To be Mr.Olympia, to be the best bodybuilder in all the world, may ultimately be a matter of destiny. Sometimes there are structural deficiencies or lagging areas a man just can’t overcome, but not for lack of trying; and sometimes someone great just has the misfortune of peaking during the reign of someone better. We celebrate five of those men, five men who trained the hardest in pursuit of the Sandow only to have it escape their grasp. It may be more instructive to examine their workouts than the workouts of those who beat them, for these five, whose Olympia journeys span more than three decades, simply tried harder. They trained with greater intensity, sometimes longer, often heavier, frequently smarter, but always they drove themselves toward bodybuilding’s summit. Forget that they didn’t make it. Only one man each year does. We celebrate the quest.
MIKE MENTZER color>
• OLYMPIA RECORD 1979 Heavyweight winner; 1980 5th
• WORKOUT STATS Exercises: 4 Working sets: 4–5
• Total reps (range average): 34
• Typical rep range: 6–9
• Time: 25 minutes
• Training partner: yes
• Frequency: once weekly
• Techniques: forced reps, rest-pause, negatives, pre-exhaust
THE CLOSER YOU GET TO A REVOLUTION THE MORE CHAOTIC IT SEEMS color>
In the summer of 1979, if you had viewed an upstart, 27-year-old philosopher and former pre-med student with the alliterative name Mike Mentzer as he prepared to make his Olympia debut by trading sets with his younger brother Ray (who won that year's Mr. America), it would've looked like some sort of madness. Perhaps it still would. But at the end of the '70s, it was in marked contrast to the high-volume, high-frequency norm as performed by virtualy everyone else, including then-reigning Mr. O, Frank Zane.
Only one working set per exercise? Only four total working sets for a bodypart? Rest-pause negatives, pre-exhaust, beyond failure? It was as if every rule of traininghad been turned on its head by this iconoclast who was pushing each of his few sets to new extremes of pain in a quest to grab bodybuilding's crown on his first attempt. Mentzer didn't invent high-intensity training, but he did much to popularize it, rechristening his take on it "Heavy Duty" in 1980. By then, he was thebest big man in the world, he won the '79 Mr. Olympia heavyweight class but losing the overall to lightweight winner Zane. At the controversial '80 Olympia, Mentzer landed in a humbling fifth and never competed again, retiring from the stage at age 28. (He died in 2001.) It would be up to six-time Mr. O Dorian Yates to carry HIT concepts to the promised land. Mentzer's pursuit of the Sandow was brief, as wre his workouts, but no one before him ever trained with greater intensity.
TOM PLATZ color>
• OLYMPIA RECORD 1980 9th; 1981 3rd;1982 6th; 1984 9th; 1985 7th; 1986 11th 100 (hams), 131 (calves)
• Typical rep range: 10–15
• Time: 100 minutes
• Training partner: yes Frequency: twice weekly
• Techniques: pyramids (squats only), drop sets, forced reps, partial reps, iso-tension
• WORKOUT STATS Exercises: 7 (total), 3 (quads), 1 (hams), 3 (calves)
• Working sets: 33–45 (total), 18–23 (quads), 6–10 (hams), 9–12 (calves)
• Total reps (range average): 501 (total), 270 (quads),
HIS VERY NAME SOUNDS LIKE A COMIC BOOK PUNCH CONNECTING WITH A SKULL: PLATZ! color>
And his every workout was a war of attrition, not between him and the iron but between him and his muscles, and he refused to surrender. When he couldn’t get another full rep, he enlisted just enough help on forced reps. After that, he did half reps, and when he couldn’t get half reps, he did quarter reps, and then he just held the weight against the forces of gravity until his muscles, screaming for mercy, admitted defeat. He would not lose.
Coming into the 1981 Olympia, he was 26, a middling pro, noted as much for his lack of upper-body mass as his outstanding legs. But that summer he had pushed his workouts into new realms of torture and made one of the most dramatic one-year transformations in the history of bodybuilding. Not only was his upper body catching up to the previous high stan- dards of his legs, but — forget symmetry — his legs were traveling where none had gone before, and many believe his wheels still have not been surpassed. He stunned the physique world with a third at the controversial ’81 Olympia and was the talk of bodybuilding for the following year. “I’ll win or die trying,” he famously said of the Olympia, but a much smaller tragedy — a torn biceps — derailed his dream the following year when he was favored for victory but finished sixth. His physique was never the same. Still, that brash and brutal sentiment summarized Platz’s too-brief but legendarily intense for the Sandow.
