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In memory of Frank

This article was originally published back in 1990. I’m reprinting it here in memory of my friend, Frank Hillebrand, who recently passed away at age 45. May he rest in peace. As the article notes, Frank was a classic himself. The line about the “body changing after 40” proved to be sadly prophetic for Frank.


By Jerry Brainum

It was a brief respite, a soothing interlude among the raucous rock and rap music at the 1990 Mr.Olympia contest in Chicago.  As the classic tones of Beethoven’s 9th symphony caressed the ears of the ardent bodybuilding fans present, their eyes were treated to the classic muscularity of Frank Hillebrand of Germany.

“It’s important to me to bring in the artistic aspect of bodybuilding,”said Hillebrand by way of explaining his choice in posing music.  “Power and art,together.”

Power and art.  The same words could be used to describe Hillebrand himself.  This is a man who takes his bodybuilding very seriously.  He started posing to classical music five years   ago because he said he wanted to emphasize the beauty of bodybuilding.

Hillebrand’s dedication to his sport certainly played a role in his 7th place finish at the Mr.Olympia.  He said later that he would have been happy to place in the top 10, so his placing felt almost as good as winning the title.  At five-foot-eleven, 205 pounds, Frank’s great proportions and crisp muscularity allowed him to be the only one of the 1989 IFBB World Champions in the show to break the Olympia top 10.

Born in Frankfurt 26 years ago, Frank shares the same birthday with Mr.Olympia, Lee Haney.  As a teenager Frank participated in just about every sport, but decided to eventually concentrate on boxing.  As a lightweight, he fought 18 fights before throwing in the towel at 18.

He next turned to tennis, becoming a tennis instructor of such renown that he was able to tool around the Autobahn in a shiny new Porche before he turned 20.  But the sport that really attracted him was bodybuilding. He explains,”In most sports, you’re finished when you’re 30.  But with bodybuilding, there isn’t any age limit.”

At 19, Frank weighed only 141 pounds, but he had already developed enough discipline and determination to jump right into the heady world of bodybuilding.  He based his initial training routines entirely on trial and error.  In retrospect, he admits that he grossly overtrained at first.  His unbridled enthusiasm simply overshadowed his sense of reason.

But even with his unrestrained training, he quickly showed a deft talent on the posing dias.  His first major title was the Jr.Mr Germany in 1985.  He next won the German National Championship in 1987, then promptly quit competing. It wasn’t that he was afraid to compete, but rather his decision was based on morals and ethics relating to fair play in sport.

Repelled by the growing use of drugs such as anabolic steroids in bodybuilding, Frank steadfastly refused to jump on the pharmaceutical bandwagon.  He looked at his premature retirement as his way of quietly protesting against the growing drug menace.

“Using drugs is antithetical to the whole idea of bodybuilding,”he explains.  “Bodybuilding should promote health, not destroy it. I don’t think that drugs of any kind belong in bodybuilding.  Rather than proselytize about the issue, I dropped out of competition until they began drug-testing.”

When the IFBB began drug testing the amateur Men’s World Championship, Hillebrand decided to return to bodybuilding.  He entered the 1989 World Championship in Paris.  It was no cakewalk, for Hillebrand had to pose against 45 of the best Amateur light-heavyweight bodybuilders in the world.  Among these were perennial competitor and former World Champion, Ahmet Enunlu of Turkey; Symmetrical Patrick Nicholls of Barbados, who placed second in the class a year earlier; American entry, Ronny Schweyher from Texas, and several other top bodybuilders.  But Hillebrand proved the victor, qualifying him for the Mr.Olympia contest.

Hillebrand’s training and diet techniques

Frank prefers to train 6 days straight, resting on the seventh day.  He uses  a Double-Split system, which  means that he trains twice daily.  His exact split is as follows:

Day one: a.m-chest/p.m-back

Day two: a.m-thighs/p.m-calves

Day three: a.m-shoulders/p.m-arms.

