Bodybuilding: Interview with 3 x Mr Olympia — Frank Zane

Born June 28, 1942 in Pennsylvania, USA, Frank Zane owns one of the greatest, most aesthetic, symmetrical and well-proportioned physiques ever in the history of competitive bodybuilding (even by today’s standards) and is unquestionably a bodybuilding legend having been inducted into the IFBB Hall of Fame in 1999.

His stunning physique has led him to being one of the most admired and influential bodybuilders on the planet. In fact, many fans consider his physique to be the ideal, and best ever in the sport!

Frank has won bodybuilding’s most prestigious title -Mr. Olympia- three times. Just as impressive, he’s one of only three men to have ever beaten the world’s most famous bodybuilder, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Still training almost four decades after his last competition appearance, there’s a lot more to him than you might think.

Frank is a talented, and multidimensional man, full to the brim with valuable bodybuilding knowledge, cutting-edge training techniques, nutrition insights, and a wealth of wisdom and life experience that can only come through years’ of commitment and dedication to excellence.

Keen to share his expertise, Frank regularly writes books and coaches bodybuilders from all walks of life. His “Zane Bodybuilding Manual”, a detailed book containing 436 pages, has been a huge success worldwide. He teaches people that the development of the mind is just as important as the development of the body. Constantly involved in learning, it’s perhaps no surprise that he possesses three academic degrees from three different universities!

Recently, we were fortunate to speak with Frank about his bodybuilding career, training, books, mindset, life, interests, and his views on modern-day bodybuilding. He tells us about his happy, successful marriage, Buddhism, the power of positive affirmations, meditation, and his passion for archery. Without further ado, please join us for our exclusive interview with three-time Mr Olympia bodybuilding legend, Frank Zane!

Hi Frank, first of all, I’d like to say a huge thank you for agreeing to take part in this interview, and it’s a privilege to talk to one of the best bodybuilders of all time.

Well, thank you!

What do you think about the name Keep Fit Kingdom?

I like your name.

Our mission is to help a billion people reach a hundred years of age happily and healthily. What are your thoughts on that?

It’s a worthy goal. I don’t know how likely it is, but it’s certainly something to shoot for!

Frank’s Background

That’s great to get your opinion Frank. Thank you very much. OK, so going back a few years, before your 23-year competitive career, what made you want to start bodybuilding in the first place?

When I was about fourteen, my younger brother was always getting into fights and trouble, so I ended up defending him. I found out that when I built myself up, we didn’t have any more fights. I saw results right away. In two weeks, I had lats. Nobody wanted to mess with me after that.

Frank’s Idols: Steve Reeves & Larry Scott

That’s a good reason! Which bodybuilders in particular inspired you to lift weights?

I guess my favourite bodybuilder as an inspiration is Steve Reeves. I also looked up to Larry Scott as far as development went. That was pretty much my two idols.

What do you consider to be the most illustrious and significant highlight of your bodybuilding career?

I guess winning the Olympia three times. Also, winning the NABBA Universe was pretty significant for me at the time.

On Defeating Arnold Schwarzenegger

At the Mr Universe in 1968 you defeated Arnold Schwarzenegger. Do you have any fond memories of that day?

I’d just been in the Mr America contest a week before and I wasn’t even going to go in the Universe, I got talked into it. I was living in Florida and friend of mine, Jim Haislop, was just in London competing in the Universe and Arnold was there.

I talked to him about it. “Don’t worry about Arnold,” he said. “He’s real smooth.” I was more concerned about Rick Wayne who was in incredible shape, but he didn’t compete. So Arnold showed up and I think I won it pretty much hands down. The judges – Chuck Sipes, and Joe Nista, competitive bodybuilders themselves – all gave me their vote. I was in shape for that and Arnold wasn’t. Period.

He didn’t take it too well and of course he got a contract from Weider. He was off to California, training full time. Then I got there about six months later, we became friends and trained together a lot.

Frank Zane: 3 X Mr Olympia Titles

You won the Mr. Olympia three times in 1977, 78 and 79. In which year did you present your best physique in your opinion?

I think ’79 was my best year. I had a combination of size, proportion, definition, and I was very confident.

Which of those three competitions would you say was most challenging to prepare for?

They were all about the same. I prepared the same way, I just trained hard. Actually, for ’79 I trained the best. I had a house in Palm Springs which had a lot of gym equipment, and I stayed there in the last month and just worked out and trained.

I ran at the high-school track at night and I was in incredible shape back then. I was also very confident, I knew that nothing could beat me that year, and that’s the way it turned out.

