Robby Robinson (a.k.a. The Black Prince, Mr. Lifestyle) is old-school bodybuilding through and through. As one of the most dedicated members to the sport, Robby competed in over 300 amateur bodybuilding competitions before entering the pro circuit.
He was the first ever Masters Mr. Olympia, the first black man featured on muscle magazines, and the first pro bodybuilder to be in competition shape into his 60s and 70s.
Constantly outspoken in bodybuilding over racism and unfairness in the sport, Robby has stood up numerous times for what he believes in. Although courageous, this stance eventually landed him a double-lifetime ban from the IFBB, and subsequent retirement.
He’s one of the greatest competitors in the sport, and even though he no longer competes, he’s never stopped training.
This is his story:
“I still have both arms at 20 inches, and a 29-inch waist. That’s what I came out here with in ’75, and I’m back down to that…”
|Full Name: Robin Robinson|
|205 - 215lbs (88.5 - 93.0kg)||5'7" (170cm)||20"||29"|
|Year of Birth||Age||Nationality|
|Bodybuilder, Personal Trainer, Actor, Bodybuilding Coach, Artist, Actor, Writer||The Black Prince, Mr. Lifestyle, The Bad Boy of Bodybuilding||1970, 1980, 1990|
|Weight||205 - 215lbs (88.5 - 93.0kg)|
|Year of Birth||1946|
|Profession||Bodybuilder, Personal Trainer, Actor, Bodybuilding Coach, Artist, Actor, Writer|
|Alias||The Black Prince, Mr. Lifestyle, The Bad Boy of Bodybuilding|
|Era||1970, 1980, 1990|
“When you win the first of something, it gives you a feeling of real achievement. So winning that Sandow kind of shook all those second places off.”
Most Notable Competitions
- 2000 – Mr Olympia – Masters Over 50, 1st
- 1997 – Mr Olympia – Masters Over 50, 1st
- 1994 – Mr Olympia – Masters – IFBB, Winner
- 1991 – Musclefest Grand Prix – IFBB, Winner
- 1989 – World Pro Championships – IFBB, Winner
- 1988 – Niagara Falls Pro Invitational – IFBB, Winner
- 1987 – Mr Olympia – IFBB, 5th
- 1981 – Mr Universe – Pro – NABBA, Winner
- 1979 – Pittsburgh Pro Invitational – IFBB, Winner
- 1979 – Night of Champions – IFBB, Winner
- 1979 – Grand Prix New York – IFBB, Winner
- 1979 – Best in the World – IFBB, Professional, 1st
- 1978 – Professional World Cup – IFBB, Winner
- 1978 – Night of Champions – IFBB, Winner
- 1978 – Mr Olympia Heavyweight, 1st
- 1977 – Mr Olympia – IFBB, Tall, 1st
- 1976 – Mr Universe – IFBB, MiddleWeight, 1st
- 1976 – Mr Universe – IFBB, Overall Winner
- 1976 – Mr International – IFBB, Medium, 1st
- 1976 – Mr International – IFBB, Overall Winner
- 1975 – Mr Universe – IFBB, Medium, 1st
- 1975 – Mr World – IFBB, Medium, 1st
- 1975 – Mr World – IFBB, Overall Winner
- 1975 – Mr America – IFBB, Medium, 1st
- 1975 – Mr America – IFBB, Overall Winner
“Yeah, you have to feel what you are doing. It is the same thing as a relationship, if you want to love someone or something; you have to feel the movement. I am in touch with the muscle fibers, I am in touch with the exercise, I am in touch with the barbell.”
Early Life and Discovering Fitness
Born in Damascus, Georgia in 1946, and raised in Tallahassee, Florida, Robin Robinson was one of 14 children. Son to an illiterate mother, and abandoned by a bootlegger father. He grew up in a time of racism and poverty, and from an early age, Robinson had the odds stacked up against him.
Although growing up was tough, it didn’t stop him developing a passion for fitness. At just 12 years old – Robby discovered Jack La Lanne, a fitness icon of the time that inspired him to start exercising.
