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October 09, 2021 8 min read

Franco Columbu went down in history as one of the greatest powerlifters and bodybuilders of all time. The record-breaking athlete was best known for his impressive lifts, notably a 750-pound deadlift and a 525-pound bench press. That’s some serious weight.

You might assume that the “Sardinian Strongman” workout plan is out of your reach – After all, he made lifting an actual car look easy. However, Columbo’s workout plan is surprisingly accessible for beginners and more advanced weightlifting enthusiasts. Whether you’re looking to bulk up, lift heavier, or get stronger, you can learn a thing or two from the world’s strongest man.

Tell Me More About Franco Columbu

If you’re new to bodybuilding or just not that familiar with the sport’s history, you might not have heard of Columbu or know that much about him. So, let’s take a minute here to talk about this Italian-born bodybuilder before we dive into his diet and workout plan.

blurred motion powerlifter exercise deadlift heavy barbell

A man of many talents, Columbu would be known as a boxer, powerlifter, actor, author, producer, and even a chiropractor throughout his life. Columbu was well-known for winning the Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia titles multiple times, setting numerous records with his lifts. Columbu placed impressive records for bench pressing (525 pounds), squatting (655 pounds), and deadlifting (750 pounds).

All of this is made even more impressive by Columbu’s stature. At only 5’ 5,” he was shorter than most bodybuilders. Some people claimed that he was even shorter than this, but he reported his height as 5’ 5.” He weighed in at just 185 pounds. Many of his fans believe that when considering pound-for-pound, he was the strongest man in the world.

Columbu was also famous for his friendly competition with well-known lifters and training partners Arnold Schwarzenegger and Frank Zane in the 1970s. Along with these peers, Columbu was part of what would become known as the golden era of bodybuilding from the 1950s-70s.

Franco Columbu Workout Routine

Columbu followed a consistent training routine lasting two weeks, with each day focusing on different target areas and body parts.

14 Day Workout Plan

Columbu divided his workout routine into a 14-day cycle, resting on the 7th and 14th days.

Rest days are essential to success in the gym, so be sure to make the most of each one. We will break down his morning and afternoon routines each day, separated by “//.”

First Week:

  1. Chest, Shoulders, Abs // Arms
  2. Back // Legs
  3. Chest, Shoulders, Abs // Arms
  4. Arms
  5. Legs, Abs // Back
  6. Chest, Shoulders, Abs
  7. REST

Second Week:

  1. Arms // Legs
  2. Back, Abs
  3. Chest, Shoulders // Arms
  4. Back, Abs // Legs
  5. Chest, Shoulders, Abs
  6. Arms
  7. REST

The Moves: Franco Columbu Workout Plan for Each Target Area

Chest Workout

You should complete three cycles of each superset group in the workout. Remember, superset means no rest between exercises, so move directly from each exercise to the next.

*If you want to follow Columbu’s strategy, decrease the rep count and increase the weight each time you complete an exercise with an asterisk*. We recommend that you do this for optimal results.

Superset 1 (3 Sets)

  • Barbell bench press (15, 10, 4 reps) *
  • Cable crossovers (20 reps)

Superset 2 (3 Sets)

  • Dumbbell flyes (20, 15, 6 reps) *
  • Cable crossovers (20 reps)

Superset 3 (3 Sets)

  • Incline bench press (15 Reps)
  • Barbell pullovers (25 Reps)
  • Dips (to failure)
  • Cable crossovers (25 Reps)

During superset 3, complete all the exercises back-to-back and then return to the top of the set.

Shoulder Workout

  • Standing dumbbell lateral raise (4 sets, 10 reps)
  • Bent lateral raise (6 sets, 10 reps)
  • Behind-the-neck presses (4 sets, 10 reps)
  • Alternating dumbbell front raises (3 sets, 8 reps)
  • Cable lateral raise (3 sets, 10 reps)

Arm Workout

Superset 1 (4 sets)

  • Cable pushdowns (8 reps)
  • Standing dumbbell curls (8 reps)

Superset 2 (4 sets)

  • Lying barbell triceps extension (8 reps)
  • Barbell preacher curl (8 reps)

Superset 3 (4 sets)

  • Seated barbell extension (8 reps)
  • Dumbbell incline curl (8 reps)

Leg Workout

  • Barbell squat (7 Sets, Reps: 20, 15, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2)
  • Leg press (4 sets, Reps: 50, 25, 15, 8)
  • Leg extensions (6-7 sets, 20 reps)
  • Barbell lunges (2-3 sets, 12-15 reps)
  • Deadlifts (6 sets, Reps: 5, 5, 5, 3, 1, 1)

Columbu alternated between including the final two moves (barbell lunges and deadlifts) during each leg day to allow more time for recovery, thereby increasing the amount of weight he could use during each workout.

Back Workout

Block 1

  • Pull-ups (Wide Grip) (6 sets, 10-15 reps)
  • T-Bar row (4 sets, 10 reps)

Seated cable row (4 sets, 10 reps)

Superset (3 sets)

  • One-arm dumbbell rows (10 reps)
  • Hammer grip pull-ups (10 reps)

You can complete hammer grip pull-ups like Columbu by attaching a parallel-grip cable to a pull-up bar.

Ab Workout

We noted that Columbu trained his abs according to his workout schedule, but he did not share his specific ab workout with the public. If you are looking for a challenging and beneficial ab workout, check out these compound exercises for abdominal strength.

What If You Do Not Have Time for All These Workouts?

If you are reading this and thinking, “Wow! That’s a lot of stuff in one workout plan,” you are not alone.

