Ever had one of those afternoons, when the proverbial day at the beach suddenly turns into the opening scene from Saving Private Ryan? It's Dec. 9, 2001, and there you are living the California dream on a sunny Sunday afternoon, tooling through Santa Monica on your Harley-Davidson, when the car in front of you brakes without warning and your front wheel makes a crunching acquaintance with the car's rear fender. Before you can say "Evel Knievel," you find yourself lying in the road staring at the underside of said motor with your bike on top of you. Jeez, you inked the deal for Terminator 3 only last month and already the stunts have started.

"You've broken six ribs, Mr. Schwarzenegger," says the physician looking down at you. "You shouldn't do anything too physical for three months." Which is kinda like telling Anna Nicole Smith to stay out of Baskin-Robbins.

With a reported budget in excess of $170 million, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is the most expensive movie ever greenlit. Filming starts in four months and there you are studying the intricacies of hospital ceiling decor. Wait till the producers hear that their star has traded his Harley for a gurney.

Reel Value
The original Terminator, released in 1984, put you, a seven-time Mr. Olympia, in the superstar bracket and established a new genre of action hero. Action heroes with muscles. Your on-screen emergence occurred at the vanguard of the early '80s fitness boom and saw you appointed as figurehead of the "muscles are chic" movement.

By 1991, the world was ready for Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and it became the second-highest-grossing R-rated film ever at the time. You were the biggest box office star in the world, and you were more representative of where filmdom was at than the giant Hollywood sign that sits atop the movie capital of the world.

For over 10 years, a hungry public waited anxiously for Terminator 3. Every now and then a deal seemed close, only to come to naught, but after more false alarms than The Keystone Cops, the project was finalized in November '01. You were reported to have received the highest fee ever paid an actor: $30 million. Psst, Arnie, remember at the '72 Olympia when you took home a grand for winning, and then a year later got only $750? For Terminator 3, you were being paid over $4,000 per second of screen time.

There's a lot riding on you, but now you're riding a bed with wheels. And it hurts every time you breathe. You're used to coming back, not being on your back. This wasn't the plan.

Prior to your knee-scraping, rib-cracking, worm's-eye view inspection of the condition of Santa Monica's roadways, you had vowed to get into peak shape for the movie in order to be true and consistent with the physique you displayed in T1 and T2. You wanted Terminator 3 to look like the old Terminator, which is to say the young Terminator. Yup, you were going to be more prepared than a Hungry-Man TV dinner.

Even before the accident you realized two things were against you. First, age. You made T1 when you were 36, T2 when you were 43. Now at 54 you had to whip your body into a shape comparable to those versions. Pride determined that you show them the muscle. Second, medical. Following surgery in 1997 to replace a heart valve, your doctors had warned you off training really heavy anymore. That meant no more taking it to the primal screaming max, no forced or gravity reps; the recommended regimen was high reps to mere failure. Truth is, you hadn't carved out any plans to challenge Franco Columbu to a deadlifting contest, and a high-rep program along the lines you planned was some distance away from girly-man territory, certainly enough to get you into the shape you wanted. But now, with your training on hold for three months, your career was about to experience the biggest pregnant pause since your swell starring role in Junior.

How much muscle were you being asked to expose in T3? Well, the opening scene called for the Terminator to appear nude as he returns from the future to face his next challenge. How's that for starkers, er, starters. Wow! Appearing in your birthday suit is a surefire way to motivate gym attendance, and with the scene being shot from the rear, the phrase "I'll be back" took on even more relevance. Although filming was scheduled to start in early April 2002, the opening in-the-buff scene wouldn't be shot until the end of May. You would be able to start working out at the end of February, so that left three whole months to get your ass, literally, into shape.

That '70s Show
It's déjà vu all over again, Arnie. Remember 1975, when you signed to do Stay Hungry and director Bob Rafelson instructed you to reduce your bodyweight from 240 to 210 pounds? Then you found yourself three months out from that year's Olympia faced with gaining 30 pounds of muscle rather than, as was your countdown norm, fine-tuning your way to contest shape. Little wonder you, like a Chihuahua with a T-bone, felt you may have bitten off more than you could chew.

With history being repeated, why not . . . repeat history, kinda. To do justice to your imminent "I'll be back" role, why not go back? Yeah! Go back to your roots, Arnie, was the inner urging that grew stronger and stronger. Try and replicate your days of yore, that Golden Age of the '70s when you and the guys turned Gold's Gym, Venice, into the Mecca of bodybuilding. That's right. Instead of training at home (as had been your preference the past few years), go back to training with Franco, only this time it would be at Joe Gold's World Gym in Marina del Rey, adjacent to Venice.