Robby follows La Lanne’s example from then on, and had fallen in love with keeping fit. 3 years later his regular exercise had served him well, pushing him to becoming both a high school football star and track and field athlete.
It was during this time that Robby realized he wanted to be a bodybuilder:
“It was Joe Weider who initially inspired me to become a bodybuilder. When I saw the illustration of him in ‘Muscle Builder’ with beautiful women hanging off his arm, I was sold.”
After seeing how quickly his body responded to weight training – Robby knew he could make it in the sport.
When he first started working out, Robby couldn’t just go to a gym, due to the era. Instead, he had to make his own. After several visits to an old sawmill, he constructed his own set of free weights out of salvaged scrap metal. This makeshift effort would be his first step to developing his incredible physique.
As time went on – Robby began feeling the itch to compete. Building on his athletic, high school footballer’s frame, he created an impressive sculpted slab of pure muscle, ripe for the stage.
He started entering amateur contests around Florida and the East Coast, as many as often as he could. He needed to get his name out there.
However, during 1969, Robinson was drafted for the Vietnam war, which stop him competing. He was stationed in the Dominican Repbublic and didn’t see action. After 2 years of service, he returned to the states hungrier than ever to get back on the circuit.
A young Robby Robinson.
Invitation to Pro and Leaving Florida
By 1975, Robby was 27 years old and had participated in over 300 amateur competitions. He was already a seasoned bodybuilder without even turning pro. A letter arrived for him from Joe Weider, inviting him down to Gold’s Gym, Venice Beach to train with the pros.
This was his calling.
At the time Robby had a wife, 3 children and had worked his way up to wire room manager for Tallahassee’s biggest newspaper. But he left it all, to live his dream at Gold’s Gym.
Although a risky move, Robby knew his determination and genetics would see him through. All he needed was to be in the right location, and the rest would fall into place – and California was exactly that.
Arriving in California
Robby’s arrival in California wasn’t as welcoming as he thought. When he got off the plane, there was no one there to meet him. After waiting around for a few hours, Robby took matters into his own hands, and walked 9 miles to Gold’s Gym, straight from the airport.
When he arrived at Gold’s he was in blown away. The bodybuilders he had looked up to for years, all in one place, all working hard. He couldn’t believe his eyes.
This was where he belonged. Robby recalls the moment he walked in:
“I couldn’t bring myself to train. I was so in awe. All my idols in one room! Arnold and Denny Gable, Bob Birdsong and Franco Columbu; these beasts working out with no shirts or shoes and a crowd of people watching from the street.”
Gaining Acceptance to Gold’s
However, Robby’s wonderment was sharply cut short by the gym’s manager, Ken Waller. He had noticed Robinson’s sculpted 20-inch arms and tight 29-inch waist. He didn’t look like a man that had turned up just to gawk at his members – he was there to join.
To Waller, Robinson looked the part, but he didn’t know if he was strong enough to play it. To gain acceptance, he set Robby a task, something that would push The Black Prince to his absolute limit.
He took Robinson over to a pair of 150 lb dumbbells – bigger than any Robby had seen in his entire life, and tasked with benching them for a single set of 10. Somehow, against all odds, Robinson managed to pull it off:
“I’ve no idea how I did that set, but the adrenaline going through me then, that drive to be one of them – it was like a double shot of steroids and B-12.”
After proving his might, Robinson had become worthy, and was allowed to train with other greats of the time.
The Professional Circuit
Robby’s first year in the IFBB, is arguably one of the most impressive than any other competitor’s. By the end of 1975, Robby Robinson had gained the titles Mr. America, Mr. World, and Mr. Universe. His years in the trenches had served him well, and he was fast becoming one of the biggest bodybuilders in the industry.
During this time, Robinson admits part of his success may have been aided by anabolic steroids. He was introduced to them shortly after his arrival in California, he recalls the events:
“About two weeks before the Mr. World, an older guy at the gym came up to me and said, “Well, Robby, what are you taking?” I said, “Nothing.” He said, “Come back this afternoon.”
