The following interview took place with the legendary Frank Zane during the bodybuilder’s preparation for that year’s Mr. Olympia, a competition Zane won by the day. Detailing Frank’s workout, nutrition and mental preparation, it offers a valuable insight into the career of one of bodybuilding’s most recognisable characters. Enjoy!
How much value do you place in vitamin supplements?
Certain vitamins in high dosages can have almost a drug-like effect on your body, but only taken in high dosages will this be achieved. One example is the B vitamin. B1 for example is lipotrophic it helps carry fats through the blood stream. Anyone who wants to get more muscular would take more of this vitamin. Vitamin B6 used in conjunction with Vitamin C (in the proper potencies) can help your body throw off excess water. This is much better than using diuretics. B6 is also very important in protein digestion. In general, all the B vitamins are very important. ONE WORD OF CAUTION WHEN TAKING VITAMINS OF ANY TYPE. Never take them on an empty stomach (before a meal). Taking them in this manner could harm the stomach internally. It is best to take them while you eat because vitamins need a carrier. The ideal way to do this is to eat small quantities of food (or small meals) or 30 gram protein snacks every two hours and take your vitamins throughout the day with these feedings.
How do you train with maximum effort with a minimum of time?
Remember when you have minimum time, you can’t have maximum effort. Really, if you can rest a little longer, you can put more effort into your workout. When you compromise on time, you minimize the amount of weight you use. The amount of weight you use on an exercise is what makes the muscle bigger. So when I am training for size, I rest longer so that I can use heavier weights. Now, the last month before a show, I’ll start training faster, but I won’t reduce my poundages. My goal is to get to a poundage the month before and then cut down on the rest periods while maintaining the heavy weight I worked up to while I was resting longer. I don¹t increase the weights at this point.
How long do you rest between sets the last month before the contest?
I don’t rest at all. There are different ways I train, sometimes in the last month I start adding things like tri-sets (3 exercises in a row) doing five cycles of this while adding weight every set. Right now (June, 1977) I am training with the single set system adding weight whenever possible.
When you are training for size, how do you determine how long your rest periods will be between sets until you are ready to do another set?
That comes from experience. My main emphasis in training is to completely clear my mind so I can go to the gym and train while not really thinking. Thinking in a sense will separate you from your workout. When you really get into your workout, the last month before a contest, the CONCENTRATION is so keen (no talking, and almost no rest) going through maximum effort each set. It’s sort of like everything disappears except what you are into at the time. This is called an altered state of CONSCIOUSNESS. IT seems you shift into a different sphere where everything is super clear. Your CONCENTRATION has to be so strong that you can hold it in that place.
Zane’s Seminar Comments:
Last year, I got into some research with amino acids. I began to do a lot of reading about the amino acid Tryptophan. Tryptophan is what is called a neurotransmitter to the brain. It is the transmitter substance between the nerve cells of the brain. I started taking Tryptophan after some consultations with some nutritionists. I found out it was a very powerful natural tranquilizer. Taken in amounts of 1000 to 2000 grams, it will put you to sleep in about one-half hour. This really relaxed me. I would go to the gym from 6:00 to 8:00 a.m. each morning. Then I’d come home and have breakfast and some supplements. Along with this, I would take 2-3- or 4-thousand milligrams of Tryptophan and wait one-half hour. Then I would fall into this very deep relaxed sleep. I would sleep about three or four hours and get up and take care of some business or just lie in the sun. Then I would have another meal and supplements and go to the gym again. Then I would go to bed at around 9:00 p.m. and sleep to 5 a.m. I would repeat this cycle every day. So this amounted to four or five hours of training and ten to twelve hours of sleep a day. I found that the rest helped me grow bigger physically. While Tryptophan is powerful, it is hard to obtain and also expensive.
I would take a gram of CALCIUM before going to sleep. I use MAGNESIUM in conjunction with CALCIUM. Calcium taken in too large dosages is thrown off in waste matter and will cause constipation. Magnesium helps counteract this reaction.
