Q&A: Arnold Schwarzenegger Talks Wrestling, Bodybuilding

In the lead-up to Wrestlemania XXX, we talked to Arnold about his connection to wrestling, principles of bodybuilding, and the evolution of fitness.

arnold schwarzenegger wrestling wwe belt

Before getting into the ring with Joe Manganiello and Hulk Hogan at WWE Raw last week to promote the film Sabotage, Muscle & Fitness had an opportunity to sit down with executive editor Arnold Schwarzenegger to talk about wrestling, the evolution of bodybuilding and how girly men can become peak athletes in the 21st century.

M&F: What are your earliest memories as they relate to your connection with the world of wrestling?

Arnold: When I think about wrestling, I think about a lot of different things. I think about my early days in Munich because in my gym all of the wrestlers from Europe and all over the world trained there. Whenever they came to Munich it was usually a month at a time at the Circus Krone, which was a huge circus tent in Munich. They sold out the circus every day and they were there for like 30 days straight. During that time the wrestlers all came to the gym. That’s where I met Harold Sakata [a famous wrestler who later starred as Oddjob in Goldfinger]. He was the silver medal winner for weightlifting in the Summer Olympics in 1948. That era is when I was introduced to professional wrestlers. They would have me come and practice with them in the ring.

When did you meet Bruno Sammartino, who you inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2013?

When I moved over here to America the first guy that I met in professional wrestling was Bruno Sammartino. He was a judge at the Mr. Olympia competition and Mr. Universe competition every year because he was really heavily into bodybuilding and knew everything about it. So he was a judge and I met him at the competitions, and then later on he invited me to come to wrestling matches and I watched him wrestle. Fast-forward and then all of a sudden here I am inducting him into the Hall of Fame. Not only here, but also in Columbus, Ohio at the Arnold Classic.

Who else did you meet back then?

Looking back, I think about working out with "Superstar" Billy Graham in 1968 when I came to America. That was my first kind of partnership, a training partner, that I had who was a professional wrestler. He wrestled at night and then came to work out during the day at Gold’s Gym.

Then I became very good friends with Andre the Giant because he wrestled down in Mexico while I was doing the movie Conan the Destroyer. He came to the set a lot of times. We went out for dinner a lot.

Then later on I met Hulk Hogan and followed his wrestling career. I saw all those great wrestlers getting into movies, like Jesse Ventura, who I did Predator and The Running Man with and later Batman & Robin. There was always a close connection between bodybuilding and wrestling--and also martial arts, for some odd reason. It was always the kind of people who were hanging out together. I think because back then, we were all kind of outcasts. So we just hung out together.

How do you see bodybuilding today? Now that the stigma toward fitness has lifted, people aren't so much outcasts these days. The people at WWE events worship these guys for the development of their bodies.

I think that the whole crusade to promote bodybuilding and fitness has clearly been successful. Today it’s not about seeing a guy pose onstage--it has transcended into so many different areas that you see bodybuilding everywhere. If you look at a billboard, there’s a man posing with Calvin Klein underwear; you will see a ripped guy that has been working out like a fanatic. If you watch professional wrestling and you see these monsters, they are building their bodies from weightlifting. Baseball players are huge. I’ve seen basketball players now for decades who work out for hours and hours in the weight room every day. You see now that their bodies are totally muscular. Boxers, UFC fighters that go into the ring are ripped from working out. You see it in every sport.

So fitness is evolving.

Guys look different today. The whole idea of weight resistance training, where the medical profession used to complain that it couldn’t be good for your body, now have in hospitals huge rehab rooms that are filled with weight machines. It doesn’t really matter if you look at women or men, young or old, you see them working out. I think the whole thing really became huge and really penetrated through to the general public, and everyone now is participating in one way or another.

Do you think that in the 21st century, after all this change, there’s a different motivating factor?

I think it always will be, if it’s the 21st century or the 20th century, whatever, people are always interested in one question: How do you live longer? Stay young for a longer period of time? How do you get rid of the health risks? Obesity and high blood sugar, you can actually fix through weight training and getting in shape. People don’t only want to live longer, they also want to have a better quality of life. I think that you can only do it if you have muscles functioning well until you get old. You can enjoy your life much more by being in shape and being fit. I think it’s not just the 21st century, it's always been this way. And that’s how I see the future. There will be other benefits that will be seen coming up. We have benefits that we don’t even know of today.

For anybody who is beginning a serious transition toward a better body and better health, what is one piece of advice that you would give to that person?

I don’t think that there’s one thing, but I think that the first, most important thing is that you have to have a very clear vision of what you want to look like, where you want to go with your body. If you don’t have a clear vision then you just fumble around in the gym, and if you don’t know what to train for--you don’t have a clear goal--I think that you always will go into the gym and just go through the motions and never have any motivation, no fire in your belly that you need when you get there. To really know exactly, okay, I want to get in better shape for the summer, or I want to lose twenty pounds, or I want to get stronger for playing football, whatever it is, really know what you’re doing it for so that you can then really put the program together and make your vision become a reality.