“A lot of guys have better genes but if you work hard and consistently, you can outperform them.” Praised as having one of the greatest physiques in the history of bodybuilding thanks to his keen focus on proportion and symmetry, Frank Zane falls on the lower end of the scale of bodybuilders who have gone overboard with their muscles. However, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve a spot among the legends as a three-time Mr. Olympia winner and former teacher with a master’s degree in experimental psychology and a lifetime of achievements. So, how did he get his start as a bodybuilder and where is he now?
Born and raised in Kingston, Pennsylvania in the 1940s, Zane discovered bodybuilding in his teens after reading an article in a muscle magazine. Weighing only 130 pounds when he first walked into the gym at 14 years old, three years of heavy weightlifting and a strict diet brought him to an impressive, muscle-clad 160 pounds. Two years later, he was ready to compete and entered the 1961 Mr. Pennsylvania where he finished in 17th place. The following year he won the 1962 Mr. Keystone with a second-place finish in 1963 just as he entered his senior year at Wilkes University where he later graduated with a bachelor of science degree.
Continuing to make waves in the bodybuilding world after taking first place in the 1965 IFBB Mr. Universe, Zane went on to win the 1966, 1967 and 1968 Mr. America competitions while building his reputation as “The Chemist,” a nickname he earned partly because of his education and partly because of his training regimen. “Back in the day I took a lot of supplements and tons of amino acids,” he said. “Still do. But back then it was pretty unusual. That’s how I got the nickname, ‘The Chemist.’”
With half a dozen wins and twice as many contests under his belt by the 1970s, Zane had become a huge name in the industry and was famously known for his light weight training that left him with a symmetrical physique, an exceptionally thin waistline and a distinctive V-taper down his broad shoulders. Despite many suggestions to train with heavier weights, the Pennsylvania native pushed forward weighing just under 190 pounds when he made history and took the coveted Mr. Olympia title from Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1977. Winning again in 1978 and 1979, he became one of only a few Mr. Olympia champions to win the title weighing under 200 pounds, a feat that is unheard of today in a world where bigger is often considered better.
Amid his success as a three-time Mr. Olympia and only one of three men to beat Schwarzenegger, Zane stayed incredibly busy off the stage as he furthered his education and earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from California State at Los Angeles in 1977. At the time, he balanced a grueling training and competition schedule while he worked as a mathematics and chemistry teacher. After another year of hard work, he was thrilled at the idea of keeping the Mr. Olympia title for another year when tragedy struck in 1980 and he nearly lost his life in an accident at home. Losing 15 pounds of muscle mass, Zane’s reign as Mr. Olympia ended in controversy as Schwarzenegger reclaimed the title and he took third.
Boycotting the 1981 Mr. Olympia contest, Zane returned to the stage in 1982 and finished in second place before a cycling accident in 1983 caused severe shoulder damage that required surgery and left him in fourth place at what would become his final Mr. Olympia contest. By then, he was ready to focus on something other than training and competing as he officially announced his retirement at only 41 years old and after two decades of numerous wins including the Mr. America, Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia titles.
Instead of putting his bodybuilding history behind him, Zane embraced his success and found a way to combine both his passion for teaching and his fitness expertise. Building on the training techniques he first outlined in books like The Zane Way to a Beautiful Body and Super Bodies in 12 Weeks, Zane opened Zane Haven in 1985 in Palm Springs, California with his wife, Christine, an artist, psychologist and former 1970 Miss Universe Bikini Crown. Together, they offered one-on-one coaching to a variety of clients wishing to build symmetrical physiques through healthy lifestyle choices and weight training. By 1987, they had already outgrown their facility and purchased Cary Grant’s estate in Old Palm Springs Movie Colony where they saw their business, now named the Zane Experience, blossom thanks to Zane’s reputation as one of the greatest bodybuilders in history.
Beyond his work at Zane Experience, the 5’9” Zane earned his master’s degree in experimental psychology in 1990 and went on to publish a series of books including Fabulously Fit Forever, Frank Zane: Mind, Body, Spirit and The Mind in Bodybuilding. He was inducted into the Joe Weider Hall of Fame in 1994 and received one of the highest honors in the industry at the 2003 Arnold Classic when he was presented with the Arnold Schwarzenegger Lifetime Achievement Award for his dedication and commitment to bodybuilding.
Today, the 74-year-old Zane hasn’t slowed down much despite selling Zane Haven and launching his online, mail-order fitness business where he virtually teaches the Zane Experience to clients around the world. Now appearing at seminars and book signings around the globe, he’s also been spotted in films like See Arnold Run and the 2011 bodybuilding documentary, Challenging Impossibility. Regardless of what he’s working on—whether it’s the Frank Zane Newsletter, a new book or the Zane Experience—The Chemist always takes his own advice: “Live your life by the hour, not by the day. What will you achieve in the next hour?”