Old School Bodybuilder: Frank Zane Workout

frank-zane physiqueBodybuilding legend Frank Zane won Mr. Olympia three times, from 1977 – 1979. Even though there are competitors with more victories, there aren’t many who are considered more aesthetic than Frank Zane. Even today, almost 40 years after his first Olympia win, he’s still considered the king of symmetry.

Frank Zane Stats

Titles Won

  • Mr. America 1968
  • Mr. International 1968
  • Mr. Universe 1968
  • Mr. World 1969
  • Mr. Universe 1970
  • Pro Universe Winner 1972
  • Mr. Olympia 1977
  • Mr. Olympia 1978
  • Mr. Olympia 1979

Height: 5’9″ (175cm)
Competition Weight: 185 – 195 pounds (84 – 89kg)

A Mixture of Resistances

When it comes to poundages, Frank Zane’s built his physique by employing both light and heavy training. Early on in his career, he trained almost exclusively with light weight and with a high number of sets and reps. This worked well for him, and he took home several prestigious body building titles. But winning the Mr. Olympia didn’t happen; although Zane looked fantastic, he lacked the muscular size and and density that were the hallmark of Olympia winners.

Finally accepting that he needed to change his training style if he wanted to capture body buildings ultimate crown, Zane finally started pushing heavy weight in 1977. In preparation for the 1977 Olympia, he focused on three to four exercises of three sets each for most body parts using heavier weight and lower reps. This was a much lower level of volume than he was used to. Where he had long been training in the 15+ rep range, he now increased the weight and was working in the 8 to 12 range. Only for calves and abs did he continue to work very high reps.

This change in training worked. Zane packed on more muscle and walked away with his first Olympia title.

The only way you can get muscle size is through heavy training, he said after his winning in 1977. I find that if you train heavy, and then you lay off for a while, you hold your size longer. Years ago my training consisted of a lot of light pumping movements, but my size quickly diminished when I stopped training.

Frank Zane’s Workout Routine

Once he made the decision to start training heavier, Zane programmed a three-way split, the now popular and familiar Push, Pull Leg (PPL) slit some common among body builders, both newbies and experienced alike. Zane set up his split as:

  • Workout 1: Back, Biceps, Forearms
  • Off day
  • Workout 2: Legs, Calves, Abs
  • Workout 3: Chest, Shoulders, Triceps, Abs

To work heavier, he used one power lifting movement in each workout. modified to his personal preference.

Workout 1: Back

On Day 1, that exercise was wide grip dead lift with straps using a regular grip (not the over/under power lifters use). He did 6 total sets, 3 from the floor with lighter weight at 15, 12, 10 reps. The next 3 he did from with the bar elevated to above the knees (rack pulls). He would do heavier weight here for 10, 10, and 8 reps. Occasionally he’d add in a last set of 6 if he had any gas left in the tank.

After dead lifts, he hit T-Bar rows for 12, 10, and 8 reps, increasing the weight each set. Zane considers this a great size builder for the low central lats.

For the rest of his back routine, he did front pull downs for 3 x 8-10 and one arm dumbbell rows for 3 x 8-10. So his whole back routine looked like:

  • Dead lifts, 6 sets (3 from the floor with lighter weight for 15, 12, 10 reps, 3 from the rack with heavier for 10, 10, 8 reps)
  • T-Bar rows, 3 sets for 12, 10 and 8 reps, increasing the weight eat set
  • Front pull downs, 3 sets for 8 – 10 reps
  • One-arm dumbbell rows, 3 sets for 8 – 10 reps

That was total of 15 sets for back. Then he hit his biceps.

Workout 1: Biceps

He started with one-arm dumbbell concentration curls, doing 3 sets of 8 – 10 reps with each arm, increasing the weight each set. He was very methodical in his reps, holding the top contracted position for one second and squeezing for peak contraction, and then lowering very slowly.

Next came alternate dumbbell curls came next, also done for 3 sets of 8 – 10 reps with increasing weight, each rep done through a full range of motion.

Last he performed 45-degree incline dumbbell curls with lighter dumbbells for 12, 10, and 8 reps.

All of his biceps work was done with dumbbells because he believed it allowed for the greatest variation in hand position. He would supinate at the top of the movement with dumbbells.

