YOU CAN FIND MANY GOOD, HONORABLE EXCUSES TO BUILD BIG, STRONG MUSCLES. But let’s face it: The number one reason you’re at the gym is vanity. Muscles are eye candy. We’ve all caught ourselves gazing longingly at some striated six-pack, or some gorgeous gluteus or perfected pectorals and wondered how the heck the owner got them. And why do those beautifully defined, sculpted muscles always show up on other people, anyway?
You work out, watch what you eat and lead a healthy lifestyle — so you’ve probably got plenty to be proud of already. Yet you don’t have to be a hardcore bodybuilder to want (and get) a little more visual “pump” in your physique. In order to find out exactly what it takes, we talked to the patron saint of hard-gainers, three-time Mr. Olympia, Frank Zane.
We chose Frank as our muscle-building advisor because, at 59, he still looks better than most of us did at 20. Frank is a champion who earned his build the old fashioned way — by working out. He readily admits his stellar bodybuilding career evolved through sheer effort, not genetic privilege. Better yet, he never developed that freaky comic book superhero look coveted by contemporary muscle-heads. Instead, Frank pioneered the Calvin Klein–model “cut” look back in the 1970s. The kind of physique that exudes fitness — not mutant, pharmaceutical exaggeration.
When he competed for the Mr. Olympia title back in 1977, Frank wasn’t the odds-on favorite. At 5-feet, 9-inches, he wasn’t the biggest or brawniest competitor in a field that included Goliaths like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who towered at six-two, 250 pounds. No one else expected it, but Frank knew instinctively he would win. He had focused his workout with yoga-like discipline and honed his physique like a diamond. He made up in quality for what he lacked in size. The judges understood this and agreed. The audience went wild. Frank remains the only man on earth to have beaten Schwarzenegger at the Mr. Olympia championship. In addition, he went on to win this premier bodybuilding event for three years — until he decided to get serious.
Frank earned three degrees, including a masters in psychology. He wrote three books — Zane Nutrition, Fabulously Fit Foreverand Frank Zane: Mind, Body, Spirit. He opened his own fitness resort, Zane Experience in La Mesa, California, where he works with individual clients and conducts bodybuilding clinics. He also began disseminating his brand of personal-growth bodybuilding through audiotapes and videos, which he distributes on his Web site at www.frankzane.com.
Today, Frank is one of the most sought after personal trainers in the country. If you want your muscles to stand up and report for duty, Frank is the best drill sergeant in the business. Which is why we were dying to talk to him.
Q&A With Frank Zane
EL: So what does it take to look like Frank Zane?
FZ: I made bodybuilding the focus of my life. I started training at 14 and I won Mr. Olympia at 35. That’s 21 years of hard, focused work. To accomplish anything at a championship level, you have to go to extremes. It’s a lifestyle, not just some tricky moves in the gym. You have to fall in love with the whole process.
EL: Can anybody do it, at any age?
FZ: I’ve worked with thousands of people and everybody benefits in some way. But only a small percentage can go to the extremes necessary to obtain a prize-winning physique. Of course your chances of becoming a champion are better when you start at 18, though you can still do it in your 20s and 30s. Now the 40-year-old who’s 30 pounds overweight can accomplish a lot, too. Much more than he might realize, but he’s got a hell of a lot of work to do and he’d better be very motivated. I work with 40-year-olds all the time — and once in a while, I’m pleasantly surprised.
EL: What’s the price for looking like Frank Zane?
FZ: It’s not a big sacrifice; it’s not that hard to improve. The main thing is to remain consistent in your lifestyle. Watch your nutrition, take supplements, weight train, do aerobics and stretch on a regular basis. You’ll see results.
EL: What muscle groups provide the fastest results?
