Bodybuilding Legends – Sergio Oliva

Bodybuilding has progressed immensely since the 1960’s and 70’s Golden Era. Many bodybuilders made a huge impact at this time and contributed to raising the popularity of this sport. One of these figures was 3 time Mr Olympia champion, the legendary Sergio Oliva. Known as “The Myth” in  the bodybuilding world, he’s one of the greats who continue to inspire newcomers and old-timers alike, read on for more as he’s next in our series of Bodybuilding Legends

Sergio’s introduction to lifting weights began in his home nation of Cuba. At the age of 17, he became acquainted with the barbell by training in the explosive sport of weightlifting. He made fast progress breaking Cuban records in his first competition. He defected to the USA in 1962 while representing the Cuban team, to escape from his troubled homeland’s oppressive regime and to seek a life in the ‘land of dreams’.

Sergio’s new competitive career as a bodybuilder began in the USA in the early 1960’s. The excellent genes that he had inherited helped him to build muscle fast. It was only four years after his first bodybuilding competition in 1963 that Oliva won his first Mr Olympia title, in 1967, again in 1968 and he famously won the following year’s Mr Olympia unopposed by and defeating the great Arnold Schwarzenegger at the 1969 Olympia. He competed against many other bodybuilding legends throughout his 22-year career including Reg Park, Bill Pearl and Chuck Sipes.

In the gym, the Myth utilized a multitude of techniques to constantly stimulate his massive muscles. Supersets, rest-pause sets and partial reps were frequently used in his workouts. Oliva was comfortable with performing a mix of high and low reps in his programmes and sometimes trained instinctively, not counting sets or reps. He made sure the muscles were pumped to their maximum capacity, engorging them with blood and feeling the lactic acid burn.

Sergio never neglected any body part and had no real weaknesses. His lower body training was as equally demanding as his upper body workouts and resulted in a well proportioned physique with leg development far superior to other bodybuilders of the era. He was knowledgeable in his training too. He knew the value of training the brachialis muscle: the biceps brachii sits as a large bulge on your the arm which is an obvious ‘show muscle’ for bodybuilders, however, the brachialis underneath it can generate approximately 50% more power and stands as the main contributor to elbow flexion. So, he was able to maximize the size of those huge arms which popped out of his shirt sleeves. His muscles were every bit as strong as they looked too. He was capable of bench pressing 225lbs (102kg) for 50 reps and squatting 550lbs (250kg) for multiple reps.

So what types of food did the Myth demolish to recover from his workouts? Surprisingly, he wasn’t particularly strict with his diet. He was quite liberal with what he ate. Although he ate ‘classic’ bodybuilding foods like chicken, eggs, fish and steak, he often consumed less healthy foods such as burgers and hot dogs. Rice and beans happened to be one of his favourite meals.

Sergio was a man with a solid mindset, driven by his love for bodybuilding. He worked as a full-time police officer for 27 years and still found the time to train passionately as a professional bodybuilder. Even after many surgeries, including knee replacements, he still lifted iron to stay strong and fit.

Sergio Oliva sadly passed away in 2012 at the age of 71 years old. Many bodybuilding fans hail Sergio as the best bodybuilder who ever lived. He had incredible size, appealing ‘superhero’ shape and a massive presence onstage and was certainly a unique character. His son Sergio Oliva Jr hopes to follow in his father’s footsteps and become the first son of a Mr Olympia to win the Mr Olympia crown. 

Alan is a strength and physique enthusiast and has 26 years' of training experience behind him. He has competed in powerlifting, arm wrestling, bodybuilding and grip strength competitions. He also includes rigorous bodyweight, sprinting and kettlebell training regularly in his routines. He believes in the transformative power of the squat which is (believe it or not) his favourite exercise!
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