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Mike Mentzer’s High Intensity Weight Training

Mike Mentzer - HIT Jedi

Mike Mentzer did not invent High Intensity Weight Training, but he made it popular. During his time in the military, while also doing his bodybuilding training the old fashioned way (very long training sessions with many sets and hundreds of reps) he came across Casey Viator, who was the winner of Mike’s first bodybuilding competition.

Mike was shocked when Casey Viator told him that his training sessions only last about half an hour. Viator would train to a very high intensity using much heavier weights, while still lifting for as many repetitions as possible before total muscle failure occurred.

For Mike this method would solve his current training issues, as he often lacked time. He was an instant convert.

Mentzer’s Weight Training Rules

Adding to our study of Mike Menzter and his High Intensity Training methods, here is a video clip from YouTube. The video includes some warm up exercises to do before weight training. Each exercise must see the muscle worked through its full range of motion from a fully extended position to a fully contracted position.

  1. Once the fully contracted position is reached, pause momentarily before returning to the retracted position.
  2. If a momentary pause is not possible this is an indication that the weight is too heavy.
  3. Important to remember to slowly lower the weight through the eccentric (negative) phase until the muscle is fully extended.
  4. In order for the exercise to be effective muscular involvement must be at a maximum.
  5. Rapid reps reduce muscular involvement.
  6. The concentric movement should last 2-3 seconds and the eccentric movement 4 seconds.
  7. Progressive overload is the key – add more weight
  8. Recommended that you start with a weight for which you can only just perform a set of 8 reps with strict form
  9. Work this weight until failure. You will get stronger.
  10. Once you are able to perform 12 reps, add approximately 10% more weight to continue the progressive overload cycle.
  11. Once you have more experience, add forced reps to help attain total muscular failure. A partner is required.
  12. Failure is measured by no longer being able to lift the weight through its full range with strict form. Some people make the error of thinking that failure mean that you can no longer lift the weight no matter how hard you try. This is not the case. It is when good form does not allow you to lift the weight from fully contracted to fully extended and back again.
  13. Work on the smaller muscles to support your compound exercises.

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A “Classic” Mike Mentzer HIT routine

Here is a “classic” Mike Mentzer HIT routine from his early training. Legs are given a little more reps than the upper body. Nowadays HIT enthusiasts often perform fewer reps, preferring the 6-10 range.

The main legs workout is repeated. He later created a “Consolidated Routine” which had even less exercises. Each workout is followed by 4-7 days of complete rest.

Mike Mentzer’s Legs Workout 1

  • Leg extension 12–20 reps (superset with leg press 12–20 reps)
  • Calf raise 12–20 reps
  • Sit-up 12–20 reps

Mike Mentzer’s Chest and Back Workout

  • Flat dumbbell flye 6–10 reps (superset with incline bench press 1–3 reps)
  • Overhead cable pullover 6–10 reps (superset with reverse-grip cable pulldown 6–10 reps)
  • Deadlift 5–8 reps

Mike Mentzer’s Legs Workout 2

  • Leg extension 12–20 reps (superset with leg press 12–20 reps)
  • Calf raise 12–20 reps
  • Sit-up 12–20 reps

Mike Mentzer’s Delts and Arms Workout

  • Dumbbell lateral raise 6-10 reps
  • Bent-over lateral raise 6-10 reps
  • Barbell curl 6-10 reps
  • Triceps cable pressdown 6-10 reps (superset with Dip 3–5 reps)

Two Session HIT Weight Training Workout

If you plan to start high intensity weight training, then after a few general full body session this split routine is an effective way to target the main muscle groups and also add some isolation exercises. This session is composed of two big compounds and two isolation exercises.

With HIT workouts the general rule is to always train to momentary muscular failure – not really possible within a set number of reps on the first session. Keeping a training log will help you to ensure that later sessions are designed to allow you to perform the ideal number of sets/reps. Each set should be 6-10 reps for upper body and 12-20 reps for lower body.

HIT Training Session 1:

  • Squat
  • Chin ups
  • Concentration curl
  • Skull crushers

(four days rest, then)

HIT Training Session 2:

  • Deadlift
  • Bench Press
  • Barbell curls
  • Tricep bar seated tricep extensions

Rest Pause and HIT

High intensity training is a great way to build strength and hypertrophy. It uses the “rest-pause” method of lifting that was popularized by Mike Mentzer, a former Mr. Universe.


