Top 10 Christian Bodybuilders (Who Found God)
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own. 1 Corinthians 6:19
For some, bodybuilding isn’t just about physical strength; it’s also spiritual.
In this article, we’ll be listing pro-bodybuilders (past and present) who have publicly spoken about their faith in God (Jesus Christ).
These are bodybuilders who haven’t kept quiet about their Christian faith and credit it for spurring them on to forge successful careers in the sport.
Lee Haney is the most successful bodybuilder of all time in regards to Mr. Olympia wins, with eight Sandow trophies (matched only by Ronnie Coleman). He’s also one of the few bodybuilders to remain undefeated throughout his whole career.
He describes himself as a “man of God,” regularly sharing Bible verses via Twitter and talking about his relationship with Jesus.
Being a follower of Jesus Christ have been a awesome and at times a challenging journey. Though it all, He got me covered. Psalm 1:1-6
— Lee Haney (@LeeHaney) September 7, 2014
He also has his own television programme, called TotaLee Fit With Lee Haney, on TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network), a Christian channel. He is often joined by other Christian sportsmen and women on the show, where his favourite motto is “Train to stimulate, not annihilate.”
Lee also runs a youth charity with his wife called ‘Haney’s Harvest House’. This is a mentoring programme where boys aged 8–17 are nurtured and educated on what it means to be a man. The Bible is the inspired, primary reference for all principles taught to children.
Dennis Tinerino was an American bodybuilder in the 1960s and 1970s, winning four Mr. Universe titles. Dennis was nicknamed the King of Lines due to his exceptional muscle definition, particularly in the abdominal region. Dennis combined incredible muscle tone with perfect proportions and classic aesthetics. He regularly appeared on the covers of famous bodybuilding magazines such as Iron Man, Strength Health, Muscular Development, and more. We also saw Dennis appear in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first movie, Hercules in New York.
Dennis found God in prison after being charged with organised crime and running an escort service. After receiving the gospel behind bars and being baptized in the spirit, he later set up his own ministry, preaching the gospel to millions of people all over the world.
His confidence and drive when it came to evangelical work led to him being nicknamed The Sermonator. Dennis is also the author of Supersize Your Faith.
Now, Dennis surely rests in heaven, with him passing in May 2010.
Serge Nubret, aka the Black Panther, passed away in April 2011. Serge is generally remembered for being part of bodybuilding’s golden era in the 1970s, while also appearing alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in classic documentaries such as Pumping Iron.
Some regard Serge as the greatest bodybuilder to never win a Mr. Olympia title and is consequently nicknamed by fans as the ‘Uncrowned Olympia‘.
Serge will also be remembered as a child of God. In 2006, Serge published his autobiography in French, with the title translated as I am…me and God. He was open about his Christian values in the mid-2000’s; he regularly appeared on bodybuilding forums, doing Q&A’s with fans. He was also keen to give advice regarding spiritual strength, explaining how his faith was a very important aspect of his life.
Kevin Levrone was a world-class bodybuilder from the 90’s, winning many competitions, the most prestigious being the Arnold Classic. However, like Serge Nubret, Levrone never won a Mr. Olympia title, finishing in second place on multiple occasions.
Kevin says he first was introduced to God at 9 years old, when his father passed away. With both of his parents developing cancer, Levrone says this drove him to eat clean and go to the gym in a bid to be as healthy as possible. Thus, he says he wouldn’t have been a bodybuilder if it wasn’t for this setback at such a young age.
God not only blessed Kevin Levrone with world-class genetics but also with an angelic voice, releasing songs titled God Knows and See the Light. We see Kevin share Bible verses and preach biblical messages via his Facebook page.
Ronnie Coleman is hailed as ‘The King’ in bodybuilding. However, in his circle, that title belongs to Jesus.
Ronnie has the joint record number of Mr. Olympia wins (alongside Lee Haney) with eight Sandow trophies. Ronnie took size and mass to new levels in the 1990s and 2000s, defeating legends such as Dorian Yates, Flex Wheeler, and Jay Cutler.
After winning 26 bodybuilding titles, Ronnie was keen to give credit to Jesus during victory speeches, hailing him as his “Lord and Saviour.”
Ronnie’s mother shared God’s Word with him growing up, with his faith continuing to strengthen through his bodybuilding career, enabling him to come back from multiple hardships and injuries. Ronnie was also known to regularly pray before his workouts.
Mark Dugdale is an IFBB pro bodybuilder who placed 4th in the Mr. Olympia (202 division) and 9th in the Arnold Classic.
In the documentary film Driven, Mark shares his strong faith in God, explaining how he starts each day by reading a passage from the Bible to keep him spiritually filled. He and his wife regularly attend Reach Church in Kirkland, Washington.
Mark is an admirer of famous Christian preachers and theologians such as Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther King, and C.S. Lewis. He is also keen to warn against idolatry, with bodybuilding often becoming an idol for many individuals, fueling vanity and pride.
Bob Birdsong was a classic bodybuilder from the 1970s, winning many titles, including Mr. America, Mr. International, and Mr. Universe. Bob had particularly impressive arm development and vascularity.
Bob wasn’t always brawny; he once weighed 97 pounds and was bullied due to his weak stature and surname.
He was born again in 1975, which led to him using muscle magazines as a platform to share the gospel with millions of readers all over the world.
Bob condemns the use of steroids in bodybuilding today, saying it is something he would change. However, he truthfully admits to using them in the past (1). Bob is currently a church minister in California and regularly lifts weights at 71 years old.
