Arnold Schwarzenegger was born in Austria in 1948. He started body building at the age of 15 and by the age of 19 had won several power lifting contests as well as the Mr. Europe (Junior) and the Mr. Europe bodybuilding contests. In 1968 he became a resident of the United States and went on to win all the major titles of bodybuilding championships: Mr. World, Mr. Universe (five times) and Mr. Olympia, the most prestigious title of all, which he won six times in a row and once more five years later when he made a comeback to bodybuilding on the occasion of a documentary film.
His charisma was a great factor in attracting public attention to bodybuilding, a sport that had been generally looked down upon. He is at present a film actor and director.
I can still hear them, the voices of my friends the lifeguards, body builders, the weight lifters, booming up from the lake where they were working out in the grass and trees.
"Arnold — come on.'" cried Karl, the young doctor who had become my friend at the gym...
It was the summer I turned fifteen, a magical season for me because that year I'd discovered exactly what I wanted to do with my life. It was more than a young boy's mere pipe dream of a distant, hazy future — confused fantasies of being a fireman, detective, sailor, test pilot, or spy. I knew I was going to be a bodybuilder. It wasn't simply that either. I would be the best bodybuilder in the world, the greatest, the best-built man.
I still remember that first visit to the bodybuilding gym. I had never seen anyone lifting weights before. Those guys were huge and brutal. I found myself walking around them, staring at muscles I couldn't even name, muscles I'd never even seen before. The weight lifters shone
with sweat; they were powerful looking. Herculean. And there it was before me — my life, the answer I'd been seeking. It clicked. It was something I suddenly just seemed to reach out and find, as if I'd been crossing a suspended bridge and finally stepped off onto solid ground.
I remember the first real workout I had as vividly as if it were last night. I rode my bike to the gym, which was eight miles from the village where I lived. I used barbells,' dumbbells2 and machines.3 The guys warned me that I'd get sore, but it didn't seem to be having any effect. I thought I must be beyond that. Then, after the workout,41 start ed riding home and fell off my bike. I was so weak I couldn't make my hands hold on. I had no feeling in my legs: they were noodles. I was numb, my whole body buzzing. I pushed the bike for a while, leaning on it. Half a mile farther, I tried to ride it again, fell off again, and then just pushed it the rest of the way home. This was my first experience with weight training, and I was crazy for it.
The next morning I couldn't even lift my arm to comb my hair. Each time I tried, pain shot through every muscle in my shoulder and arm. I couldn't hold the comb. I tried to drink coffee and spilled it all over the table. I was helpless.
It was the first time I'd ever felt every one of my muscles. It was the first time those sensations had registered in my mind, the first time my mind knew my thighs, calves and forearms were more than just limbs. I felt the muscles in my triceps aching, and I knew why they were called triceps — because there are three muscles in there. They were all registered in my mind, written there with sharp little jabs of pain. I learned that this pain meant progress. Each time my muscles were sore from a workout, I knew they were growing.
I wanted to be a big guy. I didn't want to be delicate. I dreamed of big deltoids, big pecs,5 big thighs, big calves; I wanted every muscle to explode and be huge. I dreamed about being gigantic.
My dreams went beyond a spectacular body. Once I had that, I knew what it would do for me. I'd get into the movies and build gymnasiums all over the world. I'd create an empire.
Whereas most people were satisfied to train two or three times a week, I quickly escalated my program to six workouts a week.
My father was baffled by my eagerness. "Don't do it, Arnold," he said. "You'll overtrain, you'll overwork yourself."
"I'm all right," I said. "I'm doing it gradually."
"Yes," he said. "But what will you do with all these muscles once you've got them?"
"I want to be the best-built man in the world," I said frankly.
That made him sigh and shake his head.
"Then I want to go to America and be in movies. I want to be an actor."
"Yes — America."
"My god!" he cried. He went into the kitchen and told my mother, "I think we better go to the doctor with this one, he's sick in the head."
He was genuinely worried about me. He felt I wasn't normal. And of course he was right. With my desire and my drive, I definitely was not normal. Normal people can be happy with a regular life. I was different. I felt there was more to life than just plodding through an average existence. I'd always been impressed by stories of greatness and power. Caesar, Charlemagne, Napoleon were names I knew and remembered. I wanted to do something special, to be recognized as the best. I saw bodybuilding as the vehicle that would take me to the top, and I put all my energy into it.
