Oak & Iron: Frank Zane Talks Training With Arnold
Three-time Mr. Olympia Frank Zane reflects on what it was like training and hanging out with “The Oak”
By Lara McGlashan, MFA, CPT
“Arnold is a tremendous force — a very gregarious people person. He draws energy from being around others; he’s like a magnet, drawing people close to him in a very personal way.”
– Frank Zane
Ask any guy in the gym whose physique they admire most in the history of bodybuilding, and nine times out of 10 they’ll say “Frank Zane.” His is an iconic shape — incredibly lean and perfectly balanced with clean, beautiful lines. Thousands have entered into the sport with aspirations of approaching the corporeal perfection Zane possessed in his heyday — he owned a physique that won him such titles as Mr. America, Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia several times over. Here, Zane reveals what it was like in that Golden Era, with Arnold Schwarzenegger as a training partner, friend and worthy onstage adversary.
When did you first meet Arnold?
FZ: I met him at the 1968 Mr. Universe competition. I’d won Mr. America the previous week and the promoters talked me into coming to the Universe. And there was Arnold — white and big and bulky with no legs, wearing white sneakers, seersucker pants and a Hawaiian shirt! [He laughs.] I was in shape, had a good tan and was cut, so I beat him and won that show pretty easily. I was one of the only guys ever to beat him in competition, and that show was mine to win. Right after the Universe, I went to California for a photo shoot and stayed with Arnold in his apartment, sleeping on a cot for two weeks. We trained at Gold’s in Venice, which was brand new — a big, bright space full of new equipment and serious, competitive guys. We’d get up, eat, go to the gym, eat, go to the beach, shoot, eat, go to the gym, eat, go to sleep, and I thought, “This is the life!” I was getting into really great shape and realized that California was where I needed to be. I relocated soon afterward.
Once settled in Cali, did you continue training with Arnold?
FZ: We all trained together, me and Arnold and Franco [Columbu], and Dave Draper, too. We were all part of the circle. I worked as a math teacher, so during the year I trained in the afternoons with everyone, but over the summers I would do two-a-days, morning and evening. In 1970 Arnold and I trained together intensely for the NABBA Mr. Universe in London. Winning that show was a big feather in your cap in those days, so we wanted to capture those titles.
What was your training like for that competition?
FZ: Our regimen was very focused, which I loved, because that was how I’d trained alone for so many years. The workouts were very well-paced without much rest between sets, a high-intensity volume training system with a three-way split routine six days a week: chest and back on Mondays and Thursdays, legs on Tuesdays and Fridays, and delts and arms on Wednesdays and Saturdays with Sundays off. It was grueling, but it worked remarkably well. We got into really great shape, and Arnold won the Pro Mr. Universe and I won the Amateur.
When you say “volume training,” what sort of volume are you talking about?
FZ: We did lots of sets. Lots. Lots. For example, we did full squats, going well below parallel, on leg day. We started with 135 pounds, went up to 185, then 225, 285, 315, 365, and 405. For each set I did 10 reps — Arnold only did eight. (I was better at squatting because I had shorter legs than he did.) So if you’re doing the math that’s 70 squats per workout, 140 per week, using heavy weight. Brutal.
Did you use any advanced training techniques?
FZ: We didn’t go to failure a lot; sometimes we’d do forced reps before a contest to push past a peak, but mostly we’d pyramid up for 6–7 sets. Surprisingly, Arnold didn’t use very heavy weights for a guy his size, but his form was great and he really knew how to isolate his muscles. He’d do curls with only 35-pound dumbbells, but because his form was so great and he’d squeeze each and every repetition, he got great results.
Did you learn any lessons from Arnold about training?
FZ: We learned a lot from each other. For example, he showed me how to get a biceps peak by supinating my wrist as I curled the weight. In return, I showed him how to develop triceps by introducing him to the one-arm dumbbell triceps extension, which he’d never done before training with me.
What about posing — did you practice that together as well?
FZ: We used to have mini posing clinics, me, Arnold and Franco, in his apartment and we’d critique each other. Later, when Arnold retired, we’d go to him and pose, and he’d tell us every little aspect we needed to work on. Once in 1977, Robby Robinson, Boyer Coe and I went to him before a competition and posed, and he said, “Tonight, Frank, you would have been third. You lost your balance three times, your foot placed was too far forward and you need to twist a bit more to the side for this.” He shared all this stuff in incredible detail that could make or break a routine. He was one of the best posing coaches ever.
Did you and Arnold hang out socially?
FZ: All the time. We’d go to Tijuana and buy souvenirs, or practice archery at the local high school. It was funny because Arnold would always hit the very first arrow right in the center of the target, but after that he could never hit the center again. I’d been shooting a long time so I would beat him regularly. I could also beat him pretty handily at bowling [he laughs]. I liked to do activities with Arnold that I could beat him at!
Arnold and Frank’s Bodypart Split
Monday & Thursday – Chest & back
Tuesday & Friday – Legs
Wednesday & Saturday – Shoulders & arms
Sunday – Off
Five Little-Known Facts About Frank Zane
- He is a master archer
- He plays the harmonica and the guitar, sings and makes his own flutes out of bamboo
- He once bought a used BMW of Arnold’s for $1,500
- His first job was setting up pins in a bowling alley at age 15
- He wrote and performed a song for Arnold at the Arnold Classic:
In my life, been fortunate enough
To know Arnold Schwarzenegger, and that’s no bluff.
Training with him, best workout partner ever had,
Showed me how he’d win, and for that I am glad.
Before a contest my biggest thrill I think,
Was showing him my posing and watching him blink
He’d say ‘Wow, you’re looking really fine,
Now do that vacuum pose one more time!’