Pretty much all the top bodybuilders have certain things in common. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about guys from the “golden era” like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno, ’80s greats like Lee Haney and Rich Gaspari, or current generation behemoths such as Ronnie Coleman and Jay Cutler. If someone has made it to the top of the bodybuilding game, chances are he (or she) possesses several of the following characteristics.
Most people outside the bodybuilding world don’t realize or appreciate the unbelievable discipline exercised by top bodybuilders. Be it with meal prep, refraining from a party lifestyle, going above and beyond to ensure proper rest, or dialing in near picture-perfect workouts, nobody ever built a bodybuilding competition winning physique without high levels of discipline.
As the old cliché goes, “Rome wasn’t built in day”, and nor were the physiques of top bodybuilders. While the discipline in #1 is important, it’s only going to work if its applied consistently for the long-term. Great physiques don’t take week or months to build – they take years.
Now not all top bodybuilders were known for being super strong. Franco Columbu and Ronnie Coleman were known for lifting bigger weight than say Frank Zane or Serge Nubret. But at some point, virtually all the top guys employed heavy weights to build their physique.
Different training styles were definitely popular in different eras, but every guy that ever made it to the top of the bodybuilding game found the methodology that worked for them. Arnold liked to work out six days per week, twice per day. Dorian Yates liked his own twist on low volume, one set to all-out failure training. Ronnie Coleman always based his bodybuilding efforts on his powerlifting background. The best in the game didn’t do “what worked” for the masses…they did what worked best for them.
Bodybuilding is not a sport for the shy and timid, and many of the top bodybuilders weren’t just great physically, they had big attitudes to match. Some were loud and brash, while others were quiet and confident, but they all have an attitude that almost created their own “persona”.
This is an off-shoot of #1, but you top bodybuilders don’t approach their training, diet, contest prep, or anything else with a haphazard attitude. Virtually everything is planned out months (sometimes years) in advance.
While maybe not a pretty virtue, fact of the matter is that when your body is your tool of success, income, business, and more, you have to be fairly selfish, putting virtually everything else behind that which leads you to getting a better physique. This could mean people, relationships, fun, other goals, and more. The greater the accomplishment you want to achieve, the more selfish you have to be.
A very evident example of this was a short clip in the 1997 documentary “Stand Tall”, which chronicled Lou Ferrigno’s preparation for the inaugural Master Mr. Olympia.
In a snippet of an interview with his wife Carla, whom Lou married after leaving bodybuilding for the acting world, she made the very poignant comment that she (paraphrased) “just hadn’t been ready for the level of selfishness” that went along with contest preparation.
There have been many top bodybuilders over the years that found great success working out either with other top bodybuilders or seeking out great coaches. This is because they know that having someone in their corner to push them, as well as bring fresh ideas to the mix can mean new gains. For example, Flex Wheeler had already been a successful pro bodybuilder, but most agree that his physique hit his all-time best when he started working with trainer Charles Glass.
Nobody ever became a top bodybuilder by thinking small. Ask anyone with aspirations of becoming a pro what they want, and they’ll usually tell you a variation of one of two things:
Success in bodybuilding takes too much effort, time, self-restriction, and more to go at it haphazardly. Guys that put that level of work ethic in, do so because their goals are that big, and that’s what it takes to achieve them.