Some men are strong, and some are muscular. However, Franco Columbu was both and left a huge legacy behind him. In Germany, he used to be a so-called powerlifter, which means he trained for strength & power. Franco’s story is a special one of emigrating to a country without speaking its language.
He was born on August 7, 1941, and grew up on a small Italian island called Sardinia. It was so far away from big companies and ample opportunities. But Franco admitted that the environment of that island and natural food helped him obtain a healthy body, which was fundamental to becoming a successful athlete.
On that small island, Franco lived a simple life and worked as a Shepard. Nonetheless, he wanted to achieve more! Franco realized that he had to make changes at an early age, so he moved to Germany.
Albert Busek used to run the German magazine “Kraft Sport Revue” and documented Columbu’s early stages. I already published a great article on Mr. Busek, and it’s a necessary read: https://neckberg.com/albert-busek-a-longtime-friend-of-arnold/
To make a long story short, Busek is the Godfather of promoting bodybuilding in Europe and knows Schwarzenegger well. Furthermore, the content of Busek’s mags is real and well-researched. He is quite active on Facebook and recently accepted my friendship request, so I can see the content he published.
You might be wondering, who is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best friend? Only Busek and Columbu? No, after analyzing all the mags and content from the internet, I would say the following people are close to him: Ralf Möller and Sylvester Stallone. I wrote great articles on all of them. Just click with your cursor on the name.
First Meeting With Arnold
In the article “Full Day of Eating With Schwarzenegger and Karl Kainrath”, we already published how Arnold moved from Austria to Germany and became a personal trainer in Munich, where Franco Columbu lived and trained. According to Albert Busek, at that time, there were only two gyms in Munich. So it was unavoidable that those human beings would meet each other and team up to conquer the world of bodybuilding
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s bodybuilding career started in Germany, and so with Franco Columbu. I am fortunate enough to speak German and can deliver you the greatest list of sources on Franco. I don’t trust much what other websites are writing on Franco, especially when they are making no single reference to any serious source. I don’t fear to tell you from which mag or book I took the information. For me, Journalism (yes, even bodybuilding-related) should be taken seriously; otherwise, it’s just click-baiting.
For me, the most beautiful magazine cover shot of Franco, which I possess, is called “Kraft Sport Revue” ISSUE 48. Busek photographed the cover, and he revealed on a Facebook-Post, that he shot it in the summer of 1967 at the German lake “Starnberg.” All posts of Busek are packed with lots of emotional memories.
In Busek’s words, “It was off-season for you, but you were always at least in good shape. What a great time we had then and what a great time we had just recently at Arnold’s 70th Birthday. Thank you Franco for your lifelong friendship going back to 1963. You deserve all the kudos in the world what you’ve achieved as an athlete, as Dr. of Chiropractic and in your private life.
If Hollywood would have written a script according to your real-life, probably nobody would have believed that this is the truth. You are the Sardinian Samson, and this wonderful Island can be proud of one of its greatest sons.
God bless you and your family.”
On Facebook, Albert Busek wrote more and more anecdotes on him. I thought winning the title Mr. Olympia (1981 and 1976) in America was the most important achievement for Franco. But Busek revealed that winning the title Mr. Italy in 1968 “was one of the most important achievements for FRANCO COLUMBU in his remarkable career.”
By reading the series of anecdotes, which Busek published, I can really feel HOW close Busek’s friendship with him was, and I can imagine what a great human being Franco was.
Fortunately, Busek is running a column on the German fitness website “fitnessmanagement.de,” and I highly recommend visiting it. Even if you don’t understand a single German word, you will appreciate the pictures that Busek used for all his articles. I linked the column here: Busek’s column
Furthermore, the Goat, Arnold Schwarzenegger, published a video on Busek’s column and admitted to visiting that website. At timestamp 01:26, Arnold says, “My good friend, Albert Busek, is going to contribute to the mag. I am gonna read that magazine because there’s no one smarter about all of the subjects. So, when he contributes, I am gonna follow, and I am gonna read that magazine.”
As you might know, Franco Columbu died in 2019. According to Wikipedia, Franco was “experiencing a heart attack while swimming off the coast of San Teodoro, Sardinia. Columbu drowned and later died during transportation by helicopter to the hospital in Olbia.”
