The Two Keys to Understanding Sergio Oliva

sergio oliva height

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Why is it that, if you look at 3X Mr. Olympia Sergio Oliva by himself, in some photos he looks impossibly huge, and then you see him in other photos taken on the very same day, and he doesn’t quite as big? Case in point, this still from Wayne Gallasch’s video of Sergio Oliva taken in 1972 where Sergio looks gigantic. He looks bigger than bodybuilders today who take insulin and growth hormone, as well as what was available in the 1970s:

Above: Sergio looking gigantic.

Contrast the above photo with the one directly below which was taken at the very same photo shoot. He looks much smaller, not that far from a Serge Nubret or a Zane:

Above: Sergio looking big but not gigantic.

Key number one is that Sergio Oliva’s head is smaller in proportion to his body than average, giving him what artists call heroic proportions. Any time you see Sergio Oliva’s upper arms raised near his head he looks ridiculously huge. In a book about Arthur Jones’ Nautilus, author Ellington Darden remarks on an accompanying photo of Sergio saying that if you look closely you’ll notice that his arms are as big as his head. Which is true, but wouldn’t be if you put Arnold Schwarzenegger’s head on Sergio’s body.

Above: Sergio’s arms are as big as his head.

Compare the unaltered photo on the left of Sergio Oliva and Arnold Schwarzenegger from the 1972 Mr. Olympia contest with the switched-head version on the right. All of a sudden Sergio(left) looks like a short guy with big arms and Arnold(right) looks like a pin head.

Above: Unaltered photo on left. Switched heads on the right.

Try it again with Sergio standing between Bill Pearl(left) and Dan Lurie(right).  The left image has Sergio’s head on all 3 bodies. On Lurie, Sergio’s head looks especially tiny. The image in the middle is unaltered. The right image shows Lurie’s head on Sergio. Sergio gains over two inches of height with Dan Lurie’s head.

Above: Left is Bill Pearl and Dan Lurie with Sergio’s head. Center is unaltered photo. Right is Sergio with Dan Lurie’s head.

The second key to why Sergio looks much smaller in some photographs is contextual. Oliva was listed in the bodybuilding magazines as 5’11”. When I saw him in person when he was only 40, I was stunned. It took me a few moments to adjust to what I was seeing because he was actually more like 5’8″ than 5’11”. I couldn’t immediately process, at the time, how much shorter he was than what the magazines said he was. It blew me away. Schwarzenegger, too, was not as tall as reported but his height was not exaggerated nearly as much as Sergio’s. As a result, when you see Oliva standing next to a six footer he is dwarfed. When you see him alone and, aided by his head proportions, he look gigantic.

Above: Sergio in context with 6+ footers.

