The Artistry of Frank Zane
by David Gentle
With the massive explosion of interest in bodybuilding that occurred in the 1970's, and it's domination by behemoths such as Sergio Olivia and Bill Pearl, and an ever growing neophyte, Arnold Schwarzenegger, it was some relief and certainly an inspiration to those bodybuilders who preferred the more aesthetic physique, that this is when Frank Zane came upon the muscle molding scene and began to topple the giants. Zane was, and still remains, a one-off. A well-educated, intelligent and articulate man, being a superb spokesman for bodybuilding, a sport always fighting it's corner for recognition that is all too often let down by it's image of being just a pursuit for muscle-headed morons, and those with self interest at heart. It's true that Frank's esoteric beliefs made some uncomfortable and has left him very misunderstood. But time has proven his theories and ideas of the body/mind link (Mens Sana In Corpore Sano). Training was then, and still is, in the forefront of workable systems for true health and fitness.
Frank Zane is living proof that sensible and scientific bodybuilding works and brings lasting benefits, without the need to resort to artificial aids, or drugs.
More active now than ever before in the world of making money from muscles with his numerous books, courses, CD's etc., and the Zane Experience, Frank's bodybuilding odyssey first started way back in the tough coal mining district of Kingston in Pennsylvania, USA, where he was born on June 28th, 1942. It was the war years, when Malta was awarded the George Cross, top of the pops was That Old Black Magic, Enrico Fermi (US) had just split the atom and the first electronic brain or computer was developed. Despite sugar rationing in the USA, Frank was oblivious to the war and spent his childhood days in bliss, loving being outdoors, taking solitary hikes and joining the Scouts (one year he was awarded 50 merit badges and won a trip to Mexico in the bargain). Whilst out there he won a junior's bodybuilding contest.
Frank attended normal American education programmes, graduating from Wilkes University in 1964 having an active, and healthy sports life, including basketball and baseball. His father, an electrician in radio and TV, encouraged him to take an interest in science and engineering. Frank gave it a try, later switching his efforts to maths and chemistry.
It soon became very obvious to young Frank, that a weight-trained body could help him command respect from his peers, and be useful for urban survival in tough PA. Diverse with his activities, he also developed great skill as an archer (which he later taught to one Arnold Schwarzenegger) including the making of his own bows and arrows. This ancient martial art suited his introverted nature. Along with these varied physical activities, Frank kept up his bodybuilding, with shape being his main aim, and the Steve Reeves look his inspiration. In 1961 he placed 3rd in the Teenage Mr America and in 1962, won the Mr PA contest.
Frank continued to exercise his brain as well as his body, excelling at science, chemistry and maths whilst at school, obtaining a scholarship and gaining a BSc in education, later teaching chemistry and maths. In his spare time circa 1964, he also started up a weight training club, in part financed by the local iron foundries who made, amongst other things, York barbell plates and became the assistant director of a Health Studio.
In his second year, Frank taught in New Jersey, then moved down to Florida, meeting his future wife, Christine, whom he married in 1967. In 1968 after 10 years of dedicated training, Frank won the IFBB Mr America crown. This was soon followed by beating a very young Arnold Schwarzenegger in the NABBA Mr Universe contest in London. Christine and Frank moved again in 1969, this time to sunny California, and Frank, still a teacher, found the physically orientated Californian's even more respecting and appreciative of bodybuilding and bodybuilders. In 1970, after further NABBA success, he successfully competed for the Mr World title, all the time supported and encouraged by his wife Christine, herself a bodybuilder and fine photographer, taking some of Frank's best ever muscle shots. They lived in Santa Monica from 1969-85 with Frank taking all the trophies that really counted, including 3 times Mr Universe and triple Mr Olympia.
Keeping it brief, his chequered and highly successful bodybuilding competitive career followed these events. He switched from the AAU to the IFBB during the mid 60's. He competed in the 1965 and '66 Mr Olympias, when Larry Scott took the title. Frank won the IFBB Mr America title in 1968 and the IFBB Mr World in 1970 in Brugge, Belgium, and the NABBA Mr Universe in 1970. The IFBB suspended him in 1971 for entering the 1970 NABBA, which he later entered and won again in 1971 and 1972, the pro-title, beating Boyer Coe. Reinstated by the IFBB in 1972, Zane entered the Olympia and kept competing until he won it for three consecutive years, i.e. 1977, '78 and '79. A tenacious competitor, he placed 3rd in the 1980 Mr Olympia and 4th in the 1983. Frank considers his best ever shape to be from 1979 to 1982. After his 1972 Mr Olympia win he retired from teaching to devote all of his energies to bodybuilding. Christine, also a school teacher, won the Miss America title in 1967 and Miss Universe Bikini in 1970.
Proportion and Posing
A masterpiece of physique; streamlined, defined and proportionate. Frank weighed, at his best, in the region of 190-200 lbs., at 5 ft 9 ins. He prefers the word proportion to symmetry, arguing that no mortals are symmetrical. Frank always worked for proportionate development, e.g., not over-developing thighs at the expense of poor calves. Frank once said, "I have always kept an eye on the total picture and have been aware of my weak points. I ask myself every year, what do I need to work on this year."
