The bodybuilder Franco Columbu

Standing 5’5″ tall and weighing between 185 and 200 kilos, the late Franco Columbu can lay declare to being one of many if not THE pound for pound the strongest Mr. Olympia winners ever.

The Sardinian Strongman was well-known all through his profession for unimaginable feats of power that had been far past what bodybuilders usually show. He was expert at powerlifting, tried his hand on the inaugural World’s Strongest Man (WSM) competitors, and beloved to indicate off with unusual feats starting from jacking up vehicles to blowing up sizzling water bottles to pressure his lung power.

Alongside along with his finest pal and coaching accomplice Arnold Schwarzenegger, Columbu dominated the bodybuilding scene within the late Nineteen Seventies and early Eighties and helped propel the game into the mainstream. However we wish to look past the reward and focus as an alternative on the brass tacks: How robust was Franco Columbu? Let’s have a look.

Credit score: @francocolumbu / Instagram

How did Franco Columbu practice?

One factor to notice about Columbu was its different sporting life. He began out as an newbie boxer in his native Sardinia, Italy, earlier than progressing to Olympic weightlifting, then powerlifting and eventually bodybuilding. With that got here quite a lot of coaching programs throughout his time, lots of which he pioneered alongside Schwarzenegger.

As a coaching duo, Columbu and Schwarzenegger regularly pushed one another and weren’t afraid to department out to discover a aggressive edge. Followers of the 1977 documentary Iron he’ll in all probability bear in mind an early shot displaying the 2 collaborating in a ballet class to enhance their pose. It is a small second, but it surely embodies Columbu’s well-rounded views on his efficiency: if there was a method to enhance his craft, it will profit him.

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Within the health club, Columbu’s work ethic was exhausting to beat. Time and time once more, he acknowledged that one of the best ways to coach was twice a day, six days every week. After Columbus’s dying in 2019, famous health author Marty Gallagher described Columbus’ coaching days as marathons, with 90-minute periods within the morning and three-hour bouts within the night.

As detailed within the Columbus ebook, Profitable bodybuildingThe again, abs and leg work was carried out on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, whereas the chest, arms, abs and shoulders had been carried out on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

A have a look at Franco Columbu’s coaching periods

To grasp how sprawling one among Franco’s exercises may be, try his chest and again session instance from his ebook Franco Columbus Full bodybuilding ebook:




  • Donkey calf breeding: 5×15
  • Calf increase: 4×15
  • Bent leg increase: 4 x 25
  • Mendacity facet bend: 4 x 25
  • Leg stretching: 4 x 25
  • Bent leg sit-up: 4 x 25

How robust was Franco Columbu?

Columbu skilled with depth and, as a result of his athletic background, was properly versed in quite a lot of coaching programs.

In his ebook Profitable weightlifting and powerlifting. Columbu claimed these had been his finest lifts in Olympic weightlifting:

*Observe: The army press was a staple of weightlifting conferences on the time.

It is price noting that health author Greg Merritt disputes these claims, rightly noting that no photographic proof exists and that, if true, this could have positioned Columbu as an Olympic gold medalist within the Nineteen Sixties.

One tantalizing piece of proof now we have comes once more from Gallagher’s Columbu obituary, which says the Sardinian might clear off 315 kilos utilizing the shallowest cut up. Whether or not he made it to 400 kilos, we do not know.

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Columbu additionally competed as a powerlifter at varied occasions throughout his friendship with Schwarzenegger within the Nineteen Sixties. Taking the stage as a middleweight in 1968, Merritt says Columbus’s best-verified lifts of the time had been:

  • Squats: 507 kilos
  • Bench: 408 kilos
  • Minimize: 595 kilos

The very first thing to notice right here is that quite a lot of confusion surrounds the Columbus max bench in subsequent years.

One in every of Columbus’s books exhibits a photograph of him setting a so-called “world report” in bench press with 525 kilos. Merritt disputes this once more, writing that the scene was merely posed for a photograph shoot. On the 1977 World’s Strongest Man competitors, Columbu claimed on the air that his profession finest bench was 475 kilos.

