As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been somewhat of a history buff.
Back in the day when the History channel was still the History channel, I’d come home from school, lift my cheap 100-pound barbell set, and then curl up on the couch and watch 4-hour marathons about World War 2 and other historic events.
Naturally, my love of history carried over to bodybuilding and I eventually became obsessed with old school bodybuilders.
I use to spend countless hours reading article after article about them until my 3G iPhone had no battery life left. I simply had to know everything about how they trained and what they ate.
Eventually, I gained an amazing amount of knowledge on the subject. And because of that, I’ve decided to pass down this important information by writing a series of posts about some of the greatest old school bodybuilders of all time.
So, without further ado, let’s kick this party off by discussing a legendary bodybuilder that you’ve probably never heard of.
Sergio Oliva was a man from Cuba that was so genetically gifted that he could compete on the Olympia stage today and have a solid chance at winning!
In fact, his muscles were so large and shapely that most people simply knew him by his nickname, The Myth.
And even though I’m writing about him because of his bodybuilding achievements, my favorite fact about him is that he was born on July 4th, 1941.
Yeah, that’s right, ‘Merica.
From a young age, Oliva worked hard labor intensive jobs.
He first started working in the sugar cane fields of Cuba and as he got older, he took any kind of odd job that he could find just to make ends meet.
At the young age of 16, he joined the fight against communism and enlisted in the army of then president Fulgencio Batista.
The Meeting Of A Lifetime
Unfortunately, the Cuban’s lost the war on communism and Fidel Castro came into power.
This led Oliva and hundreds of thousands of other Cuban’s to wonder what the hell they were going to do with their lives since their country was now under the full control of a ruthless dictator.
Nevertheless, Oliva survived by completing odd jobs whenever they became available, and when he wasn’t working, he’d spend most of his time getting a tan on the beach.
Interestingly, one of his many tanning sessions led to a chance meeting that would change his life forever.
One day, a manager for the Cuban national weightlifting team was cruising the beach and spotted the massive Oliva out of the corner of his eye.
He quickly approached Oliva and asked him how long he’d been lifting weights.
To his surprise, Oliva told him that he had never touched a weight in his life and had little knowledge on the subject.
Becoming A World Class Lifter
Once the weightlifting manager learned of Oliva’s inexperience in the weight room, he knew that he’d found something special.
An untrained guy with that kind of size was unheard of!
So, the manager quickly got Oliva into a proper gym, loaded a barbell up with 135 pounds and told him to lift it up as far as he could.
Amazingly, Oliva picked the barbell up and hoisted it over his head with ease.
And thus, the myth was born.
Within 6 months of proper training, Oliva became the strongest weightlifter that Cuba had ever produced.
He was so good that he was sent over to Russia for 3 months to train with the best weightlifting team in the world.
As a result, his total in the Olympic lifts went from a combined 900 pounds to 1,300 pounds.
Yes, you read that right, Oliva achieved a 400-pound increase in just 3 months.
The Great Escape
Once Oliva returned from Russia with his newly gained strength, he was set to put it to the test at the 1961 Pan American games in Kingston, Jamaica.
But while other Cuban athletes had nothing but gold medals on their mind, Sergio’s mind was dominated by one thought and one thought only… ESCAPE.
He wanted out of communist Cuba and knew that the only way out was the United States embassy.
So, once he arrived in Kingston, he quickly scoped out the area, located the U.S. embassy, and planned his escape. And not long after, the perfect opportunity presented itself.
Oliva told the Cuban secret police that was guarding him that he was going to do some running to warm up for the upcoming competition.
So he ran back and forth outside the Cuban compound for a few minutes until he saw his chance. As soon as the police were looking the other way he took off wearing nothing but shorts and a baseball cap.
The barefoot Oliva ran and ran until he made it to the entrance of the U.S. embassy.
Then I approached the door of the Embassy with the two Marines outside of it. I would have taken both with me if they had tried to stop me. So they opened the door and I went through.
Becoming The Myth
Once Sergio Oliva was granted political asylum, he was moved to Miami and put under the protection of the FBI.
After a while, Sergio wanted to get further away from Fidel Castro and communism and requested to be relocated to Chicago.
The FBI agreed and he made his way off to the windy city.
Once he arrived in Chicago, Sergio got a job at a steel mill and began to pursue the sport that had always fascinated him… bodybuilding.
Sergio had always secretly loved bodybuilding but he could never participate in the lifestyle because it was outlawed in Cuba.
So, he quickly joined the local YMCA and began building the physique that earned him his eventual nickname.
Within the first few months of training, he picked up a training mentor in Bob Gajda, who was already a successful professional bodybuilder in his own right.
Oliva was also introduced to the number one bodybuilding steroid at the time, Dianabol, and as he said in his own words “I quickly blew up like a balloon”.
Although I did extensive research on this topic, I found conflicting information everywhere.
Below I have included a routine that he spoke of in interviews but his training may have been different at times.
However, I do know that he stuck to mostly free weight compound exercises and trained Monday through Friday for 2-3 hours after working 10-12 hour shifts in the sweltering steel mill.
He said in multiple interviews that Saturday and Sunday were his days off from everything.
Instead, his weekends were spent dancing at his favorite Chicago nightclubs.
Monday – Chest & Back
* Sergio did supersets of bench press and chin ups. While one muscle group was resting he’d work the other.
Bench Press – 200 x 8 – 15 chin ups
Bench Press – 220 x 8 – 15 chin ups
Bench Press – 260 x 8 – 10 chin ups
Bench Press – 300 x 8 – 10 chin ups
Bench Press – 320 x 8 – 8 chin ups
Bench Press – 350 x 8 – 8 chin ups
Bench Press – 380 x 8 – 5 chin ups
* Next Sergio would superset dumbbell flys and dips.
