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The Greatest Bodybuilders of All-Time

The Greatest Bodybuilders of All-Time

The 10 Best Bodybuilders in History

Who are the greatest bodybuilders in the history of the sport?

Phil Heath, the great bodybuilder, looking menacing

Phil Heath, the most dominant bodybuilder of recent times.

Building a body that looks like it was carved out by Michelangelo himself is no walk in the park.

Bodybuilding is a true testimony of human greatness, of what we can achieve if we pour our hearts and souls into something; it testifies to the sheer power of self-discipline!

In the bodybuilding world, there is a distinct difference between recreational lifters and professional bodybuilders. Much like how anyone can play basketball, but not everyone can play in the NBA.

Even the big stage distinguishes between different categories for bodybuilders who are on a different level from everyone else!

The biggest of the big bodybuilders, known as “Mass Monsters”, are the bodybuilders that stand out from the crowd, even when that crowd is other bodybuilders.

These bodybuilders make other pros seem tiny in comparison to their huge mass.

So, who are these bodybuilders? What is their story and how did they come to be real-life Muscle Titans?

Grab your protein shake and join us on this journey, as we discuss the top 10 greatest bodybuilders of all time.

Arnold in his heyday, the greatest ever bodybuilder

Arnold - The undisputed King of Bodybuilding

1. Arnold Schwarzenegger: From Pumping Iron to Hollywood Royalty

Career Highlights

  • 1965 Mr Universe (Junior)

  • 1966 Mr Europe (Amateur)

  • 1967 NABBA Mr Universe (Professional)

Described as a real-life Hulk, Arnold Schwarzenegger became a synonym for bodybuilding.

The living legend popularised bodybuilding, and he began his career back in 1967 with his first win in the Mr Universe championship.

He absolutely dominated the sport from the mid-1960s to the late 1970s. Finally, he went on to retire from the sport in the 1980s.

Throughout his career, Arnold won numerous bodybuilding competitions.

This includes the 1965 Mr Universe (Junior) at the start of his career, then the Mr Europe (Amateur) championship in 1966 and the NABBA Mr Universe (Professional) in 1967.

He continued by winning the 1970 Mr World Professional Championship.

Since then, he has become the ultimate champion, as he continued to win the Mr Olympia championship for 6 consecutive years from 1970 until 1975.

After taking a break from competitive bodybuilding, he returned to the Mr Olympia stage in 1980 and won the title for the seventh time before retiring from professional bodybuilding.

Schwarzenegger's biggest flex is his iconic physique, which is a combination of massive size, incredible symmetry and an unparalleled level of definition.

He was also known for his posing routines, which were a key element of his success on the competition stage.

These looks also made him a superstar in the bodybuilding scene, and they helped him become the face of action movies in the Hollywood scene too.

2. Lee Haney: The Muscle Mastery Story

Career Highlights

Inspired by Arnold, Lee Haney’s story is one of persistence.

He shows how a student can surpass their idol with pure devotion. Lee began lifting weights at the age of 14 and began competing in bodybuilding contests at the age of 17.

His older brother, Benny, introduced him to the sport and helped him learn the basics of weight training and nutrition as he himself had competed in some local contests.

In 1982, Lee Haney won the NPC National Championships, earning his IFBB pro card and becoming a professional bodybuilder.

Lee Haney was active from 1984 until 1991 when he retired after winning his final Mr Olympia title.

Throughout his career, he made history by surpassing Schwarzenegger and winning eight Mr Olympia titles.

His total wins were 11 IFBB professional bodybuilding contests, including eight Olympia championships.

His remarkable size and proportionate development were his trademarks. He managed to achieve these through a combination of heavy lifting, high-volume training and a focus on nutrition and recovery.

Haney’s positive attitude, sportsmanship and dedication to the sport of bodybuilding also contributed to him becoming a respected figure not only in the bodybuilding world but also outside of it, too.

3. Ronnie Coleman: The Legend

Career Highlight Stats

  • 1990 Mr Texas

  • 26 IFBB professional bodybuilding contests

  • 8 Mr Olympia titles

Arguably the ultimate bodybuilding icon and the biggest legend of the sport, Ronnie Coleman is another great ‘titan.’

Ronnie’s bodybuilding story begins differently. He got into bodybuilding during his time as a police officer in Arlington, Texas.

Even though he started lifting weights back in college, it wasn’t until he was encouraged by a fellow officer that he got into bodybuilding competitions.

