We challenge you to find any bodybuilder with better proportions than Frank Zane. 3-time Mr. Olympia, and all-time great. Frank Zane has one of the best lightweight body’s in the sport.
Starting from as early as 14, with nothing but dumbbells and a dream, Zane trained rigorously to attain one of the greatest physiques of all time.
While working as a full-time Math teacher, The Chemist still found time build up that sculpted physique that his competition both feared and envied.
This is how he became an icon of the fitness industry:
“Numbers are an abstraction, especially to muscles. Your body doesn’t know the absolute weight of what you lift; it only recognizes how heavy it feels. The secret is to make lighter weights feel heavy.”
|Full Name: Frank Zane|
|185 - 195lbs (83.9 - 88.5kg)||5'9" (175cm)||18″ (45.7 cm)||52″ (132cm)|
|29″ (73.7cm)||26″ (66cm)||16.5″ (41.9cm)|
|Year of Birth||Nationality||Profession|
|1942||American||Bodybuilder, Founder of WABBA, Head of IFBB France and Europe, Actor, Author|
|The Chemist||1960, 1970, 1980|
|Weight||185 - 195lbs (83.9 - 88.5kg)|
|Arms||18″ (45.7 cm)|
|Year of Birth||1942|
|Profession||Bodybuilder, Founder of WABBA, Head of IFBB France and Europe, Actor, Author|
|Era||1960, 1970, 1980|
“A lot of guys have better genes, but if you work hard and consistently, you can outperform them.”
- 1961 Mr. Pennsylvania (17th place)
- 1962 Mr. Keystone (Winner)
- 1963 Mr. Keystone (2nd)
- 1965 Mr. Sunshine State (Winner)
- 1965 IFBB Mr. Universe (1st, Medium Height category)
- 1966 IFBB Mr. America (1st, Medium)
- 1967 IFBB Mr. America (1st, Medium)
- 1967 IFBB Mr. Universe (3rd, Tall)
- 1968 IFBB Mr. America (Winner)
- 1968 IFBB Mr. Universe (Winner)
- 1970 NABBA Mr. Universe (Winner)
- 1971 NABBA Pro Mr. Universe (1st, Short)
- 1972 NABBA Pro Mr. Universe (Winner)
- 1972 IFBB Mr. Olympia (Under 200 lbs, 4th)
- 1974 IFBB Mr. Olympia (Under 200 lbs, 2nd)
- 1975 IFBB Mr. Olympia (Under 200 lbs, 4th)
- 1976 IFBB Mr. Olympia (Under 200 lbs, 2nd)
- 1977 IFBB Mr. Olympia (Under 200 lbs & Overall Winner)
- 1978 IFBB Mr. Olympia (Under 200 lbs & Overall Winner)
- 1979 IFBB Mr. Olympia (Under 200 lbs & Overall Winner)
- 1980 IFBB Mr. Olympia (3rd, after suffering a near-fatal injury at his home, requiring lengthy hospitalization)
- 1982 IFBB Mr. Olympia (2nd)
- 1983 IFBB Mr. Olympia (4th, after suffering another accident on his bicycle, requiring extensive shoulder surgery shortly after the contest)
“Small daily improvements are the key to staggering long-term results.”
Frank Zane had a tough childhood. Born 1943 in the blue-collar coal-mining town Kingston, Pennsylvania – Frank had his fair share of fights before he was even a teenager.
Win or lose, it hardened him, and gave the future champion the courage to stand up for what he believed in – an attitude that would really come to life when he reached his teens.
At the age of 14, Frank’s eyes were opened when he found a bodybuilding magazine left out at school. He became inspired, and bought himself a 30 lb set of dumbbells and began training almost immediately.
However, not everyone took kindly to the future bodybuilder’s new lust for self-development, his father in particular. Zane’s father believed Frank was wasting his time with training, and should spend more time doing more productive things around the house. Zane recalls being told “Build yourself up by cutting the grass”, but that didn’t stop him.
During 3 years of hard training, Frank went from a skinny 130lb 14-year-old boy to a 160lb stocky 17-year-old – a whopping 30lbs of lean muscle in just 3 years.