Frank always attempted to make his poses look more interesting and he developed the ability to sustain a pose for a full minute without moving, i.e., hitting a shot and then maintaining it. A perfectionist, he always demanded first class audio and visual presentation, i.e. optimum staging saying, "If you want bodybuilding to look good to the public, you have to put on a good show, i.e. first class staging and sound."
In a virtual lifetime of training Frank Zane has obviously used almost every exercise, set and system known, keeping a diary throughout his life so that he knows just what does work for him personally. Then and now, he relied a lot on instinct; rarely limiting himself to certain sets or reps. Frank doesn't believe in constantly changing exercises just for the sake of it. He has discovered, through a lifetime of experience, that drawing from about 70 exercises or so, has provided him with the best workouts. He still uses an average of 10 reps with only brief rests in between sets. All exercises receive full concentration, often via slow movements, without any cheating.
Frank, in his fine book, Fabulously Fit Forever, advises newcomers to bodybuilding as follows, "It is important to begin at the beginning. Too many people of all ages who want to get into top condition begin their training by doing too much, too soon. Reading through the pages of the top muscle mags, they devour the training programmes of the bodybuilding champions. Reasoning this is the programme that did it for the champs, they'll save time by following it too. Before long they are tired, sore, overtrained, injured, frustrated and confused. Because they are impatient and not willing to spend time as a beginner, they attempt to complete their penthouse before they erect the basement in the building of their body." Frank trained literally for years before bodybuilding success.
Routines For The Universe
Training for the NABBA Universe Pro title in 1972, and remember he already had done his basement training before all of this, Frank aimed for size, later to trim down for the contest, i.e. defined and muscular. His first requisite was to avoid any possible injuries by switching some exercises to safer varieties. He also had a chiropractor, Dr Dick Tyler, also a bodybuilder, on hand. Secondly gradual progression of intensity was increased, training on average of 2-3 hours.
Frank's training programme was as follows:
- Monday and Wednesday morning: Deltoids, chest, triceps,
- Monday and Wednesday evening: Calves, abs.
- Tuesday and Thursday mornings: Lats, biceps, forearms.
- Tuesday and Friday evenings: Calves, thighs, abs.
- Saturday and Sunday: Total rest and relaxation.
Frank was then performing approximately 20 sets per bodypart, i.e. 4 exercises x 5 sets. He rested just enough between sets to have the energy for the next set. Usually 1-3 minutes, the longer time taken for squats. Every set would be heavier than the previous one, e.g. (at that period) incline dumbbell presses:
- 1 set of 10 repetitions at 50lbs
- 1 set of 10 repetitions at 60lbs
- 1 set of 10 repetitions at 70lbs
- 1 set of 10 repetitions at 80lbs
He finished off by doing a set of 8 repetitions using a pair of 90lb dumbbells. Muscle with power for such a small boned man.
Closer to the contest, Frank would step up his pace, i.e. less resting time between sets, intensifying everything possible to achieve greater muscularity. Zane did not believe in socializing whilst exercising, his concentration was legendary and awesome. The nearer the show, the more time he spent on posing and pure muscle tensing or isometric contractions to bring out the cuts and striations, with of course emphasis on his diet, cutting down on dairy products and fats, but not on milk, which is a great provider of calcium and can also help to prevent shakes and tremors.
Prior to the actual event Frank stayed in Belfast, at Ivan Dunbarr's gym, Health Studio, compressing his routine into a 45 minute workout that still managed to impress all of the locals, stressing once again the importance of optimum nutrition, saying" It is impossible to get anywhere near your true potential without proper nutrition."
By the Olympia, Zane was working out even harder on a 3 day on, 1 day off system, i.e.,
- Day 1: Thighs, calves and abs.
- Day 2: Chest, shoulders, triceps and abs.
- Day 3: Back, biceps, forearms and abs.
- Day 4: Rest.
Always using the heaviest of weight, squats and bench were then around the 350lb and 300lbs mark. Mainly standard exercises were used, including dead lifts, for back power and vitality. As always adding poundage even if it meant dropping reps. Always an eye on his diet, his calorie intake rarely exceeded 3000.
The Zane Experience
In between taking all the top trophies, Frank spent his time establishing his muscle by mail business and his Zane Haven and later the Zane Experience. A select Shangri-la for one to one clients, offering a range of treatments from detoxing to relaxation techniques and stress management. Frank is noted for his almost detached calmness and quiet peace of mind, complementing in harmony with his muscular physique. A great believer in stilling the mind with meditation, Frank says the mind plays an important role in bodybuilding and believes that, "You cannot fulfill your true potential until you have a positive state of mind" adding that his own career in bodybuilding did not really get started until he began thinking positively.
Today, he still keeps a balanced life, loves movies and playing the harmonica, recording his own music and playing a mean blues on CD. Active with his business, he says "I am still motivated and I will do anything it takes to remain in top shape, short of taking drugs and risking my health." In fact he looks as though he may well remain Fabulously Fit Forever.
The Artistry of Frank Zane © Copyright by David Gentle All Rights Reserved