Dumbbell Flys – 5 x 80 x 15 – Dips (Unknown amount reps/weight)
Tuesday – Shoulders & Arms
Standing Barbell Press – 5 Sets x 15 Reps x 200 Pounds
Barbell Curls – 5 sets x 5 reps x 200 pounds
Seated Overhead Triceps Extension – 5 sets x 5 reps x 200 pounds
Scott Curls – 5 sets x 10 reps x 150 pounds
Scott Curls With Dumbbells – 5 sets x 5 reps x 60 pounds
Triceps Cable Press Down – Unknown Set And Rep Scheme
Wednesday – Abs & Legs
Situps – 10 sets x 50 reps
Leg Raises – 5 sets x 20 reps
Barbell Side Bends – 5 sets x 200 reps
Squat – 300 x 5
Squat – 400 x 5
Squat – 440 x 5
Squat – 470 x 5
Squat – 500 x 5
Standing Barbell Calf Raises 10 sets x 8 reps x 300 pounds
Thursday – Chest & Back & Shoulders
Bench Press – 200 x 5
Bench Press – 220 x 5
Bench Press – 260 x 5
Bench Press – 300 x 5
Bench Press – 320 x 5
Bench Press – 350 x 5
Bench Press – 380 x 5
*The next exercises are supersetted
Behind The Neck Press – 5 sets x 5 reps x 250 pounds – Machine Rows – 5 sets x 5 reps x 200 pounds
Dips – 5 sets x 8 reps x no weight added
Friday – Arms & Back & Shoulders
Standing Barbell Press – 3 sets x 5 reps x 200 pounds
Barbell Curls – 3 sets x 5 reps x 200 pounds
Seated Overhead Triceps Extensions – 3 sets x 5 reps x 200 pounds
Dumbbell Skull Crushers 3 sets x 5 reps x 50 pounds – Superset with triceps cable push downs
Behind The Neck Chin Ups – 5 sets x 5 reps
Close Grip Chin Ups – 5 sets x 5 reps superset with Tricep Machine Push Downs
Saturday – Rest
Sunday – Rest
If you want to see some rare footage of Sergio Oliva training, you can click the links below.
Judging by his look, I’d say that these videos were recorded when he was older and past his prime.
As a result, some of the exercises listed above may have been substituted for other exercises and he may have been lifting lighter weights.
However, he still looks pretty damn good.
Interestingly, Sergio Oliva claimed that he never followed any kind of strict diet regimen.
Working in the steel mill 10-12 hours a day combined with his 2-3 hour bodybuilding training sessions was enough physical activity to simply burn off any calories that he ate.
However, he did say in an interview that he drank a gallon of milk a day and 2 gallons of water. This helped him replace fluids that were lost while he worked in the hot steel mill.
Whenever it was time to trim down to for a show, he only had to restrict his calories three weeks out in order to drop a little body fat and really get into peak condition.
Sergio Oliva Measurements
Below are some of Oliva’s known measurements.
Again, it was hard to find accurate information on these stats so I only included information that was repeated multiple times by credible sources.
His waist measurement is the craziest measurement of them all!
Arms – 20.5 inches cold over 22 inches pumped
Waist – 27 inches
Weight – 235 pounds
Chest – 52 inches
Shoulders – Unknown
Thighs – Unknown but larger than his waist
Although Sergio Oliva enjoyed his fair share of victories, his career was full of controversy and unfortunate decisions made by bodybuilding judges.
As you can see below, he won the most muscular trophy twice in early AAU competitions but somehow failed to win the overall title.
He also lost to Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1970 Mr. Olympia competition in a controversial decision and was banned from competing in the 1971 Mr. Olympia.
When he made his Olympia comeback in 1972 he lost again to Arnold Schwarzenegger in yet another controversial decision.
After the 1972 Mr. Olympia, a disgruntled Oliva didn’t compete in any IFBB competitions again until the 1984 Olympia.
1965 – AAU Mr. America (Most Muscular)
1965 – AAU Junior Mr. America (Most Muscular)
1966 – AAU Mr. Amercia (Most Muscular)
1966 – AAU Junior Mr. America
1966 – IFBB Mr. World
1967 – IFBB Mr. Universe
1967 – IFBB Mr. Olympia
1968 – IFBB Mr. Olympia
1969 – IFBB Mr. Olympia
1972 – WBBG Mr. Galaxy
1974 – WBBG Mr. International Professional
1975 – WBBG Olympus
1976 – WBBG Olympus
1977 – WBBG World Championship Professional
1978 – WABBA Olympus
1980 – WABBA World Championship Professional
1980 – WABBA Pro World Cup
1981 – WABBA Pro World Cup
Eventually, Oliva would leave his job at the steel mill and become a police officer where he enjoyed a 27-year career as one of Chicago’s finest.
Sadly, Oliva passed away back in 2012 of kidney failure.
This was most likely caused by living the bodybuilding lifestyle and taking large doses of anabolic steroids for a large part of his life.
Sergio Oliva will forever go down as one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time.
His freakish genetics and world-class work ethic earned him one of the most badass nicknames ever and his physique could have won the Olympia during any era.
In 1984 he had a son named Sergio Oliva Jr. who went on to follow in his father’s footsteps.
Oliva Jr. competed in his first Mr. Olympia contest in 2018 at the age of 34.
You can learn more about his son here.
From The Man Himself –