Legendary and iconic are probably the two words that best capture the force that was Frank Zane. A bodybuilding powerhouse, this pioneer opened the eyes of the world to a new form of fitness that would be idolized in the years that followed.
When Frank Zane went on to win Mr. Olympia 3 times in a row from 1977-1979, there was no surprise to his success. His body was considered the greatest in bodybuilding history for the following reasons. Zane embodied a leaner, clean build with excellent symmetry and proportion. In essence, his body was different from the larger heavier bodybuilders; he brought a lean form that redefined the very aesthetics of bodybuilding.
Born in 1942, Zane discovered bodybuilding as a teenager – he got inspired after reading a muscle building magazine. This would be the beginning of his greatest passion and he began training with simple dumbbells at home. This new found passion was not taken lightly by his family, and his father in particular thought he was wasting a lot of time and often advised him to do something productive instead.
From the age of 14, Zane transformed his body over a span of 3 years. He gained lean muscle to weigh at 160lb at 17 years; from a skinny 14 year old weighing 130lb just 3 years before. Zane had made up his mind at an early age that bodybuilding was something he wanted to pursue. However, he opted to get an education whilst as he worked on bodybuilding. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from Wilkes University in 1964, and for 13 years, he taught chemistry and mathematics in Florida and California. He would later on earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology and later a master’s degree.
Zane had made a life in Florida as a math teacher while still pursuing bodybuilding. From 1966, he started to become relevant in bodybuilding circles in Florida. He was open to moving to California to take his bodybuilding career to a higher level, and after vigorous training, his hard work started paying off.
Zane won the 1968 Mr. America competition and later went on to win Mr. Universe title in Florida where he actually beat the legend Arnold Schwarzenegger. At this point, Zane had met his wife Christine who also became inducted into the bodybuilding culture, and after Zane’s wins, they both decided to move to California to pursue more opportunities.
Moving to California proved very rewarding. Zane was able to enter numerous competitions as he started to leave a mark on the bodybuilding history books. His sculpted symmetrical physique was notable and stood out amongst his closest competitors. Every competition he entered took him even higher in the rankings and it all culminated in 1977 where he won Mr. Olympia then continued to do so for 3 consecutive years. This couldn’t get any better; he was the man on top.
Many bodybuilders over the years have idolized Zane’s incredible build. To this very day, his training regime is widely sought-after. As a dedicated and diligent bodybuilder, Zane had to follow a routine that would deliver results. However, when he moved to California, he changed a few things to ensure that he met the industry standards.
The most iconic element of his training was that he focused on lightweight training. This kept him lean and fit; but to go to a higher level, he needed more muscle and size. To this end, he took advise from a friend and went for heavy sets and less volume. This formula worked like a charm as he went on to win Mr. Olympia 3 times.
With his new training method, Zane worked different muscles on different days. To be more specific, he would work on his chest and back on Mondays and Thursdays. He focused on his legs on Tuesdays and Fridays while his arms and delts got their work out on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
For smaller muscles groups, he would perform 10 to 12 sets. The larger muscle groups would get around 15 to 20 sets. He notably trained opposite muscles every day. Zane would rest on Sundays and would keenly listen to his body to embrace any necessary change. All of this effort are indeed attributed to his great success.
Frank Zane had a unique approach to his nutrition. His focus was eating before a workout and not after. When some bodybuilders were eating every 2 hours, Zane would only eat when he felt his body needed to. His keen focus was on protein intake and not carbohydrates and 25% of his diet was healthy fats.
In total, he did not consume more than 3000 calories a day. Zane was nicknamed ‘the chemist’ and this is basically because he loved researching the best supplements that would give him that perfect body. In this regard, he experimented with different supplements as part of his fitness regime.
As hinted above, Zane was always looking for a supplement that would take his form to a higher level, to make him stand out even more from the “others”. He was known for using injectable amino acids. Also, some sources state that he used T4 thyroid supplements to burn fat.
It is not clear whether he used steroids regularly or not. However, steroids were legal at the time and there was no real stigma towards them in this respect. Even though not proven, experts say that Zane might have used short cycle steroids for eight weeks at a time to crown his form and fitness.
Frank Zane opened the door for many bodybuilders to push the bar and essentially “be better. His resilience and determination proved effective as he stamped his mark in the sport and into bodybuilding history.
Keep in mind that before he ever won Mr. Olympia, he trained for 15 years, before focusing on the sport professionally. His patience and consistency brought him to his success; and this can be emulated by anybody looking to do something great.
Zane proved that you can follow your dreams and work towards them slowly to get there. This legend will definitely go down in history as one with the best bodybuilding physiques ever – he has a kick-ass six-pack that was unrivalled.
After his wins, Zane went on to become a trainer while contributing immensely to the sport. With many achievements under his belt, his influence continues to shape the sport in a very positive way.
There have been are are still some stand out characters in the world on professional bodybuilding. Over the years, physiques and standards have changed but one thing has remained the same from day one – each competitors desire to have ultimate symmetry in their form. Frank Zane achieved this what seemed like ease, it was something that just came naturally to him. He would have a vision, would train hard, then listen to his body to ensure he adapted or developed accordingly.
Many bodybuilders achieve fantastic lean muscle mass, but few can make it stand out like Zane did. “The Chemist” took bodybuilding to the next level, and wether it was specifically down to his training, nutrition or choice of supplement or steroid, he hit the nail on the head when it came to building a world class physique.
In my mind, Frank Zane will forever be remember as the man who developed the best physique in bodybuilding history.