Muscle Building Experiments That Broke ALL the “Rules”


mike ray mentzer

I've been test driving all types of training methods, exercises and systems of training on myself and others ever since I was a young kid.I amassed every bodybuilding book that every book store had. Every holiday, birthday or special occasion that brought gifts my way came in the form of a bodybuilding book.

My brain had information overload and I wanted to use ALL the methods in some way, shape or form. I experimented on myself with every workout in every book. I had specialty books for arms, legs, shoulders, chest, high intensity, super high intensity, heavy duty, Arnold's Encyclopedia, etc. - I LOVED training and didn't discriminate against any of the methods. I was fascinated by ALL.

I remember ordering books from the back of a bodybuilding magazine when I was 12 or 13. It said money order, which at my young age, I thought meant CASH. So I put in my $5 and waited and waited until I finally called the company. I told the lady I did a "money order" and put my $5 in the envelope which was my allowance and she informed in a very nice way that this did NOT mean cash money.

Deep down she wanted to tell me I was a dumb ass and someone bought themselves lunch from Jack in the Box with my $5. Hey, back in the late 80s, $5 went a loooong way 🙂

My friends ALWAYS wanted me to train them. I was always the guy they looked to for motivation and knowledge. But, one friend in particular did NOT get bigger or stronger training with me. It bothered me BIG time.

super high intensity bodybuildingHe could NOT gain an ounce of muscle.

He was the picture perfect ectomorph and no matter how much steak, chicken, tuna, eggs and potatoes he ate NOTHING seemed to work. NOTHING. I felt horrible. He would bust his ass in the gym and the gains crept away slower than a snail.

At that time, even though I was purely bodybuilding, I was heavily influenced by the smarter approach that guys like Mike Mentzer and Dorian Yates took to their training.

They hit their workouts hard and brief and got the heck out of the gym..... time to rest!

So, with nothing to lose we decided it wouldn't hurt to experiment on a super brief program with workouts lasting no more than 20 minutes and NEVER training 2 days in a row.

After every leg day, we would take TWO rest days instead of one.

In fact I still remember showing up to the gym 20 minutes before closing and the owner said to us, "We're closing in 20 minutes, is that enough time?"

I told him we would be done in LESS than 20 minutes.

We split his workouts up into 4 workouts and this equated to training each muscle group once every 10 days!

Here's how the split looked:

Day 1: Shoudlers, Triceps, calves, abs

Day 2: Back, abs

Day 3: Chest, Biceps, forearms, calves

Day 4: Legs, abs

Lo and behold, he began gaining muscle and gaining weight. In less than a month he gained 10 lbs or so from what I remember. His strength soared every workout and he basically did one, hard working set of each exercise.

arnold schwarzenneger book

Here's the bottom line:

What works for one doesn't work for all. If you're following someone else's program don't be afraid to make small tweaks if you find the program doesn't work for you.

- You may find you need more volume for certain exercises, or less volume.

- You may find that you don't need to train to failure on big lifts such as the squat, military press, deadlift or bench press.

- You may find that every other day training causes you to lose muscle and maybe you need a 4 day a week program.

- Some guys love dips, for others, it kills their shoulders.

- Some guys get ripped eating fruity pebbles and turkey sandwiches, others might become fat bastards from this style of eating.

I have found that I always responded best to short, brief workouts, training no more than 2 days in a row. I learned this the hard way, as when I was younger and competing in bodybuilding, my training partners took steroids and I was natural.

I went to college full time, taking 15 credits each semester and coached wrestling almost every night of the week.

My training partners had NO jobs and didn't attend college. They slept in every morning and I was up at the butt crack of dawn.

The thing that always pulled me through was my mental toughness. BUT, no matter how mentally tough you are, it doesn't matter. Your body responds great to the rest in between tough workouts and stressful daily activities such as work, family life, university studies, etc.

Learn from others, but learn to master and understand what YOUR body responds best to.

Question For You: What have you found to work best for you with training and nutrition? What have you found to NOT work at all for you with training and nutrition.

In Strength,


Recommended Resources:

Underground Strength Coach Certification

The Gladiator Experiment

The BEAST Program

11 Responses

  1. Christopher Reed says:

    Coach Z,

    Good read! In your list of points to consider I would also encourage seeking out a mentor. In the beginning stages it is often quite hard to know what your body responds to and tough to find a “what comes next” solution. Too many self proclaimed experts out there especially now that can vail themselves in anonymity behind a keyboard.

