On September 19, 1965, a standing-room-only crowd of 2,500 rabid fans in the Brooklyn Academy of Music screamed as Larry Scott was (literally) crowned the first Mr. Olympia. Only 14 men have won the coveted Sandow to date, and in their honor, we’ve assembled advice from the victor of each contest—from Scott’s initial two to Shawn Rhoden‘s 2018 victory over seven-time Mr. O Phil Heath.
Each tip is short and sweet, but this invaluable guidance from bodybuilding’s legends demonstrates that some things have changed while others have stayed the same over the Mr. Olympia’s first 55 years.
Larry Scott: ’65, ’66
1965: When curling, a bench locks your arms in place. I do preacher curls with a barbell and dumbbells in every biceps workout.
1966: I eat a lot of beef, cottage cheese, and eggs. And I drink a lot of milk. Year-round, I don’t eat many carbohydrates.
Sergio Oliva: ’67, ’68, ’69
1967: Back squats and front squats built my legs. I go as heavy as 3 reps when squatting, but then finish with a set of 20.
1968: My favorite shoulder exercise is the press-behind-the-neck. I do 5 sets x 5 reps. Sometimes I supersetted them with upright rows.
1969: I eat 6 meals daily with lots of tuna, egg whites, and milk. I also eat steak, chicken, rice, oatmeal, and vegetables.
Arnold Schwarzenegger: ’70, ’71, ’72, ’73, ’74, ’75
1970: Find the exercises, sets, and reps that are most productive for you. Then experiment and add variety, but stay with the proven formula.
1971: I train calves every day, at least 10 sets x 10 reps with heaviest possible weights. I gave calves a special focus for years.
1972: Barriers are placed not by your muscles but by your mind. I never want to visualize what’s been done before. I want to go beyond.
1973: I like the basics for biceps: barbell curls and dumbbell curls. I always supinate when I do dumbbell curls.
1974: Dumbbell pullovers at the end of my chest routine and before my back routine tie my chest and back together and stretch my rib cage.
1975: Arnold presses are dumbbell presses with a twist. Go from palms back, elbows forward at bottom to palms forward, elbows out at top.
Franco Columbu: ’76
1976: If I did no other exercise for chest, I would always do the bench press. Nothing is better for chest thickness.
Frank Zane: ’77, ’78, ’79
1977: I cycle my carbs when dieting. I go low carbs for 3 days and higher carbs on the 4th day. The higher day boosts my metabolism.
1978: A lot of people undertrain delts. Think of each delt head as a distinct, small muscle and do 10-12 sets for each head.
1979: Bulking was a disaster. So I stay within 5% of my contest weight year-round. And I use photos to measure progress, not the scales
Arnold Schwarzenegger: ’80
1980: Sometimes I superset a chest exercise with a back exercise. Neither robs strength from the other, and the upper-body pump is fantastic.
Franco Columbu: ’81
1981: I train abs every day at the end of my workout with crunches, Roman chair situps, and hanging leg raises.
Chris Dickerson: ’82
1982: Do very strict, full calf movements, exaggerating the stretches. Vary exercises and toe positions: in, out, straight.
Samir Bannout: ’83
1983: I never lock out hack squats or leg presses until I need a break on the final reps. I want to keep constant tension on my quads.
Lee Haney: ’84, ’85, ’86, ’87, ’88, ’89, ’90, ’91
1984: Moderate weights, workout volume, and training intensity are best for consistent gains without injuries.
1985: My split is 3 on, 1 off. Day 1: Chest and arms. Day 2: Legs. Day 3: Back and shoulders. Day 4: Off. Then start over.
1986: I never get away from the basics for back: barbell rows, T-bar rows, cable rows, pulldowns, and pullups.
1987: I train abs in every workout. I usually do hanging leg raises, incline situps, and seated leg raises, 4 x 15-20 for each.
1988: This is a typical post-workout meal: chicken or fish, spinach, rice or noodles, 5 oz pineapple, 2 slices whole-wheat toast, water.
