April 12, 2021 10 min read

When it comes to pushing our bodies to their limits, there’s a lot of things that come to mind. We can get stronger, faster, and bigger—but it’s this last one that’s particularly interesting.

The sport of displaying your physique started all the way back in the late 19th century in England, by a man named Eugen Sandow—now known as the father of bodybuilding. Through the decades the sport became more and more popular, with musclemen the world over taking part in Mr. Universe and then IFBB Mr. Olympia.

These physiques were about proportionately, rather than size. But that changed in the ’90s with the age of the “mass monster.” All athletes were growing to larger proportions, so musclemen had to grow even larger.

Below we have some of the largest, muscle heads that the sport has ever seen. If you’re looking for some inspo, this might be the place to look.

Dorian Yates

Yates was the first true mass monster, stepping onto the Olympia stage at the heaviest weight up until then, 257 pounds. He ended up winning 6 consecutive Olympias from 1992 to 1997. He continued competing in the high 260s and low 270s.

Yates introduced the term “grainy”, meaning coming onto the stage super hard and super dry. He was also the first to introduce shredded hamstrings and glutes onto the bodybuilding stage. However, what really made him stand apart was his back.

Often said to have the best back in bodybuilding, Yates would always come up ahead by the fourth or fifth mandatory pose during competitions. With his lat spread, Yates crushed his competition from the back.

He also had a unique training style, training 4 days per week rather than 6 which is more normal for bodybuilders. His gym sessions were intense and brutal, but he would reach full muscle recovery with his shorter weekly training schedule.

His year-round training schedule and intense work ethic made him stand out from his competitors and cemented his position in the annals of bodybuilding history.

Arnold Schwarzenegger at the California Governor's Conference

Arnold Schwarzenegger

No list of musclemen would be complete without Arnold Schwarzenegger. Although not your classic mass monster of the ’90s or 2000s, Schwarzenegger is by the greatest bodybuilder of all time. Everyone knows who he is—partly thanks to his movie career, but he wouldn’t have that without his physique and his charisma.

Schwarzenegger cemented his name early on, hailing from Austria and becoming the youngest person to win the Mr. Universe at the age of 20. He would go on to win seven of the prestigious Mr. Olympia titles and four more Mr. Universe titles. A lesser-known fact about Schwarzenegger is that he also competed (and won) in several powerlifting contests throughout his career.

Although to today’s standards he would never be able to compete in terms of athleticism and the “mass monster”, Schwarzenegger had an everlasting impact on the sport of bodybuilding. His charisma brought bodybuilding to the masses, and he would go on to really cement his name with a wave of popular movies.

From “Stay Hungry”, to “Hercules”, to “Conan the Barbarian,” Schwarzenegger has become a household name more than any other bodybuilder ever has.

Jay Cutler

In the 2000s, the bodybuilding world witnessed one of the most competitive rivalries ever between Jay Cutler and Ronnie Coleman. If Coleman hadn’t existed, there’s a good chance that Cutler would have been the greatest bodybuilder of all time, with eight Olympia wins at least.

Cutler spent a lot of his career being the runner-up to Coleman, but he finally usurped the throne in 2006 and took the throne. The next year he defended his title from Victor Martinez, lost the title in 2008 to Dexter Jackson, and then stepped back onto the stage in 2009 in his best conditioning yet.

He was 35 years old by that time, and there were details on his physique that had never been seen before. It goes without saying that he took back the title of Mr. Olympia, becoming the only person to lose and then win it back later.

He was known for his mass monster status, coming onto the stage at 275 lbs. Yet his aesthetics didn’t fall to the wayside either, as he had one of the most massive upper bodies, quads, and flat midsections.

Lou Ferrigno at the E! Entertainment Television's Summer Splash Event

Lou Ferrigno

Ferrigno did not have the greatest of starts. Losing much of his hearing at an early age and being a naturally gangly kid, Ferrigno was very into comic books and the muscular superheroes inside of them.

By the age of 12, he had picked up his first weights and began training for the next decade. He would go on to become the youngest person ever to win the IFBB Mr. Universe twice, and he was among the youngest ever to enter the Mr. Olympia contest at the age of 23.

