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Your books take as much of a mental approach to bodybuilding as a physical one. How do you assess progress?
FZ: I taught mathematics for a long time, so I’m really into expressing English as equations. I use the EARN equation—Exercise, Attitude, Relaxation, and Nutrition. They’re all equally important components. Score yourself between 1.0 and 0.1 for each of these every day and then multiply the numbers all together. That will give you a percentage of your best for that day. Say that number is 50%. It means you’re making progress, but only half as much as you could, so you need to concentrate on one or more areas.
I also encourage everybody to have photos taken. You have to have a good picture of your body in your mind before you can change it. Shoot them outside when the sun is at a 45-degree angle—either nine in the morning or four in the afternoon.
You don’t like the traditional practice of bulking up. How can we gain muscle while staying lean?
FZ: Do it gradually, especially if you’re young. When you’re a teenager, you’re already on steroids naturally. There’s no need to try to rush gains, because your hormones are going crazy. I gained 30 pounds between ages 13 and 17. So don’t eat too much and get fat.
You’re known for doing a high volume of ab work. How did you build up to it?
FZ: I started at 200 reps a day and gradually added more until I was doing 1,000 reps a day of leg raises and crunches.
The vacuum pose was your trademark. How can we develop it?
FZ: Practice it when you’re hungry. It helps ward off hunger when you’re dieting. The vacuum is just holding your breath with no air in your lungs—suck your diaphragm in to create a hollow and hold it. It’s just a matter of practice.
You’ve saved more than 40 years of workout logs. What do you notice when you look back at them?
FZ: It amazes me how much work I did. And when I look at photos, it amazes me how I looked. At the time, I thought, “I have to get better than this.” Now I say, “My God, how did I get to look like that?” Everything got better up to 1979 and then things fell apart. Injuries caught up with me and I retired at 41.
You have a bizarre story about an injury that spoiled your plans at the 1980 Olympia.
FZ: We create situations in life by how we think and talk. If you’re angry, you may use the expression, “That pisses me off.” Your body can literally create that condition. At that time, I had been training my whole life and making sacrifices, and I was frustrated. Shortly before the contest, I fell into a pool and smashed my urethra. They had to put a catheter in there—now that’s physically pissed off.
Pictures of you in your 60s reveal that you’re still ripped. If there were a bodybuilding show held today with all the surviving members of the Golden Age, where would you place?
FZ: I’d place myself by the aisle about eight rows back! I already made my mark.
What do you think of the current crop of top bodybuilders?
FZ: I think there’s too much obsession with size. I admire what it takes to get that kind of development, but I don’t like the look. Phil Heath has great proportion and symmetry, but there are a number of guys who have ugly bodies. One top competitor who recently won a show looks like a bullfrog ready to hop off the stage. He’s in great condition, but there’s no beauty in his physique.
What do you think your legacy is in the sport of bodybuilding?
FZ: I think I probably appeal more to the average person out of everybody who won a top title. I’m the leanest guy to win Mr. Olympia. I weighed 190 at the ’79 Olympia—my best year. I’d bet people would like to look more like me than these other guys, but it took me a long time.
Frank Zane’s books are available at frankzane.com.