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A Day with Sergio Oliva

Strength Oldschool

* Author Unknown

Massive Sergio Oliva

Without any doubt whatsoever the name Sergio Oliva is indeed an immortal one in the world of bodybuilding. Being blessed with the most amazing bone structure and muscular potential of any other human either living or dead, Sergio Oliva has built a physique that literally defies the imagination! Imagine a physique with thighs that are larger than its waist! Sergio’s thighs measure 30 inches [76 cm] yet his waist is only 28 inches [71 cm]! Imagine a physique with arms that are larger than the head and then you can begin to appreciate the amazing specimen that Sergio Oliva really is!

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sergio Oliva

While Arnold Schwarzenegger has been often labelled the King of the Bodybuilders he is the first to admit that, “Sergio Oliva when in shape is unbeatable!” When I was in California recently I showed some photos of Sergio to quite a few of the big names of current day bodybuilding and when such great physique men as, Mike Mentzer, Boyer Coe, Samir Bannout, Tony Emmott and Andreas Cahling all stand back in awe and total amazement at the sight of Sergio’s physique, you can understand and appreciate the greatness of this man. Like Andreas Cahling said, “When I look at Sergio I feel like a beginner!

The Myth Sergio Oliva

When Sergio travelled to Paris, France recently to compete for the WABBA Mr World title against Britain’s Bertil Fox I had the honour and good fortune to spend a day with him. This is what happened.

Bertil Fox Vs Sergio Oliva

“We’ll never all get in!” I said anxiously to the great Serge Nubret. “No, no, no, it’s ok I tell you!” he replied. “But I’m not sure, you might damage it you know. That’s a helluva lotta weight in there!” I said. “Look, don’t worry it’ll be alright I tell you!” he countered sternly.

Serge Nubret

Trying to pack seven giant bodybuilders and a photographer in one Jaguar motor car seems crazy enough to me, but when you consider that one of these bodybuilders was the great Sergio Oliva himself, then that definitely qualifies you for being posted to the funny farm, immediately!

It was a couple of days before the great WABBA Mr World contest in Paris, France, and Nubret was in a dash to get to the television studios so that Sergio could do a TV publicity thing for the show.

“So how am I going to get in, there’s no room!” I said, scrutinizing the inside of his Jag over and over again. No one answered this time. Serge sat impatiently at the wheel tapping his fingers and next to him was Sergio wedged against the top California bodybuilder John Brown. In the back was Eduardo Kawak who won the Amateur title plus three other ‘big’ ‘big’ bodybuilders I just couldn’t put a name to.

I was about to give up in sheer desperation when the friendly words of a Mexican/Spanish type origin said, “Hey you givva me the tripoda and putta the camera onna these guys!” ” OK Sergio, thanks very much mate!” I said, and in a second we were off.

If you’ve ever driven a car in Paris then I’m sure you will agree with me when I say that the French must be the worst drivers in the world! Serge Nubret was no exception and as we bumped our way down the tiny little narrow streets of Paris we just missed collision after collision, at almost every single road junction!

“You know your Bertil Fox he rings me every week and he says, ‘Please Serge tell me ze contest will be fair!’ and I tell heem ‘Yes, yes, yes, ze contest it will be fair, but you betta come in good, because that Sergio he ees looking fantastik!’” Serge said as we drove along. “You betta believa that man!” cried Sergio with a great big grin all over his face.

If driving in Paris was frightening then parking was an absolute nightmare! As we approached the great big television studios there wasn’t an inch of parking space available anywhere. In fact when these guys park they don’t quite double park they quadruple park! One car on each side of the road and another car on the pavement either side of that! Suddenly one of the parked cars flashed his reversing lights and began to move out of the parking space. As if by magic the parking space became suddenly up for grabs as one car came out of the blue directly behind us and another straight in front of us. This wasn’t going to bother Serge Nubret at all and he quickly put his plan into action which was to get his oversized Jag into a parking space that looked only big enough to hold a Mini! We went back. Then we went forward. Then we went back again. All the time to the accompaniment of the incessant and unmelodic tunes coming from the car in front and the one behind.

