The 25 Fittest Men of All Time

These guys don’t just run fast, lift a lot, and break records left and right. Their commitment to exercise also inspires others to get healthy

November 8, 2012
1/25 Getty Images/Anthony Mandler

It started with a simple question: Who is the fittest man of all-time?

Go ahead. Think about it. We did. And the answer wasn't easy.

For starters, define fit. Is a marathoner more fit than a running back? Is Lance Armstrong more fit than Greg LeMond? Does it matter if he's done steroids? Richard Simmons doesn't look like an Olympian, but the guy works out every day, and he's inspired millions of people to follow his lead. Does that make him fit? You see where this is going. (We didn't finish a lot of work that day.)

When judging the fittest men of all-time, Men's Health decided on a few caveats. Fitness, as we define it, isn't just about how much you can lift, how fast you can sprint, or how many records you've broken. It's also about what else you do with the body you build--the people you inspire, and the legacy you leave behind. Here, the top of the list: The 25 Fittest Men of All Time. Click here to see the full ranking of The 100 Fittest Men of All-Time by the editors of Men's Health.

Discover the cutting-edge fitness system that blasts fat, torches calories, and lights your muscles on fire!

Rick and Dick Hoyt
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25 & 24. Rick & Dick Hoyt

Stories don't come much more inspirational than the one about Rick and Dick Hoyt. Together, the father and son form Team Hoyt. As their website none-too-subtly puts it, "Team Hoyt is the story of a father, Dick Hoyt, who pushes his son, Rick Hoyt, in a wheelchair in marathons and triathlons across the country." If you know anything about Team Hoyt, you know that's unfairly modest. When Gary Smith profiled the duo for Sports Illustrated in April 2011, Dick had already pushed--and sometimes pulled, in a special boat--his son through 1,036 races. Why? Because his son--who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth--never feels better than he does during those races. And so Dick keeps going--despite warnings from his doctors, despite stents in his arteries, despite surviving a heart attack. Think about that the next time you're trying to come up with an excuse to skip your morning run. Here's your solution: How to Squeeze Exercise into Any Day.

Video: A Paralympian's Road to Gold

Bruce Jenner
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23. Bruce Jenner

Depending on your appetite for reality TV, you probably know more than you've ever wanted to know about Bruce Jenner--or nothing at all. The stepfather of Kourtney and Kim Kardashian remains a tabloid fixture today for his role in the hit series Keeping Up With the Kardashians. But in the mid-'70s, Jenner commanded the spotlight entirely on his own. He won an Olympic gold medal in the decathlon while setting the world record (8,618 points). More significantly, Jenner recaptured decathlon gold from the Soviets at the height of the Cold War. His victory lap while waving an American flag remains one of the most iconic images of the Olympic Games, and it earned Jenner a place in one of the most American traditions of all: His face on a Wheaties box.

Print It: 12-Week Training Log for Runners

Gerard Butler lifting a tire
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22. Gerard Butler

Until 2007, Gerard Butler was just another handsome leading man carving out a respectable career in Hollywood. And then 300 happened. And brother, how things did change. As the ultra-shredded Spartan king Leonidas, Butler redefined what it meant to look ripped. To get the otherworldly six-pack he sported on screen, Butler committed to a fierce, 300-rep (get it?) training regimen that remains one of the most popular routines Men's Health has ever featured. It goes like this: 25 pullups, 50 deadlifts, 50 pushups, 50 box jumps, 50 floor wipers, 50 single-arm clean-and-presses, and then (yes) 25 more pullups--all without rest. That may seem excessive (and we didn't even get to the tire-flipping), but it put Butler in the proper mindset for the role. (Search: How does resting between sets impact muscle growth?) "You know that every bead of sweat falling off your head, every weight you've pumped--the history of that is all in your eyes," he told Men's Health of his routine. "That was a great thing, to put on that cape and put on that helmet, and not have to think, 'Shit, I should have trained more.' Instead, I was standing there feeling like a lion."

Want Hollywood muscle? Try The 300 Workout for a full-body warrior transformation.