So that was 9 total sets for biceps:

  • One arm dumbbell concentration curls, 3 sets, 8 – 10 reps
  • Alternating dumbbell curls, 3 sets, 8 – 10 reps
  • 45-degree incline dumbbell curls for 12, 10, and 8 reps

Workout 1: Forearms

He hit his forearms with 12 reps of barbell reverse curls super-setted with 20 reps of seated barbell wrist curls, done for a total of two sets.

Off Day

Since heavy dead lifts are so taxing, Zane would take the next day off. He wanted to give his lower back time to recover before hitting legs, since he did squats and didn’t want to squat with a tired back.

Workout 2: Legs

He warmed up with a few sets of light leg extensions to get some blood flow into and to loosen the knees, and then did 6 sets of barbell squats for 15, 12, 11, 10, 9, and 8 reps. He went below parallel, going down slowly but being explosive on the press portion.

Leg press was next for 3 sets of 15, 12, and 10 reps. He never went extremely heavy in the leg press, instead concentrating on going deep and not quite locking out at the end of the rep.

Lying leg curls was third, 3 sets for 12, 11, and 10 reps.

Last for upper legs was 3 sets of leg extensions for 12, 10, and 8 slow reps done with a weight as heavy as he could that would still allow him to hit his rep target.

So Zane’s upper leg workout was:

  • Light leg extensions for warm-up
  • Squats, 6 sets for 15, 12, 11, 10, 9, and 8 reps
  • Lying leg curls, 3 sets for 12, 11, and 10 reps
  • Leg extensions for 3 sets of 12, 10, and 8 slow reps

Workout 2: Calves

First was the standing calf raise done for 3 sets of 15 – 20 reps and with a deep stretch at the bottom.

Donkey calf raise was second here, for 4 sets of 20 – 25 reps.

Seated calf raise was last, done as one long four-part drop set, no rest, aiming for 120×5, 110×5, 100×5, 90×5.

Zane’s calf workout:

  • Standing calf raise, 3 sets of 15 – 20 reps
  • Donkey calf raise, 4 sets of 20 – 25 reps
  • Seated calf raise, 1 4-part drop set, no rest, for 120×5, 110×5, 100×5, 90×5

Workout 3: Chest

Zane’s main chest exercise was the barbell bench press, done with a shoulder width grip to put more emphasis on pecs, front deltoids and triceps. He didn’t lock out at the top, and did 5 sets of 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, and 2 reps, all done with slow negatives.

After bench, he did  incline dumbbell press in a unique way. He would start with the bench at a 70-degree incline, do 10 reps, then drop the angle and do 8 reps, drop the angle again for 6 reps, and then drop the angle one last time for 4 – 6 reps. These were all down with slow negatives and not locking out at the top of each rep.

Third came decline dumbbell flies for 12, 10, and 8 reps.

Last was the dumbbell pullover lying across a bench, mainly for serratus and to expand the ribcage, pump the lower pecs, and develop the posterior head of the triceps. This was done for 3 sets of 12, 10, and 8 reps.

Last was the dumbbell pullover lying across a bench, mainly for serratus and to expand the ribcage, pump the lower pecs, and develop the posterior head of the triceps. This was done for 3 sets of 12, 10, and 8 reps.

So Zane’s chest workout was:

  • Barbell bench press, 6 sets, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, and 2 reps
  • Incline dumbbell with changing incline, 3 sets for 8, 6 and 4 – 6- reps
  • Decline dumbbell flies for 12, 10, and 8 reps
  • Dumbbell pullover, 3 sets of 12, 10, and 8 reps

Workout 3: Triceps

Close grip bench press was first, done with hands about 12 inches apart and with elbows out to emphasize the outer triceps. As with all his exercises, Zane lowered the weight slowly and didn’t quite lock out at the top. He did 3 sets of 12, 10, and 8 reps.

One arm overhead extensions was second. He would hold onto some sort of support and lean slightly backwards so he could lower the weight down deeply behind his back and then extend, keeping his upper arm close to his head, done for 3 sets of 12, 10, and 8 reps.

The last exercise for for triceps was the V-grip press down, done for 3 sets of 12, 10, and 8 reps, and holding the extended contraction for a full second.

