Sergio Oliva Workout and diet

Bodybuilder (deceased)
Born: 1941

Born in Cuba, Sergio Oliva had to work harvesting sugar cane as a child. He was discovered on the beach by the manager of the Cuban Weightlifting team. Oliva got a job cleaning up at the gym, entered his first amateur competition at age 21 and quickly started breaking records. While prepping for the Pan American games in Jamaica, Oliva snuck out of the compound and ran to the American consulate where he requested political asylum. ‘The Myth’ relocated to Miami and worked as a tv repairman for a while before moving to Chicago. Oliva joined the IFBB in 1966 and won Mr. Olympia 3 times in a row: 1967-’69. He is the only man to ever beat Arnold Schwarzenegger. Oliva retired from bodybuilding in 1985 and worked for 27 years as a policeman. He also appeared in a few films including Black Power and LosTemibles. He passed in 2012, but his son is following in his footsteps. Oliva was 5 feet, 10 inches tall and weighed225lbs. When competing and 235 lbs. in the off-season.

Known For:

Sergio Oliva’s Diet


Growing up in Cuba, Oliva often only had 1 meal a day. He was poor and ate whatever he could get his hands on. Once he joined the weightlifting team, however, that all changed. He got 3 solid meals a day with plenty of protein from things like steak and eggs, as well as vitamin and other supplements. Because he was so huge and working out so hard, he could eat pretty much whatever he wanted. He would have 6 meals a day, and eat things like 10 egg whites and 6 hot dogs with a cup of rice. He also ate veggies and salad. As for hydration, he would have 2 gallons of water a day plus a gallon of milk.

Estimated Macros

  • Low Carb 20% 20%
  • Medium Fat 30% 30%
  • High Protein 75% 75%

Diet Details


The Reality of Eating for ‘The Myth’

Oliva went hungry for most of his childhood. As his muscles grew, he could handle just about anything he chose to eat. He only needed to watch his intake for a few weeks before a contest, which is virtually unheard of for bodybuilders.


Bring On the Food

Oliva was famous for getting away with eating everything. Breakfast was often a dozen egg whites, oatmeal and 3 pork sausages. Lunch would be 8 oz tuna, a cup of rice and a soda, while dinner was a steak, a salad, more rice and mixed veggies.


No Magic Bullet Diets

Oliva’s wife encouraged him to try Frank Zane’s vegetable and fish diet for his comeback in the 1984 Mr. Olympia. Oliva tried it, but he complained of always being hungry. It didn’t help him win either. He finished 8th.


Serious Sweet Tooth

Oliva had a serious sweet tooth and could easily polish off a bunch of Twinkies and wash them down with Mountain Dew.


Unique Hydration Method

Oliva had a lot of quirks, including drinking hot coffee while training to keep his muscles warm. He would only have cold water to cool off after his workout.

What to Eat


Anything and Everything


Egg Whites
















Mountain Dew




Black Coffee



What to Avoid


Being Hungry


Low-cal Foods


Oliva on His Contest Diet

‘I only dieted 3 weeks out from the show.’


Oliva on His Fast Metabolism

‘I didn’t need to diet. I was eating everything.’


Oliva on His Fluid Intake

‘I would drink a gallon of milk every day and I would drink 2 gallons of water a day, but I’m sweating all day long.’


Oliva on Clean Living

‘I don’t smoke, don’t drink, or do any of the other stuff.’

Sergio Oliva’s Workout Routine

Weekly Routine

DIY Training

Perhaps because Oliva received no formal training or possibly due to his early years of hard labor and little food, he had joint issues and could not fully extend his arms or legs while lifting or risk dislocating his joints.

High Reps, No Rest

Oliva’s approach was moderate weights, high reps, and at least 6 sets per exercise with minimal rest between sets.

No Counting

One of Oliva’s many quirks is that he never counted his sets. He just worked by intuition.

Listen to Your Body

Oliva would listen to his body during reps, and when he needed rest. If he felt he needed a day off, he would take it.