What brand of supplements do you take?
I use Blair’s and that is where most of these combinations come from. (Note: Frank is referring to the listed nutrients on the written Olympia materials he passed out at the beginning of the seminar.)
I like Blair’s supplements because they are in a gelatin capsule and act fast in the blood stream. I also use Blair’s milk and egg protein powder. I won’t use it the last month of training when I am trying to get muscular. The way that I do use it though is to take some mixed in a drink one hour before I begin training. This raises the blood sugar in the body and in this way, I get an extremely good pump. This is one of the real secrets to a good workout.
What about carbohydrates?
I am really down on simple sugars, of any kind (raw, white, honey, etc.). When you eat sugar, your blood sugar in your body shoots very high in a 20-minute period. Now about one and one-half hour later, it declines lower than it was before you took in the simple sugar. So you can see, it goes high and low. To keep my blood sugar up, I eat some type of protein every few hours and certain complex carbohydrates (starch for example). Vegetable sources such as baked potatoes and avocados are FANTASTIC. The assimilation or digestion of certain food components look like this: carbohydrates are in a long chain; starches a very long chain; and sugars a very short chain. So proteins, starches, and fats in small amounts every few hours will keep the blood sugar at a higher level for a longer period of time compared to the short chain of assimilation of simple sugars.
Zane’s Seminar Comments:
I eat around 200 grams of protein a day. That averages out to about 1 gram for every pound of bodyweight. I find no need to get anymore than that amount. Most of it comes through my food. I have three yeast drinks a day for 30 total grams. Along this line, I will have three protein drinks for another 30 grams. Maybe one pound of meat for another 50 grams, some fish 20-30 grams and finally some eggs. I have found eggs to be extremely valuable to the bodybuilder. If you are training hard, you don’t have to worry about getting a high cholesterol from the eggs.
Do you find any value in taking Saunas?
Saunas are very good for taking poisons and toxins out of your body. Like if you are coming down with an upper respiratory infection. Also, if you are over training or train very intensely, this is where a Sauna might help.
Do you believe that a Sauna will help to cure a sore throat due to a cold?
A sauna would also be good in that case. What is good for a sore throat is to take some granulated Vitamin C in crystal form in a glass of hot water. This will help quite a bit.
What is a good way to hide the disgusting taste of brewers yeast powder brink?
You might mix it with tomato or V-8 juice.
Zane’s Seminar Comments:
I believe that liver is very good. It has some high energy factors in it. I now only take about fifteen tablets of liver a day. I used to take a lot of food supplements, a lot of capsules before a show. I have sort of gotten away from that, because the room that your stomach takes up with pill or capsule supplements could be used for natural foods instead. You just have to find the proper balance in this area.
Do you have a certain poundage you will always try to use each workout?
No. It’s all by how I feel. Let¹s say I am doing D.B. presses. Now the first set I’ll start with 60 pounds for 12 reps, then 70 pounds for 11. Maybe to 80. Now depending on how the 80’s feel, I’ll either stay with the 80’s and do a couple of sets, or move up to 85 or 90 pounds. IT’S ALL IN HOW I FEEL AT THE TIME. If I am ready for a new weight, then it just happens.
What do you think of Dumbbell Training?
I do quite a lot of it in my training. It gives better shape to the muscle.
Do your feel that NUTRITION is 80 per cent of bodybuilding success?
The supplements are only one thing. Like Arnold when he was in his early training in ’69 and ’70. He would use heavy quantities of supplements. Then in his last few years of competition, ’73, ’74, ’75, he didn’t use any supplements at all. He still got into fantastic shape. You can do it with them or without them. They do have a lot of advantages. Some people don’t need them. That’s not to say they would be better if they used them, we don’t know that. The way I approach training is this way. THERE IS NO ONE THING THAT DOES IT. It isn’t the training or the nutrition or your mental attitude or how much sleep you get. IT IS NONE OF THAT, BUT ALL OF IT. You can’t rely on any one thing as the SECRET to bodybuilding success. Something by itself may add a little to your training or it may add nothing. Put them all together, and we get what is called a SYNERGISTIC effect. All of the combined give you more than the sum of its parts.
