Why Mentzer (and Optimal Training) is like crack to Mid-wits
Let me start with an olive branch. The principles Mike Mentzer espouses can be useful, informative, insightful, and force you into carful consideration of what exactly you are doing with your training. It’s important to note that in many (mostly online) fitness circles, Mentzer is sold as the smart man’s approach to training — the scientific approach.
While this is true to a great extent, there seem to be no greater unthinking, mass-conformity taking place, than around the Mike Mentzer/Optimal Training principles.
The problem comes from the core of Mentzer’s message.
Addition by subtraction - more from less, basically.
It’s a challenging concept that goes against what the Arnold’s of the world communicated to us during the Golden Age of bodybuilding. It’s worth considering!
Well then, what’s the problem?
Pay attention to the Mentzer acolyte, online. Only from a Mentzer acolyte can you see seasoned athletes questioning the validity of minor details in their training. “Are tricep isolation movements necessary?”, “Are you wasting energy with any more than 5 sets per muscle group per week?”, “Is gender a social construct?”
These debates should sound trite because, frankly, they are trite on a fundamental level. I’m reminded of the IQ distribution meme with the low IQ individual and high IQ people observing the simple fact that the biceps need bicep curls, while the middle IQ individual, overly concerned with adhering to theory and numbers, questioning the quantum effects of mechanical tension to the point of absurdity.
Where Mentzer and Optimal training are at their best is in the hands of a seasoned athletes, who are primed for the messages and tools Mentzer provides. Beyond this, you run into several problems.
A massive amount of overthinking/over-intellectualizing
A dependance on authority to tell you what is right for you
To me, the principles of Optimal Training are not meant to be taken as the holy written word, and yet they are.
So, why is Mentzer crack to mid-wits?
If you feed a mid-wit more information, the mid-wit does not become better informed, they become more dogmatic and ideological. This happens in politics as well. Think of students fresh out of college, filled to the brim with social dogma and platitudes. They think less than when they did before college. They should be smarter, but they’re not. They’re activated.
Now think of the 3-month debates on Twitter on nearly meaningless topics like the proper number of sets per muscle group per month. Is is 5? 6? Is it the irrational number i? No serious person can dedicate months to something so relatively inconsequential.
Mentzer represents a purity spiral in training on the internet at the moment. A sterile science-based approach to training (with valid points). It represents the spiritual degradation of top-down authority.
Heres a funny metaphor. If the big three represented the Catholic Church, Mentzer and Optimal Training represents the Atheist Soviet Union and the rise of communism. The similarities between the communists and the devotees of optimal training are hilariously similar. Disagree? What are you a capitalist?! The attitudes are the same, try it for yourself.
Here’s another olive branch. Optimal training principles can result in well considered exercise selection, set and rep selection, rest times, and intensity. On the flip side however, it also seems to result in a neuroticism — a sterile and joyless over-aching theory that solves all of our problems, has all the solutions.
Let’s back track for a second. Why do I claim mid wits eat this stuff up? I’ll give you an example from my childhood.
I purchase Roller Coaster Tycoon (a video game) JUST prior to leaving for vacation when I was 10 years old. I wanted nothing more than to play roller coaster tycoon, despite the vacation. What did I do to curb my obsession? I brought the manual with me and read it, cover to cover, 20 times over. And while I may have learned a few short cuts on the keyboard, it was really just a form of edging. I was teething and would settle for any proximity to my deep desire to play the game.
In effect, the Optimal Training devotees represents the same type of edging. Similar to the young men who read endlessly about picking up women instead of just living a more social life — approaching women more often and facing your fears. Read Mike Mentzer cover to cover. The more Optimal Training principles I learn, the better my results!
This often results in the opposite outcome. Obsessing over minor details can lead to regressing like with Eugene Teo (video below).
Now I’m not saying a person can’t do the real thing and learn from optimal training principles. That would be absurd. I actually do think people need to consider all forms of training across the years and develop their own personal philosophy based on what has worked and what hasn’t. And yes, sometimes you need to dig deep on one approach at a time, learn what you have to learn, and move on at your own pace. Mentzer and the optimal training principles don’t prevent anyone from doing this. But it’s useful, in life generally, to notice the difference between mass conformity and obsessing over minor details, and the spreading of good ideas.
Now this is all just my opinion. I’ve been training low volume for the last three months and have employed the principles of optimal training to great effect. Ive even written a low volume program recently (Join Gaintrust to run the program with us *wink*). I’ve also been training for 15 years and therefore have the proper context to not have Mentzer completely take over my mental faculties. 🧟♂️
I’ll leave you with a final sentiment. Mentzer is not the promise land. Optimal training not the promise land. The principles of Mentzer and optimal training is, and should be, just a pointer for your training — a useful set of tools to contextualize and assess your own, individualized training routines.