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Born: October 6, 1935
Weight: 275 pounds (when he was a pro wrestler)
Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA
Fun Fact: Sammartino won the bodybuilding title Mr. Allegheny in the late 1950s.
Muscle & Fitness: You trained with Arnold Schwarzenegger a few times in your day, right?
Bruno Sammartino: Back in the ‘60s, when I wrestled in California, I used to stay in Santa Monica. So I worked out with Arnold, Franco Columbu, Dave Draper and those guys a number of times.
What were those workouts like?
I loved working out with those guys because not only did they have great bodies, but they used fairly good weights too. I enjoyed training with them just because of the fact that they were the elite bodybuilders at the time. But I’m proud to say, too, that I was pretty good lifter on my own. Before I turned pro as a wrestler I competed in both Olympic lifting and powerlifting. Well, bench pressing and squatting, of course, are exercises that bodybuilders and everybody does, so I was pretty good at those. I had heard so much about guys who trained there [at Joe Gold’s gym in Venice] and the lifts they did, I wondered if I was up to par with them. So I was very pleased to work out there because I think I lifted as good and better than most.
During the height of your wrestling career during the ’60s and ‘70s, what was your training like?
I was working out three, sometime three and a half, hours a day with weights. I would work out in the morning because I wanted to be very rested up for the wrestling matches at night. So I would do a workout, then have a light breakfast, and then I would go to bed for a few hours. I would eat an early dinner no later than 3:00 so that it would be fully digested by the time I went in the ring. So yeah, I worked out very hard and heavy, but I always used to try and take a couple hours nap afterward just to recoup and rest up.
How often did you have wrestling matches?
Just about every night. I would wrestle six nights a week, and there were times when I would wrestle every other Sunday at the Maple Leaf Garden in Toronto. So two weeks out of the month I’d be wrestling seven days a week, and the other two weeks I’d do six nights a week. I had a very grueling schedule.
What’s your exercise regimen like today at 77 years old? You’re in great shape.
Three days a week I do roadwork. I had hip replacement, and the doctors tell me I can walk as fast as I want, but I’m not allowed to run. So I power walk. I do between four and five miles. Then I come home – I have a well-equipped gym downstairs – and I do about 800 leg raises and leg crunches for stomach work, and then I stretch a little bit. And that’s it. The next day, I work out with the weights. Now, do I lift heavy weights anymore? No, I’m 77, and my weight is not 275 anymore. I’m 215 now, maybe 220 with my clothes on. For example, on bench press, I don’t go higher than maybe 215 for reps. For shoulder work I do 35-pound dumbbells for side laterals. Nothing really heavy anymore, because, #1, I’m old; #2, I’m not as heavy as I was; and #3, I don’t want to put too much stress on the joints at this stage of my life. I use weights that are comfortable for me.
You’ve accomplished a ton in your career, from wrestling to lifting to even dabbling in bodybuilding. Is there one achievement that stands out from the rest?
I had a pretty tough childhood, being in Europe during the war and all that stuff. I barely survived. I came down with rheumatic fever and I wasn’t expected to live. I was a human skeleton when I came to the United States. I was 14 years old and I weighed, like, 83, 84 pounds. Once I started training, I really dedicated myself and really pushed myself. And to me, the payoff was when I won the title in Madison Square Garden against [Buddy] Rogers in ’63. Because I had reached the top, and I felt like I could provide my family with a better living than I had growing up. Because when we hid in those mountains for 14 months from the Nazis, we nearly starved to death. And a lot of people did, and we buried a lot of people up in that mountain. To be fortunate enough to survive that, and then to later be recognized as the champion, that had to be as big a deal as anything. But there were a lot of things. It’s difficult to take any one thing and say this was it.