Greatest Bodybuilders of All Time
Bodybuilders do more than lift weights. They are athletes who turn muscles and physiques into works of art. The best ones go from competitors to icons.
The sport of bodybuilding goes back about a century and is rich with tradition, rivalries and dynasties. All this history turned a niche sport into a pop culture phenomenon thanks to some bigger-than-life characters.
These are the greatest bodybuilders of all time.
30. Chris Cormier
Born: Aug. 19, 1967 (Palm Springs, California)
Career highlights: Four-time Ironman Pro Invitational champion (1999-2002), two-time San Francisco Pro Invitational champion (2001, 2003), three-time Grand Prix Australia champion (2001-03)
Bottom line: Chris Cormier was a former high school wrestler who became one of the greatest bodybuilders in the world beginning in the early 1990s. But his career still remains a study in close-but-not-quite more than anything else.
Cormier never won a Mr. Olympia title. He finished in the top 10 at the event nine times from 1994 to 2004, with his best showings a pair of third-place finishes in 1999 and 2002.
29. Steve Reeves
Born: Jan, 21, 1926 (Glasgow, Montana)
Died: May 1, 2000 (age 74, Escondido, California)
Career highlights: Mr. America champion (1947), Mr. World champion (1948), Mr. Universe champion (1950)
Bottom line: Steve Reeves was the prototype for the bodybuilder making moves in Hollywood. He became the world's biggest box-office draw with the films "Hercules" and "Hercules Unchained" in the late 1950s.
Reeves, who won every major bodybuilding award in the years before Mr. Olympia was incorporated, ended up with 18 different starring film roles before retiring from acting and bodybuilding in the 1970s.
Reeves died of a blood clot following surgery in 2000.
28. Eddy Ellwood
Born: March 30, 1964 (Blackhall Colliery, England)
Career highlights: Five-time Mr. Universe champion (1997-2001), Mr. Britain champion (1989)
Bottom line: Even for a five-time Mr. Universe winner, Eddy Ellwood's accomplishments stretch beyond bodybuilding. He's also come out on top in some of the most competitive strongman competitions in the world.
Ellwood, who was named Mr. Britain in 1989, was named England's Strongest Man four times and competed in the World's Strongest Man competition in 2003.
27. Lee Labrada
Born: March 8, 1960 (Havana, Cuba)
Career highlights: Mr. Universe (1985)
Bottom line: Lee Labrada was inducted into the International Federation of BodyBuilding and Fitness (IFBB) Hall of Fame in 2004 on the strength of his consistent performance at Mr. Olympia, where he finished in the top four spots in seven consecutive years.
Labrada's greatest accomplishment on the bodybuilding circuit came in 1985, when he won Mr. Universe.
26. Bill Pearl
Born: Oct. 31, 1930 (Prineville, Oregon)
Career highlights: Mr. California (1953), AAU Mr. America (1953), NABBA Mr. Universe (1953), four-time Mr. Universe (1956, 1961, 1967, 1971)
Bottom line: Bill Pearl had a truly remarkable career as a bodybuilder in the pre-Mr. Olympia era. He won four Mr. Universe titles and did so in three different decades, winning his first in 1956 and his final title in 1971.
Pearl's career is interesting for a lot of reasons, but one particular twist of fate seems to always stand out. He edged a 23-year-old Sean Connery for the amateur Mr. Universe title in 1953.
25. Branch Warren
Born: Feb. 28, 1975 (Tyler, Texas)
Career highlights: Two-time Arnold Classic champion (2011, 2012), Europa Supershow champion (2005), New York Pro champion (2007), Australian Grand Prix champion (2012), Mr. Olympia runner-up (2009)
Bottom line: They don't make many bodybuilders like Branch Warren, who was raised on a cattle farm in Tyler, Texas, before becoming the Mr. Olympia runner-up in 2009.
Standing just 5-foot-6, Warren was a dynamo amongst his fellow competitors — a throwback in the mode of Franco Columbu in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Warren's best wins of his career came at the Arnold Classic, where won back-to-back championships in 2011 and 2012.
24. Kevin Levrone
Born: July 16, 1964 (Baltimore, Maryland)
Career highlights: Two-time Mr. Olympia runner-up (1992, 1995), two-time Arnold Classic champion (1994, 1996), two-time San Jose Pro Invitational champion (1994, 1996)
Bottom line: Despite having never won a Mr. Olympica competition, Kevin Levrone's 23 IFBB wins sit at No. 3 all time behind Ronnie Coleman and Dexter Jackson.
