One way bodybuilders do this is through a nickname that adds to their mystique and hammers home their brand. When done right, these names become an inseparable part of a bodybuilder‘s persona and help them stay marketable even after retirement. There are a lot of great nicknames throughout bodybuilding history, but below, you’ll find the 10 best.
- Larry “The Golden Boy” Scott
- Sergio “The Myth” Oliva
- Arnold “The Austrian Oak” Schwarzenegger
- Frank “The Chemist” Zane
- Danny “The Giant Killer” Padilla
- Tom “The Golden Eagle” Platz
- Dorian “The Shadow” Yates
- Dexter “The Blade” Jackson
- Ronnie “The King” Coleman
- Phil “The Gift” Heath
Larry Scott earned his place in bodybuilding history by winning the first two Mr. Olympia contests in 1965 and 1966. He also possessed one of the finest sets of arms the sport had ever seen. But it was his close relationship with IFBB (International Federation of Bodybuilding) co-founder and bodybuilding entrepreneur Joe Weider that helped build his marketable image.
Early in his career, while winning titles like Mr. America (1962) and Mr. Universe (1964), Scott contributed to a number of Weider’s bodybuilding publications. At the time, Weider was attempting to tap into the popularity of surf culture in America, hence the focus on handsome, blonde-haired men who looked great in a pair of swim trunks. (1)
Although Scott came from Idaho and was a natural brunette, Weider had him dye his hair a sun-kissed yellow to fit the popular West Coast aesthetic. Scott’s beach-friendly look and all-American image made the “Golden Boy” nickname all but inevitable.
Sergio Oliva‘s physique was so beyond other competitors at the time that fitness journalist Rick Wayne came up with the perfect way to describe him: “The Myth.” (2) The three-time Mr. Olympia seemingly operated in a different universe than his rivals, armed with a body that was almost too perfect to be real.
Fellow bodybuilding champion Arnold Schwarzenegger later said: “I understood why they called him the Myth. It was as jarring, as if I’d walked into a wall. He destroyed me. He was so huge, he was so fantastic, there was no way I could even think of beating him.” (3)
In 1968, Joe Weider’s magazines began writing about a new bodybuilder named Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was taking European bodybuilding by storm. The Austria native quickly became the new darling of Weider’s empire, proving to be the perfect pitchman to promote the fitness tycoon’s supplements and workout plans. Arnold’s reputation only grew after he won a staggering seven Mr. Olympia titles from 1970 to 1980.
During this time, Weider popularized Arnold’s famous nickname: the “Austrian Oak.” It’s a name that stuck with Schwarzenegger throughout his career, but it wasn’t a Weider original. As Arnold’s 2012 autobiography points out, the name was first used by European newspapers after the 1966 Mr. Universe show. (3)
Three-time Mr. Olympia winner Frank Zane earned a reputation for having one of the most aesthetic physiques to ever grace the stage. Much like Sergio Oliva’s victory pose and Arnold’s three-quarter back pose, Zane became immortalized for his stomach vacuum, which showcased his dedication to ab work and nailing the small details.
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During the peak of his career, Zane took on the nickname of “The Chemist.” While that likely conjures up images of anabolic steroids for a bodybuilder, in Zane’s case, it was entirely down to his education and profession.
Zane earned a bachelor’s degree in education in 1964 and taught science and mathematics for several years while competing. (5) This, combined with his fondness for amino acid supplements, led to his science-minded moniker. (6)
Standing at 5’2″, Danny “The Giant Killer” Padilla was lauded during the 1970s for his ability to bring a level of freakish conditioning to the stage that helped him beat out far larger competitors. An early career highlight came in 1975, when Padilla won the IFBB Mr. USA competition, catching the attention of Joe Weider, who invited him to train out in California. (7)
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After becoming close with Schwarzenegger on the West Coast, Padilla got a spot in the 1977 documentary Pumping Iron and won the IFBB Mr. Universe (lightweight) title that same year. In 2009, he was inducted into the IFBB Hall of Fame.
When Tom Platz began in bodybuilding, he worked out with big names like Zane, Arnold, and a host of other legends. It was Zane, in fact, who told Platz he should market his exceptionally muscular legs, which had grown to an unreal size by that point. Years later, Platz would credit this conversation with helping him understand the business side of bodybuilding. (8)
Part of Platz’s business strategy came from advertising workout courses in magazines like Muscle & Fitness in the ’70s and ’80s. At the time, Platz had read Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a motivational novella by author Richard Bach about questioning beliefs and following your dreams. Inspired by the book, Platz toyed with the idea of signing off his advertisements with a picture of a seagull to solidify his brand.
But seagulls don’t exactly scream bodybuilding, so Platz’s father suggested he use the symbol of an eagle, instead. The imagery clicked — and soon, the combination of the symbol and Platz’s bleached hair led to the nickname “The Golden Eagle.”
