Lou Ferrigno went from dreaming of superheroes to competing in the Mr. Olympia with his real-life hero, Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom he’d soon follow onto the screen. Here we catch up with the Incredible Hulk, who recently launched ferrignofit.com, a site designed to help turn you into your own personal trainer.
What was it like competing against Arnold, who was your idol?
It was a lot of fun. I was very honored to be onstage with him because he was Mr. Olympia at the time [1974– ’75], and I was fighting to win that title. And I knew it was just the two of us, because we dominated the sport of bodybuilding.
Did you feel like you were in his shadow, or did you relish the challenge?
You have to remember, I was almost six years younger than he was, and I knew that I needed more time and training; but I wanted to be on the same stage because I’d won Mr. America and Mr. Universe twice. It was nerve-racking, too, because I went straight from Mr. America to Mr. Olympia, which is international. I knew it was a big jump. But I was very happy about the decision, because it put the two of us on the map together.
How did you go from being a bodybuilder to being the Hulk?
Well, when I came from California to train for the 1977 Mr. Olympia competition, they had an audition—I remember when I heard about it, I wanted to play the part. I was here in California at the time and went in for the audition and won the part. I thought I was disappointing Joe Weider, but Joe said, “Don’t worry about it. Do the Hulk, then compete next year.” So that’s how everything fell into place.
Were you a fan of comic books and superheroes?
Huge. I was a huge fan of Superman, Batman, and the Hulk, and I liked the Fantastic Four my whole life, ever since I was a kid. I always fantasized about being the Hulk when I was young. I was obsessed with power. I remember reading Superman. As a kid growing up being abused, I wanted the same power. I related to that. And following that came The [Incredible] Hulk, because of the physique—the muscles and the mass. I put those two together. you also played Hercules in 1983.
How did you get in shape for that?
I trained for Hercules like I trained for the Mr. Olympia. I paid attention to every body part. I remember I trained at least two and half months for it— I wanted to be in the best physical shape. Once you’re on-screen, it’s permanent, you can’t go back and change it. And I knew this was a chance for me to act without the makeup on, so I trained. I knew—people told me— when I was making the film that I could have won the Mr. Olympia that year in Munich, Germany.
How do you stay in shape today? Has a lot changed?
I train the same—five to six days a week, but much lighter. I keep the intensity up, though. I rest one minute between sets to keep the blood flowing; I go for the pump. But I follow the same schedule. I do chest and back, shoulders, arms and legs...I train, like, three or four days, then take one day off and do cardio for 20 minutes. You have to conserve energy as you get older. I train for about an hour total. I train fast.