone a mere 96 hours!" Now, that's where I believe Mentzer is on to something important.
Did you know that Roger Bannister rested for five full days before running the first sub-4 minute mile? It's true. That's what Dr. Bannister revealed in an interview published in the December 1996 Runner's World. Makes you think, doesn't it? Bannister says he knew he wouldn't forget how to run in five days; that not running took his mind off the race. But maybe it was more than that. Maybe, in fact, the extra rest was the key to breaking the 4-minute barrier.
I know it's heresy in the running world (where two-a-day workouts are standard practice) and in the bodybuilding field (where many champs train 6 days a week, sometimes twice a day) but maybe we should listen more to Roger Bannister - and to Mike Mentzer.
That's what I'm doing. I was already experimenting with longer rest periods before I read Mike's new book; I was resting one or two days between workouts, alternating weight and aerobic sessions. After reading Heavy Duty II I decided to extend my rest periods to 2 or 3 days. I am now doing a whole-body weight workout on Sunday and an aerobics session on Thursday. Except for brief walks - I believe walking facilitates recovery - on rest days, that's it. Stay tuned and I'll let you know how it works.
Obviously, I am not taking Mentzer's advice on aerobics, although I do agree that aerobics can interfere with strength gains. (See the section on the aerobics problem/solution in Ripped 3). If you are a top contender for the Mr. Olympia title where every ounce of muscle is important, it's probably a good idea to take Mike's advice and cool it on aerobics - at least for a while. However, if your goal is total fitness - and health - a balanced approach like that recommended in my book Lean For Life is probably the best approach.
If you're interested in more details on Mentzer's training recommendations, you can order Heavy Duty II ($29.95 + shipping) from Home Gym Warehouse: 1-800-447-0008. His website is www.mikementzer.com
Mike Mentzer at his best (Go to question)
Q. What is an effective program for developing abdominal muscles? I have yet to find an effective routine that really works and doesn't strain my lower back. Any suggestions?
A. The secret to developing great abs lies at least partially in ignoring conventional wisdom. Many people believe the way to develop washboard abs is to train the waistline every day. That's wrong. Doing hundreds of sit-ups, leg raises and twists will not burn the fat off the abdominal area. It doesn't work that way. There is no such thing as spot reducing. Fat is systemic; it's all over the body. The abdominal muscles are not fueled by the fat that surrounds them. The energy for sit-ups comes from fat deposits all over the body. Moreover, the muscles of the waistline are relatively small and don't really use many calories. If you have a layer of fat on your body, your abs will be obscured by fat, no matter how many ab exercises you do.
Developing eye-catching abs requires two things: (1) develop the muscles in the abdominal area through brief, intense training, and (2) burn the fat off the entire body with diet and exercise (aerobics and weights) so the abdominal muscles will show to best advantage.
Your abs should be trained just like any other body part. You wouldn't train your biceps every day and you shouldn't work your waistline that often either. If you train other body parts once a week, that's enough for abs as well. Abs need time to recover just like your chest, back or shoulders.
Back problems are usually caused by doing too much ab work and by improper performance. Doing sit-ups with straight legs is especially problematic, because it arches the back and causes strain; plus, it works the hips and legs more than the abs. To be effective, sit-ups should be done with knees bent - to take the stress off the hip flexor muscles - and pull the torso up towards the knees using only the abdominal muscles. Slowly curl your body up like a ball. Focus on shortening and lengthening the distance between the rib cage and hips.
Twisting at the top of the sit-up movement can also stress the lower back. Forget twisting without resistance. It's useless, because there is little or no tension on the abdominal group, only rotational stress on the back. Remember, you can't melt the fat off the sides. It won't happen - unless you reduce the fat all over the body.
All seven of my books deal with building muscle and losing fat - all over the body. The best and most detailed discussions of training the abs, however, are in Ripped and The Lean Advantage. Ripped, my first book, gives the exact ab routines I used in preparing for the Past-40 Mr. America and Past-40 Mr.USA contests. The Lean Advantage, the first book in the three-book series, contains a whole chapter on "Developing a well-defined waistline." It contains photos and complete descriptions of my favorite ab exercises, including the Hip Curl, the Heavy Dumbbell Side Bend and the Negative Sit-Up.
Happy ab training.
Q. How much protein does a bodybuilder need?
A. Medical authorities used to tell us that athletes, including bodybuilders, do not need extra protein. That was wrong. Solid research now shows that both hard training endurance and strength athletes do need more protein than a sedentary individual. But perhaps not as much as you may have been led to believe.
The August 1997 issue of The Physician and Sportsmedicine has the results of the latest research: "Based on a wide review of scientific data, current daily protein recommendations for serious strength trainers are about 0.6 to 0.8 grams per pound (1.4 to 1.8 g/kg)." In other words, a 140-pound strength trainer needs 84 to 112 grams of protein per day and a 200-pounder 120 to 160 grams. If you are just trying to maintain muscle mass 0.6 grams per pound is enough, but if you're training hard to build muscle the protein requirement goes up to the high end of the range, 0.7 to 0.8 grams per pound of body weight.
