Before He Was An Action Star, Arnold Schwarzenegger Was An Athletic Marvel

Athletes | 12/16/20

At the peak of his fame, Arnold Schwarzenegger was known as one of the biggest action movie stars in the world. Starring in massive hits such as The Terminator and True Lies was great for his public image, but acting wasn’t what he grew up being passionate about. As a young teenager in Austria, Arnold fell in love with lifting and turned it into a career. Eventually, he would leave his native land and become one of the world’s greatest athletes. This is how he did it, and how he still maintains his fitness today!

His Athletic Journey Started At 14-Years-Old

Arnold Schwarzenegger young
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Arnold Schwarzenegger first began lifting weight when he just 14-years-old. Growing up poor in Austria, his father wanted the young man to become a police officer. His mother, on the other hand, preferred he went to trade school.

Against his parents’ wishes, Arnold fell in love with lifting and forged his own path. At the time, of course, there’s no way he could have known what his future held, but when has uncertainty ever stopped passionate people before?

He Was Obsessive About Working Out

Arnold Schwarzenegger wearing a tux
Art Zelin/Getty Images
Art Zelin/Getty Images

When Arnold Schwarzenegger committed himself to become a massive human being he became obsessed. The young man would work out daily, claiming to feel sick if he missed a day, “I knew I couldn’t look at myself in a mirror the next morning if I didn’t do it.”

He was so dedicated to his craft that when the local gym he went to was closed, he would break in just so he could lift weights.

Arnold Bailed From The Army For A Competition

Arnold Schwarzenegger lifting in 1967
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

When he was growing up in Austria, it was required by the government that all males serve one year in the army when they turn 18. Not long into his service, during basic training actually, Arnold went AWOL, preferring to compete in the Junior Mr. Europe contest instead.

As punishment for bailing on his governmental required duties, Arnold was forced to serve one week in military prison. The punishment was worth it when he placed first in the competition.

A Lesson About Skipping Leg Day

Arnold Schwarzenegger in austria in 1967
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

As Arnold continued to grow in his profession, he took his first turn at the Mr. Universe competition. Now known as the Universe Championships, the competition first began in 1948 as a way to find out who the best bodybuilder in the world was.

Arnold entered his first competition in 1967 and placed second. The reason he was given was that the first place winner, Bill Pearl, had better leg muscle definition.

The Youngest Mr. Universe Ever

Schwarzenegger mr universe trophy
Pictorial Parade/Getty Images
Pictorial Parade/Getty Images

Not one to give up after a less than ideal result, Arnold hit the gym to reshape his legs, hoping to claim his first title. He was 20-years-old when he entered the Mr. Universe competition for the second time.

When he was proclaimed the winner of the Mr. Universe competition, he entered the history books as the youngest man to ever own the title. It was the first of three straight titles.

Learning English Was Not A Setback

Arnold Schwarzenegger and actress Sally Field
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

While Arnold Schwarzenegger was adjusting to his new life, he was also learning how to speak English. As with his legs, he refused to let any initial setbacks crush his dreams, even telling his tutor that he was, “going to become the greatest actor.”

While his acting career took a while to get off the ground, Arnold continued sculpting his body and entering competitions. Next up for the big was to claim the title of Mr. Olympia!

Arnold Scaled Mount Olympus Seven Times

Arnold Schwarzenegger sitting down
Jack Mitchell/Getty Images.
Jack Mitchell/Getty Images.

The Mr. Olympia title was created by Joe Wieder as a way for Mr. Universe winners to continue their careers. After finishing his run as Mr. Uinverse, Arnold turned to Mount Olympus.

Like Mr. Universe, Arnold came in second place during his first competition. He won the next year and would go on to win five more times in a row. After not competing for several years, Arnold was named Mr. Olypmia in 1980, his seventh overall title.

He Won A Major Stone Lifting Contest

Arnold Schwarzenegger posing for a photo
Estate Of Keith Morris/Redferns/Getty Images
Estate Of Keith Morris/Redferns/Getty Images

In 1967, at the beginning of Arnold’s Mr. Universe run, he entering a stone-lifting contest in Munich, Germany. During the competition, athletes are tasked with lifting and holding a 560 pound stone between their legs while standing on two footrests.

The title was just one of many that Schwarzenegger would go on to win. Before he transitioned to acting, Arnold won several pieces of hefty hardware to display proudly at his house.

His Bodybuilding Career Ended In 1980

Arnold Schwarzenegger in a polo shirt
Anwar Hussein/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Anwar Hussein/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1975, Arnold was convinced by George Butler and Robert Fiore, two filmmakers, to enter his sixth Mt. Olympia competition. They were making their documentary Pumping Iron, and Arnold was the perfect athlete to film.

That year, he beat Lou Ferrigno to win the title. Ferrigno was famous for playing the Hulk in The Incredible Hulk television series from the ’70s. Arnold would compete and win the competition one last time in 1980 before retiring from the sport.

He Kept A Strict Diet Routine

Schwarzenegger eating after winning a competition
Pictorial Parade/Getty Images
Pictorial Parade/Getty Images

During his bodybuilding career, Arnold Schwarzenegger kept to a strict daily diet. In a 1991 feature in Muscle Mag, it was revealed he ate five to six smaller meals during the day. By eating smaller meals more often, he believed he would keep his metabolic rate increased.

It’s likely with this regimen he consumed anywhere between 4,000 and 5,000 calories a day. Most of his nutrition from this time came 10 to 15 eggs a day and “a lot of meat.”

