Rise of the Machines

SHAWN PERINE: How does your training today compare with the way you trained in the ’70s?

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: I always have done each body part three times a week, with the idea being to train six days a week. But when you average it out it ends up being five days a week. You know, there are weeks when you’re sick, or weeks when you travel.

Are there core exercises that you still do today?

Well, my favorite exercises I’m not able to do today, because of joint problems. For instance, the basic squat. I would love to be able to squat again, but in order to protect my knees I do mostly the Lifecycle and bicycling and the elliptical, but no more squats. The knees are like a tire. When the tires last up to 30,000 miles, you have to decide how you want to use them. Do you want to use them up in one year, or do you want to use them over a period of 10 years? It’s the same thing with joints. So, I decided 10 years ago, when I started to feel the wear and tear and was feeling pain in my joints, that now I should adjust my training and do more high reps with less resistance. Therefore I stay away from the squat, and I stay away from heavy bentover rows, but I do the heavier rowing on a Cybex machine and do the lighter exercises with free weights.

What about for shoulders? You’ve had rotator cuff surgery.

I used to love doing the clean and press, because you get the traps, the front deltoids, and the side. It’s really a fantastic exercise that I recommend to anyone who starts out weight training. I also liked to do the dumbbell press, but I can’t do either anymore. So now I just do my presses on a Smith machine, which is safer on my shoulders because it’s on a track. But I have to say, it’s so fantastic to see the development of all of these machines. It allows you to train around your injuries— you don’t have to stop training because of injuries anymore. These machines allow you to isolate your muscles without the risk of hurting yourself.

If you had access to these kinds of machines in your competition days, would you have used them?

I had access. When I came to America I had the choice to join the European Health Spa, where they had an endless amount of machines—everything that was available then. But I decided to join Joe Gold’s gym, because I thought whenever you can, you should use free weights, and only for sculpting purposes you should use machines. Now, when you get older and you can’t do things like squats with the free weights, you use the machines. I think it can become a problem when everyone copies everyone without asking ourselves why they’re saying something. Like the people who might read this and wonder why Arnold is now saying to use machines, when 40 years ago I read these stories that he was kind of negative about machines and said, “No, use free weights.” So, why did my approach change? Because my needs then were different and my abilities then were different than they are today.

Arnold barbells

Talk about the kind of training you did early on that laid the foundation for your physique.

I just think I was so lucky that for some miracle reason I was forced to weightlift first, because there really was no straight bodybuilding gym. The first gym I joined had a weightlifting club, and they didn’t allow you to bodybuild before you lifted weights. So you had to train to become a member of one of the teams. There was the A team, the B team, the C team, and almost every second week you would be competing against some other town or some other village, against another weightlifting team. Then if you did that you could do bodybuilding, too. But first you had to learn the proper form for a deadlift, and how to do upright pulling, and exercises with a wide-grip pull for the snatch, and the clean and jerk, and various presses, and bentover rowing. And I think that by learning these basics you build a totally different kind of a body than if you don’t do them.

Legend has it that you would bury training partners, going on longer than any of them could, all while training at a higher level of intensity. What do you attribute that to?

I just didn’t know any better. To me it was normal, and I did not look at it like I trained more. I just looked at it like others trained less. I never thought that I had extra energy. I never felt like I was anything special. I just could not see doing a back routine with less than 25 sets. That was a minimum. Because the back has so many different areas. I had to cover the width of the back and the lower lats. I had to hit the center of the back, which is the rowing exercises, and for the lower lats I did the close-grip chinups, and you had to do something for the serratus, and you had to do something for the upper back. So, if you divide it up like that it’s at least 25 sets. Same thing for the chest. I couldn’t think how to train my pectoral muscles completely, so that when you raised your arms in a double biceps your chest wouldn’t disappear. When you’d look at guys like Reg Park and Steve Reeves, their chests looked great regardless of whether their arms were at their sides or raised. That’s because they would hit every part of the chest. They started with flat dumbbell presses and flyes, and then they’d do incline presses, starting with the bench at 15 degrees, then going to 30, then to 45, and then even higher than that. They would train every fiber of the pectoral muscles, and so they would not disappear when they raised their arms. You can’t get that kind of overall thickness with just flat bench presses or one kind of an incline.

It’s about getting into all of the nooks and crannies. I would look at my weak points and figure out what I needed to work more. If I added five sets a workout to a body part, that adds up over a year, and at the end of that year it would always pay off. Maybe other guys would do 20 sets and go take a shower before we would all meet up for lunch, but I would still be training. That was their choice. Mine was always to leave no stone unturned.

I never wanted to go to a competition and think, “Jesus, Arnold! If you had just done an extra five sets…” I never wanted that feeling, because it’s the worst feeling you can have. If I do all of my homework and I lose, I will hate it, but I can deal with that, because I’ll have known that I did everything I could to win, and the other guy was just better, and I would have to wait my turn, for another year or two. It was like that when Sergio beat me, and Chet Yorton…I just said to myself, “Well, those guys were just better. I’m not there yet.” But it was never, “Oh, you f—cked up because you didn’t do enough work.” No matter what, I would always put in the work.