BERTIL FOX color>
• OLYMPIA RECORD 1982 8th; 1983 5th; 1987 12th; 1989 11th
• WORKOUT STATS Exercises: 10 (total), 5 (biceps), 5 (triceps)
• Working sets: 60 (total), 30 (biceps), 30 triceps)
• Total reps (range average): 456 (total), 222 (biceps), 234 (triceps)
• Typical rep range: 6–8 Time: 3 hours
• Training partner: no
• Frequency: twice weekly
• Techniques: high volume, cheating
SOME GUYS TRAIN HEAVY, SOME GUYS TRAIN HARD. FOX DID BOTH IN THE SAME WORKOUT. color>
He’d pound the free-weight basics for sets of six to eight loose-form reps, over and over again. Thirty such sets for biceps and 30 right afterward for triceps. Then, three or four days later, he’d do it again. If you need any further proof that Mentzer’s Heavy Duty did not catch on in the ’80s, check out the arm workout Fox used to prepare for the ’83 Olympia. It was certainly heavy, but probably 10 times the volume Mentzer would’ve recommended. FLEX’s first editor-in-chief, the late Bill Reyn- olds, christened Fox “Brutal” for his relentlessly heavy and lengthy workouts.
The nickname proved tragically prophetic when Fox was convicted of double murder in 1998. He was an enigma long before then. His arms, pecs and traps could hold their own in an Olympia posedown today, but his lats lagged, and the only time he nailed his conditioning (at the ’82 Night Of Champions) he had dieted away his trade- mark fullness so far he was almost unrecognizable. Still, during the early ’80s, when the Sandow seemed within the grasp of a half-dozen men, Fox was the most intriguing — if he could just get it all together. He never did, and fifth in 1983 was his highest placing on bodybuilding’s ultimate stage. But it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying. For Brutal Bertil every set was a test of strength, and he tested him- self over and over again in every workout.
RICH GASPARI color>
• OLYMPIA RECORD 1985 3rd; 1986 2nd; 1987 2nd; 1988 2nd; 1989 4th; 1990 5th; 1991 10th
• WORKOUT STATS Exercises: 7 (5 for upper back, 2 for lower back)
• Working sets: 22 Total reps (range average): 238
• Typical rep range: 10–12
• Time: 90 minutes
• Training partner: yes
• Frequency: once every four days
• Techniques: pre-exhaust, forced reps
IT IS OFTEN SAID GASPERI HAD TO TRAIN JHARDER THAN HIS FELLOW COMPETITORS,color>
especially Lee Haney, because he was cursed with poor bodybuilding genetics. Not exacly. It's difficult to argue that a bodybuilder who won his class at both the NPC Nationals and IFBB World Championships at 21 and placed third in the Olympia as a 22-year-old rookie lacked any DNA for building muscle. The guy was a muscle-building phenom, and he set new standards for high-definition. It is true, however, that he lacked an ideal structure, especialy in comparison to the statuesque Haney. At 5'7", he was naturally blocky. His narrow clavicles limited his back width, and breadth was Haney's greatest asset.
Haney and Gaspari were training parteners in 1984, the year Haney won his first Sandow. For the following seven years, as Haney collected seven more Sandows, Gaspari was chasing him, notching three straight runner-up Olympia finishes (1986-1988). And while he had no hope of matching Haney lat spread, The Dragon Slayer was determined to out-muscle the champ with back thickness and detail. To that end, his back workouts focused on all the knotty details others overlook, not just in his lats but also in his spinal erectors, traps and rear delts. (Shrugs and rear laterals are not included in our sample back routine, but were typically done before deadlifts) Weights were maximum, rests were minimal and intensity was sky high. He never caught Haney, but Gaspari overcome structural limitations to forge one of the best rear double-biceps shots of the '80s and make himself, for three years, the second-best bodybuilder in the world.
BRANCH WARREN color>
• OLYMPIA RECORD 2005 8th; 2006 12th; 2009 2nd; 2010 3rd
• WORKOUT STATS Exercises: 5 Working sets: 15 Total reps (range average): 176
• Typical rep range: 8–10
• Time: 60 minutes
• Training partner: yes
• Frequency: once weekly
• Techniques: forced reps, drop sets, cheating
WE NEED TO FIRST QUALIFY THIS MAN'S INCLUSION HERE WITH A BIG "NOT YET"color> for Warren, the reigning Arnold Classic champ and 2009 Mr. Olympia runner-up, is still very much in the midst of his quest for bodybuilding's ultimate prize. That aside, the ferocity with which he plows through every workout in the legendary hardcore haven, MetroFlex Gym in Arlington, Texas, guaranteed he would beat out all the others chasing Jay Cutler to earn this spot. Like his fellow short man Gaspari, Warren wasn't blessed with a classical structure, but the former Teen Nationals champ can clearly accumulate mass, and he has charged ahead of those with more aesthetic physiques through sheer willpower, accepting no limitations. To witness a Branch Warren workout is to watch a gym tornado - kinetic energy unleashed, deafening noise, large objects moving through space - and all of it seemingly at great danger to the man in the middle. In chest workouts, 455 pounds bounces oof him over and over again; dumbbells the size of fire hydrants are violently shoved up at lightning pace; he seems buried in chains at the dipping bars, and as the set progresses those linked weights hit the dusty floor with a resulting thunder. in pursuit of the only goal he has yet to reach, the Sandow, this year's Arnold winner trains ridiculously heavy, he trains fast, and he trains with a vengeance, making the metal suffer but making his muscles suffer more.