I took one shot of Primobolan Depot or Durabolin-50 – I remember the guy saying it was one of the two – and I won the Mr. World and all the body parts.”
However, Robinson doesn’t put his all success down to the drugs. He believes all of his competitors were on similar stacks – hard work was still very much at the forefront of his victories – the steroids just leveled the playing field.
Pumping Iron, Arnold and Controversy
In 1977, Robby was asked to be part of the hit bodybuilding movie Pumping Iron.
A lot of money was going into the movie. And considering how much Arnold Schwarzenegger was expected to make – Robby suggested he and the other bodybuilders involved should get paid for their participation.
At the time, bodybuilders were not well paid from competitions, and they needed all the help they could get. So to see Arnold make so much, while the others made so little riled Robinson – the backlash, he claims, opened him up to racial abuse.
In 2003, Robby explained his side of the story over an interview:
“I walked out of his house refusing to be involved in the movie if we did not get paid something. We ended up getting $100.00 a day but not before more racial slurs of nigger-nigger were leveled at me for speaking up for myself and the rest of the guys.”
“What the fans and media don’t know is we all then signed $10,000.00 contracts with White Mountain Film Company and Arnold. To this day Arnold has not paid us a dime.”
However, in 2012, Robby said that there are now no hard feelings:
“I don’t have any bad feelings about it. I loved that movie, though. It was a great contributor to that era, the sport, bodybuilders, and Arnold’s rise.”
Tensions with Arnold
Pumping Iron wasn’t the only scenario where Robinson and Schwarzenegger didn’t see eye-to-eye.
During the Russ Warner Classic in San Jose, Robby believes Arnold was jealous of his physique. Mr. Lifestyle was in peak condition, low body fat and aggressively sculpted – however, the Austrian Oak was ‘off-season’. He was still in-shape, but looked ‘puffier’ and softer than Robby.
Things came to a head at the banquet that followed the competition, Robinson recollects what happened;
“After the show there was a big banquet. We were all dancing having a nice time and in walks Arnold who started shouting out, ‘Down with the blacks, niggers this and blacks that,’ for about 10 min.
All of his hostility and rage was directed at me. For once he got caught out of shape and I was in contest condition. Me being in great shape put him in a bad light and a bad attitude.
In my mind I wanted to bust him up. But that would not have done any good. So with all my intensity bottled inside me I walked out of the room.”
Apparently their professional relationship dissolved shortly after 1975:
“I totally respect him as a professional bodybuilder. But outside of that have, I don’t know him as a person, there were too many, I would say, negative encounters.”
IFBB Wins, Mr. Olympia, and Corruption in the Industry
By 1977, Robby had won every IFBB competition he entered. He was dominating the professional circuit, and it was only a matter of time before he went after the Olympia.
That very same year he made the leap, and started training for the Olympia, the biggest competition of his life. For a first attempt, it was an incredible effort. He came first in the 200lb+ category, but lost the ‘Overall Winner’ title to Frank Zane.
Robinson blamed his loss on racism in the IFBB, claiming:
“They wanted a white Mr. Olympia for commercial reasons.”
In 1978, history repeated itself. Robby won his category, but lost out on the overall winner spot. He was starting to get suspicious of the IFBB and how they judged black competitors.
Many in black bodybuilding community supported Robinson. They claimed judges seemed to favor only the black bodybuilders with “the most white characteristics”, and that the lighting at some competitions were biased against black competitors.
The tensions between Robinson and the IFBB continued to grow. Robby found it odd that he could turn up in the best shape of his life, and still not win the Olympia, despite a track history of impressive wins at other competitions.
He became so concerned with the politics in the sport that he moved out to Amsterdam in the 1980s to get away from it all. He would only return to the states when needed for competitions.
He spoke out about his suspicions in the federation often, and fast became known as ‘The Bad Boy of Bodybuilding’.
The Masters Mr. Olympia
The Masters Mr. Olympia launched in 1994 – and Robinson was determined to win it. The first of it’s kind, this Olympia was aimed at bodybuilders over 40 – and prevented the disadvantage of going head to head against guys in their prime.
