Who is the Best Bodybuilder Ever? An In-Depth Analysis

This post was last updated on August 22nd, 2016

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best bodybuilder everGym rats who’ve recently hopped on the bodybuilding bandwagon might have heard whispers of legendary names, such as Ronnie Coleman and Dorian Yatesechoing from the shadows of their local gym…

But how good really were these guys?

And more importantly…who was the best bodybuilder ever?

If you’ve decided to become a bodybuilder, you owe it to yourself to know who the king of the sport was.

But the answer to this question all depends on how you define the ‘best bodybuilder ever’.

Here’s a few ways to judge who the best bodybuilder of all time is:

  • Who won the most Mr Olympia titles
  • Who’s made the most impact on the sport
  • The most aesthetic guy
  • The biggest and most shredded guy of all

The most Mr Olympia titles – Lee Haney and Ronnie Coleman (8x)

Who had the biggest impact on bodybuilding – Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was the star of Pumping Iron. If you haven’t already seen it, order it off amazon. Like straight after reading this article…it’s amazing.

The most aesthetic Mr Olympia – Arnold, Franco Columbo, Frank Zane or Lee Haney.

The biggest & most shredded Hands down, Ronnie Coleman. He’s one of the biggest bodybuilders ever and always came in ripped to shreds.

So it depends how you interpret the question – ‘who is the best bodybuilder ever’.

However, Arnold Schwarzenegger is regarded by many as the greatest of all time.

Why?

  • He won 7 Sandow trophies
  • He changed the world’s opinion on bodybuilding; from being disgusted to intrigued.
  • He built one of the greatest physiques of all time. Huge mass with a tiny waist – a look that’s still highly coveted by gym rats to this day (50 years later).

Arnie sounds like a worthy choice to me.

However, for entertainment purposes I’m going to select the top 5 bodybuilders in the history of bodybuilding, then put them on stage against each other.

…So you can decide for yourself!

The Best of the Best

The 5 bodybuilders I’ve picked are: Lee Haney, Ronnie Coleman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Phil Heath and Dorian Yates. These are the top 5 most successful bodybuilders ever; winning the most titles.

Note: It’s a little unfair to compare each champion on stage, as they’re all from different era’s.

As you know, bodybuilding has evolved over the years in terms of knowledge on nutrition, training and supplements. Also new steroids have been invented, such as human growth hormone. Synthetic HGH has only been available in the last 30 years, helping guys pack on even more mass.

So the bodybuilders of today do have somewhat of an advantage.

Despite it not being a level playing field, I’ll judge these 5 bodybuilders on each of the 7 compulsory poses:

Front Double Biceps
Front Lat Spread
Side Chest
Back Double Biceps
Back Lat Spread
Side Triceps
Front Abdominal-Thigh

Then I’ll give a placing of 1-5 on who I think’s the best and worst.

  • 1st place = 5 points.
  • 2nd = 3 points
  • 3rd = 2 points.

The highest points total wins.

I’ll take into account their size and conditioning. Another thing I’ll observe is aesthetics; which judges don’t take score on today.

So if I see Ronnie’s steroid gut in any pictures then marks will be deducted.

…The same goes for you Dorian.

Equally if a bodybuilder is seen displaying a tiny waist or performing a vacuum, they’ll be marked generously.

frank zane vacuum

…That moment when Frank Zane realises he didn’t make the top 5.

Let the battles commence! Who will come out on top as the best bodybuilder ever?

Front Double Biceps

double bicep pose

click to enlarge (in a new window)

  1. Arnold – 5pts
  2. Lee Haney – 3pts
  3. Phil Heath – 2pts
  4. Ronnie Coleman
  5. Dorian Yates

Arnold’s huge biceps and slightly better conditioning over Lee Haney gives him top spot.

Lee Haney’s excellent conditioning and vacuum earns him second spot.

Phil Heath’s superior conditioning to Ronnie Coleman earns him third, despite Ronnie being considerably bigger. Ronnie is seen with a bit of bloat in this pose too.

