Retro Athlete: Franco Columbu

The 2X Mr. Olympia had two of the best pecs of all time.

There are a lot of things that make Franco Columbu unique. At 5'5", he’s the shortest Mr. Olympia, winning the Sandow in 1976 and, at 40, in 1981. Pound for pound, he’s arguably the strongest champion bodybuilder of all time. He deadlifted 750, squatted 665, and bench-pressed 525, all while weighing less than 200. In 1977, he finished fifth in the inaugural World’s Strongest Man despite some competitors weighing more than 100 pounds more than him and his dropping out after dislocating a knee. And he must be the only chiropractor to have cameos in both Conan the Barbarian and The Terminator.

What really stood out about Franco, however, was his torso in the ’70s. Despite standing nine inches shorter, he was as wide and thick as his best friend Arnold Schwarzenegger. His chest and back still rank among the best of all time. In fact, no one has owned a denser upper chest than this Sardinian strongman. His pecs seemed to spill out of his sternum, and uniquely deep crevices separated the upper and lower regions. Columbu credits a regular barrage of free-weight, compound basics for his spectacular Golden Era chest.

 COLUMBU ON CHEST TRAINING 

  • “You have five or six good chest exercises, and the bench press with a barbell is far and away the best.”
  • “No. 2 is the incline press, and No. 3 is the dip.”
  • “Flyes are good, but know that you lose tension on the pecs near the top of the movement.”
  • “Before a contest, I’d add cable crossovers to my routine to focus more on bringing out details.”

FLEX FACT:  AFTER MOVING TO AMERICA IN 1969, COLUMBU HAD A BRICKLAYING BUSINESS WITH ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER.

 COLUMBU’S CHEST ROUTINE 

  • Bench Press | SETS: 5-6 | REPS: 2-6
  • Incline Press | SETS: 4 | REPS: 10–6
  • Dumbbell Flye | SETS: 3 | REPS: 10-12
    • superset with
  • Dip | SETS: 3 | REPS: 10-15

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