How Arnold Schwarzenegger Changed Bodybuilding

How Arnie Changed Bodybuilding Forever

For anyone growing up in the 1970’s or 1980’s, the documentary ‘Pumping Iron’ opened the door to the world of the legend Arnold Schwarzenegger, why he was fast becoming the house hold name we all know today, why he was widely regarded at the time as the best bodybuilder the world had seen….and crucially, how had he got there.

Winning Mr Olympia, just once is any bodybuilders dream, to win it a second time shows incredible determination and commitment to the sport and to yourself. But to come back and win it 7 times is far beyond the average man. Considering that during these wins, Arnold “took time out” to pursue other interests like becoming a movie star, then coming back into the sport and winning again, is literally staggering!

Arnold Schwarzenegger changed the way everyone approached bodybuilding forever!

The Early Years

At aged just 15, Arnold began lifting weights to get bigger and fill out as he didn’t want to be seen as the “skinny kid” at school or in the small Austrian village where he grew up. Although he played and was involved in many different sports following a heavy influence from his father, Arnold was quite slight growing up and didn’t start to develop his physique until later in his teenage years.

Joining the Austrian military to complete his one-year compulsory national service, Arnold soon realised this wasn’t going to be career for him, but had to quickly adapt his training and diet to fit his surroundings.

It wasn’t until his reputation grew within the bodybuilding community that his superior officers discovered that he had regularly been sneaking out of the military base to compete in local bodybuilding competitions, which he would win. On learning this news, his commanding officers made special allowances for him, allowing him the extra food and nutrients required along with the training equipment to grow and develop.

It was during his military basic training that Arnold first went “AWOL” from the surroundings of the army camp where he “disappeared” for a short spell, entered and won the Junior Mr Europe contest. He hadn’t thought everything through well enough, as on his return to base, he was sent to military prison for a week as a result.

It would appear that his early life in the military and his strict catholic upbringing could be the reason as to why Arnold was, and still is so dedicated to everything he puts his mind to – training was his life, not just a job, so it made sense to give it everything he had.

Arnie knew what he wanted and was willing to give everything to achieve it!

Mr Universe

After winning Junior Mr. Universe, the obvious step up was to the professional arena to compete against the “men” of the bodybuilding world. This meant travelling to America which was something Arnold wanted and had been dreaming of for a while. He was once quoted as saying –

“The Mr. Universe title was my ticket to America – the land of opportunity, where I could become a star and get rich”

In 1966 Arnold made two firsts in his life; a) he travelled for the first time on a plane, and b) he entered and successfully competed in the 1966 NABBA Mr. Universe competition in London. After being awarded 2nd to the eventual winner Chester Yorton, Arnie was told he lacked overall muscle definition – something he would take away and work on….A LOT!

In 1967, Arnie had been training hard with new trainer Charles Bennett and came back bigger, stronger and importantly more defined than anyone else which propelled him to stardom as this is where he became Mr. Universe champion – the youngest ever person to win the title. He went on to win the title a further 3 times!

Arnie in America

Moving to the United States would prove to be yet another launch pad for Arnold Schwarzenegger. He began training at what is now the world famous Golds Gym, where he would meet many influential figures. You could say that Golds Gym is so famous because of Arnie – his Mr Olympia success can be tracked back to this place.

Los Angeles, California is the place Arnie soon came to know and call his home – and as we know, it isn’t just bodybuilding that he is famous for. Becoming the Governor of California is another incredible achievement of his, but that’s a story for another time…

The Legend of Mr Olympia

Since its existence in the public eye, Arnold Schwarzenegger is considered as one of the most if not “the” most influential and important figures within bodybuilding…. What I mean by this is; how many other bodybuilders, past or present have a recognised competition named after them? The Arnold Classic is a fiercely competed annual competition, and is just one of the reasons why Arnold’s achievements, name and legacy are cemented in the history books of time – not just for bodybuilding, but for what he has achieved in his many careers.

From the moment Arnold picked up a weight for the first time and started to realise that he was changing physically, his ambition or rather goal was to become the greatest bodybuilder – not just of his time, but the greatest the world had seen.

In 1969, he entered the Mr. Olympia competition for the first time, although there was a lot of hype around him, given his success as in the weight lifting arena, in the junior bodybuilding and Mr. Universe categories. He went into the competition in high spirits and feeling confident that he would come away with something – his sights were obviously on first prize. Following all rounds of judging, Arnie came in second place, losing to the 3-time champion Sergio Oliva.

As history tells us, this didn’t deter Arnold, who came back the following year, looking bigger, fuller and in better shape than ever and at the age of 23, he became the youngest Mr. Olympia champion ever. His record still stands today!

This is where Arnold Schwarzenegger began to change the face of bodybuilding forever, as he went on a winning streak, taking the number 1 spot again from 1970 – 1975 where he stayed the Mr. Olympia champion for 6 years straight. The 1975 competition was well documented as this is where we saw him training in the documentary “Pumping Iron” and where the rivalry was born between Lou Ferrigno and him..

