From Aesthetics to Mass - Frank Zane

Every era has people that believe a certain time (mostly in their youth) was better that the present years. In case of bodybuilding, many people share the opinion that bodybuilding is getting worse and it will never be as in the “Golden Era of Bodybuilding”

For most of us this is nothing new, bodybuilding is evolving and changing. Weider once asked Juliette Bergman to compete and had her crowned Ms Olympia in an attempt to change the increasing masculination of the female contestants. He assumed that a more famine look would save female bodybuilding. Instead the other categories like the Bikini, Fitness and Figure became more popular. Now we see something similar with male bodybuilding adding popular categories like Physique and Classic Bodybuilding.

Another turning point was 1977. In January of 77, the movie "Pumping Iron" was released. And if there was a time to attain general acceptance and to go from an obscure (gay) subculture to an accepted “sport” it was then.

A Mr. Olympia then, was just like it is today, the “golden standard” of the ideal (IFBB) physique. It is very typical that the 1977 Mr. Olympia. Anabolic steroids enabled bodybuilders to become bigger as ever. But while some insiders raved about Lou Ferrigno's immense size or Robby Robbinson's freaky physique, the judges preferred symmetry, proportion, aesthetics and definition. Frank Zane embodied the epitome of bodybuilder aesthetics with a small waist and wide shoulders. He would held the most prestigious title in bodybuilding for three years 1977 – 1978 – 1979.

And as Wikipedia so nicely puts it: His reign represented a shift of emphasis from mass to aesthetics.”

Frank Zane

If ever there was a “perfect” bodybuilder, in regard to aesthetics and symmetry it was Frank Zane. Every body part was in perfect balance to the others. And every part was flawless. He looked as if he were chiseled from stone. Cut, defined and always razor sharp. His was the classic physique that any man would admire and any woman would desire. It wasn’t “freaky.’ It was pretty. And at a time when bodybuilding was attempting to gain a broader audience, he was the idea representation of physical perfection to the general public.

Frank wasn’t the biggest bodybuilder you’ll ever see. In fact, when he first won the Mr. Olympia crown in 1977 he weighed just 190 pounds at 5’ 10”. (And 4% bodyfat , before the discovery of clenbuterol). If someone were to go on a message board with those stats he’d be derided for being too small! But in Frank’s day it was more about muscle quality than quantity. Sheer size for the sake of size was actually shunned. Shape was what ruled and a small waist was the most impressive attribute to the contest judges at the time. The goal was to look, not like a monster, but a Greek god. And Frank Zane got it as close as one can get it.

As with all assumptions about what compounds anyone used, it’s essentially conjecture. We can speculate what they preferred based on the end result but results vary as much from genetics, training protocol and diet than it does from drugs. But in Frank’s case we know a few things. He was affectionately known as “The Chemist” due to his methodical and analytical approach to enhancement. Frank was also the forerunner of the use of two compounds that were not well known to most bodybuilders at the time. One was T4. Franks realized that the thyroid was the body’s furnace and it forced to burn more fuel a hyped up thyroid resulted in the body using body fat for energy.

Frank’s old school approach to training consisted of high volume with little rest in-between sets. As it got closer to contest time the reps got higher and the rests got shorter, all in an effort to create more pump and burn more fat. Apparently, it worked.

Another “secret” of some of the top bodybuilders on the Venice beach crowd such as Frank, Arnold, Sergio and Chuck Sipes was the use of “injectable amino acids.” This was essentially a form of purified collagen protein. By injecting in directly into the bloodstream there was no digestive process and the body utilized all of the aminos. This resulted in extraordinarily rapid gains. The only thing comparable today would be super plasma protein, which also requires no digestion since the peptides are already in the molecular structure that is present in the bloodstream, therefore it’s immediately recognized. This equates to “instant muscle” and it probably the most overlooked advantage to increased gains than any other substance besides steroids themselves.

Zane was also a big believer in supplements. Unfortunately, what was available at the time was limited and crude — substances like desiccated liver, “one a day” vitamins, brewer’s yeast and bone marrow. The more progressive guys eschewed the soy protein and used the Blair milk and egg protein powder. Colostrum from veterinarian supply houses was also on the list. ANYTHING that could possibly grow more muscle!

