Ronnie Coleman is one of the bodybuilder who motivated and inspired me the most when I started bodybuilding in 2001.
I still remember the first tape I bought, it was the one from the 2001 Mr Olympia competition where he narrowly won in front of Jay Cutler. I knew him from his tape “The Unbelievable” and that made me want to know more. There was such a motivation coming out of it. Now, almost 20 years later, it's time, I think, to study Ronnie Coleman and learn from his experience.
This is why in this article, we will talk about his training, the mistakes that they could undoubtedly have been avoided in order to live better and not end up in “pieces” and what we can do at our level to prevent that. The goal is not to judge him, he remains, in my view, the “Greatest Bodybuilder”.
Who is Ronnie Coleman?
Ronnie Coleman is the most legendary of Bodybuilders because he won Mr. Olympia 8 times in a row, which is a world record. He completely redefined the standards of professional bodybuilding.
Previously, Dorian Yates had done the same by arriving at the same stage with more mass, drier muscle and much more developed back than his opponents in 1992 but Ronnie Coleman took the conditioning even further by weighing 130 kg dry for 1m80, something that one would have thought simply impossible.
Ronnie is best known for two of his workout videos.
The first is “The Unbelievable” in which he works as a policeman when he is already Mr. Olympia, eats chicken with barbecue sauce and lifts weights that we never imagined possible for a bodybuilder (265 kg in the front squat, 90 kg per arm in the incline press with dumbbell, 340 kg in the deadlift…).
It must be told here that Ronnie Coleman started with powerlifting, that is why he had strength to hit maximum on Squat, bench press and the deadlift. This search for strength, to lift the heaviest weights possible, remained an indelible mark on him during his time in Bodybuilding.
Subsequently, in his video “Cost of Redemption”, one would jump seeing him performing 2 repetitions with 365 kg on Squats, a performance worthy of the best powerlifter in the world at that time. If you've never seen these two videos, I really invite you to watch them. You can easily find them on Youtube these days.
Personally, I must have seen “The Unbelievable” a dozen times and I still can't get enough of it.
These videos were so popular that Ronnie Coleman's war cries crossed the boundaries of bodybuilding to make it to every training room with his famous "LIGHTWEIGHT BABY", "YEAH BUDDY".
Ronnie Coleman's training program
Like any bodybuilder, Ronnie Coleman's program evolved over the course of his career.
At its peak, here is the one that appeared the most in magazines like Flex (which no longer exists these days):
|Ronnie Coleman Program||6 times a week|
|Deadlift||4 sets of 6 to 12 repetitions|
|Rowing barre in pronation||3 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions|
|Rowing at the T-bar in neutral grip||3 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions|
|One-arm rowing with dumbbell||3 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions|
|Curl barre||4 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions|
|Alternate curl||4 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions|
|Hammer curl||4 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions|
|Curl to the pulley vis-à-vis||4 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions|
|Seated military press||4 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions|
|Superset seated dumbbell press with||4 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions|
|Front elevation with dumbbells||4 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions|
|Squat||2 sets of 2 to 12 repetitions|
|Inclined thigh press||4 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions|
|Slits||2 sets of 50 meters walking|
|Stretched Leg Deadlift||3 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions|
|One-legged standing leg curl||3 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions|
|Bench||5 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions|
|Inclined press||3 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions|
|Bench press with dumbbells||3 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions|
|Spread lying with dumbbell||4 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions|
|Seated neck extension with bar||4 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions|
|One-arm neck extension||4 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions|
|Pressed bench tight grip||4 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions|
|Rowing Barre||5 sets of 6 to 10 repetitions|
|Rowing sitting on the low pulley||5 sets of 15 reps|
|High pulley traction wide neck||5 sets of 10 to 6 repetitions|
|High pulley traction wide front||5 sets of 10 reps|
|Spider curl||4 sets of 12 repetitions|
|Machine curl||4 sets of 15 reps|
|Low pulley curl||4 sets of 10 reps|
|Bench press with dumbbells||3 sets of 15 to 20 repetitions|
|Front elevation with dumbbells||3 sets of 15 to 20 repetitions|
|Machine bird||3 sets of 15 to 20 repetitions|
|Leg extension||4 sets of 30 repetitions|
|Front Squat||4 sets of 12 to 15 repetitions|
|Hack Squat||3 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions|
|Leg curl debout||3 sets of 12 to 15 repetitions|
|Elongated leg curl||4 sets of 12 repetitions|
|Incline press with dumbbells||4 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions|
|Bench press with dumbbells||3 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions|
|Incline spread with dumbbells||3 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions|
|Developed declined||3 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions|
|Front bar in superset with||4 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions|
|Machine dips in superset with||4 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions|
|Seated neck extension||4 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions|
|Machine camel||4 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions|
|Seated calves||4 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions|
|Crunch||3 sets of max reps|
What can we learn from Ronnie Coleman's program?
If we analyze Ronnie Coleman's program, we can see that he trains a lot.
While usually, for the majority of bodybuilders, the number of exercises does not exceed 5 or 6 per session but his sometimes goes up to 10 exercises.
Rarely among professionals they use a frequency of working each muscle about 2 times per week in a direct manner. But he appears to work his shoulders almost every session, or 6 days a week which is also an unusual training frequency at this level.
As a general rule, the frequency of training decreases with increasing loads and intensity as we progress which demonstrates increased recovery. Personally, I couldn't do this without hurting my joints and tendons.
Finally, Ronnie Coleman uses few machines and trains almost exclusively with barbell and dumbbells which again contrasts with all the other professionals who at their strength levels prefer to train on machines to reduce their risk of injury. Very very rare are those who do a squat, bench press or very heavy deadlift in sets of more than 8 repetitions.
What happened to Ronnie?
If you've seen the documentary “The King” on Netflix, you know that Ronnie Coleman's health has deteriorated greatly and continues to do so.
As of now, he has had two hip prostheses and multiple surgeries on his back .
Being used to seeing MRIs of the back through the consultations I offer, Ronnie's made me feel particularly sad. His back is completely “screwed up” and it cannot be surely said that one day he will walk again. He is alternating between the wheelchair and the crutches while being on morphine all day long to avoid “too much” suffering.
Surgeries continue with the hope that things will get better, but the odds of things getting better are greatly reduced over 55s.
Could these injuries have been avoided? Could it have ended differently? If so, by doing what?
First, by avoiding training in an explosive way to the extreme.
In his videos, we can see him being really very explosive which is certainly more traumatic for our muscles, joints and tendons.
Second, by carefully selecting your exercises. It is true that all the professional bodybuilders train on machines and abandon “basic” exercises i.e. the barbell and dumbbells. This is because those are much more traumatic for our joints.
Third, by training lighter and in a concentrated manner, the risk of injury gets greatly reduced.
It is worth noting that Jay Cutler and Big Ramy train with fairly short recovery times. It is precisely to limit the loads they use to the maximum, because more the training volume, the less amout of weights one can lift.