Before becoming He-Man, Lee Haney began his career by studying magazines and books! Back in the day, the magazines and courses were designed to look like comics, with the purpose of attracting young kids and motivating them to start a healthy lifestyle. The writers promised that if you were sleeping, eating, and training well, then you would create a superb and powerful body.
It seems that all superheroes are born with their powers, but not so with the heroes from the muscle mags. According to them, everybody can become their own hero, just by incorporating their training methods. All those muscle heroes acquired their powerful appearance through honest work using barbells and dumbbells.
The young Lee Haney saw those magazines and was amazed to read stories of Reg Park, Steve Reeves, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. After analyzing the mags, Lee Haney went straight to his parents and asked for a set of weights for Christmas. According to an interview , he received a package of weights, plus a book by Charles Atlas.
Atlas was an Italian American bodybuilder, who was born on October 30, 1892. He made a living in fitness, and his marketing strategy to sell courses was genius. According to Wikipedia, his bodybuilding campaign ran for decades. Furthermore, he was quite famous for his 15 minutes of training a day principle. He attained his muscular development via hand-balancing, strongman stunts, and gymnastics. On the internet, it’s rumoured that even Bruce Lee was one of Charles Atlas’ pupils. There’s still somebody running an official Charles Atlas website called charlesatlas.com
So, I was amazed to hear that Lee Haney got a book by Atlas, because I am lucky enough to own one myself. Unfortunately, I cannot say which book Lee received because he didn’t go into much detail. He just said, “The book consists of one exercise per body part.”
I strongly believe that he got the book entitled Dynamic-Tension Bodybuilding and Fitness System Lessons 1-12. The only book I own is entitled Everlasting Health and Strength, which promises to explain the dynamic-tension system.
I read the whole booklet, searched for an explanation, and analyzed every page, and I can say the book is a disappointment. It’s an advertising brochure. However, I still found some interesting facts. The booklet consists of impressive pictures of Charles pulling six automobiles, bending a raw steel bar that is five-feet long and one-inch thick with two men hanging off the ends of it, and tearing two New York telephone books of 1,600 pages each (a total of 3,200 pages).
Additionally, Charles proudly shares pictures and letters from his pupils, who swear that dynamic tension works so well. A guy named Charleston gained five inches of new muscle in only seven days. Another guy wrote that he used to lack energy in life, but after following the course, he feels quite better and more vital.
Charles Hated Fitness Apparatuses but Loved Muscle Control
On Page 28, two guys are pictured training with a chest expander and some dumbbells. Charles was strictly against that equipment and wrote, “Apparatuses are not natural. Nature did not intend man to use apparatuses. (….) My system uses no apparatuses; it utilizes the resistance of your own body.”
I looked for an explanation of dynamic tension, and I found a lot of material on Charles Atlas’ dynamic-tension system on Google and YouTube. It’s just practicing muscle control and calisthenics, like George F. Jowett, Max Sick, and Eugen Sandow used to practice. Plus, Charles presented exclusive content on self-defence.
Deep Dive into Lee Haney’s Content from the Mags (1985-2003)
I don’t have all the magazines that outline Lee’s training philosophy throughout the years, but I do own enough to present a more authentic article than other websites. I read every old magazine (e.g., Flex, Muscle Mag, and Sport Revue), plus his terrific book, Totalee Awesome, carefully. I also took some content from the Internet to present you with a great retrospective view of Lee Haney’s career. You deserve authentic and truthful content. I cannot provide you with professional photos of Lee Haney, but I can deliver a great and well-researched article, which was written by a fan for fans!
It’s a pleasure for me to compile the old-school content. It’s important to keep that legacy alive—or, as Lee Haney always used to say, “We are indebted to all who flexed before us.”
It’s such a tragedy that today’s fitness magazines are only designed to attract the attention of grownups. No kid would ever dream of buying a mag to become “sexy” or “attractive.” Even the GOAT Lee Haney said that those old mags were “real and used to consist of good-quality knowledge.”
