Top 10 Christian Bodybuilders (Who Found God)

Disclaimer: This article is written for educational purposes only. It does not condone or encourage the use of anabolic steroids.

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 – but 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

lee haney

Lee Haney is the most successful bodybuilder of all time, in regards to Mr Olympia wins, with 8 Sandow trophies (matched only by Ronnie Coleman). He’s also one of the few bodybuilders to remain undefeated during his whole career.

He describes himself as a “man of God”, regularly sharing Bible verses via his twitter and talking about his relationship with Jesus.

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 the children.

Dennis Tinerino

dennis tinerino

Dennis Tinerino was an American bodybuilder in the 60’s and 70’s, winning 4 Mr Universe titles. Dennis was nicknamed the King of Lines, due to 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. Dennis also appeared in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first movie: Hercules in New York.

Dennis found God in prison, after being charged for 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

serge nubret

Serge Nubret, aka the Black Panther, passed away in April 2011. Serge generally is remembered for being part of bodybuilding’s golden era in the 70’s, whilst appearing alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in classic documentaries such as Pumping Iron.

Some regard Serge to be 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 auto-biography in French, with the title translated as: I am…Me and God. He was open about his Christian values in the mid-2000’s where 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

kevin levrone

Kevin Levrone was a world-class bodybuilder from the 90’s, winning many competitions, with the most prestigious being the Arnold Classic. However, like Serge Nubret, Levrone never won a Mr Olympia title, finishing 2nd 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. He has shared Bible verses and preached Biblical messages via his Facebook page in the past.

Ronnie Coleman

ronnie coleman

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 8 Sandow trophies. Ronnie took size and mass to new levels in the 90’s and 2000’s 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

mark dugdale

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. Him 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 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

bob birdsong

Bob Birdsong was a classic bodybuilder form the 70’s winning many titles, including Mr America, Mr International and Mr Universe. Bob had particularly impressive arm development and vascularity.

Bob wasn’t always brawny, once weighing 97lbs and being 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 to 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 Sontoriello

franco santoriello

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 incredible symmetry and aesthetics, where fans would be excited whenever he appeared on a magazine cover.

At 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 4 national amateur titles in 2 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 heroine addiction, which led to him having a 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 tiny amounts. Due to his drug problems, he experienced frequent and extensive periods away from weight lifting. During one 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.

santoriello transformation

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 such 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, whilst also selling them to others.

Prior to Franco going to jail he was homeless, unemployable and suicidal.

1 year after being arrested, he called out to God, saying he wanted to quit his hellish lifestyle and needed help.

God answered.

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.

Mike Christian

mike christian

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. Mike was known for combining 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 fiance. 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).

Flex Wheeler

flex wheeler

Arnold Schwarzenegger hailed Flex Wheeler as one of the greatest bodybuilder 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 as 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, whilst effectively becoming homeless. Through all of his setbacks Flex says he “found God”, but 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. This was a very impressive achievement considering he was steroid-free. Following this achievement 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.

Sergio Oliva

sergio oliva

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).

Summary

It’s interesting how two of the greatest bodybuilders of all time (statistically) both had 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, 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.

References:

(1) https://web.archive.org/web/20130606072831/http://www.midwestchristianbodybuilding.com/bobbirdsong.htm

(2) https://musculardevelopment.com/digital-divas/15770-star-profile-mike-christian-the-iron-warrior-interview-part-2.html#.XcRcu1czbIU

(3) https://www.youtube.com/embed/JgeHKGEw4C8

(4) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4CmuCnGrHAk

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