Bodybuilding is a field that is definitely not shy of producing legends. It can be very difficult composing these types of lists, therefore, as we can;t help but feel that we don’t do justice to the ones we leave off. But make no mistake these kings of weightlifting, these legendary bodybuilder, have earned theirs spots through zest, sweat and grit.
Recognized as the father of modern bodybuilding, Eugen Sandow helped to establish and popularize the sport as know it today. Born in what was then Prussia, Sandow escaped to Europe a circus performer to avoid the draft in his home country.
He was instantly recognized for his feats of strength and began putting on performances, yet soon realized that people enjoyed his physique more than his strength. This lead Sandow to focus more on his proportions and size. He would display his physique in shows that were coined muscle display performances, which paved the way for modern-day bodybuilding competitions.
For Steve Reeves, bodybuilding was more of a passion than a career as acting was his main source of income. In fact, Reeves was once the highest paid actor in Europe starring in many Italian blockbusters. His well-built physique earned him heroic roles such as Hercules and Tarzan.
Reeves began bodybuilding in high school and continued even after his involvement in the army. His dedication saw him earn the esteemed titles of Mr. America, Mr. World and Mr. Universe all by age 25.
Widely regarded as having one of the most aesthetically pleasing physiques in bodybuilding history, Frank Zane always championed proportion and symmetry over pure size. His three consecutive wins of the Mr.
Olympia title from 1977 to 1979 proved that the focus of the competition was moving more towards aesthetics rather than size. He was also one of the only bodybuilders to defeat legend Arnold Schwarzenegger in a competition. Zane was also one of the only Mr. Olympia winners to compete at a sub-200 lb. weight.
Known as “the Myth”, Cuban-born bodybuilder Sergio Oliva as known for his impressively toned and sizable physique that challenged even the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger. After receiving political asylum by the United States, Oliva eventually began making a name for himself in the bodybuilding scene in Chicago.
He eventually joined the IFBB and won the Mr. Olympia title in 1967. For the following two years, Oliva remained with the title of Mr. Olympia even defeating Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1969 competition. Oliva eventually left the IFBB because of some controversial moves made by Joe Weider.
Lou Ferrigno held the Mr. Universe title for two consecutive years in 1973 and 1974. He came into the bodybuilding spotlight with the release of the film ‘Pumping Iron’, which featured the rivalry between Ferrigno and then reigning Mr. Olympia champ Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Ferrigno and Schwarzenegger actually trained together for some time when they lived in Columbus. After his bodybuilding career, Ferrigno enjoyed a lengthy acting career starring in famous roles such as the Incredible Hulk and Hercules.
Nicknamed the Austrian Oak, Arnold Schwarzenegger is perhaps the best known name in the bodybuilding world. Best known for his monstrous biceps, Schwarzenegger was one of the biggest Olympia competitors of his time. His legendary physique earned him 7 different Mr. Olympia titles, 6 of which he won consecutively.
Schwarzenegger also starred in the classic bodybuilding film ‘Pumping Iron’, which helped for further popularize the sport into mainstream culture. He also enjoyed a very successful acting career after bodybuilding, further immortalizing his name.
Although not as well known as his peer Ronnie Coleman, Lee Haney holds the same record of 8 Olympia victories. Haney remained the Olympia reigning champion from 1984 to 1991. His feats in physical fitness and bodybuilding attracted former president Bill Clinton who appointed Haney to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports as acting chairman. H
e was also recognized by the United States Sports Academy and the International Federation of Bodybuilding for his career. Upon retirement, Lee Haney remains active in the bodybuilding community having established two training centers in Atlanta, GA.
Holding the 4th place record for the most consecutive Olympia wins, Dorian Yates held the title for 6 straight years from 1992 to 1997. Nicknamed the “Shadow” for his limited and often discrete public appearances, Yates preferred to remain out of the spotlight during his training and rarely gave interviews.
This secrecy led Yates to pull some major upsets on the Olympia stage. In fact, despite a tricep tear just 3 weeks before his final debut on the Olympia stage in 1997, Yates was still able to pull out a victory. This is regarded as Yates’ most notorious win.
Widely regarded as one of the best bodybuilders in history, Ronnie Coleman has won the Mr. Olympia title an unprecedented 8 times in a row. He also holds the IFBB record for the most title wins of any professional at 26. Coleman is also famous for his impressive feats of strength as a bodybuilder.
Some of his more famous accomplishments include an 800 lb. deadlift and squat as well as a 2,300 lb. leg press. Upon his retirement from bodybuilding competitions, Coleman started his own sports nutrition company under the label Ronnie Coleman Nutrition
Jay Cutler is another well-established name in the modern era of bodybuilding. He competed alongside rival Ronnie Coleman for a majority of his career. Cutler finished second behind Coleman for the Mr. Olympia title four different years before finally claiming the title for his own in 2006.
Cutler won again the following year and also held the Mr. Olympia title in 2009 and 2010 for a total of 4 times. He is only one of three Olympia competitors to hold the title more than once, non-consecutively.
As mentioned, there are definitely others we left off the list, and we will be making an update to perhaps expand this list, or do a part two, Let us know who you think should make the cut!