Subsequent comes the deadlift, which was arguably Columbus’ most spectacular carry. In an interview with Muscle growthColumbu claimed a career-best deadlift of 750 kilos, however, as Merritt factors out, he additionally claimed it was 735 kilos on the 1977 WSM present. There’s a video on YouTube displaying Columbu allegedly deadlifting 700 kilos for reps in 1972, however there is no such thing as a concrete proof of weight or 12 months aside from the title of the video.

It is also exhausting to search out agency proof of Columbu’s most squat, although he as soon as claimed to have surpassed 655 kilos. Extra concretely, Schwarzenegger famous in his memoir that Columbu was the stronger squatter of the 2, writing that Columbu might do 500 kilos for 10 reps whereas he might solely hit six.

Lastly, we flip to the 1977 WSM. Though a freak leg break whereas carrying the cooler lower brief Columbu’s contest, he nonetheless managed to showcase his super power. Throughout the present, he completed second in a barrel press with a 200-pound carry. He equally completed second or third within the bar bend contest, wrist roll contest, automotive deadlift, and tire throw.

Horrific damage apart, the true story of the competition is {that a} bodybuilder, who was a lot lighter than the opposite contestants, was holding his personal towards among the strongest males on the planet. The one different bodybuilder on the present, Lou Ferrigno, beat Columbu in each peak and weight by a substantial quantity.

Evaluating Columbu to different legends

As all the time, it is very important level out that Columbus’s weight was usually between 185 and 195 kilos, and all of those feats talked about, official or unofficial, have to be put in context with regards to his weight.

Take, for instance, Columbus’ deadlifting capability. Even when one chooses to disregard his claimed 750lb max and as an alternative go along with his 735lb max, it is nonetheless an unimaginable carry, particularly when in comparison with different heavier bodybuilders.

There are few bodybuilder deadlifts extra well-known than Ronnie Coleman’s unimaginable two reps at 800 kilos carried out simply 5 and a half weeks wanting a Mr. Olympia. Columbus’s deadlift wasn’t far off regardless of him weighing 100 kilos lower than Coleman. One other 2000s powerhouse, Jay Cutler, lifted 585 kilos for 3 reps, which underscores how spectacular Columbu was.

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Staying with Coleman, he squatted 800 kilos for 2 reps in a squat swimsuit and knee pads. Clearly, Columbu paled compared to this, however he pulled off some fairly spectacular marks with out the identical paraphernalia that ‘The King’ had. Current Mr. Olympia champion Mamdouh “Huge Ramy” Elssbiay has a squatting report of 495lbs for 12 to fifteen reps at a a lot increased body weight than Franco, so he suits properly on the Ramy-Ronnie spectrum .

On the bench, Coleman hit 495 kilos for 5 reps, once more whereas coaching for Mr. Olympia. Cutlers’ finest benching report was 550 kilos for 2 reps, whereas Schwarzenegger claimed a 525-pound bench press. All of those males weighed extra considerably, in some circumstances, than Columbu.

For powerlifting followers, Columbu would compete within the 90kg (198lbs) class at his prime. His claimed profession bests (525 kilos on the bench, 750 within the deadlift, and 655 within the squat) complete 1,930 kilos, which, taking a physique weight of 185-189 kilos, nets him an extremely excessive mark, north of 580 on each dynamic objectives Staff Scoring System (DOTS) and Wilks system.

For the uninitiated, these programs examine power throughout powerlifting weight courses and genders. It permits us to match a 162-pound lifter to its 200-pound counterpart. A few of the prime male powerlifters for the time being surpass 600 in DOTS, which underscores Columbus’ superior power.


In a sport stuffed with bodily phenomena, Franco Columbu has excelled in a league of his personal. Shorter and smaller than lots of his rivals, he boasted a degree of power that is still spectacular to at the present time.

Bodybuilding has but to see one other particular person who possesses the identical power and extra importantly, the identical versatility. Columbu was a strongman of boxing, powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting and bodybuilding. He does not get extra spectacular than that.

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Featured Picture: @francocolumbu on Instagram