Classic Bodybuilding: Famous Bodybuilders of the 1970's

Classic Bodybuilding: Famous Bodybuilders of the 1970's

The 1970's, often considered the Golden Age of bodybuilding, produced some of the most muscular and aesthetic bodybuilding physiques that continue to be used as a benchmark in professional competitions to this day.

Continuing from our discussion of famous bodybuilders during the 1950's and 1960's, this article examines three Golden Age bodybuilders considered to be in their prime during the 1970's - Serge Nubret, Franco Columbu, and Frank Zane. This generation of bodybuilders carefully studied the practices of bodybuilders in the 1950's and 1960's to implement nutrition and training techniques that created some of the best physiques of all time. Although the popularity of bodybuilding grew in the 50's and 60's, the 1970's was the catalyst triggering an explosion in popularity.

Classic Bodybuilders of the 1970's

Serge Nubret (1938-2011)

Serge NubretSerge Nubret, also known as the "Black Panther", was a French professional bodybuilder, actor, and author. Serge played roles in 17 different movies between 1962 and 1986 and was featured in the iconic 1977 documentary Pumping Iron. [2] He had a prolific bodybuilder career as well. Entered the scene in 1958 by winning Mr. Guadeloupe (island in the South Caribbean Sea) and by 1972 he was placing in the top 3 for IFBB Mr. Olympia competitions. [3]

Serge was a maniac in and out of the gym; in addition to his 5 to 6 day per week high-volume weightlifting routine he would perform up to 2,000 sit-ups per day, every day. [4] Serge consumed a calorie-dense diet to facilitate recovery from such intense training.

Nubret typically trains six days per week using a body part split with three workouts performed twice per week. Workout A on Mondays and Thursdays focused on developing the quadriceps and chest. Workout B on Tuesday and Friday blasted the back and hamstrings. Wednesdays and Fridays consisted of shoulder, arm, and calf exercises. [5]

Serge performed direct ab training every day using an incredibly high volume of sit ups. Every workout Serge obliterated each muscle group with 30 to 50 working sets (except arms which he limited to 16 sets), predominantly worked in 12 to 20-rep range, and rested only 30 seconds between sets. [3]

He preferred using a compound movement as the first exercise to target each body part for that day, following by isolation exercises which decreased in complexity as the workout progressed. Serge loved to perform squats, bench presses, chin-ups, and behind the neck presses to target the quads, chest, back, and shoulders.

He didn't regularly perform deadlifts, instead focusing on leg curl variations to build his hamstrings. [5] He rarely if ever trained forearms and traps directly but still managed to build those muscle to a significant size. [6] His routine is not for the faint of heart and is perfect for someone looking for a high-volume, high-frequency routine.

Serge trained often using incredible volume but the results speak for themselves. To ensure recovery and muscle growth he ate a lot of calories and never counted calories. He ate up to six pounds of red meat per day in addition to the large quantities of rice, beans, chicken, fish, lentils, vegetables, and fruit he consumed. [7]

This diet contains a wide variety of micronutrient and macronutrient-dense minimally-processed foods. Six pounds of raw flank steak, a popular and cost-effective cut of red meat, contains over 1,850 calories, 570 grams of protein, and 220 grams of fat. [7] During contest preparation Serge would substantially cut carbohydrates but continue to eat large quantities of meat. [8]

In this era of bodybuilding we'd call this a ketogenic diet. However, he'd switch to a high-protein and high-carbohydrate diet in the week leading up to a competition to fill out his muscles after depleting glycogen levels during the contest prep phase. [8] Many professional bodybuilders employ the practice of keeping protein high, carbohydrates low, and fats moderate during a contest prep phase. The glycogen-refill phase may last 12 hours to a week depending on energy, appearance, and conditioning leading up to the competition.

Francesco "Franco" Columbu (1941-2019)

Franco ColumbuFrancesco "Franco Columbu, also known as "The Sardinian Samson", was an Italian professional bodybuilder, author, actor, producer, and Strongman competitor. He won the Mr. Olympia in 1976 and 1981 as well as placed 5th in the 1977 World's Strongest Man competition. [9]

Franco is often considered the first powerbuilder because of his enormous strength in addition to his muscle size and symmetry. He plays roles in 15 different movies produced between 1976 and 2015, the most notable of which being the Terminator, Conan the Barbarian, and The Running Man. He's also produced six movies between 1987 and 2003. [10]

To build such incredible strength and size during his prime bodybuilding years Franco utilized a high-frequency body part split utilizing morning and evening workouts as well as a relatively simple diet.

