Classic Bodybuilding: Famous Bodybuilders of the 1980s

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The three decades spanning between the early 1950s and early 1980s were the Golden Age of bodybuilding but this doesn’t mean the sport lost popularity in subsequent decades. Famous bodybuilders of 1980s produced innovative training styles and built jaw-dropping physiques.

From the global development standpoint, the 80s continued the momentum of technological innovation with the introduction of personal computers (PCs), programming languages, and the registration of the first Internet domain name. [1] This decade also witnessed the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, and the Fall of the Berlin Wall. [2]

Related: Classic Bodybuilding: Famous Bodybuilders of the 1950s

We won’t be discussing 1980s history and world events in this article but we will continue our examination of three famous bodybuilders consider to be in their prime during the 180s. In particular we will discuss the background, diet, and innovative training styles of Mike Mentzer, Tom Platz, and Lee Haney.

This article not only pays respect to and provides insight on these iconic bodybuilders, but also provide food-for-thought on how you can implement their nutrition and training habits in to your current regimen.

Classic 1980s Bodybuilders

Mike Mentzer (1951-2001)

Mike MentzerMike Mentzer was an American professional bodybuilder known for his low volume and extremely high intensity style of training. In addition to his bodybuilding career he starred as himself in one exercise video in 2008 entitled Mike Mentzer’s HIT Exercise Video, a 1980 documentary entitled The Comeback, and an episode of the Mike Douglas Show in 1980.

Mike’s top accolades include Mr. Universe in 1978, 1st in the Heavyweight category of the 1979 IFBB Mr. Olympia, and 5th overall in the 1980 Mr. Olympia. Although he utilized a high-volume approach early in his training career, he later changed his stance and developed a high-intensity approach detailed in his book entitled Heavy Duty. Throughout his training career he took a balance approached to nutrition, focusing on wholesome foods.

After observing his body’s suboptimal response to high volume workouts as well as training over 2,000 clients, Mike developed the HIT training style. This low-volume, low-frequency, and high intensity approach starkly contrasts the 10-20+ set per body part workouts recommended by other professional bodybuilders.

Instead of 2+ hour marathon sessions Mike found that he could achieve 80% of his previous conditioning and muscle mass by training only once every four to seven days with six-minute leg workouts and 15-minute upper body workouts. [3] This typically meant performing one or two working sets for minor muscle groups like the biceps, triceps, and calves, and two or three working sets for major muscle groups like the chest, back, and legs. [4]

High intensity and steady progression are a must while running an HIT routine. For example, if you were performing a set of leg curls or lat pulldowns you would execute 8 to 15 repetitions using perfect form and a full range-of-motion, followed by two or three forced reps, followed by a 15-second hold in the position at which the target muscle group is maximally contracted. [4] For leg curls this would be at the top of the movement and for lat pulldowns this would be at the bottom of the movement.

The Heavy Duty routine also utilizes negative reps and rest-pause sets. [5] Ensure you have a spotter or utilize the safety catches offered by the barbell rack or exercise machine to minimize the chance of injury while using these intensity techniques.

Mike did not use any diet or nutrition tricks to build his impressive physique. He recommended a macronutrient breakdown of 60% carbohydrates, 25% protein, and 15% fats. [6] Mike was not a proponent of excessively high protein consumption and believed that most bodybuilders gained unnecessary fat and hindered their recovery by overeating protein.

Mike recommended eating a variety of minimally processed foods from four basic food groupings – fruits and vegetables; cereals and grains; meat, fish, eggs and poultry; milk and dairy products. [6] Mike did not recommend taking a general multivitamin supplement unless you were unable to eat a balanced diet incorporating all four food groupings.

Mike didn’t obsess over using a food scale to measure his exact caloric intake nor did he recommend a cocktail of questionably effective supplements. If you’ve been struggling to progress in the gym using a high-volume routine, then Mentzer’s HIT routine might be just what you need to get back on the gains train.

Tom Platz (1955-Present)

Tom PlatzTom Platz, also known as “The Quadfather” or “The Golden Eagle”, is an American professional bodybuilder famous for his leg musculature developed using high-intensity, high-volume leg workouts. Tom acted in six movies produced between 1979 and 1998 as well as starred as himself in two bodybuilding documentary produced in 1980 and 2009. [7]

Tom’s bodybuilding career began in 1974, peaking with in a 3rd place finish in the 1981 Mr. Olympia and retiring in 1986.8 When it came to squatting and lower body training Tom did not play around. Two of his most impressive back squatting feats include a 23-rep set using 500lbs and 10-minute set using 250lbs. [8][9]

Tom found success in structuring his workouts using a high-volume, high-intensity, and moderate frequency approach. There’s limited information on Tom’s nutrition approach but it includes a variety of minimally processed, nutrient-rich foods as well some sweet treats during the mass-gain phase.

