I am often asked why I don’t write about so-and-so bodybuilder / strongman / powerlifter, and why I seem to ignore anyone who competed after 2000. The reason for this is simple- lifters in the modern era are so goddamned boring that I have to pop ephedrine and slam a handful of Cannibal Inferno just to get through six paragraphs of their endlessly dull, Soviet-factory-worker-esque, grey and beige, do-nothing-but-lift-and-eat, uninteresting lives. They have all of the personality of a dead carp, all of the intrigue of a Real Housewives episode, the depth of a puddle in the Kalahari, and generally make me wish I could hop in a DeLorean with Marty McFly and jet back to 1954, when the chicks looked like Bettie Page and the bros in Muscle Beach were so goddamned cool that James Dean looked like a goddamned Channer by comparison.
The lifters of yesteryear, however, were a far different breed- they mixed the hell out of business and pleasure, competed in a variety of sports, and were generally people you’d want to hang around with, rather than dickheads who would simply slump half dead from drugs in front of you mumbling about training while they morosely masticate whatever bland fare they happened to bring with them in their dumbass wheelie bag cooler nonsense. Fun is dead in the lifting world, killed by people taking a pastime far too seriously for no reason than they lack the personality to do something interesting with it.
That said, it stands to reason we should investigate the life, training style, and diet of one the most ripped and compelling men in 1950s and 60s Muscle Beach, Irwin “Zabo” Koszewski. Of all of the guys of whom you’ve likely never heard, Zabo Koszewski should rate pretty highly on your “Holy Crap”-ometer due to his freakish leanness in a time when most guys were softer than a pile of baby crap left out in a light rain on a June day in Bangkok, and respect is due for the fact that he trained and hung out with the aforementioned Steve Merjanian and (likely) Chuck Ahrens, in spite of the fact that he was half as big and ten times as lean as those two. A fixture of Muscle Beach from 1951 to the end of his life, Koszewski pulled down more “Best Abdominal” awards than anyone in history, likely because he dieted and trained more fanatically than a channer at a gun range before shooting up the local high school (Hise).
Zabo Koszewski Vital Statistics
Born: August 20, 1924
Died: March 29, 2009 (Aged 84)
Weight: 170 – 185lbs
Though Zabo was best known for his insane cuts and his amazing year-round condition, the dude trained so often and so hard that he could still put on a show in the gym, barefoot and in street clothes. For no other reason than because he could, Zabo was seen more than once snatching and clean and strict pressing 220 lbs, followed by a full clean and split jerk with 270lbs in slacks, a button-down shirt, and barefoot, with no warmup. Though that’s not Earth shattering, I highly doubt you can name a non-Olympic weightlifter who weighs 170 – 185lbs and can duplicate that feat… and I would venture to guess that Zabo was spitting game to any chicks within earshot the entire time he was putting on that show.
Zabo was nothing if not a showman- the man’s life reads like a bucket list for the Dos Equis man. Former training partner of Arnold and publisher of Iron Man magazine, John Balik, said that even in an era as cartoonishly outlandish as 1960’s Muscle Beach, Koszewski “was the embodiment of the spirit of Muscle Beach” (Hise). Zabo grew in New Jersey, a three-sport athlete in high school, although his first love was weightlifting. After high school, Zabo enlisted in the Army and made three combat landings in WW2, likely running around like Stallone in Rambo IIand surviving solely based on his superhumanly shredded physique.
After running out of bad guys to slaughter, Zabo became the valet of the original Nature Boy, Buddy Rogers, wrestling under the name Jungle Boy. At the same time, Zabo began entering just about every bodybuilding competition in the continental US, destroying the opposition in small shows but losing the bigger ones to that era’s mass monsters (the guys who won “Most Muscular” almost never won the overall, and Zabo always walked away with that trophy).
In the early 1950’s Zabo had his fill of greasy Italians and hoagies and headed West, to the mecca of bodybuilding in Santa Monica. It was there that Zabo blossomed into the Venus-flytrap womankiller with whom at least some of you are familiar. He trained in the same ultra-hardcore basement gym where Steve Merjanian, Chuck Ahrens, and other lifting luminaries of the era trained, and signed on with the ultra-hot cougar Mae West to work in her male review “Something for the Girls.”
He, Joe Gold, Mr. America and Mr. Universe George Eiferman, Mr. America Armand Tanny, Mr. Universe Mickey Hargitay, and three other Muscle Beach bodybuilders served as male dancers for the revue, accompanied by a male singer and Hattie McDaniel (Mammy in Gone with The Wind) in what was essentially the hottest Vegas act going in the 1950’s. As such, Zabo was raking in the loot and made connections that would eventually lead to a brief acting career and to him becoming the goddamned Marlboro Man in print ads.
