Arnold Schwarzenegger: The King of Muscle

By Sondra Barr 

He is the undisputed king of muscle who became the king of hustle. Driven by a seemingly insatiable furnace of ambition, Arnold Schwarzenegger speeds along from one project to another like a locomotive on steroids (pun intended). 

At 72 years of age, Arnold is still working out, still appearing in films (like 2019’s Terminator: Dark Fate) and still inspiring future athletes, politicians, actors, and activists across the globe with half a dozen new initiatives. 

A former tank driver for the Austrian military, Schwarzenegger’s new aspiration was to become a human tank. Built like an iron-muscled war machine, with an equally unbreakable spirit, he won 13 bodybuilding competitions. This was in an era before fitness had become fully immersed in popular culture, before Crossfit or Planet Fitness or 6-Minute Abs. He was the primary figure that ushered fitness into the cultural Zeitgeist, leading to a multi-billion dollar global industry. 

In the beginning, friends and mentors worried that no one would ever be able to pronounce his name or look past his thick Austrian accent. Now, Schwarzenegger has been a household name for over 40 years. His accent is beloved, and he is a quadruple threat (and counting), having become a superstar in at least four arenas of public life, while continuing to build fame and credibility in other sectors.

He is globally famous for bodybuilding, Hollywood blockbuster films, entrepreneurship, philanthropy, activism, writing best-selling books on bodybuilding (and his autobiography, Total Recall, named for one of his famous sci-fi thrillers). Not to mention, he served as California’s 38th governor. He even playfully embraced the moniker of “The Governator” to the delight of some, and to the chagrin of more serious-minded public servants. In short, Schwarzenegger transcended being a mere sports icon to become one of the most famous people of this century and last. 

He credits his resolve to a drive to keep moving forward at any cost. Schwarzenegger says he is never satisfied with standing still. “When people tell me I can’t do something, because no one has ever done it, I love that, because it means I get to be the first to do it,” he said while promoting the movie Total Recall.

Schwarzenegger has long served as a champion for youth and those with special needs. His biography details his years of support for the Special Olympics and the continual dedication of time raising awareness and funds about the importance of after-school youth programs. As the founder and honorary chair of After-School All Stars, he helped raise over $12 million for after-school programs for underprivileged youth across America, reports Haute Living Magazine

As he explained to Men’s Health magazine, he wanted to “Democratize fitness.” In 1990, he became the chair of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, and he continues with his health and wellness crusade both by mentoring youngsters on healthy activities and by way of his supplements company called Ladder.

Since exiting elective office in 2011, Schwarzenegger has still committed great energy to politics and social issues like climate change. He found the “R20 Regions of Climate Action” group to bring together global resources and thought leaders to help stave off global warming from human pollution.  

He also took up the cause of ending gerrymandering, which is a fancy term for redistricting voting areas to benefit a particular political party. In an interview with The Atlantic, he passionately described gerrymandering as “The evil of all evils,” because it leads to incumbents getting reelected again and again, and isn’t a fair representation of the political views in a given region. 

According to Variety, his films have grossed over $5 billion, internationally. After a long and storied career of success in film and athletics, with all his 13 championships, he wanted to inspire others to be great–– just as his heroes like Eugene Sandow had inspired greatness in him. 

He succeeded in making California even more ambitiously eco-friendly, in part through his Hydrogen Highway and Million Solar Roofs Plan. In December of 2019, he congratulated California for reaching its milestone one-millionth solar roof, according to The Sacramento Bee

Schwarzenegger appeared at the CAA talent agency in 2017, with Mayor Eric Garcetti, to discuss changing the conversation around climate change. As reported by Variety, he strategized, “If you talk about climate change, it doesn’t really mean much to most people in the world, and when you talk about icebergs melting, they don’t care.” He went on to explain that climate talk needs to focus on the impacts on people living today, not what may happen decades from now. 

Back in his bodybuilding heyday, he was known as The Austrian Oak. A man with such a sculpted physique he looked as powerful as anyone ever had, with a million-dollar smile, and a devilish sense of humor. He won the world over with his playful arrogance that was forgiven because his multiple championships earned him the right to be confident.