The beginning of his professional bodybuilding journey started with him winning the overall title at the Mr Texas bodybuilding contest in 1990.

In the years to follow, he went on to become a bodybuilding legend. He won a total of 26 IFBB professional bodybuilding contests, including eight Mr Olympia titles and four Arnold Classic titles.

Ronnie went on to be active for a little over a decade and announced his retirement in 2007 after placing seventh in Mr Olympia.

His overall physique was more than impressive, as he was one of the biggest and most muscular bodybuilders of his time.

Even though he retired in 2007, he continued to be active in the bodybuilding community and fitness industry as a spokesperson, trainer and motivational speaker.

Despite facing numerous health issues related to his bodybuilding career, he has continued to inspire and motivate others to pursue their fitness goals.

4. Dorian Yates: “The Shadow”

Career Highlight Stats

  • Night of Champions winner

  • Grand Prix Germany winner

  • 6 Mr Olympia titles in a row from 1992 to 1997

Dorian Yates is another bodybuilding legend, this time from England.

In his youth, he was a keen athlete and played rugby for years before he discovered bodybuilding in his early 20s.

Dorian began lifting weights in 1983 and competed in his first bodybuilding competition two years later.

Unlike the other ‘Titans’, he didn’t win his first competition; on the contrary, he placed last. Despite this, Dorian was determined to succeed and continued to train and compete in bodybuilding.

While his beginnings were humble, his career turned out to be the opposite.

He won several prestigious bodybuilding contests, including the Night of Champions, the Grand Prix Germany and the Spanish Grand Prix.

In 1992, Yates won his first Mr Olympia competition, marking the beginning of a remarkable career that saw him win a total of six Mr Olympia titles in a row from 1992 to 1997.

This became his biggest flex, as he won while competing against some of the most talented bodybuilders of his era, including Lee Haney, Kevin Levrone and Shawn Ray.

His impressive intense training style and focus on progressive overload were only part of his success.

He also became known for his philosophical approach to training, which emphasised the importance of mental focus, discipline and consistency to achieve your goals.

5. Frank Zane: The Muscle Aesthetics King

Career Highlight Stats

  • 1961 Mr Pennsylvania

  • 1967-1970 Mr Universe

  • 1977-1979 Mr Olympia

Much like Lee, Frank Zane also began weight training at the age of 14.

He became interested in bodybuilding while studying physical education at Wilkes University.

His professional bodybuilding career started when he won his first bodybuilding contest, the Mr Pennsylvania competition, in 1961.

Since then, he went on to compete in numerous championships and contests and won several prestigious titles, including Mr Universe in 1967, 1968 and 1970, and Mr Olympia in 1977, 1978 and 1979.

One thing that made him stand out besides his balanced and aesthetically-pleasing physique was his innovative training technique, including his use of high-rep training, isometric holds and posing practice.

His love for the sport was clear as he continued to remain active in bodybuilding even after his retirement from professional bodybuilding in 1983.

He continued his journey by writing books on bodybuilding including "The Zane Way to a Beautiful Body" and "Frank Zane: Mind, Body, Spirit.”

In recognition of his contributions to the sport, Zane was inducted into the IFBB Hall of Fame in 1994.

6. Jay Cutler: From Rags to Riches Story

Career Highlight Stats

  • Gold’s Gym Worcester Bodybuilding Championship winner

  • Night of Champions winner

  • 2006-2010 Mr Olympia

Just as he hit 18, Jay started lifting weights and quickly discovered his passion for bodybuilding.

Cutler was an athletic kid who grew up in a small town in Massachusetts, but he went on to compete head-to-head and even beat some of the big names in the sport.

He quickly became an inspiration for many young people.

Jay won his first amateur competition, the Gold's Gym Worcester Bodybuilding Championships, in 1993.

Five years later in 1998, he turned professional, and he won his first competition, the Night of Champions, in 2000.

In the years that followed, Cutler continued to compete in bodybuilding and he won several prestigious titles, including the Mr Olympia competition in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010.

What made him stand out in the bodybuilding industry was his incredible size and thickness. He became famous for overpowering his competition with his sheer mass.

He proved that he is brains and brawn, becoming a successful author and businessman too.

He wrote several books on bodybuilding, including "Jay Cutler's Guide to Size," and he founded his own supplement company, Cutler Nutrition, which became a successful brand.

7. Phil Heath: The Reigning King of Bodybuilding

Career Highlight Stats

  • 7 Mr Olympia titles

  • Overall title at NPC Colorado State Championships

  • Overall winner at 2006 Colorado Pro Championships

The world-renowned body-builder has multiple Mr Olympia wins under his belt, and he started his journey at a young age.