As if the man had not made enough connections by touring with the hottest 60-year-old slut on the planet, he got even more hooked into the Hollywood scene when Joe Gold asked him to manage the first strictly bodybuilding gym and a “palace” by comparison to other gyms of the era, Gold’s Gym, in 1965 (Roach, Vol. 1). At that point, Zabo was partying his ass off, drinking like a goddamned fish and smoking, in Tommy Chong’s words “a ton of weed” (Chong). When Tommy Chong says he gets after it partying, you know that you are a pink bitch wuss compared to Zabo Koszewski, no matter how much you’ve partied.
“Membership is thirty dollars for three months, no instructions, and you can come as many times as you like. Don’t leave your $h!t unlocked and put the weights back when you are finished with them. That’s it.”
With chicks pegging him in the face with their wet panties as he walked to work, Zabo trained fanatically and managed Gold’s (and later World’s Gym) by day and partied like a goddamned animal at night. Though the IPF would likely have slapped him with a lifetime ban just for shaking Tommy Chong’s hand, Koszewski was still natty as hell, and maintained that status throughout his life.
Though he talked tough to new members, Zabo was apparently chill at Gold’s while nursing what must’ve been catastrophic hangovers, and he hooked members like Tommy Chong up with basic programs (Chong still uses it to this day) and ran them using equipment to ensure that they didn’t kill themselves in the pursuit of maximum jackedness. It was through Zabo’s chill demeanor and Animal House-esque party habits that formed a bond between himself and Tommy Chong that landed him a couple of movie roles and eventually had Chong working the desk at World Gym after he was released from prison.
To say say Zabo was a frequent bodybuilding competitor is like saying “Jeff Bezos frequently makes a million dollars.” From age 23 to 46, Zabo competed in at least 31 bodybuilding competitions, winning “Best Abs” in every competition that awarded the trophy, and “Most Muscular” in most of the rest. Tragically, winning either of those trophies was like winning an MTV Movie award- it virtually guaranteed that people would take you about as seriously as they take Justin Bieber when it was time to hand out a legitimate award. With his condition at least two decades before its time, Zabo almost always found himself edged out by fuller, less defined competitors. Undeterred by small details like not winning, Zabo forged ahead and collected his “Best Abs” trophies like millennials collect STDs.
Zabo Koszewski Competition History
1947AAU Mr. New Jersey4th
1948AAU Mr. New Jersey1st
1950AAU Jr. Mr. Middle Atlantic1st
1950AAU Mr. Middle Atlantic1st
1950AAU Mr. America13th
1950IFBB Mr. Eastern America 3rd
1951AAU Mr. Strength and Health 2nd
1951AAU Jr. Mr. America4th
1951AAU Mr. Eastern America3rd
1952AAU Mr. Superman4th
1952AAU Mr. Southern California3rd (tie)
1952AAU Mr. California4th
1952AAU Jr. Mr. America3rd
1952AAU Mr. America4th
1953AAU Mr. Southern California2nd
1953AAU Mr. Los Angeles1st
1953AAU Mr. California2nd
1953AAU Mr. Pacific Coast1st
1953AAU Mr. America3rd
1954AAU Mr. California1st
1954AAU Jr. Mr. America2nd
1954AAU Mr. America3rd
1956Pro Mr. USA3rd
1957Mr. USA5th (tie)
1965IFBB Mr. America3rd (medium)
1967Mr. International1st (medium, 2nd overall)
1967Pro Mr. California2nd
1967IFBB Jr. Mr. America3rd
1967Mr. International1st (medium, 2nd overall)
1967IFBB Mr. America2nd (medium)
1970IFBB Pro Mr. World 4th (short)
Despite his propensity for getting turnt up and banging sluts, Zabo almost never missed workouts. Although I can hardly imagine training hungover for three hours a day in an LA gym with no air conditioning, Zabo took it on the chin like the stone-jawed Pride fighter Kazuyuki Fujita ate knees to the face. I guess having survived three combat landings in WW2 would change anyone’s perspective about anything as minor as a life-destroying hangover, and he just went into the gym and rocked the hell out. His insanely high-volume workouts, dense enough to give the internet’s natty bros cancer of the AIDS, looked like this:
Zabo Koszewski Training Routine
Incline Situps- 1 x 500 (yup, one set of 500 reps)
Hanging Leg Raise- 1 x 500
Monday / Wednesday / Friday
Legs and Back
Squats supersetted with Leg Curls – 8 x 10
Hack Squats supersetted with Leg Curls – 2 x 20
Stiff Leg Dead Lift – 4 x 10
Power Cleans – 4 x 10
(All exercises done as a giant set, which he repeated 7 times)
Decline Dumbell Press – x 10
Cable Crossover – x 10
Dips – x 10
Push Ups – x 25
Chins – 7 x 10
Cable Rows – 7 x 10
Behind the Neck Pull Downs – 7 x 10
One Arm Reverse Cable Laterals – 7 x 10
Tuesday / Thursday
Alternating Seated Dumbell Presses – 7 x 10
Dumbbell Laterals – 7 x 10
Seated Behind the Neck Press – 7 x 10
Upright Rows – 7 x 10
Incline Curls supersetted with Tricep Pushdowns – 20 x 10
Zabo, Arnold, and Franco used to party at Don Peters’ “party palace”, a mansion owned by James “Dr. Strangelove” Larsen. Larsen encouraged Don Peters to invite over all the bodybuilders he could fit into the house for workouts and parties… which he would watch while locked in the closet in the spare bedroom from behind the 18″ by 18″ two way mirror he had installed specially for that purpose (Roach, Vol. 2). That’s good old-fashioned fun right there.
