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Shown in this photograph is Richard Wagner, the famous German composer of the late Romantic era of music. Wagner was a titan of opera, and it was said by a famous musicologist that he also was a “obnoxious megalomaniac.” In any case, Mike Mentzer was very fond of Wagner’s compositions, and he often would listen to his great overtures, preludes, or orchestra interludes prior to a Heavy Duty training session. The extreme intensity of Wagner’s music really had Mike up in arms and ready to tear the weights apart by the time he visited the gym. Public domain photograph.
When I was in high school back in the late 1970s, Mike Mentzer had emerged as one of the best bodybuilders in the world, and through his many writings he had me questioning nearly everything I thought I knew about productive exercise. I can vividly remember the unparalleled thrill I experienced each month upon receiving a new issue of Muscle Builder in the mail. Back then, writings from Mike were featured in nearly every issue of the magazine, and I always anticipated his articles with great excitement. For an intellectual high, there simply was nothing quite like reading about Mentzer’s latest training ideas or thought-provoking analyses of bodybuilding tradition.
Through his writings, Mike taught me and thousands of other strength athletes not to accept broad generalizations, traditional beliefs, and dogma uncritically. He taught that truth can be determined only through sound reason and logic, and that many “established” practices in bodybuilding (and in all other fields) are based on unwarranted assumptions, false premises, and erroneous conclusions.
Mentzer stated that a person can never reach his or her full potential in any endeavor without first becoming intellectually self-sufficient. Only by learning how to judge and think independently, he emphasized, can a person learn to distinguish truth from falsehood and reach the zenith of his or her potential.
Central to Mike’s bodybuilding success was his broad scope of integrated knowledge. By conceptually molding, relating, and codifying key ideas from many seemingly unrelated fields of thought, he released the world of bodybuilding from the grip of the traditionalists with the establishment of his Heavy Duty training system. This system was nothing short of a muscle-building milestone, and it revolutionized our understanding of productive exercise.
The development of the Heavy Duty training system would not have been possible had it not been for Mike’s profound love of knowledge. He treasured nothing more than his enriching his mind with new ideas and gaining a deeper understanding of the world. Even his commitment to bodybuilding was a manifestation of his general quest to find truth and to broaden his conceptual range.
Mentzer was a prolific writer, and he was a master of the English language. I can think of no other author who has been able to match his clear, concise, and enthralling style of teaching exercise science. Be warned though, Mike possessed a prodigious vocabulary, and this is very apparent in his writings. For this reason, I strongly recommend that you have a good dictionary at hand before delving into any of his books or articles. I used to joke that Mentzer should have supplied a “Heavy Duty” dictionary as a companion guide to his training books.
Given that Mike Mentzer possessed a wide breath of knowledge, it should come as no surprise that he also possessed a deep and varied vocabulary. Words are the tools which allow us to express ourselves and gain an understanding of the world. And, as such, the attainment of knowledge requires that our vocabulary be enlarged and strengthened. This is why the most successful men and women almost always possess an unusual grasp of the meanings of words.
I will have more to say about Mike Mentzer and what he stood for in an upcoming article. In the meantime, this post should provide a glimpse of why he achieved such extraordinary success – not only in muscle building, but in life.