It All Starts and Ends with Arnold
I don’t care what anyone else says, the simple truth is that none of us in this industry would be where we are (or even what we are) if not for Arnold Schwarzenegger. If the top trainers in the world are the Fitness Aristocracy, then Arnold is the King at whose throne we still kneel, and to whom we must pay tribute.
Although much of what Arnold practiced—and preached—as a bodybuilder wasn’t accurate, his physique clearly showed he was doing something right and led him to success time and again.
But his body was only part of the reason for his success. Arnold rose to the top because of his character: his work ethic, his sheer force of will and even his admittedly Machiavellian tactics led him to victory as a 7-time Mr. Olympia.
As you well know, The Austrian Oak used that legendary charisma to jump from the bodybuilding stage to the Silver Screen, becoming one of the most prolific movie stars in history, redefining the idea of what it meant to be an action hero in the same way he redefined fitness. And it was on the Silver Screen that Arnold first became known to me, and first began to shape my life and my worldview, setting me up for success.
Long before I planned on entering the fitness industry, I was learning from Arnold; learning things that would be applicable to fitness, business and life—lessons that would eventually lead me to the success I currently enjoy—and I learned them from Arnie’s movies.
You see, unbeknownst to many, Arnold’s films often incorporate aspects of his personal worldview. Usually just a small scene or a line is enough to communicate a level of perspicuous insight that is truly breathtaking.
By careful examination over repeated viewings of Schwarzenegger’s filmography, I was well prepared to chase success.
Now, I have distilled that wisdom into this list, so that you to can benefit from the serene sagacity, the astonishing acumen, the wondrous wisdom of my mighty mentor.
Success means different things to different people. Some people define it by money, others by achievement and recognition, others still by experiences or freedom to accrue them.
Whatever the case, it’s important to know what success means to you and how to define or quantify it so that you’re not stumbling aimlessly. Before you can reach a goal, you must first know what it is.
I learned this from Arnold in the first movie I ever saw him star in, Conan the Barbarian.
A young boy of just six years old, I sat in front of the TV set and watched as Conan was asked, “What is best in life?” The young barbarian lifted his chin proudly and stated:
That’s it. By stating what is best in life—what he considers to be the pinnacle of success in Barbarian culture and in the eyes of Crom—Conan lays a straight path before him: to achieve greatness, he simply needs to do three things.
Now, while I don’t necessarily want to leave a field of bodies in my wake, I immediately understood the point of this scene, and it has guided me in everything I have ever done. For every undertaking, I have set goals that define success.
In order to consider myself a successful bodybuilder, I needed big arms. I decided that “big” arms were 17 inches or greater, and so I built 17.25 inch arms. I knew what I needed to do, so I did it.
At the time I started my first business, I defined success in terms of both money and what it bought me. I decided a successful business was one that earned 6 figures, and so I worked until I earned that much and more.
When I transitioned into writing full time, it meant getting published in every magazine I thought was worth my time. I knew which ones I wanted, so I went after them. And now, magazines chase after me to write for them.
Success in my current business means a lot of things to me. I no longer define success by money. To me, success means building a platform that I will leverage to put myself in a new position, and from there, help as many people as possible.
Success means writing a book. A print book. It means that my mother can walk into Barnes & Noble, see my book on the shelf, and feel validated for spending money we didn’t have on my education—and I just put the finishing touches on my proposal.
Those things are goals, and they are necessary according to my definition of success. And because I defined them, I’m working on achieving them: I just finished my book proposal, and I have a number in mind for my advance. If I don’t get it, I’ll make the proposal even more amazing, and then I’ll hit my goal.
Quite frankly, in the long run, success for me means television and mainstream media. I know what I want, and I’m going after it. This means that I’ll be leveraging my online presence and my upcoming book(s) to show the people in charge of such things that they want to get on board with me.
I have goals defined, which means I know how to achieve them. I may never get to hear the lamentation of the women, but, hey, you can’t have it all.
The journey to success — however you define it — is usually a long one. Now, I’ll be the first to say that I think goals are extremely important, and there is great satisfaction in achieving them, but if the only happiness you get is from accomplishing your task, then chances are you aren’t going to be happy that often.