Triceps:

  • Close grip bench press, 3 sets, 12, 10, and 8 reps
  • One arm overhead extensions, 3 sets of 12, 10, and 8 reps
  • V-grip press down, 3 sets of 12, 10, and 8 reps

Workout 3: Shoulders

Zane had already hit the front delts hard with his pressing motions, so he focused on hitting his rear and side delts. He started with bent over dumbbell lateral raise for 3 sets of 15, 12, and 10 reps.

Second (and last) was the side cable raise, 3 sets of 12, 10, and 8 reps.

  • Bent over dumbbell lateral raise, 3 sets of 15, 12, and 10 reps
  • Side cable raise, 3 sets of 12, 10, and 8 reps

A Special Note on Abs

Zane did ab work at the end of every workout. His minimum ab routine was:

  • Leg raise super-setted with ab crunches for 4 sets of 25 reps
  • 100 seated twists
  • Hanging knee ups super-setted with cable crunches, 4 sets of 25
  • 100 seated twists

Some of the principles that guided Zane in this workout were:

  • Dividing the body into three sections instead of two means you can do more work for each section
  • It also gives you each specific part of the body longer to recuperate between workouts
  • It’s easier to tolerate only a small part of your body being sore from exercising

Frank Zane’s Complete Routine

  • Workout 1: Back, Biceps, Forearms
    • Dead lifts, 6 sets (3 from the floor with lighter weight for 15, 12, 10 reps, 3 from the rack with heavier for 10, 10, 8 reps)
    • T-Bar rows, 3 sets for 12, 10 and 8 reps, increasing the weight eat set
    • Front pull downs, 3 sets for 8 – 10 reps
    • One-arm dumbbell rows, 3 sets for 8 – 10 reps
    • One arm dumbbell concentration curls, 3 sets, 8 – 10 reps
    • Alternating dumbbell curls, 3 sets, 8 – 10 reps
    • 45-degree incline dumbbell curls for 12, 10, and 8 reps
    • Barbell reverse curls (12 reps) super-setted with seated barbell wrist curls (20 reps) done for a total of 2 sets
  • Off Day
  • Workout 2: Legs, Calves
    • Light leg extensions for warm-up
    • Squats, 6 sets for 15, 12, 11, 10, 9, and 8 reps
    • Lying leg curls, 3 sets for 12, 11, and 10 reps
    • Leg extensions for 3 sets of 12, 10, and 8 slow reps
    • Standing calf raise, 3 sets of 15 – 20 reps
    • Donkey calf raise, 4 sets of 20 – 25 reps
    • Seated calf raise, 1 4-part drop set, no rest, for 120×5, 110×5, 100×5, 90×5
  • Workout 3: Chest, Triceps, Shoulders
    • Barbell bench press, 6 sets, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, and 2 reps
    • Incline dumbbell with changing incline, 3 sets for 8, 6 and 4 – 6- reps
    • Decline dumbbell flies for 12, 10, and 8 reps
    • Dumbbell pullover, 3 sets of 12, 10, and 8 reps
    • Close grip bench press, 3 sets, 12, 10, and 8 reps
    • One arm overhead extensions, 3 sets of 12, 10, and 8 reps
    • V-grip press down, 3 sets of 12, 10, and 8 reps
    • Bent over dumbbell lateral raise, 3 sets of 15, 12, and 10 reps
    • Side cable raise, 3 sets of 12, 10, and 8 reps
  • Abs Every Workout
    • Leg raise super-setted with ab crunches for 4 sets of 25 reps
    • 100 seated twists
    • Hanging knee ups super-setted with cable crunches, 4 sets of 25
    • 100 seated twists
  • Off Day
  • Off Day

And that’s the program Zen used to win three Mr. Olympias!

Since then, he has continued to modify and tweak his program, which he has termed the Growth Program. His training training approach focuses on progressive overload and pumping the muscles through slow, controlled repetitions, especially in negative movements.

As far as rest, he only mentions that he “took his time”. That most likely translates to a minimum of 3 minutes between sets on the larger exercises and a minimum of 2 minutes on his accessory work.

It’s also important to note that Zane didn’t neglect cardio, although he only did the bare minimum for fitness. Every workout was followed by 15 – 20 minutes on the stationary bike, or a slow mile-and-a-half run.

Zane also placed a high level of important on stretching. He stretched whatever muscle group he was working with static hold stretches extensively between sets. He credits this with his ability to maintain flexibility and flow. And he might have even added a bit to growth, as a new study recently revealed that stretched muscles actually respond with muscle growth.

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