Screw Around Day
Generally, he’d head to the beach and swim, or play a sport.
For anyone familiar with Vince Gironda’s programming and diet, Zabo seems to have followed both with the kind of obsessive devotion generally reserved for stalkers and 24/7 TPE slaves. Zabo ate only two meals a day, both of which consisted of fruits, vegetables, lean meat (especially hamburger), eggs, apple juice, coffee, and milk, and he trained six days a week with what amounted to German Volume training, just as Gironda recommended. Though he would cut all dairy just before a show to achieve paper-thin skin leanness, Zabo was also a huge fan of Rheo H. Blair’s protein powder, which Gironda advocated with the kind of vociferousness most chatty people in clubs reserve for cocaine.
Blair’s protein was crazy advanced for its time, as the only other protein on the market was horrific-tasting soy dog crap, and consisted of casein, egg white protein, and dried whole eggs. It came only in vanilla, was sweetened with cyclamate to keep the carbs down (though apparently it was nearly as carcinogenic as plutonium), and contained 102 calories, 17.5 grams of protein, 7 grams or carbohydrate and 0.6 grams of fat per scoop (Heffernan).
Blair recommended, that people take two scoops of protein with eight ounces of cream and eight ounces of milk, which then yielded a whopping 949 calories, 55g protein, 35g carbs, and 62g fat per share, and that lifters drink three of those shakes a day. As with every other lifter from this era, Zabo got the hell after its calorie-wise, even though he was natty as hell. Therefore, if you are one of those natty bros who constantly claims you can’t eat that much or you’ll get fat, consider this- you’re doing it wrong. And by “it” I mean “literally everything.”
Speaking of doing it wrong, it seems like the lot of us are doing it wrong when it comes to abs. As I mentioned, Zabo never lost a “Best Abs” award. Interestingly, his ab routine was developed out of necessity- when doctors told him only surgery would repair a hernia, he said screw that and just started training abs like his life depended on it. Perhaps his life didn’t but his guts seemed to depend on it if he didn’t want his insides outside his body.
“I KNEW THAT IT WOULD BE WISE FOR ME TO “MAKE HASTE SLOWLY” SO MY FIRST AB ROUTINE CONSISTED OF JUST TWO EXERCISES: SITUPS AND LEG RAISES. ALTHOUGH I COULD ONLY MANAGE A FEW REPS THAT FIRST TRAINING DAY, I SOON HAD WORKED UP TO THE POINT WHERE 500 SITUPS AND 500 LEG RAISES WERE JUST WARMUPS FOR MY MORE ADVANCED TRAINING ROUTINES EVERY DAY.”
“TO BRING OUT CLEAR-CUT ABDOMINALS YOU MUST DO TWO THINGS:
1.) BURN AWAY ALL MIDSECTION FAT THAT IS ON THE OUTSIDE, AND THAT WHICH LURKS BETWEEN THE MUSCLES . . . THE FAT YOU CAN’T SEE, BUT CAUSES YOU TOO LOOK TOO SMOOTH AND TOO LARGE IN THE ABDOMINAL REGION.
2.) YOU MUST CONTINUALLY WORK FOR MUSCULARITY OF THE ABDOMINALS, AND THAT REQUIRES DAILY DILIGENCE. YES, YOU DON’T EXERCISE YOUR ABS WITH A SPLIT ROUTINE . . . BUT WITH AN EVERYDAY WORKOUT WITH SPECIALIZED ABDOMINAL EXERCISES” (KOSZEWSKI).