I'm convinced most of the people I knew didn't really understand what I was doing at all. They looked at me as a novelty, a freak. My actual acceptance was limited. There were certain social groups in which the people were intimidated by bodybuilding and felt they should talk down to me. They tried to point out weaknesses in the sport and argued why a person shouldn't do it. I've been through these trips all my life. There's a certain kind of person who always says, "My doctor tells me lifting weights is bad for your health...." In the beginning, it was kind of hard for me to handle. I was young and impressionable. I knew I wanted to do it so badly nobody could stop me, least of all people I wouldn't even bother to count as friends, but many times I did question it. I wondered why I was so different, why I wanted to do something a lot of people didn't like and -even made fun of. If you played soccer, everybody loved you; you were a hero. And they gave you anything,
People recognized my athletic talents; but my choice of a sport confused them. They shook their heads. "Why did you have to pick the least-favorite sport in Austria?" they always asked. It was true. We had only twenty or thirty bodybuilders in the entire country.
I couldn't come up with an answer. I didn't know. It had been
instinctive. I had just fallen in love with it. I loved the feeling of the gym, of working out, of having muscles all over. My mind was into looking huge, into being awesome and powerful. I saw it working. My muscles began bursting out all over. And I knew I was on my way.
Now, looking back, I can analyze it more clearly. My total involvement had a lot to do with the discipline, the individualism, and the utter integrity of bodybuilding. But at the time it was a mystery even to me. Bodybuilding did have its rewards, but they were relatively small. I wasn't competing yet, so my gratification had to come from other areas. In the summer at the lake I could surprise everyone by showing up with a different body. They'd say, "Jesus, Arnold, you grew again. When are you going to stop?"
"Never," I'd tell them. We'd all laugh. They thought it amusing. But I meant it.
I couldn't be bothered with girls as companions. My mind was totally locked into working out, and I was annoyed if anything took me away from it. I wouldn't afford to have my feelings hurt during heavy training or just before a competition. I needed stable emotions, total discipline. I needed to be there training for two hours in the morning and two hours at night, concentrating on nothing except perfecting my body and bringing it to its peak. Whatever I thought might hold me back, I avoided.
Besides, if I did miss out on the emotional thing because I was so dedicated, I believe I benefited in other ways that finally brought every thing into balance. One of these was my self-confidence, which grew as I saw how much control I was gaining over my body. In two or three years I had actually been able to change my body entirely. That told me something. If I had been able to change my body that much, I could also, through the same discipline and determination, change anything else I wanted. I could change my habits, my whole outlook on life.
The secret is contained in a three-part formula I learned in the gym: self-confidence, a positive mental attitude, and honest hard work. Many people are aware of these principles, but very few can put them into practice. Every day I hear someone say, "I'm too fat. I need to lose twenty-five pounds, but I can't. I never seem to improve." I'd hate myself if I had that kind of attitude, if I were that weak. I can lose ten to forty pounds rapidly, easily, painlessly, by simply setting my mind to it. By observing the principles of strict discipline that bodybuilding taught
me, I can prepare myself for anything. I have developed such absolute control over my body that I can decide what body weight I want for any particular time and take myself up or down to meet it.
Two months before we started shooting Stay Hungry, Bob Rafaelson came to me and said, "I'm afraid of hiring you for this film, Arnold. You're just too big. You weigh two forty, and if you're in a scene with Sally Fields you'll dwarf her. I'd like you to be much leaner and more normal-looking in street clothes." I said, "You worry about your film and I'll worry about my body. Just tell me what day you want me to show up and at what body weight, and I'll do it." He thought I was pulling his leg. He wanted me to be down to 210 pounds, but he didn't think I could ever do it. So I bet him I could. The day the filming began, Rafaelson went with me to the gym to work out and take a sauna. "Step on the scale," he said. I weighed 209 pounds. One pound less than he wanted me. He couldn't believe it. I kept the weight for three months, until the shooting stopped. Then I got an offer to do the film Pumping Iron. The only way I could do it was to compete in the Mr. Olympia contest. Within two more months I would have to go back up to 240 pounds, the weight at which I felt I reached the ultimate in size and symmetry, and then cut down to 235 for maximum definition. I did it easily and won the Mr. Olympia contest.