Confidence is important Frank

Well you have to have proof. You can’t just be confident without having proof of your quality. One thing I did is I always took a lot of photos. My wife was an excellent photographer and every week we’d take photos before competition to see exactly what I looked like. So when I got onstage I knew what I looked like, and I doubt anyone else did because I don’t think anybody else prepared as thoroughly as I did for competition.

Zane is a master of posing

Zane is a master of posing

Frank’s Top 5 Favourite Physiques

Who are your top 5 favourite physiques of all time?

My favourite would be Steve Reeves. Larry Scott number two. Sergio Olivia number three. John Grimek, I’d have to put him right up there. From the modern era it would be Ronnie Coleman, he had so much muscle.

Do you keep in touch with any bodybuilders from your competition days?

Not really. I live in San Diego and everybody that’s competitive is from Los Angeles area. I don’t get up there very often so I don’t get to see them. I don’t really go to competitions either, I’m just doing my own thing. I have a really good gym, people come from all over the world to train. I keep busy doing that plus I have a very successful mail order business with my books. I have one called “Zane Bodybuilding Manual” which is 436 pages. It’s sold thousands of books over the last year or so. I do a lot of writing. I have a lot to say.

A Day in The Life of Frank Zane

What does a typical day look like for you now?

I get up and have breakfast. This morning we went for a walk with our dog. Then I come home, relax and then work out. Not quite everyday, but I train usually on a two-way split routine. I have a lot of machines in my gym and I like using them because they can isolate areas.

Do you still enjoy training?

Yeah. I’ll do it the rest of my life. I find I have to do it because if I don’t do it I don’t feel right. Injuries tend to occur more if I’m not in shape. I don’t train heavy, I train doing repetitions. Getting a great pump, that’s the main thing.

I use a combination of rubber cables, I wrap them round my weight stacks in the gym. I get a really nice form of resistance. I don’t have to use as heavy a weight when I have the rubber cables attached. I tend to train that way now.

A bit easier on the joints?

It’s much easier. Actually, what hurts the joints are the weights. If you go too heavy too soon without warming up, it takes its toll. I’ve learned a lot of what not to do, and I avoid the things that are hazardous.

Frank’s Buddhist Beliefs

In 2011 you appeared in the documentary “Challenging Impossibility” describing the weightlifting odyssey of spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy. Do you have a spiritual teacher and what kind of teaching or philosophy appeals most to you?

I don’t really have a teacher. I guess I’m a student of Buddhism, I’ve studied a lot of it. I believe in the practice. Basically I meditate everyday and I have a mantra that I use. I keep my mind focused, I work on keeping good focus. I practice things like right speech, right livelihood, and living life and being an honest person.

New Documentary

In June 2020 you began filming a documentary about your own life which is directed by Alex Ardenti. How is that progressing and when can we expect it to be released?

I’m not sure when it’s going to be released. They’re still working on it, we’ll meet with them this Saturday. Mike O’Hearn is coming down. He’s got great potential, I think this guy could go really far in bodybuilding. I’m going to check out his posing and give him a few tips.

That will be interesting!

Yeah! These more advanced guys that come to see me already know how to train, they built their bodies on what they know. The main thing is presentation, showing their body to their advantage. If you don’t do that the right way, it doesn’t help.

On Diet, Supplements & “The Chemist’s” Top 5 Energy Foods

You’re well known by the nickname “The Chemist” because of your vast amount of knowledge on nutrition and supplements. Can you tell us your top 5 foods that give you the most energy for workouts, recovery, and for life in general?

I’m a big fan of free form amino acids. I’ve been taking those for thirty years now. I take vitamin and mineral preparation, pancreatic digestive enzymes, liver extract, oils; I’m always taking supplements. I don’t take a protein supplement anymore, I get my protein nutrition from amino acids. Plus I eat well, I never overload on carbohydrates. I don’t eat junk and I don’t drink alcohol. It’s a pretty good diet all the time.

Is supplementation more important as you get older?

I think it’s always important. It’s very important as you get older. You have to keep your diet nutritionally dense. As you get older I think it’s good not to eat as much and don’t consume a lot of calories, especially not junk calories. Get highly nutritious foods in your diet.

What sort of problems do you see most often when it comes to the subject of diet and nutrition? What sort of methods can someone use to get back on the right track again?

I think it’s best not to get out of shape! If you let yourself get out of shape, the older you get the harder it is to get back. The best thing is to not let it happen.

I always at least train and do something, I never don’t train. It could be only two days a week, more than likely it’s three days or four days a week. When clients come and see me, I do some training with them too.

So it’s constantly changing

Well, the thing about it is that I’m 78 years-old now, I’m not trying to make gains anymore. I’m just trying to stay the same.

