Bodybuilding Legends – Lee Haney

Ask a person to name their top three bodybuilders and they will probably mention GOATs like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ronnie Coleman or Dorian Yates. However, whilst those three are notable in their own right, only Ronnie can claim the same crown as Lee Haney – winning 8 consecutive Olympias; but Haney did it first. Find out how as he’s the next subject in our series: Bodybuilding Legends – Lee Haney!

Haney’s Olympia reign lasted from 1984 until 1991 after which he retired unbeaten aged 32 – a feat very few have equalled. To say he dominated the Olympia circuit is an understatement but compared to other winners and professional bodybuilders his presence seems muted on the contemporary scene.

Lee Haney Started Weight Training at 11 Years-Old

Haney began training at a young age, receiving a weight set aged 11 alongside a Charles Atlas training manual. His dedication manifested in a humorous attempt at competing at aged 16 – wearing shop-bought underwear instead of the usual trunks. As expected he placed poorly, but was touted as having a great deal of potential by judges (an understatement in hindsight).

This could be due to his victories taking place firmly between the golden-era and the debut of the modern-day mass monsters. Nonetheless, ‘Total-Lee Awesome’ Haney’s training technique is tried and tested and remains one of the more popular, intensive routines around.

Haney Trained a 3-Day Split

Operating a 3-day split, Haney would train chest and arms, followed by leg day, before finishing his training split with a session focused on his back and shoulders. After a rest day he would start the cycle again. Paired with daily ab and calf work, it’s easy to see how the high weekly volume propelled him to the top – but when paired with his genetics (including his famous v-shaped torso and tiny waist) he seemed (and was) unbeatable. 

Haney’s ability to recognise other bodybuilders’ training styles, techniques and exercises and apply them to his own routine evidentially gave him the edge in creating his physique. Employing forced reps and negatives, his methods were similar to his successors Dorian Yates and Ronnie Coleman but lacked the bone crunching weight.

“If you can’t flex it, don’t carry it.” – Lee Haney

When bulking he preferred clean eating, rather than eating for the sake of gaining weight – a favourite saying of his was, “If you can’t flex it, don’t carry it”, referring to the excess fat that some professional bodybuilders put on far more aggressively than others. His clean diet is exactly what you would expect, drinking water, eating pineapple (for its anti-inflammatory properties), sweet potatoes and other low GI foods to avoid uncontrolled fat gain.

Lee Haney Chest Day Training Video

During his off-season, the same trends persisted, preferring to eat up to 15 eggs a day to increase his size, before tapering down towards a competition, removing some egg yolks in a meal but leaving a few in their due to the presence of lecithin and choline. As with all parts of his life, control was key, but even more so in diet.

Haney’s Training Philosophy: Train to Stimulate, not Annihilate!

This focus on health placed him in contention with some of his bodybuilding peers, especially when training. Not only did Haney believe in pre-exhaustion (performing isolation exercises prior to his compound lifts), he cited perfect form as a cornerstone in long-term, successful physique building alongside a mantra of train to stimulate, not annihilate. His refusal to push his muscles to failure was due to a risk of injury and that by pre-exhausting a muscle, a workout would feel more intense regardless.

First Bodybuilder to have a Dedicated TV Program: Totalee Fit with Lee Haney

Off the stage, Haney’s career took off further despite his seemingly premature retirement – he was appointed Chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports (a position previously held by Arnold Schwarzenegger). Likewise, he was also the first bodybuilder to have a dedicated TV program, designed so the viewer could follow along at home, aptly named Totalee Fit: with Lee Haney.

Overall, Haney is undoubtedly one of the greatest of the greats in bodybuilding. But his life offstage reiterates his charisma and quiet charm. Despite being over 60, he is still an ardent weight lifter, touting its benefits on both mind and body. Admittedly, I knew little about him and even after research he remains largely a mystery, acting as a man who took what he wanted from the sport and left on a high point.

Which bodybuilder physiques do admire from the 80’s and 90’s? Let us know in the comments below and join in the conversation on FacebookTwitter & InstagramNeed more iron? We’ve got loads! Check out Charlie’s previous articles as well as strength specialist, Alan Riseborough’s bodybuilding and training articles on forearms, gripshoulders, his interview with 5-time Mr. Olympia Masters champion, Vince TaylorIFBB Vegan Pro Bodybuilder, Torre Washingtonand more to help you Keep YOUR Fit ON!

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