Thursday, September 21, 2017

Sergio Oliva, Part One - Norman Zale (1975)







Liam, gracious gentleman and Iron Brother that he is, has provided SO MANY great things lately to put on this blog that I'm going to forego Mr. Zale's intro to Oliva and head straight to the heart of this article. I really want to get to a lot of the others. Thanks Liam!


Sergio Oliva - A Legendary Superman
by Norman Zale (1975) 

Article Courtesy of Liam Tweed

Previous to coming to the U.S., Sergio had been a member of the Cuban National Weightlifting team. His training in those days was much more strenuous than that of other members of the team. Like other Olympic lifters, the three Olympic lifts plus squats and pulls were practiced three days a week in sets of one to five reps, but because he was also interested in bodybuilding Sergio would perform the usual bodybuilding exercises in sets of 15 to 20 reps on his "off" days.

Upon arriving in Chicago after seeking political asylum in the U.S., he came to know Bob Gajda at the Division St. YMCA. When Bob got transferred two miles away to the Duncan YMCA, it was only natural that Sergio would switch his training headquarters to Duncan.

It was here that Gajda transformed a whole YMCA into a weight training club. With his wit and charm he was able to induce the YMCA officials to enlarge Duncan's weight training facilities to the largest in the world. The bodybuilding area at Duncan measures 50' x 90' and is loaded with all numerous Olympic sets, heavy duty equipment, two platforms, power racks, etc. With tons of equipment and publicity, many national lifting and physique champs such as Russ Knipp, Mike Huszka, Alan Ball, Phil Grippaldi, Joe Puleo, Larry Scott, Chuck Sipes, John Tristam, and Hank Zarco began to train at and put on exhibitionsa at the Duncan YMCA.

Surrounded by all this talent, Sergio trained harder than ever. He was bitten by the bodybuilding bug and though challenged many times to train with the lifters he never accepted, but worked twice as hard with his bodybuilding routines, seeming to forget that he was once an Olympic lifter of international caliber.

Though Gajda and Oliva were the best of friends, Sergio could not be induced to follow Bob's example for long and train according to the PHA (peripheral heart action) or sequence-circuit style of training. Oliva preferred training in the conventional pump system and usually included many supersets.

It was after Sergio won the 1966 Mr. America contest (Gajda placed first, Oliva received second place and the Most Muscular award) that he decided to greatly intensify his training. We couldn't bring you all the exercises and routines used by Oliva, as he has in his long lifting life used most of the known exercises in various routines.

On Monday and Thursday Oliva trains chest, back, shoulders, and calves. He begins his chest work with bench presses, 135 lbs. on the bar, and he goes at the iron like a hungry vulture after meat. He pumps out 50 fast reps, never fully locking out his arms, except on the 25th and 40th rep. After this first grueling warmup set he hops up to the dipping bars and, using bodyweight only, pumps out 20 fast dips, going deep and low but again not locking out the arms at the completion of each rep. Now he is in his element, it's him against the iron. He performs six more sets of benches, adding weight for each set and cutting back on the reps until he is in the area of 6 reps with 325, pausing only long enough to do another set of 20 dips and add more weight to the bar.

When he reaches his goal for this day the procedure is reversed. The weight of the bar is decreased and the reps are increased, but on the way down he does dips with a heavy dumbbell strapped around his waist for sets of 10. The man with the gigantic chest completes 12 sets of bench presses, 7 on the way up and 5 on the way down, and an equal number of sets of dips. He will vary the amount of reps and weight used from workout to workout, but always does about 12 sets and works up to and beyond 300 lbs. in strict, fast reps.

Next for chest is bent arm laterals. Sergio grabs a pair of moderately heavy bells and lies back on a flat bench, positioning himself so that his hips and legs arch down below the level of the bench with his chest stretched to the utmost. The first set is done for 25 reps with four more sets of 15 to follow with heavier dumbbells. Each rep is performed with a wide fling of the arms so that the pecs are stretched maximally. At the completion of each rep the bells are touched over the chest so that the inner pecs receive full stimulation. Between sets of flyes, Oliva performs sets of 15 reps of wide grip chins behind the neck, using bodyweight only and never completely stretching out his arms at the bottom of each chin.

At this point Sergio begins loading plates on one end of a bar which has a hinge attached to the floor at the other end. Bending over from the waist he takes a wide grip on the crossbar and slowly pulls the bar to his chest, lowering it moderately slowly and spreading his lats with each rep. The procedure is completed 15 reps for a warmup. He then goes to the lat machine, kneels down on the floor, sets the selector pin and with a wide grip pulls the bar down behind his neck for 15 reps. He adds weight to the pivot bar for another set of reps and immediately goes to the lat machine for another set of pulldowns. After his initial warmup sets are completed he proceeds to do 5 sets of 10-15 reps in each of these exercises.