Michael Jordan
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21. Michael Jordan

Dream Team debates aside, few people dispute that Michael Jordan is--statistically speaking, anyway--the greatest basketball player of all-time. But he didn't get there on raw talent alone. In 1989, trainer Tim Grover read an article about Jordan wanting to begin strength training to better prepare for the physical style of play he would face against the Chicago Bulls' chief conference rivals, the Detroit Pistons. Jordan was afraid to hit the weights for fear it would affect his game. Grover contacted the Bulls to offer his services. "[Jordan] said he'd try it out for a month, and it ended up being 15 years," Grover told ESPN in 2009. Fueled by the added muscle, Jordan led the Bulls to six NBA titles and a Hall of Fame career.

Want more insight from a 2012 Olympic dream-teamer? Carmelo Anthony shares his thoughts on How to Play Better Pick-Up Basketball.

Richard Simmons
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20. Richard Simmons

The Richard Simmons you know--the ebullient man with short-shorts, white sneakers, and a bigger-than-life personality--wasn't always a model of health and fitness. Simmons graduated high school pushing 268 pounds. After failing to lose weight with fad diets, he turned to the method he's preached for the past 30 years: exercise and healthy eating. "There is no magic milkshake or workout machine," Simmons told Men's Health in an interview earlier this year. "My formula has always been love yourself, move your body, watch your portions. And it sounds so easy, but it is not." That simple formula has helped Simmons' clients and fans lose a collective 3 million pounds and counting.

Find out how this iconic, 63-year-old fitness guru still stays in shape today by reading The Exclusive Men's Health Richard Simmons Interview.

Eugene Sandow
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19. Eugene Sandow

While performing feats of strength in front of the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1883, Sandow realized that the crowd was more fascinated with his massive muscles than with his strength. After that, he began what he called, "muscle display performances," and the sport of modern bodybuilding began. From there he went on to open an early bodybuilding gym, and publish a monthly fitness and bodybuilding magazine. Indeed, Sandow was the first person to bring muscle-building culture to the masses. (And we've been more than happy to improve on his methods.)

Struggling to beef up your slender frame? Go from scrawny to brawny with the Skinny Man's Muscle Plan.

Chuck Norris
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18. Chuck Norris

Chuck Norris' tears cure cancer--if only he would ever cry. Chuck Norris counted to infinity--twice. But well before there was Chuck Norris the myth, there was Chuck Norris the man. And believe it or not, his achievements were almost as impressive. Here are some actual facts we know about the guy: Norris was voted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame three times--first as a fighter in 1968, again as an instructor in 1975, and yet again as Man of the Year in 1977. (That last one sounds dangerously like a myth.) He was the first person from the Western Hemisphere to earn an 8th degree black belt in Tae Kwan Do, and was a six-time undefeated world champion. He starred as Bruce Lee's foe in Way of the Dragon--and, we'll add, put up a pretty decent fight, all things considered. Norris even once taught Bob Barker how to throw a punch, a skill the Price is Right host put to good use in Happy Gilmore. No word on whether Chuck also taught him how to count to infinity.

Become as intimidating as Chuck Norris and learn how to Look Like a Badass--Instantly!

Mark Whalberg
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17. Mark Wahlberg

There's a good reason why Mark Wahlberg winds up on the cover of Men's Health more than almost any other A-lister: The dude simply never lets himself go. He refuses. Search back as far as the '80s, and you'll get Wahlberg the Calvin Klein underwear model and leader of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, showing off a six-pack not unlike the one he's still rocking today. Clearly, the man isn't planning on entering his Marlon Brando phase anytime soon.

Of course, staying fit past 40 requires considerably more effort than it did when Wahlberg earned his keep appearing on billboards in the buff. "My life has evolved so drastically over the years in every aspect. I embrace it," Wahlberg told Men's Health. Just as he evolved from playing tough guys to porn stars to voicing bawdy-but-somewhat-lovable teddy bears, Wahlberg also continues to tweak his routine in the gym to fit the changing demands of his body. For his role in The Fighter, he combined classic exercises like medicine ball twists and pushups to build his character's rock-hard core.

Steal the star's secrets with The Mark Wahlberg Workout.

David Beckham
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16. David Beckham

"You'll never play for England, because you're too small and not strong enough."

