Eight-time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney is one of few men to leave the sport on top. In a recent Muscular Development interview, Haney opened up on athletes sacrificing health for conditioning, natural diuretics, Derek Lunsford, and making posing routines a more crucial aspect of bodybuilding contests.
From 1984-1991, Haney dominated the Mr. Olympia competition with eight consecutive victories, a distinction he now shares with Ronnie Coleman. While enjoying a wildly successful career, Lee was pushed by IFBB Pro League icons such as Rich Gaspari, Lee Labrada, and six-time Olympia Dorian Yates.
Similar to the opinions of Labrada and Gaspari, Haney maintains that athletes today have become infatuated with size instead of chasing symmetry, balance, and proportions. According to Haney, athletes are bigger but lack quality detail, a problem he recently pinned on coaches. As of late, Haney urged bodybuilders to be wary of excessive dehydration as well.
Speaking with Ron Harris on February 6, 2023, Haney gave his honest take on where Open bodybuilding is headed. In addition, Haney discussed Derek Lunsford’s potential, posing rounds, and the natural diuretics he used to achieve longevity.
Lee Haney Pleads to Athletes and Judges for Reform: ‘You Shouldn’t Have to Die to Reach This Level of Conditioning’
Haney said when he competed it wasn’t common for athletes to die. In today’s bodybuilding landscape, men and women are passing away more frequently than in decades prior.
“A lot of athletes end up sick or end up dying because of trying to achieve that level of dryness. I think we need to change the cultural mindset of what’s happening when it comes to judging these competitions,” argued Haney.
“At the end of the day, you want to enjoy yourself as an athlete, but you want to walk away with your health. You shouldn’t have to die to reach this level of conditioning. They’re asking too much of the athletes period. You look at the old school of bodybuilding, it’s not the old school, it is the school. Forget that old school,” says Lee Haney.
While competing in the 1980s-1990s, Haney mentioned that athletes were able to achieve conditioning without killing themselves. He specified that legends like the late Bill Pearl and Dave Draper were proof that longevity existed in bodybuilding.
“We reached a level of conditioning that still allowed us to walk away after the competition and still be alive — and still be healthy. You look at the longevity of people like Bill Pearl, who was 90 when he passed. You look at people like Chris Dickerson, Chris was in his 80s. You look at people like Dave Draper, Dave was I think 79 but close to 80.”
“These athletes that come from that lineage of bodybuilding — they live longer and more productive healthier lives. You look at Frank Zane, I think he’s 78, Robby [Robinson] is 75, Arnold Schwarzenegger is 75, Albert Beckles is 90. What is that saying? The practice of bodybuilding, the practice of nutrition, the practice of conditioning was far better during that era.”
Urging for reform, Haney underlined that officials have ‘blood on their hands’ from perpetuating dangerous practices, like favoring dry conditioning.
“Judges know what it should look like. They remember the era of Robby Robinson, Frank Zane or Lee Haney or Rich Gaspari… they remember the fact that we were healthy. Nobody passed out on the stage. You may have a guy that got a little dehydrated, a little lightheaded, but nobody had to call in paramedics and that type of thing to revive anybody.
So, there’s a pattern that already exists. I’m saying, let’s get back to those patterns. It doesn’t take a lot to do that. It just takes a joining of the minds,” Lee Haney shared. “I think we need to step back and rewrite, reassess, because the blood of these athletes that are dying, is on your hands. They’re on your hands.”
Building his name in the sport, Haney utilized natural diuretics to look dryer on stage.
“I was able to achieve the definition I needed by using simple things. For instance, using B6, the supplement B6 acts as a natural diuretic. Then, horsetail grass, which is an herbal type of natural diuretic. Then, I would train and use hot tea, English tea, no sugar, which is a natural diuretic or coffee. The deal is when using things natural like that, it doesn’t suck all of the minerals out of the body.”
Haney Shares His Standard for Bodybuilding, Discusses Derek Lunsford’s Potential and Posing Rounds
Despite athletes wanting shredded glutes, Lee Haney argued that the “balance of the physique, symmetry, muscle bellies, shoulder-to-waist ratio, and completeness” should be the standard in which judges use to score shows.
“The true standard is this: I never seen a set of butt cheeks win a show or it shouldn’t be judges by a set of butt cheeks and hamstrings only. The balance of the physique, symmetry, balance, muscle bellies, shoulder to waist ratio, completeness, should be the standard, with good muscle separation. It doesn’t have to be a striated set of butt cheeks.”
Reflecting on the surprising 2022 Mr. Olympia competition, the South Carolina native liked Derek Lunsford’s ‘taper’ but understood why Hadi Choopan ended up winning.
“I liked the way Derek looked — Derek had nice taper, nice lines, he looked great period. And then, of course, Hadi [Choopan] came in with more muscle separation. What I saw on Hadi was more muscle maturity, that was the perfect deal. I saw nothing wrong with Hadi’s physique. He don’t flow as well but he is enough. You see what I’m saying. And yes, I agree, he should have won the Mr. Olympia.”
Haney called for additional changes to judging criteria. He believes a new point system should be implemented at Olympia and posing rounds should be scored once again.
“A point system [at pro shows] needs to be reestablished, and posing should be one of those things [added]. Posing, symmetry, and the mandatory poses. Do your quarter turns, all of that needs to be there – balance, symmetry, and presentation.”
Lee Haney isn’t the only bodybuilding veteran calling for athletes to sharpen their posing skills. Chris Cormier, who made his name as a pro in the 1990s, reasoned that Mamdouh ‘Big Ramy’ Elssbiay dropped to fifth place because of posing but also pointed to his nerves and training habits.
Since retiring on top in 1991, Lee has witnessed the sport undergo steady changes. Considering how often athletes are dying, Haney hopes coaches, judges, and athletes take serious measures to ensure longevity.