Tracy Thompson
Published by Tracy Thompson
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED

For many bodybuilders and powerlifters, the former Mr. Olympia Franco Columbu is a huge inspiration because of his humble beginnings and diligent work ethic.

Sadly, he passed away in 2019 at the age of 78.

So to honor his career and contribution to bodybuilding, we thought it would be nice to pay tribute by telling people about his workout routine and what his diet looked like.

After all, being crowned Mr. Olympia in 1976 and 1981 is no mere trifle. He spent many years at his peak and it is this very routine that paved his way to fitness stardom.

The Franco Columbu Workout

francis columbu portrait mr olympia

Franco was often asked about his bulking workout routine, and he said he always broke it down into two weeks of maximum intensity.

Here’s what it looked like:

  • Day 1 - Morning: chest and shoulders;Afternoon: arms
  • Day 2 - Morning: back; Afternoon: legs and core
  • Day 3 – Morning: chest and shoulders
  • Day 4 – Morning: arms
  • Day 5 – Morning: back; Afternoon: legs and core
  • Day 6 – Morning: chest and shoulders
  • Day 7 – Rest and recovery
  • Day 8 – Morning: arms; Afternoon: legs
  • Day 9 – Morning: back
  • Day 10 Morning: chest and shoulders; Afternoon: arms
  • Day 11 Morning: back; Afternoon: legs and core
  • Day 12 – Morning: chest and shoulders
  • Day 13 – Morning: arms
  • Day 14 – Rest and recovery

Now let me show you a selection of workouts Franco Columbu would have included in each set. And keep in mind that his workouts were known to be 2 hours or longer.

When pumping iron, his approach was also to gradually overload his muscles with weight so that the last rep would push him to failure.

Remember to do these with a training partner like Franco did, as it enabled him to really push his body by training with Arnold Schwarzenegger

Chest And Shoulders

  • Bench press: 3 sets of 15, 10 and 4 reps
  • Dumbbell flyes: 3 sets of 20, 15 and 6 reps
  • Lateral raise: 4 sets of 10 reps
  • Alternating dumbbell front raise: 3 sets of 8 reps

Arms

  • Triceps pushdown: 4 sets of 8 reps
  • Seated French press: 4 sets of 8 reps

Back

  • Seated cable row: 4 sets of 10 reps
  • One arm dumbbell row: 3 sets of 10 reps

Legs

  • Squats: 7 sets of 20, 15, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 reps
  • Leg extensions 6 sets of 20 reps
  • Deadlift: 6 sets of 5, 5, 5, 3, 1, 1 reps

As I said, this is just a small selection of bench press and other workouts, but his idea was to push each muscle group to its limits every single time.

Reportedly, he also does cable crossovers, several sets of deadlift, barbell pullovers, and wide grip pull ups.

“Train each body part twice a week, as hard and relentless as possible each time.”

-Franco Columbu, Champion Powerlifter

 

Other Powerful Physiques:

Franco Columbu’s Muscle Building Diet

franco columbu's meal prep

I read Franco Columbu’s book Winning Bodybuilding a few years ago, and I pulled some useful info from it about his muscle building diet. It’s not what we would call ideal these days, but it gives an insight into the significance of a low-carb diet and portion control [1].

Breakfast

  • 3 eggs, often raw
  • 1 large portion of freshly picked fruit
  • A large glass of fresh OJ
  • Homemade raw milk yogurt with granola

Lunch

  • A large bowl of fresh salad with a simple oil and vinegar dressing
  • 1 large portion of fresh vegetables
  • 1 large portion of lean meat (fish, chicken, lamb, or liver)
  • Sometimes a glass of wine (yes, that’s right, wine!)

Snack

  • Medium size plate of fresh cheeses with local fruit

Dinner

  • Basically the same as his lunch

Snack

  • 1 portion of raw milk yogurt

Maximizing Recovery

franco columbu's rest and recovery

One thing that wasn’t all that common in the 70s and 80s is protein powder. Some did exist, but I’ve heard from older bodybuilders that they never really believed in them.

It seemed to be less manly.

However, Franco Columbu still managed to support his recovery through his diet.

Mainly because it was high in fat, moderate in protein, and low in carbs - and what he considered to be a moderate amount of protein would actually be pretty large for any normal athlete.

By using high-quality raw milk and cheese, he would likely have maximized his amino acid profile for muscle building and recovery [2].

I very much doubt this was an accident.

Can You Train Like Franco Columbu?

A lot of personal trainers and dietitians would shudder at the routine that Franco followed. But there seems to be something inside me that would like to challenge it.

The physical plan is probably not all that different from what we plan out for our bodybuilding clients.

But I would love to hear your opinions on Columbu’s legendary diet and if you could see yourself doing it.

Oh, and we certainly like the idea of an occasional glass of wine.

Other Celebrity physiques:

References:

  1. https://paleofoundation.com/low-carb-bodybuilding-experience/
  2. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-017-0184-9#:~:text=For%20synthesis%20of%20new%20muscle,three%20of%20the%20nine%20EAAs.

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