That also included steroids of course. Many bodybuilders don’t admit to steroid use because of the social stigma attached to its use. And if they do they do talk about it: they admit to “small dose, small cycles” etc. Let’s not forget anabolic steroids were totally legal back then. It wasn’t hard to persuade a doctor to make a prescription.

Frank Zane’s view on Steroids.

“…Maybe not okay (laughs). Because I don’t even care – I care about bodybuilding but not the way it is now. To tell you the truth people who care enough about the way bodybuilding used to be come to me for advice and that is all I care about: that idea. If you want to look like a freak there are plenty of people around who will tell you how to do that.

Every muscle magazine on the market will tell you how to do that except for one thing: they won’t tell you what everybody is doing as far as the drugs they are taking. They won’t tell you what that is. That is the key ingredient that is left out.

They say, “If you want to look like a freak take these supplements, take Muscle Tech. If you do this you will look that way.” But that’s not true at all. Supplements help, but it is the massive drug abuse that goes on. To tell you the truth I don’t blame the bodybuilders. Basically they are just doing what it takes to win. I blame the judges. The judges are the ones that say, “You are the best.”

With posing here is my idea, which, of course will fall on deaf ears, but I think this would be a really good idea: make the vacuum pose a mandatory pose. If you want to get guys to start paying more attention to having a small waistline, make the vacuum pose mandatory.

Get them to do it with the abdominal pose. You would use the same position with hands behind the head from the abdominal pose to the vacuum. It would certainly narrow the field because nobody could do it. Actually there is only one guy who could do it and that is Chris Cormier. But nobody else could because of the size of their guts, which are too big.

Another thing that put bodybuilding into the monster realm is when they eliminated the above and below 200 pound class. Everybody said we should all be over 200 pounds. Now there is nobody onstage who is less than 200 pounds.”

And as a reminder just look at some of those Frank Zane pics from when he was in the prime. Look that good first – then talk about needing to get bigger!


Interview With The King of Aesthetics – Frank Zane

As I drove up a long, winding hill in beautiful La Mesa, California, I couldn’t help but be a bit nervous.  I was about to interview and train with one of my idols, Frank Zane. Zane and Arnold were the two physiques that first got me interested in lifting weights. It seems like just yesterday that I was a skinny high school kid ripping pictures of them out of Muscle and Fitness and taping it on my wall. Now, I’d be interviewing one of bodybuilding’s legends for that same magazine. The entire experience was surreal.

I’m an avid fan of the “Golden Era” of bodybuilding. I have all the old books from those guys like 3 More Reps and the Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding. I am far more interested in learning how they developed their physiques with such limited resources than the guys of today. Bodybuilding has taken a real turn for the worse. Symmetry and aesthetics are a lost art. Today, it’s all about freakish mass and who can survive the largest drug cocktail. The sport is dead in my opinion (and I use the word “sport” loosely).

Frank Zane was able to build arguably the most proportionate, muscular and aesthetically pleasing physique of all time. Because of this, I was really eager to learn as much as I could about his nutrition, training and supplementation. Come to find out, we share a lot of the same beliefs and his knowledge was far ahead of his time. The first half of our interview will be in Muscle and Fitness in the fall.

The following interview features a lot of his training tips as well as discussion between the two of us.

Competing Back Then vs. Now

Frank Zane first started lifting weights around 14. He did this because he lived in a dangerous neighborhood with a lot of fighting and wanted to build his body up. The first organization he competed in was the AAU, which judged physique as well as athletic points. Eventually, he decided there wasn’t much of a future in the AAU and his next show he got 3rd in the teenage Mr. America.

Frank – “I just kept at it. After I graduated college I actually taught school for 13 years. It allowed me to train hard in the summers. Believe it or not, when I won the Olympia I was teaching full time.”

Fred – “Nowadays pro bodybuilders don’t do anything outside of bodybuilding. They lift, sleep, eat and repeat. It’s a very one-dimensional life.”

Frank – “Yeah, I guess. And today they all want sponsorships. What’s a sponsorship? We didn’t have that, we just had to work.”

Favorite Training Split

Frank believed that a 3 way split was the most effective once you had built up a proper base. There were three different set-ups that he used when competing.

