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July 25, 2021 9 min read
One look at Ronnie “The Unbeatable” Coleman will tell you everything you need to know about him. Unmatched in the world of bodybuilding, he’s earned so many bodybuilding titles it would make your head spin.
He’s a powerhouse, he's dedicated to the craft, and you can tell that he worked harder than anybody else in the game to become one of the most accomplished bodybuilders of all-time
Ronnie Coleman, aka The Unbeatable Coleman, is easily one of the best bodybuilders in the history of the sport. His 8 consecutive wins on the Mr. Olympia stage alone should tell you that, but if that’s not enough he’s earned more International Federation of Bodybuilding records than years some of those competitors have been alive.
His greatest feat, 8 back-to-back Mr. Olympia wins, has been accomplished only by one other man in history, Lee Haney.
It’s important to remember that standards only go up over the years, so he may share the title, but arguably he’s reached higher heights than Haney.
Hot on the heels of that nearly unparalleled accomplishment is his 26 International Federation of Bodybuilding records. Most people will never come anywhere near the IFBB record books in their entire life, but Coleman burst it wide open and scrawled his name everywhere he possibly could.
He’s easily one of the most decorated bodybuilders to ever pick up a barbell, and he’s not just a pillar of muscle and sweat.
Ronnie Coleman has a great head on his shoulders. He was born in Bastrop, Louisiana, and earned a Bachelor’s in accounting from Grambling State University.
He’s the kind of guy that dabbled in a lot and found success everywhere he did. This bodybuilding accountant is a paragon of hard work and dedication to a craft. Be it behind the books or underneath a barbell, he poured his all into everything he did, and you can see from his insane number of decorations that it paid off for him.
He’s a celebrated bodybuilder that never forgot his roots. Ronnie Coleman is more than just the greatest bodybuilder ever. He’s a devoted Christian man, he puts as much into his faith as he does into his careful, almost obsessive bodybuilding. He’s a role model for lifters everywhere, he shows us all what it’s like to totally devote yourself to something you’re trying to achieve.
He’s also shown us what it’s like when you chase your dreams too far.
But in doing so he’s also shown us how to fight through a dark time and come out the other side swinging. In the last few years, he’s been contending with over a dozen back surgeries because he spent so much time towards the end of his career exercising with a herniated disk.
He was so driven and single-minded about breaking his own, already unbelievably impressive records that he wouldn’t let something like his body constantly begging for help stop him. As a result, needing several consecutive back surgeries, essentially bolting the entire posterior half of his body together from scratch. It was harrowing and expensive, and for a while, he was worried he might never be able to walk again. He made it through that period of time, slowly recovering the same way he slowly built the kind of body that would break records.
Ronnie Coleman fought tooth and nail to get to where he ultimately finished his career. He’s the kind of role model that anybody looking to build up their muscles and sculpt their bodies in whatever they decide is the perfect image. Ronnie did the world a favor by neglecting to keep his workout routines secret.
Ronnie Coleman's workouts were all about targeting a specific muscle group every day and training them thoroughly. The real progress was from how dedicated he was and how hard he would push himself during those workouts.
His workouts were designed to push his muscles as close to failure as possible.
These workouts are the kind that leave you feeling like you’ve done everything you possibly could to encourage muscle growth.
3 sets of 15 reps don’t sound like much on paper, but when you’re lifting the kind of weight that Coleman did, and you’re doing it six days a week with the intention of becoming one of the most powerful-looking people on the entire planet, 3 simple sets of 15 quickly becomes a herculean task.
For Ronnie Coleman, his training was about quality, not quantity.
If he could work out his muscles to their fullest extent without having to bounce from station to station, he would do it. If he could select a small handful of exercises that would target multiple muscles at once, he would add it in.
These are the sorts of things you should be considering when you’re building a workout routine like Coleman’s.
If you’re planning on packing on muscle, focus on dividing your muscle groups into easier to manage compartments of muscle and finding a wide range of simple exercises that will cover the entirety of your body.
If you’re bodybuilding, don’t get caught up in fancy exercises, just find something that will challenge you, something you can stick to, something you know you can depend on when you need to train hard-af.
Ronnie trained heavy and hard. If you're looking to set up a similar training program, here's an example training split you can follow:
3 sets of 15 reps:
3 sets of 15-20 reps:
3 sets of 15 reps:
3 sets of 15-20 reps:
3 sets of 15 reps:
Between 3 and 4 sets of 12 reps:
You can see from this workout routine that building one of your own isn’t really that difficult. Ronnie Coleman’s routine is really just a simple framework that you can co-opt for your own purposes. Just find around 8 or 9 exercises per area you’re targeting, and find an appropriate amount of weight that will allow you to get through three full sets of exercise.