Levrone's greatest period of sustained success occurred in the 1990s, when he was a two-time Mr. Olympia runner-up and two-time Arnold Classic champion.
23. Rich Gaspari
Born: May 15, 1963 (New Brunswick, New Jersey)
Career highlights: Three-time Mr. Olympia runner-up (1986-88), two-time Grand Prix France winner (1987, 1988), World Pro Championships champion (1986), Los Angeles Pro Championships champion (1986), Arnold Classic champion (1989)
Bottom line: Rich Gaspari got as close to winning the Mr. Olympia title as anyone in history without actually grabbing the crown. He was a runner-up three consecutive years from 1986 to 1988 and finished in the top five three more years.
Gaspari, who lost to Lee Haney in all three of his Mr. Olympia runner-up finishes, has been recognized for his achievements in the sport in pretty grand fashion despite having never won the top spot.
He was inducted into the IFBB Hall of Fame in 2004, the Muscle Beach Hall of Fame in 2011 and given the Arnold Classic Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013.
22. Reg Park
Born: June 7, 1928 (West Yorkshire, England)
Died: Nov. 22, 2007 (age 79, Johannesburg, South Africa)
Career highlights: Three-time Mr. Universe champion (1951, 1958, 1965), Mr. Britain (1949)
Bottom line: The man who shaped Arnold Schwarzenegger's career more than any other bodybuilder was Reg Park, who was named Mr. Britain in 1949 before going on to win Mr. Universe three times, in 1951, 1958 and 1965.
Park, decades before Schwarzenegger, parlayed his bodybuilding success into a movie career when he starred in six different films in the "Hercules" series, including "Hercules in the Haunted World" alongside Christopher Lee in 1963.
21. Mamdouh Elssbiay
Born: Sept. 16, 1984 (Kafr El Sheikh, Egypt)
Career highlights: Mr. Olympia champion (2020), Mr. Olympia runner-up (2017), Arnold Classic Brazil champion (2015), Arnold Classic Europe champion (2017), IFBB Kuwait Pro champion (2016)
Bottom line: Egyptian bodybuilder Mamdouh Elssbiay is better known as "Big Ramy" in popular culture and won his first Mr. Olympia title in 2020 after finishing as Mr. Olympia runner-up in 2017.
Elssbiay's ascent in the sport of bodybuilding is remarkable. He worked his way up through the ranks of bodybuilding in the Middle East, including moving to Kuwait, where he earned his pro card while working as a fisherman in a part-time job.
20. Brandon Curry
Born: Oct. 19, 1982 (Nashville, Tennessee)
Career highlights: Mr. Olympia champion (2019), Mr. Olympia runner-up (2019), Arnold Classic champion (2019), Arnold Classic Brazil champion (2013), Arnold Classic Australia champion (2017), New Zealand Pro champion (2017)
Bottom line: Brandon Curry's backstory leading up to his Mr. Olympia win in 2019 is pretty cool. He got into bodybuilding originally when he was gifted with a pair of Hulk Hogan dumbbells when he was just 6 years old.
Curry, a Tennesse native, played football at Middle Tennessee State before he picked bodybuilding as his career path.
19. Samir Bannout
Born: Nov. 7, 1955 (Beirut, Lebanon)
Career highlights: Mr. Olympia champion (1983), two-time WABBA World Championship champion (1985, 1986), Pittsburgh Pro Invitational champion (1990)
Bottom line: Samir Bannout — better known as "The Lion of Lebanon" — was an outlier when he won the Mr. Olympia title in 1983, as only six individuals had ever won the title before him despite having been contested for almost 20 years.
Bannout, who was inducted into the IFBB Hall of Fame in 2002, is a rarity in that he's one of the few former bodybuilders who has been totally open and honest about his past use of anabolic steroids.
18. Lou Ferrigno
Born: Nov. 9, 1951 (Brooklyn, New York)
Career highlights: Two-time Mr. Universe champion (1973, 1974), Mr. International champion (1974), Mr. America champion (1974), Mr. Olympia runner-up (1974)
Bottom line: If you want to see someone mentally pulled apart within the bounds of competition, just watch what Arnold Schwarzenegger does to Lou Ferrigno in the documentary "Pumping Iron" — topped off by the most infamous breakfast of all time (starting at 6:52 in the video).