Heard at age 13 from one (really bad) soccer teacher, those words only fueled Beckham's resolve to master the game. He not only played for England--first in 1996--but served as its captain for six years. Beckham went on to win six Premier League titles with Manchester United and two FA cups. How'd he do it? Conditioning played a big part. While he wasn't always the most-skilled player on the field, Beckham knew he could outwork his opponents. "I am a very stubborn person," Beckham told Men's Health, "I think it's helped me over my career. I'm sure it has hindered me at times as well, but not too many times. I know that if I set my mind to something, even if people are saying I can't do it, I will achieve it." Now, having firmly established himself as a soccer icon, Beckham's working to get the rest of the world onboard, playing for Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy. And he has no plans to slow down: "Even at 36, I'm still running 12 miles a game. But I've definitely become more aware on the field. I know what my limits are, what I can achieve, and which passes I can play. I have adapted to my age."

Kick your workout to the next level with Beckham's Punishing 5-Week Plan.

Muhammad Ali
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15. Muhammad Ali

Plenty of boxers can hit hard. But what made Muhammad Ali a champion was his ability to slip past punches and hop around the ring--to "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee," in the sometime-poet's own words. That skill helped Ali apply a beat-down to other heavyweight legends including Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, and George Foreman. And Ali's personal life was a sports journalist's dream: His name change from Cassius Clay after converting to the Nation of Islam, refusing to report for the draft during the Vietnam War (a case that was eventually decided by the Supreme Court), and his ability to spout a near-constant stream of quotes and witticisms all made Ali a cultural icon and a revered competitor.

Want to look as good as Ali? Get started by learning The 8 Rules of 6-Pack Abs.

Jackie Robinson
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14. Jackie Robinson

What's not commonly known is that before Robinson ever played professional baseball, he was one of the country's greatest all-around amateur athletes. In high school, he lettered in four sports and was an accomplished tennis player. While at UCLA, he was the point guard on the basketball team, a quarterback, running back, and safety on its football team, a shortstop and leadoff hitter for its baseball team, and the most accomplished long and broad jumper on its track team. By the time he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947--becoming the first black man to play in the majors-- Robinson's endurance wasn't a question. That season, he took home Rookie of the Year honors, and two seasons later was voted the National League's MVP. Today his uniform number, 42, remains the only one to be retired across all Major League teams.

Download the latest Men's Health Workout App for fitness tips and exercise how-tos anywhere, anytime!

Gred Lemond
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13. Greg Lemond

In the late '80's and early '90's, the only name you needed to know in competitive cycling was Greg LeMond. In 1986 he became the first American--the first person from anywhere but Europe, for that matter--to win the Tour de France. The next year, LeMond took an accidental shotgun blast in the back during a turkey hunt. After two years recovering, LeMond still had get on the bike with more than 30 shotgun pellets embedded in his body. But that didn't stop him from winning two more Tours de France before he retired from cycling in 1994.

Cycling is a great total-body workout. Here's how you can Get Tour de France Fit.

Sylvester Stallone
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12. Sylvester Stallone

Here's the thing you need to respect about Sly: When he commits to a role, he trains for it like no other actor. While filming Rocky, he cut his body fat to as little as 3.8 percent, and bulked up to nearly 200 pounds. Five Rocky sequels later, he's the undisputed king of the workout montage. What's most surprising is that Stallone hasn't gone the way of Jack Nicholson and other icons. If anything, his success only seems to fuel his fitness obsession more. He recently became one of Hollywood's more unlikely comeback stories, starting with the resurrection of Rocky in 2006 and Rambo in 2008. Recently, he fired up the pyrotechnics once more when he starred in The Expendables 2, which he also wrote and directed.

We were so inspired by Stallone's body in Rocky, we even named an exercise after him. Build your core with his signature exercise found in 6 Moves to Sculpt Beach Abs.

Ashton Eaton
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11. Ashton Eaton

If you want to know why Ashton Eaton can vie for the title of world's greatest athlete, first you need to know something about the decathlon. The Olympic event combines 10 disciplines--stuff like long jumping, shot putting, sprinting, and javelin throwing--and in 2012, Eaton rocked them all. During the U.S. Olympic Trials, he set a new world decathlon record of 9,039 points, barely edging out Roman Sebrle's mark (9,026 points) that had stood for 11 years. To earn that staggering point total, Eaton finished first in the 100-meter dash (10.2 seconds), the long jump (27 feet), the high jump (6.7 feet), and the 400-meter dash (46 seconds). And just when things couldn't look any better for the 24-year-old, he opened the 2012 Olympics with even more bests, smashing a 44-year-old decathlon record in the 100-meter dash (10.3 seconds) and finishing first in the long jump. Any questions?

