Frank Zane: The Chemist and His Thoughts on Bodybuilding Today

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Bodybuilding icon Frank Zane, known as “The Chemist” for his scientific approach to sculpting the ultimate physique, recently participated in an insightful interview where he discussed the evolution of the sport. 

Now 81 years old, Frank Zane shared his perspectives on bodybuilding during his era versus today, his career highlights, and even offered critique and advice for current competitors.

Frank Zane built his legacy in the 1960s through the 1980s as a three-time Mr. Olympia champion. Standing 5’9″ and weighing around 190 pounds in competition, Frank Zane captivated audiences with his proportional, aesthetic physique and artistic posing routines. 

While he wasn’t the biggest on stage, he optimized every training and nutrition strategy possible to develop his ideal body.

During the interview, Frank Zane reflected on how he would likely compete as a Classic Physique athlete by today’s standards. 

At a ripped 190 pounds, he didn’t have the mass to rival the 300-pound beasts in the Open division. However, Frank Zane believes he would thrive in Classic Physique with his tiny waist, broad shoulders, and elegant lines.

frank zane and arnold schwarzenegger
via frank zane instagram

When asked about current Classic Physique champion Chris Bumstead, Frank Zane offered praise and areas for improvement. He acknowledged Bumstead’s genetics and structure but felt his biceps lacked peak. 

Frank Zane suggested Bumstead focus on building higher bicep peaks moving forward. Considering Chris Bumstead tore his bicep shortly before winning the 2022 Olympia, this seems like sage advice from one champion to another.

In addition to critiquing today’s stars, Frank Zane also named his top 5 favorite physiques of all time:

Notably, Frank Zane included the massive 300-pound Ronnie Coleman on this list. Despite their different looks, Frank Zane admired Coleman’s outrageous mass and conditioning. 

He wonders if we’ll see another bodybuilder with Ronnie Coleman’s otherworldly proportions and musculature.

Frank Zane also reminisced about witnessing the magic of Larry Scott up close at the 1965 Mr. Olympia, where Zane won his first IFBB Mr. Universe title. 

He described the crowds as rabid for Scott, who was viewed as a genuine bodybuilding god then. It offered perspective on how revered and admired the top champions were during the sport’s early days.

Meditation and Mental Focus

frank zane abs
via frank zane instagram

Frank Zane credited much of his competitive success to lifestyle practices like meditation. He began meditating daily at age 14, believing it helped sharpen his mental focus and visualization skills.

In the interview, Frank Zane highlighted Buddhist concepts like proper thought, right speech, correct behavior, right livelihood, and right action. He structured his training and competition prep around these principles.

Frank Zane also “rehearsed” his mandatory poses leading up to competitions. He would spend 30-60 minutes per day practicing his posing routines. 

He posed outside in the sun to simulate the stage atmosphere, holding front, back, and side poses for 15-minute minutes.

According to Frank Zane, proper mental preparation was just as crucial as physical training. He confidently walked into competitions by meditating and visualizing his ideal performance.

Training and Nutrition Approach

When discussing his training philosophy, Frank Zane emphasized constantly training with weights 5-6 days per week. 

He avoided long cardio sessions since he was naturally lean. Zane typically performed only 15 minutes of cardio at the end of workouts, whether on a treadmill or stationary bike.

However, in the offseason, Frank Zane enjoyed cycling outdoors, providing low-impact cardio and enjoying nature and fresh air.

Regarding nutrition, Frank Zane implied today’s competitors go overboard trying to get too big. He suggested excessive eating contributes to the distended “bubble gut” look and inadequate stomach vacuum training. 

Frank Zane advised athletes to eat smaller, more frequent meals and regularly practice stomach vacuums to maintain a tight, flat midsection.

In terms of peaking, Frank Zane discovered through trial and error that he could only get into actual peak condition once per year. He said today’s pros make the mistake of trying to stay shredded year-round, which burns them out. 

Frank Zane saw the most success by visiting around 8% body fat in the offseason, then gradually dropping body fat and carbs over 16-20 weeks to reach 5% BF for competitions.

