* Strength Oldschool was given permission to publish this article by Magnus.
Much has been written about Mike Mentzer (1951 - 2001) over the years. Even now, ten years after he and his brother Ray (1953 - 2001) died, he still gets quoted, misquoted and has many fans and foes debating the efficacy of his “Heavy Duty” training system.
Added to all the above is a hefty archive of Mike’s own books, videos and magazine articles – he loved to write and unlike most bodybuilders articles these were all his own works, no ghost writers involved!
He was also noted for not being shy in saying what he thought about anything, regularly upsetting people to the point of personal danger (remember when pro bodybuilder Mike Matarazzo (photo below) got very upset when he read Mentzer’s opinion of his physique and it almost came to blows in the gym? ).
I personally experienced Mike’s directness and opinions when I was fortunate enough to have a one-to-one chat with him years ago. This took place back in the 1980s when Mike spent some time on a seminar tour in Europe and the UK. By a serendipitous event I ended up alone in the Swindon UK gym with Mike one evening after the gym closed – where the gym owner vanished to for an hour I never found out but took my chance to talk to Mike.
Luckily for me, I had been introduced to Mike earlier that day after making a special trip to train there and see him – I got the day wrong as his seminar was the next day and Mike was sat on a pec deck machine telling several guys what was wrong with the 1980 and 1981 Olympia results.
He was covered up and one guy said “Bet you would like to see his 20 inch biceps eh? ” I replied “No, I would like to see Mr Mentzer’s triceps – he has the best triceps in the world! ” At this the guys laughed but Mike looked my way with a look of interest on his face and said “No, no guys he is not crazy, my biceps are okay but not outstanding but my triceps…well I agree they are my best bodypart and the best in the world.”
Then the gym owner came over to speak to Mike about next day’s planned seminar so the conversation went no further, but the ice had been broken and that evening Mike was keen to “have an intelligent conversation for a change.”
At the time I was a staunch heavy duty HIT supporter so I started by asking several questions about training – Mike obviously loved talking about his system but could not resist getting quite loud and fired-up as he talked, and I had to try hard to look relaxed while feeling a bit intimidated inside. SO….I bit the bullet and openly told Mike that I felt nervous in his presence and that although I knew I was safe it was like a young gorilla being unnerved by a silverback – Mike was not very tall, about 5 feet 9 inches but he was BIG!
Mike’s waist and legs looked smaller than in photos I had seen of him but, even fully dressed his torso looked very broad and his arms strained the seams of his tracksuit – I mean they were HUGE! At this time in my life I had seen such luminaries of the BB world as Boyer Coe, Tony Pearson, Jusup Wilcosz, Tony Emmot, Bill Richardson and many more but none had arms as big as Mike’s when relaxed (those massive triceps see!).
Anyway, Mike chuckled at this and said “You know you’re right, sometimes when I get close to friends of mine they shy away as though they were scared of me! ” He then became a bit quieter and cast his eye around the gym which was one of the first in the UK to have lots of Nautilus machines and dumbbell racks going up to around 150 lb bells. "That ”, said Mike pointing at a barbell, “is stone age technology, these Nautilus machines are the present and future of training. You could scrap all the free weights in here and just use Nautilus because of their superior accommodating resistance that works around a rotational axis " but interestingly enough Mike never suggested scrapping free weights altogether in his articles.
I followed Mike’s train of thought by asking about his association with Arthur Jones the infamous Nautilus inventor. Mike stared at me then astounded me as he said “Arthur Jones is the greatest genius I ever talked to and moved bodybuilding from the stone age into the future – no one else comes close, that’s why Weider attacks machine training in his mag because Weider knows nothing and is frightened of Arthur’s knowledge! ”
Mike then said he was thankful to Joe Weider for the opportunity to write articles as he loved to do so, but claimed most of the other bodybuilders training articles were ghost written and that “the truth is none of them really know the first thing about effective training, they all listen to Weider and overtrain all the time – without steroids they would all burn out! ”
Mike then looked at his watch and said “I miss my girlfriend and Ray my brother, I wonder what they are doing right now? Be glad to get home and see them again.”
Mike swung back to Arthur Jones (pictured below) and declared that “Jones says the human brain is an evolutionary f–k-up! Our vastly increased mental capacities have enabled us to create weaponry so powerful it threatens us all, and he says the human race will destroy itself! More than once Arthur said to me “Michael, the last moments of humanity are going to be un-f–king-believable! Everything’s gonna be blown away because our brains are more advanced than our morals, so everyone ends up being f–ked! ”
I was a bit taken aback at this. Having read most of Mike’s articles at the time which generally were well-written and calmly logical, I was not ready for him to get loud again and to f and blind so freely but managed to remain relaxed enough to say “Yeah, he could be right he certainly is a genius but I am hoping that this is one thing he gets wrong. Do you think he could be right about nuclear war?”