Columbu and his peers were professional bodybuilders who had time for multiple gym sessions per day and got paid for weightlifting. We might wish to be them, but unfortunately, it is not realistic for many to train the same way.

The good news is that you do not need to follow Columbu’s workout plan exactly to see results! Just because Columbu can squeeze chest, shoulders, and an arms workout into one day does not mean that you must do the same. We recommend taking his workout plans and integrating them into your schedule in a way that works best for you.

Why is Columbu’s Workout Plan So Effective?

Columbu’s workout plan is extensive but benefits from targeting a specific muscle group during each workout. Doing this allows you to focus on one area and ensures that you will not neglect any muscle group or body part throughout your workout plan.

Another great benefit of Columbu’s workout routine is the built-in rest days. Not only does Columbu plan to rest on every 7th day, giving his body time to recover and his muscles time to grow, but he also incorporates alternating moves every other leg day. Alternating exercises in this way ensures that he meets his potential with every activity, and alternating will do the same for you.

Columbu’s target area workout plans are effective because they consist of supersets, meaning you remove the breaks between exercises instead of moving quickly between sets of alternating exercises.

This study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that supersets aremore time-efficient and effective than traditional sets with rest in between.

Franco Columbu’s Diet Plan

Columbu enjoyed an uncomplicated diet of fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, and protein to supplement his weightlifting lifestyle. Let’s break down what we know Columbu liked to eat for each meal of the day.

 close up of natural protein food and additive on wooden table

Breakfast

Columbu ate a hearty but healthy breakfast each morning. For protein, he would include four fresh eggs cooked in various styles. He supplemented this with homemade yogurt, plain and made with raw milk, with added granola cereal. Columbu also included fruit with his breakfast, either with fresh in-season fruit or a glass of orange juice.

Columbu knew how important it was to hydrate before and after working out. For this reason, he also drank a glass of water every morning with breakfast, getting a jump on his daily hydration.

Don’t forget the vitamins and minerals! We can’t tell you for sure which vitamins Columbu enjoyed, but we can recommend adding One+ Multivitam Caps to your breakfast each morning. Take one each day to get the most out of your training and your everyday life.

Lunch

For lunch, Columbu focused almost entirely on vegetables and protein. He would always include a large vegetable salad with oil and vinegar instead of other salad dressings. On the side, he would have a cooked fresh vegetable. For protein, Columbu would include a large serving size of a fresh protein, usually broiled, with his lunch. His favorite proteins were fish, chicken, prime cuts of beef, lamb, or liver. Columbu was also known to enjoy wine or mineral water with his lunch.

Mid-Afternoon Snack

When you work out as much as the Sardinian Strongman, you should account for a mid-afternoon snack to keep you full all day! Columbu preferred a cheese plate for his snack, usually consisting of imported cheeses. He would pair fresh fruit or nuts with the cheese plate to add something tasty.

In addition to his cheese plate, Columbu would eat tuna fish with his afternoon snack. Tuna is an easy and healthy way to add protein to this meal to keep your body moving, especially if you are gearing up for an evening workout like Columbo.

Dinner

It’s dinnertime! For dinner, Columbu would follow very similar guidelines to those he enjoyed at lunch. He usually incorporated vegetables in the form of a good-sized salad and a side of cooked fresh vegetables, as well as a broiled fresh protein of his choice. Just like with lunch, you could usually find Columbu enjoying mineral water or wine with his dinner.

Late Evening Snack

Columbu finished off his meals for the day with a late evening snack. This snack usually consisted of a small bowl of fresh yogurt. Columbu preferred this because yogurt is known to help with the digestive system, making it an excellent snack with which to end your day.

What About the Portions?

You might notice that we did not include particular portion sizes in this diet plan. We would recommend that you adjust the portion size to meet your own needs. If you are keeping up with Columbu’s workout plan, you will need to eat good-sized portions of these foods to keep your body fueled up and performing at your top levels.

Eating an appropriate portion size is essential to your muscle recovery when undergoing a heavy-duty workout routine such as this one. Eating enough will also help you bulk up like Columbu and his peers in the golden era of bodybuilding.

Where are the Carbs?

Columbu’s diet plan does not include many carbohydrates, which might have some of our experienced bodybuilders scratching their heads. We noticed the same thing, so we decided to investigate the subject a little more.

Since Columbu’s time, more research has focused on the optimal nutritional intake for bodybuilders and muscle building.

This 2018 study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that greater carbohydrate intake couldcontribute to greater muscle mass. Meaning, you need carbs to bulk up.

While the study noted that further research is required to confirm this conclusion, we recommend that you ensure you are getting enough carbs in your diet if you are looking to get built.

A Note About Steroids

While it is helpful to visualize yourself meeting your goals of getting built like Franco Columbu, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Frank Zane, we would be neglectful not to address the steroids issue here. Columbu, Schwarzenegger, Zane, and their peers were undoubtedly using steroids to obtain their physiques, especially as these enhancement drugs were legal at the time.

The use of steroids can have deadly health consequences, so stick to a healthy diet and workout plan to help you get built (naturally!) and look your best. 

You don’t need to use enhancement drugs to follow Columbu’s diet and workout plan. Instead, look for a healthy supplement that can help you build muscle naturally, such as this Ultimate Mass Stack.

Now that you know the secrets to Franco Columbu’s incredible physique, it’s time to get working towards your own. You don’t have to be a world-famous power-builder to take advantage of the secrets shared by the world’s strongest man. Let’s get out there and see what you can do.