Posted on Feb 24, 2020, 5 p.m.
The following is an excerpt of an interview published in Men’s Health looking back at the decades long career that involved setting goals and creating healthy habits with Arnold Schwarzenegger, actor, businessman, best-selling author, philanthropist, former professional bodybuilder, the 38th Governor of the State of California, and the co-founder of Ladder:
We couldn’t imagine a bodybuilder chatting it up with Johnny Carson until we saw him on The Tonight Show. We couldn’t imagine someone with 21-inch biceps as the highest-paid actor in show business until we saw him in Conan the Barbarian. We couldn’t imagine the guy who was so convincing as a killer robot in The Terminator becoming governor of our most populous state.
Yet here we are, decades later, and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s journey, from Austrian meathead to Hollywood legend, is one of the all-time top American success stories. It contains some amazing highs (seven-time Mr. Olympia, $5 billion box-office gross, two-time governor of California) and some low, low lows (steroids, Gropergate, a very public divorce), but through it all he’s always been Arnold.
Since exiting public office in 2011, Schwarzenegger has juggled his various interests. He’s promoting bodybuilding, with this year’s Arnold Sports Festival, attracting more than 18,000 athletes. He’s returned to do a few movies such as Terminator 6. And he’s still biceps-deep in politics. The Constitution prevents him from seeking the only office he’d be interested in, but he still fights against climate change through R20 (a nonprofit he founded promoting clean energy and infrastructure projects) and advocates for better education and fitness opportunities for low-income kids.
Men’s Health’s former fitness director Lou Schuler caught up with the then 71-year-old via a glitchy FaceTime connection in Budapest, where Schwarzenegger was filming the new Terminator. Even though his bearded, craggy face isn’t the one he implanted in our memories through sheer force of will and ambition, there’s no mistaking that “I’ll be back” voice.
MH: You went in for surgery March 2018 to replace a heart valve. How serious was it?
AS: It was supposed to be a minor procedure and it ended up being major. It’s not welcome, but it happened.
MH: How long was the recovery?
AS: I’m still recovering. I think that major surgeries like this literally take a year. For you to remind me makes me think about it. I normally live in denial. I get out of the hospital and try to live as if nothing happened.
MH: What are your workouts like now?
AS: It’s cardiovascular combined with weight training. We ride the bike to the gym, which takes 20 minutes, and we work out for 45 minutes to an hour with the weights, and then we ride the bike back, and then eat.
MH: Do you work mostly with machines?
AS: Yes, because machines are so sophisticated that you can work around injuries. So if you have a shoulder injury, you can find the machine where you can do normal lateral raises. Or you can work your rear deltoids without bending over and doing dumbbell raises. Same with biceps and triceps.
MH: Do you still do the heavy squats and deadlifts you were known for?
AS: That was good for competition because it’s all about giving the muscle the most resistance. You go all out because you want to shock the muscle. But it’s not good for anything else.
As soon as I was finished with competition in 1975 [after winning Mr. Olympia six years in a row], and then in 1980 [when he won again], I dropped the whole idea of heavy lifting completely and just did more reps. But I still get a good pump.
MH: You’ve talked about how you cannot compare the steroids you took in the ’70s with what guys are taking today—you were taking only 15mg then and they take 1,000mg now. But if you knew then what you know now about the health risks of steroids, would you have taken them?
AS: Of course not. I have acknowledged using drugs when I competed, but at that time, it wasn’t against the rules and it was with a doctor. If you weren’t doing it, you would fall behind. So we limited it to a couple months before competition, so that we wouldn’t be on it at all times and get hooked.
MH: Why do you think people still take steroids?
AS: People always want the easier way out to become better. It’s human nature, and you could probably write a book about all of the different ways we enhance ourselves and what that means and whether we need to cut back. People take drugs to focus more, to sleep better, to feel better mentally, to feel less pain, to build muscle, to lose fat—you name it. If there was an option to wave a magic wand and get rid of all illegal performance enhancing in sports, where someone can’t find the next big thing that can’t be spotted on a test, I am all for it. I’d do it tomorrow.
MH: When I look at pictures of bodybuilders from the ’70s, even knowing you guys used steroids, I can still get fired up to train. But it’s hard to imagine anyone being motivated by today’s top bodybuilding pros. Why do you think the aesthetic changed?
