The story of Mike Mentzer is one of bodybuilding’s saddest ones, he was a man of incredible talent, and one of the most intelligent bodybuilders around.
But his life was forever being affected by some tragedy or another, whether self inflicted, or from bad luck, or being dealt a bad hand.
Mike may also have been a huge influencer of one of the most successful bodybuilders in history – Dorian Yates, who based his own training on Mike’s HIT program “Heavy Duty”.
Mike was born in Ephrata, Pennsylvania on November 15th 1951.
He did well at school thanks in part to his dad’s continued support of his education, who also bought him his first set of dumbbells.
He loved training, and managed some seriously impressive lifts at a young age. By 15 he could bench over twice his bodyweight.
The instruction manual that had come with his dumbbells had stated that he should train no more than three times per week. Mike followed that advice religiously.
He joined the air force and served for four years, during this time he began training 3 hours per day, 6 days per week.
His first amateur bodybuilding contest was in 1969 when he was just 18 years of age, he won the Mr Lancaster contest just 2 years later. It was around this time that he was first introduced to legendary trainer Arthur Jones.
That same year he injured his shoulder and was forced to abandon bodybuilding for three years, in this time he concentrated on his education.
By 1975 his shoulder was fully healed and he was ready to get back into his first love. He entered the Mr America competition, finishing third overall, behind Robbie Robinson and Roger Callard. He also came second in the ABBA Mr USA competition that same year.
In 1976 Mike Mentzer won his first IFBB event, the Mr America. He followed that up with a second place finish in the IFBB Mr Universe competition.
In 1977 Mike won the Overall IFBB North America Championships, and came second in the Mr Universe. He turned professional in 1978 and managed to win his category (Heavyweight) in the Mr Olympia 1979. He lost out on the overall victory to Frank Zane, a bodybuilder who was 30lbs lighter than he was.
Sadly, 1979 was also the year that Mike started to take Amphetamines to help himself work. While this seemed to work in the short term, but as with any drug abuse problems would eventually surface.
During that year he had two bad bouts of fatigue, this would be fatigue so bad that he wouldn’t be able to leave the bed for an entire day. He had this occur twice while prepping for the 1980 Mr Olympia.
He woke up two days before the biggest competition of his life to find that he was again suffering a bout of fatigue, this time it took him two days to recover, and he finally felt fine again on the morning of the contest.
He said that he looked better than he ever had that day, but mentally he felt anything but. This was to be his last shot at the title, and he had decided to quit afterwards .
Sadly for Mike, the 1980 contest did not go at all to plan for him, in fact it didn’t really go to plan for anyone … except Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Who on the morning of the contest decided that he fancied competing. This was against the rules, but the Mr Olympia owners were not about to turn away the most successful bodybuilder in the world.
Arnold was allowed to compete, and he duly won it. Many believed that he did not deserve to win it, and Frank Zane showed his displeasure by smashing his trophy against a wall.
Chris Dickerson who came in second, jumped off the stage yelling “I can’t believe it” while Coe left his trophy behind completely.
Nobody was hit as badly by this as Mike Mentzer though, he never stepped onto a bodybuilding stage again, and cut all ties with the IFBB.
By 1982 he was earning nothing, he spent a little time working with his brother and Arthur Jones at Nautilus, and then worked for a magazine called “Workout”. But in 1985 the investors pulled out of “Workout” causing the magazine to fold, his long term girlfriend left him, and his father died.
During the next five years Mike suffered from drug addiction and was often hospitalised. He was helped by a former girlfriend and John Little.
By 1990 Mike had recovered and embarked upon a career as a personal trainer. He worked there for the next eleven years, producing books and workout videos.
In 2001 after finishing filming on his most recent workout video “Heavy Duty” Mike died of a heart attack. His brother would die two days later.
Mike’s legacy should be one of the most successful bodybuilders in history. He had the knowledge, the dedication, and the genetics.
Sadly his inability to cope with the politics of bodybuilding led to him leaving much too early.
His training method, the High Intensity Training program where you would train just one set per exercise was very popular for a while, and Dorian Yates adapted it – which led to immediate success.
Sadly his drug addiction, which came as a result of his desire to work as hard as possible, probably led to his early death.
You can still watch the videos of him taking a young Markus Reinhardt through his paces on YouTube, and Mike comes across as such a genuinely nice and thoughtful guy. He talks complete sense throughout, he shows empathy (something that many coaches struggle with) and he cites relevant studies that back up his theories (something that almost all coaches struggle with).
You watch those videos and think to yourself, if there was one bodybuilder I would like to train ME it would be Mike. Because Mike would push me hard, but only in the direction that I wanted to go. He’d know when I had had enough, and would not force me to over train.
Check out his book today, it’s tough reading but well worth it, just to get an idea of what a true bodybuilder thinks like when it comes to exercise.