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Mentzer’s Ideal Weightlifting Routine

This is a weightlifting routine devised by Mike Mentzer for maximum growth of the major muscle groups. Try it at your own risk.


No number of sets is specified because it’s always one. Yes, you read that right. Do one set per exercise to failure. Choose a weight that will get you to failure at the indicated number of reps. If, as you perform an exercise, you realize that the actual number of reps will differ from the one prescribed, that’s fine – go to failure anyway and then adjust the weight next time. You have reached failure when you can’t do another full repetition with reasonably strict form.

Rest for at least three days in between workouts. If you have a scheduling conflict, or if you didn’t get a good night’s sleep or feel sluggish for whatever reason, take another day off.

Every few weeks, add an additional rest day at random. As you progress, add this rest day more frequently, until you take it consistently. You will need the added rest since the stresses on your body increase with heavier weights. Do this until you train only once a week, then switch to Mentzer’s consolidated program.

Why only one set per exercise?

If you’re familiar with the traditional, ie high-volume, weightlifting approach, which prescribes three to four sets per exercise and multiple exercises for the same muscle group, doing only one set may sound crazy to you. Mentzer stated that intensity of effort is what causes muscle growth, not volume. If volume caused muscle growth, marathon runners would have the biggest legs. In reality, they look emaciated. Even if an increase in volume is required, doing only one set is the logical place to start to avoid arbitrary adjustments: from one set you can only go to two, then three, and so on. If you’re already doing five sets and aren’t seeing progress, you don’t know whether to increase to six or decrease to four.

If you’re new to Mentzer’s routine, take a break of 2-3 weeks before starting as you have likely been overtraining on a traditional program for too long. You need to get your recovery ability back first. Recovery ability varies greatly between people – listen to your body. When in doubt, rest. You won’t run the risk of resting too long as easily as you may think because it can take several weeks to start losing strength.

Read the ‘General notes’ section at the bottom before you begin training.

Day 1: chest and back

  1. Pec dec, 6-10 reps, superset with…
  2. Close-grip incline bench press on smith machine, 1-3 reps. Hands slightly closer than shoulder width. Elbows flared out away from torso and toward ears
  3. Close-grip, palms-up pull downs, 6-10 reps
  4. Deadlifts. 5-8 reps, as close to failure as you’re willing to go. Keep head up and look at where the wall meets the ceiling throughout the entire rep. Remember to ‘paint your legs’, ie keep the bar close to the legs. No need to arch back at the top, just stand up straight. If problems with low back, substitute shrugs, 6-10 reps.

Day 2: legs

  1. Leg extensions, 8-15 reps, superset with…
  2. Leg press, 8-15 reps. May substitute squats, preferably with a smith machine. Then rest for a minute or two, drink some water, walk around the gym.
  3. Standing calf raises, 12-20 reps.

Day 3: delts and arms

  1. Dumbbell lateral raises, 6-10 reps. Then brief rest
  2. Either bent-over dumbbell laterals or sit backwards on pec deck and work the rear delts. 6-10 reps
  3. Barbell curls (straight bar, not EZ curls), 6-10 reps.
  4. Tricep press downs, either straight bar or v bar (do not use rope), 6-10 reps. May substitute lying French presses if the machine for press downs isn’t available. Superset with…
  5. Dips, 3-5 reps. Slooow on your way down. If you can do more than five with your body weight, add weight by hanging it from a weightlifting belt.

Day 4: legs again

  1. Leg extensions. About 30 lbs more than on day 2. Just one single positive rep until your legs are fully extended, knees locked. Hold the weight statically for 10-25 seconds. Don’t let it come crashing down at the end; lower the legs slowly and controlled all the way to the bottom, using only the strength of your thigh muscles. Keep butt planted firmly on the seat. For an extra challenge, stop at the halfway point and see if you can lift the weight back up again for just an inch (should be impossible).
  2. Superset with Smith-machine squats, 8-15 reps. May substitute regular, ie free-weight squats. Bar over mid foot when viewed from the side. Don’t do hack squats, bad for the knees and not very productive. Rest for a couple of minutes.
  3. Standing calf raises, 12-20 reps

Necessary equipment

  • Pec deck
  • Smith machine plus bench
  • Machine for lat pull-downs
  • Bar for deadlifts
  • Leg-extension machine
  • Leg press
  • Something for standing calf-raises (can substitute leg press)
  • Machine for lateral raises (can substitute dumbbells)
  • Reverse-fly machine (can substitute dumbbells)
  • Machine for tricep press downs
  • Parallel bars for dips

General notes

Keep a training journal to track progress. Accurately record the weights and number of reps.

No superset unless specified. When none is specified, rest as long as necessary but no longer. Let your breathing slow down and resume training as soon as you feel ready.

Whenever a superset is specified, start the warmup on the second exercise. Keep your warmup to the minimum required: it should be just enough to feel confident that you can give it your all without injuring yourself, but don’t turn your warmup into an exercise in an of itself.

To perform a true superset, the weight needs to already be set on the second exercise so there’s no time wasted. Superset means no rest in between.

Almost all of the supersets defined above are pre-exhaust supersets. Learn more about them here.

Every exercise to failure.

Again, each training day to be followed by at least three rest days.

Don’t change the sequence of the exercises listed above.

Don’t add any sets or exercises. Coming from a traditional regiment, you may be tempted to, but don’t. Additional exercises or sets will merely subtract from the effect of maximum muscle growth that the above plan is designed for. In anaerobic exercises, which weightlifting is, volume is a negative factor. Intensity is key. Then go home and get out of the muscle’s way by resting sufficiently. You don’t grow in the gym, you grow while resting.

Neither pump nor soreness is an indicator that a workout was successful, ie that growth was stimulated. The success of any one of these workouts is measured by whether you are stronger the next time you perform that workout. That’s why an accurate training journal is important: it’s an objective way to measure progress.


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