Some Tips of IFBB Mr. Olympia Sergio “The Myth” Oliva Sr. to Intensify Your Workout

A Cuban bodybuilder Sergio Oliva (4 July 1941 to 12 November 2012), known as “The Myth” (named by bodybuilder and writer Ricky Wayne), was one of the bodybuilding champion known for his legendary and mythical physique, which is praised by many of his fans and legendary bodybuilders till date. True to his other name, “The Myth,” he had built a phenomenal physique that blew many people’s minds during his heydays. He was quite famous for some of the poses only he was able to do. For instance, arms over the head pose from the back.

Sergio was among the rare genetically gifted bodybuilder ever who was superhumanly wide, thick, and super large in shape, along with total symmetry and shape. He was one of the rare V-taper bodybuilders who was a difficult competitor to other legendary bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Even admitted by Arnold that Sergio was one of those who has always maintained his all-time best condition.


Here’s the Bodybuilding Secrets of Sergio Oliva Sr.

Sergio Oliva was quite famous for his unique training system that was quite different and entirely his own. He never had any coaches or trainers, nor did he ever read any bodybuilding magazines. He was the rare non-conformist who used to do in his unique way. Though many things looked anti-intuitive, overall, his bodybuilding method and muscle building approach was unique and even produced great results successfully.

Some of the Sergio Oliva Sr. AKA African bodybuilding secrets are:

  • Light Warmup
  • Higher Repetitions
  • Avoid Drinking Water In Between Workout
  • Rest-Pause Reps
  • Constant Tension on the Muscles
  • Continuous Motion or Constant Tension
  • Avoid Forced Reps
  • Prioritize Supersets
  • Train Fast
  • Go For Pump
  • Go for a Large Number of Sets for All Muscle Groups
  • Train Using Moderate to Moderately Heavy Weights
  • Train Some Muscles Consecutively

Light Warmup

Sergio required lots of warmup before going for his working sets. It’s not essential for young bodybuilders, but it’s good to apply for a middle-aged or senior bodybuilder. Usually, he used three warmup sets on basic exercises to assure himself that he’s well warmed up to handle bigger weights properly.

One such example was witnessed when he went to Chicago at the age of 46. And he ended up doing a lot of warmups. For instance, for the first set, he even struggled to do squats with an empty bar Olympic bar. But, moving to the tenth set Sergio easily squatted 550 pounds for four reps without any issues. Similarly, his arms trembled while doing a 135-pound bench press, but later, Sergio did 20 reps on his eighth set using 315 pounds and did about 50 reps with 225 pounds.

Higher Repetitions

Sergio used to go for high repetitions for most of his exercises. Around 20 reps were go-to for him, and sometimes he even did more than that, even for muscles like biceps, triceps, lats, deltoids, and pecs. Once, he even bench pressed 50 reps using 225 pounds.

Furthermore, he never gone below ten reps for any given sets, though sometimes he did for legs. He maintained his consistency of higher reps for the upper body, which was around 15 to 25 reps. Sergio even said that he always felt better with higher repetitions instead of low reps and high weights. He could even gain better quality muscles and even maintained more muscles, especially when he used to diet down for the contest.

Avoid Drinking Water In Between Workout

Sergio always used to avoid drinking water in between his workouts, which was lasting around two hours. Sergio believed that drinking water was cooling him down, so he reserved to do it at the end of the workout, and instead, he used to drink hot coffee from a thermos. And the reason for drinking coffee was that caffeine used to make him energetic and even used to sweat more.

Rest-Pause Reps

Sergio Oliva was a firm believer in using the rest-pause principle. In most of his exercise, he was used to it. For upper-body exercises, most of the time, he used the rest-pause principle for every set. For instance, on his final set of behind-the-neck-press with around 300 pounds, he would perform ten reps and pause for five seconds, then again do another five reps, pause to take deep breathes, and then again five more reps. So, in total, he would around 20 reps. For other exercises, he did the same. He’ll rest-pause for a few seconds, take a deep breath, and start over.

Though, he never used this principle religiously. It’s quite challenging to know when he did because it was never an exact routine, but it depended on how well his muscle is getting pumped and working.

