He was the total package. Franco Columbu was known for the deep striation of his pecs, an unprecendented achievement during his era. That said, his muscles weren’t just for show. Columbu’s all-time PRs include a 750-pound deadlift, 665-pound squat, 525-pound bench press, and a 400-pound clean and jerk. We caught up with the “Sardinian Strongman” to try to figure out what made him such a badass.

M&F: Your character in “One More Round” is a boxing trainer. Did you find yourself thinking back to your own days as a boxer? 

Franco Columbu: Yes, I ad libbed most of the dialogue from old things that I thought about when I trained. It worked out to be very funny at a few points; when he gets stood up in the corner of the ring, he’s getting hit really hard. I remembered when I was boxing and that happened and the coach would say, “You’re doing so good.” I’d think, “How can I be doing so good if I’m dizzy?” 

M&F: You’ve done both, so which one is tougher: boxing or bodybuilding? 
FC: I started as a boxer, and I did well. One time, I won by knockout in Sardinia very quickly in the first round, but when I got home I had a black eye and my jaw hurt. I didn’t even remember the opponent hitting me, and I was in pain all day. That is when you have to make a choice: either you put up with that kind of pain, or you do a sport that is safer, like bodybuilding or powerlifting. If you cannot lift the weight, you just drop it on the floor. Boxing is a great sport, but it’s really, really tough.


M&F: What’s one thing you think young guys getting into bodybuilding don’t understand? 
FC: It’s easy to get big. There are lots and lots of guys who get big. A lot of guys have one amazing body part. But to have proportion and not just one incredible body part, that’s hard. For me, first I was known for the chest, then I trained for a few more years and I was known for my lats. It took a while for the whole thing to come together. 

M&F: What is your training like today? 
FC: When you’re done with competition, you realize that you trained to win, not to be healthy. Today I’m focused on balancing everything to prevent pain and injuries. 

M&F: A lot of older guys move on to mostly using machines. Have you done that?
FC: No. I use machines very little. Leg extensions and leg curls are good, and I like cables, but I try to stay away from machines where you sit. The joints are not perfect. They move around in different directions, so you want to try to keep it at least 50% free weights. 

M&F: Can you pinpoint your hardest workout ever?
FC: Before a Mr. Olympia, I used to train for two hours in the morning, and then I’d train another half hour to an hour in the evening. At one point I wasn’t getting enough definition, about 10 days before the Mr. Olympia. So I went to the gym, and I trained so hard in the morning, and then I went and committed myself to another two hours at night. I did look better, but I could barely walk. I was so sore that I couldn’t go to the gym for two days.

M&F: You came up without all the supplements we have today, so what are your thoughts on products that are on the market now? 
FC: You have to think almost like a training program. When you start, you want to start with the basic exercises. If it’s your chest, then there are five basic exercises you really need. Start with the best one you need the most, and then move from there. 

If the bench is best, then the incline bench is second best, and so on. The same applies to vitamins and minerals. Which are the most important ones for you? Vitamin D is important, but if you live in Florida and get a lot of sun, maybe it’s not important for you. As a chiropractor, I tell all my patients to take omega-3s. It’s good for everybody because it helps your joints and your heart. Ultimately, you have to pay attention to your body and determine what you need.

M&F: Most people assume because of Pumping Iron that Arnold was your best training partner, but was he really? 
FC: Yes. Absolutely. One time we were doing squats—sets of 10 with 405 pounds. He walked away after his set to get water, and I was tired, so I did eight. He comes back and says, “Hey, Franco, I saw you in the mirror, and you did only eight. Do the other two, and start all over.” He had discipline. If it weren’t for him, I don’t know if I’d have won Mr. Olympia. He wouldn’t stop. I’d say, “I don’t feel like doing much,” and he’d say, “Just do your set. What are you so worried about?” One time I said, “This squat feels like hell.” He said, “People who came from Italy are watching you at the door. Do your 10 reps.” I did my squats. He was the best motivator and made me train even when I didn’t want to. To me, it was torture, but I felt so good after training with him. 
M&F: In his Sunday seminar at the Arnold Sports Festival, Arnold said that the judging in bodybuilding needs to change and that no one with a distended midsection should ever win. Do you agree? 
FC: I agree with Arnold in that case 100 percent. I thought they looked better last year at the Olympia. The year before they all had these big stomachs, which is caused by the different growth hormones. And let me tell you a couple of things. No. 1: Bodybuilding is a sport, but it’s also an art. You train hard and you show the muscles, yes, but the other thing is posing. If you look on YouTube you can see my videos when I was competing for the Mr. Olympia. I was the first one to ever use classical music in the posing. Today there is a lot of heavy metal music and screaming. Then they walk on stage dancing and moving around and lifting their hands, saying for the crowd to give them applause. As a competitor, I don’t want to demand the applause; I want to show how good I am, then be applauded. What is this dancing around like an idiot? That’s not part of bodybuilding, in my opinion. The music should be serious music, not this screaming and making the sport into a cartoon.