So your ribs heal and there you are, as March beckons, training away with Franco and Eddie Giuliani, another cohort from that '70s show, in World, with more clowning going on than Ringling Bros. and Congress combined. The move to World was to rekindle the training fire of yesteryear, but with the byproduct being the atmosphere of fun and camaraderie, all you need now is a white-suited John Travolta bopping to Saturday Night Fever with a black Michael Jackson hanging from a twirling disco ball and the friggin' '70s are back.

True to the retro theme, your routine was in sync with the high-volume one that carried you to seven Mr. Olympia titles (but only one Sandow statuette: make a note, trivia freaks). You trained six days a week, twice a day, and for the most part did 15 sets per bodypart. Hey, Arnie, just an aside here: With your famous statement, I love training – the pump is like having sex with a woman, it's no mystery you always preferred a high-volume program. Hell! It's a wonder you were ever out of the gym.

But not everything was '70s incarnate. You used fewer free weights than you did in your competitive days and found sanctuary with more machine movements. For instance, you now favored machine triceps extensions, machine shoulder presses and the rear-delt machine instead of the free-weight alternatives. Rise of the machines, indeed, baby.

So here we are in early May and training's going well, and filming's going well also. Truth is, you had been a bit anxious about working with new director Jonathan Mostow. After all, the first two Terminator movies had been directed by James Cameron, in whom you had complete confidence and who became a buddy. Although Cameron, who went on to direct Titanic, was a co-writer (one of five) for Terminator 3, he wouldn't be calling the shots on the set. Even though Mostow came with a great rep, there was the worry that, like sitting across from Dolly Parton on a roller coaster, you may be in for a bumpy ride. Now, let it be said, you weren't ready to write to Dr. Phil, but like Rodney King at an LAPD reunion, you were just a little anxious.

But within days of being on set with Mostow, you realized any apprehension was unnecessary, and working with him made you as comfortable as Bill Clinton at Hooters. He quickly gained your confidence, and you saw he had a clear vision for how the film should be made and crafted.

Pumping Irony
Another project on your plate (not of the Olympic type) was the 25th Anniversary re-release of Pumping Iron, the documentary account of the 1975 Mr. Olympia contest that became a cult classic. The re-release is scheduled for November 2002, and recently you had been viewing footage from the movie that helped take the name Schwarzenegger from gymhold to household status.

You smiled at the Arnold of the '70s, portraying himself as a ruthless competitor who would stop at nothing to achieve his goals. Times change, people change, you've changed. Marriage, four kids, heart surgery and the passing of the decades will do that to a person. Instead of "me, me, me," your passions now include work on behalf of inner-city kids projects. Your advocacy of Proposition 49, providing after-school programs for schoolchildren, will help the measure win in the upcoming California elections. Looking further forward, you will definitely run for governor of your adopted state in 2006. Whaddya know, Mr. "I'll be back" has made the transition to Mr. "I'll give back."

You watch yourself going over-the-top in Pumping Iron, you marvel at the brashness of the youth you were. You reflect back on your relationship with your father. You argued with him constantly. Everything he said was wrong. You shake your head. How stupid you were: Everything your father said was right; you're now saying the same things to your kids. You look at the 28-year-old preparing to win his sixth Olympia title and you find yourself asking, "Who is that guy?"

All Is Revealed
Today is the day you shoot the nude scene. Mostow and the crew are on the set waiting for you. You're in your trailer looking down at the scales – 220 pounds. The same weight you were for T2, and six pounds heavier than when you started your training program back in February. But the gain is much more than six pounds of muscle – you're harder, more defined, as steely as the fictional terminator.

You look in the mirror. You're pumped, baby. Pumped that, despite all the difficulties, you fashioned the physique you wanted. Pumped that you've proved there's life in the old Oak yet. They want you on set now. You take one last look in the mirror. The arms are full, the pecs are flexed, the abs are defined, the lats are flared, you take a deep breath. Time to show what ya got, and damn if you don't get a Sergio flashback. Let's do it, let's go. Lights, camera, posedown – I'm ready for my close-up now, Mr. Mostow. I'm back.

Peter McGough is editor in chief of FLEX magazine.

The Hit List

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines 2003
Collateral Damage 2002
Dr. Doolittle 2 (voice) 2001
The 6th Day 2000
End of Days 1999
Batman & Robin 1997
Jingle All the Way 1996
Eraser 1996
Junior 1994
True Lies 1994
Dave (cameo) 1993
Last Action Hero 1993
Terminator 2: Judgment Day 1991
Kindergarten Cop 1990
Total Recall 1990
Twins 1988
Red Heat 1988
The Running Man 1987
Predator 1987
Raw Deal 1986
Commando 1985
Red Sonja 1985
Conan the Destroyer 1984
The Terminator 1984
Conan the Barbarian 1982
The Comeback 1980
Scavenger Hunt (cameo) 1979
The Villain 1979
Pumping Iron 1977
Stay Hungry 1976
The Long Goodbye 1973
Hercules in New York 1970