Since Arnold Schwarzenegger was back in the national news
this week with his motorcycle accident, which required
15 stitches in his upper lip, I couldn't help but remember
the first time I met Arnold. I mentioned the scene
in one of my HIT Tips in 2004. The entire
story is worth reviewing.
by Ellington Darden, Ph.D.
"Nothing fails like success," I said to Arnold Schwarzenegger. "Because success only reinforces our myths and superstitions."
"Hum, I never thought of it that way," Arnold said. "Tell me more."
The date was in the late spring of 1977. Both Arnold and I were to speak that night at the grand opening of a Nautilus fitness center in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Arnold had not yet made it big in the movies, but he had certainly reached the top in the bodybuilding world by winning consecutive Mr. Olympia titles from 1970-1975.
In a ten-minute conversation on the subject with Arnold, I tried to clue him in on what I meant.
"Just about the only thing we can learn from is failure," I continued. "But to do so, we must recognize what we are doing as a mistake. Then we must correct that mistake."
In the same vein, Arthur Jones once told me, "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
It's unfortunate that we have to make mistakes to learn. But apparently we do. Success can often lead us on a path of self-destruction. We must constantly evaluate and reevaluate both our successes and failures.
Success in the bodybuilding world, I noted to Arnold, is usually related to genetics. Sure, you've got to train and you've got to eat correctly. But the best training and eating program still won't turn the local gym bum into Arnold Schwarzenegger. The only way to be Arnold is to have Arnold's parents – and even then there's a high probability that the person still won't grow up to look like Arnold.
Genetics dictate your height, bone structure, muscle cell numbers, and fat storage spots. Most important, however, genetics determine the length of your muscle bellies. A long muscle guarantees that you will have above-average size in that muscle. A short muscle means that that muscle will be below average in size. Both extremely long and extremely short muscles are rare, at least having one or the other exclusively throughout your body is seldom seen.
The Sergio Oliva physique from the early 1970s is the foremost example of someone who has very long muscle bellies all over his body. Arnold is similar to Sergio. Examples of men with very short muscle bellies might be Woody Allen and Paul "Pee-wee Herman" Reubens.
Most people, however, do not have long or short muscles. They have average-length to their muscle bellies. And average-length muscle bellies produce average-sized muscles – even after years of training.
So, what I was saying to Arnold was that 99 percent of the champion bodybuilders are born, not made. If a person, who wants to be a bodybuilder, does not have the genetics to be a champion, then no amount of training – or anything else, for that matter – will ever make him a champion.
Arnold did not have time to grasp what I was trying to explain to him. Later, in his speech that night, he challenged the young bodybuilders in the audience who wanted to look like him to apply his training advice. His training advice was the same then as it is now, and is well documented in his four books, which have been published by Simon & Schuster.
For best results in building your body, Arnold recommended the following:
- Perform at least 20 sets for most body parts.
- Do high-repetition sets for definition and low-repetition sets for mass.
- Adhere to a split routine by concentrating on different parts of your body on different days.
My advice to the audience that night was quite different from Arnold's, and I might add, I delivered it before Arnold spoke. For best bodybuilding results, I noted that you should:
- Perform only one or two sets per body part.
- Do 8 to 12 repetitions per set for most body parts. Definition is almost entirely related to following a diet to reduce the percentage of subcutaneous fat.
- Train the whole body in each workout and rest the whole body the following day. Do not split the routine.
Arnold, and Other Bodybuilding Enthusiasts:
If, in fact, it does take 24 hours of training per week,
week after week, month after month, year after year, for a
minimum of five years to become a champion – then, guess what?
Arnold was a believer in high-volume, four-hours-per-day, six-days-per-week, marathon training (HVT). My bodybuilding philosophy was dissimilar: brief, high-intensity, 30-minute routines that are repeated only two or three times per week (HIT).
Naturally, Arnold, with his impressive size, titles, and ability to work an audience, had the upper hand. "Who are you going to believe," Arnold said to the audience near the end of his speech, "him?" as he pointed my way and laughed, "or me?" as he flexed his Mr. Olympia arms in a double-biceps pose.
I was no match for Arnold that night and I knew it. Political researchers have known for years that most voters respond to how a candidate looks more than they do to what he says.
Arnold, with his massively developed physique and high-peaked biceps, would be able to sway almost any group of exercise enthusiasts his way. And he did.
Since then I've learned that trying to convince champion bodybuilders of their training failure is next to impossible. Remember: "Nothing fails like success." The champion bodybuilders are generally successful in spite of their training routines and dietary practices, not because of them. With their inherited advantages, almost any type of routine produces results.
On the other hand, the average bodybuilder with average genetic potential (and that pertains to 70 percent of the trainees), requires all the sound, scientific information he can get to make even small gains. The average bodybuilder must profit from his past training failures. He must learn from his mistakes.
Of the thousands and thousands of young bodybuilders who follow Arnold's recommendations, few get satisfactory results. In fact, most fail miserably. Many of them also rationalize by thinking, "If I could have only stayed motivated a little longer, maybe I could have built a body like Arnold's." But it's hard to stay motivated with workouts that must be practiced for four hours a day, six days a week – isn't it?
No, Arnold doesn't tell you about the youngsters who fail dismally with his courses. And neither will you read about it in the popular muscle magazines. But thousands do on a regular basis.
Surprisingly, Schwarzenegger spent a week in late 1970 with Arthur Jones trying HIT. Contrary to what Jones said about the visit (see chapter 6 in The New HIT), Arnold came close to getting a handle on hard, brief exercise. If he would have stayed a bit longer, and avoided Joe Weider and his influence, perhaps he would have converted to HIT. Even now, it's not too late for him to reconsider.
Being one of the 100 members of the National Fitness Leaders Association, which was an arm of the President's Council of Physical Fitness and Sports, I was shocked in 1990 (as were most members) when the first President Bush appointed Arnold to be the Council's director. We were even more shocked when he united and motivated the entire group to move forward aggressively. Arnold not only talked a good game, but he led by example.
Arnold directed the President's Council for two years and accomplished more in those two years than all the other directors had achieved combined. As a result, I gained a new respect for him. I can now see why Schwarzenegger, in a special election held in 2003, was elected governor of California.
With his political power and his continued interest in physical fitness, bodybuilding, and strength training, I wish he would take the time to learn from both his successes and failures. Then, maybe then, he would fully appreciate and grasp the effectiveness and efficiency of HIT.
Twenty sets per body part and 24 hours of training time per week . . . are not realistic guidelines for bodybuilders to follow. Even one-fourth of those numbers are still too much.
Many people today would surely be more involved in strength training and bodybuilding . . . if Arnold Schwarzenegger took a more reasonable approach.
As the governor of California, with your extremely busy schedule, there's no way high-volume training could work in your day-to-day lifestyle. Come on Arnold, why don't you re-evaluate your training principles?
You owe it to yourself. You owe it to the people who look up to you. You owe it to all those youngsters who need to get involved in bodybuilding.
Arnold: Give HIT another try.