What should you eat to fuel your muscles? Start with these 40 Foods with Superpowers.

Bjorn Daehlie
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10. Bjorn Daehlie

Norwegian Olympian Bjorn Daehlie may be the fittest man ever to strap on a pair of skis. Between 1992 and 1998, he took home 12 Olympic medals--eight golds and four silvers--the most ever by a winter athlete. But it's not just his medals that earn him a place here. It's also a number: 94. That's the score Daehlie reportedly registered in the VO2 max, a test of how efficiently the body uses oxygen. Generally speaking, the higher the score, the longer it takes your muscles to fatigue. The average guy would likely score in the 35 to 40 range. Tour de France champions like Lance Armstrong and Miguel Indurain have reportedly reached the 80s. Daehlie's unprecedented score blew even the elite cyclists away.

No matter if you're a weekend warrior or an aspiring Olympian, our Injury Prevention Workout Plan will keep you pain-free and in the game.

Manny Pacquiao
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9. Manny Pacquiao

Born impoverished in Manilla, Philippines, Manny Pacquiao rose to become one of the highest-paid athletes in the world. He left home at 14 seeking a better life, entering quasi-legal bouts. Pacquiao is just 5-foot-6, but he's worked his way up through eight of boxing's weight classes, winning championships in divisions ranging from the 112-pound flyweight through the 154-pound light middleweight. And no one would make the mistake of thinking that added weight is anything but pure muscle: Pacquiao is often ranked as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Outside of the ring, he's been a reservist in the Philippines Army (currently holding the rank of lieutenant colonel) and in 2010 he was elected to the Philippine House of Representatives.

Whether you're in the peak of your physical prime or pushing 50, prep for the healthiest decade of your life with these secrets to Look Great at Any Age.

Lance Armstrong
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8. Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong is the cyclist that became an entire fitness brand. Weirdly enough, it started with a diagnosis in 1996 of stage 3 testicular cancer that had spread to Armstrong's lungs and brain. Already a very promising cyclist, Armstrong chose a course of treatment that would spare his lungs' robust aerobic capacity. He not only survived the cancer, but just three years after that original diagnosis Armstrong became the second American to win the grueling 21-day-long Tour de France. The next year he won the Tour de France again, and the year after that, again, and again, and again, and again, racking up seven consecutive victories between 1999 and 2005. Despite a recent decision by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to vacate 14 years of results (including his 7 Tour de France titles) based on the testimony of former teammates, Armstrong remains the face of cycling to most Americans. "I know who won those seven Tours," Armstrong said in a statement after deciding not to contest the USADA decision. "My teammates know who won those seven Tours, and everyone I competed against knows who won those seven Tours."

Beyond his accomplishments on the bike, Armstrong has used his celebrity to build the Lance Armstrong Foundation, a massive non-profit that through those ubiquitous yellow wristbands and events in 65 nations has raised more than $470 million for cancer education and to support cancer patients.

Build a strong foundation and carve your core with The Lance Armstrong Workout.

Cristiano Ronaldo
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7. Cristiano Ronaldo

At 27, the famously fast, strong, and agile striker has more than lived up to his soccer-legend namesake. Known for his wicked step-over, Ronaldo leaves even the best defenders flat on their grass-stained keisters. There's no question why, in 2009, with numerous scoring records and PFA, FWA, and FIFA awards under his cleats, it took $131.6 million for Real Madrid to snatch him away from Manchester United. He's now the most expensive footballer of all-time.

Time to upgrade your running kicks? Check out The Best Shoes to Avoid Injury.

Jim Thorpe
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6. Jim Thorpe

In retrospect, Jim Thorpe simply wasn't fair. Known for his freakish talents across multiple sports, including baseball, basketball, and football (imagine a football-playing Albert Pujols rushing for 2,000 yards), it was his awe-inspiring feats in the 1912 Summer Olympics that cemented his place as the greatest athlete who ever lived. Thorpe walked away from Stockholm with two gold medals in the pentathlon and decathlon, finishing first in eight of the 15 individual events, including the long jump, high jump, and 200-meter dash. Such an impressive body of work requires an equally impressive body--and though we can't find workout records from the early 20th century, rest assured that Thorpe didn't make history by sitting on his couch.

Want a new way variation of the classic curl exercise? How about 25 of 'em? Discover 25 Ways to Build Your Biceps.