Dorian Yates upended pretty much every convention in bodybuilding during the ’80s and ’90s. His high-impact training style brought an intensity to the gym that few could match, and he packed on so much mass that nearly everyone in the sport had to scramble to catch up. But perhaps most notably, unlike media darlings like Schwarzenegger, Yates was notoriously reclusive and would barely appear in public in between shows.
Instead of moving to the United States during the height of his success, Yates opted to stay in England and work on his craft away from prying eyes. Only a select few people got to see his physique while it was still in progress, and many of his workout partners never even saw him without a shirt on.
To further his aura, Yates would often remain completely covered in the back during shows so the other competitors wouldn’t know what type of shape he was in until right before he took the stage. In 1986, then-editor of FLEX magazine Peter McGough nicknamed Yates “The Shadow,” partly due to the low profile he kept away from the sport. (9)
Dexter Jackson was one of the most gifted and consistent bodybuilders of his generation, with a career that stretched from 1992 to 2020. Through it all, his ability to come into competitions lean and beautifully symmetrical garnered praise from fans and judges.
In 1999, bodybuilding promoter Ed Pariso (or his wife, Betty) gave Jackson the nickname “The Blade,” owing to his ability to always be diced for a show. (10) Little did they know that this nickname would define the ever-present Jackson for the next two decades as he became the winningest male bodybuilder in the history of the sport. In retrospect, it’s doubtful that his other early nickname, “Action Jackson,” would have had the same longevity.
When Dorian Yates retired from bodybuilding after the 1997 Mr. Olympia, many believed that “Flex” Wheeler was destined to become the next star. Well, Ronnie Coleman had something to say about that. Coleman took the title at the 1998 Mr. Olympia and would go on to win seven more in a row, tying Lee Haney for the most ever.
Coleman redefined how big a competitor could get while also staying lean and conditioned. When he appeared on stage at the 2005 Mr. Olympia dressed in a crown and cape, he solidified himself as “The King” of the sport.
Phil Heath first appeared on the Mr. Olympia stage in 2008, one year after Ronnie Coleman officially retired. But at that time, few could have predicted Heath would have a similar career to “The King.” Yes, he had potential, but he initially lacked the mass needed in the modern age to be a true star. What he did have, though, was one of the finest bodybuilding structures of his generation.
In a sport where muscle bellies, bone length, and shape are out of athletes’ hands, Heath was genetically blessed with sublime development. (12) He was also eminently marketable, well-spoken, and intelligent, having earned a degree in business and information technology from the University of Denver. (13)
It’s all of those different qualities that spurred a friend to nickname Heath “The Gift.” (14) The name stuck throughout his career, and much like Coleman, it’s now a part of the Phil Heath brand even as his onstage career seemingly winds down.
- Peter McGough, “The Golden Boy Passes,” Muscular Development, March 10, 2014. https://www.musculardevelopment.com/news/bodybuilding-news/12827-the-golden-boy-passes-larry-scott-1938-2014-muscular-development.html
- John Balik, “Remembering Sergio Oliva,” Iron Man, April 22, 2013. https://www.ironmanmagazine.com/21219/
- Arnold Schwarzenegger, Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder, Simon and Schuster, 2012.
- John D. Fair, Mr. America: The Tragic History of a Bodybuilding Icon. University of Texas Press, 2015, 198.
- Andy Richardson, “Bodybuilder The Chemist Who Beat Arnold,” Daily Star, July 30, 2022. https://www.dailystar.co.uk/diet-fitness/bodybuilder-the-chemist-who-beat-27589101.
- “Interview with 3x Mr Olympia, Frank Zane,” Frank Zane, https://frankzane.com/interview-with-3-x-mr-olympia-frank-zane/.
- Julio Saenz, Rochester’s Latino Community, Arcadia Publishing, 2011
- David Robson, “An Interview with the Golden Eagle, Tom Platz, Part Two,” Bodybuilding.com January 18, 2019. https://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/tom_platz_interview2.htm
- Peter McGough, “What Was He Thinking?” Muscular Development, June 12, 2013. https://www.musculardevelopment.com/news/the-mcgough-report/11775-victor-is-in-2.html
- Ron Avidan, “Dexter Jackson,” Get Big, February 5, 2004. https://www.getbig.com/iview/jackson040205.htm.
- PRNewsire, “Bodybuilding Legend Ronnie Coleman Launches YouTube Podcast,” August 6, 2019. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/bodybuilding-legend-ronnie-coleman-launches-youtube-podcast-new-supplement-products-300896902.html.
- John Branch, “No One Is Looking at This Headline,” The New York Times, October 28, 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/29/sports/phil-heath-mr-olympia-bodybuilder.html
- William Giraldi, “Atlas Flexed,” Grantland, October 27, 2013. https://grantland.com/features/a-scenes-look-mr-olympia-phil-heath-2012-title-defense/
- Ron Harris, ‘On the Verge of History’, Muscular Development, September 2018. https://www.magzter.com/stories/Lifestyle/Muscular-Development/On-The-Verge-Of-History-Phil-Heath-Aims-To-Win-Mr-Olympia-Title-8.
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