Who is the Best Bodybuilder Ever? An In-Depth Analysis


The following post comes from the immensely talented Erny Peibst of jackednatural.com. If you’re looking for advice on the best natural supplements to take or simply a review of the latest training trends, I highly recommend it. 

Guys who’ve just hopped on the bodybuilding bandwagon might have heard of legendary names such as Ronnie Colemanand Dorian Yates whispered from the shadows in their local gyms…

But how good really were these guys?

And more importantly…who was the best bodybuilder ever?

If you’ve decided to become a bodybuilder, you owe it to yourself to know who the king of this sport was.

But the answer to this question all depends on how you define the ‘best bodybuilder ever’.

Here’s a few ways to judge who the best bodybuilder of all time is:

  • Who won the most Mr Olympia titles
  • Who’s made the most impact on the sport
  • The most aesthetic guy
  • The biggest and most shredded guy of all

The most Mr Olympia titles – Lee Haney and Ronnie Coleman (8x)

Who had the biggest impact on bodybuilding – Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was the star in Pumping Iron. If you haven’t already seen it, order it off amazon…like straight after you finish reading this article, it’s amazing.

The most aesthetic Mr Olympia – Arnold, Franco Columbo, Frank Zane or Lee Haney.

The biggest & most shredded: Ronnie Coleman or Phil Heath.

So it depends how you interpret the question ‘who is the best bodybuilder ever’.

However, Arnold Schwarzenegger is regarded by many as the greatest ever.


  • He won 7 Sandow trophies
  • He changed the world’s opinion on bodybuilding; from being disgusted to intrigued.
  • He built one of the greatest physiques of all time. Huge mass with a tiny waist – a look that’s still highly coveted by gym rats to this day (50 years later).

Arnie sounds like a worthy choice to me.

However, for entertainment purposes I’m going to select the top 5 bodybuilders of all time, and put them on stage against each other.

…So you can decide for yourself!

The Best vs Each Other

The 5 bodybuilders I’ve picked are: Lee Haney, Ronnie Coleman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Phil Heath and Dorian Yates. These are the top 5 most successful bodybuilders of all time; winning the most titles.

Note: It’s a little unfair to compare each champion on stage as they’re all from different era’s.

As you know, bodybuilding has evolved over the years in terms of knowledge on nutrition, training and supplements. Also new steroids have been invented, such as human growth hormone. Synthetic HGH has only been available in the last 30 years.

So the guys today do have somewhat of an advantage.

Despite it not being a level playing field, I’ll judge the 5 bodybuilders on each of the 7 compulsory poses:

Front Double Biceps
Front Lat Spread
Side Chest
Back Double Biceps
Back Lat Spread
Side Triceps
Front Abdominal-Thigh

Then I’ll give a placing of 1-5 of who I think’s the best and worst.

  • 1st place = 5 points.
  • 2nd = 3 points
  • 3rd = 2 points.

The highest points total wins.

I’ll take into account their size and conditioning. Another thing I’ll observe is aesthetics; which judges don’t take score on today.

So if I see Ronnie’s steroid gut in any pictures then marks will be deducted.

…The same goes for you Dorian.

Equally if a bodybuilder is seen displaying a tiny waist or performing a vacuum, they’ll be marked generously.

frank zane vacuum

…That moment when Frank Zane realises he didn’t make the top 5.

Let the battles commence! Who will come out on top as the best bodybuilder ever?

Front Double Biceps

double bicep pose

  1. Arnold – 5pts
  2. Lee Haney – 3pts
  3. Phil Heath – 2pts
  4. Ronnie Coleman
  5. Dorian Yates

Arnold’s huge biceps and slightly better conditioning over Lee Haney gives him top spot.

Lee Haney’s excellent conditioning and vacuum earns him second spot.

Phil Heath’s superior conditioning to Ronnie Coleman earns him third, despite Ronnie being considerably bigger. Ronnie is seen with a bit of bloat in this pose too.

Not a great pose for Dorian who lacks detail in his arms and mid-section.