Rumor has it, the idea behind the competition was so Lou Ferringo could keep winning competitions. He had just signed a new contract with Joe Weider for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and it would help keep him in the public eye, and more marketable.
However, Robinson came out on top – and was finally the Mr. Olympia he had working for all those years. Following his victory, Robby would win 2 more times in the competition, in 1997 and 2000. He placed 1st in the Over 50’s category for both events – placing 4th and 3rd overall respectively.
Double Lifetime Ban
Even into his older years, Robby continued to stand up for black bodybuilders in the community.
8-time Mr. Olympia winner Lee Haney has even gone on record saying if it wasn’t for Robinson, bodybuilders would get paid far less than they do today.
The Black Prince’s criticism of the industry wasn’t well-received by the Weider brothers. The straw that broke the camel’s back came after Robinson stated that no black bodybuilder has ever been given a contract with the Weider organization.
After this, actions were put in place against Robinson; he was dealt a double lifetime ban from the IFBB. He was made an example of by the federation.
He could never compete in the IFBB again. When asked about Joe Weider in a 2012 interview, Robby was a lot more understanding to Joe’s decisions:
“He [Joe] has done a tremendous job. Everybody says to me, “Well, why didn’t Joe Weider give you a contract?” Maybe this wasn’t what I needed at that time; maybe he wasn’t in a position to do that. The fact remains that he made an impact by promoting me and making a positive statement.”
Retiring, and the Accident
After walking away from the IFBB at the age of 56, Robby continued to pursue fitness. He became more active in the industry in numerous ways, as a coach, writer, personal trainer and actor.
However, the first few years of his retirement wasn’t plain sailing. In 2001, Robby was in a car accident that launched him out the front seat, through the windshield and onto the road. It was a devastating crash that ended with Robinson landing on his head.
Amazingly, after the accident, he picked himself up and carried on to the gym to train. Although impressive, this was an incredibly risky move, one that would soon catch up to him.
Robby Robinson at age 67.
Robby Robinson at age 70.
Accident Aftermath and Recovery
A few days later, Robby woke up at 2 a.m. and found himself in the middle of a grand mal seizure. However, even this wasn’t enough to encourage him to seek medical attention.
Robinson kept pushing forward, relentlessly training in the hope that the seizures would pass – but they didn’t. As his condition worsened, Robby began suffering from 4 – 5 seizures a day.
Eventually he checked himself in to a VA (Veteran’s Affairs) medical center, and remained there for 6 months to get the treatment he needed.
Robby’s road to recovery was long, claiming it took him 12 years to fully build himself back up to the level he was at before the accident.
After recovery, Robby claims he’s stronger than ever – even more than his younger years.
He’s known to guest post in various NABBA competitions, and still remains in incredible shape. Robby’s also taken up a strong opposition to the use of steroids in the sport – given the dangers and damages it can cause to competitors trying to stay ahead.
He claims the government need to look out more for competitors’ well-fare, and in the long-term not acting could be damaging to the sport.
“I believe in the basic exercises. I love those clean and presses, I love the T-bar row, the deadlift. Those are the exercises that build your foundation so you can always go back to that.”
Robby’s training is as old school as you can get – and he says he’s never had an injury from it.
For the best results, Robinson believes in the basic exercises. He still uses machines, but it’s rare. His training split spans over 2 weeks – one heavy week and a light one. Three days on – one day off.
The heavy week is incredibly structured, with a set routine and emphasis on pausing at the peak of each rep. This puts the muscle under as much tension as possible.
Whereas the lighter weeks are fairly unstructured, with Robby just looking to stimulate the muscle and increase overall pump.