“You’ll never make it Serge. The car’s too bloody big!” I yelled as my neck twisted to the right and then to the left each time we moved. “You are in Parees now Chrees. Thees is how we do it!” said the great one.

By this time quite a large group of noisy gay Parisians (not the bent kind) had assembled to watch the proceedings. Amidst the by now almost deafening sound of the other two cars horns I began to slowly evaluate the situation. Was this great big car bulging to the seams with eight bodybuilders going to get into that tiny parking space without causing damage to any other vehicle on the road? Or were we all going to be arrested by the Gendarmes for overloading, dangerous driving and numerous other offences I didn’t dare think about? Discretion being the greater part of valour I decided to get out of that car as quick as I could! I wasn’t the only one thinking this because I was followed immediately by one of the other bodybuilders from California who had been sitting next to me in the back.

Joining the rest of the observers on the other side of the road I could now tell by the angry look on Nubret’s face that he was getting a little fed up with the situation, and that he intended to put an end to it once and for all. Selecting reverse gear the Jag which now contained only 6 bodybuilders drove straight at the car behind him. “Oh, no I don’t believe this. He’s going to bloody-well ram the car!” I said closing my eyes in disbelief.

Crash! I looked up and right enough Serge had rammed the car behind him. The maroon coloured automatic Jag now moved into drive and yes you guessed it, rammed the other car in front, right up the jacksy! “Hey man you should have took a picture of that for the magazine” said the guy from California. “Yes, it’s amazing isn’t it?” I replied with my mouth still hanging open. I thought for a moment that Serge might have trouble with the two drivers of the cars but I guess one look at Nubret and Oliva would be enough to scare anyone off. Amazingly Serge did manage to get the car into the space, but with literally only a couple of inches to spare. “How’s he going to get out?” I muttered to myself.

I had seen Sergio Oliva on two previous occasions. Once when he was very narrowly beaten by Bill Pearl at the 1971 London Mr Universe and again when he beat Tony Emmott at the very controversial 1977 WABBA Mr World contest.

Sergio Oliva Vs Bill Pearl

Although I felt that he had the most amazing and unique physique of any single living bodybuilder the world has ever known, I felt that he just couldn’t get that little bit of extra polish needed to beat the top, amazingly muscular guys of today. So knowing too well that Sergio simply hates to diet I was putting my money on Fox!

After the TV thing Sergio declared “Hey man I wanna do-a-bit-of-the training now!” and pretty soon we pulled up outside of Nubret’s International Club just as it began to snow.

Serge Nubret’s gym is not a fancy chrome plated health club just waiting to take your money off you. No, his gym is a bodybuilders gym and it was truly unbelievable to see so many Serge Nubret look-a-likes, slowly and meticulously repping out set after set of bench presses with fairly light weights.

I’ve never ever seen anyone as wide as Sergio Oliva and the navy blue track suit he wore that day for his workout must have been custom made for him, in fact I got the impression from the many varied and different clothes he wore every time you saw him that he must surely have his own wardrobe and personal tailor here with him in France. As Bob Kennedy remarked later, “When Sergio changes into a different outfit he not only appears a completely different person he actually takes over that personality too!”

Cool Sergio Oliva

For instance when he arrived at Charles De Gaulle Airport he was wearing his navy Chicago City Police uniform and he actually assumed the role of a cop i.e. dead serious and aloof. Yet when I saw him the following day he wore the most unbelievable pure white fluffy woolly jacket backed up with the most gold jewellery I’ve seen on anyone since Sammy Davis! Indeed this particular rig out displayed the jolly care-free lover of life type, and sure enough Sergio played the part to a ‘T’ for he sure loves life does that Sergio!

Inside Nubret’s gym Sergio got set to train. Being already in his track suit he only had to place his red white and blue sweat band over his now completely bald head and we were away!

