A few years ago I was interviewed by BodyBuilding magazine about my quest for muscle and the things that I did - and continue to do on a regular basis to ensure my success.
The article below outlines my approach and the philosphies that I promote in my books and in my one-on-one training sessions at my studio here in the San Diego area. Check it out and I hope it helps you in your quest to achieve your Hi Def Body!
Bodybuilding legend Frank Zane teaches his disciples how to
achieve physical perfection through one-on-one training at The Zane Experience.
Bodybuilding.com makes the pilgrimage to Zane's retreat to give you an inside
look at his philosophies.
Zane was a throwback to Steve Reeves--and the Greeks before
"Arnold wasn't ready to win, yet," Zane says.
"He was just a big smooth guy without a tan. I didn't see him as
competition in that show. "But Joe [Weider] was all over Arnold,"
Zane says. "Everyone could tell he was destined for greatness." Zane
won that battle, but he would lose the physique war.
"I just got beat by a chicken with 17-inch arms,"
Zane says Arnold said of him at the time. Zane was 5 inches shorter and more
than 50 pounds lighter than Arnold, but he was also better proportioned and in
better condition. "Arnold's comments fueled me, but you couldn't stay mad
at him. He's such a diplomat."
Arnold would go on to win six Mr. Olympia titles and then
retire before Zane would win his three. Then, in a typical outflanking
maneuver, Arnold came back in 1980 to snag a seventh win in Australia, where Zane
was expecting to pick up his fourth. Game, set, match to the Terminator.
That helped set the stage for today's bodybuilders, whose
size often rivals that of blue-ribbon winners at the state fair.
Zane cites Steve Reeves, who would go on to star in numerous
Italian Hercules films in the 1950s, as his role model. "Everyone can
relate to the way he looked," Zane says. "Who can relate to Jay
Cutler?" Cutler, the current reigning Mr. Olympia is nose to nose with
Zane, but outweighs him by upwards of 70 pounds at their Olympia-winning
Who can relate to Jay Cutler?
Judging standards have shifted to favor athletes like Jay
If your goal is to achieve a muscular physique with
excellent conditioning, but without any sort of enhancement, Frank Zane may be
the man with the answers you seek.
The good news is that today Zane leads
one-on-one training seminar sessions through his business "The Zane
Experience." You can go directly to this font of physique wisdom.
That is, if you can find him.
Frank Zane is considered by many to have been the most Greek
God-like bodybuilder, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that The Zane
Experience seminars are held at his personal gym in his home atop a
Greek-monikered mount. Mt. Helix and a nearby peak jut from the California
desert suburbs east of San Diego.
They look a bit like mismatched breasts: imagine a gigantic
Tara Reid sunbathing nude on her back and you have a pretty good idea of what
the landscape looks like from a distant vista. Zane's abode is near the top of
the larger mount, about where the aureole might start.
To get Experienced, you must complete a series of semi-mysterious
tasks that are the requisite of any worthy quest. "I'll give you
directions to my house after you get to the hotel," Zane says. No further
information is imparted until you have successfully completed the first
assignment of a long night in a third-rate hotel (you learn patience,
In the morning, Zane provides complicated (but
extraordinarily clear) directions to the location of The Zane Experience. Test
Two: Can you follow directions? When you pull into his driveway, you feel like
you're beginning to feel the power of The Force. You're starting to see the
point of "paint the fence."
Zane himself remains in great shape. He is approaching his
70th birthday, but at a first glance, Zane doesn't look that much different
from any other healthy Southern Californian in his age bracket. But, with Zane
dressed in street clothes, you begin to notice his proportions are much better
than those of a typical 69-year-old-bigger chest, smaller waist, thicker
Inside Zane's equipment-heavy gym, he explains why getting
to The Zane Experience is so complicated: "I never write down directions
to my house or send them by email. I only deliver them over the phone."
Cool. It enhances the mystique, the legend. Ultimately, it would be a letdown
if you could Google Earth Obi Wan Kenobi's place in the Hamptons, wouldn't it?
Let's Get Frank
"At its inception, bodybuilding was the yoga of the
West," Zane says. "Back when I first started competing it was about
camaraderie; there was no money. It was about community." Even back in his
day, though, Zane was considered somewhat of an outsider.
In addition to poesy, Zane's other endeavors include playing
harmonica (he considers himself quite good), playing guitar, (he's learning but
still a neophyte-see "wife opinion", below), fashioning wooden
flutes, and studying the algorithms of math. He asks if I want to play a math
game, and, despite the challenges of the third-rate hotel and a lack of sleep,
I'm pleased to accept the challenge.
"No one's ever beaten me," he intones ominously.
It's hard not to envisage Alec Guiness wrapped in a chocolate-brown cloak. We
play about ten games, and I beat him only twice. "You're starting to see
the algorithm," he says, but explains that I haven't understood it fully.
(He's right). I'm still trying to blow up the Death Star with my goggles on.