From the very beginning I knew bodybuilding was the perfect choice for my career. No one else seemed to agree — at least not my family or teachers. To them the only acceptable way of life was being a banker, secretary, doctor, or salesman — being established in the ordinary way, taking the regular kind of job offered through an employment agency — something legitimate. My desire to build my body and be Mr. Universe was totally beyond their comprehension. Because of it, I was put through a lot of changes. I locked up my emotions even further and listened only to my inner voice, my instincts.
I went into the Army in 1965. One year of service was obligatory in Austria. After that, I could make my decision about a future. For me the Army was a good experience. I liked the regimentation, the firm, rigid structure. The whole idea of uniforms and medals appealed to me. Discipline was not a new thing to me — you can't do bodybuilding successfully without it.
Shortly after I was inducted, I received an invitation to the junior division of the Mr. Europe contest in Stuttgart, Germany. I was in the
middle of basic training and unless someone in your immediate family died, you were absolutely forbidden to leave. I spent a couple of sleep less nights wondering what I should do. Finally I knew there was no alternative: I was going to sneak out and go.
The junior Mr. Europe contest meant so much to me that I didn't care what consequences I'd have to suffer. I crawled over the wall, taking only the clothes I was wearing. I had barely enough money to buy a third-class train ticket.
This was my first contest. I was nervous and exhausted from the train trip and I had no idea what was going on. I tried to learn some thing by watching the short men's class, but they seemed as amateurish and confused as I was. I had to borrow someone else's posing trunks, someone else's body oil. I had rehearsed a posing routine in my mind on the train.
But the instant I stepped out before the judges my mind went blank. Somehow I made it through the initial posing. Then they called me back for a pose-off. Again, my mind was blank and I wasn't sure how I'd done. Finally, the announcement came that I'd won — Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mr. Europe Junior.
At first the Army was not impressed. I borrowed money to travel back to the base and they caught me as I was climbing over the wall. I sat in jail for seven days with only a blanket on a cold stone bench and almost no food. But I had my trophy and I didn't care if they locked me up for a whole year; it had been worth it.
I showed my trophy to everybody. And by the time I got out of jail, word had spread through the camp that I had won Mr. Europe Junior. The top majors decided it lent some prestige to the Army and gave me two days' leave. I became a hero because of what I'd gone through to win. When we were out in the field the drill instructors mentioned it. "You have to fight for your fatherland," they said. "You have to have courage. Look at what Schwarzenegger did just to win this title." I became a hero, even though I had defied their rules to get what I wanted. That one time, they made an exception. An order came down from the top that I was to train, to build my body. It was the nicest order I could have had.
A weight-lifting gym was set up and I was ordered to go there every day after lunch. I'd brought my own dumbbells and some of the machines from home because the Army had only barbells and weights. They were strict about my training. Every time an officer walked by the
window and caught me sitting down, he'd threaten to have me put in jail.
I paced myself and used this opportunity to continue building the foundation I'd begun three years before. I devised a way of training six hours at a stretch without getting totally wiped out. I ate four or five times a day...
Many people regret having to serve in the Army. But it was not a waste of time for me. When I came out I weighed 225 pounds. I'd gone from 200 to 225 pounds. Up to that time, this was the biggest change I'd ever made in a single year.
After I won the Mr. Europe Junior contest, I asked myself over and over, "What can you do to be special and different?"
I finally arrived at the idea of shocking the muscles. So once a week I took a training partner and drove out into the country with the weights.
It's important that you like what you do, and we loved it. We had fun, but we also did astonishing workouts. We did tortuous workouts in the fresh air. We challenged each other. We experienced a lot of pain. We'd be in the middle of a squat6 and just cramp up. We'd roll on the ground and try to massage it out. That was the first time I knew pain could become pleasure. We were benefiting from pain. We were breaking through the pain barrier and shocking the muscle. We looked at this pain as a positive thing, because we grew.
It was a fantastic feeling to gain size from pain. All of a sudden I was looking forward to it as something pleasurable. The whole idea of pain became a pleasure trip. I couldn't tell anybody about it then, because I knew they would say I was a weirdo, a masochist. Which wasn't true, I had just converted the pain into pleasure — not for its own sake but because it meant growing.