Tom found himself losing size and strength when he attempted high frequency weightlifting routines. He experienced his best gains in size training three to four times per week using high intensities and workout volumes. [9] Tended to structure his workouts around specific body parts, training each every 7 to 10 days depending on his energy levels and recovery. [10]

After a proper warm-up Tom began his workouts with compound free-weight barbell movements. He would then move on to machine-based single joint isolation movements. On most exercises he’d employ at least one intensity technique such as drop sets or partial reps. For example, let’s look at leg routine he used leading up to the 1981 Mr. Olympia.

Tom always started with Olympic style back squats and hack squats as he found them superior for thigh development. [11] He performed between 8-10 sets of back squats followed by 5 sets of hack squats, working in the 8 to 20-rep range. [12]

At this point mere mortals would be hobbling around but Tom continued his workouts with 5 to 8 sets of leg extensions, 6 to 10 sets of leg curls, and 3 to 4 sets each of standing, seated, and hack machine calf raises using the 10 to 15 rep range. [12] This routine, paired with exceptional work ethic and progression, helped to build his famous tree-trunk legs. He applied similar methodologies to training all other body parts.

There’s limited information on Tom’s dietary approach because he hated to count macros or track body fat percentage, instead preferring to use the mirror as a guide. Tom utilized a high-protein and low-carbohydrate approach early in his lifting career but found a high carbohydrate (300-400 grams), high calorie (up to 6000), and low-fat diet to be most effective for building muscle mass over the long-term. [10]

A large body of evidence of scientific and anecdotal evidence suggests that carbohydrates are paramount of optimal lean mass gain. Tom ate a variety of minimally processed nutrient-rich foods such as milk, whole grain toast, eggs, beef, cheese, salad, nuts, cottage cheese, and beef. [13] His preferred carbohydrate sources include bread, potatoes, honey, brown sugar, maple syrup, and pints of ice cream. [10]

During his contest preparation phase he would not only decrease the calories and carbohydrates but also increase his cardiovascular activity to burn more calories. His combination of strict diet, aerobic exercise, and intense weightlifting created one of the most iconic physiques to ever step on the bodybuilding stage.

Lee Haney (1959-Present)

Lee HaneyLee Haney is an American professional bodybuilder who placed first at the Mr. Olympia a staggering 8 times back-to-back (1984-1991). In addition, he wrote the 1997 TV series TotalLee Fit with Lee Haney, played an acting role in the 2010 movie For Honor or Glory, and starred as himself in one short, one documentary, and on television special between 1991 and 2013. [14]

Lee won his first amateur bodybuilding contest in 1979 at the ripe age of 20 and captured his first Mr. Olympia title just 5 years later. [15] Like most professional bodybuilders of this era, Lee found high volume body part splits performed with moderate frequency to be optimal for developing slabs of muscle with minimal fat gain. Lee places an incredibly large emphasis on nutrition and believes that one cannot out-train a lousy diet.

After trial and error Lee found a 3-on, 1-off high volume body part split routine to be optimal for those looking to pack on mass during a bulking phase or strip off fat during a cutting phase. For example, On Day 1 he typically performed 14 working sets for chest using the 6 to 10 rep range, and 16 working sets for arms (biceps and triceps) using the 6 to 12 rep range. [16]

He utilized a combination of compound and isolation movements primary using dumbbells and barbells. Day 2 was leg day, which consisted of 8 sets of quadriceps-focused movements early in the workout, 4 or 5 sets of squats midway through, and 7 or 8 sets of hamstring-focused movements at the end. [16]

Lee preferred to warm up his quadriceps and knees using leg extensions and leg press prior to performing squats. Day 3 emphasized back and shoulders; 12 working sets of horizontal and vertical pulls paired with 5 sets of military press and 8 sets emphasizing the lateral and rear delts. [16] You can also find other variations of his routine utilizing a larger exercise selection and higher volume.

During the contest prep phase Lee increased his workout density and overall volume through the use of intensity techniques like supersets, giant sets, and rest-pause sets.17 Lee found recommends training calves and abs every day using weighted calf raise and sit-up variations, as well as leg raises in the 15 to 20 rep range. [16]

During competition prep he also incorporates three or four bouts of walking or cycling for 15 to 20 minutes immediately post-weightlifting. [17] Lee listened to his body, cutting back on the volume when he was feeling beat up and emphasizing recovery through the consumption of nutrient-dense foods.

