Professional bodybuilding is no stranger to short competitors. The two-time Mr. Olympia champion Franco Columbu was 5 feet 6 inches tall, Olympia frontrunner Shawn Ray is 5-foot-6, seven-time 212 Olympia champ Flex Lewis is 5-foot-5, and Lee Labrada is 5-foot-6. These bodybuilders are the sport’s all-time greats. However, we are turning it up a notch in this article.
Although these bodybuilders can be considered short, they don’t meet this article’s ‘short’ criteria. A bodybuilder must be 5-foot-4 inches or shorter to be featured on this list.
Case For Short Bodybuilders
The sport of bodybuilding favors athletes of average height. Taller athletes have more real estate to fill out, which requires more work in the gym and kitchen.
But what is a good height for bodybuilding, you ask?
We analyzed the heights of the 17 Mr. Olympia winners (1965-2022). Standing at 6-foot-2, Arnold Schwarzenegger is the tallest Olympia champ, whereas his training partner Franco Columbu, 5-foot-5, holds the record for being the shortest Olympia champion. The average height of these Olympia champs is 5-foot-8. Meaning the odds of winning a bodybuilding competition are in your favor if you are 5-foot-8.
Since shorter athletes have to gain comparatively less muscle mass to fill out their frames, they usually get in shape faster than their taller counterparts. Of course, genetics, metabolism, and hormone levels play a crucial role in building muscle mass and shedding body fat.
That said, competitive bodybuilding is a game of size. Bigger bodybuilders with decent symmetry, balance, and proportions can outsize smaller athletes with a similar physique. Bodybuilders shorter than 5-foot-5 must bring something extraordinary to the stage to beat the taller athletes.
Birth of the 212 Division
The International Federation of BodyBuilding and Fitness (IFBB) realized the advantage the taller bodybuilders had over their smaller counterparts. It introduced a new division, 212, in 2008 to give the shorter bodybuilders a level playing field.
The 212-division bodybuilders are usually shorter than 5-foot-7, with the average height being 5-foot-5. It has now become the go-to division for shorter bodybuilders. Nonetheless, the best bodybuilders in the division end up moving up to the Open division. The 2022 Olympia champ Hadi Choopan, Derek Lunsford, and William Bonac are a few 212-division bodybuilders that have succeeded on the Men’s Open stage against the big boys.
14 Best Short Bodybuilders in Pro Bodybuilding History
Here is a list of the top short bodybuilders to grace the Olympia stage, arranged from the tallest to the shortest athlete:
- Kevin English — 5-foot-4
- Lee Priest — 5-foot-4
- John Citrone — 5-foot-4
- Mohamed Makkawy — 5-foot-3
- Mohammed Benaziza — 5-foot-3
- Steve Brisbois — 5-foot-3
- Wilfred Sylvester — 5-foot-3
- Shaun Clarida — 5-foot-2
- Thierry Pastel — 5-foot-2
- Danny Padilla — 5-foot-2
- Ed Theriault — 5-foot-1
- Flavio Baccianini — 4-foot-11
- Choon Tan — 4-foot-10
- Pratik Mohite — 3-foot-4
Kevin English — 5-foot-4
The IFBB rebranded and relaunched the Lightweight division as the 202 division in 2008 to accommodate and recognize the shorter bodybuilders that couldn’t hang with the big boys in the Open division because of their small stature.
English dominated the division right out of the gate. He took second place in the inaugural 202 division (now the 212 division) behind David Henry. However, he reigned on the throne for the next three years (2009-2011), becoming the first bodybuilder to hold multiple 212 titles.
Besides English, the other short bodybuilders of the 212 division with incredible size, symmetry, balance, and conditioning are Jose Raymond, Charles Dixon, and Ahmad Ashkanani.
Lee Priest — 5-foot-4
Known for his freakish arms, Priest was one of the most dominating bodybuilders in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Although he was just 5-foot-4, he gave much bigger bodybuilders, such as Paul Dillett and Jean Pierre Fux, a run for their money. Interestingly, Priest defeated Ronnie Coleman at the 1997 Olympia. Coleman began his eight-consecutive O-win streak in 1998. Jay Cutler, Dexter Jackson, Flex Wheeler, and Chris Cormier are other bodybuilding titans that Preist defeated in his prime.
Priest is the son of a bodybuilder mother and won his first show at the age of 13. Thanks to his insane genetics and hardcore work ethic, Priest made his pro debut at 20. The highlight of Preist’s career has been winning the 2002 San Francisco Pro, the 2005 Australian Grand Prix, the 2006 Iron Man Pro, and the 2006 Night of Champions. He also has three sixth-place finishes (1997, 2000, and 2002) at the Mr. Olympia.
