Lee Haney workout
Credit: Mike Neveux

Lee Haney was the ultimate mass with class bodybuilder. And he has eight Sandow trophies to prove it. Year after year, he wasn’t even threatened. Haney, at 5’11” and (usually) 240-something, dominated late ’80s bodybuilding, winning a record eight straight Mr. Olympias from 1984 to 1991 before retiring at only 31. (Ronnie Coleman, who won his first Olympia at 34, later tied Haney’s Mr. Olympia win record.) Lee Haney bridged the gap between the gazelles that preceded him and the goliaths that followed with a physique that was both aesthetic and—especially when pondering his back, chest, and shoulders—gargantuan. As his ’80s saying went, Haney was TotaLee Awesome.

These are Lee Haney’s top 10 workout tips. 

Lee Haney training

1. STIMULATE, DON’T ANNIHILATE

“Stimulate, don’t annihilate. My goal was to always stimulate the muscle. I didn’t want to push it to failure because doing so increased my chances of injury, and I also felt that if I did enough to stimulate the area I was training then I could recover better than if I went to failure. I used methods like pre-exhaust—for example, leg extensions before squats—and that made the workouts more intense for me.”

2. BENCH PRESS FOR BIG CHEST

Arnold [Schwarzenegger], Franco [Columbu], Lou [Ferrigno], Robby Robinson, all of those guys did the bench press. You also saw guys from my era like myself, Lee Labrada, Rich Gaspari, and others who used it as a foundation move to build a big chest. I would do four to five work sets and progressively increase the weight each set. My rep range was around eight reps for the first two sets and then I would do six for the other two. If I had a partner, I would occasionally do a fifth set of four. Four was as low as I would go on the reps because I didn’t want to risk injury.”

Lee Haney

3. BUILD WITH PYRAMIDS

“I really like pyramiding the weight. As I’m training, my muscles demand a certain amount of weight and I supply it slowly by adding more each set. I might do a set of 15 reps with a lighter weight, then add weight to perform 10, then more for a set of eight, and so on. I don’t just jump to my heaviest weight off the bat.”

4. TRAIN THREE DAYS, REST THE FOURTH DAY

“I sometimes do a push-pull split, working the pushing muscles one day (chest, shoulders, triceps), legs the second day, and pulling muscles another day (back, biceps, forearms). More often, though, I do chest and arms the first day, legs the second day, and back and shoulders the third day. In either case, I workout three days in a row and take the fourth day off. It doesn’t matter to me what day of the week it is, Sunday, Tuesday, whatever, if it’s a training day, I’m training. If it’s an off-day, I’m not working out. And I like to train legs in the middle, so I don’t do two upper body workouts in a row.”

Lee Haney training
Lee Haney shoulder pressing 225 behind the neck

5. SET SMALL GOALS

“The world wasn’t built in a day, and neither were we. Set small goals and build upon them. Have a purpose for every workout. Get one more rep than you got last time and that will add up to huge gains over a year.”

6. HAVE A CONQUEROR ATTITUDE

“You need the attitude of a conqueror. It’s you against the weights. And it’s you overcoming your weaknesses and insecurities. If you’ve ever seen any of my training videos, I was wearing a do-rag. That was like my Superman cape. When I put that on, it was time to get after it.”

Lee Haney behind-the-neck
Lee Haney does behind-the-neck pulldowns in his conqueror do-rag

7. GO BEHIND THE NECK

“I’ve always gone behind the neck for pullups, pulldowns, and shoulder presses, and I’ve never had any shoulder problems. I go to the front on those exercises, too, but it actually feels more comfortable to me to go behind the neck than in front. And I think the contraction in my inner traps is a key reason for my upper back thickness.”

8. CONNECT MIND TO MUSCLES

“The only way to isolate specific back muscles, whether it is upper or lower back, or make any back progress is through the power of the mind-muscle connection. This is especially important when training back, because you can’t watch your back working, but it’s crucial for every bodypart you work. Focus on the targeted muscles stretching and contracting. Imagine them growing. Picture them the way you want them to be. What you can imagine, you can achieve. If you can’t imagine it, you can’t achieve it.”

Lee Haney
Lee Haney winning another Mr. Olympia

9. PRIORITIZE FOREARMS

“I train forearms hard. A lot of big-arm guys never do a wrist curl. They might be able to get away with that. But I don’t have the biggest arms on the Olympia stage, so forearms give me some more arm muscle. It’s all about creating that illusion, so if your biceps and triceps are lagging, don’t neglect forearms. Instead, make forearms a priority.”

10. WORK ON THE INNER YOU, TOO

“To be physically fit is just a small aspect of who you are as a person. You can be a beautiful physical specimen, but if you’re empty as far as what it takes to be a person that is gonna show up real fast. Work on the inner you at least as much as the outer you.”