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Mr Olympia is the ultimate bodybuilding competition, one that started in 1965.
It has had 13 champions, including a who’s who of famous bodybuilders. Schwarzenegger, Frank Zane, Lee Haney, Ronnie Coleman, Jay Cutler, Dorian Yates, Sergio Olivia, Larry Scott, and many more.
Some of the best bodybuilders in history have failed to win a Mr Olympia, which just goes to show how tough this competition is.
Lou Ferrigno, Rich Gaspari, Flex Wheeler, Mike Mentzer, and Kai Greene (so far) have all failed to win a Mr Olympia despite being masters of their craft.
Mr Olympia is like the Oscars of bodybuilding, except that there is only one winner.
So how would you go about becoming Mr Olympia? Well it’s not going to be easy, due to the way this competition is judged (the current champion is always favoured) you’ll have to be the greatest bodybuilder in the world by some distance. Because if it’s close, the current champion will retain his title.
The only time a real upset occurred in the last 33 years was when Dexter Jackson beat Jay Cutler in 2008.
But it can be done, and sometimes bodybuilders can come out of relative obscurity to win the biggest prize in bodybuilding.
Samir Bannout was not a big name when he won in 1983, and Dorian Yates came out of nowhere to win six consecutive titles in 1992. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here, let’s first explore what traits all the winners of Mr Olympia have in common.
- 1 Start Young
- 2 Spend Time in the Military
- 3 Be Religious
- 4 Play Sport
- 5 Go to University
- 6 Work a Second Job
- 7 Have a Background in Powerlifting or Olympic Lifting
- 8 Step One: Join a “legit” gym
- 9 Step Two: Get a coach
- 10 Step Three: Tackle the Drug Issue early on
- 11 Getting your Pro Card
- 12 Gaining Entry to Mr Olympia
- 13 Simple Huh?
One thing that almost every winner has is starting at a young age.
They all either had a sporting background, or went straight into bodybuilding during their teenage years. Very few successful bodybuilders started lifting for the first time in their twenties.
Spend Time in the Military
- Arnold Schwarzenegger (Austrian Military 1965)
- Sergio Olivia (joined Batista’s army in Cuba in 1957)
Two of the greatest bodybuilders in history (Schwarzenegger & Olivia) both started out in the military.
This probably helps build discipline and teaches you to push yourself beyond your limits.
While from afar bodybuilding and military life may seem completely different careers, they actually have a lot in common.
- Larry Scott (Mormon)
- Ronnie Coleman (Christian)
While it would be a stretch to say that devotion to a religion gives you an advantage, we can’t ignore the fact that Larry Scott and Ronnie Coleman were both incredibly religious.
Perhaps this gives them an advantage when it comes to avoiding vice (drinking and drugs), and kept them dedicated in the way that being in the military did. It’s just an idea.
That being said, a lot of successful bodybuilders have been atheists (or at least have not mentioned being religious).
- Ronnie Coleman (football)
- Dexter Jackson (football)
- Phil Heath (basketball)
- Franco Columbu (boxing)
Franco Columbu was a boxer first, before getting into powerlifting and weightlifting. Phil Heath got into University on a Basketball scholarship. Dexter Jackson and Ronnie Coleman both played football in High school.
Playing college level sport definitely has a lot of carryovers into bodybuilding. Nutrition, recovery, strength, power, repetition, and dedication are all required to excel in both.
Go to University
- Phil Heath (University of Denver)
- Frank Zane (Wilkes University, Cal State LA, Cal State SB)
- Ronnie Coleman (Grambling State University)
If you learn one thing today, let it be this. Bodybuilders are almost all educated to college or university level. They are not the big dumb meatheads that television and film has led us to believe.
Just look at what Arnold did with his career, built himself a legacy in bodybuilding, then moved into movies, where he excelled. Then he started businesses and bodybuilding competitions. Then he went into politics.
This is an incredibly intelligent man.
Dorian Yates basically tore up the rulebook of lifting, and used his intelligence to win six Mr Olympia titles.
Frank Zane received degrees and a masters from three universities.
If you want to win, you’ll need a high IQ, you’ll need an ability to learn, and you will want to spend some time with your nose in a book.
Work a Second Job
- Jay Cutler (construction)
- Sergio Olivia (worked in a steel mill)
- Arnold Schwarzenegger (bricklaying)
- Franco Columbu (bricklaying)
- Chris Dickerson (opera singer)
- Frank Zane (teacher)
- Ronnie Coleman (police officer)
A lot of people think that to succeed as a bodybuilder you need to live and breathe the sport, concentrating on nothing else but the iron and your diet. But this is not only impractical (somebody is going to have to pay for that whey protein) it also doesn’t reflect the realities of actual winners.
None of the Mr Olympia winners could afford to just train and eat, they needed to make rent.
Training for Mr Olympia is going to take up a lot of your time, but you need to have a source of income that you can survive on. You also need a backup plan.
Most people who get into bodybuilding will not reach anywhere near pro level – even the biggest guy in your gym. There’s too much competition out there.
So train like a demon, eat everything in sight, and work a job.