Zane’s Seminar Comments:
Each week after all of my training was completed, I would analyze whether I had good or bad workouts, poundages, sets. I would look back over all of this and see how I could improve on it for the next week’s training sessions. One thing in training is to set a GOAL for yourself by contest or whatever you want to train for, to get in better shape. Realize that you have only so much time to do this. For example, if I have nine months before a contest, I use the intensity factor in my workouts in that they get harder and harder over the months so that the last week before the contest, I am training my hardest ever. This is done by adding more weights or less rest or just longer workouts. I make a workout graph for each month of my training. Now each workout day, I will write down the number of sets. I choose sets as my guide because each set is a MAXIMUM EFFORT. I don’t believe in going to absolute failure as Arthur Jones suggests. I will use 80 to 90 percent of my maximum so it is pretty stable. My intensity really increases after school is out in June.
What do you use as a gauge for determining your pre-contest training from month to month?
I gauge my progress by having photos or color slides taken every ten days or so. Color slides are valuable in this respect. I use the photos and slides to go along with the workout graphs. I save these graphs and pictures and in this way, I can make comparisons to relate where I am at a particular month in my training. Then I go from there.
Zane’s Seminar Comments:
There are five categories for being in shape. The worst one is FAT. This condition exists when a person is in a layoff from training and not eating properly. Next, SMOOTHNESS. This means you don’t have flab on the body. The body mass is hard and you can see the shape of the muscle, but there is not a great deal of separation. There is still a substantial amount of fat between the muscle and skin surface. It may eve appear a bit puffy. The next condition is HARD. This is still not extremely muscular, but with a proper tan, you can look quite good. Right now (June) I consider myself in this category. I still have two more phases to go. The next one is CUT. This is when you are really getting into good shape. Very muscular. After Cut there is the final phase called RIPPED. You are so cut up and muscular and the striations are so deep, it looks like you don’t have any skin.
The VASCULARITY is very pronounced. Now this is the way you have to be for the Mr. Olympia.
What about using high reps and light weights to get this type of condition?
All this type of training will do is make your muscles smaller and stringy. Cutting out dairy products the last months before contest will help.
What are your thoughts on using carbohydrates in your contest training diet?
O.K. Let’s say I have been on a low carb diet the month before the contest. Now I will go on zero carbs for five days in a row. Now I might be physically drained so what I might do when I get up on the 6th morning is have a small carbohydrate feeding. It might be a baked potato. I try to do this earlier in the morning before my workout. This one feeding seems to get me through the next few days once again. I can keep up my energy level these days with almost zero carbohydrates just by increasing my fat intake. The yeast, amino acids and liver supplements will help you get around the low carb intake.
Zane’s Seminar Comments:
Beef This is a very good food for eating for muscle mass. I will usually eat a pound of this a day; any kind of steak (Spencer, Porterhouse, etc.). Let’s say I’m doing this in July. In August I will be getting away from beef; will be eating more liver and pork. Pork is a very good energy food due to the fat content. September comes around and I will begin eating lamb. This is really a tremendous ENERGY food. Lamb, liver, and fish are the best foods for MUSCULARITY and ENERGY.
Can a person gain much size by including a vegetable protein supplement into the diet?
I don’t think so. Milk and egg proteins would help you gain. Your body will only assimilate 40 percent of a vegetable or soya supplement. In general, amino proteins are the better source. Right before a contest (two days before) a person should go off a strict diet (low carbs high protein) and include more carbohydrates for energy.
(Author’s note: Frank has various levels or phases of training he will go through during his nine-month preparation for 1977 Mr. Olympia contest. Due to the extreme length of this seminar report , I will only be including the phase he is following from June to contest time.)