Mega Daily Dose

While Oliva did not count sets, other people did. They noted that he would do 20-30 sets per muscle group, adding up to some 60 sets per workout. Despite his long days at his day job, he would still hit the gym for 3+ hours a night.

Light Warm Ups

Oliva would always do a light warm up to prep his muscles for the marathon sessions.

Supersets & Combos

Oliva was a big fan of supersets and combos, and kept tension on his muscles at all times. He also worked the muscles from all angles for superior development.

No Comparing

Oliva would use moderately heavy weights, but said not to get too focused on numbers. Work with what is right for your muscles on that particular day.

No Failure

Oliva was very much in touch with how his muscles were working, and never worked to failure.

Exercise Style


A sample Sergio Oliva Routine

Standing calf raises: 20+reps x 8 sets

Seated calf raises: 20+reps x 8 sets

Pull downs, extra-wide grip: 20-25 reps x 6 sets at 80% RM

Reverse pull downs, close grip: 20 reps x 6 sets

Seated press: 20+reps x 8 sets

Alternate dumbbell forward raises: 20+reps x 8 sets

Parallel bar dips: 20-25 reps x 6 sets


Oliva on Prepping For a Contest

‘You had to work hard all day.’


Oliva on Not Having a Trainer

‘It was like I looked after myself.’


Oliva on Bodybuilding

‘I love everything about bodybuilding. Bodybuilding is my life.’


Journalist Greg Zulak on Oliva’s Training Method

‘Sergio trained in a manner I had never seen or read about before. On all upper body exercises, Sergio used short, fast, partial, non-stop or continuous motion repetitions, while legs,he trained for full reps in the more traditional manner.’


A fellow Bodybuilder on Oliva’s Joint Issues

‘After a while, he couldn’t lock out lifts because his elbows would dislocate or his knees would bend backward.’

Sergio Oliva’s Supplements

Protein Powder


There weren’t as many supplements available during the Golden Age of bodybuilding, and Oliva did not take many, with the exception of protein.

Get it here



Another thing Oliva consumed a lot of was coffee. Caffeine functioned as a pre-workout, and gave him energy to power through intense workouts. It is also a diuretic, helping to cut water weight pre-contest.

Get it here

Sergio Oliva’s Lifestyle

Sleep: Not Necessarily on the Schedule

Oliva worked incredibly hard at his job and his training, leaving little time for sleep or anything else. But one thing he loved to do was go dancing on Saturday nights.

Free Agent

Oliva was always proud of the fact that he did not have an agent and had developed his own poses.

No Denial

Oliva openly admitted to using steroids back in the day. He used Deca-Durabolin, but says everyone else was doing it too, and that it ‘wasn’t much.’

Hard Work Pays Off

Oliva worked 12-14 hours a day in a metal foundry and in a meatpacking plant before becoming a police officer. Then he hit the gym after work, and after that, it was off to English class so he could earn his US citizenship.

Idol Influence

One of Oliva’s biggest influences was fellow bodybuilder Bob Gajda who worked out at the same YMCA in Duncan, Illinois.

Special Suit

Unsurprisingly, Oliva needed his police uniforms specially made to fit his incredible physique.

Tragic Finale

In 1986, a domestic dispute led to Oliva being shot 5 times by his wife, but he miraculously survived. The marriage did not. He passed away in 2012 at age 71 of kidney failure.


Oliva on his Daily Schedule

‘I was working 12-14 hours a day, and then I was going to the YMCA and do my exercises 3-4 hours every day. by the time I eat, that was it, time to go to bed.’


Oliva on His Routine

‘Nobody made me, only my God and my heart and the fact I worked so hard.’


Schwarzenegger on Oliva

‘I understood why they called him The Myth. It was if I’d walked into a wall.’


Oliva on Steroid Use

‘Everybody in the old days used them: Frank Zane, Columbu, myself, Arnold, Larry Scott… even Steve Reeves. There’s no way to deny it. It wasn’t much, not like today.’


Oliva on His Life

‘I always believe that I have been blessed. I feel lucky to have been watched over by that big guy upstairs.’

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