He often increases his bodyweight to 264 pounds during the off-season. Such was the case before his reentry into bodybuilding competition via the 1989 World Championships.  Because of his hefty bulk, Frank decided that the best way to refine his physique back into contest-level condition was to use high sets.  Accordingly, he used up to 60 sets for back, 40 sets for shoulders during his World championship training.  Looking back now, he admits,”I wanted to get as hard as I could.  But I realize that I did too much.  I lost too much weight and too much muscle mass.”

Since he stayed in hard shape after winning the World championship, he didn’t have to do an excessive number of sets per muscle during his Mr.Olympia preparation.  For that show, he did an average of 20-24 sets per muscle group, but increased his level of intensity through using shorter rest periods and more concentration.  Most of his workouts averaged one hour, with smaller muscle groups taking only 30 minutes.

During the off-season he does 15-20 sets for larger muscle areas, such as thighs and back.  Smaller muscles, such as arms, get hit for 8-10 total sets.  He also switches to a three days on/one day off split routine.  Frank is a strong believer in training variety. Noting that “No routine is good forever,” he changes his training routine every 8-10 weeks.  He begins each exercise with a light warm-up, gradually increasing weight on each ensuing set.

Frank has particularly impressive thigh development.  His thighs have both deep definition and a full outer sweep.  To get an idea of how he trains this area, here’s the routine he used while training for the World Championship.  Keep in mind, however, that he was purposely overtraining to try to get in hard shape.

1) Squats- 8 sets of 12 reps.

2) 45-degree leg press- 5 sets of 12.

3) 90-degree leg press- 5 sets of 12.

4) Hack squats- 5 sets of 12.

5) Leg extension- 10 sets of 15.

6) Leg curls- 10 sets of 12.

7) One-legged thigh curls- 5 sets of 12.

8) Stiff-leg deadlift- 5 sets of 12.

Doing aerobics through riding a stationary bicycle for one hour every day further contributed to both his thigh and total muscularity.

In common with other drug-free bodybuilders, Frank finds that using a periodization or cycle system of training helps him recuperate better between workouts, thus promoting increased gains.  He never trains with heavy weights more than 5 weeks at a time.  He uses a heavy training cycle (for increased muscular mass) 4-5 times a year, using lighter cycles between.

Natural nutrition

As a natural bodybuilder, Frank also has to be extremely conscientious about his diet.  He favors a high protein diet, taking in an average of 2 grams of protein per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of bodyweight.  He begins his strictest precontest diet 10 weeks out from the contest.  A typical daily diet then looks like this:

Meal one

10 egg whites

5 1/2 ounces rice

Meal two

11 ounces turkey

5 1/2 ounces rice

Meal three

5 1/2 ounces rice

11 ounces turkey

Small salad

Meal four

10 ounces fish

5 1/2 ounces rice

Meal five

Fish or turkey.  He eats no carbohydrates in the evening.

Other sources of complex carbohydrates that Frank eats include noodles, potatoes, and fruit.  The final three weeks before a contest, he eats 3,000 daily calories consisting entirely of fish, rice, and vegetables.  For the final two days, he eats 2,000 calories divided into 6-8 small meals.  He treats himself to an off-diet day once a week when not preparing for a contest.  On those days, he’ll eat whatever he wants.

For food supplements, Hillebrand uses multi-vitamins, multi-minerals, and 40-50 amino acid tablets a day, which he says helps him retain muscle mass while he’s dieting.

Because of a naturally fast metabolism, Frank says he needs to consume at least 800 grams of carbohydrate daily, “Or I lose weight rapidly.”  He never eats sodium or refined sugar foods, and the night before a contest he’ll drink no fluids to promote maximum hardness in his body.

Unlike other bodybuilders who go as far as to hire choreographers for their posing routines, Frank only practices posing two days before a show.  “Anymore than this makes me too nervous,”he says.

Ecstatic over his 7th place in the ’90 Mr.Olympia, Frank is now even more enthusiastic.  “I love bodybuilding,”he says,”I love training and dieting.  Bodybuilding is my life.  But the most important thing to me is my health.  It’s more important than money or anything else.”

Now 26, Frank wants to compete until he’s about 35 or 40, saying that “Things change in the body after that.”  He believes he’ll reach his full potential at 30.  Until then, he hopes for a smooth but steady bodybuilding career; sort of like a Beethoven Symphony.


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