Early in his bodybuilder career Lee preached the importance of eating minimally processed nutrient-rich foods. A typical day for Lee included 5 meals with protein-rich foods like eggs, fish, and chicken, complex carbohydrates like oatmeal, potatoes, rice, beans, and whole-wheat pancakes, and micronutrient-dense fruits and vegetables like pineapple, spinach, berries, and other leafy greens. [18]

Although this diet looks very low in fat he also incorporates healthy fats like salmon and walnuts from time-to-time. [19] He didn’t like Lee never liked his bodyweight to increase more than 10 pounds over contest weight so if he found himself gaining excess fat he’d cut down on flour and dairy products. [17]

Lee Haney recommends eating a big breakfast since you’ve been fasting all night and need fuel for the day but a small dinner you’re less active in the evening and will soon sleeping, a period in which your body is inactive. [20] Unlike many competitors Lee actually consumed more calories during his contest prep phase. He upped his caloric intake from 3,500 to approximately 4,500 before a contest. [17]

Instead of starving his body before a competition he instead preferred to increase the volume of his weightlifting workouts and incorporate cardiovascular activity to burn calories and strip off fat. If you’ve been stuck in a fat-loss rut consider increasing your physical activity, specifically aerobic exercise, and slightly increasing your daily caloric intake. Lee’s approach may be just want you need to bust through that fat loss plateau.

Who is your favorite bodybuilder active during this 1980s? Let me know in the comments below!

References

1) Rosenberg, Jennifer. “1980s Timeline.” About.com Education. N.p., 8 Jan. 2016. Web. Aug. 2016.
2) “The 80s Timeline.” National Geographic. N.p., 10 Apr. 2013. Web. Aug. 2016.
3) Stamatopoulos, John. “Mike Mentzer Exclusive Interview! A Bodybuilding Legend…” Bodybuilding.com. N.p., 8 Apr. 2005. Web. Aug. 2016.
4) Madden, Mick. “Mike Mentzer’s Heavy Duty One Set Workout.” Muscle and Brawn. N.p., 13 Aug. 2014. Web. Aug. 2016.
5) Merritt, Greg. “Mike Mentzer’s High-Intensity Workout.” FLEX Online. N.p., 2016. Web. Aug. 2016.
6) Mentzer, Mike. “Heavy Duty: Nutrition.” ANASCI.org. N.p., 1993. Web. Aug. 2016.
7) “Tom Platz.” Internet Movie Database (IMDb). N.p., 2016. Web. Aug. 2016.
8) “Tom Platz Leg Workout.” SimplyShredded.com. N.p., 2016. Web. Aug. 2016.
9) Robson, David. “An Interview With The Golden Eagle, Tom Platz: Part Two!” Bodybuilding.com. N.p., 17 June 2009. Web. Aug. 2016.
10) Smoker, Jon. “The Tight Tan Slacks of Dezso Ban: 1985 Tom Platz Seminar.” The Tight Tan Slacks of Dezso Ban. N.p., 6 Sept. 2012. Web. Aug. 2016.
11) Hercules, Iron. “Tom Platz Interview.” Muscle and Brawn. N.p., 28 Aug. 2008. Web. Aug. 2016.
12) Merritt, Greg. “Hardcore Contender – Tom Platz.” FLEX Online. N.p., 2016. Web. Aug. 2016.
13) “Tom Platz’s Diet Plan & Workout Routine plus Photo Gallery.” FitFLEX. N.p., 2016. Web. Aug. 2016.
14) “Lee Haney.” Internet Movie Database (IMDb). N.p., 2016. Web. Aug. 2016.
15) “Lee Haney – Biography.” Internet Movie Database (IMDb). N.p., 2016. Web. Aug. 2016.
16) Madden, Mick. “Bodybuilder Lee Haney Workout Plan.” Muscle and Brawn. N.p., 25 Aug. 2013. Web. Aug. 2016.
17) Brainum, Jerry. “A Blast from the Past.” Iron Man Magazine. N.p., 15 July 2010. Web. Aug. 2016.
18) “Lee Haney’s Diet Plan & Workout Routine plus Photo Gallery.” FitFLEX. N.p., 2016. Web. Aug. 2016.
19) Bartless, Gary. “One-on-One With Mr. Olympia Lee Haney.” Muscle Insider. N.p., 12 Apr. 2013. Web. Aug. 2016.
20) Shugart, Chris. “7 Tips for Long Term Leanness.” T Nation. N.p., 10 Nov. 2005. Web. Aug. 2016.

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Name: Nick Ludlow

Bio: When it comes to fitness I enjoy reading about historic weight lifters, non-conventional weightlifting approaches, nutritional protocols, and the science behind supplements.