That takes away from what Ferrigno did in competitions. He was a two-time Mr. Universe, and he earned a reputation for always showing up to perform in amazing shape.
17. Danny Padilla
Born: April 3, 1951 (Rochester, New York)
Career highlights: Mr. USA champion (1975), Mr. America champion, short (1976), Mr. University runner-up, lightweight (1976), Mr. America champion (1977)
Bottom line: Danny Padilla was a remarkable bodybuilder. Standing just 5-foot-2, he was known as "The Giant Killer" and routinely took down larger bodybuilders in dramatic fashion.
Padilla's greatest victory came at the 1975 Mr. USA competition, where he became a surprise champion by defeating the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Franco Columbu and Robby Robinson.
Padilla was inducted into the IFBB Hall of Fame in 2009.
16. Chris Dickerson
Born: Aug. 25, 1939 (Montgomery, Alabama)
Career highlights: Mr. Olympia champion (1982), two-time Mr. Olympia runner-up (1980, 1981), two-time Grand Prix California champion (1980, 1981), two-time Grand Prix New York champion (1980, 1981)
Bottom line: Chris Dickerson was a trailblazer in the sport of bodybuilding. He was both the first Black winner of the Mr. America competition and was the first openly gay winner of the Mr. Olympia contest.
He's also one of just two bodybuilders who have won both the Mr. Olympia and the Masters Olympia competition.
Dickerson was inducted into the IFBB Hall of Fame in 2000.
15. Larry Scott
Born: Oct. 12, 1938 (Blackfoot, Idaho)
Died: March 8, 2014 (age 75, Salt Lake City, Utah)
Career highlights: Two-time Mr. Olympia (1965, 1966), two-time Mr. Universe (1963, 1964), Mr. Pacific Coast (1961), Mr. California (1960)
Bottom line: Idaho native Larry Scott won the first two Mr. Olympia titles in 1965 and 1966 and retired from competition for over a decade after his win in 1966.
Scott was one of the first bodybuilders to ever hit the mainstream and become a popular culture staple. "Larry Fever' hit the United States in the 1960s and even had a supporting role in the 1964 film "Muscle Beach Party" starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello.
14. Kai Greene
Born: July 12, 1975 (New York, New York)
Career highlights: Three-time Mr. Olympia runner-up (2012-14), three-time Arnold Classic champion (2009, 2010, 2016), two-time Australian Pro Grand Prix champion (2009, 2010)
Bottom line: If you're looking for the greatest bodybuilder to never win Mr. Olympia, it might be Kai Greene, who was the runner-up at three consecutive Mr. Olympia competitions from 2012 to 2014.
Greene, a Brooklyn native who was raised in New York's foster care system, was featured in the documentary "Generation Iron" and its two sequels, along with the podcast.
The best wins of his career came at the Arnold Classic, where he was a three-time champion.
13. Dexter Jackson
Born: Nov. 25, 1969 (Jacksonville, Florida)
Career highlights: Mr. Olympia champion (2008), Mr. Olympia runner-up (2015), five-time Arnold Classic champion (2005, 2006, 2008, 2013, 2015), Mr. Olympia Europe champion (2016), two-time Arnold Classic Europe champion (2015, 2016), Arnold Classic Australia champion (2015), Arnold Classic South Africa champion (2016)
Bottom line: Dexter "The Blade" Jackson has the record for most wins in IFBB competitions with 29, breaking the previous record set by fellow Mr. Olympia winner Ronnie Coleman.
Jackson was essentially the Tom Brady of bodybuilding. He didn't retire until 2020, when he was 49 years old.
12. Kenneth 'Flex' Wheeler
Born: Aug. 23, 1965 (Fresno, California)
Career highlights: Three-time Mr. Olympia runner-up (1993, 1998, 1999), four-time Arnold Classic champion (1993, 1997, 1998, 2000), five-time Ironman Pro Invitational champion (1993, 1995-98)
Bottom line: It's hard not to think of Kenneth "Flex" Wheeler as one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time despite having not won a Mr. Olympia title. He was a three-time Mr. Olympia runner-up, four-time Arnold Classic champion and won the Ironman Pro Invitational five times.
Wheeler's bona fides come from his competitors. Both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronnie Coleman have called Wheeler one of the greatest bodybuilders they've ever seen.