About Yegor Khzokhlachev 807 Articles
Gorilla at Large


  1. Arnolds aesthetics are grossly exaggerated becuse he’s Arnold.Small waist /hip structure and great abs are key to a truly aesthetic build, he was a fail in those 2 categories.Just because Arnold had the ” show” muscles- chest and biceps doesnt make him aesthetic. That is 71 arnold, supposedly 246 lb, same as 1974.Still has smaller thighs than a 230ish lb Sergio and a much bigger waist, especially hip width.Also small calves from the front.
    Sergio was a short guy?listed at 5’10 and surely 5’9 in his prime.Thats the average male height NOW in the US, let alone 4 decades ago.Phil Heath and Jay Cutler are both 5’9 .Truly short is 5’7 or lower.
    Arnold being taller means nothing, in bb ideal is somehwere in the 5-9-5’11 range- Sergio,Coleman, Dorian, Haney,Cutler and Heath are all in this range, i think Frank Zane too.I’m guessing you re one of those guys who thinks arnold was more aesthetic because 1 he was taller and 2 he was good lookinbg in the face.Yeah arnolkd had that over Sergio but its BODYbuilding not pretty face nice full hair and smile building.
    Arnold only had better calves from the side, from the back they were mighty close;topic=254211.0;attach=298706;image
    Longer quads is a bad thing.Full round quads on Sergio are far better.And no big quads do not ruin aesthetthic appeal.Mike Ohearn is arguably the most photographed fitness model ever, the guys quads are huge, also check out Ulisses Jr, one of the most popular fitness models now.
    A fuller chest?arnolds chest was a little better shaped but i could also say Sergios back was better, and back trumps chest in importance, not even close.
    You say Arnold had maybe marginally better calves, but again, Sergios quads blow Arnolds away, and thighs will always be more important than calves.Bigger bodyparts decide it sorry.
    You say Sergios biceps dont peak, yet his arm “height” when viewed from the front is fantastic, more impressive than many current pros.Also, his triceps are easily better, bigger, fuller.And triceps are bigger than biceps too.
    Should i mention Sergios forearms?among the best ever no doubt.
    Should we bring delts in discussion?arnolds delts were weak compared to his huge chest, very visible from the side in a side chest pose, they were also small in relation to his arms.
    This is an old Sergio and his chest thickness is on par with prime Arnold esily And his delts are on par with his chest, unlike Arnold.
    Sergio had a better frame, especially the waist to shoulder ratio-extremely valued back in those times.A small head is also good, Ronnie also had a small head making his arms and delts appear even larger than they were.
    Sergio was a more complete bodybuilder- everything huge and on a superior skeletal frame.Arnold was taller, handsomer, far more charismatic and white, and willing to do what Weider wanted.To Weider it was a no brainer, espceially in 1970 America, with the racial tension and civil rights movements, at a time when virtually all his magz were bought by middle class white teenaers.
    May I say Sergio was too freaky for those times, he litteraly blew people’s minds- it happened to Arnold, to Peter McGough, Padilla mentions it.Arnold had much better posing and marginally better condition in some years- 1970 when Sergio was sick .72 was a huge robbery that Serge Nubret says it in a lenghty ibterview on Youtube, Boyer Coe says it, and even Arnold admitted he wasnt in shape in one of his books, and says something like “Sergio was stupenduous in Essen”.So stupendous that the German crowd boed arnold when he was announced winner.and he was almost a german, so you can imagine germans boeing one of their own because of a black guy, it was THAT OBVIOUS.
    PS.More detail, well Sergio was a shit pose, there are very few times in which he FULLY flexed all his muscles.You can count the pics in which his quads or abs are properly flexed on the fingers at one hand.And his excessive use of baby oil didnt help, it made him look smoother than he actually was.And let us not forget he held the poses only friebky, meaning theres a higher probability te phtos arent taken at the perfect time to fully show his detail.
    Should we mention it was surely easier to Arnold to prolerly diet under the direct supervision of WEIDER and being under contract, hangin on the beach ?Sergio had a very demanding full time job in meat packing place, foundry, stock yards….lets keep that in mind too.
    Arnold was on the covers before he arrived in US, Sergio was not on them not even during his reign.Theres a video of Leroy Colbert talking about Sergio, you should check it out and see the real reasons.
    Ever seen that docu on Youtube Evolution of bb?notice how they make a very swift transition from Serg to Arnold, and someone says Arnold was smarter and didnt deserve all his wins against sergio….
    Read this, CAREFULLY
    Sergio was the better bodybuilder, but at a time when bb needed a superstar to make it grow, arnold was the obvious chosen one.
    Most of history is a LIE.

    • Great points by daft. I agree on all acounts as those were some of my arguments too.

      A lot of people aren’t objective and are materialistic too so they obviously go by the guy with more status and success…which is clearly Arnold in this case, as if money can buy a better physique. The guy who said Arnold had a similar hip-structure to Sergio made me laugh.

      And of course he mentions Bob Paris, another overrated guy with no freaky proportions and above-average insertions and no real standout bodypart who just like Arnold was another smart guy that compensated with posing for his weaknesses. Yes he was balanced but not very aesthetic. I think you misunderstand what aesthetics mean. Aesthetics isn’t stepping into a stage in your best shape and looking good while posing with specific poses and getting bloated 2-3 weeks later as a tiny film of water can make your average muscle bellies detoriate, aesthetics is about beeing relaxed and looking good in real life in everyday situations even in off-season, something Sergio did as if you compare a relaxed Arnold from the front (which he was too ashamed of to make many pics of due to his hip-structure) whereas you had normal pics of Sergio looking the same as always almost. By bodybuilding standards Shawn Ray was aesthetic, but relaxed he wasn’t that great due to his lack of shoulders and in proportion overgrown chest and a guy know as a freak like Paul Dillet looked much better due to his wide shoulders and small waist even though his posing was god-awful and he was never seen as aesthetic on stage.

      Guess that’s what seperates us. Some people look up to guys that actually looked legit good in everyday life, others just go by their best handpicked pics making side triceps poses or most musculars.

  2. ^I know this is old but you clearly don’t understand bodybuilding – at least not in aesthetic sense. Bodybuilding, just like Arnold said isn’t about having the thickest neck or biggest arms. Would you consider a fat woman to be the most beautiful?

    Sergio was bigger in the right places, smaller in the right places. He had quality and quantity, mass and class which is something Arnold lacked due to his wide hips.

