Who is Mike Mentzer, and why is he dominating my social media feed? Let's be frank, part of the answer to this question lies in the Facebook algorithm based on individual interest. However, many reels, videos, and articles have also resurfaced from this late bodybuilding champion. So, who is he, and was he right?  

Mike Mentzer was born in Philadelphia in 1951. He died in 1999 due to heart complications. Between this time, Mentzer served in the United States Air Force, won the 1979 Heavyweight division in Mr. Olympia, and coached hundreds if not thousands of bodybuilders, including the great six-time Mr. Olympia, Dorian Yates. He is well known as the first scientific bodybuilder and a disciple of the Nautilus founder, Arthur Jones. The core fundamentals of his training program include the following:

✅Training to failure, which he defined as 'high-intensity' (this includes forced reps)

✅Completing anywhere from 2-7 sets per workout and rarely completing more than two sets of the same exercise in a workout. If choosing a second set, Mentzer chose a different exercise. For Mentzer, any additional stimulus after one or two sets of failure results in overtraining. 

✅Completing two and seldomly three workouts per week, with no less than 72 hours of rest between workouts

✅Executing each full-range of motion repetition at a slow tempo at all three phases of contraction to maximize muscle tension and conclude sets with partial repetitions for an added effect

In Mentzer's approach, less is more, and training to failure is paramount. Was he right? Conclusively, it is difficult to say that Mentzer's approach is superior to another as notable bodybuilding greats Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronnie Coleman were notoriously high-volume proponents. However, recent research provides compelling evidence that Mentzer was more right than wrong. 

Mentzer's training volume recommendation will vary based on population. He recommends volumes as low as two sets per muscle group each week for beginners in some transcripts. In his Mr. Olympia training program, he completes between 4 and 12 sets per muscle every ten days. A review of total volume and hypertrophy indicated that <5, 5-9, and 10+ weekly sets per muscle group resulted in an average increase in muscle hypertrophy of 5.4, 6.6, and 9.8%, respectively (6). Thus, two sets alone may not yield enough stimulus for muscle growth compared to higher set volumes. The authors recommended an optimal set range of 18-21 weekly sets.    Recent research compellingly suggests that one variable is responsible for the unfavorable variance in over 111 studies' muscle hypertrophy outcomes, and that variable is the total volume (1). In other words, too much volume is the number one factor holding people back from success in the gym. How many of us have experienced this to be true in our quests to build muscle? 

Thus, although Mentzer does not precisely narrow the number of sets per body part and total sets per week, the residual impression in his wake is that too much training is insufficient for gains. In a bodybuilding universe that often recommends enormous amounts of volume only those using anabolic steroids can afford to experience, Mentzer gets an emphatic 👍.

Is more rest between workouts best? Mentzer recommended a minimum of 72 hours of rest between workouts and one week of rest for beginners. Was he right? Research has shown mixed muscle protein synthesis (MPS) peaks 10 hours post-workout in trained individuals (3). However, this type of muscle protein synthesis (mixed) that includes all the proteins in a muscle cell does not mean that muscle is being added. Increases in muscle protein synthesis can indicate severe muscle damage that attenuates growth. Thus, increases in myofibrillar protein synthesis (MFPS) must be investigated independently of MPS, as the two are not correlated or harmonious. This lack of correlation was demonstrated by researchers who found that MPS was constant and unchanged, whereas MFPS was significantly elevated 24 hours post-workout (2).

Further, research indicates that muscle damage impedes myofibrillar hypertrophy. In a ten-week study of untrained individuals, MFPS was at its lowest in the first several weeks of training as muscle damage levels were high. However, near the end of the study, muscle damage was mitigated, and MFPS levels were high. Still, the exciting part of this study was the latent period of elevated MFPS was indicated to be 48 hours. In other words, the body was still building muscle 48 hours post-workout. Another study examining post-workout MMPS after purely concentric exercise (thus, low muscle damage) indicated elevated MFPS levels lasting 72 hours post-workout (2). Once again, Mentzer gets a 👍.

Neuromechanical matching refers to the ability of the nervous system to recruit more motor units to a muscle or group of muscles. Many factors affect recruitment, from muscle fiber physiology (type 1 or type 2), the direction of pull, and the strength curve of an exercise. Mentzer's recommendation to choose multiple movements to stimulate more muscle is the optimal choice (as opposed to 4 sets of 10 for one exercise). 

Mentzer gets a 👍.

Mentzer's recommendation to engage in a full range of motion and conclude sets with partial repetitions has merit. Research indicates that full and partial range of motion repetitions are optimal for muscle growth (4). However, this depends on the exercise's strength curve and the muscle's length. Thus, not all muscles respond to partial repetitions. Muscles such as the quadriceps, biceps, and triceps benefit from partial repetitions at long muscle lengths, whereas the glutes respond better to the full range of motion. Mentzer, again, gets a 👍.

On the other hand, a recent review concluded that neither isolated slow nor fast movement tempos are any better for hypertrophy (7). It's logical to argue against Mentzer on this point, as a significant driver of hypertrophy is mechanical tension, and tension may be greater when using a heavy load at a faster tempo because more motor units will be recruited. However, in his teaching, Mentzer recommends that each session feature an overload in the form of more weight moved or more repetitions added.  

In summary, Mike Mentzer's work was ahead of his time. The most up-to-date research findings largely support his scientific approach. Is his way best? Maybe, maybe not, but one can argue that his methodology is scientifically supported and will likely yield gains, and that is good news because many hardworking gym goers are stuck and need to figure out why.



  1. Benito, Pedro J., et al. "A systematic review with meta-analysis of the effect of resistance training on whole-body muscle growth in healthy adult males." International journal of environmental research and public health 17.4 (2020): 1285.

  2. Damas, F., Phillips, S.M., Libardi, C.A., Vechin, F.C., Lixandrão, M.E., Jannig, P.R., Costa, L.A.R., Bacurau, A.V., Snijders, T., Parise, G., Tricoli, V., Roschel, H. and Ugrinowitsch, C. (2016), Resistance training-induced changes in integrated myofibrillar protein synthesis are related to hypertrophy only after attenuation of muscle damage. J Physiol, 594: 5209-5222. 

  3. Damas, F, Phillips, S, Vechin, F, Ugrinowitsch, C. A review of resistance training-induced changes in skeletal muscle protein synthesis and their contribution to hypertrophy.  Sports Medicine, 45(6), 801-807.

  4. Kassiano, Witalo1; Costa, Bruna1; Nunes, João Pedro1; Ribeiro, Alex S.2; Schoenfeld, Brad J.3; Cyrino, Edilson S.1. Which ROMs Lead to Rome? A Systematic Review of the Effects of Range of Motion on Muscle Hypertrophy. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 37(5):p 1135-1144, May 2023. | DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000004415.

  5. Miller, Benjamin F., et al. "Coordinated collagen and muscle protein synthesis in human patella tendon and quadriceps muscle after exercise." The Journal of physiology 567.3 (2005): 1021-1033.

  6. Grgic, Jozo, et al. "Effect of resistance training frequency on gains in muscular strength: a systematic review and meta-analysis." Sports Medicine 48 (2018): 1207-1220.

  7. Wilk, M, Zajac, A, Tufano, J. The influence of movement tempo during resistance training on muscular strength and hypertrophy: A review.  Sports Medicine, 51, 1629-1650.