Lee Haney First Training Days
The German magazine Sport Revue Issue #275 provides valuable information on Lee’s beginnings. Plus, there’s great content on Arnold Schwarzenegger filming the movie Terminator, with exclusive pictures by Albert Busek. Finally, there’s an article on Lee’s beginnings entitled, “The Private Side of Lee Haney”, which was written by Bob Wolf. The interview starts with the most important part of Lee’s life, his relationship. He met his wife Shirley in college. Both were poor, and the relationship turned into a marriage.
It so fascinating that bodybuilding was not his main priority. In the magazine Muscle Mag (1985), he says that his #1 priority in life is his relationship with God. He admitted that for a brief time, bodybuilding was his #2 priority, but that was before he fell in love. Lee changed his priorities as follows: “#2 is now my wife Shirley. Bodybuilding is #3.”
You must read the story of six-time Mr. Olympia winner Dorian Yates. He’s quite the opposite of Lee! During his whole career, he trained like a madman and tortured himself to obtain more muscle size. He was an underdog; he trained the entire year in his own gym by himself, appeared at the Mr. Olympia competition, took the trophy, and went straight home. He repeated that entire process for years. He was what today’s society calls a “loner.”
Then there’s Lee Haney, who beat Arnold’s Mr. Olympia record and mostly saw bodybuilding as a “side business.” He used to say that believing in God and having a family was more important than sports.
Robert Kennedy, owner of Muscle Mag, gives Lee Haney credit for being genetically superior. According to Robert, “Lee Haney could probably go on winning the Olympia forever and ever. He has a genetic advantage, and he trains well.”
The article from Sport Revue was published in 1991, and it provides a great picture gallery of Lee’s big property, Corvette, and trophies. Obviously, Lee earned a lot of money after retiring from bodybuilding.
According to Lee, he grew up admiring people who possessed strength and muscular development. All these things were inspiring to him. At age 14, he weighed about 64 kg. In his first year of high school, he weighed about 77 kg. He sought answers to gain weight and strength, so he surrounded himself with strong people.
In the article, he names a strongman called Chuck Braxton, who was quite powerful and taught Lee Haney how to lift properly. Chuck influenced him to start with basic strength exercises, like squats, bench-presses, and deadlifts. (Josh Bryant, a strength coach and fan of my website, published a tribute video for that strongman!)
It seems that Chuck was imprisoned for a period but found his way out of that dark place and became a respected strength athlete.
Chuck also used to perform crazy strength stunts. For example, he let a truck run over him and survived it without injuries. He obtained the nickname Chuck “The Truck” and managed to get an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Controlling muscle was an important method in Lee’s training. In the magazine Flex August (1987), Lee Haney praised the beauty of controlling muscle. He said: “The secret is good form, good control. You’ve got to establish a mind/muscle link. That’s absolutely crucial.” Furthermore, I read Lee Haney’s book TOTALEE AWESOME, which was published in 2020, and although he still recommends learning the muscle-control system, he also stresses the importance of controlling weights and your emotions. The strongmen from the olden days were well-educated and believed in hard labor and honest work. Surely, they had an enormous impact on Lee’s worldview and training methods.
Here’s a great Instagram post, in which Lee Haney introduces a small bodybuilding museum and proudly shows off Eugen Sandow’s first publication, entitled “Strength and How to Obtain it”. It is so great to see a champion honoring our ancestors!
1985 Muscle Mag “Mr Olympia”
The article entitled “Lee Haney: The Champion’s Champion” is about his first training cycle for the Mr. Olympia competition. He used simple exercises, like bench presses for the chest and curls for the biceps, nothing fancy or extraordinary. However, his routine did undergo some changes, and he developed an exercise called “Lee Shrugs,” which I’ve never seen. More on that later.
For each muscle group, Lee did 3-4 exercises, and he trained for three days on and one day off. Each day, he trained seven muscle groups. He used standard and well-established bodybuilding exercises. However, Lee Haney’s leg training was quite extraordinary; he started with hack squats instead of the conventional squats. Plus, he did not do the famous and well-established preacher curls for his biceps. I know Lee Haney also developed a new exercise for his traps, but it seems that for his first Mr. Olympia preparations, he didn’t use it.
