Professional bodybuilding has seen its fair share of shorter competitors throughout its history. Names like Franco Columbu, Shawn Ray, Flex Lewis, and Lee Labrada come to mind. These bodybuilders, although considered short in the sport, do not meet the criteria for this article. To be featured on this list, a bodybuilder must be 5-foot-4 inches or shorter.
The sport of bodybuilding generally favors athletes of average height. Taller athletes have more space to fill out with muscle, which requires more work in the gym and kitchen. So what is considered a good height for bodybuilding? To find out, we analyzed the heights of the 17 Mr. Olympia winners from 1965 to 2022. The tallest champion, Arnold Schwarzenegger, stands at 6-foot-2, while the shortest champion, Franco Columbu, measures at 5-foot-5. The average height of these champions is 5-foot-8, indicating that being 5-foot-8 gives you better odds of winning a bodybuilding competition.
Shorter athletes have an advantage when it comes to filling out their frames with muscle mass. They typically get in shape faster than their taller counterparts, although genetics, metabolism, and hormone levels also play a significant role in muscle building and fat loss. However, competitive bodybuilding is ultimately a game of size. Bigger bodybuilders with good symmetry, balance, and proportions can often outsize smaller athletes with similar physiques. Therefore, bodybuilders shorter than 5-foot-5 must bring something extraordinary to the stage to beat their taller competitors.
Recognizing the advantage that taller bodybuilders had over their shorter counterparts, the International Federation of BodyBuilding and Fitness (IFBB) introduced a new division in 2008 called the 212 division. This division was specifically created to level the playing field for shorter bodybuilders. The 212-division bodybuilders are usually shorter than 5-foot-7, with an average height of 5-foot-5. It has become the go-to division for shorter bodybuilders, although many of the best in this division eventually move up to the Open division and compete against the bigger athletes. Hadi Choopan, Derek Lunsford, and William Bonac are some successful 212-division bodybuilders who have made their mark on the Men’s Open stage.
Now, let’s take a look at the 14 best short bodybuilders in pro bodybuilding history, arranged from tallest to shortest:
1. Kevin English – 5-foot-4
2. Lee Priest – 5-foot-4
3. John Citrone – 5-foot-4
4. Mohamed Makkawy – 5-foot-3
5. Mohammed Benaziza – 5-foot-3
6. Steve Brisbois – 5-foot-3
7. Wilfred Sylvester – 5-foot-3
8. Shaun Clarida – 5-foot-2
9. Thierry Pastel – 5-foot-2
10. Danny Padilla – 5-foot-2
11. Ed Theriault – 5-foot-1
12. Flavio Baccianini – 4-foot-11
13. Choon Tan – 4-foot-10
14. Pratik Mohite – 3-foot-4
Kevin English, a dominant force in the 212 division, was the first bodybuilder to hold multiple 212 titles. Lee Priest, known for his freakish arms, defeated much bigger bodybuilders during his career, including Ronnie Coleman. John Citrone, a bodybuilder who started young, exemplifies the positive impact of bodybuilding on longevity, still training at 80 years old. Mohamed Makkawy, with his symmetrical physique, was able to defeat much larger competitors and placed runner-up at the Mr. Olympia twice.
These short bodybuilders have made their mark in the sport, proving that height is not a limiting factor in achieving success on the bodybuilding stage. They have shown that with dedication, genetics, and hard work, anyone can excel in bodybuilding, regardless of their height.