Day 1 – Back, Biceps, Forearms

Day 2 – Legs

Day 3 – Chest, Shoulders, Triceps

Day 1- Chest, Back

Day 2 – Legs

Day 3 – Deltoids, Arms…He referred to this as the “Arnold Split”

Day 1: Back/Triceps/Rear Delts

Day 2: Legs

Day 3: Chest/Biceps/Front Delts/Forearms

He trained abs every single workout and the volume back then was relatively high. Reps were kept between 8-12 with sets ranging from 3-4.

Fred – “How were you guys able to handle all the volume? I know Arnold would sometimes do 20+ sets of chest.”

Frank – “By doing nothing else, which is what Arnold did when he was training for a show. Training twice a day, I did that for a while. At that time I was already in my 30’s, working full-time and going to school. Eventually I settled into doing 3 days on and 1 day off. That’s how I trained for the Olympia in 1979 and get into my best shape. Today, I only train 3 days a week.”

Fred – “What things would you focus on pre, intra and post-workout?”

Frank – “I always made sure I had carbohydrates pre-workout, protein and carbohydrates. In order to get great workouts you need the proper fuel in before the session. I always worked to get a maximum pump. In terms of the window of 30 minutes to an hour post-workout to rush and get carbohydrates, I never worried about that.”

Fred – “The anabolic window theory has been taken apart in the last few years by recent research. The “window” so to speak, stays “open” for much longer than 30 minutes or even an hour. Protein synthesis will stay elevated for hours post-workout, so it’s ridiculous to think that if you miss this made up window you will miss out on gains.”

The Zane Diet

Frank followed somewhat of a low-carb diet with a reefed when prepping for a show. He kept protein at 1g/lb of bodyweight which was usually around 190-200g for him. His fat intake made up 25% of his calories and usually end up around 60g per day. In terms of calories he never went above 3,000 and stayed mainly in the low to mid 2,000’s. His carbohydrate intake was as follows:

Days 1-3: 75g of carbohydrates

Day 4: 150+g of carbohydrates

Frank – “This was my diet for burning fat. I was trying to get into ketosis by that third day and then pull myself out of it on the fourth. It worked really well for me.”

Fred – “Sometimes I advocate having no-carbohydrates post-workout as there’s no need to rush to replenish glycogen stores. While it was once believed that you “needed” carbohydrates post-workout to stimulate protein synthesis, it isn’t exactly true. You need insulin + amino acids. Carbohydrates are not the only nutrient to stimulate insulin. By having a whey shake with leucine you get your amino acids and insulin to stimulate protein synthesis. It’s also a nice period for fat loss as the body tries to spare glucose and uses mainly fat for fuel.”

Frank – “After a workout I wouldn’t always eat immediately. I’d wait. I would basically do something to relax, maybe even wait a few hours. When I got hungry, that’s when I’d eat.”

Fred – “I’m also a proponent of intermittent fasting even though it’s not exactly popular in the bodybuilding world, what are your thoughts on it?”

Frank – “I think it’s a good idea. What I found myself doing when getting ready for a show was staying hungry longer. That was the key. If you wanted to get muscular, don’t eat so much. Don’t stuff yourself because you think you’re hungry. You just get fat that way, at least I did.

Fred – “Far too often people will ask me if they should eat their next meal even if they aren’t hungry. How the hell does that make sense? Of course not. Listen to your body. That’s part of why bodybuilders today have huge distended guts (and drug usage).”

Frank – “And I have an answer for that. Make the vacuum pose a mandatory pose for bodybuilders. Why don’t they do that?”

Fred – “Because none of them could do it.”

Intra-workout Nutrition

Fred – “A lot of bodybuilders today advocate carbohydrates intra-workout. I don’t really think it’s a great idea to constantly replete glycogen stores during a lift. If anything, it’s going to take away from the enhanced post-exercise insulin sensitivity that you want afterwards. What they don’t tell you is that they are taking insulin pre-workout and that carbohydrates intra-workout are helping to make sure they don’t go hypoglycemic. What do you think?”

Frank – “I would NEVER eat during my workout. Drink water. I mean, here’s the thing. Your blood sugar is dropping and glycogen is disappearing during a workout and you want that. If you’re drinking Gatorade you are not going to burn any fat from that workout. Eating all this protein during your workout, your body can’t digest it all. That’s not the time to eat! You should have eaten before you trained and it should already be in your system working to help you.”

