Outside of bodybuilding circles, Frank Zane is practically unheard of. Despite winning the Olympia three years in a row at the end of the 1970s, he was superseded by perhaps the most famous bodybuilder of all time, Arnold Schwarzenegger. But while Zane might have been forgotten by popular culture thanks to Arnold’s freaky muscles, he’s still the bodybuilder you probably most want to look like.
Zane was always a keen proponent of aesthetic bodybuilding. Even back in his day, there were those on stage with him at the competitions who had bigger muscles. But Zane didn’t care about that. All he cared about was pursuing aesthetic ideals, making sure that there was perfect symmetry between his back, legs, and chest. Zane was a man who never missed leg day and never stopped examining his form in the mirror, asking whether it could be made to look better with a greater focus on his shoulders or abs.
How Did He Do It?
Many people over the years have wanted to know Zane’s secret. How did he build that incredible body? According to the man himself, it was down to a mixture of different exercises to keep the body guessing. Though it sounds perfectly reasonable today to have a program which includes a lot of variety, back in the 1970s when bodybuilding was in its infancy, it was a novel idea. Zane experimented with different kinds of exercises and different weights, rotating between light and heavy to attack different muscle fibers. Importantly, he often used a lower rep range than many of his competitors, going as low as 8 to stimulate muscle movements.
Zane later commented that the reason he stuck to such low rep ranges was that it helped him keep his size better. He could pump up his muscles with high reps. But as soon as he stopped training, the size would evaporate, and he would end up in no better condition than when he started.
Unfortunately, Zane’s love of heavy weights ultimately wore his body down. Before long, he started experiencing injury in his shoulders. His lower back also suffered enormously, thanks to super heavy deadlifts. By the time of the late 1980s, Zane had to totally give up going heavy on his back and knees for fear of causing even more damage.
In the search for body perfection, Zane began concocting some of his own methods to speed his progress. Instead of just working his muscles, he tried to create a mind-body connection to visualize their growth and development. Ultimately, Zane came to believe that concentrating on the muscle contraction during training was just as important as the weight itself. He would often close his eyes and just imagine that the weight wasn’t even there: all that mattered was the connection to the muscle itself. This, he says, helped him better isolate the muscle and at the same time, reduce the poundages requires to stimulate further growth.
Frank Zane emerged as the bodybuilder most people want to look like, despite the fact that he won his first Olympia more than 40 years ago.