He was a serious threat to Schwarzenegger during the 1975 Mr. Olympia title competition, and it was believed that he would be the reigning king of Mr. Olympia after Schwarzenegger. While this did not happen, he retained enough of his muscle mass to make a comeback years later at the 1992 Olympia, aged 41.

And we can’t talk about Ferrigno without mentioning his role as the incredible Hulk in 1977—maybe the biggest ego boost you can get as a bodybuilder.

Big Ramy

Mamdouh Elssbiay, known as Big Ramy and hailing from Egypt, is the second biggest bodybuilder of all time, regularly stepping onto the stage at over 300 lbs.

This hulking mass of a man won his pro card at the Amateur Olympia in Kuwait City, just three years after he had begun training. His professional debut was at the New York Pro a year later, where he won the show.

In 2017 he placed second in the Olympia contest and was definitely a crowd favorite. Although he consistently improved from 2013, he fell to 6th place in 2018.

Although he showed up at his biggest size yet, it seemed that he was too big for the judges. While this was a disappointing finish for Big Ramy, he came back in 2020 with flying colors. In 2020 he finally gained the title of Mr. Olympia, beating out Brandon Curry and Phil Heath.

Lee Haney

Haney absolutely dominated the Mr. Olympia title in the 1980s, winning it eight times, back to back. This is one more time than Schwarzenegger’s famous streak of a seven-title streak and is a tie for the most amount of wins ever. The streak lasted from 1984 to 1991. 

He is the only famous bodybuilder who has never lost the title of Mr. Olympia, retiring at the age of 31 before he could be usurped. His retirement has been notable as well.

Living with his wife and children, he owns two gyms in Atlanta while training athletes. Furthermore, he puts his degree in youth counseling to good use, having founded a non-profit organization that works around a retreat facility for children.

Markus Rühl

Rühl, also known as “The German Nightmare,” got a relatively late start to the bodybuilding world—at least when compared to some of the others on this list.

Beginning at 140 lbs and at the ripe old age of 19, Rühl competed at his first competition only five years later. At this point he was over 100 pounds heavier, sitting at 243 lbs. Needless to say, he won both the heavyweight and the overall title at this competition, the Bachgau Cup.

He would go on to increase his weight to 280 pounds throughout his career, but he was never the judges’ favorite. Nevertheless, he was definitely a crowd-pleaser with his massive frame and exciting career.

Greg Kovacs

Kovacs isn’t as well known as many others on this list might be, but there’s a reason he’s been included. A Canadian who competed in IFBB bodybuilding from 1996 to his retirement in 2005, he was widely regarded as having the biggest frame for a professional bodybuilder of all time.

The highest placing he got professionally was at the 2004 Arnold Classic, where he placed 13th overall. What’s truly shocking are his measurements. During the off-season, he got up to an astonishing 420 lbs—more than double the weight of your average guy. His height is partly to explain for this, as he stood at 6’4’’. In his prime, he had a 70’’ chest, 27’’ arms, and 35’’ legs.

Günter Schlierkamp

Schlierkamp, nicknamed the “Gentle Giant” by his fans, was definitely a giant. He got up to 330lbs during the off-season, making him one of the biggest bodybuilders of any era. Not to mention that his physique was spectacular as well.

He competed in bodybuilding all the way from 1990 to 2006, with his highest professional placing coming towards the end of his career in 2005. This is where he placed fourth in the Olympia competition.

However, many people (and especially his fans) believed he should have either placed higher or won since he arguably looked better than the other top three competitors.

Kai Greene

Greene had a difficult childhood, and with the guidance of his 7th grade English teacher, he turned to weightlifting to help him cope. This teacher introduced him to the world of competitive bodybuilding, where he started out in the teen circuit.

He did well and then took a break in order to really work on his physique, turning professional before he even turned 19. At the time, he was the youngest natural professional bodybuilder. He continued improving his physique and he moved to the NPC where he qualified for recognition by the IFBB. His hard work at an early age paid off when he became one of the biggest athletes in professional ranks.

Phil Heath

Heath, nicknamed “The Gift,” got an early start on athletics. He played basketball, earning himself a basketball scholarship to the University of Denver.

While he excelled, he wanted something more and ended up finding the world of competitive bodybuilding right after he finished college in 2002. For his very first event, he bulked up from 185 lbs to 215, before cutting back down to 192.