Zane’s Seminar Comments:
Very briefly, this is how I am training this summer until the contest.
Monday-Wednesday-Friday (Mornings) Thighs and Calf: This workout lasts about one hour fifteen minutes. I really want to bring my total leg development up for the ’77 Mr. Olympia contest. I find my legs respond best to three days per week schedule. High reps.
Tuesday-Thursday (Mornings) Lats.
Monday-Thursday (Afternoon) Delts, Biceps, Forearms, Abs.
Tuesday-Friday (Afternoon) Chest, Triceps, Abs.
Do you work for maximum pump?
I get a pump the very first set and this remains with me throughout my sets.
Do you have any suggestions on posing?
I like to do a special thing the last week or two before the contest. I pose and tense my thighs and abs for ten minutes without relaxing. This really helps at the contest because if you are in good shape, you won¹t have to strain in your poses. You will also look very muscular standing relaxed.
Do you find any value in having a workout partner?
I will only train with someone who will train exactly as I do. I find that when I start following someone else’s ideas, especially if it is an exercise I haven’t done for some time, I begin to experience injuries.
What do you think about incorporating jogging into a bodybuilding schedule?
It is very good because it builds up endurance. This really helps to cut down on the rest periods between sets. It is also very valuable for getting muscular. I run five days a week for about two miles. I work at cutting my time for running the two miles down when possible.
Have you had any experience training women who are out of shape?
Yes, I have had some experience, but my wife has had more than I. She will be opening a studio in the next two months. Basically, the way she trains is to do a lot of work for thighs and hips. She does high reps with stretching movements and no rest periods.
What’s your future in competitive bodybuilding, Frank?
I don’t know. I find it pointless to plan over a year in advance. Right now, I am working toward the Mr. Olympia in October. After that, I don’t know.
What about your competition?
I am not really worried about my class. While Coe, Corney, and Grant are very good, I have beaten them before. I think my main competition will come from the heavier weight class. Robbie Robinson is in very good shape.
Do you still practice regular squats?
Not anymore. I used to do them quite heavily, but I have experienced lower back injury over the past years. Squats seem to aggravate this condition. I stick mainly to Hacks and leg presses. These movements keep pressure off my lower back. Even bent over rowing used to put pressure on this area. I have found that if I put a block of wood under my heels this elevated position tends to shift the pressure off my lower back. My position in this movement has my chest resting against my knees. I am using 200 pounds for this movement. Another thing which helps my back is to hang by my feet in a pair of special boots. In fact, I started doing rowing in this position with 100 pounds and this really helped to bring up the lats.
You mentioned you do 200 to 350 reps for the abs. Is that all at once?
I am not really extreme in my abs training right now. I do 100 Roman Chair Sit-ups non-stop and four sets of 25 reps on the incline leg raise. I may even add some tension sit-ups. I do this at the end of my workout session.
What do you do to achieve cuts in your thighs?
Well, I find that high repetitions in the leg press and especially the leg extension work very good. If cuts are lacking do leg extensions every day the last few weeks before the contest. Twenty-five to thirty reps per set. Another good way is to do one leg extensions staying on the machine until you have done five sets of 25-30 for each leg. Practice tensing the thighs a lot.
Zane’s Seminar Comments:
If you haven’t done it, you should begin practicing a posing routine three or four weeks before the contest. First write down the poses which will complement your physique. Now, arrange them in the order you will be doing them at the show. The best way to practice is to hold each pose as long as you can (about two or three minutes). This may seem like a long time to hold each pose, but it will really help you at the contest. There won’t be any second effort and it will come naturally.
You seem to be one of the most symmetrical of the modern day bodybuilders. Was this natural, or did you do certain exercise routines to achieve this effect?
This came from heredity. A good way to see what your body symmetry is like is to see a silhouette of your body. If you can see yourself this way, you can tell a great deal about your symmetry.
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