Blog

1979 My Greatest Mr. Olympia Win

Beginning of September I left for Palm Springs, to spend the final four weeks training, sunbathing, meditating, posing in our weekend house. Here’s how a typical day would go: Up at 6 am, meditate, breakfast of 4 soft boiled eggs and a half grapefruit. Train one hour later, doing one of the three workouts above. Eat lunch, usually 8 oz fish and fresh vegetable. My diet that last month averaged 250 – 300 grams of protein, 75 grams of carbs three days in a row increasing up to 200 grams the fourth day, and about 60 grams of fat for a total of about 2500 to 3000 calories a day. I’d sunbathe a few hours (this is when I did a focused meditation on my mantra) lying on a raft in my pool, which was the only way I could take the 110- degree heat. Spent from training and sunbathing, I’d take a nap late afternoon, falling asleep to the Silva Mind Control tapes which is all that was available at the time. Of course, I’d be saying my mantra with them which I did all the time.

Up around 5 pm, I’d have a protein drink, wait an hour, and then do some focused ab work. As the competition neared, clad in posing trunks I’d go outside around 6 pm and tan by standing 15 minutes front, left side, back, right side toward the sun keeping thighs and abs flexed, imagining I was on stage in the lineup and get a tan in vertical position. It was a one-hour long rehearsal for prejudging, and I knew no one else would go to these extremes in preparing. This made me feel even more confident. Around 7 pm was dinner, usually a pound of red meat and vegetable or salad, wait a few hours, drive to the high school track around 9 pm and run a mile and a half. It was just starting to get dark, and the temperature was down under 100 degrees. I fast walked the fist half lap and gradually broke into a slow jog and then an 8-mph run for one mile, followed by one lap running backwards. I kept my gaze on the lane line and was able to run relatively fast this way. My calves, hamstrings, glutes, and low back got really developed from this.

From 10 to 11 pm I practiced posing, holding the compulsory poses each one for up to a minute, tensing all the muscles while relaxing my face. Then it was a short swim, a hot shower followed by a cold one, and a phone call to Christine who was in Santa Monica taking care of business except for weekends when she would drive to Palm Springs with food and clean clothes. Last was a one hour sitting meditation saying my mantra. In bed around midnight, my mantra automatically kept repeating as I fell asleep. Next morning I’d wake up saying it and it was pretty much the same routine over again except for a different workout. I trained three days in a row and rested the fourth day, sometimes I didn’t take the fourth day off If I felt good, I’d just do lots of ab work, leg extension, leg curl, and calf work. My gym was basic: fixed dumbbells from 5 pounds to 90s in 5-pound jumps, a power rack with lat machine and low cable row attached, adjustable flat/incline bench, cable crossover unit, Nautilus leg extension, leg curl, multi-purpose machine, 6-foot Olympic bar, EZ curl bar, it was all I needed. The small 3-bedroom 2 bath house was transformed into a 2-room gym, it provided the environment for intense training.

In training for the 79 Olympia, I did no squatting since I had fallen down a flight of stairs earlier and injured my lower back. This was before Leg Blaster days. Instead, I did heavy leg extensions, eventually working up to 10 reps with 275 on the Nautilus single chain Leg extension (I still have it) I’d purchased the prior year. My other exercises were leg curl and lunge. I did lunge a unique way by hooking a handle into the lever of the Nautilus multi purpose machine with my front foot on the top step. I didn’t use a lot of weight , maybe up to 120 pounds and this really defined my outer thigh at the illio-tibial band. The mile and one half I ran every night had an even greater effect on my leg development and they became very defined with sweeping hamstrings.

Another factor in my upper quad development was the multitude of leg raises I did every day. All this, more than squatting, gave me the thigh muscularity I was after. Squatting is great or building size and sweep to the thigh, not so much for definition, not even high reps. I didn’t have any calf equipment except the Nautilus multi purpose machine which I found wonderful for donkey calf raise, I did reps until an extreme burn came on at the end of each set. I also rigged the machine with a chain and a padded board to enable me to do seated calf raises and between these two exercise my calves grew and developed. My three-way split routine was centered around powerlifting to help me gain size by focusing on the big muscle groups. One power lifting exercise (except no squats) each day helped me do this. On the back day I started my workout with deadlift with wide overhand grip from the knees up. My back got thicker, shoulders wider, and neck grew too. I followed this up with front pulldowns, low cable row, and one arm dumbbell row. After back I worked biceps, my main size builder was alternate dumbbell curl. It was all training with heavy weights, going heavier each set doing mostly 6 to 12 reps with slower tnegatives. ‘I know I will grow’ I said to myself, and I did.