Frank’s Passion for the Sport
Seeing the lengths he would go to for success, Zane’s parents eventually came around to encouraging Frank’s motivation for bodybuilding. A good his example of this was when Frank was teaching Boy Scouts as an on-site archery instructor. For bodybuilding, he would train on camp grounds with whatever weights were available – but at home training at home there was nothing.
To make sure he could train of a weekend Frank would hitchhike 20 miles with 55lbs of weights in his arms to make sure he would never miss a workout.
He continued to train throughout his education, and got even more serious after his stepping onto the career ladder as a Math teacher in Florida.
A young Frank Zane.
Competing in Florida
By 1966 Frank had begun to dominate the local bodybuilding communities. He wanted to move to California, it was the only way to take it to the next level. However, he’d made a life for himself in Florida, and didn’t think it would be a wise idea.
Zane met his future wife Christine later that year. After converting her to the bodybuilding lifestyle, Chris began following in Frank’s footsteps and started entering competitions of her own.
It was clear that Zane had big things ahead of him. After 2 years of serious training, Zane won the 1968 Mr. America competition in New York City, and then went on to beat Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Mr. Universe competition in Florida that happened just a week later.
Moving to California
Both Frank and Chris had become very enthusiastic about the sport – they eventually decided together that they should move down to California and see how far their passion would take them.
And things just got better and better.
Still working a full-time job as a teacher, Frank was managing to balance both his working life and a successful bodybuilding career, quickly becoming known for having one of the greatest physiques of all time.
He either won, or placed very highly in every competition he entered, all the way up until 1977 where he won the esteemed Mr. Olympia competition for 3 years running – there was no higher honor.
“Continuity is how you build a physique.”
The Freak Accident of 1980
After winning the Olympia 3 times in a row, Frank was 8 weeks out from his fourth appearance when he suffered a life-threatening injury.
In a freak accident involving slipping on a poolside edge, Zane found himself with severe blood-loss. By the time he arrived in the hospital he was in life-threatening condition and remained in care several days.
Zane described what happened in the following way:
“I sat in this lightweight chair by the pool, and as I did it, slid on the wet Astroturf by the side and I fell onto the lip of the pool, which hit me right between the legs and smashed my bulbous urethra. Blood was gushing from my penis. I was rushed to hospital and was in for four days with a catheter attachment … it was horrible.”
After the accident, Zane needed constant hospital revisits with the wound opening again and again. It took 2 weeks for him to get things under control, which resulted in a total loss of around 15lbs of muscle mass.
Advice from Arnold
Zane consulted with Arnold Schwarzenegger as to whether to still go to the Olympia despite the injury, his friend assured him that he should still try and defend his title, despite the lack of recovery time.
Zane recalls the conversation:
“Since his competitive retirement Arnold was the go-to guy before contests. Everyone went to him for advice. They’d do their posing routine and he’d point out every little thing that was wrong. I called him and he said, ‘Yeah, the word is out at Gold’s that you took so many steroids your dick started to bleed.’ I asked him what he thought I should do. He told me, ‘You should go to Australia and defend your title.’”
Unfortunately, however, the athlete would eventually lose to Arnold at the same event, when the Austrian Oak decided to throw in a surprise entry. Zane placed third behind Chris Dickerson.
Zane knew he was unlikely to secure a win due to his accident just weeks before the event, however, he boycotted the competition the following year believing that Arnold wasn’t in his best shape and didn’t deserve the win. The Oak performed poses that weren’t ordered, playing only to his strengths and refused to showcase his weaker areas.
Another Accident and Retirement
The final nail in the coffin arrived in 1983 when Zane had another crushing injury – he injured his shoulder in a bicycle accident. Refusing to drop out of the Olympia, Zane wouldn’t permit doctors to perform surgery and trained through the pain all the way up to competition. Zane came fourth and then needed extensive shoulder surgery to repair the damage.
The 1983 Olympia would be Zane’s final competition, with he and his wife concentrating more on a new venture they’d started, Zane Haven – a bodybuilding learning center.
Zane Haven has expanded ever since, expanding the business and even releasing an exercise invention of his own design known as the Leg Blaster. He now resides in San Diego.
“Live your life by the hour, not by the day. What will you achieve in the next hour?”
Frank Zane took on various different training styles throughout his career. He was adaptable, and never afraid to try anything new – that’s what made him so successful.
