One of the greatest bodybuilders of all time, the three-time Mr. Olympia Frank Zane had an astonishing physique that made heads turn every time he showed up on the stage. Zane was never among the biggest, beastlike bodybuilders that we’re used to seeing now, but he had an incredible athletic and lean build, clean lines, efficiency of size and near-perfect symmetry – he pretty much resembled a Greek god of pure beauty, strength and vitality.
Decades later, most bodybuilders are still in awe while looking at Zane’s best photos from the Golden Era, wondering how to get there themselves. Luckily, Zane is always more than happy to share his training tips with his fellow lifters, so here are 8 tips from the godfather of bodybuilding aesthetics that will help you carve out your ideal body and stand out on any stage!
1. Ditch the Flat Bench Press
The flat bench press stresses the upper and lower pecs evenly, which makes it a great exercise for overall pec development early in your training. It also hits the delts and triceps very efficiently, speeding up muscle growth in these areas. But, the usefulness of the flat bench ends here. Many professional bodybuilders don’t even include flat benching in their pec routine because this exercise actually stresses the front delts far too much to be an effective exercise for chest building. What is worse – the angle of the flat bench press puts the pec tendons in a very vulnerable position which can lead to shoulder and overuse injuries. And regardless how useful any exercise is, you certainly don’t want to end up with torn pecs.
Zane solves this problem by replacing the flat bench press with incline bench presses, using dumbbells with a neutral grip which enables a better stretch. After that, he moves on to the pec deck, keeping the reps in the 6-12 range, working up in weight and down in reps. He finishes his chest routine with parallel dips on a dip machine, going for as many as 15 reps, then counting down as he increases the weight.
2. Chase the Pump for Muscle Growth
When it comes to hypertrophy training, there have always been too very loud groups of bodybuilders and coaches: those who favor “chasing” the pump, that glorious feeling when your muscles look like they’re about to explode, and those who think that such endeavor is totally useless and results with nothing more than a temporary cosmetic effect. Zane, however, was a firm believer in the power of the pump – in his opinion, every bodybuilder, regardless of his goals, should follow the pump. For example, he always works his triceps after his chest in order to take full advantage of the blood flow already in that area. And since the tri’s make up two-thirds of the arm mass, they deserve more focus and effort than the biceps.
That being said, Zane’s top three triceps exercises are close-grip bench presses, pushdowns and overhead dumbbell extensions. He recommends performing these three moves twice per week. Go for 12-15 reps – high reps will help you get the pump, which according to scientific studies is essential for muscle growth.
3. Destroy Your Abs
Frank Zane’s physique is unforgettable from many aspects, and one of them is his incredibly refined midsection. Indeed, photographs of Zane hitting the stomach vacuum and showing off his chiseled abs have taken on something of a mythical status. So, how did he do it?
Unlike today’s gym goers who typically work their abdominals once per week, if not less, Zane always did plenty of ab work. And by plenty we mean thousands of hours of abs training. In fact, he always made sure to get in an abs session at the end of his workout. As he neared a show, he would perform 1000 reps of various ab exercises! At its longest, these sessions took him about thirty minutes to complete. In terms of exercises, he combined crunches with Roman-chair sit-ups in supersets, then followed up with hanging knee raises and seated twists for his obliques. So if you want to get your abs as shredded as possible, you need to up your game and really devote time and attention to your midsection.
4. Don’t Forget to Stretch
As you might already know, optimal blood flow is one of the main factors for muscle growth, which is why coaches always stress the importance of good circulation. Blood cells travel through the arteries and capillaries carrying oxygen and muscle building nutrients to muscle tissues, thereby helping the regeneration of muscle tissue and allowing continuous growth. Frank Zane knew this very well and in order to improve circulation, he’d perform a stretch for the body part he was working between each set. Although traditional stretching techniques are a lost art in modern-day bodybuilding, Zane still swears by it, placing as much emphasis on stretches as he does on lifting sets. And judging by his looks, he knows what he’s doing!
