Mike Mentzer’s 3 Second Rule for Building Muscle

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About Mike Mentzer

Mike Mentzer was a bodybuilding great of the 70’s, becoming the first and only man to score a perfect 300 points in the Mr Universe competition. He also produced a perfect performance in the Mr Olympia heavyweight class in 1979.

He created one of the most admired physiques of all time, yet had some unique and controversial training philosophies. He would only spend half an hour in the gym and at times only work out 3 times a week. He believed this was more effective than spending 3 hours in the gym, 6 days a week as some of his counter-parts did. With spending much less time in the gym, yet producing as good muscle gains, many believe that Mentzer was one of the smartest bodybuilders ever.

Mike Mentzer

He quit bodybuilding following the 1980 Mr Olympia competition, which Arnold Schwarzenegger went on to win. Arnold decided to come out of retirement and enter the competition. This was done last minute which was to be allowed, despite against the competition rules of providing more than 2 weeks notice. Arnold was thought to not be in great shape, and with Mentzer believed to have displayed the best condition of his career.

Despite this, Mentzer (above) eventually placed 4th, resulting in him quitting bodybuilding and speculation to mount pointing towards a fix. In his training, he was a keen advocate of slow reps, and incorporated the “3 second rule” into his training regime.

3 Second Rule Explained

This training methodology was all specific to lifting tempo. It involved lifting the weight for a total of 3 seconds during the concentric phase (the part of the movement when the working muscles contract, usually on the way up). And another 3 seconds during the eccentric phase (the part of the exercise when the muscles relax, usually on the way down).

Idea behind the 3 Second Rule

Mike Mentzer believed that in order to achieve maximum muscle growth, you must fatigue the muscle as much as possible. A normal lifting tempo is approximately 1 second up and 1 second down. This means the working muscles would be under tension for a maximum of 2 seconds.

With the 3 second rule, the muscles will be under tension for a total of 6 seconds. (3 seconds for concentric part, 3 seconds for eccentric part). With 3 times more time under tension, the idea is that the muscle will fatigue a lot more, compared to with less time under tension. This extra fatigue is deemed to be enough overload on the body, for it to adapt and grow bigger.

With the 3 second rule, as you are lifting at a much slower pace, a lighter weight will need to be used. Thus, proving that the amount of weight being lifted has no correlation on muscle gain, but actually the amount that the muscle fatigues.


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Studies Proving the 3 Second Rule Effective

Scientists from the University of Sydney in Australia made participants follow a weight training program, where one group would lift for 1 second on the concentric movement and 1 second for the eccentric movement. The other group would lift for 3 seconds on the concentric movement and 3 seconds on the eccentric movement. They concluded that the slower lifting strategy was better for achieving increased muscle size, but less effective for increasing strength when compared to the faster lifting tempo.

The slower method proved to be 200% more effective on increasing muscle size. However, for strength the fast lifting method was 6% more effective. In short, they concluded that the best way to increase strength is to lift faster, and the best way to increase size is to lift slower.

A Japanese study has found that the slower lifting method actually produces more testosterone and Human Growth Hormone than the faster lifting method. This could be another factor in why slower lifting produces more muscle size, with testosterone and HGH being powerful anabolic compounds. By using a lighter weight and lifting slower, this also encourages better form when completing the exercise. This can be another factor in why it is superior for building muscle, as poor form is often linked with using a heavy weight due to increased momentum and swinging.

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