In Total Recall, Arnold describes his strict and austere upbringing in the Austrian countryside. As someone who grew up with a strict, military father who made him do pushups to earn his breakfast, Schwarzenegger was born ready to push further than most people in order to achieve his goals.  He was taught that being the best was defined by winning and winning came from work, while recreation and leisure were for losers.  

Yet, Schwarzenegger’s life has not been without controversy and criticism. Of course, he is the type of personality that can turn even his worst failure into an inspirational and teachable moment, for those who are charmed by his personality and confidence.  

Although he has openly admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs during competition, steroid use was legal when he competed.  Still, purists consider steroids a blemish on his career.  However, when one considers that Arnold’s generation of competitors took about one-tenth the steroid use as today’s competitors, he feels his physique was all the more impressive.

Leading up to his run for governor of California, Schwarzenegger was accused of inappropriate touching, during a mild scandal that became known as “Gropergate.” He apologized and pressed forward, perhaps benefitting from the lack of social media in 2003, therefore bypassing the scrutiny of the #MeToo movement. 

Further embarrassment shook the Schwarzenegger family and brand when Schwarzenegger’s marriage later crumbled in the heat of the public spotlight, after rumors of infidelity with his housekeeper proved true.     

His marriage into the Shriver family put him into the Kennedy clan, which some saw as an indication of personal political aspirations. Of course, history proved that to be true, but he maintained in a People Magazine interview, that his love for Shriver was very real, and he regrets his infidelity. “If I could, in reality, be Terminator, of course I would go back in time and would say, ‘Arnold … no,’” he told the magazine. “You know, it’s always easy to be smart in hindsight.”

Putting aside his past, Schwarzenegger continues to stay busy with his ambitious plans for the future, including new measures of corrective action for his physical well being. How does he train today? As he has relayed in many interviews, he’s modulated his workouts to include lower weights with higher reps, to be gentler on his aging body. After suffering a heart attack and undergoing knee and hip surgeries, he skips the high-impact powerlifting movements like deadlifts and squats in favor of machines with adjustable settings. “A guy like myself who had surgeries—they can always find an exercise around the injury that I could do. So I cannot do dumbbell lateral raises anymore, but I can go and find the machine that does exactly the same thing and I have no pain,” he explained during an interview with Men’s Health.  

Whereas Schwarzenegger used to eat everything under the sun, he has since adopted a stricter diet, telling Men’s Health that, “I always was called the garbage disposal because I was never sick and tired of anything.” Today, his diet leans heavily, though not entirely, vegan. And while he takes his own brand of supplements, Schwarzenegger gives the caveat that, “They only supplement what you get in your diet. So the key is to rely on good food. Natural food. Lot of vegetables fruits and good proteins.”

When training for a new movie project, he cuts all sugars and white bread. Now largely plant-based, Schwarzenegger sometimes refers to himself as “nearly vegan.” He often drinks cherry juice and almond milk for protein and bone soreness. He was recently featured in the 2019 vegan documentary called The Game Changers, where he discussed his shift in diet.

Above all, Schwarzenegger is a family man. A proud father to five adult children, he looks back on fatherhood with great nostalgia in Total Recall, calling it his way of “Giving back, by making a better world than you inherited by being a good parent.” Nowadays, his children have started marrying.

Schwarzenegger recently told ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel that he gets along really well with Chris Pratt, who married his daughter, Kathryn in June of 2019. 

“I get along with him really well,” he told Kimmel. 

“Of course, the first thing when we met, he says, ‘Can we have a workout together? I need to have the inside scoop to pumping iron,’” Schwarzenegger explained. Beyond a mutual love for working out, he was simply happy that another of his children had found love. “I’m really happy that he is such a great guy,” Schwarzenegger said. “A really kind man and kind to my daughter, which is the most important thing for me.”

Whether striving for the 22-inch biceps or challenging the sitting governor of the nation’s most populous state, Schwarzenegger has always aimed big and achieved bigger. He is the embodiment of living larger-than-life, both literally and figuratively. He is the proverbial hard-working immigrant, whose motivation of a better life never allowed him to rest on his laurels.  

It has been said that any great leader or public figure will polarize and alienate at least part of their fan base, and with Schwarzenegger it has been no exception. He seeks greatness, and manages to sidestep the naysayers on his way to the top of the mountain. As he famously explained in Pumping Iron, “When you’re at the top, you’re still hungry, but the food is always there.”