For example, if you’re doing front pull-downs or low cable rows, do a two-arm lat stretch in between sets to keep the blood in the area and keep it warmed up, as well as enhance flexibility. Better flexibility leads to getting a better pump and it keeps you injury-free. According to Zane, if you don’t stretch enough and just train heavy and slow all the time, you will lose your range of motion, which will eventually diminish your muscle gains.
5. Don’t Change Programs Too Soon
Yes, changing your workout routine from time to time will definitely provide new challenges for your muscles, pushing them to grow and helping you break plateaus. However, one of the worst things you can do is change your workout routine too often. Many people will tell you that you “must shock your muscles” all the time to enhance growth, but let’s be frank – if you keep changing your regimen every month or so, you will never become good at anything. If you want to improve your results, you need to improve your performance. And in order to improve your performance, you need to spend enough time doing each and every exercise in your routine. Basically, you need to educate your muscles by doing a lot of sets and a lot of reps, and changing your routine too often robs you of this chance. Also, don’t jump from one program to the next in search of some ultimate magical routine that’s going to make your muscles grow superfast. There is no such thing.
Pick a good workout program and stick to it at least for a couple of months. Get your body to master the movements in the most efficient way and as your muscles learn to work with the load, you’ll start seeing results. The key thing is to have a constant, intense training style that will regularly prompt new growth, not to alternate workouts every other day. The latter will only leave you more confused than before.
6. Work Your Weak Spots
On your quest to build a solid, well-proportioned physique, you must first build a foundation of balanced muscularity through your best efforts. After some time of heavy sweating in the gym, you will notice that some body parts do not respond as well as others and you are lacking strength and power in certain areas that need some extra attention. In order to avoid the abyss of becoming disproportionate, you have to put your weak points at the top of your “to do” list.
The idea is to maintain your gains while improving your weakest spots. In the case of your strong points, hitting them once a week is just enough, according to Zane. The rest of the time should be devoted to improving the performance of your lagging body parts. Specifically, he recommends hitting your weak areas three days in a row, followed by three full days of rest. This type of training is very taxing, so you shouldn’t do it for more than three consecutive weeks. There are many techniques to choose from in the battle with those stubborn weak areas, so focus on where you lag the most and get going.
7. Keep Your Carbs Reasonably Low
Smart dieting is one of the hardest parts of the bodybuilding journey, so don’t worry, you’re not alone with your mistakes here. Restricting calories, carbs and fats is certainly not fun nor easy, and you also have to know when to stop – diet too long or too strictly and adverse side effects can occur. Without dieting, however, achieving maximum definition is practically impossible.
Throughout Frank Zane’s career, he was never a big carbohydrate freak – there were always fewer carbohydrates than there was protein in his diet. He kept protein at one gram per pound of body weight, usually between 190 and 200 grams per day. At the same time, he stuck to consuming between 70 and 150 grams of carbs, while fat made up around 25% of his total calories. Also, he never went above 3,000 calories per day and reckons that would simply lead to storing more fat.
Carbs are the brain’s preferred fuel, even though it can also run on ketones, the metabolites of fat breakdown. But when carbs are high all the time, the body fuels itself from them, causing less fat to get burned. So what to do? Eat about one gram of protein per pound of body weight and hold carbs at about one-third gram per pound of body weight. Increase your carbs on the days before your biggest workouts so that you can get a great pump.
8. Don’t Stop Pushing Yourself
Don’t wait for other people or articles like this one to truly motivate you. If you want great results, you need to master the art of self-motivation. If your own motivational fire needs a little stoking, that will surely show up in your performance. At the beginning, you work out because you don’t like the way you look and you’re set out to improve. After a while and after you’ve made some progress, you’re motivated to keep going because naturally, you want even more improvement.
All of that is great, but, for motivation to really work, it needs to be intrinsic (from within) and it needs to be connected to a goal that is specific and tied by a deadline. You need concrete, no-nonsense ways to stay motivated in the long run and reap bigger and bigger rewards in terms of your training, and that can only come from the deepest pits of your personal well of motivation. Make a habit of rewarding yourself in a positive way (in other words, NOT with junk food) for every progress you make, and make sure you always have achievable, sustainable goals.
Got it? Good. Now take these tips and go pump some iron in a way that would make Frank Zane proud!