Every year, in the spring, a stone-lifting contest is held in Munich. This has been going on for decades and has a lot of prestige in sporting circles. You stand on two footrests that look like chairs and pull the stone up between your legs by a metal handle. The stone weighs
approximately 508 German pounds (about 560 English pounds). An electric scale on the wall of the auditorium shows how many centimetres you lift the stone. You do it cold; there's no warming up. You just lift it up as far as you can. That year I entered the contest, broke the existing record, and won. The press picked it up and wrote that Mr. Universe was the strongest man in Germany — which may or may not have been true, but it was good for bodybuilding. At that time, along with all the other misconceptions about the sport, people still thought bodybuilders had muscles but didn't have any power, just big useless muscles.
I became, in due time, exactly what I had set out to be: a bodybuilding champion, able to bring myself to a contest in the best possible shape — massive, yet cut and defined. I could do it on purpose, over and over if need be. I was the master of my physical structure. I was in control. One word was constantly on my mind: perfection.
I knew the secret: Concentrate while you're training. Do not allow other thoughts to enter your mind.
The point is, I was learning more and more about the mind, about the power it has over the body. It meant having complete communication with the muscles, always feeling what was happening to my muscles the day after a workout. The most important thing is that my mind was always in touch with my body; I felt my muscles continuously; I always took an inventory before working out. I flexed my muscles and got in touch. That not only helped me train; it was like meditating. I locked my mind into my muscle during training, as if I'd transplanted my mind into the tissue itself. By just thinking about it, I could actually send blood into a muscle.
It became part of my routine that year to start out every day with total concentration. The way I did it was to play out exactly what I was going to use, how I was going to pull my muscles, and how I would feel it. I programmed myself. I saw myself doing it; I imagined how I would feel it, I was thoroughly, totally into it mentally. I did not waver at all.
When I went to the gym I got rid of every alien thought in my mind. I tuned in to my body as though it were a musical instrument I was about to play. In the dressing room I would start thinking about training, about every body part, what I was going to do, how I was going to pump up. I would concentrate on procedure and results until my every day problems went floating away.
I believe you overcome a lot of frustrations in the gymnasium, things you're not even aware of. I found that the more I worked out, the less violent I became. It trimmed away tensions and taught me how to relax: when I put in a good workout I felt a sense of accomplishment. I felt like a newborn person. I had the strength to go on and conquer in other areas and feel confident about doing it. It left me in kind of a low-key frame of mind, not always desperate or anxious. Every day, I see people running around, all excited, wanting to do things, feeling pent up and unable to find any release. I'd probably be that way if I didn't work off my frustrations in the gym. I've come to realize that almost anything difficult, any challenge, takes time, patience and hard work, like building up for a 300-pound bench press.7 Learning that gave me plenty of positive energy to use later on.
I taught myself discipline, the strictest kind of discipline. How to be totally in control of my body, how to control each individual muscle. I could apply that discipline to everyday life. I used it in acting, in going to school. Whenever I didn't want to study I would just think back and remember what it took to be Mr. Universe — the sacrifice, the hard work — and I would plunge myself into studying.
Not the least reward of a fit body is continuous good health. As a very small child I was constantly sick. Even later on I spent a part of every year in bed with a heavy cold. Since I began bodybuilding, in the last fourteen years, I have only been sick two or three times, and then it was only a minor cold. I have developed a perfect communication between my body and my mind; I have total control over my body. My body responds better; I fight off things easier. My body has become like a clock, a special clock that is tuned so well it only goes wrong one second in five years. That's how I feel about my body. It is so perfect that everything works. And I very rarely see other bodybuilders getting sick. There are fewer heart attacks among bodybuilders because blood is being pumped through the veins so hard it keeps the veins open; and when you pump up the muscles it pumps blood through them and trains the heart every time you train. My own circulation is fantastic.
For me, the meaning of life is not simply to exist, to survive, but to move ahead, to go up, to achieve, to conquer.
From Arnold Schwarzenegger, Arnold : The Education of a Body Builder,
Warner Books, a division of Little, Brown and Co.