I won’t go into the details of all that Zabo recommended for abs (it’s linked in the sources if you’re curious), because it’s easily summed up with “all of the things.” Basically, he recommended every permutation of situps, levers, and leg raises ever invented, and had this to say about sets and reps:
“WORK UP TO 10 SETS OF SITUPS AND WORK UP TO AT LEAST A TOTAL OF 500 REPS. WORK UP TO 10 SETS OF LEG RAISES AND WORK AS MANY REPS PER SET AS YOUR PULL AGAINST GRAVITY WILL ALLOW. BUT DON’T THROW, THRUST, OR MANEUVER THE BODY BY ‘ASSISTING’ WITH OTHER MUSCLES. MAKE THE UPPER ABS DO THE WORK IN SITUPS; MAKE THE LOWER ABS DO THE WORK IN LEG RAISES.”
“AFTER EACH WORKOUT PRACTICE MIRROR POSING FOR 15 MINUTES, CONTRACTING FIRST THE RECTUS – THEN THE INTERCOSTALS, TRYING TO SQUEEZE EXTRA DEFINITION FROM EACH POSING SESSION. THIS WILL ADD INTEREST TO YOUR ABDOMINAL WORKOUTS AND GIVE YOU VALUABLE POSING EXPERIENCE AND CONTROL” (KOSZEWSKI).
Simple enough- bust your goddamned ass harder than a drunken retard in a Jackass film and be lean as hell. Though it’s in vogue to seek out some panacea involving a highly complicated system to achieve a simple goal, Zabo is here to show you all the nonsense of which you might be thinking to rebut this statement is just that- nonsense. The man was Occam’s Razor personified- simple and brutal is far more effective than overly complex. If it takes longer to explain than it does to do, you’re likely screwing up your lifting in every imaginable way.
In case you’re curious as to how far in life a sick set of abs and a love of partying can get you, it seems it can take you goddamned far. A far cry from the cycle-your-coffee-intake-and-don’t-bang-sluts-or-stay-out-late-or-smoke-weed-or-get-hammered attitudes that are seemingly so prevalent in today’s ABSOLUTELY NO GODDAMNED FUN ZONE lifting zeitgeist, Zabo made it work, and he lived a life worth talking about. Here’s a list of the ways my vote for the Most Interesting Man in The World is immortalized in celluloid:
Zabo Flexin’ Abs On The Big Screen
- was Tommy Chong’s stunt double in Things Are Tough All Over(1982)
- played Body Builder #1 alongside [Body by] Jake Steinfeld in the Cheech and Chong flick Nice Dreams (1981)
- played a gorilla in Planet of the Apes (1968)
- played a football player alongside Shirley MacLaine in John Goldfarb, Please Come Home! (1965)
- played a soldier alongside Kirk Douglas and Laurence Olivier in Spartacus (1960)
- played a contestant in Debbie Reynold’s Athena (1954)
- was himself, as runner up Mr. America, in Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life (1959)
- worked on the TV shows Combat! and Star Trek
And there you have it- in stark contrast to the aforementioned four 1950’s lifters, Zabo didn’t believe in getting fat to be strong, but he definitely followed the same path of frequent, brutal workouts, tons of calories, and not being a boring pile of crap. Zabo loved lifting and the beach so much that people joked he wouldn’t go more than three blocks inland, and his love of lifting and life translated into being a goddamned badass inside and outside the gym.
Instead of robotically trudging his way through life, Zabo grabbed life by the throat and banged it half to death… and then left a good looking corpse behind. So if you learn anything from the man, learn to live this, not just talk about it on the internet- your life will be all that much better for it. And for the love of all that’s unholy, stop starving yourself.
“The best way to never worry about getting into shape is to never get out of shape.”
Heffernan, Conor. The secret of Rheo H. Blair’s protein powder. Physical Culture Study. 22 Jun 2016. Web. 28 May 2018. https://physicalculturestudy.com/2016/06/22/the-secret-of-rheo-h-blairs-protein-powder/
Hise, Bob. The Fabulous Zabo Koszewski. Strength and Health. Aug 1967. Web.
Juliano, Dominick. The Essence of Being. Bloomington: Balboa Press, 2015.
Kelemen, Matt. Q and A: Tommy Chong. Las Vegas Magazine. 17 Jun 2016. Web. 27 May 2018. https://lasvegasmagazine.com/interviews/qa/2016/jun/17/qa-tommy-chong-treasure-island-las-vegas-strip/#/0
Koszewski, Zabo. Developing your abdominals. The Tight Tan Slacks of Dezso Ban. 8 Jan 2018. Web. 27 May 2018. http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2018/01/developing-your-abdominals-zabo.html
Roach, Randy. Muscle, Smoke, and Mirrors, Volume 1. Bloomington: AuthorHouse, 2008.
Roach, Randy. Muscle, Smoke, and Mirrors, Volume 2. Bloomington: AuthorHouse, 2011.
Thurber, John. Irvin ‘Zabo’ Koszewski dies at 84; bodybuilder renowned for his
abs. LA Times. 2 May 2009. Web. 9 Feb 2013.