AS: Sports develop, and the performances evolve, and it gets exaggerated. The good thing is that after enough complaining about it by certain people, including myself, the [International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness] recognized that not everyone wants to see pregnant-looking men onstage. In the old days, we posed every day for half an hour. To flex every muscle in your body is very strenuous and takes a lot of oxygen, but we trained ourselves to smile anyway. It says to the judges, “Look, I’m showing you the biggest muscles in the world, and I’m smiling while I do it.” It’s like Ali used to laugh while he was boxing. It showed his superiority.
Today, by the fourth pose they’ve run out of energy and they’re shaking. When you see the faces onstage, it’s horrifying. I would be very tough in the judging, like in gymnastics: “Here’s a certain amount of poses you have to do, and you’re going to be scored on the way you go from one pose to the next and if you can sustain a pose-off for 15 minutes.” It’s what the people like to see. They like to see action.
MH: How do you think today’s bodybuilders would react to those changes?
AS: It would take a while for them to learn. It’s like people that don’t understand there’s global warming and they’re creating pollution and it’s killing people.
MH: Whoa, I’ve never heard anyone connect bodybuilding and global warming. Explain!
AS: The whole idea [in the mid-’70s] was to make bodybuilding popular and understood by the public. That it’s not only a competitive sport, where you try to get a 21-inch arm, but that it’s something anyone can enjoy and use this activity as a means to improve whatever sport they are doing. Or just for longevity, to feel more strong and feel more proud of yourself.
The bodybuilders from way back were hiding in dungeon gyms and coming out posing onstage and disappearing again. It was easy to attack: “All those muscle guys are oiled up and looking at themselves, and it must be a sport for homosexual people. They’re trying to compensate because they’re small somewhere else. And maybe because they’re mentally not there, they want to make up for it physically.”
I had a different approach. I hired a publicist in ’74 and systematically went out there on talk shows to disarm people with the personality — what we call the Austrian Schmäh [“charm offensive”]. That’s when I started this fitness crusade, because I realized the whole movement needed explanation. So I did endless seminars, I wrote books, I did TV interviews, Pumping Iron. I would go to prisons to talk about weight training. I would go to military bases. I would go to battleships. I would go to women’s gyms.
MH: Do you think being an immigrant gave you a stronger work ethic?
AS: What mentality does it take to leave your home? And to leave your parents, your friends, and your country and start fresh? My upbringing was tough. My father made me do push ups before I was allowed to have breakfast. To earn breakfast, as he said, you have to do pushups and knee bends. And carry water from the well 200 yards away in the deep snow. I grew up with that. My desire, therefore, was really great. It was like, that or nothing. There was no plan B. I had the will, but I still needed all the inspiration and all the people to open up the doors of opportunity. My upbringing was tough. My father made me do push ups before I was allowed to have breakfast.
MH: If you could be the Terminator and go back in time, what would you tell your younger self about how to live?
AS: [Long pause.] You know, the question is if you tell yourself anything. There’s a saying in German: Selbsterkenntnis ist der beste Weg zur Besserung, which means “Self-knowledge is the best way to improve.” I believe in that. When you fail, the trick is to get up again and evaluate in an honest way what went wrong. Yes, it’s easy to say, “Don’t do Hercules in New York.” But that was an interesting experience. Each one of the things I made a mistake in, I eventually learned from that, and it made me a better person. It made me more experienced. It made me wiser.
MH: You’re starting a new wellness brand with some elite athletes. What do you hope to accomplish?
AS: I became the chairman of the President’s Council [on Physical Fitness and Sports, in 1990] to reach out to everyone. Everyone has the right to be fit. How can I democratize fitness? This project will help with that by giving expert health, fitness, and nutrition advice. We’ll also sell protein, energy, and greens that are NSF Certified for Sport. Supplements are what they’re called: They’re supplementing regular food. But there is no secret pill. Everything is hard work and eating well.
MH: If you were Conan the King, what would be your first royal decree?
AS: Access for everyone to health care. And to get off the arms race and to get off Verschmutzung [polluting]. It’s inexcusable to have so much plastic floating around in the oceans.
MH: Do you think any of those things will happen?
AS: It will not happen if people just sit around and complain when they hear something on the news. I’m a big advocate of “get off your f***ing couch and do something about it.” If you believe there’s something being done wrong by legislators, go out and do everything you can to unseat that person. The same if you see a president acting strange: Do everything you can to unseat that president. My father said to me, “Be useful.” Useful not only to yourself, but useful to your neighborhood, your country, the world. It entails everything.
Materials provided by:
Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.