Bodybuilders continually demonstrate what’s possible with the human form. These are individuals who devote their entire lives to improving their physical appearance through hours at the gym and rigorous dieting. However, it’s more than just pumping iron and sticking to an extremely strict diet. It’s about being able to look in the mirror and openly understand what needs improving.
The best bodybuilders in the world know their strengths and their weaknesses at the same time.
When looking at the biggest bodybuilder in the world, it comes down to not only the overall importance of the individual but also the sheer size of their muscles.
These muscles are not artificially inflated with silicone implants. It’s pure muscle fiber.
So whether you’re looking to emulate one of the biggest bodybuilders in the world or you’re just curious, here are some of the top professionals, at one time or another, in the industry.
The Biggest Bodybuilders:
In many ways, Lou had a very similar career path as Arnold. He doesn’t have the same kind of IMDB acting credits, nor did he become the governor of a state, but from bodybuilding to acting, Lou and Arnold stand above most others in the industry. His name recognition and his impact on pop culture is what puts him on this list.
Lou often trained with Arnold Schwarzenegger. He also directly competed with Arnold on many occasions. One of the most famous documentaries on the sport of bodybuilding is the 1975 film Pumping Iron.
The movie focused on Lou’s attempt to defeat Arnold Schwarzenegger at the 1974 Mr. Olympia competition. In the competition, Arnold finished first and Lou second. However, the film helped propel him to stardom, both within the industry and outside of it.
His first win came in 1971 when he took home first place in the Pro Mr. America WBBG Teen award. In 1973, he won the IFB Mr. America Overall Winner and then won Mr. Universe two years in a row (1973 and 74). He never won Mr. Olympia though. Following his second-place finish to Arnold in 1974, he finished third in 1975.
He did take nearly two decades off while he acting (and even play in the Canadian Football League) before returning to competition in 1992. In 1994, he finished in the Olympia Masters competition.
Outside of Arnold, he has maybe the largest filmography on the list. He played Hercules in the 1983 movie Hercules, and later its sequel, The Adventures of Hercules. He is probably most famous for his role as “The Hulk” in The Incredible Hulk TV show, that ran from 1978 to 1982. He also played The Hulk in several live-action movies between 1977 and 1990.
Due to his appearance as The Hulk for 13 years, he’s forever connected with the role. That has led him to appear in many of the more recent movies. He had a cameo role in 2003’s Hulk, in which he plays a security guard with Stan Lee (the creator of The Hulk). He had a voice cameo in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk and has provided voice collaboration work for every current Marvel movie the Hulk has appeared in.
In addition to playing the Hulk, Lou Ferrigno played himself for 20 episodes on the television comedy The King of Queens, starring Kevin James.
Kenneth, better known as “Flex,” may just be the most athletic individual on this list. There’s a reason why he picked up the nickname “Flex” (he was also known as “The Sultan of Symmetry). He started originally in the world of martial arts but gravitated to weight training. Even after he retired from his professional career, he would commonly say in interviews he was a martial artist first and a bodybuilder second.
Many bodybuilders, due to their sheer size, do not have the greatest flexibility. Flex proved to be unlike most other professionals as he could perform the splits during an open competition.
During his 10 years professional career, he took home a number of titles. His first being the 1993 Ironman Pro Invitational, the Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic, the Grand Prix France and the Grand Prix Germany, all in 1993.
He never won Mr. Olympia, finishing second in 1999 and third in 2000. His last first-place finish came in 2000 with the Hungarian Grand Prix. He did briefly come out of retirement in 2017 (at the age of 51) to compete in the Mr. Olympia Classic Physique competition.
Kai is one of the more recent bodybuilding professionals. He won the 2016 Arnold Classic (on top of the 2016 Arnold Classic Australia and Arnold El Clasico Brazil) and finished second in the Mr. Olympia competitions three straight years, from 2012 to 2014. He started competing in 1994 and took home first place in the 1996 WNBF Pro Natural Worlds.
He later won first at the 1999 NPC Team Universe Championship. He has won numerous New York Pro championship titles (he is from Brooklyn).
Like many current bodybuilders, Kai has started to work his way into the world of acting. Fans of the Netflix original show “Stranger Things” may recognize him as the actor who played Funshine in season two.
In terms of the most dominant bodybuilding professionals of the modern era, it’s hard to find anyone else with the resume of Phil Heath.
He has won seven straight Mr. Olympia competitions, which alone is extremely impressive. In many ways, he has a similar physique to Arnold in that he does not have one muscle group substantially larger than the rest. He’s nearly perfectly proportionate.
It’s important to note the current record for consecutive Mr. Olympia titles is eight, so it’s possible he ties this number within the next year)
Phillip doesn’t take part in as many competitions as other professionals might. He almost exclusively takes part in Mr. Olympia. Of course, he has taken home first place in every single competition since the 2010 Mr. Olympia, in which he finished second. That’s 10 straight first-place finishes.