On fitnessmanagement.de, Albert published a tribute on Columbu entitled “Zum Todestag von Franco Columbu gedenkt Albert Busek der Bodybuilding-Ikone” (Eng.: “On the anniversary of Franco Columbu’s death, Albert Busek remembers the bodybuilding icon.” The article is packed with great pics of Franco boxing, deadlifting, and competing as a bodybuilder.
According to Busek, Arnold Schwarzenegger organized a memorial service with Franco’s wife, Debbie. Around 300 guests appeared and paid tribute to the legend.
The article is well written, but to be honest, a little bit short. I didn’t understand it at first, but I was thinking again, and I realized it was probably hard for Busek to write all the memories down, especially on a close friend who passed away.
In the article, he wrote, “In front of me are photos from almost 60 years of friendship and it is very difficult for me not to fall into a nostalgia frenzy.”
I could imagine he battled with many emotions, so it was tough to pass all the great memories down. May he rest in peace!
How Franco Trained: Content From Mags, Books, and YouTube
The greatest source I’ve found on Columbu’s training and life is his book entitled “Winning Bodybuilding”, and if you can’t get enough from that book, then I highly recommend learning German and buying mags like Athletik Sport Journal and Sport Revue. The genius minds behind those lectures, Mr. Busek and Mr. Fasching, used to run a great column entitled “Franco Columbu – He will solve your Training Problems.”
To be honest, I was not 100% sure whether the mags’ content was true or just ghostwritten. I compared the content with the official books of Franco, and I would say it’s accurate. In the mag “Athletik Sport Journal” ISSUE 30, Franco recommends running, which surprised me. Today’s bodybuilders don’t care much about cardio, and I was unaware that Mr. Columbu loved to run. I checked the kindle ebook “Winning bodybuilding”, and on position 731, he’s talking about running.
Then in the ASJ ISSUE 35, a fan sought an answer to develop great forearms. Franco gave him tips to employ a special forearm exercise, which he explained as follows, “Take two dumbbells, sit on a bench and place your forearms on your thighs so that your hands are movable. In the exercise, you move only the hands up and down. Perform 3 – 5 sets of 15 repetitions. Take the heaviest weight as possible.”
And in the book’s chapter 3, entitled “Basic Bodybuilding Principles,” there’s an Illustration of that forearm movement plus a description. But he doesn’t call it his favorite. So, in conclusion, the content seems to be real.
By the way, in the column, he described another exercise for the forearm. However, it’s not published in Franco’s book. He described it as follows: “Another quite excellent exercise to strengthen your weak forearms is deadlifts with a heavy load. When you have lifted the weight from the floor, loosen your grip a little (the bar rolls to your fingertips) and then grip it tightly again. Only when you can no longer hold the bar, lower it to the floor. Repeat the process three to five times.”
In the column of the mag Sport Revue, which was published on September (1977), a fan read that all champions are training twice a day. The fan admitted that he had no time left for training twice.
Franco replied, and according to him, the system was developed for people who don’t have time. He explained that they could train for one hour in the morning, then one hour in the evening. Franco says that you don’t have to train two hours a day. One hour is fine. To my surprise, Franco wrote that he used to train two hours a day, six times a week. He suggested that the fan train as hard as possible and finish the workout as fast as possible. In the Book “Winning bodybuilding”, he said the same thing; training less than three times a week is just wasted. He strictly believes in training five or six times a week, two hours a day. Additionally, he went more into a detailed outline of his regime.
The column was published in 1977, and another fan asked about squatting heavy. Franco replied and said that he had stopped doing heavy squats. In his words, “I stopped squatting heavy because I don’t need big thighs anymore.”
According to him, squats are great to build up huge thighs, but he outlined some problems. Alongside squatting heavy, the hips and posterior are going to be bigger too. As you might know, symmetry is quite important as a bodybuilder. Franco highly recommended to care on balance and outlined some alternatives to avoid getting a big hip, “Do hack-squats or light squats.”
According to the magazine ASJ Issue 23, a novice trained for two months using Franco’s six days a week routine and made no progress. Then he used Larry Scott’s mass building program and still gained no muscle.
Franco replied, and according to him, a novice should never use a routine developed for the intermediate. In Franco’s words, “Try to reduce both the number of training days and the exercises, sets, and repetitions. In no case do more than two exercises per muscle group and do at least twelve repetitions per set. Three to a maximum of four training days per week are sufficient. After about eight – twelve months, you will be ready to do some special training.”
