Interviews

How Pete Koch Made a Life Bodybuilding, Acting, and Playing Football

Dedication in the weight room led Pete Koch to a solid NFL career, notable film roles, and an encounter with the godfather of bodybuilding.

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Pete Koch
Courtesy of Pete Koch

Just one look at the life—not to mention the body—of actor and former NFL defensive lineman Pete Koch, 55, provides irrefutable proof that a never-ending dedication to the Weider Principles of training can make you, well, damn near ageless.

Back in 1984, prior to being selected in the first round by the Cincinnati Bengals, Koch stood 6'6" and weighed in at 280 pounds, with a chiseled physique labeled “fantastic” by NFL scouting reports. It was a far cry from the gangly, almost-100-pounds-lighter New Hyde Park Memorial (NY) ninth grader who was told by his football coach he had the talent—but not the muscle—to play college ball.

That’s when Koch says he found the Weider way. 

“I’d use my allowance to buy Muscle & Fitness magazines, and I read them over and over,” Koch recalls. “Arnold had my favorite physique. I admired Franco Columbu’s strength and Lou Ferrigno’s height—we were about the same size. And Dave Draper was my idea of the California bodybuilder.”

With lots of hours in the gym and heavy doses of egg protein powder, Koch added 60 pounds by his senior year, completing a transformation that catapulted him to a full ride to Maryland, where he set a team record with a 465-pound bench press in the early ’80s. His NFL career spanned a modest five seasons, splitting time with the Bengals, Chiefs, and Raiders—he had a career-high 51⁄2 sacks with the Chiefs in 1986—all the while maintaining his love for going heavy in the weight room. His devotion even landed him the ultimate prize: a meeting with Joe Weider himself.

“He had this great big office—massive," says Koch. "Right in front of his desk, facing it, were two other large desks pushed together, where his secretaries would sit.” After a brief conversation, Weider asked him to represent one of his protein supplements. “I was paid, maybe, $150, and he just ran the hell out of that ad,” Koch says. “But I didn’t care. It was really thrilling to be a little piece of history with Joe Weider and his empire.”

At the end of his NFL career, Koch parlayed his sports fame, muscle-bound body, Venice Beach tan, and perfect wavy brown hair into a steady career as an actor. He’s racked up a multitude of TV and film credits on IMDb, including the iconic role of the menacing Marine Swede Johanson, who tells his commander, Clint Eastwood, “I’m gonna rip your head off and shit down your neck,” in the classic Heartbreak Ridge—a part for which Koch still attracts admirers.

“It’s so random when it happens—you’ll just hear, ‘Swede, Swede!’” Koch says. “Or I could post the most random picture on Instagram and people just respond by writing, ‘Swede.’” Koch is now 30 pounds leaner than during his NFL days and can still load a couple of 45s on each side of a barbell and bang out a slew of shoulder presses.

He’s even become a certified personal trainer, spreading the gospel of the Weider Principles as well as a related system he created called FAST—for Functional Advanced Sports Training—a program he uses for both celebrity clients (like actor Benicio Del Toro) and 75-year-old grandmothers alike that’s geared less for the field and more for surviving the aging process. The key to winning the battle against time, he says, is squats—goblet squats, front squats, single-leg body-weight squats.

“As your life gets closer and closer to the end, I promise you, you won’t be wishing you’d done more cardio,” he says. “You’ll be wishing you could get off the toilet. And how do you do that? You squat.”

And though he may no longer be exactly Venice Beach strongman material, he’s happy to have become what he calls “a proud generalist.” He focuses on being good at everything: distance running, sprints, jumping, and rowing. “I’m as capable on a C2 rower as I am doing a deadlift, swinging a kettlebell, or doing burpees,” he says. “I’m very proud of that. And that’s by design.”

Today, Koch’s Swayze-like brown hair has turned silver, but the physique still gets him recognized on set—sort of. “I worked on The Bold and the Beautiful a little while back,” Koch says. “One of the stars saw me and said, ‘Holy cow, look what happened to Richard Gere over there. He’s working out.’ It was pretty funny.”

For more info on Koch and his training system, visit his Instagram page

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