Other than a few years Haney spent in Los Angeles in the mid-80s, both men have lived their entire lives in the American South. Haney was born and raised in the small city of Spartanburg, SC. His counterpart was born in Monroe, LA, and grew up in the nearby town of Bastrop. Cotton mills were their likely employers had they remained in the communities of their youth. They didn’t. Bodybuilding was Haney’s ticket out. After his California sojourn, he settled in Atlanta, GA, in 1988. For two decades, he owned a gym there. Coleman attended Grambling State, a one hour drive from Bastrop, where he played football. Then he moved to Arlington, TX, and worked as a policeman even after discovering his proclivity for growing gargantuan.

The South imbued their personalities, as evidenced by their perpetually gregarious dispositions and smooth-as-molasses drawls. The devoutly Christian Haney offered up aphorisms like, “The world wasn’t built in a day, and neither were we.” And Coleman psyched himself up before sets with sayings that could’ve originated on Louisiana plantations: “Ain’t nothin’ but a peanut!” Neither man is known to curse. Coleman even infused his nutrition with down-home staples: grits with most every breakfast, a couple of dabs of barbecue sauce on his chicken breasts (even when dieting), cornbread in the off-season, and the occasional glass of lemonade to wash it all down.

Haney’s best-known saying is “Exercise to stimulate, not to annihilate.” It’s a prescription for moderate reps and intensity.


Haney’s best-known saying is “Exercise to stimulate, not to annihilate.” It’s a prescription for moderate reps and intensity. And it placed him in historical conflict with Dorian Yates—the HIT man who bridged the six-year gap between Haney’s and Coleman’s streaks. Yates employed minimum volume and maximum intensity, driving working sets to failure and beyond with a strategy of, well, annihilation. In contrast, Haney and Coleman were less concerned about reaching failure and only sometimes raced through that stop sign with techniques like forced reps and dropsets.

Following his idol Arnold Schwarzenegger, Haney went with relatively high set volume. For example, when working delts, he typically used five to six exercises and 20–24 sets. Coleman did four to five exercises and 12–16 sets. (In sharp contrast, Yates did only three exercises and three working sets.) Despite Coleman’s reputation for hoisting heavy metal, you might be surprised that it was Haney, not Coleman, who regularly pyramided at least one exercise per routine, progressing to an apex set of 6–8 reps. After his early training years, when he mixed powerlifting with bodybuilding, Coleman aimed for at least 10 reps on virtually all sets and seldom missed double digits—except for a few celebrated times when the video camera was rolling.



Both eight-timers favored free-weight, compound basics. In part, this was a concession to the dungeon-like dens in which they toiled—Haney during his formative years and Coleman for his entire career. They didn’t have access to the latest contraptions. The gashed seatback of a creaky, leg extension machine was as close as they got to cutting-edge technology. Mostly, though, they discovered that the exercises in which you could pile on the most plates and have the widest ranges of motion worked best. Free-weight squats, bench presses, rows, overhead presses, curls, and triceps extensions were the workout cornerstones for both Mr. Olympia record holders.

Both legends used their ideal structures and built the best backs of their eras. Haney worked back before shoulders, while Coleman did back ahead of biceps. Both favored compound basics.

Lee haney bentover row


  • Wide-grip Front Pulldown | SETS: 5 | REPS: 10–12
  • T-bar Row | SETS: 4 | REPS: 10–6
  • Seated Cable Row | SETS: 4 | REPS: 12–15
  • Barbell Row | SETS: 4 | REPS: 8–10
  • V-bar Pulldown | SETS: 3 | REPS: 10–12

Ronnie coleman seated row



  • Deadlift | SETS: 4 | REPS: 12–6
  • Barbell Row | SETS: 3 | REPS: 10–12
  • T-bar Row | SETS: 3 | REPS: 10–12
  • One-arm Dumbbell Row | SETS: 3 | REPS: 10–12


  • Wide-grip Front Pulldown | SETS: 4 | REPS: 10–12
  • Barbell Row | SETS: 3 | REPS: 10–12
  • Seated Cable Row | SETS: 4 | REPS: 10–12
  • Underhand Front Pulldown | SETS: 3 | REPS: 10–12