Example Training Plan
Day 1: Chest and Back
- Incline Barbell Press – 3 x 12, 8 – 10, 6 – 8
- Flat Dumbbell Press – 3 x 12, 8 – 10, 6 – 8
- Bench Flyes – 3 x 12, 8 – 10, 6 – 8
- Chin Ups – 3 x 15, 12, 10
- T Bar Rows – 3 x 12, 8, 6
Day 2: Shoulders and Arms
- Seated Dumbbell Press – 3 x 12, 8 – 10, 6 – 8
- Seated Lat Raise – 3 x 12, 10, 8
- Bent Over Lat Raise – 3 x 12, 10, 8
- Barbell Curls – 3 x 12, 10, 8
- Concentration Curls – 3 x 12, 8 – 10, 6 – 8
- Overhead Triceps Extension – 3 x 12, 8 – 10, 6 – 8
- Tricep Pushdowns – 3 x 12, 8 – 10, 6 – 8
Day 3: Legs
- Leg Press – 3 x 20, 15, 10
- Squats – 3 x 12, 10, 6
- Leg Extensions and Leg Curl Superset – 3 x 10
- Seated Calf Raise – 3 x 10
Robby’s light weeks take a far more less structured approach. When he enters the gym, he’s looking for one thing – the pump.
He may do individual exercises, he may do supersets, he may even do giant sets (alternating between four or more exercises). The idea is that Robby gives his body an entirely different type of stimulus, attacking the muscle fibers from different angles for maximum development.
“I’ve learned that, if your nutrition is off, everything is off. It has taken me many years to find out what works best for my physique.”
Robby believes nutrition is the most important part of the bodybuilder lifestyle – one of the main things he recommends is whole, natural foods.
He’s advised in the past that anyone who takes the sport serious should shop at family owned butchers. This ensures that the produce is as natural as possible, and as much hormones and additives as possible.
Robby Robinson’s Preferred Foods
- Ground Turkey
- Yokon Gold Potateos
- Steel Cut Oats
- EFAs (Essential Fatty Acids)
- Olive Oil
- Almond Butter
And he doesn’t just draw the line at food – Robby is a big supplement enthusiast. He claims one of the secrets to having such a well-sculpted body into his later years his down to his precise supplementation:
“I tell anyone, and especially an aging athlete, that supplementation makes all the difference. You have got to become aligned with supplements that will help your body recover. Your body is not going to heal itself as you age; you need some support.”
Robinson has been using the same supplement stack for many years. He formulated through his own research and reading;
- TestoFuel – Testosterone Booster
- Creatine Monohydrate
- Branch Chain Amino Acids
- Flax Seed Oil
- Vitamin B Complex
- Vitamin C
- Essential Fatty Acids
“I think about watching Arnold squat and even seeing Ed Corney squatting. Back in those days, if you didn’t squat, they laughed you out of the gym, guy. If you didn’t go over there and deadlift with Franco, they’d be laughing at you. You don’t want to bench press with Kenny Waller? I mean, they’d run you out of the gym.”
Idols and Influences
From an early age, the main fitness figures that inspired Robby were Jack La Lanne, and Joe Weider. La Lanne helped him discover health and fitness – and Weider’s image in bodybuilding magazines showed him which direction to go in.
As he got more and more involved with his training, his idols shifted. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Frank Zane, Denny Gable, Bob Birdsong and Franco Columbu – the bodybuilders in their prime, became the most inspirational to Robby.
Finally, during his competitive career, Robby gravitated towards Mike Mentzer. Mike was constantly outspoken when it came to the IFBB and training, as was Robby – the two were fiercely competitive towards each other. They had a tremendous amount of respect for one another:
“I loved Mike to death; he was a great guy and one of my favorite competitors.”
“Nutrition and training. If you practice the correct performance of the exercise, along with eating, supplementation, and rest, you can develop a great physique…”
What we can learn from Robby Robinson
Robby Robinson is one of the greatest athletes from bodybuilding’s Golden Era. After building one of the greatest body’s of all time, Robby went on to shape the sport and make it fairer for the competitors, rather than just the promoters.
The main thing we learn from Robby is that you need to stand up for what you believe in, and don’t be influenced by tradition. Robby saw how some bodybuilders were being treated in the industry and made sure his voice was heard.