Legendary Bodybuilder Frank Zane believes that bodybuilders today are over-obsessed with gaining weight

Ever since Dorian Yates and Ronnie Coleman, it seems that Men’s Open bodybuilders have been chasing mass monster size for Mr. Olympia success. And it seems to be paying off – often times the largest bodybuilder (when on point) will rise up to become champion. The enormous shadow of Coleman has changed the way Men’s Open physiques look for decades now. However, we have also seen many bodybuilders chase that size and fail – due to a soft physique and lack of conditioning. In our latest episode of The Mike O’Hearn Show, golden era bodybuilding legend Frank Zane explains why he thinks the obsession with size and mass has been a wrong turn for the sport. Presented by Generation Iron in collaboration with Barbend.

Frank Zane is a bodybuilder who truly represents a different era of bodybuilding. While many golden era physiques are smaller compared to today, Zane was considered smaller even for the time. However, he was a powerhouse of a physique that won multiple titles – and became a legend in his own right.

By today’s standards, Frank Zane’s physique would likely fall under the Classic Physique division. That’s how far the size standards have changed. And in some ways, Zane believes that this change has been for the worse. That might explain the quick popularity of Classic Physique as a division.

Recently, Mike O’Hearn had the chance to sit down with Frank Zane for a very causal but insightful off-the-cuff conversation with the Golden Era legend. We have previously released parts one and two of this conversation – and now are showcases part three for a true “fly on the wall” glimpse into a hangout with Frank Zane. Let’s jump into it.


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Frank Zane believes size doesn’t matter – judges don’t look at numbers

Frank Zane believes that todays bodybuilders are overly obsessed with building size. Psychologically this makes sense – they grew up inspired by the likes of Ronnie Coleman. In addition, bodybuilding, like any sport, is about pushing boundaries to the next level. Size is that next level to beat.

However, Frank Zane points out that judges do not weigh you on a scale as part of your score. Your weight has nothing to do with how you ultimately score – it’s all about how you look. In today’s version of the sport, bodybuilders like to share their weight on Instagram and fans eat it up. The larger the weight, the bigger the headline.

Frank Zane emphasizes that judges don’t care about this. Sure, a bigger size can help you look like a better bodybuilder. But it’s not the most important factor. It was only a few years ago that the sport’s top athletes were widely criticized for looking too soft on the Olympia stage. This was likely because size was trumping all other factors when prepping for a show.

To emphasize this, Frank Zane tells a story of his time competing for the Mr. Olympia in 1982. He was told by nearly everyone that he needed to gain weight in order to win. Even Joe Weider himself urged Zane to add some weight in order to be competitive in the show.

Frank Zane relented and put on those additional pounds. He ultimately placed second that year. He believes that if he stuck to his own gut and came in a few pounds lighter (195 pounds!), that he would have won the show and earned the Mr. Olympia title.

While there is no way to prove if he would have won – this notion of “what is right for your body” is something that needs to be emphasized. Some bodybuilders might look better with massive size. Others might look worse – but chase it anyway thinking it is the only way to beat the biggest guy. This hurts those bodybuilders in the end.

“Weight doesn’t matter… Numbers don’t matter”

– Frank Zane

How heavy did Frank Zane lift in his prime?

Frank Zane also discusses his training regimen during his prime years as a pro bodybuilder. More specifically, he details how heavy he would lift during training. Zane explains that he would start lighter and then increase weight with every set. He would typically do four sets of about six to twelve reps. Each set would be heavier weight than the previous one.

Zane also reveals that he would stretch between every set. Why? He understood that having a maximum contraction was essential to building muscle. Stretching allowed for his body to reach those maximum contractions.

Frank Zane also explains that he learned a lot about weightlifting from powerlifters. During the late 70s, Zane started hanging around with a lot of powerliters. He saw how one in particular, Doug Young, would do extremely slow negatives on his lifts. Zane was inspired by this and brought it into his routine. With this tactic – “everything got thicker.”

It was a different time when bodybuilding science wasn’t as ubiquitous among the public. The internet didn’t exist to make research available in the palm of your hand. Golden era bodybuilders like Zane would learn more from trial and error and pick up tricks via persona experience.

Wrap Up

Frank Zane is a golden era bodybuilder and one of the few remaining direct connections to the golden era we have in the sports history today. You can check out his full insights by watching the full episode of The Mike O’Hearn Show above. Don’t forget to check back every Friday for new episodes only on the Generation Iron Fitness Network or wherever podcasts are downloaded.

Derek Dufour has been managing all digital operations on the Generation Iron Network for over six years. He currently manages a team of editors, writers, and designers to provide up-to-date content across the GI Network.