Arnold A To Z: The Essential Arnold Schwarzenegger Library
To date, Arnold Schwarzenegger has published eight books (and one updated reissue) totaling just more than 1,500 pages. Stack them up, and they measure 27 inches around, slightly less than his thighs at his competitive peak. With the release of his new 656-page autobiography Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story this October, Arnold's book stack will finally surpass his quads—a noble goal for any author.
Total Recall will also achieve a couple of notable firsts in the Governator's oeuvre. It's his first release that is, for lack of a better term, all Arnold—that is, without a "with" or "and" lurking below his name in the by-line. This is an impressive feat for any non-native English speaker. Arnold's second autobiography is also his first literary offering that isn't written and marketed with the overarching theme of, "Hey, bodybuilders/tweens/flabby babies, here's your personal path to getting as close to looking like Arnold as your genetic limitations will allow!"
Each of these titles is a relic of a simpler time, when Arnold was everywhere, but his political beliefs and private life were his own concern. With no further ado, here are the essential titles of your Arnold library.
At just 12 pages, Arnold's first title is more accurately a booklet rather than a book—perhaps the only time a diminutive suffix has been attached to anything he has done. It was sold mail order through Muscle & Fitness for a number of years and today is famous for a single quote:
"I will not speak for my colleagues, but I will write of my experience with tissue-building drugs. Yes, I have used them, but no, they didn't make me what I am. Anabolic steroids were helpful to me in maintaining muscle size while on a strict diet in preparation for a contest. I did not use them for muscle growth, but rather for muscle maintenance when cutting up." (Quoted from Dope: A History of Performance Enhancement in Sports from the Nineteenth Century to Today.)
To Arnold's credit, he has only added details and clarification to this admission over the years, rather than step away from it. Come October, the question of whether that trend has continued into his portrayal of his private life in Total Recall will produce artificial growth in the page-count of many a tabloid.
"Whatever else I do, I want to always be a kind of ambassador, a preacher for bodybuilding," Arnold writes midway through his first bestseller and major by-line. Young Arnold saw his role as one of a diplomat inviting readers into a new world, and for this reason, Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder is his most personal and self-effacing work. Its closest parallels when it was released were text-heavy paeans to exercise like James Fixx's The Complete Book of Running—books that were meant to be read, not just used as tools.
Arnold mixes simple workout explanations with extended narratives about his childhood, his relationships, and his lifestyle. He is the model for every exercise, using a placid expression that seems out of place to those of us who grew up seeing only his gap-toothed grin or action hero death-stare.
Every pose and lift looks effortless, especially compared with overwhelming detail and intense mugs of The Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding. If that book is the deep end of the pool, then The Education of a Bodybuilder is a warm puddle of Austrian cocoa.
Though still several years from his first major movie roles, Arnold could afford to drop his last name when he released this first foray into big floppy Reagan-era workout books. The cover screams "worst anniversary present ever," and the interior outlines a program that promises to "not make you more muscular," as long as you follow rules like, "Exercise for at least 45 minutes but never longer than an hour, never more than three times a week."
The low-hanging fruit is plentiful. To start, men are allowed to
seek strength, while women only "bodyshape,"
and judging by the cover of the 1984 edition,
they do so with Arnold's hand cupping their
lower torso. Men exercise in shorts and
tank-tops or shirtless—the better to pose with!—while women
are cocooned head-to-toe in opaque black leotards. And then, any woman foolish enough to wander into the gym also risks getting hoisted in the air by a grinning Arnold who seems to be shouting, "Hello, adorable thing! You think you are man? You lift weight? I lift you!"
It's easy while reading to fall into the notion that the gentle, supportive voice explaining the exercises is that of Lisa Lyon or one of the other female models. Then Arnold jars the reader back with lines like, "Well-developed pectorals ... act as supporting fingers to hold up the breasts, whatever their size, and make them look more beautiful." He even places himself unforgettably at the moment of self-assessment when he recommends that the female reader place a bag over her head—in the name of being more objective—before directing, "Take off your clothing slowly, one garment at a time. Watch yourself in the mirror. How do you look when you bend?" There's plenty more, but that's enough.
