Old School Bodybuilder: Mike Metzer

If you’are a bodybuilder or fan of the sport, then you know who Mike Mentzer was. He was considered one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s main rivals in the sport. But who was Mike Mentzer in the bodybuilding industry?

Born on November 15,1951, Mentzer started off his bodybuilding career at the age of 12. At the time, had a body weight of 95 pounds (43kg) and was determined to build up to the point where he could bench more than he weighed. He was inspired by the men on the covers of the many muscle magazines he read.

His father also played a role in the start of his bodybuilding career. He bought Mike a set of weights and an instruction booklet. According to the booklet, Mike was supposed to train no more than three days per week, so that’s just what he did.

By the time he was 15, he grown to a body weight of 165 pounds (75 kg). He was now bench pressing over 300 pounds, far beyond his goal of benching his bodyweight. Mike had in his mind to look like Bill Pearl, his bodybuilding hero.

He continued to train and, after high school, joined the United States Air Force, where he served for four years. It was during this time that he changed his work out schedule and began doing three hours a day for six days. While this did add some muscle an increase his strength over time, he found it to be not nearly effective as the tree times a week workouts he started out with.

Mike’s Training Style

This led Mike to begin experimenting with training intensity. He was inspired by his rival Casey Viator. Casey wasn’t doing hour long workouts, he was doing shorter, much more intense workouts with less frequency. Mike decided to model his own training after Viator’s style. This led to his advocacy of intensity over the other measures of muscle-building such as load, frequency and volume.

Previously, Mike was doing up to 10 sets of each exercise, with multiple exercises per body part. He was also ending his sets with teh heaviest weights he could handle.


Mentzer began competing when he was 18 in 1969. His first win came in the Mr. Lancaster contest in 1971.

He didn’t see success his first time in the Mr. America contest. In fact, he came in 10th place. But he did eventually win in early 1976, and also took the 1977 North America championship in Vancouver.

He was at the peak of his career in 1978 when he won the Mr. Universe in Acapulco, Mexico. It is after this win that he became a professional bodybuilder.

His biggest win was the 1979 IFBB Mr. Olympia.

Impact On Bodybuilding

Mentzer evolved into an icon. He spent nearly all his adulthood refining his Heavy Duty training system. His training methods had only one goal; help body builders put on as much muscles as their genetic potential allowed. He was his own best client. His training philosophy gave birth to a near-perfect marriage of symmetry and mass.

Many professional body builders, inspired by his success and methods, followed in his footsteps.

The main principle in Mentzer’s Heavy Duty method was weight selection. He believed the lifter should choose resistance that led to failure between six to eight reps. After that, his system prescribed another 1-3 forced reps with the help of a workout partner. he considered these forced reps to be the key to his system, which was working not just too failure, but past it.

Mike’s Workout Routine

  • Warm-up thorough before each session with 10 -15 of moderate cardio
  • Use a weight that allows from 6 – 8 reps
  • Do an addition 1-3 forced reps
  • Take 2-3 days off between each session. This resulted in only 2 or 3 workouts a week
  • He used the principle or pre-exhaustion to make the weight’s feel “heavier”

Workout 1


  • Standing barbell curl: 1 set 6-8 reps
  • Superset with:
    • Tricep pressdown: 1 set 6-8 reps
    • Machine dips: 1 set 6-8 reps


  • Superset:
    • Nautilus presses 2 sets 6-8 reps
    • Rear-delt rows 2 sets 6-8 reps

Workout 2


  • Superset
    • Dumbbell flies or pec deck, 2 sets 6-8 reps
    • Incline press, 2 sets 6-8 reps
    • Weighted Dips, 2 sets 6-8 reps

Workout 3


  • Superset
    • Nautilus pullovers, 2 sets 6-8 reps
    • Close-grip pulldowns, 2 sets 6-8 reps
    • Bent-over barbell rows, 2 sets 6-8 reps

Workout 4

Leg Routines

  • Leg extensions, 1 set 6-8 reps
  • Leg presses, 1 set 6-8 reps
  • Squats, 1 set 6-8 reps
  • Leg curls, 2 sets 6-8 reps
  • Calf raises, 2 sets 6-8 reps
  • Toe presses, 1 set 6-8 reps

Mike Metzer retired from competitive body building at the age of 29, although he continued to train other bodybuilders.

Mike’s training philosophy can be summed up succinctly: Weight training should be brief, infrequent, and intense, to attain the best results in the shortest amount of time.


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