How Frank Zane Turned From A Shredded Bodybuilder To Mr. Olympia


When it comes to the history of bodybuilding, one of the most important figures to ever grace the sport is without a doubt Frank Zane. He is one of the forefathers of the modern sport that is bodybuilding and he paved the way for so many of the top professionals to have ever graced the sport. He also was envied by all and even had the moniker “Bodybuilder You’d Most Want to Look Like.”

When he was at his peak, it is said that Zane had a physique that was the most muscular and aesthetically pleasing physique of all time. His body was made up of clean lines, almost perfect symmetry and efficient size. He looked like a Greek god that was sculpted out of marble.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, one of the best bodybuilders to have ever graced the world, always deeply respected Zane and he was one of only three bodybuilders to have ever defeated Schwarzenegger in a competition. He would win three consecutive Mr. Olympia titles in his career, in the years 1977-79.


When it came to shaping the amazing physique that Frank Zane possessed, it took a mix of both light and heavy training. When he was just starting out in the sport, he was known for being very lean more than anything else. In those days, he would train with high reps and low weights. While this was an effective approach a lot of the time, allowing him to look great and win a few titles, the big one, the Mr. Olympia title kept eluding him.

One of the fathers of bodybuilding, Joe Weider, constantly reminded Zane that his downfall was his lack of size. The only way to achieve this was through lifting heavy weights. Zane was always hesitant to do this as he feared that he would get injured if trained like that for a prolonged period of time.

It was in 1977 that Zane finally gave in and started to lift heavier weights during his preparation for the Mr. Olympia competition that year. His core workouts were made up of only three or four exercises and only used around three sets to hit the majority of body parts.

The volume was a whole lot less than he would have usually done. He tried to hit the 8-12 rep range during these sets, except for abs and calves, which he kept doing high reps for.

This led to him putting on a lot of muscular size without sacrificing much leanness and led to him winning the first of a three peat of Mr. Olympia titles that year.


His fears were confirmed that excessive heavy training would lead to injuries, as he stated to suffer from problems with his low back, knees and shoulders. He pointed towards lifting heavy weights with poor form as a key cause of these problems. Toward the end of his career, he was therefore forced back to using lighter weights for higher reps.

He also believed a lot in the mind-muscle connection, and believed that if you concentrated sufficiently on your muscles, you don’t need to pile these heavy weights. “During workouts I close my mind to all else except the muscle being worked. Larry Scott [the first Mr. Olympia] once told me that the feel of the movement is the main thing in training. I cannot isolate an area using ponderous poundages as I can when moderate weights are employed…all it takes is a sustained conscious effort!”


Here are two sample workouts of what Frank Zane did when he was leading up to the Mr. Olympia contest in 1977, the first one that he ever won after implementing this new style of training.

Lower Back/Thighs/Abs/Calves


Chest/Triceps/Shoulders/Abs/Lower Back



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