With today’s broscience and all-around gym knowledge, it’s hard to fathom how one could have one training session a week and put on serious mass. For you to understand the concept of the once-a-week “method” we need to first look at its history.
Way back when there was a man named Arthur Jones, the inventor of the Nautilus machines that are commonly found in gyms across the country. Now Jones had a theory that you didn’t need as much training, commonly believed back in that era, to stimulate maximum muscle growth. Instead, Jones preached a one-set message with maximum intensity to get the muscles to grow. Among his pupils were Casey Viator, Mike and Ray Mentzer, and former Mr. Olympia, Sergio Oliva, to name a few.
Casey Viator was known for the amazing results he attained when he was Jones’ test subject for the Colorado Experiment. In the experiment, Viator gained 63 pounds of muscle in 28 days. However, these results are controversial due to the fact that Viator was believed to be regaining pre-existing muscle mass.
Mike and his brother, Ray, trained under the guidance of Jones and were ambassadors of his training method and Nautilus gym equipment. Long story short, the Mentzer brothers had a falling out (more specifically, Mike) with Jones and left his company for good. Mike, however, never abandoned the high-intensity methods of Jones, and even went on to “evolve” that style of training as the years went on.
Back then it was common practice to perform 20+ sets per body part — that could generally be referred to as high volume training. But then the Mentzers came and destroyed the precept that high volume training is what builds muscle mass — seeing how Mike was considered to be a “mass monster” of his time and only employing one set of maximum effort per exercise. If you put that together it might only come out to be around four to five working sets per body part.
Mike’s training sessions typically lasted in the 30-minute range, which was also considered highly unorthodox for the era that he was in. During the 90s, Mike saw a talented young bodybuilder who took won his first Mr. Olympia in 1992. After they met, Mike beckoned the young bodybuilder to try out his high-intensity training. At first, the young bodybuilder showed little interest, but Mike was persistent and said to only come to the gym and do one set of bicep curls on one of the Nautilus machines. Finally, the Olympian agreed to train with Mike. After a brutal curling session (which probably lasted two minutes or so) the young man went to his hotel. The young bodybuilder was six-time Mr. Olympia, Dorian Yates.
After his one set of maximum effort and intensity, his arms were unable to move. This might sound unhealthy, but the fact of the matter is that a huge amount of muscle fibers were used during that one set. Why? Because high-intensity puts a gangload of emphasis on the eccentric part of the movement. You are essentially stronger during this part of the exercise. And by completely exhausting your eccentric strength, your muscles will feel like death. I know, I’ve done it.
A group of researchers conducted a study based off of Mentzer’s principle that one training session a week would be all you need to stimulate muscle growth. The study was performed on 70 healthy individuals who ranged between the ages of 20-75. The participants were divided into two groups; 20-35 years of age, and 60-75 years of age. During the first phase of the study, which lasted 16 weeks, both groups performed three exercises three times a week, each consisting of three sets. Once the 16 weeks were completed, the two groups were then split into three for the second phase, which was a de-training phase.
The first group stopped training altogether, the second group had their training days reduced to just one day a week while still performing three sets, and the third group had both their training days and sets reduced to just one a week.
One thing that really stood out during this study was how much of an impact age has on this style of training. None of the older participants were able to retain their muscle mass gained during the first 16 weeks of training, but they still had their strength. The third group who had dropped down their training sessions and sets from three to one were able to maintain their muscle mass. The second group, however, were able to grow even further by still performing three sets. The researchers concluded that the once-a-week training method is sufficient for putting on muscle size, provided adequate stimulation is reached during the training session.