So the bodybuilding magazines are correct in telling you that protein is the basic building material for muscle tissue, and that strength trainers need more than the average Joe or Jane What they don't emphasize, however, is that the average meat-eating American consumes more than enough protein to meet the needs of the hardest training athlete. Most Americans eat too many calories and too much protein. Protein conscious bodybuilders probably overshoot their need for this critical nutritional element by even more. Eat a balanced diet and consume enough calories to meet your energy needs and you will probably be getting more than enough protein for maximum muscle gains. (I make it a practice to consume some high quality protein with every meal or snack.)
By the way, female athletes usually have proportionally less muscle mass - and more fat - than male athletes; therefore, they need less protein as well. Nitrogen balance tests show that female endurance athletes require about 25% less protein than men. Female bodybuilders probably need a little more protein than that, because they have more muscle than other female athletes.
(For more details on protein requirements, see "Your Muscle's Appetite" at page 33 in The Lean Advantage 3 and "But What About Protein?" at page 68 in Lean For Life; you'll find both books in the products section of this site.)
Q. Is it true that low-intensity aerobic exercise is the best way to lose fat?
A. No. It is true that the body's reliance on carbohydrate as an energy source increases as intensity increases; the higher the exercise intensity,the greater the use of carbohydrate stores. This is the basis for the often heard recommendation to keep exercise intensity low in order to maximize the loss of body fat, or to "stay in the fat-burn zone." I don't buy it and neither should you.
Professors Jack H.Wilmore (University of Texas at Austin) and David L. Costill (Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana) expose the fat burn fallacy in their beautifully designed textbook Physiology of Sport and Exercise (Human Kinetics, 1994): "Low-intensity aerobic activity does not necessarily lead to a greater expenditure of calories from fat. More importantly, the total caloric expenditure for a given period of time is much less when compared with high-intensity aerobic activity."
To illustrate they give the example of a 23-year-old woman who exercised for 30 minutes at 50% of her VO2 max on one day, and for 30 minutes at 75% on another. The total calories from fat were the same - in both sessions she burned 110 calories of fat. Most importantly, however, in the higher intensity workout she expended about 50% more calories for the same time period, 220 total calories for the 50% intensity workout and 332 for the 75% session.
For an average 40-year-old male the calories from fat would be about 145 in both sessions, but the total calories burned during the higher intensity workout would be 435 compared to only 290 in the low-intensity session, again 50% more. That's a big difference and over time the higher-intensity sessions will produce far more fat loss.
I asked Dr. Robert Robergs, director of the Center for Exercise at the University of New Mexico and co-author of EXERCISE PHYSIOLOGY: Exercise, Performance and Clinical Applications (Mosby, 1997), how the fat burn fallacy got started. He isn't sure but believes people simply like the word "easy." He thinks they grab on to the idea, because it makes easy training "more readily acceptable." Nevertheless, he says, "You can't convert a relative contribution to an absolute value; it's the total amount of calories [burned] that's most important."
"There is another issue too," Robergs adds, which makes the intensity of the workout important for fat loss. A more intense approach, he explains, "is more conducive to improving the muscle's ability to use fat." The more fit you become, the more likely you are to use fat as fuel. "When you become more fit you are just better able to metabolize fat for any given activity you do," Robergs stresses. In other words, you not only burn more calories during workouts, you burn more fat 24 hours a day.
(You'll find suggested high-intensity aerobic routines for treadmills, rowers and stationary bikes in my book Lean For Life, which is in the products section of this site.)
NINE-DAY TRAINING CYCLE?
Q. You wrote in Challenge Yourself that you had started doing a nine-day training cycle (weights on day 1 and aerobics on day 6), and that you were using three different whole-body weight workouts, repeating each workout only once every 27 days. How were the results compared to your previous routine where you did weights and aerobics every seven days, repeating the same workout every two weeks?
A. I've reverted back to a seven-day cycle. The experiment with a longer training cycle didn't pan out for several reasons, but I learned some important lessons in the process.
First, on a purely practical basis, training on a nine-day cycle and constantly changing the days of the week when I train was even more inconvenient then I had expected. It's much easier to plan the rest of your life when you train on the same days each week. A nine-day cycle played constant havoc with my schedule. It just wasn't worth the trouble.
But that wasn't the main reason why I changed. My workouts went fine on a nine-day cycle for a while, but then they began to suffer. I started missing poundages that I expected to make. In a few cases, my poundages started to regress After one particularly bad session unusual for me where I failed with my target weight in the power snatch, I decided that 27 days before repeating an exercise was probably too long. That's when I went back to the seven-day cycle, where specific exercises are repeated every 21 days. I'm continuing with the A, B & C whole-body routines described in Challenge Yourself. (I do change the exercises in each routine from time to time.)