Today Arnold Eats Almost Entirely Vegan

Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2019
Sam Tabone/WireImage
Sam Tabone/WireImage

In 2019, Arnold Schwarzenegger revealed to Men’s Health that he had changed his diet to be mostly vegan. Any “meat” products he eats are modern-day substitutes such as Beyond Meat and he prefers almond milk over regular milk.

One of the only non-vegan foods Arnold allows in his diet are eggs, which he includes in smoothies. In his own words, “Now I eat more oatmeal, and greens, and vegetables, and healthy foods.”

His Warning About Supplements

Arnold Schwarzenegger flexing his muscles
Antony Jones/Getty Images
Antony Jones/Getty Images

Years after his bodybuilding career was over, Arnold admitted to using performance-enhancing supplements before they were banned. These days, the former star is warning fans about another kind of supplement — health supplements.

Arnold doesn’t warn anyone not to take health supplements, but he does remind everyone that, “they’re called supplements to supplement what you eat.” In other words, you should still be getting most of your nutrition from your diet.

His Life Of Fitness Almost Came Crashing Down In 1997

Arnold Schwarzenegger with workout equipment
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

For as healthy as he always has been, there was one part of his health that Arnold had very little control over — his heart. Schwarzenegger was born with a bicuspid aortic heart valve. Simply put, his heart’s aortic valve had two leaflets when it should have had three.

In 1997, Arnold was given a choice. He needed a replacement heart valve, which he could get either from his own transplanted tissue or as a permanent mechanical replacement. If he went with the permanent option, he would not be able to maintain his current fitness regimen so he went with the tissue transplant.

In 2020, He Had Another Heart Procedure

arnold biking
Hollywood To You/Star Max/GC Images
Hollywood To You/Star Max/GC Images

On October 23, 2020, Schwarzenegger announced via his Twitter account that he had undergone another heart procedure. This procedure was his second in two years and was done to replace his pulmonary valve.

He wrote, “Thanks to the team at the Cleveland Clinic, I have a new aortic valve to go along with my new pulmonary valve from my last surgery… I feel fantastic and have already been walking the streets of Cleveland enjoying your amazing statues. Thank you to every doc and nurse on my team!”

He Once Saved A Man From Drowning

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jean-Michel Cousteau Photocall for 'Wonders of the Sea 3D'
Antony Jones/Getty Images
Antony Jones/Getty Images

Even when he’s on vacation, it seems like Arnold can’t catch a second to relax. In 2004 he was on a beach in Hawaii with his family when he saw a man struggling to stay afloat offshore.

Schwarzenegger explained, “I realized he was having trouble and I asked him if he was in trouble and he said he had cramps all over his body… “I set him on the beach and told him to relax a little… He told me that for two years he hadn’t done any exercise.”

He’s Smarter Than The Average Athlete

Ron Galella Archive - File Photos 2010
Ron Galella, Ltd./Getty Images
Ron Galella, Ltd./Getty Images

The stereotypical depiction of athletes is that they are smart when it comes to fitness, but not a whole lot else. Arnold proves the stereotype wrong and has used his earnings from both his athletic career and acting career to launch several successful businesses.

Most notably, he was one of the original investors in the Planet Hollywood restaurant chain. Schwarzenegger has also dipped his toes into real estate investment, mail order businesses, a movie production company, a sports festival, and even a shopping mall!

He Still Works Out At The Same Gym

Arnold Schwarzenegger exercising
Anders Debel Hansen/AFP via Getty Images
Anders Debel Hansen/AFP via Getty Images

When Arnold initially came to the United States in 1968, the first gym he went to was Gold’s Gym. Over half a century later, he continues to be a patron at the gym, working out there at least once a day.

Of course, Arnold’s workout routine is a little different today than it was in his youth. As he’s gotten older, he’s had to adapt how to exercise to maximize his fitness.

These Days, Arnold Lifts More But Uses Less Weight

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegge
Anders Debel Hansen/AFP via Getty Images
Anders Debel Hansen/AFP via Getty Images

After having heart surgery multiple times, Arnold was forced to change his workout routine. He adapted his regimen based on the advice of his doctors. He now works out three times a day, but avoids anything considered heavy:

“I’m not training heavy anymore. After my heart surgery, I was advised not to train heavy. Not go three reps, heaviest weight, and all that stuff. So now I do lighter weights and more reps.”

His First Business Partner Was A Fellow Bodybuilder

Film - Arnold Schwarzenegger - London
PA Images via Getty Images
PA Images via Getty Images

When he was 21-years-old, Arnold Schwarzenegger started his first business with Franco Columbo. The bricklaying business became very successful after a major earthquake in California led to increased demand for the services of the pair. The relationship between the two turned into more than just business, though.

Columbo was also a bodybuilder and even competed against Arnold in the Mr. Olympia competition. Columbo was the champion of the highly regarded contest until Arnold dethroned him.

His Home Address Was “Retired” By Austria

Schwarzenegger childhood home in austria
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

For his 6oth birthday, Arnold got one of the most surprising presents possible — a plaque with the address of the house he was born in. The plaque, which was gifted to Arnold from the mayor of Thal, Austria, was sent with a heartfelt message.

It read, “This belongs to him. No one will ever be assigned that number again.” As for the house itself, it was turned into a museum to honor the life accomplishments of the iconic bodybuilder.