How to Pose like a Pro – Top Tips from Frank Zane, 3X Mr. Olympia

Recently, I had a chance to sit down with the Science Editor of my Building the Body Quarterly Magazine, Lou Roehn, to talk about how Bodybuilding competitors and Physique competitors can take their posing to the next level. Here is that interview. I hope it you gives you some insight and inspiration!

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Lou Roehn: Tell me, Frank, how would you define posing in bodybuilding terms?

Frank Zane: Posing is the way we display our development which was brought about by the practice of bodybuilding. It involves learning how to assume the proper positions, tense all of the muscles, and control the body to a special advantage. It basically displays how the body is developed in all areas.

Posing itself consists of two parts. The first is the pose itself, the static component where all of the muscles are flexed and you move very little. For example, in physique photography you hit the pose, you hold it, and then the photo is taken. The process takes into account the best angles and the best placement of limbs.

The second component is the movement from pose to pose. This is the process that’s involved in competition – you strike the pose, you hold it for some length of time (it might be 4 or 5 seconds), and then you move to the next pose. That movement is the kinetic part of it. I like to think of posing as kinetic sculpture – you hold the pose like a sculpture (for example, Michelangelo’s David) and then you move on. After you’ve held the pose for a specified amount of time, you move on to the next pose, and you string together a bunch of these.

For body builders who are going into the more basic competitions, like the Introductory Class Bodybuilding Competitions, and haven’t been on a stage, posing typically involves 10 or 12 poses. But as the routine gets more complicated in the higher competitions, like Mr. Olympia, for example, you might have as many as 20 or even 25 poses. So that’s what it is; it is basically showing your development to a maximum advantage and knowing how to do that.

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Lou Roehn: Ok thanks, that’s very helpful. One thing that you always talk about is that practicing your posing is one of the most critical components to winning a bodybuilding competition – can you share your thoughts on that?

Frank Zane: Well that’s how you develop a posing routine, by practicing, practicing, practicing – lots of practicing. As a matter of fact, in bodybuilding, that is the most neglected aspect of the whole thing. People train and train and train, and they go through special preparations to get ready for the competition, but they leave posing for the last week or two – and it looks it too! It looks very amateurish, whereas, when you come in with a good posing presentation, it can shift the competition for you. In these competitions there are always a number of people – at least a few, 3, 4, 5, maybe 6 people – who could possibly win. But generally, the way it works is that the one who wins is the one who looks like the winner and who acts like the winner; the one who conveys the confidence that they’ve done everything they possibly can to win – and they show it. Plus, they have proved it in photographs.

That’s how you develop confidence; you take a lot of photographs; you learn what you look like from every angle; you correct what you don’t like; you maximize what’s already good, and you continue taking photos so you can see how you’re changing over time.

That’s all I ever did. I never bothered with measurements or body fat testing to see what my percentage of body fat was. I just took photos because that’s what they do in competitions, they look at you, that’s all do they do. I mean they might weigh you to see which class you’re in, but other than that there’s nothing involving measurements; it’s all visuals. So focus on what’s important.

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Lou Roehn: Great. One thing you touched on was projecting the confidence of a winner, and in your books and other things you talk a lot about mindset and mantras as it relates to setting a goal and achieving it. I wonder if you could share your thoughts on that?

Frank Zane: Well there are two words that come to mind; they sound similar and they are closely related, but they mean different things.

Confidence is one word and competence is the other. And here’s how they are related – if you want to have confidence you need to develop competence. That is to say that you have to get good at what you’re doing, then you can be confident.

If you go up on stage and you don’t know what you look like, how can you have the confidence you need to project? But this is pretty much how everybody goes on stage in competition – they think they know what they look like because they rely on external indicators, such as the weight they gained or that they’re stronger in their workout so their body fat is lower, or whatever, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.