Next, he goes to a decline bench and sets a 100 lb. dumbbell on the floor at the head end. Lying back on the bench, he grabs the inside, underside of the plates and performs 15 reps of pullovers with his elbows slightly unlocked. Four more sets of 15 reps are performed, and after each set of decline pullovers he does a set of V-handle pullups, arching well back, and pulling his chest up to the bar and stretching way down at the end of each rep. Sergio finishes his lat work by doing pulls to the chest on the lat machine, 5 sets of 10 reps. He attaches two handles to the lat machine cable, places one in each hand, kneels on the floor and proceeds to pull the handles from the overhead position straight down to his chest, spreading his broad lats with each of the 5 sets of 10 reps.

Now, with just shoulder work to do, he starts moving into the home stretch of today's workout. He places a pair of squat stands on either side of a flat bench and flips a 135 lb. loaded Olympic bar on them. Sitting down in front of the bar and using a slightly wider than shoulder width grip, he hoists the bar off the rack and pumps out 15 fast presses behind the neck, never quite extending his arms all the way or locking out the elbows. He adds 10 lbs. to the bar and does 10 reps, then continues adding an additional 5 or 10 lbs. to each of the next 8 sets, keeping the reps between 5 and 10, performing a total of 10 sets. He supersets the first 5 sets with alternate front lateral raises, 20 reps per set, and the last 5 sets with side lateral raises, also 20 reps a set. In each of these dumbbell lateral exercises the bells are only raised to parallel with the floor and the weights are kept light for a deep pumping effect.

10 sets of 20 reps of seated calf raises are done on a modified vertical leg press machine, supersetted with one legged calf raises while standing on a high block to finish off his Monday/Thursday workout.


Tuesdays and Friday workouts are not as long as the previous day's sessions. Legs, calves, and abdominals are on the schedule. He begins his leg work by doing 3 fast sets of 20 reps of leg extensions as a warmup. Squats will consume the major part of today's activity and as Sergio goes about the task of setting up the squat racks you can see that he is psyching himself up for another bone-crushing, teeth-straining session.

With 135 lbs. on the bar, he clasps it with hands wide apart, steps forward, tucks his head under the bar and lets it come to rest on his trapezius. He straightens up, takes two steps backward, plants his feet on the wooden gym floor and proceeds to pump out 50 fast reps. With his chest heaving like wheat in a shifting breeze [oh hell yeah, that's a nice one!], the big man replaces the bar on the racks and immediately walks to the leg curl machine. He sets the weight at the appropriate poundage and does 20 leg curls. Very shortly after, as soon as his breathing has returned to normal, 25-lb. plates are added to the bar and he does 25 reps, followed immediately by another set of leg curls, this doing only 15 reps with additional weight added. Back to the squat rack where the 25s are replaced by 45s, for 15 reps pumped out in non-stop non-lock fashion and then over to the leg curls for another set of 10 reps. And so it goes through another seven sets of squats, increasing the poundage with each set until 405 lbs. is on the bar and 10 back breaking, man-killing reps are completed. Between each set of squats 10 leg curls are done with increasing poundage. So, 20 sets total of squats and leg curls. [Are you longing to lift yet?]

Now Sergio moves to the leg press. 300 lbs. for 15 reps are pushed out smoothly and effortlessly and he rises, sets himself under the calf machine, points his toes slightly outward and does 20 heel raises, keeping the knees perfectly straight and stretching the heels to within inches inches off the floor with each downward thrust. Alternating between leg press and calf machine, he does a total of five sets each, adding weight for each set, working to 500 lbs. for 10 reps on the leg press and 315 for 20 on the calf work.

Oliva now sits down on the leg extension machine again, forces out 15 reps and then goes to the seated calf, and does 20 calf raises. Weight is added to the leg extensions and he does 10 more reps, and the calf machine, where he repeats for another 20 reps. The procedure continues until a total of five sets of each exercise are completed, 1 set of 15 and 4 sets of 10 on the leg extensions and a straight 20 reps on all the seated calf sets.

Blessed by Nature with extremely small hips and a waist which has no more fat on it than the amount of fat on the back of the average man's hand [don't you hate this guy!], Sergio still does sufficient waist work to keep his abdominals looking sharp, though not extremely well-defined until before a contest. His waist training usually consists of two exercises, situps and leg raises done on the abdominal board.

Setting the slant board at the desired height and holding his hands clasped behind his head, the big man with the tiny waist does 30 crunch situps, stopping on the way down before his back touches the board. He supersets these by turning around on the slant and doing 30 reps of leg raises, stopping on the way down before his legs touch the board. It's a tense, continuous situation for three to five supersets, depending on the available time, and the height of the board is adjusted according to his desires at the particular time.

I think it'd be a good idea to leave the arm sessions to a separate post here. And include all three workout examples in regular simplified format.

Next . . .     

  




  
















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