Sergio Oliva - Ready to Train

First on the agenda was calf work. Using only the standing calf machine and the seated calf machine, Sergio did at least eight sets of both exercises for at least 20 reps a set. He raised his heels up as high as he could at the top of the movement, and then lowered them as far as he could at the bottom. At first I got the impression that he wasn’t working too hard, and then I happened to glance over to the weight stack. He was using the entire weight stack making it look like child’s play!

After calves Sergio said he just wanted to do a little bit of back work just to keep in shape for the contest on Saturday. Using the old fashioned pulldown behind the neck exercise Sergio took the widest grip I’ve ever seen used on this exercise and commenced his first set. As I said Sergio used an extremely wide grip on the bar and pulled it as low down his neck as he could. He did about six sets of about 20 to 25 reps a set and worked to about 80% of true muscular failure. Following this Sergio did another six sets of at least 20 reps on the close grip reverse pulldown to the chest. Sergio had to really put out on these and worked them much harder than the aforementioned pulldowns.

Sergio Oliva Back

Resting only for a few minutes Sergio then said he wanted to pump his shoulders up a bit. “Great, pump mine up while you’re about it!” I thought to myself. Indeed it’s my own personal opinion that Sergio’s greatest bodypart is his deltoids even though nearly everyone else would probably say his arms. When Sergio Oliva spreads himself out to do a double bicep pose to the front or the rear no one, repeat no one, can stand next to him. He is the biggest and widest bodybuilder the world has ever seen and maybe will ever see! When he assumes these two poses he lust literally takes over the whole stage!

For his deltoids all I saw him do that day was seated press behind neck and seated alternate dumbbell forward raise. Using very moderate weights for a man of his immense strength Sergio did rep after rep of these two exercises non stop for about 8 total compound sets. On the press behind neck he used a fairly wide grip on the bar and used deep concentration to thoroughly stimulate those amazing delts, I was really surprised to see him do so many reps for his shoulders because I’m sure he did at least 20 reps each set!

1969 Mr Olympia - Sergio - Arnold - Franco

When he couldn’t do another rep in good style on the press behind neck Sergio rested a couple of minutes before going into the next part of his compound set which was the seated alternate dumbbell forward raise. This exercise was performed in very strict style and once again he did at least 20 reps a set if not more.

Sergio finished off his workout with one of his favourite exercises, parallel bar dips. On this exercise he lowered himself fairly low between the bars and in no time at all had completed a rather fast six sets of 20 to 25 reps using only his bodyweight!

Sergio Oliva in Japan

After the workout was over Sergio declared to Nubret “Hey man I wanna eat!”, so Nubret arranged for a French/English interpreter to take us to a small bistro.

On the way there I asked Sergio how he felt about the fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger had been the one who had gained the most wealth, fame and popularity from bodybuilding when in fact it probably could have been him (Sergio). “Yes, I think about these things. Maybe the guy was smarter. But I sure don’t hold any grudges against the guy. He’s sure made a lotta monee outta this game. You’va gotta handa-it to-a him!” he told me.

At the bistro Sergio declared he wanted something to eat and fast! Unfortunately during certain times of the day if appears to be just about impossible to find any good hot food anywhere in Paris. Sergio tried repeatedly to get the young French interpreter to bring him some eggs.

Sergio Oliva Eating Huge Amounts of Food


“Eggs man. Ain’t you heard about the egg?” said Sergio in total disbelief. “Eggs! Eggs! I do not understand what are you asking for. Eggs?” replied our interpreter looking totally confused. “Yeah Eggs! You-a-scramble them like this. (Sergio assumes the scrambled egg pose). I want 12 scrambled! You understand 12 scrambled eggs pronto!” orders the great one. “Er, scramble-eggs-twelve? What is scramble eggs?” repeated the Frenchman. “Look man cluck, cluck, cluck!” cried a now desperate Sergio Oliva as his arms jump up and down in a pathetic attempt to imitate a hen! “Cluck, cluck, cluck. Eggs man. Eggs!” clucked Sergio. “Ah, you want zer cheekin! Zer cheekin!” cried the Frenchman. Sergio did not share the young Frenchman’s enthusiasm. “This is f–––––– crazy man. Let me getta outta here” was Sergio’s answer.

