Arnold: The Competitor

What was it really like to train with and compete against the most famous bodybuilder of all time? We asked the guys who did.

There's a generation growing up today that doesn't know Arnold Schwarzenegger was a bodybuilder. They know him as the governor of California and as a movie star in flicks like "The Terminator" series. But as an Muscle & Fitness reader, you recognize Arnold as a bodybuilder first and foremost. Perhaps the greatest one ever—an iconoclastic bad-ass.

You've imagined his biceps peak when training your own arms, joked around with guys in your gym like they were Arnold's friends Franco Columbu or Mike Katz, and tried, in your own way, to enjoy life and achieve your dreams as voraciously as Arnold did. You've no doubt wondered what it would have been like to be around The Oak in his prime, when no one and nothing could stand in his way on the bodybuilding stage and when life in Venice Beach was a lifter's paradise.

Now is your chance to find out.

Talking a Big Game

Arnold lived in a small one-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica, Calif. According to Bill Grant, the 1974 Mr. World and a fixture at the original Gold's Gym on Pacific Avenue in Venice, Arnold "drove a beat-up red Volkswagen." But as early as his arrival in Southern California in 1968, he had total confidence about his place in history.

"He said things like, 'One day, they'll be talking about me the same way they do about Steve Reeves.' " At that time, Reeves was probably the biggest physique idol in history. "You gotta understand," Grant says, "he hadn't been here too long and was already talking like he was the greatest guy in the world."

That enviable sense of confidence, or perhaps arrogance, has always been central to the Schwarzenegger mystique. Mike Katz, 1970 Mr. America and co-star to Arnold in the 1977 bodybuilding documentary Pumping Iron, says it didn't bother any of Arnold's friends.

"You're never going to be successful if you don't think highly of yourself," Katz says. "I think a lot of us think highly about ourselves, but not as highly as Arnold does. I think that's where he gets that edge."

And Backing It Up

It's one thing to strut when you have seven Mr. Olympia titles on your resume, but it's something else when you're a struggling immigrant who doesn't know the language and has to work extra jobs to make ends meet. Imagine training an hour or more per day (add another session if a contest was coming up), taking college courses, and working as a bricklayer on top of magazine photo shoots and making public appearances.

"Everyone thought that Joe Weider gave Arnold everything," Grant says. "That is very far from the truth. Arnold worked menial jobs with Franco [Columbu] as a mason, a carpenter. He went to school at night. Arnold was a hustler, man."

No matter what challenges he faced, Arnold met them with enthusiasm. Mike Katz remembers that Arnold didn't tolerate any less from people he was close to. When Katz, a schoolteacher in Connecticut, took a summer off to train in California, he complained to Arnold about money troubles and missing his family back east. The Oak wouldn't hear of it.

"If you were negative, he'd put up with you for a day," Katz remembers. "But if you didn't stop, he'd drop out on you. He wasn't going to get drained of his charge by a negative person. So Arnold told me, 'I've never met a Jew who was a quitter.' That meant a lot to me. I was never negative in front of him again."

If a positive attitude opened the door to Arnold's success, his desire to learn allowed him to barrel through it. He wanted to find out anything he could from everyone he could, according to Frank Zane, three-time Mr. Olympia and another friend and training partner. "He valued my friendship because I taught him mathematics," says Zane, who taught high school math in Pennsylvania before settling out west. "His girlfriend at the time, Barbara, taught him English, and he loved that."

Spotting a Legend

In the gym, there was no one more ferocious. Arnold's intensity was so tremendous, he may have inadvertently helped to revolutionize bodybuilding training. Sets were done with little to no rest in between, and most exercises were done as part of a superset, triset (three exercises back to back), or giant set (four or more sets back to back).

"You'd get a 4-hour workout done in an hour and 15 minutes," Katz says. Exercises for opposing muscle groups were paired together-say, a dumbbell bench press for the chest and then right into a wide-grip pull-up for the back. "That type of training was, maybe, 40 years ahead of its time," says Katz. "Arnold pretty much invented that back in the '70s. In the 1940s and '50s, [bodybuilders generally] did a set and then rested."

Arnold loved to push his training partners but demanded they be even tougher on him. Katz relied on Arnold's motivation during arm workouts. Arnold, in turn, gained strength from Katz when training legs. "Instead of wanting to get somebody who was weaker, he wanted Ed Corney and me because we'd beat the heck out of him," Katz says. "He'd beat the heck out of us in other body parts, so the only way to get back at him was to push him on legs, which Ed and I were very strong in."

