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It’s not even up for debate, Arnold “The Oak” Schwarzenegger is the most famous bodybuilder of all time.
He may not be the most successful in terms of titles, he may not have been the biggest bodybuilder of all time, or the most defined. But you ask someone on the street to name a bodybuilder and they’ll tell you Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Arnold’s career differs from most retired bodybuilders, while he has still stayed in the industry (he has his own competition), he became more famous as an actor, and as a politician.
Arnold’s Early Life
Born in Thal, Austria in 1947, Arnold was born into a poor family. He first started bodybuilding at the age of 15, but actually picked up his first weight at 14.
When he talks about how he was raised, he mentions the Austrian desire for children to conform rather than become individuals. This seems to have been a huge motivation for him to make something of himself, almost as an act of rebellion.
His bodybuilding career really took off when he started training with Kurt Marnul in 1961 who was a former “Mr Austria” and decided to take over his training.
In one year Arnold managed to increase his bodyweight from 154lbs to 176lbs, he also added 3 inches to his biceps, 4 and a half inches to his chest, and 2 inches to his thighs.
Schwarzenegger’s first bodybuilding victory would come in 1965 when he won the Junior Mr Europe competition held in Germany.
He competed in five more competitions between 1966 and 1967 (this included a year’s service in the Austrian army in 1966), and won all except the 1966 NABBA Mr Universe in London where he came second.
By now his measurements were even more impressive. His bodyweight had increased to 235lbs, his arms had grown from 16 to 20 and a half inches, his chest from 45 to 54 and a half, and his thighs had increased by a further 3 inches.
He won his first professional contest in London in 1968, this time it was the NABBA Mr Universe Professional competition. He followed that up with the IFBB Mr International in Mexico, before entering the IFBB Mr Universe in Florida and coming second. 1968 was the year when Arnold made the move to the United States, at the age of 21.
In bodybuilding the biggest competition is the Mr Olympia which Arnold first entered in 1969. He came second to Sergio Olivia, the only bodybuilder to ever beat him in this competition. It was the last competition that Arnold would ever lose.
He won the NABBA Mr Universe again in 1970, and followed that up with a Mr World win, where he managed to beat Sergio Olivia.
He won the 1970 Mr Olympia at the age of 23 which made him the youngest winner in history (a record that still stands). He then won the 1971, 72, 73, 74, and 75 competitions.
The last one was featured in the documentary “Pumping Iron” which was released in 1977 and probably contributed more to his fame than anything else.
Retirement, 1980’s Mr Olympia, and Retirement Again
The year 1970 was also the time where he got his first film role as Hercules. He had minor parts in other films but his film career didn’t really begin until he was cast to play Conan in 1976.
He retired from bodybuilding in 1977 after winning the Mr Olympia competition.
Whilst preparing for filming in 1980 he decided (on a whim) to enter into the 1980 Mr Olympia. This decision would prove controversial as Arnold won it, even though many of the crowd and performers felt that it was undeserved.
Because of this, Frank Zane, Mike Mentzer, Boyer Coe, and Roger Walker decided to boycott the 1981 Mr Olympia. But this did not concern Arnold, he officially retired from competition and went on to star in movies such as: The Terminator, Commando, Predator, and Total Recall.
Arnold has been a Republican since 1968 when he saw Richard Nixon speaking. He became Governor of California in 2003, after Gray Davis was removed from office.
here have since been talks about Schwarzenegger running for the US Presidency in the future, particularly if the Equal Opportunity to Govern Amendment comes through.
Arnold’s Training Program
According to a 1967 IronMan magazine article , Arnold’s routine involved training legs and calves every day. Arms and Shoulders on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Chest and Lats on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and then a full body routine on Sundays.
He would perform very high volume workouts, with lots of sets and reps. For example he would perform 15 sets of 15 chin ups, 15 sets of 10 bent over rows, 8 sets of 8 incline bench press, followed by 8 sets of flat bench press, 8 sets of 8 reps on chest flys, 5 sets of 10 dips, and 5 sets of 10 pullovers. All in the same workout. With legs and calves as well.
This would be impossible to do without steroids, as the body would not be able to recover, and Arnold has admitted to steroid use.
He claimed that he only used them for muscle maintenance rather than growth. But increasing your weight from 154lbs to 260lbs without steroids would be impossible!
Arnold’s sessions were based around compound movements (exercises that work multiple muscle groups), and he placed a lot of emphasis on his arms. He had a deadlift 1rm of 320kg (710lbs), and just like his friend Franco Columbu was excellent at powerlifting.
If you are looking to emulate his training routine, then high volume compound exercises would be the way to go.
At his peak Arnold was eating 250g of protein per day, he would bring protein shakes to work and have them constantly to make sure he hit his targets.
He would consume more protein than he would carbs, and he also had a relatively high fat intake.
He would eat five or six meals per day, consuming around 5,000 to 6,000 calories! Remember he was training twice a day at this point.
Arnold Schwarzenegger will be remembered as the greatest bodybuilder of all time, he was largely responsible for its massive rise in popularity, and to this day he is still the most influential person in bodybuilding.
Some people will tell you that Ronnie Coleman was more successful, or that Arnold was overrated as a bodybuilder. Those people are wrong.
In terms of his success Arnold Schwarzenegger used bodybuilding as a stepping stone to greatness, and no other bodybuilder has managed to do that.