Pumping Iron is a 1977 documentary that centres around the Mr Olympia competition in 1975, it features some of the most well known bodybuilders in history, focusing on Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno, Mike Katz, and Franco Columbo.
It is no exaggeration to say that without Pumping Iron the fitness industry would not be the same today, this film transformed bodybuilding from a small-time competition to a big deal.
What lessons can we learn from this documentary? To be honest there are hundreds that we could look at, but here are a collection of some of the biggest.
Lesson #1. If you work hard enough you can overcome bad advice
This documentary was filmed in 1975 and as such a lot of the information that we now take for granted was not available, meaning that the bodybuilders pretty much had to make up their own training and nutrition protocols.
This led to some truly great techniques that are still used today, but it also led to a lot of blunders.
The most famous of which would be Arnold believing that alcohol was necessary post workout for muscle gains (in fact the opposite is true).
Compared to the amount of knowledge available to the athletes of today, Arnold and co should look like rank amateurs. But the truth is that they look incredible. They used what they could, they made a lot of it up along the way, and they worked so hard and with such competition between them, that they look incredible even today.
Lesson #2. Training partners need to be carefully picked
Part of what makes the competition between Arnold and Lou so interesting is the complete contrast between the two. This is partly due to how the filmmakers shot and edited the documentary, but also partly due to their differing personalities.
Arnie trained with some of the most well known bodybuilders of the time, learning from them and teaching them in equal measure. The competition was fierce, and made each lifter work harder.
Lou was working with relative nobodies, who would not have been able to push him like Arnold’s training partners would have.
One could argue that this gave Arnold an advantage over Lou and led to his win. But another way of looking at it is that they both wanted different things out of training, and both got the most they could of out of it. Some people respond well to competition, some respond well to dominating those around them.
Lesson #3. Step outside your comfort zone
Pumping Iron opens to Arnold and his friend Franco Columbu (who was a boxer and bodybuilder) practicing ballet to improve their posing and stage presence.
They must have been slightly out of their comfort zones here, no matter how confident they were. These are men who are used to being the best in their field, but are now trying something that they will never excel at.
But nobody else was doing this, and it is probably no surprise that both of these gentlemen won their respective weight categories come competition time. Because they had got out of the gym (their comfort zone) and tried something new to give them an edge.
Lesson #4. Arnold was kind of a dick
He is incredibly charismatic, but Arnold doesn’t always appear to play nice. Telling stories of giving his rivals bad advice on purpose, and clearly trying to (and probably succeeding) get into Lou’s head and knock his confidence.
There was a drive and ambition about Arnold that stood him out among bodybuilders, he is not the most successful bodybuilder in history – but he’s the only one to transcend the sport.
To get where he did he needed to take every chance offered to him, and sometimes he fought dirty to do this.
You can understand why he did what he did, and there’s probably no harm done but the documentary does push you towards wanting Lou to win it.
Lesson #5. There’s no shame in being beaten by the best
Arnold won the 1975 Mr Olympia with Surge Nubret second, and Lou only managing third. But shortly after this documentary Lou Ferrigno was cast as the Incredible Hulk, a role he became famous for. He is now seen as a legend of the sport.
This doesn’t usually happen to people who come third, but if you’re going to come third to anyone you’d want it to be Arnold and the criminally underrated Serge Nubret.
Both men are legends of the sport and losing to them is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.
If you are trying to become a bodybuilder then you need to understand that only one person can win, and it is unlikely to be you. That means that you will have to come to terms with losing, and understand that winning really isn’t everything.