What does your own diet look like now? How many calories do you consume approximately?

I get under 2000 calories a day. My diet is mainly eggs for breakfast, for lunch I have a small piece of swordfish on a piece of wholegrain toast, and for dinner I have either fish or poultry. Sometimes I eat lean red meat, but I don’t eat too much anymore. I used to eat a lot of red meat.

Do you have a favourite superfood?

I don’t really look up on anything as a superfood. I just follow a balanced diet. I get more protein in my diet than carbs, and I don’t get a lot of fat in my diet. I’ve been following this diet for quite some time.

Veganism is really becoming a popular movement. What is your view on veganism? Have you tried any vegan foods?

I find it hard to get enough protein while eating vegan foods, it doesn’t really fill me up. I’ve eaten meat my whole life and I’m not about to switch over to vegan. I tend to be a lean person anyway so for me to just eat vegetables and fruits, I think I would get skinny as a rail.

It’s not for everyone is it?

No, nothing is really. You’ve got to find out what works best for you.

Training: Including 1,000 Reps a Day on Abs

Back at the height of your training days, what did a typical training week look like for you at your peak?

I followed a three-way split routine most of the time. I’d work the pulling muscles on the first day, that’s back, biceps and forearms. On the second day I did legs and calves. On the third day I did pushing muscles; chest, shoulders and triceps. That always worked pretty well for me. I’d do abdominal work everyday. I’ve done a lot of ab work, at one time I worked up to to over 1000 reps a day on abs. Of course, I still workout on a regular basis.

Check out Franks vacuum pose

Check out Franks vacuum pose

Frank Zane’s Best Lifts in the Gym

What were some of your best lifts in the gym? Can you tell us some of your best numbers, for example, the squat, deadlift and bench press?

I was quite a good squatter. The best I ever did was 10 reps with 405lbs. I was squatting with Arnold that year, 1972. Bench press, I never really went that heavy. In South Africa, I think I got 5 reps with 325lbs. In Santa Monica, Gold’s gym in the 1970’s, I did 11 reps with 310lbs. Years ago when I competed in powerlifting, I deadlifted 425lbs weighing 165lbs. That was relatively strong for my size.

Frank Zane Top 3 Gym Exercises

What are your top 3 gym exercises, ones that work best for you?

One of my favourite exercises is the lat pulldown. I have a Nautilus pullover machine and I’ve rigged it so I can do tricep extensions. I really like that exercise. I have a parallel dip machine which takes the place of parallel dips, I do that.

I don’t do any kind of overhead pressing anymore, because my shoulders are too worn out for that. I do a lot of machine work, I have some really nice machines. They have a good feel to them, I’ve had some of these machines for 40 years. They fit me just right and I tend to use those. I have a really good horizontal leg press and I put thick rubber bands around it. I like that combination of rubber bands with the weights. I think that gives the best effect.

Do you enjoy any bodyweight exercises such as push ups or sit-ups?

I don’t do much of that, except maybe for a warm-up. Another thing I do is stretch between sets all the time. Right after I do a set I do a stretch, holding it for about 15 seconds. I have ten stretches that I do, that’s what keeps me going.

Do you do any cardio?

I walk everyday with my dog for an hour and a half.

Zane-Zen: The Role of the Mind in Bodybuilding

You have often stated the importance of the mind in bodybuilding. What methods do you use to develop your own mind?

I meditate everyday and I say a mantra. A mantra is like a power phrase that I repeat thousands of times everyday. For example, when I’m walking I say one verse of it with every step. I don’t let my mind wander, I don’t have an empty mind. My mind is always doing something except when I’m meditating, one of the things I do is to clear my mind. The way I clear my mind is first by saying my mantra then it just disappears and I’m left with nothing, just emptiness, which is the ultimate state. I’ve been doing this for some time and it’s been very helpful for me.

How does the mind affect a person’s body and health?

Everything starts in your mind. The saying is “we become what we think.” So whatever you spend your time thinking about, that’s going to be your future. It’s all about what you believe too. I have an open mind to things, I try new things, basically I do what works for me: meditation and regular workouts. My wife is very helpful too. I’ve been married 52 years. She works out a lot. That keeps me going.

You use lots of meditation. Do you do yoga as well?

I don’t do any formal yoga, I do stretching instead. Basically meditation is a mental aspect of that, you know, saying a mantra or having an open mind – those work for me.