In his prime Franco could bench press 525lbs, squat 655lbs, and deadlift 750lbs. [9] To build such an impressive physique and Big 3 lift total he performed sets of 2 to 20 repetitions. Franco recommends a 10-minute warm-up using calisthenics and never training to complete muscle failure. [11]

Instead of splitting his routine across 7-days Franco preferred to think in 14-day increments, training each body part at least twice per week and sometimes training in both the morning and evening. On days 1, 6, 10, and 12 he trained chest and shoulders. On days 1, 4, 8, 10, and 13 he performed arm exercises. On days 2, 5, 9, and 11 incorporated back-building movements. On days 2, 5, 8, and 11 he blasted his legs.

He also performed deadlifts after all other leg exercises on Day 11. [9] He rested one day per week, typically on day 7 and day 14 before repeating the training cycle over again.

Franco loved to superset a compound and isolation movement on chest days, perform isolation exercises before compound movements on shoulder day to pump the muscle with blood, start each back workout with wide-grip pull-ups, superset bicep and tricep exercises, as well as build his wheels using high and low-rep squats as the first exercise on leg day. [12]

When Columbu performed the deadlift he performed six sets using a descending number of reps - 5,5,5,3,1, and 1. [9] In the gym he emphasized using the mind-muscle connection and challenging himself without wrecking his body to build one of the greatest physiques of all time.

At first glance Franco's diet appears way too simple and calorie-sparse to support such intense training. With the exception of breakfast, there's rarely mention of the food quantity consumed at each meal. We can safely assume he ate a lot of protein and carbohydrates to fuel such glycogen-depleting training.

Franco ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as snacks in the afternoon in evening. Breakfast was simple and included eggs, fruit, orange juice, yogurt with milk and granola. [9] Eggs are rich in muscle-building protein and cholesterol to support healthy testosterone levels. Lunch included a fresh vegetable salad with oil and vinegar dressing, cooked vegetables, a protein source like fish, chicken, lamb, or liver, and sometimes wine. [9]

This low-carbohydrate lunch is micronutrient rich due to the presence of both fresh and cooked vegetables. His snacks were relatively ordinary and used involved cheese, fresh fruit, and/or yogurt. [9] These meals are light on the stomach and add extra calories and nutrients without ruining his appetite.

Dinner repeated the same meal structure as lunch, lots of vegetables and a protein source. [9] Franco preferred to consume the majority of his calories during the three main meals of the day, but also listened to his body and ate when he was hungry.

Frank Zane (1942-Present)

Frank ZaneFrank Zane, also known as "The Chemist", is an American professional bodybuilder and actor. Although he stood just 5-feet and 9.5 inches tall, he built an exceptionally muscular and symmetrical physique that led to the victory over Arnold Schwarzenegger for Mr. Universe in 1968 as well as three back-to-back Mr. Olympia titles between 1977 and 1979. [13]

There are less than five people to beat Arnold in a bodybuilding competition and Frank is one of them. Zane also played roles in a combined total of 13 movies and television series, most notably Pumping Iron, as well as produced one movie entitled See Arnold Run. [13] To build such an exceptional physique Zane found a routine high in both volume and intensity performed six days per week, paired with a strict diet to be most effective.

To maximize muscle growth Zane emphasized the mind-muscle connection, focused on performing quality reps using the appropriate range of motion (full or partial depending on the exercise and training goal), using visualization techniques, and focusing on slow and steady improvements over a longer period of time rather than looking for a quick fix or fad-training approach. [14]

Zane commonly trained with Arnold and found a body part split separated in to three separate workouts, A, B, and C, each performed twice per week, to be most effective for inducing hypertrophy. He trained chest and back on Mondays and Thursdays, legs on Tuesdays and Fridays, and shoulders and arms on Wednesdays and Saturdays. [15]

Zane allowed himself one rest day per week, typically on Sundays, to recover from such an intense training week. He experienced optimal growth by performing 10 to 12 working sets for smaller body part like triceps and biceps and 15 to 20 working sets for larger body parts like legs, chest, and back, on a given training day. [16]

Zane rarely trained to failure and only performed intensity techniques like forced reps under the supervision of a spotter during a contest prep phase. [15] He tended to use a double split workout incorporating morning and evening weightlifting sessions during a contest prep phases but also found success using a 3-on, 1-off routine as he aged and required more recovery time. [17]

Zane typically performed sets of 20+ reps when it came to abdominal training. [18] Frank incorporated abdominal vacuums and dumbbell pullovers to increase the illusion of a narrower waist which is now commonly considered one of the best midsections in the bodybuilding history.

