Frank Zane’s Workout Routine – How He Achieved A Top Tier Aesthetic Physique

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One look at Frank Zane is all it takes for you to be like “wow, that’s my dream body”. 


I mean come on… just look at the guy in his prime: shredded and aesthetic.

frank zane in his prime

When you think of the most aesthetic bodybuilders ever, a few guys come to mind. There is no doubt however, that Frank Zane has one of the most aesthetic physiques. 


Raised in a small coal mining town in Pennsylvania, Frank got involved in fitness at a young age. After finding a bodybuilding magazine in the trash, he decided to pursue the sport at the age of 14. 


Such as a decision ended up working out great for Frank Zane. Before long, he would win Mr. America, Mr. Universe, Mr. World, and 3 Mr. Olympia titles. 


Frank Zane is often regarded as one of the best golden era bodybuilders. His focus on proportion and symmetry set him above the rest. Throughout the rest of this article I will be explaining how he achieved such greatness.  

Frank Zane Workout Routine - He Trained With a Push, Pull, Legs Program

Not surprising at all, to me, is the fact that Frank Zane trained with a push, pull, legs program. He mentions this on his official website , and he even provides the exercises and repetitions to perform. Frank mentions that he often did one “powerlifting type movement” at the beginning of each training day. Wide-grip deadlifts, for example, were one of his favorites and are a great example of a powerlifting type movement.  

It should be no shock to you that all of Frank’s workouts started with some sort of compound movement. Compound movements (think Squat, Bench, Deadlift) are often highly regarded because they work several muscle groups at the same time. For this reason, compound movements are most commonly used to test overall strength, and they are crucial for muscular development. 


Now, I’m not going to cover each and every one of the exercises Frank Zane did. You can get all of that on his website which I linked to above. I WILL stress however, that Frank followed all of compound movements with accessory lifts in a hypertrophy rep range.


The hypertrophy rep range implies completing an exercise with a challenging weight for 8-12 repetitions. Frank loved working in this range, but more importantly he liked to incorporate drop sets in his training. 


Drop Sets: After Each Set You Lower Repetitions and Increase Weight

You can perform drop sets however you would like to do them, but I recommend staying within the hypertrophy range and completing 3 sets of 12, 10, and 8 repetitions. You want to go up in weight after each set, this ensures that you’re getting some sort of progressive overload. 


Frank Zane is also a fan of the 12,10,8 drop set but mentions some weird drop set variations on his website like the 15,12,11,10,9,8 drop set. 


Interestingly enough, it seems like Zane’s Growth Program hit every muscle group except for hamstrings and glutes. I would not recommend this in today’s world because you are creating imbalances in your posterior chain.


Despite the lack of hamstring and glute training, Frank Zane undoubtedly had one of the most aesthetic physiques ever. I am now going to describe how you can achieve such a physique, mostly by emphasizing V Taper and lower chest/serratus training. 


Lower Chest Exercises and Why Training the Lower Chest is Key for Aesthetics

When looking at Zane’s upper body, there is something in particular that stands out about him. It’s not that his shoulders are massive, or that he has mountainous traps, but rather it’s the way that his chest looks. 


One thing that I have noticed about bodybuilders in recent years is that their chests are so top heavy that they almost appear to be saggy. A top heavy chest creates an unaesthetic look.

Frank Zane, on the other hand, has one of the best chests in the game. Frank emphasized lower chest exercises, particularly ones that targeted the serratus. The serratus is the muscle that gives you that “ripped” look, it’s located right under your pectorals. If you’re sitting at a low body fat percentage, the serratus will be very apparent and will likely draw you some attention. 


You can target the serratus by focusing on exercises where you are pushing away from your body. Hammer Strength makes a good decline bench machine that does a great job of hitting your lower pecs and your serratus. 

hammer strength decline press
An example of the hammer strength decline press machine I'm referring to.

Exercises That Target the Serratus

  • Barbell Bench Press – Performing the barbell bench press consistently will get you the most chest development, but it is also crucial for developing your serratus as you are pushing away from your body.

  • Any Sort of Machine Chest Press- Same as above, self explanatory.

  • Resistance Band Chest Press- Can be performed either sitting or standing. If standing, keep your feet squared off while standing straight up. Keep the resistance bands taught while you proceed to press your arms in front of you. 

  • Planted Medicine Ball Press- This one helps to have a partner. Get a relatively heavy medicine ball and hold it with both hands at chest height. Without moving any other body part, push the medicine ball as far as you can. 


Although Frank Zane had a phenomenal chest, what really set him apart was his small waist and v taper. Waist size and the bone structure of your hips has a large genetic influence, but there are things you can do to achieve a smaller waist bodybuilding. 