FZ: Everybody’s different. Everybody has certain muscles that respond faster than others. To know what works for you, just train and see what improves. You’ll discover certain areas develop faster because of your unique bone structure and the leverage you can exert on those particular muscles. Doing the right exercises with good form can help you maximize growth on any muscle group. But no matter what you do, you’ll still run up against certain physiological limitations you cannot change. For example, if your biceps don’t insert into the bone near the crux of your elbow, you’re not going to develop full looking arms. You can work around this, if you know how. Not every Mr. Olympia had perfect bone structure. A big part of body sculpting involves creating illusions by developing your body to highlight its strengths and play down weaknesses.
EL: What muscle groups do we ignore at our own peril?
FZ: You ignore what you don’t see. You don’t see your back and you don’t see your hamstrings, so you forget about them. The most popular exercises for men are the bench press and curls. If you work the pecs and biceps too much, they grow out of proportion. The objective is to achieve an equal level of development in all the muscles so they match. That is, instead of just one or two muscle groups standing out, all of them stand out. To accomplish this you have to work on the areas you can’t see. In fact, it’s not about what you can see at all; it’s about what other people can see. You have to learn to view yourself objectively.
EL: How much of your success do you attribute to good genetics and how much from hard work?
FZ: It was all hard work. When I started out I was very thin. I had good bones, but a terrible metabolism. Fortunately, metabolism is one aspect of genetics you can change.
EL: How do you do that?
FZ: By covering all the bases. Metabolism just represents your ability to turn exercise, nutrition and rest into muscular development. I have a schoolteacher formula I call “The Bodybuilding Equation.” Your results are equal to the product of your exercise, attitude, relaxation and nutrition — all of which spells E-A-R-N. If you rate yourself in each category from 0 to 100, then add all the scores and divide by four you’ll know your chances for success. Score 100 percent and you earn an A+.
EL: Do you ever wish you knew back then what you know now?
FZ: It’s not knowledge that counts. There are many smart people who can talk a good workout but don’t accomplish much. It’s experience that counts; not why things work, but what works. You train, observe what happens, learn from it, and then keep on refining and discovering what works for you. I made most of my gains when I didn’t know anything. Now I know a lot. So what? It’s the process of training with self-awareness that transforms your body, and eventually transforms your inner self. There are two stages of bodybuilding: The first is about developing your ego; the second and more exciting stage is starting work on what you might call building your higher self. I refer to this stage as Bodhibuilding. No matter what you know, you still have to walk the full length of the road, step by step.
EL: Do you have any last words of wisdom?
FZ: I always encourage people to get photographs, especially when they are training on a regular basis. It’s a long journey, so you have to learn to enjoy your progress. If you see it first in your mind’s eye, your body will follow.
Can You Escape Your Shape?
BEAUTIFUL MUSCLES ARE LIKE MONEY: If you’re not lucky enough to inherit it, you’ve got to go to work. The ultimate, high-dividend muscle-building job is strength training with weights. Yes, those big, heavy things that go “thud” when you drop them. Training with weights on a regular basis accompanied by sensible eating can improve your figure dramatically. At first, you’ll just get stronger without getting more muscular. But eventually, if you’re persistent, the magic of growth and definition begins. Exactly how and why muscles grow, nobody knows for sure. But most research shows that thin protein filaments within muscle tissue break down, then get replaced with bigger, better, “new and improved” protein filaments. Over time — and, yes, it takes time — the cumulative effect of these replacement filaments is responsible for the overall muscle-size change you’ve been working toward. Then the fun begins, since strength and definition compound like interest on a savings account. Your new muscle fibers beget even more eye-popping muscle fibers. Suddenly you notice people glancing at you, wondering “Hey, why does he/she look so good?”
YOU’VE GOT OVER 600 MUSCLES in your body and they make up about 40 percent of your weight. Yet most of us focus our workouts on only a handful of muscles, those cherished body parts du jour: Chest and arms for men; and abs and legs for women.