The lowest he ever placed in any professional competition dates back to the 2009 Mr. Olympia and the 2007 Arnold Classic, in which he finished fifth.
So while Phillip Heath’s name hasn’t been around as some of the other professionals on this list, in terms of sheer dominance, nobody else outside of possibly the top position on our list can compete with Phillip’s track record.
By the time his career is done though, he may go down as the most prolific bodybuilder in the history of the sport.
Speaking of Mr. Olympia titles, Lee Haney is one of the two men who currently have eight Mr. Olympia titles. He’s tied with the individual at the top of our list (we didn’t completely rank each of these individuals in order, but we did want to save the best for last).
He won his first bodybuilding title in 1979 with the Teen Mr. America and the Teen Mr. America Tall awards. He won the 1982 Junior Nationals Heavyweight and Overall award in 1982, as well as the Nationals Heavyweight and Overall and the World Amateur Championship Heavyweight, awards the same year.
His first professional competitive award came the following year at the Grand Prix Las Vegas. In 1983, he took part in his first Mr. Olympia competition, for which he placed third. The next eight times he participated in Mr. Olympia he took home the top prize.
Greg doesn’t have the same kind of name recognition as some of the other major titans in the bodybuilding industry. However, he is known for having the largest biceps in the world. He said he slowly reached his peak size with 25 years of continual training. At the pinnacle of his training, his biceps measured out to between 27 and 28 inches.
You probably know people who don’t even have a waist that large. While he doesn’t have the same kind of professional titles as some of the others on this list when we’re talking about the biggest, Greg Valentino is someone you need to include.
Gunter has said many times he based much of his bodybuilding regimen on that of Arnold Schwarzenegger (he started professionally competing about 25 years after Arnold left the sport to focus more on acting). Gunter is also another one of the famous German bodybuilders on this list.
He competed professionally for 16 years. In 1990, he won the German Championship “Overall Winner” award and the German Championship Junior Tall awards in 1990.
He won the European Amateur Championship and the German Championship in 1992, then the World Amateur Championship in 1993. He placed favorably in most of his competitions throughout the years and then won the 2002 GNC Show of Strength award.
Nonbodybuilding fans may recognize Gunter as “Schlemmer” from the movie Beerfest.
Markus is another professional in the long line of German professional bodybuilders. There’s a reason why Indiana Jones had his butt handed to him by a German mechanic in Raiders of the Lost Ark (only to be saved by an airplane propeller). Markus competed in a number of major competitions over the course of his career.
Many of the biggest names in bodybuilding competed against one another, so finishing off first didn’t always happen (unless your name is Ronnie Coleman, who we’ll cover in just a bit). However, he did take home the 2000 Toronto Pro and the 2002 Night of Champions titles.
If you’re interested in checking in on some of Markus’ workouts, he did star in a handful of different training videos over the years, including XXXL-Big Beyond Belief, Made in Germany, Big and Loving It and Ruhling 4 Ever. So check those out if you’d like more insights on Markus.
In terms of body size, plenty of other bodybuilders surpassed that of Arnold. However, Arnold is on this list because he really popularized bodybuilding. He did more for the sport than most of the other professionals combined.
Few outsides of the industry pay close attention to bodybuilding. Because Arnold transitioned from professional bodybuilding to career actor, it shed light on the sport.
Arnold initially competed in powerlifting before making the switch to bodybuilding. He won his first bodybuilding competition in 1965 as Junior Mr. Europe before winning the 1967 Mr. Universe amateur award.
The following three years he won the pro-Mr. Universe, and then won six straight Mr. Olympia competitions, followed by a seventh in 1980. In total, he won 19 first place bodybuilding awards.
Arnold didn’t have the largest muscles or individual muscle group, but his complete physique helped him dominate the industry in the 1970s.
Some of his competitive stats included 22-inch arms, 57-inch chest, 28.5-inch thighs, 20-inch calves and a 34-inch waist.
In terms of sheer dominance within the industry, you’re not going to find anyone else who can stand up to Ronnie Coleman. With 26 total titles, he has more International Federation of BodyBuilding (IFBB) championships and wins than anyone else in the history of the sport.
If you’re creating a Mount Rushmore of bodybuilding, Ronnie’s face is certainly going to be on the list.
Bodybuilding is unlike any other sport in the world. It’s both part extreme physical fitness and part pageant. The combination of the two sets it apart from anything else out there (although you might find soccer players who seem to think their sport is a beauty pageant). It takes hard work to obtain the physical appearance of each and every one of these individuals.
However, as they have proven, it’s not impossible.
So if you’re interested in building a body like one of these pros (and former professionals), feel free to look up the desired bodybuilder to find out how he worked out.
And if you’re comfortable with your own body, at the very least you can marvel at how incredible the human body is.