Most folks associate the sport of bodybuilding with size, but size alone doesn’t win contests. As any competitive bodybuilder knows, one must step on stage with large, full muscles and a low enough body fat percentage to show off every striation and cut. It is only when a competitor is sufficiently lean can the judges adequately gauge muscle symmetry and development.
Of course, almost every competitor shows up conditioned and ready to pose at the highest level — they’re all cut. But it’s the athletes who consistently and repeatedly compete with grainy and shrink-wrapped conditioning that deserve the title of “most shredded of all time”. Below are 10 competitive bodybuilders (plus one honorable mention) who made lean their normal.
Frank Zane competed in contests from 1961 to 1983, and he was never not ripped enough. Despite being much smaller than the future actor and politician, Zane’s dedication to definition helped him defeat Arnold Schwarzenegger at the 1968 Mr. Universe contest.
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Zane also won three Mr. Olympia titles to close out the 1970’s (1977-1979). He had a complete physique, but his six-pack was usually the highlight. His combination of conditioning and posing prowess made him one of the greatest competitors to ever step on a bodybuilding stage.
Nowadays, striated glutes are standard when it comes to posing on a pro stage. In the mid-1980s, they were unheard of until Rich Gaspari ushered in a new standard of conditioning. Thanks to his extreme level of separation and definition, “The Dragon Slayer” hit the pro circuit running.
Gaspari placed second at the 1985 Night of Champions and third in that year’s Mr. Olympia. He went on to place second at that contest for the next three years. His most outstanding achievement as a professional was being crowned the first Arnold Classic Champion in 1989.
Gaspari wasn’t one to focus much on getting big in the offseason, which is why he had no trouble looking lean come contest time. Even nowadays, in his 50s, Gaspari still trains and looks ready to posedown.
Shawn Ray was never going to be the most prominent man on a pro stage at 5’5″ and around 200 pounds. Instead, he focused on shape, posing, and — shocker — being as ripped as possible. Ray’s penchant for getting cut is why he was in the top six at the Mr. Olympia every year for over a decade. Ray would train individual body parts with the intention of making the entire physique look better.
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It was hard to decipher which of Ray’s body parts were his “best as he flowed through his posing routine. As Ray hit his most muscular pose, his abs and chest appeared striated and intensely rigid. During his back double biceps pose, fans would quickly assume Ray’s chiseled back was indeed his winning muscle group. Nowadays, Ray is known for his role in the media and as a promoter of shows, but some of his black and white images are still admired by fans today.
Supporters of Andreas Munzer hoped that he would follow in Schwarzenegger’s footsteps and become the next great Austrian champion. Munzer burst onto the scene in the 1990s and was immediately lauded for his extremely low body fat percentage. Munzer was ripped from every angle. When he placed his hands behind his back and flexed his torso, striations rippled across him, from shoulder to shoulder, and nearly every insertion point of his chest was clear. Munzer’s conditioning was freaky — even by modern-day standards.
Munzer placed sixth in the 1996 Arnold Classic and seventh in the San Jose Pro Invitational less than one week later. Shortly after the second contest, he was admitted to the hospital, and he passed away on March 14, 1996, at the age of 31.
Kim Chizevsky-Nicholls presented a new level of muscularity not yet seen in Women’s bodybuilding. Her dense muscle coupled with intense conditioning made Chizevsky-Nicholls an anomaly in the 1990s. Her abs and thigh pose was unbeatable, and the same is true about her front double biceps pose.
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Chizevsky-Nicholl’s combination of size and definition led to her winning the 1996 Ms. Olympia, dethroning the great Lenda Murray in the process. She would hold onto the title for three more years before retiring in 1999. The family business of muscle lives on in her, her husband, Chad Nicholls, and their sons, Morgan and Domenic.
Darrem Charles is a bodybuilder from Trinidad known as the “King of the $10,000 Shows.” His unique nickname stems from the fact that he would generally win if he competed on the smaller shows of the circuit. Charles competed professionally from 1992 to 2013 in the Open division, racking up nine victories. He may not have been the biggest competitor in lineups, but he was usually the leanest, especially from the back.