I own Lee Haney’s book, Totalee Awesome (2020), and I compared the routine which was published in the magazine (1985) to the routine on Page 46 of the book. He still recommended the three days on, one day off routine. According to him, it’s great for building size, and the only time that he wouldn’t follow this routine was during his preparations for the Mr. Olympia competition. 10 weeks before the Mr. Olympia competition, Lee switched to a six days on routine, which he didn’t outline in his book. I searched the whole book for Lee’s Mr. Olympia routine, but he only outlined a routine for beginners and intermediate/advanced bodybuilders.
Flex August 1987: Chins Are Not Necessary
The article entitled “Back is Beautiful,” written by Rick Wayne, is just inspirational and quite motivational, with the black-and-white pictures of Lee Haney working out hard. According to Lee, he always had great back development, although he still had to train hard to compete with other professional bodybuilders.
There’s a picture of Lee Haney performing the T-bar rowing exercise. The way Lee Haney executes that exercise is quite the same as the way Arnold Schwarzenegger used to. I attached a YouTube video of Arnold standing on a small pedestal, and the angle of Lee’s back and legs in the picture from Flex magazine is quite like they are in the above YouTube video. Lee Haney admitted that Arnold had an enormous impact on him, and I strongly believe that he always pictured Arnold’s technique when he was training.
In that Flex article published in 1987, he gave up doing chin exercises. According to him, he weighed 250 lbs in the off-season, and chin exercises were impossible. However, for the 1986 Mr Olympia preparations, he did chin exercises.
In this article, he also mentioned squats and said, “As for poundage, most people don’t seem to understand that I built 30-inch thighs—even though I never squat with more than 315 pounds. The secret is good form, good control.”
I recently watched an interview in which he revealed that he never had back, hip, or joint problems because he was training smart. He used to pre-exhaust his muscles. On Leg Day, he did leg extensions first, then he did squats. So, squatting 200 lbs felt like 400 lbs, due to the pre-exhaustion.
Muscle Mag May 1988 – “I Want to Beat Arnold”
The magazine Muscle Mag from May 1988 provides a great article of Lee Haney’s arm workout. The article, entitled, “I Rethought My Arm Training and Forced Them to Grow”, is a round-table talk with Peter McGough, and, for me, it is quite a historical document of bodybuilding.
Arnold Schwarzenegger retired in 1980 and managed to win the Mr. Olympia title seven times. The article was published in 1988, and Lee had only four Mr. Olympia titles under his belt. Quite interestingly, he had already set the goal to win more than four titles, and further said that he wanted to beat Arnold’s record!
It was already known that Lee was lacking muscle mass and size in his arms. Lee admitted to having great back development, but his biceps were lacking in size. Robert Kennedy, Editor of Muscle Mag, analyzed Lee Haney carefully and said in one of his seminars that “Lee Haney has wide shoulders but can’t build really impressive arms.”
The caption of that article promised to reveal how Lee obtained 22-inch arms. The article is full of great pictures of him blasting his arms. On the next page, Lee is sitting while he trains his triceps.
The article is quite interesting and shows how well-educated Lee Haney is. He analyzed the anatomy of the human arm and seemed to understand how the biceps work. He gave readers the tip to turn their wrist around and keep an eye on their biceps, which will lead to the biceps taking on a rounder look. He also suggested including some dumbbell and cable exercises, for which you must utilize control to move your wrists (e.g., seated curls with dumbbells).
In the final pages, Lee listed his favorite biceps exercises: barbell curls, alternate dumbbell curls, incline dumbbell curls, dumbbell concentration curls, and preacher curls! As you might remember, Lee Haney didn’t use preacher curls for his first Mr. Olympia preparations. That exercise was made famous because by Larry Scott. He won the first Mr. Olympia competition in 1965, and every magazine reported that he had used preacher curls to obtain bigger arms. (I also published a great article about it! Just click the link here: Preacher Curl – Every Champion Used It – Here’s HOW!)