Namely, Health played basketball in college before transitioning to bodybuilding in 2002.

The very next year, he started competing as an amateur.

This was his first win, as he won the overall title at the NPC Colorado State Championships.

His first win in a professional bodybuilding competition was the 2006 Colorado Pro Championships, where he won the title of Overall Winner.

Heath quickly rose to prominence in the professional bodybuilding world, winning his first Mr Olympia title in 2011.

He went on to win a total of seven Mr Olympia titles, tying the record held by Arnold Schwarzenegger and making him one of the most successful bodybuilders in history.

In addition to his Mr Olympia wins, Heath also won several other professional competitions, including the Arnold Classic and the Sheru Classic.

One of his biggest flexes was that he was able to beat his competitors by a large margin due to his incredible size and conditioning.

He retired in 2020, but his legacy as one of the greatest remains.

8. Samir Bannout: The Lion of Lebanon

Career Highlight Stats

  • 1978 Mr Lebanon

  • IFBB World Amateur Championship winner

  • 18-year career

Samir Bannout, widely known as the “Lion of Lebanon”, is a Lebanese-American bodybuilder who started training with lifts at the age of 16.

His interest in the sport increased after he watched the Mr Universe Contest on TV.

Bannout's competitive career began in 1978 when he entered his first competition, the Mr Lebanon contest, which he won.

He then went on to win the IFBB World Amateur Championships in 1982, which earned him his professional status.

However, his most notable win came in 1983 when he won the Mr Olympia competition, defeating the reigning champion, Chris Dickerson.

This win not only put him on the scoreboard, but it also made him a national treasure, as he became the first Lebanese bodybuilder to win the title.

His incredible physique was matched by his ability to showcase his body on stage, which actually earned him the nickname, “the lion of Lebanon.”

Throughout his career, Bannout won several other competitions, including the IFBB Night of Champions and the Grand Prix Sweden.

He retired from professional bodybuilding in 1996 after a career spanning over 18 years.

9. Dexter Jackson: Bodybuilding Legend Who Defied The Odds

Career Highlight Stats

  • 1992 NPC Southern States Championship winner

  • 1998 North American Championship winner

  • 29 professional bodybuilding titles

Dexter Jackson’s life journey is a remarkable story of what one can achieve when he decides to defy the odds.

Coming from a single-parent household and growing up poor, he was determined to build a name for himself. When Jackson started training at the gym, a fellow trainee encouraged him to start bodybuilding.

This turned out to be the right move as he won his first amateur competition, the 1992 NPC Southern States Championship, and he turned pro by winning the 1998 North American Championships.

Relying on consistency, hard work and determination, he became a champion!

People often referred to him as "The Blade" due to his chiselled physique and razor-sharp conditioning.

Throughout his career, Dexter Jackson has won a total of 29 professional bodybuilding titles, including the Arnold Classic five times and Mr Olympia once in 2008.

He was active as a professional bodybuilder from 1999 to 2020. He became known for his remarkable longevity in the sport.

10. Rich Gaspari: The Dragon Slayer

Career Highlight Stats

  • NPC Nationals winner

  • Mr Olympia runner-up 1986-1988

  • Inaugural Arnold Classic winner

Widely known as the "Dragon Slayer" because of his victory over the bodybuilding legend Lee Haney in the 1988 Mr Olympia competition, Rich Gaspari started lifting weights at the age of 14.

He began competing in bodybuilding contests in his late teens.

His first win came when he was 19 years old and he won his first contest, the Teenage Mr America. Then, he went on to win the NPC Nationals in 1984, earning him professional status in bodybuilding.

Rich’s professional career spanned from 1985 to 1996, during which he won numerous contests, including the Mr Olympia runner-up in 1986, 1987 and 1988.

He won the inaugural Arnold Classic in 1989 and the 1991 Arnold Classic.

Besides making a name for himself in the bodybuilding industry, Rich also dived into entrepreneurship, as he too started his own supplement company, Gaspari Nutrition, in 1998.

The company has since become a well-known and respected brand in the supplement industry.

The Top 10 Bodybuilders of All-Time

These 10 bodybuilders have left an indelible mark on the sport, inspiring generations of fitness enthusiasts with their dedication, determination and discipline.

Their incredible physiques result from years of hard work, discipline and sacrifice- and their legacies continue to live on.

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