Front Lat Spread

lat spread front

  1. Lee Haney – 5pts
  2. Ronnie Coleman – 3pts
  3. Dorian Yates – 2pts
  4. Phil Heath
  5. Arnold

Lee Haney just, and I mean just, beats Ronnie Coleman due to slightly better conditioning and the fact that he’s doing a vacuum and Ronnie’s gut is still visible. However Ronnie does have considerably more size so it was super close.

Dorian Yates just edges out Phil Heath due to better lat development, even though Phil has better conditioning.

And Arnold is 5th, where he has the weakest back development.


Side Chest

side chest pose

  1.  Arnold – 5pts
  2.  Phil Heath – 3pts
  3.  Ronnie Coleman – 2pts
  4. Dorian Yates
  5. Lee Haney

This is a controversial one between Arnold and Phil, where Phil can feel hard-done by. Phil is better conditioned, but Arnold’s huge mass in his pecs just edges it.

Phil is simply more shredded than Ronnie in this pose, with better detail especially in his delts and hamstrings.

Dorian beats Haney in the mass department, although Haney appears leaner.

Back Double Biceps

back double bicep rear pose

  1. Phil Heath – 5pts
  2. Lee Haney – 3pts
  3. Ronnie Coleman — 2pts
  4. Arnold
  5. Dorian Yates

This was quite an easy win for Phil. Disregarding the shadows and the lighting, his back has the best conditioning, coupled with good size.

Haney comes second, beating Ronnie on definition and Arnold on mass in the lats.

Ronnie just beats Arnold through sheer size.

And Arnold’s shredded back is preferred over Dorian’s huge mass, which lacks detail.

*Apologies for not showing the hamstrings in this comparison pic, some of the images only displayed their torso’s.

Back Lat Spread

rear lat spread

  1. Phil Heath – 5pts
  2. Ronnie Coleman – 3pts
  3. Dorian Yates – 2pts
  4. Lee Haney
  5. Arnold

Phil edges out Ronnie to win 1st place, with Phil having better conditioning once again.

Ronnie’s monster size wins him second place.

Dorian has better detail than Lee Haney, as well as more hamstring definition giving him 3rd.

Haney has more width than Arnold, giving him 4th spot.

Side Triceps

side tricep

  1. Lee Haney – 5pts
  2. Arnold Schwarzenegger – 3pts
  3. Dorian Yates – 2pts
  4. Ronnie Coleman
  5. Phil Heath

Lee Haney wins this one, as he has the best detail in his triceps, whilst displaying a very narrow waist.

Arnold has less definition compared to Haney, but beats Dorian to second spot as he’s performing a vacuum and Dorian is bloated.

Dorian’s excellent detail in his triceps beats Ronnie and Phil to third place. This can be attributed to his perfect horse-shoe detail, which is more visible because he has straightened his arm out more (compared to Phil), giving a better contraction.

Ronnie outmuscles Phil to take 4th spot.

This is a particularly strong pose for all of these bodybuilders, where the lower placed guys are still looking extremely good

Front Abdominal-Thigh

ab thigh pose

  1. Arnold – 5pts
  2. Lee Haney – 3pts
  3. Phil Heath – 2pts
  4. Dorian Yates
  5. Ronnie Coleman

I couldn’t get any images of Arnold or Lee doing the ab-thigh poses, so I’m looking at their abdominal/thigh definition in these photos and judging as if they were tensing both of these muscles.

Arnold’s slightly better conditioning wins him top spot over Lee Haney. Also I’ve seen Lee Haney when he’s not doing a vacuum, where he’s tensing his abs instead and they aren’t as defined as Arnold’s.

Lee’s superior abdominal conditioning earns him second ahead of Phil.

Phil just clinches 3rd place due to phenomenal thigh detail. Although Dorian’s abs are more ripped than Phil’s, the definition in his legs lets him down.

Although Ronnie had superb definition in his thighs, the fact he looks pregnant almost guarantees him a last place for this pose. Not to mention you can only just see his abs.

Total Points

  1. Lee Haney – 19pts
  2. Arnold Schwarzenegger – 18pts
  3. Phil Heath – 17pts
  4. Ronnie Coleman – 10pts
  5. Dorian Yates – 6pts

best bodybuilder ever

It’s a shock! Lee Haney is victorious, beating Arnold to 1st place by a single point.

Arnold won 3 of the pose-rounds, while Haney won just 2.