Constant Tension on the Muscles

Sergio always believed in keeping constant tension on the muscle you’re working on. For that sake, he often avoided locking out in many of the exercises. For instance, he would do only one-third of the motion range on bicep preacher curls from the bottom or one-half from the top while doing bicep concentration curls. Going full range of motion takes off the tension, so most of the time, he avoided it while hammering partial range of motion and keeping it fast and short as well.

Continuous Motion or Constant Tension

Sergio keeps constant tension on the muscle throughout the set until his muscle doesn’t get exhausted. For instance, for every upper body exercise such as bench press, rows, pull-downs, dips, or any other upper body exercise, he never stopped in between until he doesn’t get exhausted and forced to stop end the set.

Avoid Forced Reps

Like other golden era bodybuilders such as Lou Ferrigno or Bill Pearl, he also believed in avoiding total failure or forced reps on any given sets. He believed that forced reps were quite taxing on the nervous system, which affects your body’s recovery after the workout. According to him, training within the means or ending maybe two or three reps before reaching failure and keeping high reps is the key to muscle growth.

Prioritize Supersets

Sergio was fond of antagonistic supersets. In other words, he was training opposing or opposite muscle groups. For instance, going for biceps and triceps and then pectoral and lats. But, his method of doing antagonistic workout was quite different compared to the traditional one. He differed it and even named supersets as “combinations.” First, Sergio would start with pecs and then take a minute rest or 90 seconds rest and continue to do lats. After six sets of bench press, he would do 5 sets of wide-grip chin-ups.

He would occasionally go for traditional antagonistic supersets or compound supersets. Still, it would only be for mostly arm training like Zottman curls superset with wide-grip barbell curls without any rest.

Lastly, Sergio believed that training while the rest between supersets always allowed him to go for bigger weights at his maximum capacity. And, it gave a better time to recover between the sets.

Train Fast

Sergio is someone who believed in keeping a steady pace with his workouts. He often used to train with Ron Hogen. And he always believed in training fast without wasting time, and when it comes to rest, he would only take rest till Ron or any other partner with whom he’s training do his set and while changing the weights on the bar.

Go For Pump

Sergio was a firm believer in muscle pumps. His training protocols were designed in a way that was aimed towards the maximum pump. In other words, his preference was for high reps, sets with large volumes, use of rest-pause for achieving higher reps and sometimes going for supersets or combinations, and also training in constant-tension style. For example, for getting enough pump on his pecs, Sergio would choose to do bench press for 50 reps on his last set.

Go for a Large Number of Sets for All Muscle Groups

Sergio’s workout philosophy was the reverse of Mike Mentzer’s Heavy-Duty Training. Sergio never used to count sets. He did numerous sets until he felt wanted for the muscle group he was training. On average, it was around 24 to 30 sets per muscle group or maybe somewhat less for biceps and triceps.

Train Using Moderate to Moderately Heavy Weights

Sergio lifts heavyweights such as 550 pounds for some exercises while squatting for around 4 reps, 300 pounds for front lats pull-downs. On the other hand, for some exercise, he would intentionally go for moderate weights. In other words, he used combinations of heavy and light training. For instance, he would do 10 to 15 reps in some sets using heavyweights, and for others, he would also go for as high as 20 to 50 reps using moderate weights.

Train Some Muscles Consecutively

Sergio used to train some muscle groups on consecutive days or even sometimes three days continuously. For instance, he would do chest and deltoids workout three days in a row, including different exercises.

It’s not something only Sergio believed it. Other IFBB pros also used to train in the same consecutive fashion. For example, Albert Beckles had trained his thighs six days a week. Frank Zane would sometimes train back or thighs for consecutive days and so on. Though, unlike others, Sergio never faced recovery issues. He had super recovery and endurance ability, and he was also one of those who trained more, and in return, he got bigger and muscular.

Wrapping Up

Similar to other IFBB bodybuilders, he also trained using different schedules and training methods. But, the best part about him was he was self-trained, who worked up on his own. He was never trained by any trainer.

Lastly, here are the 13 best bodybuilding secrets from Sergio Oliva Sr. you can look upon to make your workout more intense. Also, if you think we’ve left out something or else you’ve any other Sergio’s tip that you think we should share, let’s know in the comment section below.

Satinder Chowdhry Avatar

Satinder Chowdhry