When he first started training, Zane’s lifting style was lightweight. He aimed for high reps for maximum tone and sculpture, however, despite the fact this made him incredibly lean it wasn’t the best for winning competitions.
He needed size, and Joe Weider told him the only way to achieve this would be through heavy sets and less volume – it worked. The results being Zane winning 3 Mr. Olympia competitions consecutively after adopting this new method.
As a self-taught lifter, Zane didn’t originally subscribe to the certain muscle groups per day rotation that most bodybuilders used. Somehow he managed to make things even simpler by splitting his entire workout over just 2 sessions: upper body and lower body.
It’s reported that Zane’s upper-body sessions would last up to 3 and a half hours per workout.
It was only after moving to California did Zane decide to change up his routine to be more in tune with the other bodybuilders. This involved taking a more focused approach and training opposing muscles every day.
Here’s what Zane described as a typical week:
- Chest and Back – Mondays & Thursdays
- Legs – Tuesdays & Fridays
- Arms and Delts – Wednesdays & Saturdays
- Rest – Sundays
He’d perform 10 – 12 sets on small muscle groups and 15 – 20 sets on larger muscle groups, getting gradually heavier and sets progressed.
This was later changed in in later part of his career into a 3-day split followed by a rest on the fourth day.
This was the exact opposite his previous routine and worked with supporting muscles rather than opposing:
- Back, Biceps and Forearms – Day 1
- Legs – Day 2
- Chest, Shoulders, Triceps – Day 3
- Rest – Day 4
Zane was also a big abb guy too. He would train abs every training day with maximum volume. Doing anywhere between 400 – 1000 reps a day to keep them shredded and looking. As this was incredibly demanding Zane would regularly finish his session, and return to the gym hours later just to train abs.
He always listened to his body, and embraced change, and with it Zane could carry a lifetime of success.
“Being weak is a choice, so is being strong.”
Zane was known as ‘the Chemist’ for a reason. He loved researching supplements and experimenting to find the perfect supplement stack that would take him to victory.
One of the areas of nutrition that Frank prioritized was pre-workout food. Interestingly, unlike most bodybuilders, Zane didn’t care so much when he had a meal after a workout – it was all about before.
Sometimes he would wait hours before having a meal after the gym, whenever it was convenient to him – not his body.
Frank was pretty conservative with his calorie intake. Considering his energy and his size needed to compete (and win) Mr. Olympia, Zane would never consume more than 3000 calories a day. He never put too much of an emphasis on carbohydrates and concentrated more on protein, while also making sure healthy fats made up at least 25% of his diet.
“Dream more than others think practical. Do more than others think is possible.”
Idols and Influences
What influenced Frank Zane? Survival. Although a bodybuilding magazine gave him an idea of what he wanted to look like, the real driver was his own determination.
In an interview with FLEX magazine, Zane remembers that the real reason he started bodybuilding was his environment. Growing up in a tough town wasn’t easy, and hitting the weights as early as 14, was a good way to deter trouble.
Zane didn’t have many idols, however, he was an idol to many. With his ‘Bodybuilding Golden Age’ physique and arguably one of the best proportions on the planet when he was at his peak, Zane will always be remembered as having one of the greatest physiques of all time and continues to inspire many of the upcoming athletes training today.
“Train in a sensible way. It’s not gonna happen over night. Don’t try to get in shape in one day, or one week, or even one month.
Take your time. Do a good job. Take photos. Learn what you look like and visualize what you’d like to look like.
Don’t fall for any kind of schemes of getting big quick. Do not bulk up. Don’t get big quick. If you can follow that you’ll develop a great body, and you’ll have it for a long time.”
What we can learn from Frank Zane
An important lesson we can learn from Zane is that you have to take your time, and play to your strengths.
He admitted himself that he didn’t have the best genetics to get to the size of Arnold Schwarzenegger or Serge Nubret – he just wasn’t built that way.
Instead, he took his time, continued to train and continued to change his style to find out what his body should look like, what worked best for his frame. He was never going to be big, so he aimed to focus more on proportion – which is a far more difficult journey.
The key here is to be patient. Zane was training for over 15 years before he first won the Olympia – and then he won it three years in a row. Zane was prepared to take his time and was always thinking about the long-term goal, rather than any quick wins.
It was admirable, and more importantly, effective.