How to Get a Smaller Waist - Achieving an Aesthetic Physique

Before you question how to get a smaller waist, you should at least be relatively lean. If you’re over 15% bodyfat, you may want to cut and see how small your waist truly is. However, if you’ve been bodybuilding for a while now, and know that you don’t have the smallest waist, then this is perfect for you. 


You might notice that a lot of the Frank Zane workout routines you see on the internet are contingent upon lower ab training. It’s true: a lot of people have under developed lower abs, but this is not the only contributing factor to a v taper. 


Creating that tapered look where everything looks sucked in is achieved by training the transverse abdominis. While not talked about often, the transverse abdominis is the muscle that lies underneath your rectus abdominis. This muscle is responsible for keeping your abdomen locked in and tight, it activates nearly every time you move. 


In my opinion, the best way to train the transverse abdominis is by doing stomach vacuums on a daily basis. Stomach vacuums will literally make the waist appear smaller with consistency; this is a statement that many professional bodybuilders, and even I can attest to. 


Below is a great video demonstrating how to do a correct stomach vacuum. Basically, you want to exhale all the air from your body before sucking everything in. Stomach vacuums may prove to be difficult at first, but with time you’ll get a deeper and tighter squeeze. 

Complete V Taper Workout Inspired by Frank Zane: A List of Exercises to Target the Transverse Abdominis and Lower abs.

Hanging Leg Raises – 3 sets of 12 – If your grip is strong enough, hanging leg raises are one of the best lower ab exercises. Try to swing as little as possible and make sure that you are getting your pelvis pointed to the wall behind you. 


Stomach Vacuums – 3 sets of 15 second holds – Just remember to exhale as much as possible before sucking everything in. 


Med Ball Russian Twists – 3 sets for 45 seconds – Use a light med ball and perform Russian twists to hit your external obliques. 


Decline Sit Ups – 3 sets until failure- I am sure you’ve seen a decline sit up machine before. I personally think they are great if you are getting a full extension. Keep your core tight as you extend all the way back on to the bench. Upon crunching you should feel both your upper and lower abs being squeezed. 


Perform this v taper workout after every training session and you will definitely see results after a few months. 


Keep In Mind That a Bigger Back And Wider Shoulders Create The Illusion of a V Taper

Yes, training your abs is crucial for getting that v taper women love. Equally important is training your back and shoulders hard to get that wide look. Frank Zane trained his upper body with great intensity, so it is not surprising that his taper looked the way it did. 


If you are still relatively new to lifting, give yourself some time for your muscles to truly develop. After a couple years of training, assuming you don’t put on a lot of fat, your waist should look smaller due to your developed back and shoulders. 


Perhaps you’ve done everything you can do and you’re still questioning how to get a smaller waist. Unfortunately, waist size has a lot to do with genetics, and your hip bone structure even more so. Performing stomach vacuums daily is proven to shrink your waist by as much as an inch, but this requires consistency. 

Updated Workout Routine

In an interview with Lee Labrada from Labrada Nutrition, Frank Zane describes his workout routine as full proof. He talks about alternating his training days between legs and upper body when he was 18 years old. During this time, Frank trained six days each week with a focus on bodily proportion. 


For a while, Frank notes that he performed each exercise for four sets of 10. After some time, a person at his gym recommended going heavier with each set while decreasing the number of reps. This is what would change Frank Zane’s workout routine for the rest of his life. 


It was a combination of these drop sets, compound exercises, and bodyweight training that yielded such an aesthetic physique. Frank talks about barbell squats as being his most effective exercises for putting on mass. He mentions that he weighed around 200 pounds right before moving to Florida, and he contributes a lot of this weight to squats. 


Essentially, if you want a routine like Frank’s, you’re going to have to implement drop sets and heavy compound movements. It also helps to belong to a reputable gym where you can focus and train hard. 


The push, pull, legs approach in bodybuilding has proven to create a symmetrical physique. Incorporating a PPL routine with an ab workout that focuses on creating a v taper is the best thing you can do to achieve a physique like Zane’s. 


Like I mentioned previously in the article, emphasizing lower chest and serratus work will give you that ripped, aesthetic look when you are lean. 


The key components I focused on in this article were:


  1. Lower chest exercises to prevent a saggy looking chest

  2. Hitting the lower abs and transverse abdominis

  3. Incorporating drop sets that remain in the hypertrophy rep range. 

  4. Briefly describing Frank Zane and how he trained in his prime. 


Remember to train hard and be consistent; Rome was not built in a day!


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