Franco was born in Ollolai, Sardinia (Italy). Starting out his athletic career as a boxer, Franco progressed into the sport of Olympic Weightlifting, power lifting and later body building, winning the title of Mr. Olympia in 1976 and 1981. At 5 feet and 5 inches in height (some magazines reported as short as 5'3"), Frank is shorter than most of his body building competitors, but that did not prevent him from achieving widespread success.
Franco competed in the 1977 World's Strongest Man competition and was actually in first place. During the Refrigerator race, with Franco ahead, suddenly he stumbled, and national television showed Franco's leg becoming grotesquely dislocated and he collapsed. That ended his participation in the World's Strongest Man contest. In the end, he finished in fifth place. He received a reported $1 million in compensation for his injury.
It took six hours of surgery to remove all the muscle and fix his leg. Doctors told him he would never walk again, but Franco fully recovered in three years. After Arnold's comeback victory in the 1980 Mr. Olympia, Franco followed suit and won the 1981 Mr. Olympia.
Franco is a long time friend of Arnold, whom he met in Munich in 1965 and competed against in several international-level bodybuilding competitions. For the Mr. Olympia competitions however, he competed in the “under 200 lb” (90.7 kg) category, whereas Arnold was in the over 200 lb category. The final champion was determined by a pose down between the two class winners. The IFBB has since abandoned weight classes. Arnold and Franco were inseparable during the early to mid 1970's and frequently trained together.
From the time he arrived in America in 1969, Franco was considered one of the world's strongest men. He held a number of power lifting and Olympic weightlifting world records. He also performed a strongman act in which he routinely popped a hot water bottle by inflating it orally, lifted vehicles on stage (while someone else was changing a tire) and dead lifted over 700 lbs for repetitions.
• 1981 Mr. Olympia
• 1976 Mr. Olympia (Lightweight & Overall)
• 1975 Mr. Olympia (Lightweight)
• 1974 Mr. Olympia (Lightweight)
• 1971 IFBB Mr. World (Short & Overall)
• 1971 IFBB Mr. Universe (Short & Overall) *Disqualified for selling bodybuilding booklets - considered as a professional*
• 1970 IFBB Mr. World (Short)
• 1970 IFBB Mr. Universe (Short & Overall)
• 1970 IFBB Mr. Europe (Short & Overall)
• 1970 AAU Mr. World (Pro Short)
• 1969 NABBA Mr. Universe (Short)
• 1969 NABBA Mr. Universe (Most Muscular)
• 1969 IFBB Mr. Universe (Short)
• 1969 IFBB Mr. Europe (Medium)
• 1968 NABBA Mr. Universe (Most Muscular)
• 1966 Mr. Europe, 4th
Tips from Franco: Building a Big Back—
1. Bent Over Rows - The problem with bent over rows is that you have to lean over and the weight has to be held away from the body. This puts tremendous stress on the lower back! I NEVER felt comfortable doing these and I am glad I didn't because my lower back is better off.
2. Chins are one good back exercise! When you can do 10 with your bodyweight, strap extra weight around you. NEVER over stretch in the bottom and let your shoulders rotate! You are asking for a shoulder injury if you do. Always be under control and don't try and explode in the bottom – squeeze it up. Don't go below 6 on these.
3. Don't go lower than 6 reps unless you are going to enter a power lifting competition.
4. Don't overextend the back at the top by leaning back too far. Stand erect, period.
5. I recommend dead lifting once every 10 to 14 days. When just starting the movement, you can dead lift every 7 days. Go SLOW when you start doing dead lifts. Don't get greedy and make big weight jumps. Make sure you have the form down so you don't even have to think about it.
6. I recommend using a belt, but not as a crutch.
7. Keep your back flat and never round your lower back during a dead lift.
8. Never jerk the dead lift. Your arms must not have any slack and should be held tight. And there is no need to do a shrug or bend the arms at the top of a dead lift.
9. Pull Downs - Pull downs are not the same as chins. "But, I can't do any chins!" someone might complain. Well, one way to start is to have someone spot you and really concentrate on the negative movement. I have started many people on chins this way when they could not do even one chin and pretty soon they are up to reps in a short period - both men and women! Oh, I almost forgot to mention, I get a BIG KICK out of watching macho men load up the pull down and jerk their whole bodies down and throw the weight down and have it fly back to the top.
10. Use an inverted pyramid for warming up.
11. Another exercise I recommend is one arm dumbbell rows. Do both fist parallel and perpendicular to the body. Again, don't jerk these, squeeze. Don't rotate your trunk either. I really like these because with a knee up on the bench, there is no stress on the low back. Also, I found these to be second to dead lifts for thickness. I always like to vary my rep scheme. After all, variety is the spice of life! So what is an example back workout? Well, here is what I did for a back workout:
• One Arm Dumbbell Rows - 12 Reps - rest a few minutes
• Dead lifts – warm-ups, top set 10 Reps - rest a few minutes
• Chins - 7 Reps
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