Have a Background in Powerlifting or Olympic Lifting
- Sergio Olivia (weightlifter)
- Franco Columbu (weightlifting and powerlifting)
- Arnold Schwarzenegger (weightlifting and powerlifting)
- Ronnie Coleman (powerlifting)
Three of the most impressive Mr Olympia winners of all time all have backgrounds in powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting.
As Ronnie Coleman said:
“Everyone wants to be a bodybuilder, but don’t nobody want to lift some heavy ass weights”.
Because bodybuilding is all about hypertrophy training, people think that it’s all about high reps with light weights. This is absolutely untrue.
When Arnold and co were revolutionising bodybuilding they were all trying to out-lift each other.
Franco Columbu is pound-for-pound probably one of the strongest people to have lived.
Get strong, get really strong, then you can worry about drop sets, and super sets.
Now that we have looked at what these Mr Olympia winners have in common, we can look at how you should begin on the road to fame.
Step One: Join a “legit” gym
Where you train is surprisingly important, when you read through the biographies of any Mr Olympia winner there’s always a moment where they are discovered by a seasoned pro, or coach. This is not going to happen to you in a Planet Fitness gym.
Find yourself a well known bodybuilding gym and get training.
You don’t have to visit it every day, particularly if you live miles away. But once a fortnight, or once per month go and visit the gym.
Make friends, ask for advice, work hard, and get noticed. Use your other gym to train hard 5-7 times per week.
Get strong, perfect each exercise, lift heavy ass weights. Deadlift, squat, bench, and build real strength.
Once you have built some real strength you can concentrate on size. Focus on hypertrophy training, but keep deadlifting and squatting heavy.
Step Two: Get a coach
You have one advantage over Arnold, you have access to some of the best bodybuilding coaches ever.
If your budget is zero then use an online course, but if you have cash find yourself a prep coach.
Use them to set goals, aim for an amateur bodybuilding competition. Shop around for the right coach for you, at some point you just can’t do it alone (unless you’re a coaching prodigy yourself of course).
Step Three: Tackle the Drug Issue early on
There has not been a Mr Olympia winner in history who has not taken performance enhancing drugs.
If you are serious about becoming a professional bodybuilder, you need to understand what this entails.
If you don’t want to go down that route (a sensible decision) then Mr Olympia is not for you. Focus instead on Natural Bodybuilding Competitions, but don’t expect to win them drug-free either!
If you are deadset on becoming the next Mr Olympia then you will need to get your hands on steroids, insulin, growth hormone, Clenbuterol, and many other drugs.
You are also going to need proper advice on how to use them.
Your prep coach may know what to do, or someone at the bodybuilding gym will. Look for the biggest guy who has avoided acne, hair loss, and breast development and you’ll find the guy who knows what he’s doing.
Getting your Pro Card
To compete at Mr Olympia you need a pro card. To get a pro card you need to win (or place) in a prestigious amateur competition.
To manage that you will need a good coach, a lot of drugs, the ability to train 7 days per week, and proper nutrition.
In other words, you need to take your amateur competitions as seriously as you would a professional one.
There are only so many amateur competitions that you can enter while in peak condition. You can’t do one each weekend!
Getting your pro card means that you can enter IFBB Pro League competitions, this is where real bodybuilders compete against each other. This is the big leagues. But you’re still not at Mr Olympia yet.
Gaining Entry to Mr Olympia
Now that you have your pro card, you are going to have to start taking things seriously.
Drop the day job, consider moving to a better location, be prepared to tour.
All your money will now be going on food, drugs, and coaching.
While genetics plays a HUGE part in how successful you are going to be, working harder than everyone else is one way to progress.
But even as you are doing this you need one eye on the future. What areas do you think that the current top 5 need to work on? What areas do you feel you are stronger than the competition? If you can find these advantages and press them, it can help you to progress.
In 52 years there have only been 13 different Mr Olympia Champions. That’s 13 people out of a current world population of 3.8 billion males.
Maybe 30 years ago your chances of entering a bodybuilding competition and winning it were more realistic. Bodybuilding was a much more niche sport, and as such there would be less competition. Even so, you’d be competing against Dorian Yates and Ronnie Coleman!
Today, you’ve as much chance of winning Mr Olympia as you do winning gold at the next Olympics.
Bodybuilding is a professional sport. You will need a huge genetic advantage if you want to win, and even that’s not enough.
The best bodybuilders had the genetic potential to succeed, but they still had to work harder than the rest.
It’s not impossible, but it’s more difficult than most people realise. Being the best bodybuilder in the world is similar to being the world’s strongest man. But for some reason the public decided that being the world’s strongest man was an impossible goal, yet many gym goers still have that fantasy of becoming the next Mr Olympia.
We’re not writing this to crush someone’s dream, a true champion would completely ignore this because they would KNOW that they were going to succeed. But, the purpose of this article was to outline just how difficult it is to achieve this goal. As such you the reader may have even more respect for your idols than you did before.
Not only is Phil Heath the greatest bodybuilder in the world right now, but he has held that position for seven straight years. That means for seven years he has been number one out of 3.8 billion men. Pretty impressive right?
Bodybuilding should be done for you, and you alone. It is a sport where the only audience member that matters is yourself.
If you pursue bodybuilding for years you will end up with an incredible physique, and that’s one hell of an achievement. This is one race where the journey is definitely more important than the result.