Both 5’11” legends were blessed with capacious clavicles, svelte hips, and full-lat anatomies. But they used their ideal structures and built the best respective backs of their eras. Year after year, lat width was the “game over” deciding factor in their Olympia victories. Top challengers like Rich Gaspari and Lee Labrada were eclipsed by Haney, just as Flex Wheeler and Kevin Levrone couldn’t hang with Coleman’s rear shots. (Dorian Yates versus Haney in 1991 and Jay Cutler against Coleman in 2005 were much closer calls. They were also the final contests of the two respective eras.) Haney typically worked back before shoulders, while Coleman scheduled back ahead of biceps. The second eight-timer alternated width and thickness routines, although, both workouts included rows. What’s remarkable is the similarity in the exercise selection of the two icons. V-bar pulldowns (with a parallel grip) and underhand pulldowns (with a close grip) hit the lats in a similar fashion. And Haney frequently swapped one-arm dumbbell rows into his routine for variety. That leaves deadlifts as the only wholly unique exercise one did regularly that his counterpart did not do. The other key takeaway is they both considered barbell rows the best all-around back builder.

5. 1991 OLYMPIA 

Despite Haney being only 4 1/2 years older than Coleman, their posing careers never crossed. The South Carolina native started winning as a teenager, took the inaugural NPC Nationals in 1982 at 22, and won his first Olympia in 1984 at 24. When he retired with his eighth Sandow in 1991, he was only 31. By contrast, Coleman was a late starter. He entered and won his first contest, the 1990 Mr. Texas, at 25. Then, surprising even himself, he earned his pro card at the following year’s IFBB World Championships. That happened two months after Haney’s retirement. Pro success came much slower to the Arlington cop. He was a decade behind his hero, winning his first Sandow at 34 and his last at 41.

Their careers didn’t overlap, but their paths did and very near an Olympia stage. Three weeks before Coleman finished fourth among heavyweights at the 1991 NPC Nationals, 245-pound Haney fended off 245-pound Yates for his record-breaking eighth Sandow in Orlando, FL. This is now viewed as a passing of the guard from veteran Haney to upstart Yates. But 215-pound Coleman was there, too, literally lurking in the shadows backstage. He worked at that O as a means of gaining free entry and an up-close view. “I just wanted to see what it was all about,” he remembers, “and I got to shake hands with my idol, Lee Haney.”

Little did he know then, he would be competing (but not placing) in the Olympia just one year later (his World victory garnered him a qualification), and seven years hence he’d win that ultimate title—and then keep winning until he tied the record set on the day he was watching. Who knows how many sweltering MetroFlex workouts that fateful day fueled the wide-eyed observer. On Sept. 14, 1991, the three legends who dominated the Olympia for 22 years from 1984–2005 were in the same place at the same time. Haney’s era was ending. Yates’ was about to begin. But no one then would’ve predicted that the little-known amateur toiling backstage would eventually.



Even when both were at their best in the 240s, Coleman had significantly larger arms and legs than his idol. Haney’s greatest advantage was his slimmer waistline, which he maintained throughout his Olympia reign. So their physiques had distinct differences. But the two greatest qualities they shared were back width (previously discussed) and chest thickness. Pecs are probably the body part for which Olympia standards have changed the least. The chests of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu four decades ago would still be among the best in the world today. This is because they built them with barbell and dumbbell basics, while too many modern bodybuilders rely on machines.

Haney and Coleman followed the ’70s formula. In fact, Coleman typically did only three exercises, flat, incline, and decline presses—with a barbell in one weekly workout and dumbbells in the other. On occasion, he might work in flyes with dumbbells, cables, or a pec-deck, but more often than not he hit chest with all presses all the time. Haney went with more variety and volume, but he still credited free-weight flat and incline presses as his principle pec producers.

Their physiques had distinct differences, but the two greatest qualities they shared were back width and chest thickness. Both built their chests with barbell and dumbbell basics, while too many modern bodybuilders rely on machines.