Also a martial arts expert, Coleman was forced to have his right leg amputated in 2019 because of circulatory issues.
11. Robby Robinson
Born: May 24, 1946 (Damascus, Georgia)
Career highlights: Mr. America champion (1975), Mr. World champion (1975), Mr. Universe champion (1976), Mr. International champion (1976), World Pro Championships champion (1989)
Bottom line: Robby Robinson saw his career stretch into his mid-50s. But he first made his mark on the industry in the 1970s and was one of the key players in the seminal sports documentary "Pumping Iron" alongside contemporaries like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu.
Robinson was a three-time Mr. Olympia Masters champion, winning the Over 50 competition twice, in 1997 and 2000.
10. Franco Columbu
Born: Aug. 7, 1941 (Sardinia, Italy)
Died: Aug. 30, 2019 (age 78, Sardinia, Italy)
Career highlights: Two-time Mr. Olympia champion (1976, 1981), two-time Mr. World champion (1970, 1971), Mr. Universe champion (1970)
Bottom line: Few wingmen in the history of sports have caught onto a shooting star and managed to cut out their own swatch in the fashion of Franco Columbu.
The Italian befriended Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1965 and formed a lifelong friendship — one that lasted to Columbu's death in 2019 following a heart attack while swimming off the coast of his native Sardinia.
Columbu may have been Arnold's right-hand man, but he was a champion in his own right. The former pro boxer won two Mr. Olympia titles, in 1976 and 1981, and was inducted into the IFBB Hall of Fame in 2001. He was also a licensed chiropractor.
9. Frank Zane
Born: June 28, 1942 (Kingston, Pennsylvania)
Career highlights: Three-time Mr. Olympia champion (1977-79), three-time Mr. Olympia runner-up (1974, 1976, 1982), three-time Mr. America champion (1966, 1967, 1968), two-time Mr. Universe champion (1970, 1972)
Bottom line: Few bodybuilders can claim to have changed the game as much as Frank Zane, a former high school teacher who won three consecutive Mr. Olympia titles from 1977 to 1979 with a focus on muscle symmetry instead of mass — a technique that had worked for few before him.
Zane is one of three men to have ever beaten Arnold Schwarzenegger in competition. The Pennsylvanian also was at the heart the controversial 1980 Mr. Olympia competition, when he suffered a poolside accident shortly before the 1980 contest, then lost 15 pounds of muscle and his title to Schwarzenegger in a comeback.
8. Sergio Oliva
Born: July 4, 1941 (Guantanamo, Cuba)
Died: Nov. 12, 2012 (age 71, Chicago, Illinois)
Career highlights: Three-time Mr. Olympia champion (1967-69), two-time Mr. Olympia runner-up (1970, 1972), three-time Mr. Olympus champion (1975, 1976, 1978), Mr. Universe champion (1967), two-time Mr. Galaxy champion (1972, 1973), two-time Pro World Championships champion (1977, 1980)
Bottom line: Sergio "The Myth" Oliva was just 16 years old when he fought on the losing side of the Cuban War, then turned to bodybuilding and became a star in Cuba over the ensuing years.
While competing for Cuba in the 1962 Central American and Caribbean Games in Kingston, Jamaica, Oliva snuck past the guards outside of his room and sprinted to the American Embassy, where he was granted political asylum.
Five years later, he won the first of three consecutive Mr. Olympia titles.
7. Jay Cutler
Born: Aug. 3, 1972 (Sterling, Massachusetts)
Career highlights: Four-time Mr. Olympia champion (2006, 2007, 2009, 2010), three-time Arnold Classic champion (2002-04), Ironman Pro Invitational champion (2003)
Bottom line: Jay Cutler started throwing around weights at a young age. By the time he was 11 years old, he was already working for his older brother's concrete construction business.
Cutler dedicated himself to bodybuilding at 18 years old and became a study in determination when he hit the big-time. Cutler finished as Mr. Olympia runner-up four times, all to Ronnie Coleman, before he won his first Mr. Olympia title in 2006.
Cutler routinely competed at 5-foot-10 and between 260-290 pounds, so as far as pure muscle mass, it would be hard to find many who could hold a candle to him.