    I know early on when I was 12 I was training with my grandfather…I did what he did – Old Skool body buidling workouts…I still have that program written down in the archives. Day 1 was Chest / Tri’s / abs. Day 2 was Legs / Shoulders. Day 3 was Back / Bi’s abs. I found that I never really got any good gains in arm size training this way and my shoulders (anterior delts especially) were really sore due to bad bench technique and exhausting secondary muscle movers (i.e. biceps w/ back…both being involved in pulling exercises).

    No knock on my grandfather but he started training at 50 because it was a passion & seeing him bench 225# for reps & keep up with the young bucks was inspirational. However he wasn’t a pro at strength training – he did what he knew from serving in the Navy during WWII and the technique caught up with him and he subsequently had to have shoulder replacement surgery.

    At 16 I found another mentor, a former Canadian Football League Pro who exposed me to Olympic Lifts. My training split changed Day 1 was Cleans of some form / Barbell behind the neck Jerk Press / Squats and Deadlifts; Day 2 was Chest and Bi’s; Day 3 was Back and Tri’s. The gains were SICK. I went from benching 95# at the start of summer to benching 185# to 205 by my last season of highschool ball. The cleans and the Oly’s were my favorites though. No one else in the gym was doing Olympic Lifting and I relished the attention as a young guy – I knew that I was doing things that guys I was competing against were not and that I would kill it on the football field that next year and I did.

    By the time I reached Uni I was the guy the other fellas came to for advice with training because of the experience I had from 16 I was so far ahead of my peers with training knowledge. At this time training was play to me and I experimented whole-heartedly. Over the course of my football career in Uni I wold frequently be asked to gain and lose weight and move positions. My aptitude with trianing would allow for gains and loses in the neighborhood of 40#. At my heaviest I was 285# and when I tested in the Pro-Combine I was an explosive 235#.

    I love training. Plain & Simple. I still love the Oly Lifts; now I use greater variety in terms of tools – kettlebells sledgehammers etc. but the explosive sh*t is what I will always enjoy. I LOVE the adrenaline dump. This is also why I like combatives too. Now training has taken a fusion for me 6 days / week Soul Lifting…sometimes Tai Chi and Yoga to recover, other days swimming. I would say the program has become more holistic. Bit long haha – sorry it’s what I love Z!

    C.A.R.P.E. D.I.E.M.

    ~ Christopher

  2. That’s right. Customizing program can be one of the best thing one can do. When I trained for size, I used forced reps and training beyond failure method. It worked some, but I found that far better was training for strength in low rep range and cutting workout time.
    With nutrition I tried to cut off carbs to lean out. But I left me with no energy. Being more an athlete than a bodybuilder I can’t let that happen.
    Thanks for great post Zach.
    Keep it up

  3. Zach:
    That intense cover shot of Jim “Ultimate Warrior” Hellwig on Super High-Intensity always inspires. That book also had the greatest neck shot of all time, of one of the Barbarian Brothers. And, some of the Tim Belknap photos were insane. If you can’t lift heavy after viewing those pics, you don’t have a pulse! Thanks!

  4. LOL, Zach! I also have all those books! I’m one of the ones who needs high volume which I think is more common with women than men. Great article!

  5. In my training I have learned that I need to push being my limits or what I think my limits are.

    I like training for strength in the beginning like 3-5 rep squats for about 3-5 sets.

    Afterwards I like to do some type of circuit with muscle building and a bit of conditioning mixed together.

    I finish it off with abs and am starting to think that I may need to work grip either in the beginning of my workout, middle or on off days.

    Training grip at the end doesn’t seems to be working since my hands are already way too tired.

    Doing the same type of workout for months at a time does not help me become stronger at all (Learned this in a full semester where we only did the same workouts for 4 months straight)

    Getting out of my comfort zone also helps me a lot after the workout cause I get a greater sense of accomplishment.

  6. i like to surround myself with bigger stronger meaner uglier people than me. guys that push work ethics as opposed to principals. its the spirit that makes you stand up “one more time”.
    different phases of your life require different ideologies. the split i use now is 2 heavy days and 2 volume days. always trying to get a little more in on the volume days than i did last time. i also try to have a couple of days where i run hills or just through the park or go to the beach and ‘fool around’.
    i usually pick 4-5 (never more than 6 and usually 4) exercises in a day and end up in overlapping semi (pseudo?) circuits.
    workouts last anywhere from 20min to 55min.
    just as a point of refference, i’m in my early 40s

  7. Z

    i always love reading/ listening to your stories! I have so many stories that are so damn similar!