1989: Don’t start messing around with all the little details until you know what you’re doing. Master the basic, compound exercises.
1990: I always end my shoulder workout with upright rows (4 sets x 6-10) to tie my delts and traps together.
1991: I use a high-potency multivitamin/mineral supplement daily. Closer to a contest I take more B-complex and C to aid recuperation.
Dorian Yates: ’92, ’93, ’94, ’95, ’96, ’97
1992: Muscle growth takes place outside of the gym after you’re fully recovered. That’s why I advocate training only 3-4 times per week.
1993: I train rear delts after lats and before lower back with machine and dumbbell rear laterals, 1 set x 8-10 of each.
1994: I do 2 sets for calves once per week: standing calf raises and seated calf raises, 10-12 reps each. The key is full ranges of motion.
1995: My first meal is: 100g oatmeal, 2 whole eggs and 6 egg whites, 2 slices whole-wheat toast, 1 banana, water.
1996: Sleep is crucial to recuperation and growth. I usually sleep 8 hours at night plus another 90-120 min. nap in the afternoon.
1997: I usually do only 1 working set per exercise, but I may do 1-3 pyramided warmups before the working set.
Ronnie Coleman: ’98, ’99, ’00, ’01, ’02, ’03, ’04, ’05
1998: I train everything twice a week like Arnold and all those guys did in the ’70s. It worked for them, and it works for me.
1999: I rarely change exercises. But I alternate 2 different workouts for each body part, so I never do the same workout twice in a row.
2000: In my first meal after a workout, I almost always have 2 chicken breasts and a baked potato.
2001: I did those heavy, single-rep lifts for the video camera. I use big weights, but I always aim for 10-12 reps in my workouts.
2002: One back workout is for thickness and has deadlifts and rows. The other is for width with 2 types of pulldowns along with rows.
2003: I do 6 exercises for triceps each week, 3 per workout. One routine ends with close-grip bench presses. The other starts with skullcrushers
2004: When you do ’em right, walking lunges work because they’re hard. Lunges add quality muscle and lines to my quads, hams, and glutes.
2005: For squats to be effective you need to stay as upright as possible and get down to at least parallel.
Jay Cutler: ’06, ’07
2006: I prefer dumbbells over barbells for shoulders. I like the freer range of motion and the need to balance the 2 sides.
2007: A typical meal for me in the offseason is 10 oz of beef, buffalo, or steak and, to keep my calories high, 2 cups of white rice.
Dexter Jackson: ’08
2008: I end my chest workout with machine presses that are like a press and flye combination. It’s a real inner-pec burner.
Jay Cutler: ’09, ’10
2009: I’ll sometimes do rest-pause for calves. I’ll stop when I reach failure, rest for a few seconds, and then get a few more reps.
2010: I do cardio on the StepMill for 40 min. first thing in the morning. I’ll do a second session later if needed.
Phil Heath: ’11, ’12, ’13, ’14, ’15, ’16, ’17
2011: When I go heavy on stiffleg deadlifts, I feel them too much in my back. Stay light and focus on the stretch, maintaining constant tension.
2012: Don’t do extreme low-fat and low-carb in the off-season. Instead, focus on getting enough protein and calories to grow.
2013: I don’t do any wrist curls. I’m lucky that my forearms grow enough from biceps work, especially hammer curls.
2014: The most important thing for gaining size is patience. The journey is long. Stick to the program, eat right, and train right.
2015: Be better than your previous self, but always know that it’s going to take time, time and more time.
2016: Training after shows provides a great rebound if you are eating somewhat clean and staying hydrated.
2017: Look at yourself in the mirror and ask, “Am I doing enough?” If the answer is “no,” then it’s time to get your ass up and get to work!
Shawn Rhoden: ’18
2018: “Practice whatever it is that you want to get better at not just once but EVERY DAY. If you practice something perfectly, it will come out naturally and become a part of you. #consistency” —@flexatronrhoden
BY GREG MERRITT