Mike looked amused for a second then got serious again with “Jones thinks he’s right about everything! You cannot debate with him because he won’t listen to any argument and never stops talking - the man is a true genius but he is a f–king c–t and no one can stand working for him for long." (what about Ell Darden then? But I dare not interrupt as Mike was getting hot under the collar again!).
Photo below: Casey Viator, Dan Lurie, Arthur Jones and Sergio Oliva (1971)
"The most amazing night I ever had was an evening at Arthur’s with Joe Weider and (cannot remember for sure but others may have been Ell Darden and Casey Viator, but Mike definitely said Weider was there) others. Arthur never stopped talking and it was the most scientific indepth talk about training ever! No one else got a chance to speak and Joe looked stunned because Arthur’s stuff was beyond him, that’s why Joe was afraid of Nautilus and tried to put them down in his magazines. Joe acted disgracefully doing that but he had to be number one in the bodybuilding world so came out with several articles supposedly written by his champions saying they tried out Nautilus machines and they did not work – f–king bullshit lies! "
* Photo below: Franco Columbu using the Nautilus Pullover Machine.
* Photo below: Sergio Oliva Training with Arthur Jones - Nautilus Equipment (1971)
* Photo below: Arnold and The Myth Sergio Oliva Pumping Up Backstage at the 1972 Mr Olympia contest.
"Hey, Sergio Oliva trained with Arthur for awhile in 1972 and was in his best shape ever that year in the Olympia but Joe wanted Arnold to stay on top so that’s what happened. Sergio got f–king screwed and quit the IFBB for years. I know what he felt like because I was shafted in 1980 and they gave the O to Arnold again when he should have lost.” (My comments on the above can be found at the end of this article).
Mike was talking a bit slower and quieter now and his voice was tinged with regret. There was no doubt in my mind that he bitterly resented his 1980 loss and this disappointment was so visible in his manner as he talked that I am sure he felt unfulfilled for the rest of his life.
Mike carried on with his assessment of the 1980 Olympia. “If Arnold had been in his 1974 shape then I could have accepted his win, but on the night he was nowhere near that condition, I would have put him 5th or 6th but Weider wanted him on top and me shafted because I had been talking against his and Arnold’s ridiculous 20 sets a bodypart training routines. Joe thought it would show his training was superior to heavy duty if I lost and Arnold won. And I was not the only one shafted – Boyer Coe and Roger Walker both looked great and should have placed above Arnold.”
* Photos below: Arnold Schwarzenegger from 1974...
Frank Zane and Chris Dickerson who came third and second had not been mentioned by Mike so I asked whether he thought they should have beaten Arnold. Mike replied “Yes they should but I will qualify that by saying they should not beat big guys in shape – this is bodybuilding not ballet dancing! Zane is too small to be Mr Olympia yet they gave it to him three times, even beating me in ’79. And Dickerson (pictured below) may have great calves but look at his arms! He’s got no biceps to speak of yet still wins shows, it just proves things are fixed.”
* Arnold vs Chris Dickerson
I took a deep breath and dared to ask Mike about the controversial 1981 Olympia, when a dazzling Tom Platz came third and Franco Columbu returned from retirement to win with the poorest legs in the contest. Mike was incredibly dismissive of Franco, saying... "That was another fix, no way should that mental midget have beaten Platz but once again one of Arnold's cronies was looked after by Weider! In the muscle magazines afterwards they claimed Joe did not agree with the result but he was just saying that to cover himself - the result stayed the same even though the whole audience disagreed with it. You can’t fool people all the time and putting that dimwitted quack first was an insult.”
* 1981 Mr Olympia: Danny Padilla vs Franco Columbu
* 1981 Mr Olympia: Franco Columbu vs Tom Platz
I happen to agree that Franco should not have won that year, but instead I asked Mike to explain his use of the word “quack.”
“He calls himself a doctor but he’s not a real doctor he’s a chiropractor. These bone crackers are not real doctors it’s all nonsense, it’s all based on erroneous science to do with facial nerves. I agree my back needs adjusting at times but I lay on the floor and crack it myself, I don’t need any bone cracker messing me up. I respect the medical profession but not these fringe practitioners, chiropractic belongs with other nonsense like homeopathy not with genuine doctors.”