Before he could get out of his chair, I said quickly, “Omelette!”. “Ah, zer omelette! You would like zer omelette eh No?” replied our friend. “Eh Yes!” replied poor Sergio who looked now as though he was ready to eat a scabby horse! Pretty soon we were served two beautiful French omelettes and in no time at all Sergio devoured every last bite!

“Pan-a-caka! I wanna the Pan-a-caka!” was Sergio’s next cry. “Er Pana-ca- I do not understand” said our poor frustrated friend. Oh no. Not again! I thought. “I wanna the pan-a-cak-a! Don’t you know watta the Pan-a-cake is man?” replied the great man.

Sergio Oliva Loved his Food

I could tell by the tone of Sergio’s voice that his simmering nervous system was fast approaching boiling point again. “Look, Sergio has to eat plenty of sweet things today so that he can have the energy for the contest” I said weakly. “Sweet? Sweet.” answered the Frenchman as though he was in an echo chamber. “Yes, yes, sweet. He has to keep his sugar level up” I countered. “Ah Sugar! Yes Sucre! You want zer sucre” chirped the Frenchman as though he had just won a million dollars!

He jumped up from the table excitedly and made his way over to what looked like a kitchen attached to the next room. “I reckon we’ve cracked it this time Sergio” I said proudly. “Huh! Ivva hada this-a-French-shite-man. I wanna go home and eat!” replied Sergio completely uninterested in any further conversation.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when our young Frenchman came hurrying back holding a glass bowl as though it was the Olympic torch! “Sucre! Sucre!” he declared as he dropped the bowl full of sugar lumps right under Sergio’s nose. “You want zer sugar. Here is zer sugar for you!” He said proudly.

I will never ever forget the look on Sergio Oliva’s face as long as I live. Nor will I forget the look on our poor French friend’s face as his great big proud smile slowly dropped into a look of confusion, and then into down-right pure shock! I really did think that Sergio was going to pick up the entire table including the Frenchman, myself and the bowl of sugar lumps, only to throw the lot out of the window. I obviously wasn’t the only one thinking this because the entire room of Parisians had suddenly stopped what they were doing, and all eyes were now focussed on this huge monster in the navy blue tracksuit and the poor Frenchman whose complexion had now suddenly changed from fresh to white as a sheet!

Amazingly the great Cuban somehow regained his composure and said to our friend, “You comma witha me now. I’ll givva you the sugar”. As the two of them left the bistro I thought “Christ he’s going to beat the living daylights out of the poor bugger. What should I do?” I thought. All my worries were completely unfounded though because after only a couple of minutes the two returned smiling and apparently the best of friends. The reason for the sudden friendship of course lay inside the huge white box held by the great Cuban.

Sergio impetuously pulled at the string which surrounded the box while the Frenchman and myself, plus the rest of the people in the bistro anxiously awaited the grand opening. “Ah! Ah!” said the great one smiling for the first time that day as the contents of the box were now revealed to one and all.

Inside the box were eight of the most delicious looking French cream cakes you could ever imagine. Holding a cake in each hand Sergio reminded me of a cement mixer as he delightedly stuffed them into his mouth. “Go on, Go on, you havva one. They are so good man.” He said waving the lovely pastry right under my nose. “Er, well I don’t know Sergio you’ve got to keep your strength up you know, we don’t want Foxy to get the edge now do we?” I replied. “No, no, no! You will lika these my friend,” he replied. And he was right. I did like the cream cake and it appeared that our French friend felt the same way too because he was sitting licking his lips just at the sight of the two of us scoffing them down.

“You like zer Pan-a-cak-a?” he enquired. Sergio and I were both suddenly stopped dead in our tracks by this remark. We just looked at each other and then couldn’t help but burst out laughing!

* I hope Strength Oldschool fans enjoyed the above article. Check out some videos below that I produced on the great bodybuilding legend, Sergio 'The Myth' Oliva.






If you're massive fans of Sergio, as I am, post up your comments below. maybe even share some of your own Sergio stories.

All the best and keep training hard,

Strength Oldschool

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