    I too can remember growing up and always having all my friends ask advice and want to train with me. I wanted to turn all of them in to machines but only a few had the MINDSET.

    With training, I have tried just about everything under the sun as well.

    What didn’t work for me was the HIT training. I felt it took too much away from my athleticism.

    I like training full body with all the classical lifts plus a good mix of kettlebells, sandbags, also with lots of sprinting and jumping.

    I feel I’ve gotten the best results from training FAST and EXPLOSIVE.

    I don’t bodybuild anymore but now train because it’s my NUMBER 1 PASSION plus to stay LEAN and MEAN.

    Nutrition wise, I tried the low carb dieting and was always tired and weak. Now I’m full paleo blended in with some cheat days here and there to stay sane.

    I’m always full of energy plus I look and feel better than I’ve ever have!

    Great read bro!

  8. One of the most interesting and challenging aspects of the “iron game” is every individual is different and adapts differently to the training. It is in effect the great science project.

    I have switched to doing one max effort day and one dynamic effort day a week using a workout split: bench and deadlifts workout A, squats and presses workout B. I train Su, T, F. On M, W, Sa I will do met con work. I use an adaptation of the Wendler 5/3/1 program and Westside Barbell methods. I also incorporate a lot of Underground training methods, kettlebells, sandbags, sled work.

    My diet is based upon Ori Hofmeklers Warrior Diet. I have found this works best for my lifestyle.

    I have two trainees that are your typical Weak Skinny Bastards (now not so weak and skinny), one is packing on mass and strength, the other remains skinny but getting stronger. I have to make sure the skinny kid doesn’t burn out, while the other kid can train more often. The process is slow, building a solid foundation of strength first takes time and patience.

    Good thought provoking article.


  9. THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR…..I love it man.. when I started this whole lifestyle of pumpology reading Flex and M&F Dorian Yates was and I still think today the MAN. I dig the no BS way, all posts keep me jacked during the day. No Intensity, NO VICTORY what ever it takes

  10. The Paleo Diet plan is a excellent means to look at how and what you eat. Processed foods are killing all of us so let’s get back to the basics. Fresh food, fruits, and lean meat, we are eating way too much of the wrong type of carbohydrates. There is not enough fiber in our diets, and too many of the bad fats. All processed food should all be cut out from your diet, that is a 20th century happening and our body is not use to dealing with them. In the end it is our genes that determine our requirements nutritionally, and we are not living in compliance with them. Consume the lean meats, fresh fruit and veg and you shall bring stability back to your body – simple!

  11. Two years ago I realized my body hates carbs. Well everything except vegetables (not included is starchy veggies). Ya, fruit and nuts kill me! Dropping 75# in three months by cutting all carbs out (20g/day max) on a dare(Ya I had PMS-like Elliot), and then trying to eat “normal” but “healthy” made me realize that the only thing that works is protein and vegetables.
    Also, grass feed beef. No grocery store stuff! All organic beef and free range eggs (not feed soy). Felt the difference the first meal.
    Supplements are the basics. Vitamins, minerals, omega 3(cod liver oil) and some BCAA/Glutamine/Creatine.
    Training is a different ball game. My arms I like volume and super sets with no rest. Chest is dumbbells for a (5,4,3,2,1) with 3-4 sets warm up. Back is deadlifts. Three variations in the same training session. First is bar on top of feet(almost touching the top of the feet-need plateform for this), second is thick bar (2.5inch) lift and hold for 1 rep at 30-45 seconds (position of bar is standard deadlift-mid schin), and the third is heavy partial deadlift. Reps for deadlifts range from variation one being 5×5, second is 5×1, and third is 10×1. Legs I will start with front squat with safety bar (2-3 set warm up) 5×5 working sets. Goal isn’t big weight but getting down (A!s to floor-olympic squat). I will move to Anderson squat (starting from the bottom position and press to up) 8×2, and then a hold of max weight for 10×1 30-45 seconds (slight bend in legs-don’t lock out). Shoulders I will do the jerk from behind the neck for one rep, and then in front of head for next repetition. Alternating each rep. For this I won’t clean the weight I will take from rack. All body I love power snatch. You want a kicker try it in a tabata style training!
    I enjoy the strongman events. So I will devote one day to only that. Stones, tires and farmers. Heavy and hard!
    Otherwise if I am hiking with my sons I will pick up rocks and walk with them. Or do one set of stones in the garage. Push ups till I can’t. Pull ups. Super Gripper.
    Just keep moving!

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