Get past the time warp, and the fact that it was located between Our Bodies, Our Selves and The Joy of Sex on your mom's bookshelf, and you'll see Bodyshaping as a straightforward stretching and bodyweight-lifting program whose value probably exceeds the $.01 asking price for a used copy on Amazon. If the pervasive "Let's lift weights so the boys will like us," vibe sounds like too much, you'd be forgiven for leaving it on the shelf at the thrift store.
The first 199 pages of Bodybuilding for Men extend the "Come on, just tryyy it" vibe of The Education of a Bodybuilder. Smiling models—some with actual body hair!—demonstrate a series of warm-ups, warm-downs and dumbbell lifts alongside tiny empty charts labeled "Date & Reps." Occasionally, Arnold pops into a picture, complete with knee-socks and a whistle around his neck, to make vague gestures that indicate some manner of coaching.
Perhaps the most interesting exercises in Bodybuilding for Men are the verbal contortions Arnold (and/or his co-author Bill Dobbins) must undertake to answer the question "What is Fitness?" in an introductory chapter of the same name. Straining to step down from the lofty heights of aesthetic bodybuilding, the reigning Mr. Olympia piles on the metaphors like he's loading up for a T-bar row.
A few of the choice gems:
- When I was training to win my Mr. Olympia titles and was lifting enormous weights every day in the gym, it was as if I were living on a giant planet like Jupiter instead of the Earth.
- If you demand a 12-horsepower effort from a 10-horsepower body, it becomes a 12-horsepower body.
- When you feel better, you naturally end up looking better. It's kind of a non-vicious circle.
And then comes Part VII: Competition Bodybuilding - Taking the Next Step. Gone are the denim workout shorts (no, really!) and David Cassidy lookalikes, and in comes Arnold, barefoot on a log, deadlifting a Pleistocene-era barbell with his shirt off. The smiles of the previous chapters are replaced by overbites and grimaces as Arnold hoists large, dark objects in blurred action shots.
It's as if, after trying to play nice for two-and-a-half books, he finally said, "Basta! Forget you Schlappschwanzes! I'm going to pump some iron."
For many, this is the only book Arnold ever wrote. The cover of the updated version identifies it as "The Bible of Bodybuilding," but I've been told around the Bodybuilding.com offices that the "of Bodybuilding" is unnecessary.
About the size and weight of a Vienna phone book (I'm assuming), The Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding and its update The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding are how a generation learned what strength was. It is far and away Arnold's best book, because it leaves nothing on the table and makes no concessions. Muscles and techniques are broken down to their minute components, and nothing looks easy—or quiet. The action shots of Arnold, Serge, Franco, and Frank Zane practically grunt off the page. Open up to a random page, and the message is clear: This is what bodybuilding is, if you can handle it.
It's easy to get sidetracked by the extensive history of bodybuilding and the bodybuilding hall of fame, but if you do, the muscle diagrams scattered throughout the book's 800 pages will remind you of the ultimate goal. Each one is of Arnold himself, complete with a haircut that appears to be made of striated muscle fiber.
In 1990, Arnold was selected by President George H.W. Bush to serve a three-year term as chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. When he checked his mail in Sun Valley on the day after his nomination, he found a contract stating the following:
As chairman, I agree, under penalty of death, that I will publish no less than three (3) general fitness books that nobody will ever buy or read, and which will sit untouched on the shelves of every library in America until the sun consumeth the earth. Each book will contain at least one (1) image of me holding a giant basket of fresh fruit, and of children reaching happily for said fruit.
The result was the 3-volume series Arnold's Fitness For Kids. Unlike his movies of that era, in which he was often tasked with protecting small children, Fitness for Kids captures Arnold laughing at their inability to do wall-squats, grab a ball from his hand, or crawl up a flight of stairs. Buy a copy for your son or daughter today and you'll help them hone their meme-production skills for the jobs of tomorrow.
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