That last month was the most austere training I ever experienced, a spiritual experience, doubt never crossed my mind. I had crowded out negative thinking with my mantra. When I ran my six laps at the Palm Springs High School Track at sundown my mantra kept repeating over and over again in my mind. I remember how effort full my first lap was with negative self talk trying to inject itself into my consciousness. I focused on my mantra and said a syllable with each step I took. After running the first lap all negative self talk disappeared and I eased into effortless stride for the rest of the mile and a half jog. Doing this for one month my thigh and calf definition really improved. Despite not squatting, my thigh mass stayed intact due to the heavy leg extensions I did every fourth day. My thighs were in the best shape of my life even without squatting and leg presses. When I arrived home after running, I’d flex my thighs one hundred times each leg by doing a stationary walking type of movement. I found the more I tensed my muscles (even without actually posing, the more muscular definition I acquired). I did this throughout the day as a precursor to mini deep relaxation sessions. It’s true that if you tense a muscle relatively hard (80—90% of max) for several seconds (I worked up to a full minute) the greatest relaxation occurred in the muscle in the refractory period immediately after the tension lets up.

As the competition neared, I practiced posing more and more, especially during this time after I returned from running. My practice was usually 10 to 11 pm. Since I had no food in my stomach at this time, I practiced lots of stomach vacuums. This is the perfect thing to do at the initial onset of hunger. Instead of stuffing myself with food every two hours, I forestalled hunger an extra hour by doing vacuums, my waist got sharper, my breath control better which made posing easier and less of a cardiovascular effort. I eventually was able to be almost completely relaxed while posing. It sounds paradoxical but it’s true. When you are in absolute peak condition you don’t have to tense the muscles hard to make them stand out. I was able to do a relaxed tension and bring out maximum definition with minimum tensing, totally relaxed just standing there. This was the top of the muscle tone scale.

As my muscles became more relaxed from adapting to increased amounts of tensing, my demeanor became more relaxed and confident. In my mind I had already won this contest. When I said I have already won to myself I was telling the literal truth too because I had already won this competition in 1977 and 1978. Since now I was even better than those years, winning was inevitable. My confidence had risen to a remarkably high level. I thought, spoke, and acted as the winner since I had already won. Everyone became convinced.

At the contest it wasn’t like I could just lay around when I got there, I had a job with ABC television to do expert commentary for the Mr. Universe contest that was being held the day before the Olympia competition. I handled it with ease, relaxed, confident, and full of energy. I even managed to smile occasionally, but not so much to give hint of my deep inner bliss. That year I had arranged for a publicity agent in Columbus who secured space on the Holiday Inn billboard which everyone saw on their taxi ride from the airport into town. It read,’ Columbus welcomes Christine and Frank Zane, Mr. Olympia.’ After all, I was Mr. Olympia. I maintained my calm Thursday evening after arrival and all-day Friday by relaxing as much as possible. I was still on my low carb diet but ate a little more carbs Friday (about 150 grams) so my muscles would feel full the next day. I hadn’t lifted weights for four days and my muscles were becoming stimulus hungry for a pump. It would come soon enough. Saturday morning, I was up at 6 am and had my usual pre-contest breakfast of 3 poached eggs, 8 ounces of broiled calves’ liver, and a baked yam. I had another large baked yam divided up into 2-ounce sections and I swallowed a bunch of free form amino acids, extra glutamine and arginine followed by the 2 ounces yam with a little carbonated water to wash it down. Then I meditated with my blindfold, doing this sequence right up until noon. Then I had a small cup of coffee, more yam, and walked to Vets Auditorium for prejudging.

While everybody scurried around frantically pumping up backstage, I relaxed in a trailer in back of the Veterans Memorial. I had a guy alert me to 20 minutes before stage time, oiled up, did 20 pushups and walked to the stage. I knew my muscles would pump up while posing and I’d grow bigger as I continued to pose. This. while those guys who had already spent up to 2 hours working out would deflate as they stood there on stage watching me pose. They looked better backstage, I looked better onstage. It was all timing, conserving energy right up until the last minute and then pouring it on when needed.

The prejudging was as grueling as usual, but I was prepared since prejudging rehearsal was part of my pre contest training routine. I likened it to the 3-hour prejudging to running a marathon. I wouldn’t run a marathon without practicing the entire marathon before hand since this was the hardest thing you had to do. Competitors seemed to drop like flies while I smiled my way through the afternoon sweat fest.

After prejudging Christine and I caught a cab to a nice restaurant and had a large steak and baked potato, not enough to stuff myself, just the right amount to feel nourished and strong. An hour’s nap followed by a small cup of coffee, relaxed alertness for I knew I won the competition, winning, the banquet and a nice meal afterwards wine flowed freely. As Christine and I sat at our table, Mike Mentzer who had come in second was nice enough to come over and say, “It’s not your fault that you won.” I accepted it as a compliment and thought about retiring. Could it get any better than this?