Science vs. Experience

Fred – “With the internet today, there is an explosion of readily accessible information. You have those that believe nothing unless 12 studies are attached vs. those who worry only about personal experience. What’s your position?”

Frank – “Everything I did was based on things I observed, by experimenting on myself, not by things I read. I have a master’s degree in psychology, I can understand a study. However, I never go to the literature first. I might get an idea from the literature but then I will test it out. I don’t rely on what other people say. Never did I do that. It’s about finding what works for me.”

Amino Acid Supplementation

Fred – “I am a big proponent of supplementing with Leucine around workouts, did you guys use a lot of BCAA’s?

Frank: I have always been a big believer of what I call precursor loading. Since the late 60’s I have been doing massive doses of amino acids. I’ve known about leucine’s properties since the 80’s. I was taking a ton of it in 1983.”

Clean Eating or Flexible Dieting?

Fred – “Back then, you guys seemed to be a lot more lax with food choices than competitors today. You seemed to live much more normal lives. Today, it’s chicken, tilapia, rice and broccoli. They don’t go out, they don’t have hobbies, can’t eat at restaurants, etc.”

Frank – “You can eat more stuff than that! That’s why they don’t last. There is no variety. You have to find balance in your life and I found ways to do that. That’s why I was able to compete for 23 years. I ate everything. It wasn’t high fat or high carbohydrate but I just focused on getting adequate protein. At one point I tried getting heavier but it didn’t work well for me. My best bodyweight was 190lbs at 5’9.”

Bulk and Cut Diet vs. Staying Lean

Fred – “I have written a few articles fighting against the traditional bulk and cut diet. People use this as an excuse to overeat and get excessively fat. Adding too much body fat will impair their insulin sensitivity and skew nutrient repartitioning towards fat gain. People will come to me, show me an unrealistic picture of what they want to look like and ask how long it will take them. The guy in the picture will be 30lbs heavier and have 10% less body fat.”

Frank – “Waste of time. I try to show people the reality of the situation by taking their photo. It’s what we call false imagination. Everybody is walking around in a dream world. Once they don’t get what they want and see how hard it is, they will move on. They come and they go.”

Fred – “So if someone comes to you with the hopes of gaining a lot of size, what do you tell them?”

Frank – “Depends on what they have been doing. A truly symmetrical physique is not about gaining weight quickly. If you gain weight quickly you build up central mass. You build up your pecs, traps, waist, butt, thighs and you look like a block. Larry Scott used to say, if you want a great physique, work on the peripheral muscles like the deltoids, calves, forearms, small waist; the v-taper. Those are what I focused on.”

The War on Gluten

Fred – “What’s your take on all the gluten hype today?”

Frank – “It reminds me of a time in the 70’s, we used to go to the store and buy “gluten bread.” I don’t know. It wasn’t an issue for me. One explanation I’ve heard is that people have violated their natural biochemistry and microorganisms inside them from all the vaccines and drugs. Now they are allergic to everything. I mean, nobody used to be allergic to peanut butter, they are now. Shellfish was never an issue before, yet it is now. What was natural has been tampered with.

“I don’t know. That answer covers a lot of questions. I keep it in store for most situations and I’m not afraid to use it. The older I get the more I realize I’m not young enough to know everything. There was a time when I was. I realize I know less and less now. If you realize you know less and less then the tendency is to be more open. I try my best not to have preconceived notions about things.”

High Carb vs. High Fat

Fred – “Today, you have some who are low-carb absolutists and follow a ketogenic or high fat diet. On the other side of the fence are those who try to ramp up carbohydrates as much as possible. What are your thoughts?”

Frank – “You get fat from too much of any of the three macronutrients (proteins, carbs or fats). The idea is to get enough protein but not more than enough. You can especially get fat from too many carbohydrates, that’s a lot of people’s problem. There are some I know that have fast metabolisms and can handle a lot of carbs.  I was always low-moderate carb intake and low to moderate fat intake. When I was younger I had a higher proportion of fat than carbohydrates. As I got older I realized I needed to lower my fat a little bit.”