Franco was one of the top bodybuilders of the 80’s and 90’s, displaying world-class genetics from a young age. He was known for his incredible symmetry and aesthetics, and fans would be excited whenever he appeared on a magazine cover.
At the amateur level, he won numerous titles, beating legends such as Shawn Ray and Eddie Robinson. Franco is believed to be the only teenager to win four national amateur titles in two years.
After growing up in an abusive household and his father leaving home at a young age, Franco was a hurt child. He developed a severe cocaine and heroin addiction, which led to his heart attack at 44 years old. During his life, he had clinically died twice before being resuscitated.
Franco has admitted to taking anabolic steroids, but stated it was only in tiny amounts. Due to his drug problems, he experienced frequent and extensive periods away from weight lifting. During his 2-year break, when he resumed lifting weights, his physique transformed rapidly, leading to Franco earning his pro-card. This transformation only took several months, demonstrating the divine genetics Franco possessed.
Eventually, Franco’s career came to a halt when his heroin addiction spiraled out of control. It’s believed that Franco could have been Mr. Olympia if his drug addiction hadn’t interrupted his career.
In 2014, Franco got arrested for doctor shopping and spent 3 years in prison. He would get prescribed drugs from one doctor, then go to other doctors to get more drugs (without their knowledge of previous prescriptions). Franco did this to fuel his own addiction while also selling them to others.
Prior to Franco going to jail, he was homeless, unemployable, and suicidal.
One year after being arrested, he called out to God, saying he wanted to quit his hellish lifestyle and needed help.
He was born again, was set free from his drug addiction, and now runs his own ministry called Jackdup4Jesus, where he visits inmates and addicts all over America, sharing God’s word.
We had the pleasure of conversing with Franco online, and the fruits of the spirit are obvious.
Mike Christian, nicknamed The Iron Warrior, was a top bodybuilder in the 80’s who posed as a threat to Lee Haney’s dominant spell. We saw Mike combine huge mass with great conditioning. His dense and thick upper body was his biggest strength
Money, women, and drug abuse led to Mike losing his business, house, and fiancé. Such dark times caused Mike to seek help, going into rehab and eagerly studying the Bible. Through the grace of God, Mike was healed, being victorious over his sin and drug-free since 2007. Today, he regularly attends church with his good friend Flex Wheeler (2).
Arnold Schwarzenegger hailed Flex Wheeler as one of the greatest bodybuilders he’d ever seen. Ronnie Coleman also admitted that Flex was the best bodybuilder he ever competed against.
Flex competed in the 90’s and 2000’s, winning numerous titles, including the Arnold Classic. However, he came up short when it came to winning a Mr. Olympia title, due to the formidable Dorian Yates and Ronnie Coleman. However, his fans believe he ‘never lost a competition’, being deemed the most aesthetically pleasing bodybuilder of his generation.
Flex had an abusive childhood (being molested), which resulted in suicidal tendencies. He later suffered an almost fatal car accident and developed focal glomerulosclerosis (a rare kidney disease). He consequently lost all of his sponsors and millions of dollars while effectively becoming homeless. Through all of his setbacks, Flex says he “found God,” but he hasn’t gone into much detail about his testimony.
In 2003, a lady from Flex’s Church donated her kidney to him, helping to save his life. He is great friends with Ronnie Coleman and regularly attends church with Mike Christian. Flex has said he reads the Bible and can be seen quoting scripture in interviews (3).
Interestingly, Flex made a comeback in 2017, competing in the Mr. Olympia and placing 15th in the Classic Physique division. We find this to be a very impressive achievement, considering he was steroid-free. Following his placement, Flex said, ”After giving my life to God, my mind is also finally free, and that is the real win.”
Flex now condemns the use of steroids and tries to warn teenagers about their dangerous effects. Flex has clearly repented for this sin.
One additional mention is Sergio Oliva, the Cuban bodybuilding legend.
He was nicknamed ‘the myth’, as he would give chills to spectators and adversaries who saw him live. He had huge muscle mass, wide shoulders, and a tiny 27-inch waist. Fans believe Sergio to have some of the best arms bodybuilding has ever seen. He was the only bodybuilder to defeat Arnold in a Mr. Olympia competition, winning in 1970.
When Arnold first saw Sergio, these were his thoughts (as documented in his autobiography): “I understood why they called him “the myth.” It was as jarring as if I’d walked into a wall. He destroyed me. He was so huge, he was so fantastic, there was no way I could even think of beating him.”
There isn’t much information on Sergio Oliva’s faith; however, he did mention God many times during an interview with Bodybuilding.com, professing Jesus Christ as his Lord.
“I thank my Lord Jesus Christ. I think I have been blessed over in Cuba and even when I came over here (to America) and got into bodybuilding. I have been blessed”.
Sergio admitted that he regretted using steroids, describing it as a constant “monkey on his back” to fellow bodybuilder Craig Monson (4).
It’s interesting how we see two of the greatest bodybuilders of all time (statistically) both having faith in Jesus Christ. It’s as if God predestined Lee Haney and Ronnie Coleman to become formidable champions, enabling two men willing to share the Word of God to have the perfect platform to do so.
It’s also insightful how several of these bodybuilders experienced rock bottom before seeking God. Riches and fame can give a false sense of security and an illusion of success. These testimonies are proof that there’s hope during dark times and that God is always with us. Whether a person is homeless, abused, suicidal, or addicted to drugs, there is always light at the end of the tunnel if we reach out to him.
We are glad that all of the bodybuilders in this article found peace by seeking the true living God. There is no one that God can’t forgive or heal; you just need to reach out to him, invite him into your life, and be willing to turn from your sin.