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Build an Award-Winning Physique

The guys who have walked away from the Mr. Olympia contest with the sport’s highest prize, the Sandow, boast some of the most impressive physiques to ever don a set of posing trunks. We may not all be able to weigh in at 280 with 3 percent body fat, but we can take some cues from these men on what it takes to build show-stopping musculature. 


Frank Zane was Mr. Olympia from 1977 to 1979, but his amazing set of abs will live on forever. In addition to smart nutrition, Zane built his classic midsection by using high volume and partial movements. He believed that partial range of motion on moves such as sit-ups and leg raises required more muscular control, which was ultimately responsible for developing a muscle fully. It was common for him to do 50 to 100 reps for multiple sets of each exercise.


Bodybuilding is obviously a commitment to specialization, which is why isolation is so important. But muscle responds best to new challenges, so Sandow winner Franco Columbu (1976 and 1981) wasn’t afraid to go heavy, even on isolation moves like flyes. Most lifters prefer to use flyes as a high-rep finisher, but Franco would often pyramid up to a weight he could handle for five reps or fewer. 


The more muscle you can break down through training, the more you stand to build through nutrition. Arnold Schwarzenegger (1970 to 1975, 1980) considered training his job and would spend hours on a single bodypart, training until he was satisfied he’d fully exhausted it. The typical three-to-four-set prescription was often doubled in Schwarzenegger’s routines. In the case of pull-ups, he would simply pick a number — say, 60 — and do as many sets as it took to reach that number.


There are many proponents of keeping workouts simple. There are only so many ways you can contract and stretch a muscle, they figure. But four-time Mr. O Jay Cutler (2006 and 2007, 2009 and 2010) liked to leave no fiber untouched by a workout. To this day, it’s not uncommon for him to do three to five sets of six or more exercises for a single bodypart, which as you can imagine, is a heavy commitment on leg day.


No Mr. Olympia got to the top of the bodybuilding food chain by skipping calves. Attacking small body-parts is crucial to keeping physiques proportioned, which is the key to victory on the Olympia stage. Dorian Yates (1992 to 1997) was relentless with his calves, Ronnie Coleman (1998 to 2005) blasted his rear delts, and Larry Scott (1965 and 1966) never missed a forearm workout. Nothing is unimportant when it comes to building the perfect physique.