Frank Zane: The Pondering Man's Bodybuilder

Frank Zane started competing in 1961 and has been successful for more than 20 years, mostly very successful. Towards the end of his competitive career, he was one of the most experienced bodybuilders on the market.

It was pointed out that there is a huge difference between 20 years of experience and 20 years of experience. That is, some people learn from experience, others don't. Zane is someone who learns from experience.

Courtesy Bill Dobbins

A good example of this was in 1979 with Mr. Olympia. This particular event probably taught me more about bodybuilding than any other competition I have ever competed in.

This was the last Mr. Olympia that had two weight classes, so competitors had to weigh behind the scenes. Most bodybuilders didn't seem ready to shed their sweat and show their bodies – as if it would make a difference in results. But Zane immediately got on the scales while everyone else loitered, undressed, weighed, and parked back in his RV, kicking back and relaxing before anyone knew what had happened.

Because the show had weight differences, the under 200 pound classes and the heavyweight classes were pre-judged separately. By this point in his career, Zane had built up to around 195 pounds – which was massive given his relatively small frame. He was a bodybuilder who absolutely had to be at his best to be competitive, and at his best he was so good that it was difficult to beat other than overwhelm him with massive size.

Zane had a limited number of poses, but they were all perfect. And he held his poses long enough for the judges to get a good look at and the photographers to get good shots. "I made a pose," he told me, "and I'll hold it until all the lightning has gone out." I often quote him when giving advice to competitors.

Frank Zane 2Courtesy Bill Dobbins

The best heavyweight competitor was Mike Mentzer, who was in the best shape of his entire career. He was tough, defined and shapely. The veins in his forearms looked like a road map.

During the prejudice, Mike looked great and was confident that he would pose. Given the truism that the taller athlete has an advantage over the shorter one, it seemed likely that Mentzer would take the overall standings when he faced Frank Zane. The fact is, however, that Mentzer wasn't much bigger than Zane. He didn't have as much experience as his opponent either, and that was evident when the two competed in the poseown.

While the judges had ample time during the day to carefully examine each division, they only had a few minutes to compare the two class winners, but one thing was immediately clear: Mentzer didn't look as good-looking as prejudice back then.

There has been much speculation as to why this happened. It's hard to know for sure what the cause was, but two things should be considered.

One is that Mike was relatively inexperienced in competition. He had surfaced so quickly that he had only entered a handful of competitions, about a dozen as of 1971. Zane, on the other hand, had competed for decades and was a veteran, a master of stage presence and presentation.

In any case, Mike looked smoother than before on stage next to Zane and his stomach looked bloated. It wasn't terrible – just not as good as that afternoon. Zane simply outdid him during poseown.

Zane stood in front of the judges, paying no attention to Mike or what he was doing. He has just done a posing exhibition, slowly and carefully "made posters of himself", made and held his best shots. Mike, on the other hand, began to pose faster and faster and struck one pose after the other without holding them for very long.

Mike made another mistake. He would take a pose and then look over at Zane. Of course, if he looked at his opponent, so did everyone else. But Zane just kept posing and never looked back at Mike. Mike looks at Zane, the audience and the judges look at Zane, Zane never looks back so everyone keeps looking at him and paying less attention to Mike.

At the end of poseown, Zane looked cool and relaxed, while Mike looked stressed, tired, and anxious. So it was no surprise when Zane received the overall title from Mr. Olympia in 1979.

In 1979 I felt like I was being treated in a master class on how to compete as a professional bodybuilder.

Zane is one of the smartest bodybuilders, so it seems obvious to me that while Arnold was practicing his magic during the 1970s competitions, Frank observed, learned, and figured out how to use that knowledge to maximize his own potential for the Win Mr. Olympia.

Both Zane and Arnold are very smart, but Arnold is more instinctive while Frank is more intellectual. I have characterized Arnold as not very introspective. That is, he doesn't spend a lot of time thinking about thinking. But I think Zane does. He seems to be thinking very carefully through everything that has enabled him to become such a great bodybuilder and learn so much from the experience.

Here is another example. In 1968 Joe Weider brought Arnold to the United States to attend the IFBB Mr. Universe in Florida. Arnold was huge and muscular, but relatively sleek. He lost to Zane mainly because of definition. After the event, Weider brought Arnold to Los Angeles. And it turned out that his roommate was Zane – master of the definition diet. Both men realized that they had to learn a lot from each other in order to advance their individual careers.

Frank ZaneCourtesy Bill Dobbins

Bill Dobbins is a legendary bodybuilding photographer and founding editor of FLEX magazine.

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