Not a great pose for Dorian who lacks detail in his arms and mid-section.

Front Lat Spread

lat spread front

click to enlarge

  1. Lee Haney – 5pts
  2. Ronnie Coleman – 3pts
  3. Dorian Yates – 2pts
  4. Phil Heath
  5. Arnold

Lee Haney just, and I mean just, beats Ronnie Coleman due to slightly better conditioning and the fact that he’s doing a vacuum and Ronnie’s gut is still visible. However Ronnie does have considerably more size so it was super close.

Dorian Yates just edges out Phil Heath due to better lat development, even though Phil has better conditioning.

And Arnold is 5th, where he has the weakest back development.

 

Side Chest

side chest pose

click to enlarge

  1.  Arnold – 5pts
  2.  Phil Heath – 3pts
  3.  Ronnie Coleman – 2pts
  4. Dorian Yates
  5. Lee Haney

This is a controversial one between Arnold and Phil, where Phil can feel hard-done by. Phil is better conditioned, but Arnold’s huge mass in his pecs just edges it.

Phil is simply more shredded than Ronnie in this pose, with better detail especially in his delts and hamstrings.

Dorian beats Haney in the mass department, although Haney appears leaner.

Back Double Biceps

back double bicep rear pose

click to enlarge

  1. Phil Heath – 5pts
  2. Lee Haney – 3pts
  3. Ronnie Coleman — 2pts
  4. Arnold
  5. Dorian Yates

This was quite an easy win for Phil. Disregarding the shadows and lighting, his back has the best conditioning, coupled with good size.

Haney comes second, beating Ronnie on definition and Arnold on mass (in the lats).

Ronnie just beats Arnold through sheer size.

And Arnold’s shredded back is preferred over Dorian’s huge mass, which lacks detail.

*Apologies for not showing the hamstrings in this comparison pic, some of the images only displayed their torsos.

Back Lat Spread

rear lat spread

click to enlarge

  1. Phil Heath – 5pts
  2. Ronnie Coleman – 3pts
  3. Dorian Yates – 2pts
  4. Lee Haney
  5. Arnold

Phil edges out Ronnie to win 1st place, with Phil having better conditioning once again.

Ronnie’s monster size wins him second place.

Dorian has better detail than Lee Haney, as well as more hamstring definition giving him 3rd.

Haney has more width than Arnold, giving him 4th spot.

Side Triceps

side tricep

click to enlarge

  1. Lee Haney – 5pts
  2. Arnold Schwarzenegger – 3pts
  3. Dorian Yates – 2pts
  4. Ronnie Coleman
  5. Phil Heath

Lee Haney wins this one, as he has the best detail in his triceps, whilst displaying a very narrow waist.

Arnold has less definition compared to Haney, but beats Dorian to second spot as he’s performing a vacuum and Dorian is bloated.

Dorian’s excellent detail in his triceps beats Ronnie and Phil to third place. This can be attributed to his perfect horse-shoe detail, which is more visible because he’s straightened his arm out more (compared to Phil), giving a better contraction.

Ronnie outmuscles Phil to take 4th spot.

This is a particularly strong pose for all of these bodybuilders, where the lower placed guys are still looking extremely good

Front Abdominal-Thigh

ab thigh pose

click to enlarge

  1. Arnold – 5pts
  2. Lee Haney – 3pts
  3. Phil Heath – 2pts
  4. Dorian Yates
  5. Ronnie Coleman

I couldn’t get any images of Arnold or Lee doing ab-thigh poses, so I’m looking at their abdominal/thigh definition in these photos and predicting what they would look like if they were tensing both of these muscles.

Arnold’s slightly better conditioning wins him top spot over Lee Haney. Also I’ve seen Lee Haney when he’s not doing a vacuum, where he’s tensing his abs instead and they aren’t as defined as Arnold’s.

Lee’s superior abdominal conditioning earns him second ahead of Phil.

Phil just clinches 3rd place due to phenomenal thigh detail. Although Dorian’s abs are more ripped than Phil’s, the definition in Dorian’s legs lets him down.