During the lead up to this competition Arnie had been filming for the movie “Stay Hungry” where he had lost a lot of his competition weight. With limited time to prepare he entered the 1975 Mr. Olympia competition, a much smaller and leaner version of his normal winning self, however still remained victorious, beating his long term friend and training partner Franco Columbu.

I mentioned the rivalry between Arnold and Lou Ferrigno in the lead up to this competition, although this was mostly media hype, pitching two big men against each other. Lou Ferrigno was much bigger in terms of overall muscle mass than Arnold in the 1975 competition but for me this was where Arnie stamped his authority on the Mr. Olympia title. With limit preparation time, he focused on building his body and sculpting it to perfection – creating symmetry from top to bottom.

This is where Arnie excelled – he was able to see the weak points of his physique and make them his strongest points. In the times that he walked away as the title holder, he was always fuller and much more defined looking that his competitors.

Being a likable and a very charismatic person, people wanted to see him and watch him do what he did best – build lean muscle and entertain them. He put bodybuilding on the map and made it accessible to us “normal” everyday people.

The Big Comeback

After his impressive and quite frankly inspiring sixth Mr. Olympia title in 1975, Arnie announced that he would be retiring from bodybuilding and started pursuing interests elsewhere – namely by starting his career in movies.

Five years had gone by and in 1980 during the filming of the movie “Conan”, Arnold had got into fantastic shape due to the physicality of the character he was playing and also due to the training that was required to be able to complete the filming – things like running and horse riding.

It was a close guarded secret, and only his closest friends and trainers knew of his plans to come out of retirement and compete one last time. The decision was kept under close wraps for the simple reason that should he get injured during training or filming, he could still keep face without having to pull out of the competition.

So, whilst commentating for a television network leading up to 1980 competition, he announced at the last minute….. “during the eleventh hour” that he would be coming out of retirement and competing one more time – a decision that shocked and gripped the world, filled with anticipation!

With literally no time at all, he had weeks to complete his final preparations and be ready – something we already know he excels at. Pushing himself to the limit, Arnold Schwarzenegger won the 1980 trophy, making him the 7 time undisputed Mr. Olympia champion. He’d completed what some people would call impossible – but lucky for us, impossible wasn’t something that Arnie subscribed to!

After the 1980 Mr. Olympia title and having won it 7 times, Arnold Schwarzenegger officially retired from all competitions.

Using Steroids

During his “time at the top”, anabolic steroids were still legal and very much part of the bodybuilding culture.

Arnold opening admitted to using anabolic steroids for performance and muscle enhancing reasons, but as they were still legal there was nothing wrong with this – in fact, I would be surprised there was a bodybuilder of that era that wasn’t using performance enhancing drugs.

In an open article Arnie stated –

“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.”

Often being known to say that he used anabolic steroids to build tissue, not muscle. The purpose being that he needed to maintain and build tissue whilst losing overall weight to ensure he hit his competition weight targets.

How He Changed Bodybuilding

Arnold Schwarzenegger still remains the most influential person in the bodybuilding world and no one has come close to making such a defined impact on fellow competitors, trainers, judges, organisers and most of all the fans….you and me.

For a sport that was once seen or regarded as taboo or in the shadows, Arnold made it socially “OK” to want to be interested or want to learn more and be involved. Bodybuilding is now a legitimate and recognised sport and for many of us it’s a way of life, from getting from one day to the next – for me this is all because of Arnold Schwarzenegger and the fact that his popularity and fame has made bodybuilding socially acceptable and very much enjoyable.

With Arnold “you get what you see”, he always practised what he preached and at no point did he shy away from a question or the camera. He has used his strength, to become the greatest bodybuilder of all time, a successful actor and wealthy businessman but he has always gone back to and promoted bodybuilding – the industry and life that made him who he is today.

For an outsider looking in, it might be difficult to see any difference between Arnold Schwarzenegger and anyone else before him, but the truth of the matter is, the eras before and after him are worlds apart – let’s explain how –

Before Arnold began to dominate the Mr. Olympia stage the image of previous winners were big and strong men, carrying a lot of size in all major muscle areas. For me this changed when Arnold came to emphasis symmetry and his image of the “perfect physique”. Yes, Arnie was also very big and extremely well built but he changed the way bodybuilders defined and sculpted their bodies.

Tribute to a Legend

At, we applaud the man, the legend that is Arnold Schwarzenegger and salute him for what he has done for the world of bodybuilders and the icon that he has become. I hope that he continues to be recognised for what he has achieved and what he continues to do for current and new athletes arriving on the scene.

Arnold may not hold the record for the most Mr. Olympia titles anymore but he is still regarded as one of, if not the great bodybuilder to ever lift the trophy. There has never been another winner like him and in truth, there may never be another winner like him either.

When defining what bodybuilding is, we simply refer back to Arnold Schwarzenegger and what he has achieved. Many, if not all bodybuilders of today refer their success to the fact that Arnold opened the door to them and made it possible and acceptable for them to become bodybuilders.

We hope that Arnold Schwarzenegger continues to be respected for the bodybuilder that he was and the man that he is today.



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