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Mike Mentzer ‘s bodybuilding peaked after performing rest-pause routines, which is an old system of lifting involving single-rep maximums interspersed with brief (10 second) rest periods. Rest-pause has the advantages of old-school power training while also allowing for enough overall reps to be performed for hypertrophy and cardiovascular exercise purposes.

Criticism of High Intensity Weight Training

Many studies and tests have been done to determine which form of bodybuilding is best, and so far they are inconclusive. Mike may have just had unusual genetics that responded better to this form of training. Also, many people doing HIT do huge warm up sets that may be contributed to muscle growth more than they realised, but these sets are mostly gone unrecorded as they are not the “work sets”.

Finally, we must remember that Mike had sponsorships from weight training manufacturers who were looking for new ways to promote their product, and HIT may have largely been a marketing tactic to sell more equipment. Maybe the real reason why the HIT method has never been scientifically proved to be most effective is because it was a business deal. Controversial maybe, but so much in the fitness industry is driven by commercial and business strategies.

Mike Mentzer’s Weight Training book

The Wisdom of Mike Mentzer: The Art, Science and Philosophy of a Bodybuilding Legend

Learn more about Mike’s methods in The Wisdom of Mike Mentzer: The Art, Science and Philosophy of a Bodybuilding Legend is available from our Amazon store and major book shops.

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  6 comments for “Mike Mentzer’s High Intensity Weight Training

  1. anil sharma
    August 21, 2009 at 10:26 am

    please tell me that a person infected with hiv can still become a bodybuilder, as the person concerned in 6ft.,78kgs. and 40years of age.
    please let me know

  2. MotleyHealth
    August 21, 2009 at 11:44 am

    Well, in that case, I would say it was probably OK. If they are suffering no worse as a result, then it could be a good thing. Here is an excerpt from published results of studies on exercise and HIV that was carried out in 2004:

    “results indicated that performing progressive resistive exercise or a combination of progressive resistive exercise and aerobic exercise at least three times a week for at least four weeks appears to be safe and may lead to statistically and possibly clinically important increases in body weight and composition. Results also indicate exercise interventions may lead to clinically important improvements in cardiopulmonary fitness. Individual studies included in this review suggest that progressive resistive exercise interventions with or without aerobic exercise also contribute to improvements in strength and psychological status for adults living with HIV/AIDS.” Source: Progressive resistive exercise interventions for adults living with HIV/AIDS.

    So it seems that weight training (resistance training) can benefit patients as it builds muscle tissue, and helps to strengthen the body. But professional medical advice should still be sought if possible, as every patient is different.

  3. MotleyHealth
    August 21, 2009 at 10:47 am

    Anil, best really to check with a doctor. I guess that it depends on the physical health of the person. Bodybuilding requires a lot of energy and can weaken the immune system during recovery. Best to seek professional medical advice.

  4. anil sharma
    August 21, 2009 at 11:39 am

    Hi, thanks for the comeback, but the person is doing the wetight training for quite a long period and is doing bench press with 60kgs. and three sets of 12-14 reps. and plus triceps and biceps also doing with quite a heavy weight. So please advide accordingly after reading this.

  5. reggae aguilar
    January 3, 2010 at 10:41 am

    I just wanna ask if this HIT program will make me bigger on a short amount of time. Im 5’7″ 127lbs. i have been working out at the gym for 4 months now. I wanna start my 5th month at the gym using the HIT program. by training 3x a week (M-W-F),using 2 different exercises for each week.. for a minimum of 45 minutes to an hour maximum. i cant understand how much weight will i lift for the warm-ups and how much weight for the non-warm up. my maximum weight lifted for the incline-decline-flat bench presses is 80lbs.hope I will get the information from you asap.thanks.

  6. MotleyHealth
    January 3, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    Generally a HIT warm up may be a couple of sets starting at 50% of the final work set. Maybe 50%, 70% then 100%. So for 80lbs bench, warm up with 12 at 40lbs. The weight you lift for the work set should allow your to lift a set of 8, ideally working to failure. The only way to determine this is to to lift and write down the results, then adjust the weights for the next sessions. If you go too heavy to start with you can strip down the bar until you can perform the lifts, but you will be tiring the muscle in the process so it still will not be your ideal working weight.

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