    It’s just a fansite so you have a right to your opinion (I mean there’s chubby-chasers and people who like women just because they have a fat butt) but when it comes to proportions and shape aka bellies, insertions and shoulder to waist ratio it’s not even a contest.

    Oh and Sergio was black and STILL had bigger calves than Arnold. You know you’re fucked as a white guy when a black guy has bigger calves like you. To be fair, same goes if a white guy has bigger glutes than the black guy, it’s officially over since those traits are rare in their seperate races and signalize genetical superiority.

    Now Arnold had good genetics himself (extremely round bellies), but he was a far cry from Sergio, not even close. If Sergios physique is a 9/10 Arnolds was a 6/10 from a rational aesthetic standpoint so basically 3 leagues under him aesthetics wise. Bodybuilding wise they were a lot closer, I think Arnold edged him out in 1972 but I’d still have Sergios body (with my height) IRL rather than Arnolds.

  3. What you don’t realise is that Sergio , like most bodybuilders, has competed at different contest weights.His lowest would be high 210s to 220( first mr O win, 1970 mr world, 1973 tijuana look) .Then he had some years in which he was like 227-232 lb( 1968,69,70,71 mr Os) and then you have his biggest at 240 lb in 72 Olympia.
    Several factors determine how a bb and even normal person can look.For example a small head can make the shoulders look bigger, wider and the arms larger too.
    Limb length also matters, long legs will make someone appear taller than he actually is, while a person with rather short legs( like Jay Cutler) will look below average despite being bang average at 5’9.
    Also , bodybuilders tend to pump very well before contests or photoshoots.Sergio was notorious for pumping for up to two hours before a contest, which is truly insane.Those outdoor pics, high chance he wasnt as pumped like during a contest, so he might look smaller than he could look.
    Another thing, some bb will look average sized in some poses and truly insane in others.Relaxed Sergio looks wide but not exceptionally so, yet due to his long arms( humerus in partiular) in a front double /rear double bi pose he will be almost as wide as 6’2 arnold.
    Arnold looked wide in some poses yet not very wide in a most muscular or rear double biceps.His average V taper( compared to Sergios) does this.
    Lighting can also affect the appearence of size, just like the amount of separation in a body.A shredded 230 lb bb can appear 250 lb easily.Look at Flex Wheeler in 1993 ASC-his best showing-Flex admitted he was only 217 lb, yet he looks alot bigger.Crazy conditioning, full round muscle bellies and small waist can do that .
    PS.On most websites Oliva is listed at 5’10 not 5’11.The lowest I see him being in his prime would be 5’9.He looks about “half a head ” shorter than arnold, who was 6’2( claimed 6 3 but thats another debate).The average male head is 9-10 inches “high”, that would put Sergio at roughly 5’9 1/2 inches tall.
    And those guys next to him , the shorter one is obviously like 6’1-6’2 and th eother one is a freaking giant, close to 6’7.
    The two outdoor pics you used, the one in which he is twisted his enourmous delts and arms make his head look puny.Very different in that other photo, in which his arms and delts arent fully flexed/centerpice of the pose.In fact that is not even a pose, he is in a transition.
    Anyway, long story short, small head is desirable in bb, just like small wrists, ankles and waist.
    And Sergio Oliva> arnold.

    • Regarding Schwarzenegger, I’ve always read him listed as 6’2″ but have never heard him claim 6’3″. He definitely was never 6’3″ and probably not 6’2″. Schwarzenegger appeared on an American TV talk show in the late 1970s called The Merv Griffin Show where he said in his own words, when asked his height by Griffin, that he was 6’1″ and that he didn’t know why he was always publicized as 6’2″. Arnold said that himself. Why would he understate his height? It is doubtful that Arnold is over 6’0″ tall these days.

      I saw Sergio in person when he was 40 years old and it took a few moments to sink in that it was really him because he appeared about 5’7″ and looked like a “little” guy. He was wearing a blue windbreaker jacket outside the venue and it was immediately after the 1984 Mr. Olympia contest in NYC. If you saw him on the street you’d never take notice of him as one of the best bodybuilders of all time.

      To me, Arnold looked his best in ’74 or maybe ’71. Schwarzenegger himself thinks his own best was ’71. Look at the stills and video of ’71 here:

      Sergio and Arnold were the top bodybuilders who competed in the late 60s and the 70s but, to me, Arnold had more of a wow factor. When he’d flex a muscle group, arms, for example, they’d appear to jump up several notches in size.

    • I don’t think you are disagreeing with me. Sergio was not as tall as the magazines claim and he had a proportionately small head.

      Quote: “What you don’t realize is that Sergio, like most bodybuilders, has competed at different contest weights….”

      ^ Who doesn’t realize that?

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