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Everyone remembers that scene in Pumping Iron when I’m doing shoulder presses and shouting, “Arnold!” over and over. I used Arnold to motivate myself in my workouts. Coming up, I looked up to people like Steve Reeves, Larry Scott, and Sergio Oliva, and I read a lot of comic books: Superman, Batman, and, of course, the Fantastic Four, with the Hulk. From an early age, I wanted to be as big and powerful as the Hulk. Those are the kind of images that drive you through your hardest workouts.
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At various times, I trained with other pro bodybuilders. If I train with a partner, I want that person to be as strong as I am and go with the same intensity I do. I need someone to push me on every set. A partner isn’t just there for someone to talk to; that would only hurt my workout. A partner is there to drive me to use more weight and get more reps.
On exercises like chest and shoulder presses, squats, and leg presses, when you lock out and fully straighten your elbow or knee joint, it’s a resting point. There’s very little stress on the muscles there. This is why I usually like to stop my reps a little short of lockout. But this can change near the end of a set when I might need those little rests to keep going. I wasn’t one of those lucky guys whose forearms grew just from holding weights. I worked very hard for my forearm development, training them three times per week. I mostly stuck to barbell wrist curls and reverse curls.
I do a lot of forced reps. I reach failure or near-failure and then my partner removes just enough stress for me to get 2–3 more forced reps.
Occasionally, I do my side laterals with a cable. These allow me to raise the handles well above shoulder level and maintain tension, so I get a longer range of motion. Before a contest, I used to tense my muscles a lot between sets, and I also practiced posing at home. Joe Weider taught me how to use iso-tension to bring out more details in the muscles. For the first few years when I got into bodybuilding, I was always weighing myself and measuring my arms and chest. It was inspiring to see those numbers getting bigger. But eventually the mirror became a much more useful tool than the scales or the tape measure. The mirror, photos, and objective observers will tell you that you’re gaining muscle and losing fat in the right places.
Recuperation is the forgotten component of muscle building. Try to get at least eight hours of quality sleep each night and try to find ways to relax both your body and your mind outside of the gym. I never used the same training program twice.
Whenever I don’t feel like doing another workout or eating another chicken breast, I only have to remind myself of the benefits of this lifestyle. I owe everything to bodybuilding. The training I did to build my physique taught me how to work toward a goal with great intensity and total dedication. Bodybuilding has also taught me to be persistent, to be self-reliant, and to look at myself objectively. Most important, bodybuilding dramatically improved my self- image, allowing me first to achieve average confidence after years as a shrinking violet, and later to assert myself as a bodybuilder, actor, and public personality.