I read a lot of inspirational stuff and a lot of Buddhism. I have a Kindle, I don’t read regular books, I have everything on there. I must have 300 books. I also like books by Carlos Castaneda, spiritual books like “Tales of Power”, “Journey to Ixtlan” and “The Eagle’s Gift”. They’re very inspirational too. One of my favourite authors is P.D. Ouspensky. “In Search of the Miraculous” – I’ve studied that a lot.

So I have my own philosophy made up of a number of different sources: Buddhism, Castaneda, Ouspensky. I read poetry too. Jack Kerouac for example. I write stuff too. A lot of stuff for me comes out as poetry.

Frank Zane’s Books & New Title: “Wonder Mind”

You’ve written several books about bodybuilding and nutrition. Which book do you feel has stood the test of time and which one are you most proud of?

I’d say the “Zane Bodybuilding Manual”. That really has everything in there that I know. Years ago I wrote three books: “High Def Body”, “Symmetry”, and “Let’s Grow”. Plus I had one before that’s called “Fabulously Fit Forever“, and also “The Mind in Bodybuilding.” I incorporated those five books into the “Zane Bodybuilding Manual”. So for me that’s the main one.

Then I have some workbooks. I have one called “91-Day Wonder Body”. I also have one called “91-Day Wonder Abs”. They’re basically workbooks which have programs everyday that you do. I also have a book on posing called “31-Day Wonder Posing.”

I’m writing a book right now called “Wonder Mind.” It’s about meditation and mindset. I’m always writing something.

Is that due out this year?

It will be this year, probably a few more months.

The Zane Body Training Manual” Covers Everything

Do you have any effective ideas or techniques that you’d like to share from “The Zane Body Training Manual”, just for our readers?

There are a lot of ideas in there, 436 pages! Basically everything I know and have done that has worked for me. It’s chronological and starts off with my early training career. It goes through it all and tells what I was doing at the time as far as training and nutrition.

Everything that I’ve done, I’ve been doing for a long time. For example, for 18 years I published my own magazine called “Building the Body” and I wrote so much for that. I keep the files and I go through that every now and then and take articles and expand on them. I have a lot of stuff I’ve done, a lot of writing.

Dealing with Injuries

What’s the worst injury you’ve sustained in or out of training?

Both shoulders. I had my right shoulder replaced 10 or 12 years ago. It’s fine now. I also had rotator cuff surgery on my left shoulder. I have to take care of that shoulder, it gets a little sore sometimes if I’m not careful.

My lower back gets a little sensitive sometimes, but I do a lot of stretching and I keep it warm. Anybody who’s been training with weights for a long time has injuries, you’ve got to know how to manage them. I do therapy for them. I use heat, ice, and ultrasound.

Do you find ultrasound beneficial?

I think it’s a really good therapy. I don’t do it all the time, but I do it when something gets a bit serious. I’ll use ultrasound then follow it up with ice.

The Future Evolution of Bodybuilding

How do you think the future of men’s bodybuilding will evolve in the next 3-5 years?

It all depends on who wins the competitions and who goes in. I think this trend of “the bigger, the better” is ridiculous. It’s not a good example for the public. People who use massive amounts of steroids and drugs, that doesn’t appeal to me.

You really should develop your body as naturally as possible. Maybe as you get older you might want to use some hormone replacement if you need it, but I think you should take the natural route and develop your body naturally as far as you possibly can.

Bodybuilding & the Internet

How has the internet affected bodybuilding? What are the pros and cons of social media platforms such as Instagram?

The way I look at it is as a way of free advertising. But there’s so much stuff on there, and a lot of it is nonsense. There’s a girl who works for me, she puts some stuff up and I do too from time to time. If you follow my posts on Instagram: @therealfrankzane there’s a lot of material. I think it’s a great way to get material out to the public.

There’s a lot more opportunity for people now

Yes. One of the problems is that people who aren’t experts, but act like experts, develop a false following. It’s counterfeit material which is bound to spring up from every legitimate source of information. You have to know what’s good and what’s not. Experiment with it and see how it works. Test things out.

Fun & Leisure

If you could be a superhero, who would you be and which superpower would you like to have?

I never really identified with superheroes much. Maybe Superman!

Can you tell us one geeky thing about yourself that people don’t know about you?

I don’t think there’s anything. I’m just a regular person.

Frank’s Hobbies

What are some of your hobbies?

Archery. I’ve done that for many years. I shoot a compound bow. I’m a pretty good harmonica player too, I’ve been playing for a long time.

Making flutes. I make what’s called the Shakuhachi flute. It’s the Zen meditation flute. I play rhythm guitar. I don’t use standard tunings, I have a special tuning that I use on it and I like the way it sounds.

What is your favourite music?