On the topic of his diet, Lee recommended the book The Nutritional Almanac in Muscle Mag from May 1988. To be honest, I thought it was just a marketing ploy, or Lee was paid to recommend it. I checked some more old articles, then I checked Lee’s book from 2020, and there on Page 18, he recommended it again. The book is more science based and was originally published in 1972. Lee really appreciated that book—and without being sponsored!
Muscle Mag September 1988
The article, “Training to Get to Mr. O and Stay There” was published in 1988, and again, Lee outlined the training systems quite like the ones he praised three years ago (see above). According to him, the three days on, one day off routine “is excellent for size and recovery,” and the six day on routine is “great for conditioning.” Unfortunately, he didn’t outline a template. On the next page, he outlined his back workout and recommended including chin exercises as a warmup.
Lee Haney’s Special Exercise
During my research, I found a seminar, which was held by bodybuilding authority Robert Kennedy, who used to run the famous magazine Muscle Mag. He traveled the world, took pictures, and analyzed the training routines of the pros and champs.
According to him, Lee Haney has the best traps in the world. Robert revealed that Lee developed a special exercise, which he described as follows: “He’s holding the bar behind him and he brings it up like this, bending his arms. If you’ve seen his tapes, you’ll see it. Or if you’ve seen him train or seen his seminars. I don’t even know if he knows this is a trap exercise but I say that because if you look at his tapes he says “This is wrist curls, this is not wrist curls” and he doesn’t know what he’s doing but he has the most magnificent physique in the world.
This is how it is with some of them. He’s a total instinctive trainer. If you told him about this Weider principal or that Weider principal he’d say “Huh?” but he doe’s it his way and it works. He doesn’t know the names of exercise and things like that. Haney makes loads of mistakes. But one of the interesting things is that he trains hard, he trains regularly and he obviously trains right. His trap exercise is lifting the bar up, bringing the bar up and bending the arms. Now you might say the that is the trap exercise, ‘not bending the arms’. All I can say is, he bends his arms and his traps are absolutely magnificent. So there may be something in following that.”
I had some trouble understanding the movements, so I searched YouTube for an explanation. I searched “Lee Haney Shrugs,” and there’s a German YouTuber who explained it very well in the following video:
His name is Karsten Pfützenreuter, and I have been following this guy for a long time. He loves old-school bodybuilding and collecting old German and American magazines. His YouTube channel is quite worth a watch! You don’t need to understand German to understand the video. Just by watching it, you’ll understand the movement!
Dr. Fred Hatfield
As you might remember, Lee trained with a strongman named Chuck Braxton. Later, before winning the title Mr. Olympia (1984), he teamed up with another strongman named Fred Hatfield.
Mr. Hatfield was truly a science geek, and I strongly believe that he influenced Lee Haney. Furthermore, Fred managed to squat 1000 lbs at the age of 45 and obtained a doctorate. He also established a successful fitness business called ISSA. They offer Certified Fitness Trainer programs, which help fitness coaches become more familiar with the scientific aspects of fitness.
Recently, I read an interview, which was published by Josh Bryant in 2019. He managed to bring Lee Haney and Hatfield together for a table talk. According to Lee, Hatfield helped him design his programs and all his systems.
Furthermore, I found a seminar by Haney and Hatfield that was recorded and penned by Dennis B Weis. As the interview was conducted in 2003, some information may be outdated, but it is still quite interesting to learn that Lee Haney never lost interest in learning and reading scientific lectures.
In the seminar, Lee talked about protein, and, according to him, cross-microfiltered whey is the best. He recommended using 40 grams, although he said that the dose depends on your activity and what kind of sport you’re doing. He referred to a brochure entitled “Getting Started With a Weight Training and Nutritional Approach to Fitness,” which was published by Hatfield’s company ISSA.
Lee Haney is a man of God, culture, and education. He developed a beautiful website entitled leehaney.com, which offers great content on training. He also sells supplements and books, which I highly recommend.