Mike Mentzer was an unusual man. He competed in a sport full of unusual men, but he was different than most. The self-directed brutality required to become a good bodybuilder needs a certain mindset. He was an intellectual who could summon that brutality at will.
The goal of Bodybuilding is large very defined muscles. The bigger and more defined the muscles are, the more successful the bodybuilder is. The pain that must be endured to succeed as a bodybuilder is beyond the average person’s coping ability.
Mike Mentzer was gifted genetically and mentally. The personality trait required of a bodybuilder is obsession – an intense perhaps decade long love affair with moving bits of metal around in a gym. Very few people can sustain this intensity which borders on a religious fervour. Within serious Bodybuilding there is a group who take intensity to a whole different level. Their training is called High Intensity, and Mike Mentzer was one of them.
He was also an Objectivist. This is a philosophy which is neither mainstream nor taught in the philosophy departments of universities. The symbol of this philosophy is the dollar sign, and its concepts include the tenet of freedom of the individual. The founder of this philosophy, Ayn Rand, wrote successfully and authored the two novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Perhaps it was his Objectivist’s outlook which kept him in Bodybuilding. It focuses on the individual. It is beyond the scope of this article to elaborate further on Objectivism, except to say that the philosophy comes up frequently in Mike Mentzer’s books and articles.
As a bodybuilder, he was initially very successful. He won most of the competitions he took part in, even recording a perfect score in two very advanced Bodybuilding competitions. In 1980 he competed against Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Mr Olympia competition and placed fifth. He had placed second in the previous Mr Olympia competition. Mr Olympia is the world’s top Bodybuilding competition. He said the contest was rigged and immediately ended his Bodybuilding career at the age of only 29.
He went through a very dark period in his life which lasted for years. He finally emerged in the 1990s as a trainer, philosopher, and writer. He built up a following in Bodybuilding and exercise circles which coincided with the global explosion of interest in fitness.
Arthur Jones was a scientist, whom Mentzer had met early in his Bodybuilding career. Jones was a unique character also. He became Mentzer’s mentor in the scientific analysis of Bodybuilding. Jones’ concept was High Intensity Training which involved short training durations, very high intensity, and long recoveries.
Mentzer would devote a great part of his ensuing years to High Intensity Training studies, teaching, and writing. He did these things right up until the time he died in 2001 at the age of only 49. He would add to Jones’ ideas, refining them with his experience and observations in training both himself and others.
Today, some nine years after his passing, his books, articles, and exercise philosophies have become more popular and accepted in Bodybuilding. He was a thinking man with substance and his body of work remains an inspiration to bodybuilders. He applied logic and deduction to a sport not known for them, and left a legacy which will endure.
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