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Mike Mentzer Training: Is One Set Enough?

Mike Mentzer Training

Posted by: Paul

Q: Mike Mentzer believed in using one set to failure. I can see how that might work for smaller muscle groups like biceps, but how can you stimulate maximum growth in bigger muscle groups like the chest with only one set?

A: The size of the muscle group you're training doesn't change the fact that muscle fibers are recruited and stimulated sequentially-from slow twitch to fast twitch-by one set taken to a point of momentary muscular failure. The scientific literature supports the concept of one set taken to failure as at least the equal of multiset work, which indicates that doing any more sets would be a waste of time and recovery resources. That will delay the growth your workout may have stimulated.

Mike looked carefully at that dynamic:

"If you were to launch an investigation aimed at discovering how many sets were required to achieve optimal results, where would you start? If you started at 20 sets and that didn't work, where would you go? Down to 19 sets or up to 21? The logical place to launch your investigation is with the least number possible, namely one set. You can't do any fewer sets. If one doesn't work, then you try two. I can tell you unequivocally, though, that one set per exercise is all you need to achieve optimal results."

Most bodybuilders regard working out as an endurance contest, which it is not. Mike often said that the idea is not to go into the gym to see how many sets you can do or how long you can mindlessly endure. Your purpose is to go in as an informed, intelligent, rational human being and perform only the amount of exercise required to stimulate muscular growth. Note the distinction. As it turns out, the precise amount of exercise required to stimulate growth isn't nearly as much as people have been led to believe or would like to believe. According to Mike:

"One of the central issues in my book Heavy Duty II: Mind and Body is that the mistake over all these decades has been that more is better and less is better. Those ideas are both wrong, and they both lead to training problems and a lack of satisfactory progress."

"The idea is not more is better or less is better but that precise is best. Precision is the key. Exactly how many sets per workout and how often? It's similar to what happens when you take a medication. Once you discover what medication is required, the next logical step is to discover how much-the dosage. How much of the drug should you take and how often? In fact, I make the point again in Heavy Duty II that exercise science should flow from the principles of medical science."

"In bodybuilding as in medicine we're looking to effect the desired physical result, in our case not by taking a drug but by imposing the appropriate training stimulus: high intensity. Once we know that, we can determine volume and frequency."

"The majority of volume bodybuilders perform an arbitrary number of sets, with the exercise science establishment advocating up to 60 sets a day, six or seven days a week. That's gross overtraining, and for the bodybuilder who's not genetically gifted or taking steroids, it's useless."

For a complete presentation of Mike Mentzer's Heavy Duty training system watch the Mike Mentzer Training Video.

If you have any other questions about Mike Mentzer or High Intensity Training email me and I'll get back to you with an answer as quick as I can.

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