Unlike some professional bodybuilders who allow their diet to slip during the offer season, Frank did not. He took pride in following simple nutrition rules and rarely deviating from a diet high in minimally processed foods. As a result, he maintained incredible leanness year-round. Frank ate one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, never consumed more grams of carbohydrates than protein, ensured approximately 25% of his daily caloric intake came from fat calories, and consumed between 2,000 and 3,000 calories per day. [19]

He avoided simple sugars, consumed starchy vegetables as his primary carbohydrate source, and obtained protein from yeast drinks, protein drinks, meat, fish, and eggs. [20] Frank loved beef, eating at least one pound per day during both mass-gain and fat-loss phases. [21] Zane is no longer a professional bodybuilder but continues to eat nutrient-dense foods because he feels diet is key element for longevity and living a high quality life. [16]

When it comes meal timing and size recommends listening to the body and waiting to eat until after hunger is felt for a brief period of time. [22] Zane correlates the feeling of hunger to the burning of fat.

In an era where a surplus of calories is available and many people are overweight or obese, it's worth employing Zane's meal-timing methodology from time-to-time to minimize overeating and fat gain. Through intense weight training and an extremely clean diet Zane built a physique embodying the Golden Age of bodybuilding.

Why didn't I Include Arnold Schwarzenegger?

Most consider Arnold Schwarzenegger one of, if not the most famous and successful bodybuilder of the 20th century. While I agree that his influence continues to shape professional bodybuilding to this day I felt it necessary to highlight other professional bodybuilder that kicked ass during the 1970's.

A quick web search yields thousands of articles discussing Arnold's diet and training style while you'll be hard-pressed to find such coverage on virtually any other bodybuilder. Arnold holds a special place in the heart of any one who loves the iron but hopefully this article provided you with additional insight from other professional bodybuilders active during the 1970's.

Who is your favorite bodybuilder active during this decade? Let me know in the comments below!

1) Rosenberg, Jennifer. "History Timeline of the 1970s." About Education., 08 Jan. 2016. Web. July 2016.
2) "Serge Nubret." Internet Movie Database (IMDb). N.p., 2016. Web. July 2016.
3) Welk, Matt. "An Interview With Six-Time World Champion Bodybuilder Serge Nubret." N.p., 14 July 2014. Web. July 2016.
4) Nubret, Serge. "Workout Routine: Serge Nubret." N.p., 8 Dec. 2014. Web. July 2016.
5) "Serge Nubret's Workout Method." Serge Nubret Forever. N.p., 2016. Web. July 2016.
6) Kelly, Bradley J. "Serge Nubret Pump Training." T Nation. N.p., 6 Sept. 2012. Web. July 2016.
7) "Basic Report: 13065, Beef, flank, steak, separable lean and fat, trimmed to 0" fat, choice, raw." National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture, 2016. Web. July 2016.
8) "The Late Serge Nubret." Muscle & Performance. Cruz Bay Publishing, 11 Jan. 2012. Web. July 2016.
9) Madden, Mick. "Franco Columbu 14 Day Workout Routine and Diet." Muscle and Brawn. N.p., 5 Sept. 2015. Web. July 2016.
10) "Franco Columbu." Internet Movie Database (IMDb). N.p., 2016. Web. July 2016.
11) Columbu, Franco. "Training." Franco Columbu. Franco Columbu, 2013. Web. July 2016.
12) "Franco Columbu's 14 Day Training Split and Power Building Workouts." Rippeder. Rippeder, LLC, 2016. Web. July 2016.
13) "Frank Zane." Internet Movie Database (IMDb). N.p., 2016. Web. July 2016
14) "Frank Zane May Have Had The Best-Looking Body Ever. Tracked Him Down To Learn His Secrets." N.p., 27 Apr. 2011. Web. July 2016.
15) "Oak & Iron: Frank Zane Talks Training With Arnold." Muscle & Performance. Cruz Bay Publishing, 25 Jan. 2013. Web. July 2016.
16) "The Legend of Frank Zane: An Interview With The Man Who Achieved Physical Perfection." Flex Magazine, Aug. 2008. Web. July 2016.
17) Hercules, Iron. "Frank Zane Workouts." Muscle and Brawn. N.p., 18 May 2011. Web. July 2016.
18) Wuebben, Joe. "Bodybuilding Legend: Frank Zane - Best Built Man." Muscle & Fitness. Weider Publications, LLC, 2013. Web. July 2016.
19) Duncan, Fred. "Q&A with Bodybuilding Legend, Frank Zane." FLEX Online. N.p., 2016. Web. July 2016.
20) "Frank Zane Diet & Workout Plan." FitFLEX. Worldwide FitFLEX, 2016. Web. July 2016.
21) Weis, Dennis B. "A 1977 Seminar with Frank Zane." N.p., 1977. Web. July 2016.
22) Robson, David. "An Interview With Three-time Mr. Olympia Frank Zane." N.p., 8 Oct. 2009. Web. July 2016.
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