Before The Terminator or Conan, even before The Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding, there was Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder.
Arnold's first bestseller has remained in print since its release in 1977, and in each successive reissue, Simon & Schuster has meticulously preserved the curvy lettering, short-shorts, and wavy haircuts of the original.
In a package about the size and shape of a short novel, it presents a unique mixture of autobiography, workouts, and grainy example photos of a young Austrian seemingly made of nothing but muscles and enthusiasm.
Compared with the immensity of The Encyclopedia or the full-gloss onslaught of modern fitness guides, The Education of a Bodybuilder's appeal is as a window to a less complicated time.
Back then, you could achieve your goals simply by lifting barbells, eating big, and reading books. Today, it reads as much like a love poem to the power of the human body as an instructional guide.
No matter what he reveals or how he phrases it in his upcoming autobiography Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story, this is the Arnold that charmed his way into super-stardom. If it was all about the muscles, we would have outgrown him a long time ago.
The Education of a Bodybuilder
I can still hear them, the voices of my friends, the lifeguards, bodybuilders, the weightlifters, 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 15, 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'm not exactly sure why I chose bodybuilding, except that I loved it. I loved it from the first moment my fingers closed around a barbell and I felt the challenge and exhilaration of hoisting the heavy steel plates above my head.
I had always been involved in sports through my father, a tall, sturdy man who was himself a champion at ice curling. We were a physical family, oriented toward training, good eating, and keeping the body fit and healthy.
With my father's encouragement, I first got into organized competitive sports when I was 10. I joined a soccer team that even had uniforms and a regular three-days-a-week training schedule. I threw myself into it and played soccer passionately for almost five years.
However, by the time I was 13, team sports no longer satisfied me. I was already off on an individual trip. I disliked it when we won a game and I didn't get personal recognition. The only time I really felt rewarded was when I was singled out as being best. I decided to try some individual sports. I ran, I swam, I boxed; I got into competition, throwing javelin and shot put.
Although I did well with them, none of those things felt right to me. Then our coach decided that lifting weights for an hour once per week would be a good way to condition us for playing soccer.
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 weightlifters 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 started lifting weights just for my legs, which was what we needed most for playing soccer. The bodybuilders noticed immediately how hard I was working out. Considering my age, 15, I was squatting with some pretty heavy weight. They encouraged me to go into bodybuilding.
I was 6-feet tall and slender, weighing only 150 pounds; but I did have a good athletic physique and my muscles responded surprisingly fast under training. I think those guys saw that. Because of my build I'd always had it easier at sports than most boys my age. But I had it tougher than a lot of my teammates and companions because I wanted more, I demanded more of myself.
That summer the bodybuilders took me on as their protege. They put me through a series of exercises, which we did together beside a lake near Graz, my hometown in Austria. It was a program they used simply to stay limber.
We worked without weights. We did chin-ups on the branches of trees. We held each other's legs and did handstand push-ups. Leg raises, sit-ups, twists, and squats were all included in a simple routine to get our bodies tuned and ready for the gym.
It wasn't until the end of the summer that I got into real weight training. Once I started, though, it didn't take long. After two or three months with the bodybuilders, I was literally addicted. The guys I hung out with were all much older. Karl Gerst, the doctor, was 28, Kurt Manul 32, and Helmut Knaur was 50. Each of them became a father image for me. I listened less to my own father. These weightlifters were my new heroes. I was in awe of them, of their size, of the control they had over their bodies.
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, dumbbells and machines. 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, I started 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.
"What's wrong, Arnold?" my mother asked. She came over from the stove and peered at me. "What is it?" She bent down to look closer as she mopped up the spilled coffee.
''I'm just sore," I told her. "My muscles are stiff."
"Look at this boy!" she called out to my father. "Look what he's doing to himself." My father came in, doing up his tie. He was always neat, his hair slicked back smooth, his mustache trimmed to a line. He laughed and said I'd limber up. But my mother kept on. "Why, Arnold? Why do you want to do it to yourself?"
I couldn't be bothered with what my mother felt. Seeing new changes in my body, feeling them, turned me on. 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 could not have chosen a less popular sport.
My school friends thought I was crazy. But I didn't care. My only thoughts were of going ahead, building muscles and more muscles. I had almost no time to relax and think about bodybuilding in any other terms.
I remember certain people trying to put negative thoughts into my mind, trying to persuade me to slow down. But I had found the thing to which I wanted to devote my total energies and there was no stopping me.
From Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder by Arnold Schwarzenegger with Douglas Kent Hall. Copyright 1977, 2005 by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Douglas Kent Hall. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.