In 2016, Charles joined the Classic Physique division and won seven more contests before retiring in 2017. At the time, his physique and definition were considered the division standard. Unfortunately for Charles, he never won an Olympia title. The closest he came was a fifth-place finish in the 2016 Classic Physique Olympia. Danny Hester won that year.
Iris Kyle is the most decorated Women’s Bodybuilder ever. She’s won the Olympia 10 times — more than any competitor in any division — and has accumulated seven Ms. International (Arnold Classic) titles. In a sport defined by how an athlete looks, it’s safe to assume Kyle met all the marks. She was large, she was elegant, and she was really, really lean. Upon hitting her mandatory poses, Kyle showed off immense separation in her muscle groups (particularly in her legs).
Kyle never lost a contest from 2008 to 2014. After winning her 10th Ms. Olympia in 2014, Kyle retired from competition (the Ms. Olympia was also disbanded until 2020). The physique she displayed that year is considered among the best of all of her appearances.
Dexter “The Blade” Jackson made his presence in the IFBB Pro League known quickly when he debuted at the 1999 Arnold Classic and placed seventh. Many media members and fans saw Jackson’s potential, but no one would have guessed that he would compete until the 2020 Mr. Olympia, making his 22-year pro career span four decades.
Despite him giving up 20, 30, and sometimes up to 50 pounds in weight to competitors, Jackson beat them with his symmetry and definition. Those assets helped him 29 times as a pro, including dethroning Jay Cutler to win the 2008 Mr. Olympia. He also secured five Arnold Classic titles in his career, the most by any men’s bodybuilder.
After the era of Coleman and Cutler, Phil Heath brought something different to the bodybuilding scene. “The Gift” wasn’t the biggest man on the stage, but he had shape, proportions, and he was more often than not ripped to the bone. When he turned around for any back pose, the upper back and hamstrings were shredded. He also looked very impressive in the side chest pose.
Heath was so dominant at the 2013 Mr. Olympia that the judges sent him back in line during prejudging to determine the rest of the top finishers. The look he had that year is considered his best.
A hernia cost Heath the 2018 Olympia to the late Shawn Rhoden, stopping his streak of wins at seven, but his conditioning and well-developed muscle made him the most dominant bodybuilder of the 2010s.
Clarida is a 212-pound competitor who comes in sporting grainy conditioning — a look coined by six-time Mr. Olympia Dorian yates — with blocky, defined abdominals and striations across his torso. Clarida’s conditioning is how he won the Olympia 212 in 2020 despite weighing over 30 pounds less than some of his opponents. In 2021, Clarida narrowly lost the title to Derek Lunsford, but redeemed himself in spades when he jumped into the 2021 Legion Sports Fest Open show two weeks later — as a Men’s Open competitor.
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Weighing less (174 pounds) than he did at the 2021 Olympia (183 pounds), he entered and won the show by displaying striations and fullness that overwhelmed men up to 100 pounds more than him. He was shredded from every angle, which is why the judges gave him first place.
Honorable Mention: Jay Cutler
Many people would consider Jay Cutler more of a mass monster than someone known for sporting intense definition, but his two greatest outings were events where he looked like he lost a sword fight because of all the cuts on his physique.
In the 2001 Mr. Olympia, Cutler was extremely lean and pushed then-champion Ronnie Coleman to the limit. Coleman walked away with the title, but many fans still feel that the Massachusetts native should’ve won his first Olympia title that night.
Cutler’s second shredded showing — and probably his most impressive showing altogether — was at the 2009 Olympia. After losing his title to Dexter Jackson the previous year, Cutler took to the stage in prejudging looking full, round, and ripped. He established his dominance in Las Vegas, NV that weekend with a stomp on the floor that became known as the “quad stomp.” To this day, the image of Cutler flexing his quad is one of the most famous photographs in the sport of bodybuilding.
Featured Image: @shawnrayifbbpro (photo by Gary Phillips) and @mzolympia on Instagram