Although Ronnie has superb definition in his thighs, the fact he looks pregnant almost guarantees him a last place for this pose. Not to mention you can only just see his abs.

Total Points

  1. Lee Haney – 19pts
  2. Arnold Schwarzenegger – 18pts
  3. Phil Heath – 17pts
  4. Ronnie Coleman – 10pts
  5. Dorian Yates – 6pts

best bodybuilder ever

It’s a shock! Lee Haney is victorious, beating Arnold to 1st place by a single point.

Arnold won 3 of the pose-rounds, while Haney won just 2.

However, Arnold placed outside the top 3 in the back poses which was a weak muscle group for him.

Conclusion

It’s surprising to me that old-school bodybuilding greats, such as Lee and Arnold (who graced the stage 30/40 years ago), could kick it against the best recent bodybuilders…and come out on top.

They were able to do this due to their superior muscle definition, compared to their rivals.

How were they able to be more defined though?

I believe it’s because old-school bodybuilders were on lower doses of steroids, which meant they didn’t retain as much water as modern day pros.

Note: I did mark on aesthetics, taking into account steroid guts/tiny waists, which today’s judges don’t do. If I didn’t do this, it probably would’ve been a different outcome. Ronnie would’ve placed higher and Arnold/Lee Haney would’ve placed a little lower.

So, Who is the Best Bodybuilder Ever?

great arnold pic

As previously stated, it depends on how you choose to answer this question. For some, the best bodybuilder ever is the guy who wins the most titles. In which case, it’s a quantifiable answer…a numbers game.

For me, the best bodybuilder ever is the one who had the greatest body.

And at the same time, conquered his era by becoming a great champion.

So IMO Arnold is the greatest bodybuilder of all time because he had the most definition, worthy mass and a tiny waist.

The difference between Haney and Arnold, for me, is that Arnold had slightly more definition. Also the Austrian Oak had better proportions.

For example, Arnold had the greatest arms in bodybuilding history. Lee didn’t.

And having huge arms will make you look more aesthetic.

Aesthetic as fua*k = spaghetti arms.

…Said no one ever.

Do you think I scored each pose-round accurately? Have your say in the comments below on who you think was the best bodybuilder ever!

 

9 thoughts on “Who is the Best Bodybuilder Ever? An In-Depth Analysis

  1. marc

    Well your judging was biased, though…for instance, Dorian was famous for his triceps mass and didn`t even made it to top three on side triceps pose…