However, Arnold placed outside the top 3 in the back poses which was a weak muscle group for him.


It’s very surprising (to me) that old-school bodybuilding greats, such as Lee and Arnold, who graced the stage 30/40 years ago; could kick it against the best modern day bodybuilders…and come out on top.

They were able to do this due to their superior muscle definition, compared to their rivals.

How were they able to be more defined?

I believe that because the old-school bodybuilders were on lower doses of steroids, which meant they didn’t retain as much water as modern day pros.

Note: I did mark on aesthetics, taking into account steroid guts/tiny waists, which modern day judges don’t do. If I didn’t do this, it probably would’ve been a different outcome. Ronnie would’ve placed higher and Arnold/Lee Haney would’ve placed a little lower.

So, Who is the Best Bodybuilder Ever?

great arnold pic

As previously stated, it depends on how you choose to answer this question. For some, the best bodybuilder ever is the guy who wins the most titles. In which case, it’s a quantifiable answer…a numbers game.

For me, the best bodybuilder ever is the one who had the greatest body.

And at the same time conquered his era by becoming a great champion.

So IMO Arnold is the greatest bodybuilder of all time because he had the most definition, huge mass and a tiny waist.

The difference between Haney and Arnold, for me, is that Arnold had slightly more definition. Also the Austrian Oak had better proportions.

For example, Arnold had the greatest arms in bodybuilding history. Lee didn’t.

And having huge arms will make you look more aesthetic.

Aesthetic as fua*k = spaghetti arms.

…Said no one ever.

Do you think I scored each pose-round accurately? Have your say in the comments below on who you think was the best bodybuilder ever!

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18 thoughts on “Who is the Best Bodybuilder Ever? An In-Depth Analysis

Add yours

  1. I still think that Marvin Eder is my choice for the ‘Bodybuilder’s Bodybuilder’!!!!! His lat spread was I would say a tad better than Dorian’s (big call I know) in that he achieved this in 1940s era

  2. I think Lee Haney is still the best looking bodybuilder of all times. His pose in a blue jeans way back is awesome.

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by. It’s interesting isn’t it…I feel like Haney doesn’t really get the credit he deserves for whatever reason. People often forget about his remarkable physique!

  3. I think you had some fine points, though I do disagree. / Haney and Arnold had absolutely no legs, (especially compared with the other three). Arnold had fantastic bi’s, but his tri’s sucked, and Haney’s Arms were even worse. Arnold and Lee’s only saving grace was their small waists..’cause those two (at their prime) would get demolished by the other three. Arnold’s physique is so overrated, all he had was Pecs, Biceps, and a nice taper. Haney had Pecs, a Back, and a nice taper. / Phil and Ronnie are a toss up on who had the better physique. Ronnie was freakier, Phil was prettier. / And where is Flex Wheeler?..’nuff said. / Overall, Dorian’s physique at the ‘93 Olympia is untouchable. It’s the best combo of freaky size, thickness, and hardness, he was absolutely chiseled that year. And yes..Ronnie was bigger, Phil was prettier, but Dorian was better.

    1. Hi Jared, thanks so much for stopping by. Really appreciate the in depth discussion. Out of interest what do you make of Rhoden’s victory this year? Do you think we’re seeing a change in the ideal judges look for?

  4. This Ernie dude is a total sellout who shamelessly promotes horrible scam supplements (the notorious “legal steroids” by Crazybulk) and he promotes it vigourosly. Be warned.

  5. I feel like the ending assessment of greatest arms wins out is kind of what makes bodybuilding not get taken as seriously by “true” athletes.

    Truly powerful legs and a strong back allow one to do vastly more than great arms. Arnold’s legs just lag behind almost any other top competitor throughout history.

    The side chest post shot gave Arnold an unfair advantage in that the other competitors were performing a slightly different compulsory pose. Arnold was cranking back more which allowed him to look larger.

    For me it’s Haney in that he and Arnold (80 vs 84 titles) are still similar eras in terms of drugs. The rest of the guys were taking way more stuff then them.

    Take ability to use drugs out and Reeves still kills everyone. Unreal symmetry and proportions.

  6. This is a very good and accurate article, I agree with everything. I personally can’t choose one bodybuilder as the best of all time


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