Whether you’re a bodybuilding beginner or you’ve been lifting for years, the motivation to work out doesn’t come any bigger or better than professional bodybuilders.
With unprecedented combinations of leanness and muscular definition, the ground-breaking physiques of bodybuilders show us what we are all capable of. And, although genetics certainly play a role, you don’t get your International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB) card without a lot of hard work.
But, everyone has a different opinion on who they class as the best bodybuilder of all time. While some male bodybuilders have won countless titles, others go unrecognized for near-perfect muscular form and definition.
Read on to find out who we believe to be the top 10 bodybuilding greats:
1. Flex Wheeler
Kenneth ‘Flex’ Wheeler, also known as the ‘Sultan of Symmetry’ racked up an impressive 17 professional titles throughout his career. Yet, in one of the biggest snubs of all time, he never managed to take the Mr. Olympia crown – the most coveted title in bodybuilding.
But, for knowledgeable fans, Flex s the best bodybuilder of all time. He won the Arnold Classic a record four times. And in 1997, he achieved the coveted ‘triple crown’ by winning the Ironman, the Arnold Classic and the San Jose Classic.
And top bodybuilders Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronnie Coleman agree, both describing Wheeler as the greatest ever.
In terms of Flex’s flawless competing physique, it was everything bodybuilding represents, with a perfect combination of size, muscular definition, proportion, and symmetry. In a line-up of all the pro bodybuilders across the eras, we’re confident Flex would take the title of the greatest body.
2. Ronnie Coleman
Ronnie Coleman set a new standard of bodybuilding with a contest weight of around 300 pounds – something few bodybuilders achieve.
Winning a staggering 26 titles throughout his career, including eight Mr. Olympias, Coleman is also considered one of the strongest bodybuilders ever, as demonstrated in his grueling training videos.
At the beginning of his career, Coleman’s physique had it all, including mass and detail, especially on his back. The size of the muscle and symmetry he displayed on his back is still unparalleled today.
But, Ronnie just misses out on the top spot because of the lack of definition his midsection displayed towards the end of his reign.
3. Frank Zane
At the other end of the scale, we have Frank Zane, whose lean yet highly defined 190-frame inspired the bodybuilding term ‘Zane-like’, synonymous with leanness.
In fact, most gym-goers would choose Zane’s body as the kind of body they’d love to show off in a muscle shirt. And with good reason. Zane had such an amazing physique that he was able to beat Arnold Schwarzenegger to the 1968 IFBB Mr. Universe title, despite weighing 60 pounds less.
Rather than relying on mass, Zane concentrated on defined lines and precise attention to detail with a sculpted body that few are able to pull off. And thanks to his efforts he won three straight Mr. Olympia titles.
4. Dorian Yates
The six-time Mr. Olympia is arguably one of the best bodybuilders of all time for many fans.
Beyond his achievements and some of the most granite-hard conditioning in bodybuilding, Yates’ work ethic makes him an icon for many fans. With a machine-like focus to training, Yates dedicated himself to working out 365 days a year, with intense and brutal routines.
And, many say it’s thanks to this dedication that he was able to compete and win, in a golden era of more genetically-blessed competitors, such as Ronnie Coleman and Paul Dillet.
5. Lee Haney
Lee Haney is the only bodybuilder to ever win Mr. Olympia and never lose his title. Retiring after a record eight consecutive wins, some say Haney bowed out of bodybuilding as he knew he was about to lose to Dorian Yates.
Haney was the first bodybuilder to offer both size and conditioning. With his 250-pound frame, Haney was bigger than all of his competitors. And yet, he displayed razor-sharp definition and incredible eight-pack abs every time.
Despite his competitive record and his ground-breaking combination of muscularity and mass, Haney rarely gets the recognition he deserves. But, many bodybuilders have since tried and failed to come anywhere near his size and definition.
6. Arnold Schwarzenegger
He would undoubtedly top the list of the most famous bodybuilders of all time. But, in terms of physicality, Schwarzenegger wouldn’t be able to compete with today’s standards. In fact, most bodybuilders since the early 1990s show better conditioning and mass than Schwarzenegger displayed when competing.
That said, the Austrian-born bodybuilder, actor, and politician has a very impressive record. Schwarzenegger was the youngest Mr. Universe at just 20 years old. And, he won countless titles over the years, including a further four Mr. Universe titles and seven Mr. Olympia titles.
7. Dexter Jackson
Nicknamed ‘The Blade’ for his razor-sharp cuts and precise conditioning, Dexter Jackson is famed for the deepest set of abs in bodybuilding.
As well as holding a record-setting 28 IFBB professional bodybuilding titles, Jackson has won the Arnold Classic five times – more than any other bodybuilder.
He’s also competed in 19 Mr. Olympia contests. And, after finishing in the top four for several years, Jackson finally tasted victory when he won the contest in 2008.
8. Phil Heath
After discovering bodybuilding in 2002, Phil Heath made his pro debut in 2006.
Since then he secured seven straight Mr. Olympia wins from 2011 to 2017 until he was dethroned by Shawn Rhoden this year.
Nicknamed ‘The Gift’, Heath has a near-perfect structure, featuring a tiny waist, huge delts, and chiseled abs. While some dismiss his form as being ‘too narrow’, others consider his physique to be one of the best in the world of bodybuilding.
9. Kevin Levrone
Considered by many as the most underrated bodybuilder of all time, Kevin Levrone consistently impressed fans with his incredible arms and delts, along with a chiseled midsection.
Although he’s won over 23 pro show titles, he’s never garnered the coveted Mr. Olympia title. But, the ‘Uncrowned King of Mr. Olympia’ decided to take another shot at the title in 2016 when he made his comeback at the age of 51. Despite placing 16th, fans and athletes alike agreed he was the true champion of the competition.
10. Shawn Ray
Known as ‘Mr. Symmetry’, Shawn Ray’s body defines balance and proportion and is considered one of the most inspiration physiques of bodybuilding.
With his artistic muscular display and impressive proportions, it’s surprising that he was never crowned Mr. Olympia, although he has finished in the top five on numerous occasions.
The Best Male Bodybuilders of All Time
For fans and fellow athletes alike, it’s inspiring to see how hard these male bodybuilders have pushed themselves to achieve greatness.
And, with the right attitude, you too can follow their lead – but just make sure you wear the best clothes to ensure you look great while you’re doing it!