John Citrone — 5-foot-4
Citrone started young in bodybuilding and won the Junior Mr. Britain title at the age of 17. The 5-foot-4 bodybuilder hit his peak between 1966-69 when he won the short class of the NABBA Mr. Universe. He lost the overall title to the 6-foot-2 Schwarzenegger in 1967-69. Citrone also has several Masters trophies under his belt.
Citrone exemplifies how bodybuilding positively impacts longevity. At the time of writing, Citrone is 80 years old and still trains five days a week. Besides being one of the greatest short bodybuilders, it’d be safe to say that Citrone is one of the most jacked grandpas of all time.
Mohamed Makkawy — 5-foot-3
Makkawy was one of the most proportionate bodybuilders of his era. His flowing physique helped him defeat much bigger bodybuilders like Frank Zane and Bertil Fox. He earned the nickname “The Magic Egyptian” for his symmetrical physique, which made him look much bigger than his actual size.
Makkawy placed runner-up twice at the Mr. Olympia (1983 and 1984), beating the likes of Lee Haney and Chris Dickerson. The Eqyptian entered his first bodybuilding contest at 16 — the 1969 Mr. Egypt, and won it convincingly.
Interestingly, Makkawy started his strength sports journey as an Olympic weightlifter in 1976 at 14 years old. He entered and won his first weightlifting meet at the age of 16 after logging a 135-kilogram clean and jerk and 110-kilogram snatch. However, he soon switched to bodybuilding, drawing inspiration from Schwarzenegger.
Mohammed Benaziza — 5-foot-3
“Momo” turned pro in 1987 and soon catapulted into the upper echelons of pro bodybuilding thanks to his incredible size, symmetry, and conditioning. Benaziza debuted at the Olympia in 1988 and secured an 11th-place finish. He broke into the top five the very next year, surpassing former Olympia champ Samir Bannout and Bob Paris.
The short bodybuilder beat athletes bigger than him with his crisp muscle definition and peeled look. Momo is also known for being one of the two men to beat Dorian Yates in a pro show, the other being Haney. Benaziza reportedly died of a diuretics overdose in the Netherlands, which resulted in extreme dehydration, after winning his final pro show in 1992. Momo’s death led the IFBB to introduce stringent drug tests. However, these tests were soon discarded.
Steve Brisbois — 5-foot-3
Canadian bodybuilder Brisbois was one of the most aesthetically appealing bodybuilders of his era. Brisbois thrice (1990-92) placed top six in the Arnold Classic, the second biggest bodybuilding contest after the Olympia. Brisboid placed 11th at the 1992 O, beating mass monsters, including Coleman and Lou Ferrigno.
Brisbois was close friends with Benaziza. The Canadian bodybuilder hung his posing trunks after Momo died in 1992.
Wilfred Sylvester — 5-foot-3
Sylvester announces his arrival on the bodybuilding circuit by winning the 1967 NABBA Mr. Britain. He won the 1967 NABBA Mr. Universe, defeating formidable competitors like Columbu. Sylvester was known for his round and full-muscle bellies. His X-frame helped him slay much bigger bodybuilders by creating an illusion of a larger physique.
Although Sylvester started his bodybuilding journey at a young age, he made his Olympia debut at the age of 43 in 1985. Nonetheless, he defeated many mass monsters to claim the 13th spot from the packed roster of 24 contestants.
Shaun Clarida — 5-foot-2
Clarida is a two-time 212 Olympia champ, having won the division’s biggest accolades in 2020 and 2022. He is also the only bodybuilder in the division’s 15-year history to win back the 212 Olympia title after losing it.
Clarida holds a ridiculous amount of muscle mass on his 5-foot-2 frame, earning him the moniker “Little Ronnie Coleman.” The two-time 212 Olympia champ beat Men’s Open division competitors and heavyweights Regan Grimes and Sergio Oliva Jr. to win the 2021 Legion Sports Fest Pro, earning him the nickname “The Giant Killer.”
Clarida next competed at the 2023 Arnold Classic in the Open division, where he posed beside Big Ramy, Samson Dauda, Nick Walker, and Andrew Jacked. Nonetheless, Clarida walked away with a fifth-place finish, beating much bigger athletes such as Akim Williams and Justin Rodriguez.
Thierry Pastel — 5-foot-2
The Frenchman showed promise in his very first competition. Pastel was known for his chiseled abs and jacked arms. He won several WABBA titles before switching to the IFBB. Pastel’s perfect V-taper, flowing physique, and chiseled look helped him defeat many bodybuilders that were much taller than him. He competed in three Mr. Olympia contests, an eighth place in 1991 being his best showing.
