Last week I found myself doing an interview with Ruani from One Year No Beer. During the second have of our chat, he challenged me to give up alcohol for three months, something called the “90 Day Challenge”. Never being one to back down from a challenge, I accepted, and the following day I decided to dust off the weight equipment I hadn’t used in close to two years.
My second day in I started pedaling away on an exercise bike, before laying down on the bench and lifting a weight that used to be as light as a feather for me. Man, was I out of shape!
Not only did I need to get my body in a state to restart strength training, but I had to go back in time and remember what had worked so well for me years ago. I spent close to a decade training, all the while devouring old Russian weight lifting manuals, learning proper technique so as to not injure myself when moving heavy weights, and understanding the stages of muscle growth.
Aside from the general powerlifting techniques I learned from experts like Jim Wendler, Dave Tate, Mark Rippetoe, and Louis Simmons, I had one outlier influence – Mike Mentzer. His training methods had always worked well when my sole goal was just to look good, and if that’s all I’m after at this stage in life, then I need to remember what I learned from him.
Mentzer’s methods were based on how muscles actually respond to stress, and how easy it can be to overtrain. Instead of lifting 50-70 sets in a workout like some popular bodybuilding magazines suggest, he stressed working a single muscle group to failure with a single exercise, and then stopping. Pushing a muscle to failure is as far as that muscle can go, and going further will not mean more growth.
The other principle he utilized was allowing the muscle adequate time to fully recover. Imagine being on a flat surface, and digging a hole (working out). Your body will fill that hole back up, and a little higher. If you begin digging before that hole is filled up, however, you’re working against yourself; never giving the muscle enough time to become bigger and stronger.
This is why many of Mentzer’s plans lasted only 30-45 minutes. Mentzer, himself the only man to ever achieve a perfect score in the Mr Universe contest, mentored 6-time Mr Olympia Dorian Yates. Some of their workouts were a single set!
“Dorian called me the next day and said ‘You won’t believe this, but my arms are bigger this morning that 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!'” – Mike Mentzer
It wasn’t from just a regular set though. The technique used are rarely mentioned in modern bodybuilding, but again – they involved completely draining the muscle and working it to failure. There are a number of ways to do this, such as forced repetitions, negative repetitions, and rest-pause training.
Forced repetitions involve a partner. Let’s say you are curling a bar. You can no longer do another curl on your own. In this case, your partner assists you just enough to curl a few more reps. The felt weight is less, but you are still doing most of the work yourself, continuing to exhaust the muscle.
Negative repetitions rely on the fact that muscles are least strong when they contract and strongest as they extend. In the same exercise, this would mean getting the bar fully curled and slowly lowering it down. Work the positive repetitions first, then go further with negative reps.
The rest-pause technique involved completing as many full reps as possible, and dropping the weights. It is not the end of the set. In 2-5 seconds, pick the bar up, and continue completing another 2-3 reps. This technique can be used multiple times, even to the point of only being able to complete a single additional rep after a brief pause.
It should be noted that these are techniques for building muscle – body building – not powerlifting or strength training. My background is a mixture of both, and as I continue on, I’ll be incorporating some simple powerlifting techniques so that the muscles gains aren’t just for show – they’re for go!