Sergio Oliva’s Training Philosophy For Big Guns

Sergio Oliva (b.1941 – d. 2012) was a Cuban Bodybuilder known as “The Myth” and he won the Mr. Olympia title three years in a row. Before Bodybuilding he did Olympic Weightlifting. He started Weightlifting to escape his home Cuba and come to the United States in Miami. And there he started Bodybuilding. Three Months later he was in the Mr. Florida Contest and he was able to beat guys with 5 – 10 years of training experience. Olympic Lifting helped and gave Sergio the fundamental development to train heavy. He had a lot of potential for bodybuilding with his frame and Olympic background.

When he went to Germany to compete in ’72 Olympia his chest was 58 inches and his arms 22 2/3 inches. 

And now Sergio’s routines! The first one he used during his early 20s and last one during his prime time (1970).

Monday – Wedneyday – Friday

Cycle 1 
1. Chin behind Neck (6 sets of 10 reps)
2. Bench Press
3. Seated calf raises
4. Parallel bar dips
5. Barbell peak curl

Cycle 2
1. Press behind Neck
2. Curl Machine
3. Incline triceps press
4. Power rack calf raises

Cycle 3
1. Heavy Squats
2. Triceps Press down
3. Leaverage Calf raises
4.Heavy Barbell Curl

Cycle 4
1. Pulley cross over
2. Pulley „preacher“ curl
3. Leg raises
4. Deltoid laterals
5. „Crunch“ set-ups

Tuesday – Thursday – Saturday

He practices the Olympic lifts for one hour, emphasizing one lift each day. Then, he will follow with the following routine.

Cycle 1
1. Roman Squats
2. Kruchers
3. Front pull with chest expander
4. Thigh Curl
5. Dumbell peak curl

Cycle 2
1. Twist
2. Thigh extension
3. Chin behind neck
4. Seated Dumbell press
5. One legged calf raise

Cycle 3
1. Lat pull down
2. Kneeling Triceps press
4. Good morning

Note: At this time he was 25 years old. He weighed 220lb and sports 20 1/2“, a 52“ chest, a 31“ waist, 28 1/2“ thighs, and 18 1/4“ calves.

Sergio did 4 – 5 exercises per cycle and usually includes about six cycles per workout.
He uses a moderate to heavy poundage, depending on his energy level on that given day and his mental attitude. He started a week off by checking his appearance in the mirror. After determining his weaker points he proceeds to emphasize that one area until he feels that it is corrected.

He selected one exercise to cover this weakness per cycle. Then, he will try to cover the rest of the body with the other 3 or 4 exercises, trying to keep all parts up. He trained 5 to 6 days each week

Routine during his Peak (1970)

Monday: Chest, Back and Shoulder


-Chin ups (Wide Grip)
-Press behind the neck

He developed his pecs and lats at the same time. He does wide grips on a V-bar. He does also front, behind the neck and chin with a close grip. He does lots of reps. Chinups are excellent for the lats and a V-shape according to Sergio.
He did not lock out the bench press. He did it fast pace of short reps. He locked out every once in awhile to take the pressure in his shoulders/chest and kept going.
Sergio was able to benchpress 525lb/238kg and 350lb/158kg for 50 times

Tuesday: Shoulder and Arms


He trained shoulder again but he tried to hit different section. I wrote an explanation below how he trained the “different sections” of the muscle.

-Heavy Curls
-French Curls
-Scott Bench
-Scott Bench
-Tricep Press Down

Wednesday: Legs

-Squats (5 Sets)
-thigh extensions
-leg curls

Squats and thighs extensions for the front of the thighs and leg curls for the leg bicep. According to him leg presses and hack squats are also good.
He does squats until he sits on his calves. He used a 4×4 piece of wood under his heels. Sergio pointed out that you have to do full squats for complete leg development. He had his feet at a 45 degree angle in all his squats. Sergio was able to squat between 650 and 670lb.

Thursday: Chest

-Bench Press
-Press Behind Neck in combination with Rowing Machine
-Sitting Press with Dumbells
-Dipping Bar

Friday: Shoulder

Again Pressing but different angles/sections:
-Heavy Curls
-French Curls
-Scott Bench


-Sit ups
-Leg Raises
-Side Bends with Bar Behind Neck
-Squats (3 sets)
-Front Squats
-Heel Raises

6 days a week?
Most of the time he used to train 4 days a week but if a show is close he trained 6 days a week.

Sergio’s Idea of training different areas
Sergio admitted to make the same beginner’s mistakes. He only trained one area. Do not work only one part/area of the muscle. Sergio cites that you have to train the muscle on all angles/section.

Sergio’s Example:
He did lying triceps extensions with a cable. Then seated triceps extensions with a barbell and then lying French Curl with barbell. Thus he was able to hit all the areas of the muscle.

Rep sheme 
Off-Season: He used to do less sets and increased the weight. He ate and drank anything (chocolate shakes, pizza).

As a Competition gets closer he quitted eating junk food and dropped the heavy weight and trained light (12sets with 10 reps. Sometimes he used to do 30, 40 or 50 reps.)

Sets per body part
He does a lot of sets. Some exercises he does 5 sets, some 2 sets, some 3 sets. On Monday he worked chest, back and shoulders only. He did a lot of benches (around 7 sets) but only 3 sets of declines and 3 sets of inclines because he already worked the chest hard with benches. Then chinups, pull overs, dips flyes, crushes…but he only did 3 sets of all of these. 

For arms the same. Heavy curls: 4 – 5 sets and in the assistance work only 3 sets ( preacher curls, dumbbell curls, french presses)

How to Build V-Shape/Waistline like Sergio?

He was genetically gifted. As a kid he always had a V-Shape. Thus there is no secret about Sergio’s waist line. But he cited that before a competition he did sit ups and leg raises (3 -4 sets). He responded very good to sit ups and leg raises. 

The Pump
He used to pump the muscle. He did heavy curl and got an incredible pump and he would not stop. He dropped the heavy curls and did some preacher curls and other movements to keep the pump!

In the past there came a few fitness articles out and they had what was supposed to be Sergio’s workout routine. One said that Sergio didn’t do bench press.
Also Sergio had changed his routine a little whenever he thought of new routines. But the routine above is from the magazine ‘Muscle Training Illustarted 1973″ and I am thinking this one comes close to Sergio’s training.

“Stay with the basics exercises – squats, rows, curls, cleans” Sergio Oliva


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