The training columns are beautiful and packed with pictures I’ve not seen on social media. There’s a picture of Franco doing the exercise preacher curl. It is just mind-blowing. I used to see that apparatus so often in my gym but never had any idea that the majority of bodybuilders used it. It’s hard to tell you who didn’t train on it. I published a great article entitled “Preacher Curl – Every Champion Used It – Here’s HOW!“, and basically, every Pro Bodybuilder (Including Arnold, Lee Haney, and so on) swears on it that this exercise will build up huge arms.
Chest Training – Content From America
There’s an old Iron Man article, which left a huge impression on me. It’s entitled “Training in South Africa” and was penned by Frank Zane. The article describes how Frank Zane trained for the Mr. Universe competition in 1972. He trained with Arnold Schwarzenegger and admitted that Arnold trained very hard. In Frank’s words, “I understand he trained unbelievably hard that summer – so hard that he and Franco Colombu had to employ an oxygen mask between sets of squats during the hot August evenings.”
I don’t own much magazines from America, so here’s a YouTube video of Zach, a fan of my website and a big fan of old-school bodybuilding. He briefly summarized Franco’s chest training and at timestamp 02:00, he presents the page in which Franco lists up his chest routine. Franco did Dips, Barbell Pullovers, Dumbbell Pullovers, Incline Barbell Press, Dumbell Flys, and Bench Presses.
Again I checked my German mag collection, and in ASJ ISSUE 22, a fan had trouble building the inner part of the chest. Franco replied as follows, “The surest way to gain this prominent dividing line is to perform dips. Do six sets, fifteen reps.”
For building up a huge rib box, Franco recommended to his German fan the exercise Pull-Overs. In Franco’s words, “It is simply not true that this exercise does not improve the chest. Of course, the earlier in life you start exercising, the more responsive your chest will be to the exercise. No matter how old you are, pullovers help in any case.”
It’s so cool to see that even the magazine of Joe Weider seems to be accurate when it comes to training. I just couldn’t get enough information from the Golden Era, and I searched for more. In the next column, a fan wanted to know how to achieve a more broad-shouldered look.
Franco Columbu recommended the following exercises:
Press Behind Neck, 4 Sets, 6 – 8 reps
Upright Rowing, 3 Sets 8 reps
Side Lateral Raises, 3 Sets, 8 – 10 reps.
Franco added the following pearls of wisdom: “If possible, perform the shoulder exercises at the beginning of your workout, i.e., when you are still full of energy and enthusiasm. Train your muscles hard and persistently, and please do not take breaks between sets or only the shortest ones so that the pump-up effect is not lost.”
Franco’s Diet (Milk, Yogurt, Protein Powder)
Oldtime Strongman Lee Phillips used to drink quantity amounts of milk to become stronger. The same thing with men like Doug Hepburn and Paul Anderson. A fan asked on the topic of milk, and Franco explained it as follows, “For the underweight lifter, milk is indeed ideal due to its optimal composition of proteins, fat, and carbohydrates, and is also easily digestible. “
Milk is a great source of protein, but did Franco consume protein powder? No, in his book, he admitted that he never used it. The same thing with Arnold Schwarzenegger!
If my memory serves correct, then John Balik said in the podcast of John Hansen that Arnold never used protein powder. He was sponsored by Weider and always handed the sponsored products to his friends.
Nevertheless, Franco loves to consume yogurt. In his book, he mentions that source of protein quite often. But that high yogurt diet will not suit everyone. As you might know, Franco trained Sylvester Stallone. According to Sly Moves, Stallone’s Book, Franco’s yogurt diet made Sly fat, so he stopped training under Columbu’s tutelage.
By the way, if you want to learn more about how Franco trained Rambo, then I strongly recommend reading the following article, which we published: https://neckberg.com/sylvester-stallones-workout-buddy-franco-columbu/
Germany and America produced great magazines. I love all of them, but the German ones are a gem for me. So, I’ve found many “special/exclusive” information, which was not outlined in a book. Some special exercises of Franco seem to have vanished, but Busek, Fasching and Weider did a great job documenting Franco’s training through the years!
Man, so many mags, so many beautiful memories. I strongly recommend going on eBay and buying some old goodies.