A picture may be worth a thousand words outside of the gym, but in bodybuilding, a great physique shot speaks volumes. I'm talking about the legends, the guys who have honed their bodies into perfect fulfillments of human potential.
Here are my five top bodybuilding icons. They made their mark on stage and screen, but only after long years laboring in the gym. They are some of the most inspirational physiques this young sport has ever seen. Agree? Think I'm nuts? Make a case for your favorites in the comments!
1 / Sylvester Stallone
Proof that age is just a number, Stallone seems to have gotten better with age. Though he never competed in bodybuilding, Sly did train with Schwarzenegger, Columbu, and other greats. He not only developed a world-famous physique, he also maintained it, unlike many actors and actresses in the biz. He shows up stronger and leaner in almost every movie; in fact, some of his best performances have come past age 60. He inspires all those who share his lifelong passion for bodybuilding and fitness.
2 / Frank Zane
Zane, had that "classic" physique that is still the envy of guys today. He masterfully squeezed every bit of potential out of every body part to create the ultimate V-taper. A born competitor, he knew that just a pound or two of muscle in the right places creates an incredible image of size and strength. Unlike the modern mass monsters, Zane won the Olympia at under 200 pounds, using the power of aesthetics to win over the judges.
Even if you favor today's bodybuilding behemoths—or even the thicker powerlifter look—you can't help but respect Zane's sharp physique and incredible longevity. He competed for over a decade after his Olympia days and still trains himself and others today.
3 / Serge Nubret
Renowned for his incredible shape and conditioning, Serge Nubret joined the pro ranks after just a few years of training. His famously long and brutal workouts called into the question that you can train "too much." Whenever a newbie starts to worry about overtraining at four workouts per week, vets point to Serge. Yes, it's smart to eat and rest to match your training, but Serge proved that your body really can adapt to almost anything if given the chance.
Arnold once said that Serge reminded him of a racehorse, because you could see his muscles rippling beneath his skin when he trained. His classical, symmetrical physique is an inspiration to those who want to look their best without becoming as massive as modern bodybuilders.
4 / Dorian Yates
Known for his tendency to show up, clean house, and then quickly disappear, "The Shadow" is in my opinion the most impressive Mr. Olympia to date. Bodybuilding took him off the streets of England and out of trouble—which doubtless played a part in his discreet show appearances and gritty persona. Though Lee Haney, the reigning champ prior to Dorian, was certainly huge, Yates took muscle mass to a whole new level. His brutal, heavy training style was a sight to behold, which is why his Blood and Guts training video, although 20 years old, still inspires budding bodybuilders to this day.
Yates also changed the game when it came to conditioning. Bodybuilders had always gotten ripped for shows, but Dorian popularized a level of leanness that judges had never seen before. His intense dedication was his secret. He rarely took time off and committed himself to meticulous, year-round clean eating. He ate few cheat meals and always tracked his calories and macros.
It's hard to get big and lean at the same time, but Yates proved that it's possible. It just takes devotion.
5 / Arnold Schwarzenegger
His humble beginnings in Austria and his success on and off the stage makes Schwarzenegger one of the most inspirational bodybuilders of all time. He is renowned for his obsessive, single-minded focus on training and competition—a dedication that would serve him in other facets of his life. Like other "golden era" bodybuilders, he ignored warnings about overtraining and hit the gym hard for up to five hours per day. You've got to admire anyone with the drive to train so much.
After a record seven Mr. Olympia wins, he took his talents—and his physique—to Hollywood, starring in one film after another. He also served two terms as California's governor. Arnold is an incredible example of the drive and dedication. His willpower led him to great success in everything he tried.