The mass monsters that Pastel beat include Coleman, Ferrigno, Kevin Levrone, and Nasser El Sonbaty. He also defeated Benaziza and Danny Padilla in 1990.
Danny Padilla — 5-foot-2
Padilla was one of the most popular bodybuilders of his era. The 5-foot-2 bodybuilder started training at the age of seven. Padilla was the first bodybuilder to earn the nickname “The Giant Killer” after he began defeating bodybuilders much taller and heavier than him.
The New Yorker won the overall 1975 Mr. USA at the age of 24 and Mr. America at 26. Interestingly, Padilla never won a pro show in his illustrious career. Padilla competed at five Mr. Olympia shows (1978-82), a fifth-place at the 1981 O being his best finish. He also defeated Mike Mentzer in his rookie year as a pro in 1979.
Ed Theriault — 5-foot-1
Theriault was one of the OG bodybuilders. Born in 1920, the Canadian bodybuilder competed in five competitions between 1947 and 1959, winning all of them. Dubbed the “Little Giant,” Theriault holds the distinction of being the first bodybuilder hired by Joe Weider. “The Master Blaster” put Theriault on 14 magazine covers between 1941 and 1962. Theriault possessed a thick physique and was one of the first bodybuilders to popularize the vacuum pose.
Flavio Baccianini — 4-foot-11
Baccianini is one of the most popular short bodybuilders in the history of the IFBB. At 4-foot-11, the Italian bodybuilder is the shortest bodybuilder ever to compete at the Mr. Olympia. He finished 13th out of 22 contestants at the 1993 Olympia.
Furthermore, Baccianini shined as a Masters athlete. He placed runner-up behind Vince Taylor at the 1999 and 2000 Master Olympia, beating many taller and heavier competitors. Like several other short bodybuilders on this list, Baccianini also beat Coleman.
This list starts where the previous one ends. The 12 bodybuilders mentioned up to this point competed at the highest levels. However, there are some bodybuilders that, although they didn’t compete in the IFBB or NABBA, are still a source of inspiration for aspiring bodybuilders worldwide.
Choon Tan — 4-foot-10
The British athlete was born with a rare condition that stunted his growth. Tan is the UK’s shortest bodybuilder and competes in the UKBFF Federation. He is also a Ninja Warrior UK athlete.
Pratik Mohite — 3-foot-4
At 3-foot-4, the Indian bodybuilder is a Gunniees World Record for being the shortest bodybuilder of all time. Mohite started working out at 18 and won a medal at his first competitive bodybuilding event.
Who is the shortest bodybuilder to compete on the Mr. Olympia stage?
The 4-foot-11-inch Italian bodybuilder, Flavio Baccianini, is the shortest bodybuilder to compete at the Olympia stage. He placed 13th at the 1992 Olympia. Baccianini finished runner-up for two consecutive years at the Masters Olympia (1999-2000).
Who holds the record for being the shortest bodybuilder of all time?
The 3-foot-4 Indian bodybuilder Pratik Mohite is a Gunniees World Record holder for being the shorter bodybuilder of all time. Mohite was born with a medical condition that stunted his growth.
What is a good height for pro bodybuilding?
On examining the heights of the 17 Mr. Olympia winners, one can infer that 5 feet 8 inches is favorable for a bodybuilder. Bodybuilders of this height tend to have better symmetry, shape, and balance. Nonetheless, genetics plays a crucial role in your physique aesthetics, and bodybuilders of any height can win a bodybuilding show.
Is it easier for shorter guys to build muscle mass?
Building muscle mass depends on several factors, including genetics, diet, training program, lifestyle, and experience. Height alone cannot dictate if it’ll be easier for a person to build muscle mass. However, shorter individuals are at a slight advantage as it is much easier for them to fill out their smaller frames, and they don’t have to gain as much muscle mass as their taller counterparts.
Is there a minimum height to compete in bodybuilding shows?
No, there is no minimum height requirement to compete in a bodybuilding show. However, some divisions, like the Classic Physique and Men’s Physique (starting in 2024), have height and weight restrictions.
Competitive bodybuilding is all about physique aesthetics — size, shape, symmetry, balance, proportions, and conditioning. An athlete’s height can play a major role in his ranking in a show. Bigger bodybuilders tend to outmuscle their shorter counterparts. However, there have been many short bodybuilders that have held their own against mass monsters. The journey of these remarkable short bodybuilders showcases that greatness knows no height limits. Their achievements inspire us to push beyond our perceived limitations and strive for excellence.