Zane speaks about the importance of effort. "Christine
[Zane's wife] tells me I'm terrible at the guitar. So, I don't play when she's
around. I wait for her to go to the gym. But I try to play almost every
day." This is one of the most impressive takeaways from a day at Zane-adu:
Embrace the things that you aspire to be good at but understand that you never
So much of our culture rewards the honing of innate talent,
but today, Zane celebrates improvement over natural proclivity. That's an
inspiring shift in perspective from a personality who was the world's best at
what he had once dedicated his life to.
Embrace the things that you aspire to be good at but
understand that you never will be.
Zane was never satisfied with his physique, even when it was
the world's best.
Today, Zane makes the bulk of his income from his books and
the quarterly mag "Building the Body" and from The Zane Experience.
So, what does Frank offer at his personal fitness retreat? First, the opportunity
to bask in the company of a man who developed one of the world's best physiques
in the history of humankind; second, the opportunity to learn.
The Zane Experience may not be for all tastes-Frank has
training philosophies that speak to certain training mentalities more than
others. Here's a smattering of what you'll be taught at one of his individual
At its inception, bodybuilding was the yoga of the
West," Zane says. "Back when I first started competing it was about
camaraderie; there was no money. It was about community.
1. Learn the Zen/Zane of the set.
"When you're performing a weight set, there is nothing
else." Zane says that you must learn to get in touch with the sensation of
performing the exercise. "Don't focus on anything but the sensation, not
even the breathing. When you've advanced to a state where you are one with the
set, your breathing will be in sync with the movement."
Zane recommends that you focus on feedback sensations
against the background of counting reps. "It's analogous to a meditation
Zane says that an over-emphasis on the number of reps or
weight undercuts the quality of your set. This is kind of the Western-negative
to the Eastern-positive of the previous point, but it's important to grasp it
from both perspectives. "Don't work to a pre-set number of reps. Don't
work to failure. Who wants to fail?
Improving your body has nothing to do with failure. I only
work to success." Zane explains that you should conclude your weight set
with a rep that you know you can complete with perfect form. Then stop. Rest no
more than 90 seconds and perform your next set.
3. Use the proper range of motion.
Back to Zen: Is the full range of motion best for you? Are
partial reps better? "When you're performing a set, you should work
through the range of motion that helps you achieve the results you want,"
Zane says. He explains that this is physically intuitive. "If you want to
improve a particular part of your body, then you should perform a weight
exercise that allows you to feel that part of your body working.
It's about isolation and focus." If you're trying to
build your pecs, and full-range benches pump up your tris or front delts, then
switch to a range of partial reps that tax your pecs to the max. Can't do as
many reps? Can't press as much weight? That's muscle-building bliss--use the
range that works your pecs most effectively.
When it comes to flyes, Zane recommends getting a deep
stretch, but stopping at the point where your hands are about a foot apart
above your chest. Taking your hands closer together allows your chest to rest
rather than working it optimally.
"No one has an accurate assessment of themselves, not
even champions," Zane says. "You need external feedback."
Pictures are a very neutral form of feedback because they are not filtered
through other people's psyches. And you can view yourself more objectively in
pictures than you can in the mirror, he says. Plus they have the advantage of
If you take frequent shots of yourself from the same vantage
point (lighting and all other variables being relatively equal), you have a
much more objective place from which to judge yourself. And don't be too harsh
(or flattering) about the way you look; be as objective as you can. While this
is an old bodybuilding maxim, Zane explains that it's one of the most important
tools for anyone striving to improve the way they look.
This is one of the most impressive takeaways from a day at
Zane-adu: Embrace the things that you aspire to be good at but understand that
you never will be.
"When I was at my peak, I was never satisfied with the
way I looked. I always wanted more. Now, I look back at pictures of me from the
past, and I think, That wasn't half bad." Okay, guys, that's an important
lesson: FRANK ZANE wasn't happy with the way he looked at his peak in that
moment when he had the best physique in the history of the world! Here's the
lesson: celebrate your improvements; don't beat yourself up for what you can't
What's the most important personal attribute in perfecting
your physique? Genetics? Drive? Testosterone? "Continuity is how you build
a physique," Zane says. Follow his other philosophies with discipline and
continuity and you'll have the best physique your genetics allow for. A lot of
guys (the hares) have better genes but if you work hard and consistently, you
(the tortoise) can outperform them.
Zane And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance
When you work out with Frank Zane, you gain a deep
understanding that your body truly is a machine. A more shallow reading might
view Zane as a series of contradictions--that he has been excessively focused
on the exterior while speaking about the importance of the interior.
But--and this is highly interpretive--one could say that
Zane transcends that, believing that perfecting your exterior comes from
within. Without the existential connection between your inner being and an
understanding of the universe itself, it's truly impossible to build a better,
more beautiful body, however deep or shallow that goal may be.
Frank Zane is famous for his "vacuum" abs pose,
confoundingly difficult for many modern-day bodybuilders to perfect. To perform
the pose, Zane, would lift his arms over head, dropping the forearms below the
elbows (basically the start position of a two-arm dumbbell extension).
Then, he would pull in his abs so that they collapsed under
his rib cage, giving his abs that impressive hollowed out look. To perform this
pose, you need impeccable midsection control. Zane recommends the following abs
routine to work up to it:
Dumbbell Pullovers: 4 sets of 15 reps
Roman Chair Sit-Ups: 1 set of 50-500 reps