Hold a conversation about the best physique in bodybuilding history, and Frank Zane's name will appear at the top of the list. He won the Mr. Olympia three consecutive years, from 1977 to 1979, and was one of only three bodybuilders to defeat Arnold Schwarzenegger. With a 29" waist and a stunning V-taper, Frank's aesthetics were unmatched.
For more information on Frank Zane, please visit his website www.frankzane.com.
Muscle & Strength: Frank, I want to start off by asking you about your teenage years. In 1961 you placed 3rd in the teenage Mr. America. Can you tell me about that time in your life? When did you begin lifting, what was your training like, and what drew you to compete in bodybuilding?
Frank Zane: Well, I started when I was about 14-15. I worked out in 2 places. The YMCA, there was not much equipment there. So, I started to accumulate things in my house. I lived in Pennsylvania. And I trained in my basement; I got a set of adjustable dumbbells. I started doing training every other day, or every day. Legs one day, upper body the next day.
Muscles started popping out in no time, so that was the start of it. I really liked it because it was something I could do on my own. I did not have to depend on anybody, it was all about what I did. And that appealed to me. Then I discovered physique contests. I looked at the magazines and the desired build, then I started training for competitions. One thing led to another and here I am.
Muscle & Strength: Did you do a full body workout when you started out as a teenager, or did you always use split training?
Frank Zane: I always did splits. Where I grew up in Pennsylvania it was actually an era before powerlifting developed. They had their own version of that and the few that trained in the area, they called them odd lifts. I was always a good squatter, but that was not one of the lifts. There was the deadlift, curl, and bench press, I trained a little bit for that stuff but I was always interested in physique stuff. Once I started entering I did pretty well.
Muscle & Strength: In 1968 you defeated Arnold Schwarzenegger at the Mr. Universe. Can you tell us about that victory and that contest?
Frank Zane: Well, I just won Mr. America the week before in New York and I was living in Florida at the time. I did not want to enter the Universe; I wanted to save that for the following year so it would give me something to shoot for. Because I did not feel I was ready for Mr. Olympia. I wanted to take my time and do a good job but they talked me into entering. So I went to Miami where it was. Arnold showed up. He was big, white, and smooth and was eating cake. And he was not in shape, simple as that.
After he came to California he got in really good shape. But for that show he was not ready, he did not know what to do. He was doing the European thing. He was just big, no quality, whereas I was tan and really defined. It wasn’t really even a contest. They made a big stink about it in the magazines. In Muscle and Fitness Magazine, Arnold said “I lost Mr. Universe to a chicken with 17 inch arms.” After an article like that you would think we would be enemies but we turned out to be pretty good friends. We trained together for a couple of years in the late 60s. I arrived in California in '69. We trained together from '69 to the early 70s. It was a good association.
Muscle & Strength: It is fairly common in the modern era to see trainees engaging in endless cycles of bulking and cutting. Was bulking a common practice during your era? Did you eat X amount of calories above your maintenance level? If not, how did you eat in the off-season, and how many pounds over your competition weight did you allow yourself to get?
Frank Zane: I tried bulking up a few times and it was always a disaster. It was just a loss of about a year because you get back to what you looked like originally. What happened when I did that...Actually I did that for training for the 1972 professional Mr. Universe in London. I got up to about almost 210, huge thighs. I got pretty smooth. About 5 weeks before the contest I realized I had a lot of work to do, so I dropped about 10 pounds, came in around the mid 190s and won the show. But I noticed that I was not as defined as I was the year before because I bulked up. The year before I didn’t, so I learned from that.
And that was not the last time I made that mistake. I learned that really for me not to go above 5 percent over my competitive weight that meant staying under 200 or even in the lower 190s. I was not focused on body weight, I was more focused on what I looked like. You know what difference does the numbers make. You are not judged on that, you are judged on what you looked like. So everybody is weighing themselves and doing body fat analysis. I took photos. I took a lot of color slides. Tens of thousands, so that way I knew what I looked like. And so I had full control over that. Look, when I got on stage I knew what I looked like. Nobody else really did, because they did not do this. I was the only one that took photos.