He won this competition, and he only improved from there. Not only did he win his IFBB Pro card, but ended up winning the Mr. Olympia title seven years in a row, from 2011 to 2017, before being dethroned by Shawn Rhoden in 2018.

Flex Wheeler

Once described by Schwarzenegger as the greatest bodybuilder he’d ever seen, it’s difficult to get a more glowing endorsement than that. Wheeler has racked up 17 professional championships, although he never won the prestigious title of Mr. Olympia.

However, he did finish in the runner-up position 3 times. He began competing in 1993, but in 1997 he was in the unique position of having won the Arnold Classic, San Jose Classic, and the Ironman—known as the ‘triple crown.’

What’s more, he was even referred to sometimes as the “Sultan of Symmetry.” Along with the glowing endorsement given by Schwarzenegger, it’s difficult to find a way to flex more.

But the title was well-earned. He did have a flawless physique at his peak, with definition, proportion, and symmetry being unmatched. He was both chiseled and a mass monster, and that’s why he’s one of the greats.

Roelly Winklaar

Born in 1977 and known as “The Dutch Beast,” Winklaar is an absolute unit of a man. When it comes to lean muscle, it’s hard to have him beat. During the off-season, he comes up to a giant 320 lbs which he then cuts down to a contest weight of around 265 lbs.

His most well-known wins come from taking first place in the Australian Arnold Classic and placing fifth in 2019 Mr. Olympia. Furthermore, he was also the first-ever People’s Champion at the 2018 Olympia.

His stand-out features are definitely his arms and his delts, maybe being the biggest of all time. It goes without saying that he is a force to be reckoned with.

Paul Dillet

Another Canadian, Dillet was known as “Jurassic Paul.” Making his way onto the stage during the 90s when physiques were getting bigger and wider, Dillet made an impressive mark on the scene.

His pro-debut was at the 1993 Arnold Classic, and he went on to win the Night of the Champions in 1999. During a career that spanned 20 years, he competed in four Arnold Classics, three Night of Champions, three Iron Man Pros, and five Mr. Olympias.

The highest he placed professionally was at the Olympia in 1994, nabbing fourth place overall. His size was almost incomparable with a competition weight of around 285 lbs. And when it came to stage presence, his vascularity set him even further apart.

Kevin Levrone

Levrone, “The Maryland Muscle Machine”, got an early start at the young age of 11 when his older brothers got him into lifting. Finding that he was pretty good at lifting, he began to look more into bodybuilding and doing research on the greats from the 1980s.

He has won an astounding 23 professional show titles, 2 Arnold Classics, and came second 4 times at Olympia. However, he has never won the title of Mr. Olympia leading many to consider him the most underrated bodybuilder of all time.

He even made a come back in 2016 at the age of 51. Although he came 16th, he was definitely a crowd favorite. His standout features were his triceps and delts, he was known for his muscular physique as much as Flex Wheeler was known for his aesthetic one.

Ronnie Coleman Guest Posing in Winter Sports Palace State Championship

Ronnie Coleman

Saving the best for last, we have the legendary Ronnie Coleman. Setting an insane contest weight of 300 pounds, Coleman gave new meaning to the idea of training hard and getting big.

His 800-pound deadlifts and 500-pound bench presses set him apart (even using 200-pound dumbbells to bench with), and his catchphrases and charisma cemented his place in fans’ hearts. And to think his original plans were to become an accountant.

He holds the record for the amount of IFBB professional wins, sitting at an amazing 26. His bodybuilding career starting in 1990, he has also racked up eight Mr. Olympia wins—tying for the most Olympia wins ever.

When it comes to the biggest and baddest bodybuilders the world’s ever seen, Ronnie Coleman is untouchable.

Becoming Your Biggest Self

We won’t lie to you and say that with a lot of hard work, perseverance, the right workout plan, and an amazing diet, you’ll be able to look like these guys. The answer is steroid use.

Yes, a lot of insane work goes into cultivating this much mass and at that level of aesthetic—but you’re not going to get there naturally. Not that there’s anything wrong with juicing, but you have to back it up with the work ethic and a solid foundation.

That foundation is going to be made up of all the working out and the diets. Keep your fundamentals close to you throughout your fitness journey, and you too can aspire to look like a muscled monster one day.


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