My 11-year-old son Ryan and I recently visited 3-time Mr. Olympia Frank Zane. As we drove up the winding rode to his mountaintop home that overlooks the valley in Le Mesa, California, my mind went back in time to the last time I visited Frank at his home in Santa Monica. Frank had just promoted the Zane Invitational, the first real international bodybuilding contest for women, where Arnold Schwarzenegger was the announcer and I was the expediter. I remember looking at those first-place Mr. Olympia Sandow trophies prominently displayed in his living room next to a lounge chair. They were the physical symbols of Frank being the greatest bodybuilder in the world!
But Frank was much more than just a contest winner; he was a successful businessman. He was traveling the world giving seminars and exhibitions and had a thriving mail order business. As he gave me a tour of the area where he filled out orders for his courses, books, posing trunks, etc., it was immediately obvious he was also an intelligent individual. Unlike most people, he was not just reacting to life, but acting. By that I mean, he was a contemplative being who needed to ask and answer questions about human life. Frank found answers in meditation and other Buddhist practices.
After I retired from competition, I got out of touch with the bodybuilding world to a great degree, though I never ceased weight training. I became an academician studying the great works of art and literature and philosophy of Western civilization, particularly the ancient Greeks. For the last ten years, I have been a professor of history.
It has only been the last few years that I have been reconnecting with many of my old friends from the bodybuilding world, such as renewing my relationship with Larry Scott, the first Mr. Olympia. I finally began writing again last year when I hooked up with Diane Fields and we began this column for Bodybuilding.com. Diane and I are also in the process of building our own Web site on which we will have a Legends of Bodybuilding page. That gave me an even greater reason to reacquaint myself with the bodybuilders I considered to be the best in the history of the sport. That, of course, meant that I had an excuse to contact and visit Frank Zane.
The peak of Frank's bodybuilding career was now over, and I was curious. Would he be any different now that he was in his 60s, long retired from the limelight of bodybuilding competition?
When I informed Frank that I intended to be in California this summer, he said he would be in town and to come on by. He told me on the phone to just open the gate and drive to the back of his home. As I did I was impressed by the beautiful view from his back yard. When I exited my car, I was immediately greeted by Tyler, Frank's canine companion. The door to Frank's gym was open so I poked my head in and announced my arrival. Frank came out of his office, "Richard, come on in. I'm just finishing my morning emails and mailings. My training partner, Al, will be here in a few minutes." Though Frank had aged, he was much more youthful looking in person than the recent photos in IronMan magazine depicted.
As I listened to Frank talk about his daily routine, I noticed his three Mr. Olympia Sandow trophies were just shoved on top of a cabinet instead of in clear view, an immediate and clear indication that Frank had moved on and was not just living in the past. By the time Ryan and I left later that day, I realized that indeed Frank had moved on, yet he had not lost his enthusiasm for life or for training. He's still experimenting, because he realizes, as do all thinking bodybuilders, that there is no perfect routine that will sustain one from year to year. We must all be aware of our bodies and provide them with the routine that best encourages strength and fitness now, not what worked 20 years ago. Frank is still learning and sharing his new insights about training through a quarterly newsletter (to which I have already subscribed myself).
One of the things I learned from reading the book FLOW: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi years ago was that we find true joy when we experience what he calls "flow." That is, the best moments for human beings are when our bodies or minds are stretched to their limits in voluntary efforts to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. The author summarizes the phenomenology of enjoyment with these eight major components:
The Phenomenologies Of Enjoyment
First, the experience usually occurs when we confront tasks we have a chance of completing. Second, we must be able to concentrate on what we are doing. Third and fourth, the concentration is usually possible because the task undertaken has clear goals and provides immediate feedback. Fifth, one acts with a deep but effortless involvement that removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life. Sixth, enjoyable experiences allow people to exercise a sense of control over their actions. Seventh, concern for the self disappears; yet paradoxically the sense of self emerges stronger after the flow experience is over. Finally, the sense of the duration of time is altered; hours pass by in minutes, and minutes can stretch out to seem life hours.
Frank is experiencing flow all over the place. He has retained the sense of calm that has always surrounded him through his Buddhist practices and has found in music a new love to challenge him and supplement his continuing quest to resist the aging process through sensible training and nutrition. An accomplished musician with his own band InZane, Frank has been playing the harmonica casually for 50 years but intensely for the last 10. It showed as Frank and Al gave me an impromptu concert. He has some CDs for sale and I already have one on its way to me in the mail. He's very excited about a gig coming up for his group and continues to write new music for their performances.
For those who wonder about Frank's ability to continue to train enthusiastically in his 60s, Frank revealed, "I'm just curious as to how far I can go with it. Curiosity is the driving force." He also admitted that he is "always on a pretty good diet."
Years ago I was fortunate to watch Frank train for one of his Mr. Olympia victories. He was the most focused, in-the-zone bodybuilder I have ever seen. He rested very little between sets or exercises. He didn't yell, scream, make horrendous faces of agony or talk: he just grinded out his exercises in perfect form to a tempo that varied little. It almost appeared effortless, just as he posed on stage during his competition days. It made you wonder if he was human!
He is human though. He admitted to me that he has had to deal with injuries like all of us babyboomers and that after one particular injury he was depressed for about a month. The secret for Frank in dealing with these sorts of setbacks is that he "looks for the metaphor, a figure of speech that best describes it." Frank feels that, "If you have any injury or accident or seeming misfortune, you have played a part in that in setting it up in your behaviors that have led up to that point. And then the injury is that final straw and it is giving you a message in the form of a physical statement." Basically, Frank has learned to make the most of negative situations, including injuries, by learning from them.
I was fortunate to observe Frank and his training partner do a leg routine. Frank still demonstrated focus and an exact execution of exercises. Sure, he's not training for Mr. Olympia, and he had his training partner, myself and an 11 year old wandering around in his gym while he was attempting to train, but the intensity of focus was there and it was obvious that he will reach his goal of getting in good enough shape to film a training video this summer. Maybe in another article I will share what Frank revealed that he has learned recently about leg training.
In between talking shop and keeping an eye on Ryan (who was hoping we could go to the San Diego Zoo later, which we did), I was able to tap into Frank's philosophy of life. For instance, when I asked him about how he's dealing with the aging process, he said, "I look back at those [magazine] covers of me at the time and I remember what I used to look like and," laughing, "yeah, if I could only look that good!" Yet he goes on to say, "Well, my priorities have changed a lot. I don't really care that much about being like that but living a relatively stress-free life."
In addition, Frank is focusing on his music and has hundreds of harmonicas and the challenge is to grow in that area. He is fascinated by the relationship of mathematics to music and the ability to manage stress through music. "For example, this is where the whole concept of the blues comes in. The worse I feel, the better I play the harmonica. If I'm hungry and depressed, I sound great and then I feel better. That's something about musicâ€¦you transmute the energy. You put it into something; it's still energy but it changes into something else."
Ryan doing some leg presses while Frank works abs with leg raises. And Tyler urging Frank to hurry up with those crunches.
A final thought from Frank that I am trying to apply to my own life: "Everything is changing all the time. You've just got to change with it."
Richard and Diane
Diane Fields, Member. Legendary Fitness, LLC.
Richard Baldwin, Member. Legendary Physique, LLC.
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Copyright 2004. Diane Fields, Member. Legendary Fitness, LLC. All rights reserved.
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