Herschel Walker
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5. Herschel Walker

When Herschel Walker walked away from the NFL at age 35, after 13 years of highlight-reel runs and hard-fought touchdowns--not to mention one of the most dominating college careers of all time--most people assumed he'd rest his body and retire to the broadcasting booth. But the All-Pro running back couldn't stay sedentary for long, and instead emerged in his 40s kicking ass in an entirely different, but equally demanding sport: mixed martial arts. Walker has won two pro MMA bouts to date--chalk that up to his brutal daily regimen of 3,500 situps, 1,500 pushups, and an 8-mile run--and recently indicated that he's even flirting with returning to the gridiron ... at age 50. Take that, AARP membership.

Strengthen your hip and groin muscles for the ultimate athletic build like Walker's. Try The NFL Running Back Exercise.

Jack LaLanne
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4. Jack LaLanne

Long before people like Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons began promoting fitness, there was Jack LaLanne. Now called the "godfather of fitness," all modern gyms descend from the one that LaLanne opened in 1936 at just 21 years old. After that, he'd go on to write now-classic books on fitness, and would host the longest-running fitness show ever, The Jack LaLanne Show. His message was simple: The overall health of the United States depended on the health of its people.

Upgrade your at-home training arsenal with The Ultimate Home Fitness Gear.

Arnold Schwartzenegger
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3. Arnold Schwarzenegger

There's hardly a realm of American life the Terminator-turned-Governator hasn't conquered, and yet despite the gains he's made in the political realm, Arnold's most impressive feats remain in the gym. We'll let the numbers speak for themselves: In his prime, Arnold boasted a 470-pound squat, a 440-pound bench press, and a 680-pound deadlift. Feats of strength like those allowed Schwarzenegger to capture the Mr. Olympia title at age 23--he remains its youngest champion--and repeat seven times after that. They also enabled him to be the first call for casting directors when searching for the next Hercules, Conan the Barbarian, Army commando John Matrix, and the Terminator. Today he's the namesake of the annual Arnold Classic--one of the world's most profitable bodybuilding competitions--and, despite pushing 70, is still landing ass-kicking leading roles in high-octane action flicks like The Expendables 2. Don't look too surprised. Arnold always said he'd be back. (Use this simple trick to Lift More Weight Instantly.)

Bruce Lee
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2. Bruce Lee

On paper, Bruce Lee might not strike the average guy as all that impressive. Arguably the most influential martial artist of all time, Lee stood just 5-foot-7 and weighed as little as 125 pounds for a large part of his acting and fighting career. When Lee was at his leanest, his waist measured just 26 inches. And he got that way not only because of his insatiable work ethic, but because of the way he continuously evolved his training regimen. In his book, The Art of Expressing the Human Body, Lee advocates the sort of resistance training and core-strengthening routines now championed by programs like P90X (and our own Men's Health Speed Shred). That's part of the reason even Hollywood's strongest men felt inspired by his fitness level. "Bruce took off his T-shirt, and I marveled again, as I always did every time I saw his physique," Chuck Norris once said. "He had muscles on muscles." Even Arnold was impressed. "Bruce Lee had a very--and I mean a very--defined physique," Schwarzenegger once said. "He probably had one of the lowest body-fat counts of any athlete around ... He was one of a kind, an idol."

Michael Phelps
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1. Michael Phelps

Just call him a gold digger: Michael Phelps' otherworldly dominance of the 2008 Olympic Games was a once-in-a-lifetime feat to witness. Nobody's likely to break the American swimmer's record of 22 Olympic medals--including 18 golds--anytime soon. Getting his conditioning to such an elite level meant committing to five hours of working out every day--whether it was in the pool or doing dry-land resistance exercises. And fueling those workouts wasn't easy: Phelps reportedly stuck to a 12,000-calorie daily diet, which, according to the Wall Street Journal, included three fried-egg sandwiches topped with cheese, one five-egg omelet, a bowl of grits, three slices of French toast, and three chocolate-chip pancakes. And that's just breakfast. While his recent retirement came as a surprise to some--Phelps is only 27--we concede that he's earned the right to some R&R. But, Mike, we're just saying: Rio de Janeiro is downright lovely in the summer.

Not seeing someone you think should have made the cut? Examine the list in its entirety here: The 100 Fittest Men of All-Time.