There are the two pictures here. They’re basically looking at a description, a number, a measurement. This is like finger pointing at the moon; it’s the reflection in the water, it’s not it. Just like your reflection in the mirror is not it either. You need those photographs because of what you see in those photographs. You’ve got to learn to see yourself the way others do. That’s so important, and if you never learn that, then maybe you’re never going to get there. Don’t wait to get on stage to learn what you look like. Learn what you look like beforehand. Although it is always good to have someone give you objective criteria in what you look like, it is best to rely on the photos if you can.

Don’t parade yourself around in gyms or at the venue before the competition. Because, when show off your body like that – they (the judges and audience) will already know what you look like, and they will form a preconception of what they think should be there. Keep a low profile at a competition and then when it is your time to go on stage, reveal yourself as the winner.

That’s the thing – you need to focus on things that really make you come off as being better. Mantras can help with this. For example, I like the mantra “I have already won.” We break that down into four syllables which say “all read ee won” because when you feel like you’ve already won then you can act like a winner. But you have to believe that, and the way to believe it is to become good at what you do, look good on the photos, and work on the total picture as much as possible. That’s how you develop confidence for the stage, and that’s basically how winners are selected – by looking like a winner, acting like a winner, posing like a winner. It’s all about practice and following through on it.

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Lou Roehn: Great, thanks. So why right now… is this contest season?

Frank Zane: Yes it is. Actually August, September, October – autumn – is when the big contests take place. The Mr. Olympia contest is always in the autumn.

I always peaked very year for when I was competing right up until my last show in 1983. It was always September or October, or sometimes as late as even November. Now is when people are focusing a lot on it, peaking to get in top shape. I do a program where I work one-on-one with people for two hours to help them perfect their posing routine. I’ve been doing this for a while and a lot of people can do much better in their shows if they follow some of these pointers as they go across.

The whole thing is to know what to do, practice it and then continue to practice it and get feedback – via photos – on how you’re changing. I’d have to say that taking photos on a regular basis is maybe the most important part of all of this. When you’re getting ready for a show, you need to see what you look like and to basically know what to do. When someone comes to see me, I help them develop their posing routine and identify the best poses as well as the other poses that go along with those.

So that’s how it works – you basically find the poses you look good in and practice them. And you know over time, as you continue to train, you will look good in more and more poses. Then you’ve got to put them in an order as to get the greatest response from the audience and the judges who are evaluating your physique.

I encourage anybody who wants to do better in a competition that’s coming up, especially in the next few months, to make an appointment to see me on this because I can really help you.

Lou Roehn: Great. So if somebody wants to learn more about taking one of your one-on-one posing seminars, personal one-on-one training classes with you, or other programs with you, how would they go about doing that?

Frank Zane: Just visit my website, Frankzane.com, and go to the “Zane Experience” link. No matter what your goals are for getting in shape, posing is really the way you show what you’ve developed.

When I see somebody pose, I can tell them what their strong points and weak points are, then I can give them programs to help develop their weak points.

Weak points can be developed or strengthened, but you have to know how to do it, you have to learn how to isolate certain areas of your body. I show people how to make up those weak areas, even in a short period of time. So if what I’m talking about is something you’re interested in, be sure to contact me. I think it’ll be very valuable for you.

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Lou Roehn: Ok, great. Thanks. So do you have anything else that we didn’t cover that you’d like to add – Frank?

Frank Zane: Well, I would like to add that I think a very good way to brush up on posing for competition – what exactly you do and even how to train and what the dietary needs are – is to read my book High Def Body. This book is all about how get more definition and show your physique at your best advantage. There’s a lot of information about how to pose in there; it shows you different poses and describes how to do them, so that’s a good one for competitors.

Also, my latest book, 91 Day Wonder Body, is a great way to train for contests. It’s especially good if you can give yourself six months to prepare for a show. Basically, you do the 91 Day Wonder Body program for 3 months, and then you do it again on a specialized program for the next 3 months.

You can get into really good shape doing this. It’s a good structure to have, and I think structure and discipline are very important to reaching your peak. It’s something that you learn when you do it, you just continue to practice, you get feedback on your progress, you want more, and then you do more, and you get more, so it’s all part of it.

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