Mike then started to talk about nutrition and his opinion that “A well balanced diet is all you need, taking extra vitamins and protein supplements is a waste of money! The muscle mags want you to believe taking supplements will give you a contest physique but that is complete garbage! The supplement industry makes massive profits out of gullible guys desperate for progress, but the truth is you cannot be a champion without steroids! Everyone lies and says they are drug-free but not me. Taking steroids is necessary if you want to be a pro, I use them myself, I don’t think it’s immoral to use drugs but I do think it’s immoral to lie! As a result all these young guys piss away lots of money on supplements that don’t work whilst believing their idols supplement endorsements. Look up nutrition in medical textbooks and you’ll see the truth… you really don’t need much protein and energy to train comes from carbohydrates so you should focus on them.”
Unfortunately, at that moment the gym owner reappeared, looked at me and said “What are you doing in here? ” Before I could reply Mike said “We have been having a very interesting discussion, would you like to join us? ” No such luck, the gym owner stared at Mike and said “Interesting discussion? It’s late and we’ve got to go and he should not even be in here.” He turned to me and said “Times up say goodbye to Mike.”
Mike looked disappointed as he had been in full flow and obviously loved talking as much as me, but being temporarily on the gym owners payroll he went along with his orders and simply said “Thank you for such a stimulating conversation, will you be at my seminar tomorrow? ” I replied in the affirmative then thanked Mike and stepped out into the dark, mind aglow with my experience. I made notes of our chat when I arrived home but most of what Mike said is still very clear in my memory.
In the years that followed Mike became entranced by Objectivism and Ayn Rand and his speech was full of her philosophy but you have just heard Mike talking before all that. He also changed his mind about a few things as time went on, for example his last two books with John Little gave free weights much more respect. Mike no longer believed that “stone age barbells” should be scrapped. Mike fell into a psychological breakdown and was mentally ill for sometime – I often think if he had won the Olympia he would have been very different to the man he became who claimed to be very happy with his life, yet seemed to me to be unhappy. At the end Mike was in very poor health, on lots of medication and sounded like an old man yet was only middle-aged. Typically stubborn he smoked a lot and said “I love it ” when challenged to quit smoking.
Mike’s integrity remained to the end – for example in Muscular Development magazine when asked who was best Arnold or Dorian Yates (pictured below around 1993) he stated that Arnold in his 1974 incarnation was clearly the best even though he intensely disliked Arnold and Dorian was a friend and fellow HIT advocate.
Believe me, if Mike said anything he was always 100% sincere and never worried about upsetting anyone, his favourite saying being that it’s not about who is right or wrong, but what is the truth? I respect Mike’s stance on the truth but was everything that Mike said true, or had his mind played tricks on him even as far back as our conversation? I have some doubts in my own mind as to whether some of what Mike believed was true.
Referring back to Mike’s Nautilus and Arthur Jones statements – did Mike really attend a meeting at Arthur Jone’s with Joe Weider? I find that highly unlikely as Jones and Weider were business rivals, with Joe printing articles rubbishing Nautilus machines, and Arthur declaring that no one but he understood anything at all about bodybuilding. But who knows? Maybe it did happen! Also Mike said Oliva trained with Arthur in 1972 when he appeared in his all-time best shape at the Olympia, but Ell Darden would tell you Sergio was at Nautilus HQ in 1971 NOT 1972 – so was Mike just being forgetful?
Another bone of contention is the way Mike, just like Arthur, regarded practically everyone else as being ignorant/misinformed/or just plain stupid when their opinions differed from his. Note especially his dismissive view of Franco. Whether or not Chiropractic is a valid medical science, anyone qualifying to be a DC is most unlikely to be a “mental midget.” Also Mike owed Joe Weider gratitude for giving him publicity and a job on his editorial staff, and Joe helped Mike launch his own “Heavy Duty” mail order business, but when Mike went his own way he was telling everyone that Joe knew “nothing” about bodybuilding.
Finally, the way Mike ranted about fixed contests to me, a complete stranger, revealed a personality near the edge, and later he did crack. Try reading Ell Darden’s book “The New High Intensity Training” where Ellington devotes a chapter to his experiences with the Mentzer brothers, sad reading about the delusional state Mike suffered for some time.
I have to say I don’t agree with quite a bit of what Mike said, but I respect his views and have written it here as he said it.
AND what of the seminar that took place next day? Well, that’s another story that I might write down one day but not today. Finally, if this does get published remember it’s about what Mike Mentzer said NOT my opinions so if anyone reading this gets offended please don’t come looking to sue me, I am only the journalist on this article repeating what Mike said that interesting night and, although I question some of what he said, I can neither verify or disprove what he said.
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* To read Part 2 click here.
For more great info on Mike Mentzer check out http://www.mikementzer.com/