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Mind Over Muscle: The ‘Intensity/Insanity’ Training Method Goes Deeper Than You Think
By (the late) Steve Michalik – Every story has a beginning and so it is with the tale of the Intensity/Insanity training system developed and made famous by myself and the legendary Mr. USA, John DeFendis. Like every other bodybuilder, we were looking for a way to build our muscles bigger and faster.
The origins of this ‘insane’ method were derived from my early days as an aspiring bodybuilder. I can remember looking at the champions of the time and although their physiques were definitely impressive, it seemed to me that it would take forever to get that great. What they were doing obviously worked, but it worked slowly. I was about 12 at the time and couldn’t imagine waiting 15-20 years to be Mr. America – I wanted it ‘now.’ So it began: my mission to seek out the champions on the covers of my favorite magazines and find out what they were doing – or rather NOT doing – that could speed up the process. As destiny would have it, most of the best bodybuilders of the time were based in New York and trained at gyms not far from where I lived. As I watched them train, I discovered a pattern. They would challenge their muscles with standard sets and reps using heavy weight. This method does create an effect, but the process is a slow and arduous one – not to mention how it wrecks the joints!
I decided to take a scientific approach and sought advice from my Uncle John, who was a nuclear physicist and understood the principles of force. I figured muscle is just another form of matter, and if physics could create the atomic bomb, why couldn’t the same effect be applied to muscle? (Okay, I may have been stretching it a bit, but I was 12.)
It turned out I was actually onto something. Uncle John spent many hours explaining the principles of time, space and matter and how they could be applied to bodybuilding. He explained that all things in the universe change and respond to FORCE. In order to change any form of matter, including muscle, you must increase the intensity of the work while reducing the time to put the muscle in a ‘non-survival’ situation. Create the greatest amount of work in the shortest amount of time and muscle will change in order to survive. It has to.
Uncle John suggested I read the works of Darwin, a revolutionary scientist who could further enlighten me on the concept of ‘Survival of the Fittest.’ I was a little skeptical at first, but I have to admit, I liked the concept! As I read Darwin’s theories, a bell went off in my head. I GOT IT! Basically, what I learned was that change only occurs when an organism is threatened with extinction. If that organism does not change and adapt to its environment, it will die.
This theory can be applied to muscle as well. If muscle is not put in a non-survival situation, it doesn’t have to change. Why should it? If the muscle is allowed to rest between sets, it has an opportunity to recoup and becomes ready to handle the workload. When standard sets of reps are preformed with plenty of rest in between, the muscle is under little stress and therefore is not required to change. After a short time, the brain figures this out and doesn’t make any changes to the muscle, other than weaving the fibers tighter together, making them stronger but not bigger. Once this happens, it becomes even more difficult to threaten the muscle with non-survival and growth.
Using this technology, Intensity/Insanity was born. I applied it full force and managed to win my titles as one of the youngest competitors of my time. It has proven its effectiveness not just with me and DeFendis, but countless other champions who have had the courage to confront and push beyond the ‘wall of fire.’ It develops not only iron muscles, but also an iron will that carries over into all facets of life. One things for sure, you’ll know what you’re made of.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, host of the Grand Prix bodybuilding competition, gasped in disbelief as the final contestant walked on stage. “It’s Steve Michalik, the Phantom bodybuilder,” he said. From that moment on, Steve would forever be known as “The Phantom,” a man who, time and again, would defy all odds to become not only a champion, but a legend.
The story of Steve Michalik, a triple-crown champion whose titles include Mr. USA, Mr. America and Mr. Universe, began his career at the age of eight. Due to an abusive father, Steve spent most of his time locked in a closet. It was there that Steve stumbled upon some old comic books and discovered his inspiration, Captain America. Like his hero, Steve decided that strength, wisdom and integrity would be his weapons against injustice. Although he realized he could not be “Captain America,” he could be “Mr. America,” and destiny was written.
Even in his youth, Steve recognized the important role the mind played in achieving goals. He devoured with avarice the works of Darwin, Aristotle, and Socrates, as well as many others. Steve’s quest for truth later led him into the mountains of Southeast Asia, where he spent countless hours learning the powers of the mind from the Taoist Monks.
An additional inspiration was Steve’s Uncle John, a physicist at Area 51. Through their discussions, Steve realized that the principles of time, space, energy and matter could be applied to improving the physical condition. This led to the creation of his revolutionary method of training – Intensity/Insanity; or, as later coined by the New York Times, “Atomic Fitness.”
Steve demonstrated his theories effectiveness when, at the age of 22, he became one of the youngest Mr. America’s to ever win the title. The true test, however, came just after being crowned Mr. Universe, when Steve’s spine was crushed in an automobile accident and he was told he would never walk again.
Using the principles he developed, Steve not only proved the doctors wrong, but also regained his championship physique to the amazement of Arnold Schwarzenegger and an unbelieving audience, regaining his rank as one of the top 15 bodybuilders in the world.