Frank Zane: I always ate a restricted carbohydrate diet. I would keep my carbohydrate intake lower than my protein intake. If I needed a boost, like if I was not getting pumped from my workout, I would eat more carbohydrates. Generally I ran in 4 day cycles. I would eat low carbs for 3 days and eat more on the 4th. I really did not go too much over 3000 calories when I trained. It has always been between two and three thousand calories a day. I really was not big on doing radical things. I think that is the biggest mistake, because it is going to affect you in ways you do not even know.
You have to do things that have been tested and work for you, and you know how they work. You need to experiment ahead of time so you know. Do not do things at the last minute, that is stupid. If you are not looking really good the week before maybe you should not go into your show. Maybe you should change your plan. The big problem people have is they need to get feedback. What you do depends on what you look like. All of these techniques - carb cycling - all depend on what you look like. If you trained long enough and got in great shape you might not have to do that stuff. Maybe just a little. I cannot tell people how to do it. The best advice I can give people is to get feedback and adjust accordingly.
Muscle & Strength: Can you tell me what roles form, the pump, and strength play in muscle building? Is there one that you feel is more important? There are some guys that believe it is all about strength, and some believe it is all about feel. What is your view on this?
Frank Zane: I think it is all about form more than anything else, because that is what creates a good shape to the muscle. When you train with a movement using strict form, you get a pump in the area and tendon. I think one of the things that bodybuilders don’t realize so much is that bodybuilding is about isolation when you train. You do not want to train big groups of muscles at the same time. You do not want to do full body movements, like weight lifting movements. You do not want to do clean and jerks. They are not isolating.
If you really want to focus on the muscle you need to isolate it and blast it. I do not mean tear it down or use heavy weights. I mean really get the blood into the muscle experience the pump. Because when you look into the mirror you are seeing the future of your body. That is the line your body is taking because you pump up to that look you are acquiring over time. You pump up, it goes down, a little bit stays. You pump up next time, a little more stays. And gradually that accumulates over time and that creates your look.
Frank Zane: I think it is a way to grow. Because I did a routine: the three way split. I used that organization, modified slightly. It was back, biceps, forearms on the first day. I did deadlifts from the knees up, but if I did not do that I did heavy rows. The leg day was based around squats. The chest, shoulder, triceps day was based around bench press, but more focused on the incline bench press. I used that routine, pulling muscles, legs, pushing muscles, on a three way split. During competition season I would do 3 days on, one day off, and in the off-season I would spread the workouts out further. I still use this training today.
Muscle & Strength: The Internet era has created a lot of conflicting information. Some lifters say you should train more often, and some say you should only train 2-3 times per week. How does a young bodybuilder find that balance between volume and frequency? How do they know what approach is right for them?
Frank Zane: The only way you find out is by trial and error. There is no answer that fits everybody, you basically go on how you feel. If you are feeling tired then you are training too often. You are going to get overtrained. You need to strike a balance. That is what everyone has to find. I cannot tell anyone where the balance is, that is something you have to find out for yourself.
Muscle & Strength: Frank, can you tell us a little more about the Zane Experience?
Frank Zane: I have been doing the Zane Experience since the 1980s. I teach people how to work with weights and how to get the most out of it. I have a private gym in the San Diego area. People come from all over the world and stay in nearby hotels. They come to see me for one day, two days, or three days. It is four hours a day. People can really get a lot out of this. I know I would do this if I had the opportunity. I would if I was on the bodybuilding trail like I was. I did not have this opportunity. People can always get in touch with me over the Internet and if they are really serious about training I can help them in a big way. Not really beginner training. I get mostly intermediates. And people of all ages, many 40-60. They can achieve anything they want.
You see a lot of unskilled movements in posing. I can really help people with posing, and I have. Posing is really neglected in competition. When I help people with posing they usually win. But it is part of the preparation that is always neglected. They train and train then two weeks before they say I need to get a posing routine. It's good you thought about that before the show, but why did you wait until the night before. That is why I did so well in competition, because I prepared meticulously. I left nothing to chance.
