Few people understand what it truly takes to eat, train, and prepare like a dynastic bodybuilding champion. Lee Haney is one of them. With eight consecutive Mr. Olympia titles from 1984-1991, Haney spent nearly an entire decade at the top of the fitness world. To this day, his eight Olympia titles are tied with fellow legend Ronnie Coleman for the most ever. That’s why a recent interview might paint the picture of a man who doesn’t appreciate where modern bodybuilding stands.
On Feb. 6, 2022, Haney appeared in a podcast episode with Muscular Development. Amidst a discussion of various current events, like the rise of Derek Lunsford, Haney particularly centered on modern conditioning standards for the best of the best. In a few words, he isn’t a fan.
Similarly to Arnold Schwarzenegger, Haney thinks modern bodybuilding is too fixated on size rather than aiming for symmetry and balance. Per the legend, the top names might be larger than ever, but they’re missing vital details that used to be a primary focus during his era.
When one factors in potentially excessive dehydration to display even more muscular detail, Haney thinks this overall mentality comes at a significant cost to the athletes’ health.
“A lot of athletes end up sick or end up dying because of trying to achieve that level of dryness,” Haney explained. “I think we need to change the cultural mindset of what’s happening when it comes to judging these competitions.”
Ultimately, while he appreciates the dedication to competition and fitness, Haney expressed that what bodybuilders are asked of nowadays goes too far. For him, having a long and enjoyable life is more important than having a fruitful, rigid career that could potentially put that at risk.
“At the end of the day, you want to enjoy yourself as an athlete, but you want to walk away with your health,” Haney said. “You shouldn’t have to die to reach this level of conditioning. They’re asking too much of the athletes, period. You look at the former school of bodybuilding. People say ‘old school,’ that is the real school. It is the school. Forget that ‘old school.’ … We reached a level of conditioning that let us walk away after the competition and still be alive, and still be healthy.”
The 63-year-old Haney maintained that previous bodybuilding contest standards let the icons of his era go on to lead long lives. He explained that figures like the late and influential Bill Pearl, three-time Mr. Olympia Frank Zane (1977-1979), and even Schwarzenegger lived or have all reached their senior years, well into their 70s and 80s, for a good reason. Their bodybuilding preparations didn’t ask too much of them.
As such, it might be time to reassess and trace steps back to those past days before it’s too late. Haney suggests that the onus may be on the bodybuilding judges to only reward certain physiques in the context of earlier bodybuilders.
“They remember the fact that we were healthy. Nobody passed out on stage. Maybe we got a little dehydrated, got a little light-headed, but nobody had to call in paramedics to revive anybody. So, there’s a pattern that already exists. I’m saying, let’s get back to those patterns,” Haney said. “It doesn’t take a lot to do that. It just takes a joining of the minds. … I think we have to step back and rewrite, reassess, because the blood of these athletes that are dying, is on your hands. They’re on your hands.”
Haney’s thoughts are noble and worthy of being listened to, especially coming from a legend well-known for suggesting that bodybuilders “stimulate, don’t annihilate” in the gym. For bodybuilding to even consider scaling back to his preferred health ideal will likely take a Yeoman’s effort from everyone involved. That includes competition organizers, athletes, and their coaches seeing the forest for the trees together.
Because if an all-time great thinks the sport isn’t in a quality place, then it could be time to reconsider the dangerous path that lead to this point.
Featured image: @lee_haney_official on Instagram