  2. Jimbo

    Hey man no offence but you dont really understand judging criteria.
    1.You totally forgot the most muscular pose which was very popular in the Golden Era despite becoming mandatory in the early 2000s.
    The way you awarded those poses is totally wrong.You used photos from many off years for most of them-75 arnold etc.That is a huge mistake, a decisive one.
    front double biceps- how does arnold win this pose when compared to almost all the other guys he has thin quads with ZERO sweep and a wide waist-average v taper, also poor abs .The quads are just as important as biceps in this pose, and dont get me started on the v-taper where arnold is bottom, well he or heath.
    Honestly Haney looks the best in your photos, but his quads were also small and arms too-major flaw in a double bi pose.Its Ronnies pose, or Dorians, esp pre bicep tear DY when his arms were still big and waist relatively tight.
    Front lat spread-it was voted zillion times-DY easy win there, arnold doesnt even belong in the debate at all, sergio oliva smashed him in this pose back in the day.Ronnie doesnt hit it well and doesnt flow most of the time.Haney was chciken legs and Heath no width.
    Back double biceps- NOBODY touches Coleman in this pose.The insane separation,pop, bicep peak, insane shredded delts incredible back, glutes, hams and v taper is great too, gut is not visible.Its not even open to debate
    Heath lol, has no width or peaks ,glutes compared to coleman whatsoever.
    Back lat spread-NOBODY touches Ronnie and DY in this pose, they hit it in different ways so hard to compare.Rear lat spread was one of arnolds worst poses , he admitted avoiding the pose because both sergio oliva and franco SLAYED him in it.In fact there are only like 3 pic of him hitting it, and thats very telling ,lol.Haney was insane but too top heavy, sergio had much better lower body in that pose and similar width upstairs.
    Side triceps- lol at arnold in the debate, poor ass triceps, refused to hit in 1980 during the call-outs and only one or two pics with him hitting it-one of his worst poses
    Haney had small triceps, dont care how shapely they were. Ronnies worst pose, DY and Heath dominate there and not even open to debate.
    Side chest-DY doent even belong there lol.Haney small arms are FULLY EXPOSED, smallish hams not gonna happen.Arnold-insane chest but puny delts dwarfed by arms/chest, small hams.Ronnie has the arm delts chest and hams and EASILY takes the pose.Heath turns his upper body to give illusion of more size, silly .He is nowhere near as thick as Coleman.
    Abs & thigh- its a bad pose for most of them.Heath doesnt flow one bit and NARROW.Ronnie looked bad despite the quads, DY pulled it off prettydrn well FOR his size.Haney takes it.Arnold- one of if not his worst pose.He cannot hide his wide waist and quads are TINY, lats look small too.He is rock bottom with Heath in this one sorry.Also arnold had poor shaped abs, he really has nothing going for him in this pose, NOTHING.
    Most muscular-DY worst pose but great pose for the other guys.Haneys 19 inch arms severely exposed mean he doesnt make the cut, and his quads are small too.
    Ronnie dominates because he has the insane arms, delts chest and quads.Arnold dont have the delts or quads, small forearms too.Heath is great but Ronnies insane separation and vascularity and mcuh superior chest to Heath make him winner.
    Arnold did alot for the sport but he doesnt win a single pose really even though he looks good in most muscular, front double bi or side chest.Phisically he was inferior to sergio oliva and only posing and mild condition edge, coupled with weider liking him made him Mr O.Phisically flawed and incomplete. Looked like dog crap in the rear lat spread, side tri and abs & thigh and average in front lat spread.Small delts, forearms, legs and poor abs , wide waist.Not perfect at all.
    Haney is arnold with smaller waist but lesser arms and calves, flows well but flawed.Great arms and greatness go hand in hand Haney and great arms is FAIL.Also had shit opposition-Labrada was tiny, Gaspari was blocky and narrow, Makawyy was 165 lb ffs, Beckles was in his 50s LOL, christian had even worse arms and no back.
    DY- smallish arms and wideish waist, not pretty but best condition ever and great frame and overall size.
    Ronnie – early version was insanely conditioned and waist was still small, flow was goodd-GOAT.
    Heath is complete and shapely but not conditioned or massive or wide or dominant like a Coleman or DY.
    Thanks for playing.

  3. JoeHTH

    Lee Haney was the greatest bodybuilder ever, with the greatest physique ever. Perfect symmetry and godly aesthetics, along with tremendous mass and conditioning. The bloated gut monsters of today don’t even compare.

    As for Arnold, he was certainly the most influential and the most famous, but not the best.

  4. Kyle S.

    You definitely came across as having a bias against Dorian Yates. When it came to back density/thickness Yates topped them all. For example, Yates inner back – including lats – was far better than Heath’s, Arnold’s, and Haney’s. Only Coleman could challenge him on total back density/thickness. Yates was known for his density – he looked like a bullet could bounce off him.

    In addition, Yates had the best triceps out of that group; yet, you inexplicably put him 3rd.

    Finally, you ignored all-around leg development, which was Arnold’s weakest area. Haney also had weak leg development. As a matter of fact, Arnold’s and Haney’s legs were so under-developed, that I would have subtracted points! lol.

    P.S. Let’s not forget that Yates beat Coleman 8x during the 90’s. Both had access to the same drugs as well.

  5. erny23 Post author

    Hi Kyle, thanks for your comment. Dorian’s back was incredible, but Phil’s conditioning was superior IMO, hence how Dorian wasn’t ranked the highest in each back pose. His triceps were also insane, but because he had a big gut showing in this side tricep pose – I marked him harshly.

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