Nobody ever says, “Wow, that’s a great-looking lower back!” But realistically you’re much better off with a strong lower back than six-pack abs. And you can hike a lot farther on a strong pair of hamstrings than great-looking calves. Not that abs and calves don’t matter, they do. It’s just that ignoring 550 out of 600 muscles is not a good way to cultivate a balanced, healthy physique. The way to make sure you’re not overdeveloping one set of muscles at the expense of another is to think in pairs.
Muscles work in parallel like the two ropes on a pulley, when you pull one the other stretches. When you flex your biceps, your triceps stretches. When you shorten your abdominus rectus to perform a crunch, your erector spinae stretches. Too much one-sided development and you can develop troublesome muscular imbalances. To keep on an even keel, make sure to work out complementary muscles just as intensely as you work out your favorites. After you finish 20 crunches, do 20 back raises. Perhaps no one will notice your fine-looking lower back (you never know), but if you don’t take care of it, your lower back will make you take notice of it in the most unpleasant way.
Look Buddy, It’s All Muscle Under There!
SO YOU THINK you’ve got a six-pack under that nice, warm blanket of flab? To show it off, all you’ve got to do is shed a little belly fat, right? Well, not exactly. For most of us, the issue isn’t just getting thinner. It’s striking the right balance between fat loss and muscle growth.
If you want bigger biceps, you pump iron — you don’t skip meals. The rectus abdominus are the biceps of the belly. To show them off, you’ve got to develop them first. How? Curl-ups, weighted crunches, reverse sit-ups, and hanging leg raises. Eventually your abdominal muscles will develop enough size to pop through, even if you’re not as thin as a model, which, by the way, is about 3-to-6 percent body fat for men, 8-to-12 percent for women (a very unhealthy goal for most of us).
EVEN IF YOU REALLY DON’T CARE ABOUT LOOKS, muscle is still the most abundant tissue in your body. Muscle does a lot more than just fuel your vanity; it fuels your body with regenerative substances like amino acids and human growth hormone (HGH). But after age 30, you lose almost one pound of muscle every year. That’s why your metabolism slows to a crawl. So if you plan on living much past 50, you can avoid the complications of muscle loss with intelligent weight training.
This means doing exercises that pit your muscles against gravity. Push-ups, chin-ups, barbells — these all represent weight-training exercises, exercises that can help you stave off frailty, osteoporosis and a weakened immune system. They help stabilize your joints and postpone the purchase of that walker you’ve been eyeing. Remember, looking good isn’t just vanity, it’s a byproduct of good health.
Why Don’t I Look Like That Guy?
HAVE YOU EVER LOOKED IN THE MIRROR and wondered, “Why don’t I look like the guy on the cover of Men’s Health? Unless you were born with a great build and can spend four hours a day maintaining it, you’ll just have to keep on dreaming. It takes more than the occasional workout to get that cut.
Ask Owen McKibbin, 37, a former volleyball pro and a cover model since 1995. To stay in photo-shape, he works out every morning: four grueling hours of cardio and calisthenics before he goes to the gym. Or model Tom Cortesi, who follows rigorous cardio workouts with punishing weight sessions, while living — if you can call it that — on a diet of boiled chicken breasts, egg whites, and salads with no dressing. That’s a steep price to pay, even for the body of a Greek God.
According to Russell Brown, the handsome guy on our cover, and a model who regularly graces both Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness, a lot of it is genetics. Sure, he works out five or six days a week, but chalks much of his physique up to heredity and an authentic passion for an athletic lifestyle. “What works for me might not work for another guy,” says Brown. “You have to have
realistic expectations based on your body type, or you’re going to torture yourself.” Fair enough. But just because most of us don’t have the willpower and genetic predisposition to become supermodels doesn’t mean we can’t have a life and look great, too.
Here’s a simple, one-year prescription that’ll have your sweetheart drooling: Hit the weights three days a week; cycle or run for an hour, five days a week; stretch seven days a week; eat very moderately; and avoid alcohol. It’s hard, but doable. Even if you don’t look like the guy on Men’s Health, you’ll still look better than 90 percent of your friends.