Bill Grant recalls a squat workout with Arnold where they agreed to do sets of 12. Arnold completed his last set and Grant was up. "I was feeling good, so I went for 13 reps," Grant recalls. "Arnold says, 'What are you doing? You did one more than me.' " Arnold stormed off. "Talk about competitive."

Serious bodybuilding fans love to debate which competitors were the best across eras and who was strongest pound-for-pound.

It's an argument that can't be settled, but Arnold and company shouldn't be underestimated.

Although slighter than many in today's Olympia field, bodybuilders at Gold's in the '70s relied more on heavy free weights than machines and, perhaps, placed more emphasis on the core lifts than today's athletes.

Franco Columbu could bench press more than 500 pounds. Even Frank Zane, one of the smallest champions in history at less than 200 pounds, squatted more than 400 for 10 reps.

"Arnold was incredibly strong on back exercises," Zane says. "He used to do bent over rows standing on a bench, barefoot. He'd do 315 for 10 reps. That's why his back looked like that."

The Winning MindSet

Much has been made of the psychological warfare Arnold used to win contests. While no one denies that Arnold was a relentless competitor who would exploit any opening to gain an advantage, some stories are true and some are hearsay.

When Arnold went up against Sergio Oliva for the Olympia title in 1970, the two were so evenly matched it seemed a coin toss would be the only way to determine a victor.

According to Katz, who was in attendance, after some prolonged and heated posing, Arnold whispered to Sergio, "I've had enough," and walked off the stage. Sergio figured he'd exhausted the Austrian and the title was his, so he followed. "And when he saw Sergio walk off , Arnold scrambled back on the stage to hit some more poses," Katz says. "People went from screaming 'Sergio!' to screaming 'Arnold!' " That night, his Olympia dynasty began.

But 10 years later, at Arnold's last Olympia appearance, Frank Zane says such tactics weren't a factor. In The Oak's book, The Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding, Arnold claims that he broke Zane's focus at the 1980 show, causing him to lose the title.

"There's a picture of us in there, and I'm laughing during a pose," Zane says. "The caption says that he told me a joke and ruined my concentration, but that's all bullshit. They just needed a good caption for the photo." According to Zane, he turned to Arnold to ask him how it felt being on stage after so many years away from the sport, and Arnold replied, "It's really hard!" The two chuckled a moment, the shot was snapped, and the rest is history.

Arnold was ruthless and single-minded as a competitor, but he was always graceful and humble in victory, and he was wary of anything that might damage the sport he loved.

"I'm sure some guys got tired of the attention he was getting," Zane explains. "But Arnold was charming and funny. People liked him. And after contests, he would say things like, 'I was lucky to win.' He didn't speak badly about other bodybuilders.

"It's been a real learning experience watching Arnold and what he's achieved in his life," Zane says. "Things don't seem to be going so well for him now, but he has a great ability to rebound and turn things around.

He said to me, 'No matter what happens, you have to ask yourself, How can I use this in a positive way to help me grow?' Nothing is positive or negative—it's how you use it."

Legends Q and A


Frank Zane is one of the only three men to have ever defaeted Arnold in a competition. What was the secret?

"Arnold knew how to diet but didn't always have the resolve to do it. That was his downfall. I was eating breakfast with him at Denny's one time, and he said, 'Frank, it doesn't matter what you eat, as long as you eat a lot of it.' And then he had a whole bunch of hash browns, eggs, pancakes, and toast. When I beat him, he looked like a smooth, white whale." Frank Zane - 3-time Mr. Olympia

Did You guys really party as much as is rumored?

"Arnold and Franco, being European, would sometimes have some wine or beer. But I never saw Arnold or Franco drunk. I don't think I ever saw Arnold with more than one beer. Alcohol was not part of our life, really, at all." Mike Katz - Mr. America

We Don't see the bodybuilders doing any cardio in Pumping Iron. Was that not part of your regimen?

"We didn't do any back then. These [Bodybuilders] today cardio their asses off. It's all cardio! What happened to the training? 'We gotta do hours and hours of cardio,' they say. Well, that's because they don't want to follow a really strict diet." Bill Grant - Mr. World

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