Frank Zane’s Mr Olympia Training Routine

Frank Zane is one of only three bodybuilders to have beaten Schwarzenegger (with Chester Yorton and Sergio Oliva) in a contest and one of the very few Mr. Olympia winners under 200 pounds. Overall, he competed for over 20 years and won Mr. America, Mr. Universe, and Mr. Olympia title during his career.

This is Frank Zane’s 1979 Mr. Olympia workout. By the way, he used to train with Strength Legend DOUG YOUNG. Mr. Zane said: “The training with Doug Young in 1979 definitely helped my thickness and size.”


Six weeks before the contest he trained the following split routine

Six Day Split Routine
Day 1 Chest, triceps and deltoids
Day 2 Thighs and calves
Day 3 Back, biceps and forearms

Note: Abs are worked everyday and strict form is important. Frank used various mixtures of high and low reps.

Chest (Day 1) Description
Bench Press He used the wide grip and lower slowely. The heavier the weight used, the more slowly the bar should lowered.
Pullovers To work the serratus, pullovers should be used.
Dips Dips are a fine exercise to use when thickness is required in the lower pec region. Dips can also increase the outline around the pec region.
Cable Crossovers To put the final touches on the pecs Frank Zane recommended, especially before a contest, cable crossovers to bring out the fine finger-like striations across the chest.

Triceps (Day 1) Description
Close-grip benchpress Angle of elbows are important. To work the rear head of the triceps do the movement with the elbow held in. Work the lateral head by keeping the elbows out.
Pushdowns and various extensions
Deltoids (Day 1) Description
Behind neck press Keep the elbows back and don’t lock out at the top of movement
Front dumbbell raises This exercise increases definition between the pec and front deltoid.
Bent over lateral raises Rear deltoids are worked by doing the bent over lateral raises with wrists turned out, lowering very slowly.
Lateral raises Side deltoids are work by Lateral raises. Keep the wrists turned out and thumbs turned down)

Note: Cheating in side laterals should never be done as the work is taken away from the side deltoid and transferred to the frontal region. Burns and high reps are good to use in the various deltoid raises to bringing out the striations before a contest.

Thighs (Day 2) Description
Paralell squats Parallel squats are the best exercise for the thigh. He used moderate weight and never exceeds three hundred pounds in the squat.
Quarter squat He found out the best upper thigh exercise for mass and cuts is the one third or one quarter squat (moderate weight and only partially).
Leg curls & Leg lunges
Donkey calf raise For calves he did Donkey Cal Raise with a heavy partner using fairly high reps. If a partner is not available, then calf raises using the calf machine can be done.
Back (Day 3) Description
Bent over rowing Maximum weight: 200lb. Barbell is pulled to the chest and then rounding out the back as the bar is returned to floor. Strict form!
One arm dumbbel row Stand on a high block to increase the stretch. For Frank Zane great exercise to lengthen the outside sweep of his lats. Try and use a heavy dumbell to make the exercise more effective
Chins strict form!
Pulldowns strict form!
Hyper-extensions Best exercise for lower back. Frank did at least two sets of twenty reps (used 25lb plate).

Note: Frank has a special way of performing Bent over rowing; this evolved because a back injury he suffered a number of years ago. It is performed with knees bent off a two inch block, the knees are used to provide support for the abdominal region which helps to protect the lower back. The barbell is then pulled to the chest and then rounding out the back as the bar is returned to the floor. Strict form is extremly important.

Biceps/Forearm (Day 3) Description
Concentration curls For peak and shape. Performed with dumbells with straight wrists.
Dumbell curls Dumbell curls are peformed while turning wrists up at the completion of the top part of the curl.
Incline curls For the lower part of the biceps.
Regular standing barbell curl Elbows in and kept to the front of the body. Frank’s most important advice: “AVOID EXCESSIVE CHEATING”
Reverse curls Great exercise for your forearms after the biceps workout!
Wrist curls
 Abs (Every Day)
Leg Raises
Partial situps

Note: Can be worked every day, especially before a contest. Frank cited that he was presently doing something like 1000 various reps each day. Leg raises, knee-ins, and partial situps are done to keep the waistline in top shape.

These exercises are varied and done in super-set fashion to make them even more effective. Twists are also an important part of his ab routine, they keep the sides trim and bring out the cord like muscles of the oblique region.

Editor’s note: Use the below tag-system and click the button “Mr. Olympia” for more training articles developed by Mr. Olympia Winners!

MuscleMag International November 1980

Zane’s website with books and courses

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