I like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Linkin Park, heavy rock ‘n’ roll music. I like classical music. My favourites are Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart. I listen to music quite a bit. I have a little MP3 player with about 500 songs on it.

Favourite movie?

One movie that sticks out in my mind is “Being There”. That’s one of my favourites.

Proudest Accomplishments

What are some of your proudest accomplishments so far?

A couple of things. One is being married for 53 years to the same woman. Another thing is having advanced degrees from three different universities. I’ve got a Bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education from Wilkes University, Pennsylvania; a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from California State, and a Master’s degree in Experimental Psychology from California State University, San Bernardino.

I guess I could probably say I’m the most highly educated champion bodybuilder. There are medical doctors who are bodybuilders, but they haven’t won the Olympia three times! I taught school thirteen years too, I was a mathematics teacher. I’m a big fan of mathematics.

Future Goals

What are your goals for the future?

To stay alive and healthy for as long as possible. Come what may, I don’t really know what the future holds, but I’m prepared for it. We live a happy life here. We have a really nice place. We have a great gym, archery range, fantastic view, I can even see the Pacific Ocean from where we live. I don’t want for anything to tell you the truth. I have everything that I need.

Frank Zane’s Message for Keep Fit Kingdom Followers & His Fans

That’s sublime Frank. What special message would you like to share with Keep Fit Kingdom readers and your fans and followers around the world right now?

Find Something You Like & Then Perfect It

I think the goal in life is to find something you like that you’re good at and then to perfect it. That’s what I’ve done. I found something that I really liked – I loved bodybuilding right from the start when I was fourteen. Then I found out about bodybuilding contests, and the fact that I could actually be good at that was great for me.

Inspiration from York Barbell Company Founder

One of my greatest inspirations was Bob Hoffman, the founder of York Barbell company. In my very first competition, I was backstage pumping up, and Bob was watching me and he came over and said, “Young man. If I had a body like yours, I’d walk around with my shirt off all the time.” When I heard that, I figured that’s all I needed to hear. Nobody else gave me motivation like that.

Joe Weider

All he said to me was, “Frank, get bigger. Get bigger. Get bigger!” He was a size freak. Arnold was his boy and everybody could see that. I hung in there, got publicity, wrote articles, I was like part of a team. I miss Joe. We all had our good things and bad things to say about him, but nobody really stepped in and took over his outfit. I was in a lot of his ads which sort of made my reputation around the world.

70’s: Highlight of the Bodybuilding Era

We had a great time in the 70’s. I’d say the 70’s was the highlight of bodybuilding, with Arnold winning six times, me winning three, and Franco Columbu twice. That represented the three types of bodybuilder: the Herculean type was Columbu, the aesthetic type was me, and Arnold was a combination of both.

Physique Perspectives

Bodybuilding was always a big man’s sport. The smaller bodybuilders have always had it rougher. Guys like Danny Padilla had great proportion, but at 5′ 2” there’s not much he could do. Take Lou Ferrigno for example. If you look at them from fifty feet away, Ferrigno dwarfs him. If you get up close you can see the detail of the smaller guys. They’ve never really gotten as much credit because all the people in the audience are looking at it from a distance.

Bring Back the Classic Aesthetic…

Now the guys that enter bodybuilding are huge monsters that have everything. Size, definition, they’re taking it to the extreme. That’s what’s in trend now. I think that if enough guys now entered that were more like Steve Reeves, it would shift. It’s just that they’re not around anymore.

Well Frank. It’s been an absolute blast and a genuine pleasure to talk to you and we wish you every success in 2021!

Thank you.

We hope you liked this interview with bodybuilding legend, Frank Zane. Definitely check out his superb, information-packed website at Frank Zane.com and follow him on Instagram @therealfrankzane as well as on Facebook!

What do you think about Frank Zane; the bodybuilder, the teacher, the man – is he a major inspiration for you? Do you prefer the more carefully-chiselled, aesthetic physique lines and symmetry, or the bigger ‘mass-monster’ look that’s predominant these days? Which bodybuilders do you follow and admire? Let us know in the comments below and join in the conversation on FacebookTwitter & Instagram.

Want to get fortified with iron during the lockdown? Then check out our in-house man of steel, Alan Riseborough’s superb bodybuilding and training articles on forearm developmentgrip strengthshoulder strength, his interview with 5-time Mr. Olympia Masters champion, Vince Taylor, and vegan IFBB bodybuilding champion, Torre Washington, and much more to help you Keep YOUR Fit ON!

Acknowledgements:

Keep Fit Kingdom would like to thank: Alan Riseborough and Raj Khedun for their extended, and thoughtful bodybuilding-centric contributions to this interview. 

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