Lee haney flyes


  • Barbell Bench Press | SETS: 4–5 | REPS: 12–6
  • Barbell Incline Press | SETS: 4 | REPS: 10–6
  • Dumbbell Flye | SETS: 4 | REPS: 12–15
  • Dip | SETS: 3 | REPS: 10–12
  • Cable Crossover | SETS: 3 | REPS: 10–12

Ronnie coleman overhead press



  • Barbell Bench Press | SETS: 4 | REPS: 10–12
  • Barbell Incline Press | SETS: 4 | REPS: 10–12
  • Barbell Decline Press | SETS: 4 | REPS: 10–12


  • Flat Dumbbell Press | SETS: 4 | REPS: 10–12
  • Incline Dumbbell Press | SETS: 4 | REPS: 10–12
  • Decline Dumbbell Press | SETS: 4 | REPS: 10–12



The six-year reign (1992–97) of Dorian Yates that bridged the Haney and Coleman eight-streaks had one great and lasting impact on training routines. Although most bodybuilders didn’t commit to high intensity workouts for long, they did follow the Englishman’s lead and adopt lower workout frequencies. Whereas Haney used a three-days-on, one-day-off split (working body parts twice every eight days), Yates hit muscles once per week. By the end of the ’90s, most advanced bodybuilders did likewise. But not Coleman. He went with a ’70s-style split, hitting body parts twice weekly. Both eight-timers double-split their workouts pre-contest, dividing one day’s toil into two workouts (Coleman did this on Day 1 year-round). For example, Haney did a chest workout in the morning and an arm workout in the afternoon on his Day 1.

Lee haney


  • Day 1 | Chest, Triceps, Biceps
  • Day 2 Quads, Hamstrings
  • Day 3 Back, Deltoids, Traps
  • Day 4 Off

Repeat cycle starting on Day 5. Calves and abs are trained every workout day.

Haney used a three-days-on, one-day off split (working body parts twice every eight days).

Ronnie coleman


  • Day 1 Back, Biceps (AM); Deltoids, Traps (PM)
  • Day 2 Quads, Hamstrings, Calves
  • Day 3 Chest, Triceps 

Repeat cycle starting on Day 4. Day 7(Sunday) is off. Abs are trained four days per week.

Coleman went with a ’70s-style-split, hitting body parts twice weekly.



This is the most obvious similarity—the one that will keep their names forever linked, even after someone breaks their shared record. For Haney, his 1984–91 reign was relatively drama-free. His ascendancy marked an end to the 1976–83 “lightweight era” that preceded it—an eight-year period marked by under-200- pound Mr. Os (and a lighter-than-usual Schwarzenegger in 1980). Suddenly, there was a young, 5’11”, 240- plus champ with a pleasing shape. No, his arms didn’t wow anyone, but his width did. Likely challengers were lost in his vast shadow. Lee Labrada pushed him hard in 1990 (Haney trailed after pre-judging), and Yates matched him pound for pound in 1991, but in other autumns his victory seemed a foregone conclusion. Hohum, another Sandow.

There was more controversy during the 1998–2005 Coleman reign. From his surprising initial victory (after finishing ninth the year prior) over favorite Flex Wheeler to his controversial squeaker over ascendant Jay Cutler in 2001 (Coleman trailed after pre-judging), to a win at far from his best in 2002 (followed by a loss in another contest), to his shocking supersizing in 2003, his run was marked by ups and downs, twists and turns. This drama was heightened via his annual duels with Cutler, who finished second to him four times before finally topping him in 2006. Of course, the latter loss prevented Coleman’s record-breaking ninth Olympia win (he lost again in 2007, his final contest). It kept him tied with his idol. But maybe that’s for the best, as his phone message attested. Haney and Coleman, the two eights with so much in common, will forever be paired in bodybuilding history.

For Haney, his 1984-91 reign was relatively drama-free. There was more controversy during the 1998-2005 Coleman reign. His run was marked by ups and downs, twists and turns. The two eights with so much in common will forever be paired in bodybuilding history.


2017 Olympia Fitness & Performance Weekend

2017 Olympia Fitness & Performance Weekend

Where legends are made!