Exercise: Religion or Science? Mike Mentzer’s 1995 Q & A


Q) I’ve been bodybuilding and jogging regularly for about six years. I run three to five miles every morning and I lift heavy weights for an intense one-hour session three days a week. After reading your articles and columns, I suspect that you might think my regimen amounts to overstraining. I admit I’m no Mr. Universe, but my training keeps me happy and on an even emotional keel. So, why do you keep harping on “over-training”?

A) Your workout regimen does constitute overtraining. The definition of over-training is performing any more exercise than is precisely required to achieve the desired result. An-one committed to the idea that optimal physical progress is the desired result must bear in mind that this can be achieved only by understanding and applying theoretical principles. However, many people do not explicitly clarify their goals; as a result, the don’t know how to properly direct their training efforts.

Numerous bodybuilding and fitness enthusiasts, devoid of an appropriate philosophic-scientific (i.e., theoretical) understanding of the nature of exercise, find themselves blindly caught up in a maze of muddled ideas about training. This is why so few of them are ever satisfied with their results. Your letter states that you lift weights three times a week for one-hour sessions. In our culture, the number three has a special significance, for instance: three square meals a day; Three Stooges, the Holy Trinity; etc. The number one has provided us with a convenient and useful way of scheduling our lives. Many people get paid by the hour; watch TV by the hour; see a psychiatrist by the hour. It is a worldwide tradition for fitness enthusiasts and bodybuilders to train three times a week for one hour.

One of the points I continually stress in my articles, books and lectures is that science has nothing to do with the arbitrary or the traditional. Novelist and philosopher Arthur Koestler once stated that “most scientific discoveries represent successful escapes from blind alleys.” One of the blindest alleys most people are stuck in is that of tradition.

In a similar vein, Ayn Rand pointed out that “the role of chance, accident and tradition in a person’s life stands in inverse ratio to the power of his philosophic equipment.”

While on one level it may be laudable to make it to the gym unstintingly every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for one magic hour, on another level, it’s not — especially if your goal is optimal progress. The idea should not be to adhere slavishly to such a schedule to demonstrate your work ethic, but to train intelligently and conscientiously, doing only what nature requires in the way of imposing necessary training stresses. Andy more than that is exactly what constitutes overtraining.

Whether your goal is a modest one (to build a little strength, add muscle, stay lean and maintain a fit condition) or a grand one (to build a massive, defined physique for bodybuilding competition ( remember that over-training is counterproductive in either case. Overtraining hampers your progress, deflects focus away from other meaningful pursuits and can be harmful to your immediate and long-term health.

As it turns out, the precise amount of trianing required to stimulate optimal increases in strength and muscular size isn’t as much as many people believe. And in your case, combining running with weight training, you must be extra cautious. The stresses of training and life are cumulative. (Too much training over a long period my well result in a breakdown somewhere in the physiologic system.)

The human body has only 100 units of adaptive energy available. It’s not like there are 100 units available for strength and size and another 100 for endurance. If you aren’t careful and overtain in each area, you’ll decompensate in both, lose strength and size, and end up chronically fatigued.

Why not consider giving up the blind, religious, traditional approach to exercise? Instead, adopt a truly scientific one based on an understanding ofthe laws of nature. Such an approach is explained in my newly revised Heavy Duty book.