I made one more change, which turned out to be the major discovery of the whole experiment. I began doing weights and aerobics back-to-back, on consecutive days. I did weights on Saturday and high-intensity aerobics on Sunday. I walked Monday through Friday. It worked surprisingly well.
As explained in Challenge, I try not to train again with weights until I'm fully recovered; I don't want to nip supercompensation in the bud. However, as also explained in Challenge, that doesn't mean I postpone hard aerobics until I'm fully recovered and ready for another weights session. The fatigue effects from weights and hard aerobics are specific--and different. In my experience, it's okay to do hard aerobics during the recovery period for weights. You do not have to wait until you are fully recovered from a weight session before doing a hard aerobics session.
In the past, however, I thought it was necessary, or at least wise, to wait until the soreness from weights had subsided before doing hard aerobics. My recent experience suggests that's not necessarily so.
On Sunday morning, I am usually quite stiff and sore from my Saturday weight session. I feel like there's no way I can do justice to hard aerobics--but once I warm-up and get started, I find that I can do just fine. I don't feel depleted or tired. I believe this has something to do with the fact that aerobic exercise calls on a different energy system than weights. This supposition seems consistent with the fact that I do not get sore after hard aerobics, while I am almost always very sore after a high-intensity weight session. In any event, I have no trouble doing hard aerobics the day after weights. What's more, doing aerobics the next day seems to alleviate the soreness. I feel better on Monday than I do when I rest on Sunday and postpone aerobics until Thursday.
Best of all, doing weights and aerobics back-to-back, on Saturday and Sunday, gives me five solid days of rest--I walk or do something similar on those days--before I hit the weights again, on Saturday. I believe this allows me to recover more fully than if I wait until Thursday to do hard aerobics. It works! I feel good, and both my weight and aerobic sessions are going very well.
(If you're thinking about doing very infrequent workouts, like those discussed above, I suggest that you read Challenge Yourself first. As I explain there, infrequent training is best suited for people who have been training at a high level for a long time; it is not for beginners.)
Q. I have a problem. I have lost friends for being so called fanatical about training, diet and longevity. My goal is to have pure health in today=s environment, and to me this means cutting all refined foods and man-made crap from the diet. People ask me for my opinion on diet etc. and then when I give the hard facts...they all think I am a strange person.
I am presently losing my girlfriend because she has had enough of my healthy ways. I won=t go night clubbing anymore because of the smoke and the drunk idiots. I am at peace with my healthy ways and don=t want to shift my views. How do you blend in, and was it hard for you to express or is it still hard for you to express the importance of health upon people?
Is there any real hope. I am a little lost with this world. My girlfriend is so addicted to sugar, it makes her irrational and confused, and when I tell her to go to the natural laws of eating she hates me for it. People seem to feel inferior around me. It is hard to go to their level. I don=t even get on with my family (Mother & Sister) because they hate my so called perfectionist ways. I won=t shove donuts and cakes down my mouth just to please them, and if I do they say, " See, he is normal; he cracked"
Crazy! I am the only one in my family who gets out of bed at 5am most mornings to train, and I love it. I don=t want to get lazy and stagnate like most of society.
How is your wife? Do you have one? Is she into health, and how do you compromise? What should I do? I feel very alone sometimes in my quest for pure health and I am not 100% dedicated yet! To Health!
A.My father always said, "A person convinced against his or her will is of the same opinion still." I try to follow that bit of wisdom and only give people advice when they ask for it. Otherwise, I keep my mouth shut.
My wife and I have now been married for 31 years, but I had a brief prior marriage. My first wife complained that after the honeymoon I went back to the barbell. I didn't see it quite that way, but before I married the second time I tried to make sure that my prospective wife was okay with my lifting and also had an interest in leading a healthy and active life. Happily, I got it right the second time. Perhaps you are lucky that you're losing your girlfriend before she becomes your wife.
I suggest that you live life on your own terms, but keep quiet about it unless you are sure the person is interested or receptive to your views. You can usually find something agreeable to talk about with most anyone. I have strong beliefs about politics -- I=m an economic conservative -- but I have learned the hard way that talking about politics is a good way to make enemies. My wife insists that I keep my mouth shut on that subject most of the time.
By the way, I don't believe many people who know me well think of me as a health fanatic. At family dinners (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, birthdays and such) I eat -- and enjoy -- everything that's served. For example, my mother-in-law often makes as many as five desserts, and she loves me because I eat them all. As I often tell people, nobody ever got fat in one day. I know, because I've tried over and over on special occasions. I go back to my usual style of eating, and in a few days it's as if the big splurge never happened. Remember, what really matters is what you do most of the time.
You'll never be sorry if you continue eating well and exercising regularly. I've found that the gap between me and others who don=t take care of themselves becomes bigger with each passing year -- and that the number of people who ask my advice grows as time goes on.
Bottom line: Stick to your guns, but try to be a little less outspoken. You'll do fine, and a lot better than most of the people around you.
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