You should also integrate some cardio into your routine.
This workout doesn’t lay out a lot of time for cardio, but you should at least be slipping some in as a warm-up. It’s a great way to get blood pumping throughout your body, and it’s going to do wonders for your muscle growth as long as you don’t overdo it.
In fact, Ronnie himself writes in Muscle and Fitness that “my most dramatic leg growth came during a period when I performed supersets every other workout, and not necessarily with squats as the heavier of the two exercises. You’ll need to develop pro-level cardio efficiency and dig even deeper into your endurance reserves in order to get the most out of superset training. This is not for wimps.”
Supersets can be a good way to work cardio into your routine because you’re not giving yourself time to catch your breath.
You may be lifting the entire time, but to get the kind of reps required for a superset, you’re going to have to dramatically drop the amount of weight you’re lifting.
If you’re looking at that workout routine and looking at pictures of the 8-time back-to-back Mr. Olympia, you might be thinking “is that really it?” It almost doesn’t seem like it adds up, right? Plenty of people are doing five-day workouts, and they aren’t exactly bursting at the seams with muscle.
The thing is, most folks aren’t working out as hard as Ronnie was.
They aren’t taking the time to consider what spurs along with muscle growth, and they aren’t coming at their rest days and diets with the kind of scrutiny that a world champion would.
Muscle growth is all about a process called hypertrophy.
You’re working out as hard as possible to add tiny tears to your muscles, you need that damage so your body has something to rebuild. You need to be constantly pushing yourself because your body is rebuilding your muscles specifically to meet the last challenge they overcame.
You also need to be feeding yourself the building blocks of a strong body.
Hypertrophy isn’t just the natural result of exercise. It requires work well after you’ve left the gym. Your workouts need to target different parts of your body throughout the week so that you’re giving your body the time it needs to rebuild your muscles.
You need to be maintaining a good diet full of protein so your body has a wealth of material to pull from when it’s time to rebuild your damaged muscles.
You also need to be sure that you are training your muscles through their full range of motion.
If you don't then you’ll be missing out on the full range of possible growth for your body. Bodybuilding is a science as much as it’s about grit and strength. If you can take the time to properly and fully understand the underlying mechanics of your body, then you’re going to have a much easier time building the kind of muscle like Ronnie Coleman did.
Ronnie Coleman is a huge dude, and that means that he has a huge need for food. His entire job and daily life revolved around expending massive amounts of energy, so he needed a diet that could keep up with his energy requirements.
He also needed huge amounts of protein so his body could build all of that award-winning muscle he’s so well known for.
Every day he would eat around 550 grams of protein, 480 grams worth of carbs, 150 grams of fat, and his calorie intake would end up being well over 5000 calories.
The important thing here is what he ate, not how much of it, though. There’s a huge difference between 5000 calories of birthday cake and 5000 calories of nutrient-dense food.
Calories aren’t always the most important metric.
Your body isn’t interested in calories, it’s interested in raw material. Think about the contents of your meals more than the calorie count. You’re looking for foods that will feed your needs. If you’re feeling low on energy, you probably need carbs or some other form of sugar, if you’re pumping as much iron as possible and you’re still not seeing any muscle growth, then you’re most likely missing protein.
Ronnie Coleman is a once-in-a-lifetime champion, so his workout routine and diet aren’t for everyone.
If this was something that just anybody could keep up with then world champions would be a dime a dozen. Ronnie Coleman’s workout routine isn’t something you may ever want to try for yourself, and truth be told it was even too much for the man himself.
He devoted so much of his body to the craft that it borrowed time from him in the form of being bedridden and broken.
This workout routine is intense, the diet is intense, and if you stick to the letter of it, you’re going to get your butt kicked. Hard. That’s not to say, however, that there isn’t something to be learned from this.
Ronnie Coleman understood things about his own body that most folks will never realize for themselves.
If you want to pull out your potential, then this is a good framework to build your own routine from. Try scaling things down a little bit, give yourself an extra rest day or two, and be willing to cut a few exercises out.
Your training routine is going to be no good if you end up breaking yourself and find yourself unable to continue exercising to your heart’s content. Chasing after Coleman is admirable, but learn from his mistakes as well as his triumphs.
Ronnie Coleman is literally one in a billion. He’s one of the few people in the world to have won consecutive Mr. Olympia titles, and of that limited roster of people, he was the absolute best. He smashed through records time and again, until there was practically nothing standing in between him and the title of number one in the world.
If you’re looking for someone to model your muscle-building journey after, then look no further. Just remember to take it easy if your body starts telling you it can’t quite keep up, and you’ll go far.