While cleaning out my place the other day, I came across the book “Heavy Duty”, by Mike Mentzer. I’ve heard you talk about your experiences with Mike before, as well as Heavy Duty. What’s your opinion of that today, and does it really work better than other training methods?
For reference sake, Heavy Duty type training involves performing just one work set to absolute muscular failure. Usually in the 6-10 rep range for upper body, and slightly higher rep ranges for lower body. This one work set mantra can be tough to swallow for most people, particularly those conditioned to performing multiple sets per exercise.
And if that’s tough to get your arms around, the training frequency Heavy Duty recommends is even tougher. Advanced trainees go weeks between workouts, and this can be murder on the psyche for those that feel the need to be in the gym on a regular basis.
Heavy Duty Training
Does it work? Absolutely. Like most other methods though, for as long as it takes your body to adapt to it. Understand this can be a good long time though, allowing you to make excellent gains for months and months. The system is predicated on some solid physiological principles, albeit it’s not perfect. Those solid principles include a good understanding of the 3 steps involved in muscle growth – Stimulate, Recover and Grow. So let’s look at each one.
Heavy Duty stimulates muscle growth given it demands you lift more weight, for more repetitions or both every single workout. You’re encouraged to take ample time to recover from these sessions, and if you do you should realize another nice increase during your next workout. On the positive side, it’s a very time efficient training method. It can also be very effective. Many will experience the fastest strength increase of their lives, and it’s very motivating to realize these increases week after week.
Downsides of Heavy Duty Training
HD isn’t perfect though, as there are a number of downsides. First, your size increases never seem to quite match your strength increases. In fact, they usually lag considerably. Likely due to the fact hypertrophy takes a certain amount of mechanical work (i.e. volume).
Also, it’s physically and psychologically draining to constantly top yourself every single workout. Especially in big basic exercises like the squat, bench or deadlift. And if true 1 rep max strength is desired, it’s not the best strategy given maxing out with the barbell is a skill.
And like all skills, it’s perishable. Going weeks between workouts doesn’t afford you the opportunity to keep this skill primed at all times.
Short Term Strategy
But as a 4-10 week strategy coming off of a volume phase, Heavy Duty should be just what the Dr. ordered for many. For example, my hypertrophy work for the past few months has been 5 sets of 5-7 reps with just a minute between sets. Next week, I’ll switch to heavy duty and I can guarantee I’ll experience a new burst of progress. Largely given it’s a complete 180 from what I’ve been doing.
After your main lift is done, I’d suggest performing all accessory work using the Heavy Duty method. Just don’t’ get married to it, because like all training methods – your body will eventually adapt to it.