Muscle & Strength: Do you run the Zane experience during the week or weekends?
Frank Zane: All the time, it just has to be scheduled. It is run year round.
Muscle & Strength: I want to ask you about training longevity. A lot of bodybuilders train hard in their early years and do not think about what this will do to them in their 50s and 60s. How has your training changed over the years, and why have you made those adjustments?
Frank Zane: Again, it is about how I feel. I train according to my energy levels and also around injuries that I have incurred. Many training injuries occur because of ignorance. Then they have to deal with that as they get older, and I have had to. I have managed to stay intact over the years. I guess I train less frequently. Quicker, less rest between sets, higher reps, lighter weight. And always on a good diet. That’s basically it.
I have been training for over 50 years, my body has so much muscle memory it does not take much for me to maintain. That is pretty much what I want to do. I do not mean letting your muscles dwindle. You really want to trim the fat as much as possible and that is what I work on doing.
Muscle & Strength: Frank, what is the best piece of advice you have received in over your career?
Frank Zane: I would have to think about that, I have gotten a lot of good advice over the years. Questions like that the answers usually strike me a few days later.
Muscle & Strength: What are some of your biggest training and diet mistakes you've made over the years?
Frank Zane: Bulking up, training too heavy and getting injured. Just doing stupid stuff. A lot of times you push yourself too hard. It is difficult to know when you should rest and when you should push hard. That is the quandary that everyone wants to know. You really do not know anything, you don’t know if what you are doing is the thing to do. We do not have knowledge before things happen. We may have faith that something will work, because it worked for us in the past.
We just have to be patient and be good observers. I think that may be the most important thing. To be successful in bodybuilding you have to be a good observer. You have to be able to correlate what is happening with your body to what you are doing with your training and your diet. I was extremely meticulous with my journals and my photos. Not everybody can do that, a coach can help. But you have to get eyes on yourself.
Muscle & Strength: Do you follow modern bodybuilding, and do you think it is headed in the right direction?
Frank Zane: I do not, and I do not think it is.
Muscle & Strength: Could you tell me more about your website and what other products and services you offer?
Frank Zane: I have instructional materials. I have published a number of books over the years. When a book goes out of print I usually revise it or make another that picks up where the other one left off. So right now I have 4 recent publications, the last one called The Workouts which is a year supply of workouts in the order in which I did over a 4 year period. This is designed so the reader can follow the exact workouts I did with sets, reps, weights, everything, because I wrote all that stuff down.
The other one I have is called the Zane Body Training Manual. It is a nice little text book on training which is good for people of all levels. Then there is the High Def Handbook which is how to get extreme definition through diet, aerobics, abdominal work and posing. There is also The Mind In Bodybuilding, which features mental techniques for stress reduction and motivation to help you get in better shape by taking advantage of your mental facilities. Then I have a training DVD, Train With Zane, and that is about it for training.
I have been publishing a magazine for 12 years called Building The Body, which has no paid advertisements and all information. Of course I have food supplements I have developed that are quite unique. These two protein powders I have are very good, I have to say the best out there. I worked very hard on these and this is the feedback I get. So I have a nice little client base, from people who subscribe to my magazine. And have been here to do Zane Experience and followed my career throughout the years, and that is basically what I do for a living.
Muscle & Strength: What are some of your interests outside of the iron game?
Frank Zane: One is music. One of goals as I get older is to become a proficient musician. I play about 7 instruments. I just want to get better, and I keep getting better at all of them. That is kind of a challenge to me as I reinvent myself. I tune harmonicas and I make flutes, bamboo flutes - both transverse and end blown - like the Zen meditation flute. I am heavily involved in meditation. I spend a lot of time meditating and also writing. That is about it, I have been married 43 years, I have two dogs. I live a nice quiet private life, and that is about it.
Muscle & Strength: What is the best way to contact you?
Frank Zane: Email is the best way, they should email me and I will get back to them.