Welcome to this new “Get inspired by…” article. While this website is mainly for natural bodybuilders, it’s undeniable that old-school bodybuilders were inspiring and were in great condition on stage, steroids or not. It would be a shame not to get inspired from their stories and work ethic.
We will go through a quick biography of the athlete presented and discuss their main beliefs and best training advice. Then, we will talk about their program and see what, as natural bodybuilders, we can learn from them.
This article will take you 6 minutes to read! Feel free to leave your questions in the comment section, they will be answered!
If you don’t know who the heck is Frank Zane, then you’re missing out. Here’s a quick overview of what Frank Zane achieved in his career:If you don’t know who the heck is Frank Zane, then this should tell you more about him.
- 1961 Mr. Pennsylvania (17th place)
- 1962 Mr. Keystone (Winner)
- 1963 Mr. Keystone (2nd)
- 1965 Mr. Sunshine State (Winner)
- 1965 IFBB Mr. Universe (1st, Medium Height category)
- 1966 IFBB Mr. America (1st, Medium)
- 1967 IFBB Mr. America (1st, Medium)
- 1967 IFBB Mr. Universe (3rd, Tall)
- 1968 IFBB Mr. America (Winner)
- 1968 IFBB Mr. Universe (Winner)
- 1970 NABBA Mr. Universe (Winner)
- 1971 NABBA Pro Mr. Universe (1st, Short)
- 1972 NABBA Pro Mr. Universe (Winner)
- 1972 IFBB Mr. Olympia (Under 200 lbs, 4th)
- 1974 IFBB Mr. Olympia (Under 200 lbs, 2nd)
- 1975 IFBB Mr. Olympia (Under 200 lbs, 4th)
- 1976 IFBB Mr. Olympia (Under 200 lbs, 2nd)
- 1977 IFBB Mr. Olympia (Under 200 lbs & Overall Winner)
- 1978 IFBB Mr. Olympia (Under 200 lbs & Overall Winner)
- 1979 IFBB Mr. Olympia (Under 200 lbs & Overall Winner)
- 1980 IFBB Mr. Olympia (3rd, after suffering a near-fatal injury at his home, requiring lengthy hospitalization)
- 1981 IFBB Mr. Olympia – did not compete (boycotted the Mr Olympia contest after the controversial 1980 contest)
- 1982 IFBB Mr. Olympia (2nd)
- 1983 IFBB Mr. Olympia (4th)
As you might be able to tell, Zane was not only an amazing competitor, but went from amateur to world champion very quickly. In 4 years he transformed from a local nobody into a defining figure in the 60s bodybuilding culture – and he continued to be a fantastic competitor all the way into the 1980s.
Frank Zane is an American bodybuilder born 28th of June 1942. As you can see, he has won Mr Olympia 3 times. Frank Zane was the king of aesthetics: his frame was not as huge as some other bodybuilders of his era like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Lou Ferrigno, but his shape and conditioning were brutally impressive.
Zane won his competitions based on the proportions and conditioning he could bring to a competition. Even as a much smaller man, Zane looked amazing due to his impressive V-taper, small waist, and amazing vacuum position.
Frank Zane has been described as quiet and calm. He started lifting weights when he was 14 years old after opening a bodybuilding magazine he randomly found at his school – an amazing turn of fate! Frank had then started training at the gym and also had bought himself his first pair of dumbbell which he would train with at home.
He is one of the only athlete to have beaten Arnold Schwarzenegger during a competition in Florida – the Mr Universe. Later in his life, Frank Zane will write many books, 5 in total. His last book was called 91 day wonder body.
His most famous book is his own autobiography which is called Symmetry (no affiliation). Not a surprising title coming from one of the most proportional and aesthetic body in the world of bodybuilding.
What’s impressive about Frank Zane?
What was impressive about Frank Zane was his capacity to beat much bigger bodybuilders by being so physically aesthetically pleasant. His proportions were just perfect.
Another bodybuilder with great proportions and aesthetics was Serge Nubret, even though, Nubret was bigger also, which shows that aesthetics can occur across different types of body – which explains why we have bodybuilding classes.
Frank Zane was one of the smallest frame and lightest weight around stage. He never went above 85kg on stage. He admitted he simply did not have the capacity of reaching such sizes like Arnold Schwarzenegger and decided that playing to his great proportions was a better choice.
Zane has admitted in the past that Steve Reeves was his role model. It looks like it has worked well on his own physique. Frank Zane has a similar physique to Steve Reeves. The only difference is that Frank Zane was not natural like Steve Reeves might have been – and his physique exaggerates the V-taper, because of this ability to grow larger and become more conditioned due to PED use.
That allowed him to reach “excellence”!
The last impressive thing we can write down about Frank Zane is his vacuum. Probably one of the best which ever existed, and an example of the golden age aesthetic that has – mostly – disappeared from bodybuilding.
This tells you that if your goal is to get a super condition on stage without using any performance-enhancing drugs, Frank Zane should be one your go-to role models. Although he was an enhanced athlete, we get pretty close to what an elite natural bodybuilder might reach one day with the right genetics and hard work, and his principles of proportion and symmetry are important for all of us!
Here are Frank Zane’s measurements:
Arms: 45.7cm/18 inches
Neck: 44.5cm/17,5 inches
Chest: 132cm/52 inches
Waist: 73.7cm/29 inches
Thighs: 66cm/26 inches
Calves: 41.9cm/16,5 inches
Wrists: 16,5cm/6,5 inches
As you can tell, Zane was “not a big man”, but that didn’t stop him from achieving amazing success and defining the goal bodies of young bodybuilders ever since.
