In both the 1974 and 1975 Mr. Olympia contests, four immortal chest masters Arnold Schwarzenegger, Franco Columbu, Serge Nubret and Lou Ferrigno–flexed on the same stage in what were arguably the most pectacular displays in bodybuilding history.
More than 30 years later, while assembling this list of the top 10 male chests of all time, it quickly became apparent that, more than any other bodypart, the standards for pectorals have changed the least over the past three decades.
Today’s typical Olympia competitors walk around on legs far superior to those of previous generations, but the top four finishers at the last Mr. O did not possess markedly better chests than the four legends listed above.
In fact, judging by pectoral size, proportion and details–with a few exceptions–today’s bodybuilding elite have lesser chests than the very best of the ’70s and ’80s. For that reason, only two current competitors made it to our top 10. Present professionals such as Johnnie Jackson and Branch Warren would have made a top 20, but so would lesser knowns from yesteryear such as Josef Grolmus and Tyrone Youngs.
So why were the top chests better in 1974 than in 2010?
In two words: free weights. Many current champs rely on machines for the bulk of their sets, but most of the pecs on our honor roll were built the old-fashioned way–with flat and incline barbell presses, dumbbell flyes and dips. Time has yet to improve on barbells, dumbbells and parallel bars for constructing a thick, powerful, finished chest.
10 Roy Callender
Underappreciated today, Callender won two IFBB pro contests in 1979 and placed fourth at the 1981 Mr. Olympia. His dense pectorals were slashed with fanlike clefts from his sternum to their rounded bottoms, and his keg-sized rib cage added to his nearly unbeatable side chest pose. Callender trained with very high volume, sometimes doing more than 50 sets per workout for chest.
9 Serge Nubret
From the front, Serge Nubret had one of the most aesthetically pleasing physiques ever, and his chest was a key factor in this assessment. The man who finished second in the 1973 Mr. Olympia lacked the pec thickness of others in our top 10, and yet his perfectly sculpted chest seemed to have been meticulously carved from marble.
Nubret mostly credits the bench press for his pec development.
8 Franco Columbo
Although Columbu stands only 5’5″, his pecs were not only stupendously thick, but, unlike others of his stature, they were also large from top to bottom and side to side, and they could have looked at home on 6’5″ Lou Ferrigno. Their most unique quality was the unparalleled cleft that segregated the upper region from the rest, as if the upper pecs were separate muscles (they’re not).
The two-time Mr. O (1976, ’81) attributes most of his size to barbell presses (flat and incline) and dips.
7 Gary Strydom
Strydom’s pecs were far from the thickest on our list, but their lower and outer perimeters were boldly delineated, and they were perpetually striated. At his best in the late ’80s, his flexed chest resembled two mounds of perfectly aligned spaghetti.
He utilized moderate volume and repetitions, as well as both compound and isolation exercises.
6 Ronnie Coleman
Two big reasons why Coleman will be trying for Sandow number nine on September 30 are his left and right pectorals. Throughout his reign atop the bodybuilding world, few challengers have been able to hang when he puffs up his pecs during side shots or when he induces a flurry of ridges by crunching out most-musculars.
Coleman goes as heavy as possible for 10-12 reps per set, and he built his chest primarily with barbell and dumbbell presses.
5 Markus Ruhl
The antithesis to Nubret is Germany’s Ruhl, for there’s nothing artful about Ruhl’s physique. It’s scary big and never more so than when he’s crushing most-musculars and his pecs are redolent of planets colliding.
Ruhl, who has won two IFBB pro shows, relies primarily on machine presses in his current chest training.
4 Bertil Fox
Currently serving a life sentence in prison for double murder, Fox was once one of the world’s best bodybuilders, finishing fifth in the 1983 Mr. Olympia. His pectorals–perhaps the thickest ever–made one wonder if three sets of pecs were grafted, one on top of the other, onto the originals. Fox built them via high volume, heavy weights and basic movements.
3 Lee Haney
Haney and Coleman share the record of eight Mr. Olympia titles. During his Olympia reign (1984-91), few came close to matching the size, shape and striations of Haney’s chest, and he used his pecs in poses such as the most-muscular, front lat spread and even the front double biceps to distinguish himself from his smaller challengers. Heavy pyramided pressing movements were primarily responsible for his pec size.
2 Lou Ferrigno
With size as the number-one criterion, it’s probable that no one before or since could match the chest of the Incredibly Hulking star at his best. His squarish thick-as-pie pecs and deep broad rib cage helped propel Ferrigno to two Mr. Universe titles (1973-74) while in his early 20s, and they were still tough to top when he returned to the Olympia stage in his early 40s.
Ferrigno pyramided his presses and stressed his chest from a variety of angles.
1 Arnold Schwarzenegger
There are a multitude of ways to assess Schwarzenegger California governor, superstar actor, business magnate and seven-time Mr. O but in evaluating his chest in the first half of the ’70s, his pecs were thick, broad and proportionately developed from top to bottom.
He favored relatively high volume, low to moderate reps and free-weight basics.
Author: Greg Merritt from Flex Magazine