All physique athletes need a solid set of abs — it’s a virtual prerequisite before stepping on stage. But a select group of bodybuilders went beyond the standard six-pack and crafted midsections that singlehandedly won them shows and helped vault them to icon status.
If you need some inspiration to do extra crunches or cardio when you hit the gym next, look no further than this list of 10 bodybuilders with the best abs in the sport’s history.
10 Bodybuilders With Some of the Most Chiseled Abs in the Sport’s History
Natalia Abraham Coelho
Natalia Abraham Coelho is one of the most popular athletes in Women’s Physique. She scored the Olympia crown in her division in 2022 and followed that up with two wins mere months later at the Pittsburgh Pro and New York Pro.
[Related: The Best Ab Workouts for Strength, Beginners, Muscle Mass, and More]
And while Coelho’s muscular upper body can certainly turn heads, her real highlight is a deep, flawless set of abs that ties together any front pose she hits. Not only is it her calling her come showtime, but she never lets herself get too far from that condition in the off-season, which helps her in guest posing events or when she’s taking photos during training.
Before Coelho’s Olympia win in 2022, Sarah Villegas laid claim to the Women’s Physique crown in 2020 and 2021. She was known for her unrivaled conditioning and supremely detailed back development, but her core ranks among her greatest assets.
[Related: 10 Athletes With the Best Chests in Men’s Bodybuilding]
Villegas’ waist is so narrow, her abs so tight, that they actually accentuate her already top-flight shoulders, making them look even wider. She’ll go into a rematch with Coelho at the 2023 Olympia in November, hoping to surpass her rival on the biggest stage of them all. Ultimately, the battle might come down to who has the best abs.
Standing 5’6″ and hovering around 210 pounds, Shawn Ray knew he would never be the biggest competitor on stage, especially when standing next to the likes of Lee Haney, Dorian Yates, and Ronnie Coleman. So rather than allow his smaller stature to be a detriment, he instead focused on making the best out of what size he did have, including being the most ripped athlete in the lineup.
[Related: Who Is the Strongest Mr. Olympia Winner?]
Ray was the epitome of conditioning in his prime, with visible striations and a six-pack that looked like stacks of bricks. This level of definition helped Ray win the big prize at the 1991 Arnold Classic and place second to Dorian Yates at the Mr. Olympia contest in 1994 and 1996.
One of the reasons why Chris Bumstead has scored four Classic Physique Olympia titles (so far) is that he keeps finding ways to get better year after year. It started with a renewed effort to build up his arms from him in 2019, and that was followed by a shift in focus to his abdominals around 2020.
A combination of smart dieting and consistent core training has helped CBum keep the centerpiece of his physique looking on point every Olympia. He may be one of the biggest men in his division, but he can also hit a vacuum pose worthy of the Golden Era. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, then, that he’s still considered the perfect model of Classic Physique.
Frank Zane’s vacuum pose is one of the most enduring images from bodybuilding in the 1970s. The complete mastery of his midsection helped elevate “The Chemist” from being just another aesthetic athlete to becoming an all-time great. His look was so timeless, in fact, that it eventually went on to help inspire the creation of the Classic Physique division back in 2016.
[Related: The Best Non-Stim Fat Burners]
The sheer definition of Zane’s abs, along with his supreme posing, is why he was able to defeat Arnold Schwarzenegger at the 1968 IFBB Mr. Universe contest and win three Mr. Olympia titles from 1977-1979 against much larger competitors. To this day, you can argue that no athlete perfected a single body part like Zane did with his abs.
Ryan Terry is among the most decorated athletes in the Men’s Physique division, having won both the 2016 Arnold Classic and 2023 New York Pro titles. And, sure, the athletes in the division don’t have to hit as many individual poses or be as big as their Men’s Open counterparts — but that just means their abs need to be even more sublime if they want a chance to win. They can’t hide a lackluster core behind 275 pounds of muscle, after all.
[Related: The 25 Best Back Exercises for Strength and Muscle Gain]
In Terry’s case, he has arguably the best midsection in the entire class. His minuscule waist and chiseled six-pack dele do n’t just look great on their own — they also make the rest of his body look better in the process. These features will be invaluable to him as he looks to score his first-ever Olympia title in 2023.
The late Shawn Rhoden won his first and only Mr. Olympia back in 2018 by famously unseating seven-time champion Phil Heath in Las Vegas. The big topic of conversation heading into that show was Heath’s abs, which had been lacking in previous years and were affected by an injury that impacted his 2018 off-season training.
[Related: 12 of the Most Underrated Bodybuilders of All Time]
While any injury is bad luck, Heath’s chances dimmed even more when Rhoden walked on stage sporting a flawless set of abs that harkened back to the Golden Era. You can argue that Rhoden’s core was the biggest factor in Heath losing his crown that night.
Lou Ferrigno’s physique was admired far beyond bodybuilding thanks to his iconic role in The Incredible Hulk. The two-time Mr. Universe winner competed at 6’5″ and weighed in a range of 275-305 pounds at his peak. And while you can find smaller waists and more chiseled six-packs throughout the history of bodybuilding, you’d be hard-pressed to find better abs on anyone Ferrigno’s size.
[Related: Lou Ferrigno’s Hulking Comeback at the 1992 Mr. Olympia]
Anytime Ferrigno hit an ab pose on stage, he was an instant contender to pull off a victory. That commitment to staying ripped has stayed with him far beyond his years as a competitor — even in his 70s, he isn’t afraid to pull up his shirt to reveal a six-pack.
As the 2008 Mr. Olympia winner and five-time Arnold Classic champion, Dexter Jackson always delivered on conditioning when he stepped on stage. Like Zane, Jackson is famous for his abs and thigh pose that showcases the serratus, obliques, and even the rare eight-pack.
[Related: 9 of the Most Controversial Moments in Olympia History]
Those abs helped Jackson win 29 shows, making him the only man to win the Mr. Olympia, Masters Olympia, and Arnold Classic in his career. With a nickname like “The Blade,” you had to know his razor-sharp abs would make this list.
Andrea Shaw is a three-time Ms. Olympia and three-time Rising Phoenix World Champion. She may have great arms and legs, but her ab shots may be the best. When she goes into an abs and thigh pose, no one has come close to matching her midsection development or her conditioning.
[Related: Why Iris Kyle Is Undoubtedly in the Bodybuilding G.O.A.T Conversation]
Shaw is going into the 2023 contest season with hopes of winning both of her titles for a fourth straight year, and her abs are one of the reasons why she can pull it off.
Featured Image: @therealfrankzane on Instagram