What can you learn from Frank Zane?
Here are a few quotes from Frank Zane and see how it can appeal us natural bodybuilders in our journeys to build muscle.
“Continuity is how you build a physique”
Frank Zane reminds us that it takes time to build muscle. That might be one hard pill to swallow but it is true. Although we can go much faster by following the right steps, just like in the starting guide for natural bodybuilders written on the blog.
It looks like the rise of PEDs in the fitness industry might be correlated with the fact people want a shortcut. But at the end of the day, it will also give you problems quicker. Learning how to train well as a natural bodybuilder is probably the most important thing to do to improve quickly without taking risks. Patience and good practices are the most important factor in how far you can go!
“In those days, I did what was necessary for me to win. This included training with heavy weights: a precursor for injury. So if I could do it over again I’d train with lighter weights, higher reps, no sets below 10 reps, with negatives slower than positives, and avoid injury. If I had done that, my physique wouldn’t have been quite as bulky, but with more definition and with less pain”
In the world of bodybuilding, we always hear older people tell younger people to be careful and put their ego on the side when it comes to lifting. This is because bodybuilders need to maximise muscle gains and that means getting back into the gym as often – and safely – as possible.
You’re not a powerlifter or weightlifter, you’re a bodybuilder. Zane didn’t need to lift more weight, he needed to do more work overall, and that’s easier when you’re giving your body plenty of nervous system recovery, which comes from those lower-weight, slower, more careful sets.
It looks like heavy weight training is what worked for Frank Zane at his peak as he mentioned. Truth is, you do have to go beyond those limits sometimes to grow, but it should be smart and patient and based on volume, with weight being developed patiently.
One thing we would like to emphasise is making sure to warm up very seriously before going onto heavy weights and learning about good form. This way, you can go heavy without taking much risks. On the other hand, you can try going with lighter weight and see if it works for you, after all, you might as well listen to 3 times Mr Olympia, Frank Zane.
How is Frank Zane doing now?
Frank Zane retired in 1983 at 41 years old. He is 78 years old today. Frank Zane was still showing an impressive physique a decade ago at 70 years old and his photos have remained iconic even in his old age.
He just looks exactly like before but with a bit of age, which is very impressive – and shows that his long-term, patient training style pays off long after stopping competition.
Today at 78 years old, Frank Zane still looks pretty damn healthy – the result of a smart, patient approach to training and recovery!
Frank Zane’s workout routine analysis
What can we learn as natural bodybuilders from Zane’s split routine?
Frank Zane seemed to have been mixing powerlifting movements with isolation movements. On his website, he mentions:
Frank Zane seemed to have adopted powerbuilding as a method. Although his work-out was not conducted with low repetitions, he still added plenty of coumpound and powerlifting movements in his workouts. Powerbuilding has its benefits in terms of learning how to do proper form and get bigger quicker. You can read the article here.
It is important to try and separate, or give some space in the week, for the muscles which will be similarly used in a session. Frank Zane would take a day off after his day 1. He mentions that doing heavy deadlifts the day before squat was not a good idea as he would get a sore lower back and fatigue his hips. He would then do day 1, rest, day 2, day 3, day 1, rest, etc…
He did not seem to have difficulties doing chest/shoulders/triceps followed by back/biceps/forearms. As a natural bodybuilder, doing chest and shoulders with back the next day might be quite exhausting and not give you enough time to recover – this means you need to adjust your expectations: you’re not going to be at peak performance when you’re fatigued. It can be useful, but it does compromise your performance.
Beginners will usually only need 3-4 days a week to make great progress. Therefore, if you are a beginner, utilise all the space you are given in one week to arrange your split routine.
An example following Frank Zane type of routine could be:
Saturday: Legs/ (biceps)
Alternatively, you could also make a program by days. Day 1, day 2, day 3. Just make sure as a beginner that you will give yourself more rest.
Frank Zane’s routine did not have as much volume as you would find in Arnold’s or Nubret’s routine, but it was still impressive. It is possible to follow this program reliably and see gains without burning out.
Zane had intense sessions which also means he would try and get a lot done in a pretty short time frame. You need to stick with this approach if you’re trying to make his routine work – or you’re not going to see the same results.
You can see his program was smartly made, for example, on his day 3 (chest/shoulders/triceps):
He transitioned his chest work-out to triceps workout by doing some pull-overs. This would help improve the performance of the chest and the surrounding muscles, as well as developing the combined performance of the chest and lats. It also stretches out the long head of the triceps, which crosses over the shoulder, to provide a more complete workout.
Integrating some close grip bench right after is pretty interesting as it works both chest and triceps. Again, this is a pretty efficient way of doing things and allows you to pack more work into workouts. Although the main muscle he works are now his triceps, he is still working on his chest, smart transition.
Key points to keep in mind from Zane’s routine:
- Give enough recovery in between your sessions which are working similar muscles. The more advanced you are, the less you will be impacted by those principles.
- Work efficiently, you can make smart transitions like Frank Zane did. This can help you save time if you are busy or simply improve your work-out intensity.
- If you are someone who easily gets injured or have had injuries in the past, make sure you learn the proper form and trust Frank Zane on his advice to train smarter with lighter weights.
- Include some powerlifting movements in your session, try power building to get quicker results!
- Watch Frank Zane’s posing videos from the 80s and get inspired to become an aesthetic freak!