Franco Columbu Workout

The Mr. Olympian Franco Columbu Workout

Franco Columbu is an Italian actor, former champion bodybuilder and World’s strongest man competitor.

Starting out his athletic career as a boxer, Columbu progressed into the sport of Olympic Weightlifting, powerlifting and later bodybuilding, winning the title of Mr. Olympian in 1976 and 1981.

Franco Columbo Bio

At 5 feet 5 inches (1.65 m) in height (some magazines reported as short as 5 feet 3 inches (1.60 m), Columbu is shorter than most of his bodybuilding competitors, but that did not prevent him from achieving widespread success.

In 1977, Columbu competed in the first World’s Strongest Man competition and was in first place in total points during the competition; a remarkable outing, considering that Franco weighed much less than all his competitors.Then came the refrigerator race, which called for a downhill race in which a heavy, bulky, unwieldy refrigerator is strapped to the racer’s back. While ahead, Franco stumbled, and was shown on national television collapsing with a grotesquely dislocated leg. This ended his participation in the World’s Strongest Man contest (in the end, he finished in fifth place). After a court settlement, he received a reported $1 million in compensation for his injury. It took six hours of surgery to remove all the muscle and fix his leg. Doctors told him he would never walk again, but Columbu fully recovered in three years. After Arnold Schwarzenegger’s comeback victory in the 1980 Mr. Olympia, Franco followed suit and won the 1981 Mr. Olympia.

Columbu is a long time friend of Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom he met in Munich in 1965 and against whom he competed in several international-level bodybuilding competitions. For the Mr. Olympia competitions however, he competed in the under 200 lb (90.7 kg) category, whereas Schwarzenegger was in the over 200 lb category. The final champion was determined by a pose down between the two class winners. The IFBB has since abandoned weight classes. Arnold and Franco were inseparable during the early to mid-1970s and were training partners. Columbu served as the best man at the wedding of Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver in 1986. Columbu and Schwarzenegger had been encouraged to come to America by bodybuilding guru Joe Weider in 1969; Weider sponsored them with an $80/week stipend and the two European bodybuilders began a bricklaying and patio business called European Brick Works in 1969, according to a report in The New York Times.

From the time he arrived in America in 1969, Franco Columbu was considered one of the world’s strongest men. He held a number of powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting world records. He also performed a strongman act in which he routinely blew up a hot water bottle by inflating it orally, lifted vehicles on stage (while someone else was changing a tire) and deadlifted over 700 lbs for repetitions. He designed a comprehensive workout for men in 1988 to flatten the stomach, narrow the waist, and eliminate love handles. He is both a chiropractor and a weightlifter and his career parallels that of American weightlifting champion Karyn Marshall, who has used chiropractic therapy to train for competitions and who became a chiropractor herself.

“Train each bodypart twice a week, as hard and relentless as possible each time. Every second week, I’d deadlift after my leg routine. My deadlift workout was 300 for five reps, 400 for five reps, 500 for five reps, 600 for two or three reps, 650 for one rep and 700 for one rep.”

Franco Columbu’s 14-day Training Split


1 Chest, shoulders Arms
2 Back Legs
3 Chest, shoulders
4 Arms
5 Legs Back
6 Chest, shoulders
7 Rest
8 Arms Legs
9 Back
10 Chest, shoulders Arms
11 Back Legs
12 Chest, shoulders
13 Arms
14 Rest

NOTE: Columbu trained abs in the morning on days 3, 5, 6, 9, 11 and 12, and in the afternoon on day 1.

Here is Franco Columbu’s workout leading up to his 1981 Mr. Olympia WIN:

Barbell bench presses 3 * 15, 10, 4
superset with Cable crossovers 3 * 20
Flat-bench dumbbell flyes 3 * 20, 15, 6
superset with Cable crossovers 3 * 20
Barbell incline presses 3 [dagger] 15
Barbell pullovers 3 [dagger] 15
Parallel-bar dips 3 [dagger] To failure
Cable crossovers 3 [dagger] 25

* For the first two supersets, Columbu pyramided up in weight (and down
in reps) for bench presses and flyes, but he kept the weight the same
for cable crossovers.

Standing dumbbell lateral raises 4 10
Bent lateral raises 6 10
Behind-the-neck presses 4 10
Alternating dumbbell front raises 3 8
Cable lateral raises 3 10

Wide-grip pullups 6 10-15
T-bar rows 4 10
Seated cable rows 4 10
One-arm dumbbell rows 3 10
superset with Hammer-grip pullups * 3 10

* Use a parallel-grip cable attachment hanging from a pullup bar.

Cable pushdowns 4 8
superset with Standing dumbbell curls 4 8
Lying barbell triceps extensions 4 8
superset with Barbell preacher curls 4 8
Seated barbell extensions 4 8
superset with Dumbbell incline curls 4 8

Barbell squats 7 20, 15, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2
Leg presses 4 50, 25, 15, 8
Leg extensions 6-7 20
Barbell lunges * 2-3 12-15
Deadlifts [dagger] 6 5, 5, 5, 3, 1, 1

* Performed every other workout precontest