Arnold Schwarzenegger is without a doubt the most famous bodybuilder to have lived, even today 40 years after he reached his prime he is still looked upon as the greatest of all time.
Considering that this was at a time where exercise science didn’t exist as a subject, where sports supplementation was in its infancy and bodybuilding was a fringe sport with a small following, his achievements were incredible.
If you are looking to emulate his success then there is good news and bad news, it is possible but the odds are not very high.
Hundreds of thousands of people have tried to recreate his success but no one has managed it yet, partly this is due to the fact that the top bodybuilders no longer wish to emulate his particular look.
Bodybuilding has moved on, and today’s bodybuilders would dwarf Arnold and co in terms of size.
This isn’t necessarily a good thing, nor is it down to them being better lifters.
Many people believe that bodybuilding has gone too far in its pursuit of the biggest lifters, and it is a reason why the public are no longer inspired by today’s champions.
Bodybuilding feels like it is sliding back into the freak show status that it previously was seen as.
Lifters today have access to drugs that the lifters of the 1970s did not have, the use of insulin in particular has led to massive changes in what humans are capable of.
If you’re expecting to look like Arnie while staying drug free then you’ll be disappointed, but it’s not always about the end result, it’s about the journey.
Lesson #1. Make training your life
There’s a famous story (possibly apocryphal) about Arnold missing his dad’s funeral because he needed to train for a competition.
If it is true then it probably wouldn’t surprise too many people who have followed his career. He was the dictionary definition of dedicated.
In a television interview he says he lifted weights six days per week, and did cardio 3 times per week, so unless his weeks lasted 10 days it seems unlikely that he ever took a day off (unless he did his cardio on the same day as he lifted weights).
But it wasn’t just bodybuilding that he dedicated himself to, when he was young his stated goal was to become president of the United States.
Considering that this would have been impossible (you have to have been born in the US to be president) he got very close. Becoming governor of California.
He also wanted to become a movie star, and is one of the most well known action movie stars in history.
If you want to be truly successful in anything you need to put everything into it, Arnold knew this and it led to more success than anyone else in bodybuilding.
Lesson #2. Train harder than anyone
It’s no coincidence that the most successful sportsmen and women are the ones who work hardest.
In this day and age it’s still possible for someone to get quite far with talent alone, or for someone with no talent but a lot of hard work to make it.
But the legends of the sport are always both talented and the most hard working people in their sport.
Arnold was no exception, and when you look at footage of him training he is always putting in maximum effort (even if he looks like he’s having a lot of fun).
Lesson #3. Pick the right training partners
Arnold surrounded himself with the best lifters of his generation, he learned from them, he helped them, he befriended them.
Can you imagine walking into that group of people? You’d have to give 100% just to survive!
Your training partner should raise you up, rather than dragging you down. This doesn’t mean that they have to be stronger or fitter than you, they just need to get the best out of you.
Lesson #4. Find the right gym
Would Arnold have been as successful as he was if he was training in a hotel gym? Or if he trained at home using an old treadmill and a multi-gym? Absolutely not.
He found one of the best gyms in the world, and made it better.
When looking for a gym you need to pay attention to the equipment available but also the culture of the gym.
Lesson #5. Train for strength
Bodybuilding is a sport that is completely focused on training for hypertrophy, which doesn’t necessarily mean that you are training for strength.
You could follow a ridiculously high-rep program and get big muscles. But Arnie trained for strength, focusing on the big compound exercises (squat, deadlift, shoulder press etc) before using any isolation exercises.
Training like Arnie and getting results like Arnie are two very different things, but emulating a living legend is a great way to get an incredibly impressive physique, and the lessons you can learn from him translate into more than just bodybuilding.