Thoughts on Pumping Iron and Arnold Schwarzenegger

The interviewer asked Frank Zane about his role in the classic bodybuilding documentary Pumping Iron. 

Frank Zane shared that he could have been more enthusiastic about participating in the film, as it focused so heavily on Arnold Schwarzenegger rather than capturing the essence of the sport. He remarked that it should have been called “Pumping Arnold” instead.

On the topic of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Frank Zane described an interesting mentor-student dynamic that developed between them as Arnold pursued acting. Frank Zane would ask Arnold Schwarzenegger for advice on competitions, training, etc. 

This lasted until the early 1980s when Arnold came out of retirement to compete again, catching Frank Zane by surprise.

Zane implied he felt betrayed when Arnold told him he wouldn’t compete in the 1980 Mr. Olympia in Australia, only to show up on stage and capture the title. Frank Zane said this demonstrated Arnold’s extreme drive and strategic mindset.

Perspectives on Modern Bodybuilding

frank zane now and then
via frank zane instagram

Given his old-school roots, Frank Zane spoke candidly about the direction of modern pro bodybuilding. When asked about the alarming trend of distended midsections, Zane reiterated that it comes from overeating and inadequate stomach vacuum training. 

He stressed the importance of displaying a proportional, balanced physique from every angle. If your stomach severely detracts from your look, it costs you points.

Frank Zane also feels top athletes today carry too much muscle size, compromised definition, and lack aesthetics compared to his era. However, he understands bodybuilding continually evolves. The key is finding a way to be your absolute best within the parameters of each period.

Regarding whether we’ll see another Ronnie Coleman-esque phenomenon, Frank Zane acknowledged it’s possible with each new generation and advances in nutrition and drug protocols. 

He predicted top pros would likely surpass Ronnie Coleman’s freaky size at some point. Frank Zane cautions that pushing the human body to such extremes comes at a cost to health and longevity.

Advice for Today’s Bodybuilders

When offering advice to current competitors, Frank Zane stressed proper mental preparation and not becoming overzealous with muscle gain or fat loss. He said optimal aesthetics occurs around 5-6% body fat, not pushing to extremes like 3%.

Frank Zane also advised learning to peak effectively once or twice per year max. Don’t try staying shredded year-round, or it backfires. 

Master your nutrition, avoid distention, and elegantly display your physique versus chasing mass at all costs.

Regarding longevity, Frank Zane warned against pushing the body to its absolute limits year after year. Make health your number one priority. Be willing to back off when needed rather than risk burnout, injury, and organ damage.

Finally, Frank Zane talked about giving back to the sport he loves. Despite being in his 80s, he still follows contest coverage and interacts with fans online. 

Frank Zane finds deep fulfillment in helping guide the next generation of bodybuilders to be their best selves. They can learn how to balance aesthetics, power, and longevity over the long run from their career.

The Evolution of Bodybuilding

Frank Zane offers a one-of-a-kind perspective that spans over 60 years as a competitor, trainer, author, and ambassador for bodybuilding. He’s witnessed dramatic changes in competitor size, conditioning, and judging.

While Frank Zane may not love some aspects of modern bodybuilding, he accepts that sports evolve. No matter the era, a champion must optimize their genetic potential. 

Frank Zane did precisely that during the 1960-80s golden age. He encourages today’s stars to master their craft while upholding the highest standards and aesthetics.

Bodybuilding requires extreme discipline and commitment. Frank Zane built one of the great physiques in history by blending scientific training and nutrition with a focused, positive mindset. 

He’s a living reminder that success stems from hard work, resilience, and maximizing one’s natural abilities. Frank Zane’s wisdom resonates and inspires greatness 50+ years after his golden era.

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Mark Morris
Mark Morris
Mark Morris is a content strategist who is passionate about writing about health, fitness, and bodybuilding. He has the credentials and experience to back up his advice, making him a reliable source of information for anyone looking to improve their health and fitness. He is a certified strength and conditioning specialist from Oregon State University.

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