6. Dorian Yates
Born: April 19, 1962 (South West Midlands, England)
Career highlights: Six-time Mr. Olympia champion (1992-97), four-time English Grand Prix champion (1991, 1992, 1994, 1996), two-time Night of Champions champion (1990, 1991), two-time Spanish Grand Prix champion (1994, 1996), two-time German Grand Prix champion (1994, 1996)
Bottom line: Englishman Dorian Yates followed in the footsteps of the great European bodybuilders by winning six consecutive Mr. Olympia titles from 1992 to 1997.
That period in the early to late 1990s was notable for Yates' supreme domination. He won every tournament he entered in that period.
Yates purchased a stake in the Temple Gym in 1987, and the company now has locations in the United Kingdom as well as in California and Las Vegas.
5. John Grimek
Born: June 17, 1910 (Perth Amboy, New Jersey)
Died: Nov. 20, 1998 (age 88, York, Pennsylvania)
Career highlights: Two-time Mr. America (1940, 1941), Mr. Universe (1948)
Bottom line: John Grimek was one of the OG bodybuilders — a sensation in the 1930s and 1940s who won two Mr. America titles and one Mr. Universe title.
Before Grimek became a star as a bodybuilder, he was an athlete and competed for the United States in weightlifting in the 1936 Olympics.
After he retired from bodybuilding, Grimek was the editor of Muscular Development magazine for a period and continued to compete in weightlifting and bodybuilding until he was in his 60s.
4. Phil Heath
Born: Dec. 18, 1979 (Seattle, Washington)
Career highlights: Seven-time Mr. Olympia champion (2011-17), two-time Mr. Olympia runner-up (2010, 2018), Arnold Classic Europe champion (2013), two-time Sheru Classic champion (2011, 2012), IFBB Iron Man champion (2008), New York Pro Championship champion (2006)
Bottom line: Seattle native Phil Heath was a true freak — first as a 5-foot-9 shooting guard in Division I basketball, then as a seven-time Mr. Olympia.
Heath starred at Rainier Beach High before playing basketball for the University of Denver. Shortly after his basketball career was over, he entered the world of bodybuilding and began winning competitions in the mid-2000s.
Not long after that, he made his ascent to the top of the bodybuilding mountain with the first of seven consecutive Mr. Olympia titles in 2011.
3. Lee Haney
Born: Nov. 11, 1959 (Fairburn, Georgia)
Career highlights: Eight-time Mr. Olympia champion (1984-91), Grand Prix Germany champion (1987), Mr. America champion (1979), Grand Prix Las Vegas champion (1983)
Bottom line: Lee Haney is tied with Ronnie Coleman for the most Mr. Olympia titles with eight, and Haney won all eight of titles in a row from 1984 to 1991.
Haney was a competitor unlike few have ever seen in the bodybuilding ranks and at 5-foot-11 won Mr. Olympia titles with his weight anywhere from 230-250 pounds.
The South Carolina native also served as the Chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports under President Bill Clinton — a role he took over from Arnold Schwarzenegger.
2. Ronnie Coleman
Born: May 13, 1964 (Monroe, Louisiana)
Career highlights: Eight-time Mr. Olympia champion (1998-2005), two-time Canada Pro Cup champion (1995, 1996), Grand Prix Russia champion (1997), Mr. Texas champion (1990)
Bottom line: Ronnie Coleman is tied with Lee Haney for the most Mr. Olympia titles with eight, and both of them won all eight of their titles in consecutive years. Those were part of the 26 IFBB competition titles Coleman won, which stood as the all-time record until it was broken by Dexter Jackson.
Before his bodybuilding career took off, Coleman was a linebacker at Grambling State for legendary coach Eddie Robinson, then a police officer in Arlington, Texas, for 11 years.
1. Arnold Schwarzenegger
Born: July 30, 1947 (Styria, Austria)
Career highlights: Three-time Mr. Universe champion (1968-70), seven-time Mr. Olympia champion (1970-75, 1980)
Bottom line: Basketball had Michael Jordan. Bodybuilding (then action movies) had Arnold Schwarzenegger.
There is no doubt who's the greatest bodybuilder of all time. That's because the Austrian-born Schwarzenegger dominated the sport. In fact, we have a living document to that domination — the documentary classic "Pumping Iron" that showcased his quest for a seventh consecutive Mr. Olympia title.
Following his bodybuilding career, Schwarzenegger became the biggest movie star in the world. After that, he was the governor of California. It's good to be the king.