Arnold certainly knew this. Obviously, the man thrived on success and worked his ass off to win championships, but he also enjoyed the journey. Arnold found ways to enjoy the process of transforming his body into a championship physique.
This is best evidenced by this clip from Pumping Iron, where he famously compared training and getting a pump to having an orgasm:
This may be the most important lesson I learned from Arnold. In terms of training, I loved hitting milestones like a 350-pound bench or a 650-pound deadlift, but I never would have gotten there if I didn’t enjoy training for those things. Some of the most fun I’ve ever had was when I was trying to get there, and I still had some failures along the way.
Along business lines, it’s great to have a successful product like the Super Hero Workout—releasing it, watching a few sales roll in, and making “teh monieszz” are all fantastic. But those are aspects of having achieved the goal—and if you know me at all, you’ll quickly realize that the process of creating the product was by far the best part of the experience.
I enjoyed every part of the process, from writing the workouts and testing them on my self and clients to selecting the exact “comic book” font that I would use in the book itself.
And because I enjoy the process, the result is better. Focusing only on goals gets you to the finish line, but it doesn’t allow you to finish as well.
This has been immeasurably helpful lately. With my career taking off and new opportunities presenting themselves every day, it’s hard not to start focusing on goals. “What’s next?” is a thought that’s almost impossible to escape.
However, thanks to Arnold, I never forget the important of stepping back and simply appreciating where I am, the steps I’ve taken to get there, and enjoying the moments that will add up to a successful life and career.
This is a concept that nearly everyone in business tends to understand naturally. To put things more quantifiably, the thought is more often expressed as, “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
I first learned this when I saw the group dynamic of Arnold and his friends in Pumping Iron. Simply put, Arnold was the best and trained with the best.
In nearly every picture i’ve seen of Golden Age bodybuilders training, they’re in groups; hanging out, having fun, getting strong. Making each other better. Pushing each other forward—and that starts with the King.
His willingness to be social and his focus on surrounding himself with people who could help him get to the next level is one of the most obvious things about his personality.
Arnold was always around other bodybuilders, and knew what his strengths and weaknesses were relative to theirs. On stage, he was the consummate politician, showcasing his strongest parts and hiding what he lacked. This skill was cultivated by spending time with the best; in the case of bodybuilding, that also results in being aware of the competition.
Contrast this with Lou Ferrigno, who trained with a group of guys who weren’t fit to hold his towel. Sure, Louie had a great physique, but because he was never in competition in his training, he failed when it came time to step on stage.
Working with people who are on your level or better makes you work hard to be better—or in Arnold’s case, to be the best.
In my business, this is something you cannot help but notice. It’s no accident that the best trainers in the world wind up being friends with one another.
If you follow the Twitter accounts of the top guys in the industry, you’ll regularly see guys like Eric Cressey, Jason Ferruggia, and Joe Dowdell—as well as a host of others—exchanging everything from ideas and article links to good-natured ball-busting and inside jokes. These gentlemen are intent on getting better, and so they gravtitate towards one another naturally. Over time, friendships invariably form.
I learned early on that if I wanted to be the best, or among the best, I had to surround myself with the best. It’s for this reason that I travel to San Diego to attend meetings and masterminds, to network and exchange ideas.
Guys like Craig Ballantyne and Joel Marion know this, which is why they teamed up to create their new program 24/7 Fat Loss—because they make each other better, they’ve created something amazing.
Understanding this lesson has helped me rise to the top of the industry while picking up friends along the way.
Now, I’m not really into Machiavellian theory on the whole; I find it lends itself to some pretty reckless decision-making. That said, there have been times when I felt that I needed to pursue something to the fullest extent of my ability, regardless of consequence.
Arnold knows this. Sometimes, you need to threaten a guy. Sometimes, you need to kill him. And sometimes, you need to say you’ll kill him last… and then kind of go back on your word.
While I’m not guilty of dropping anyone off a cliff, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t dropped people in other ways.
When I first began to transition into the online fitness world, I knew it would require some sacrifice, and that there would be consequences. I also knew that it was the next necessary step in the evolution of both my business and my personal growth—and so I pursued it with the ardent fervor of my whole heart.
I hit the gas and worked at a breakneck pace for about 8 months. At this time, I was training about 40 hours per week, and the manager of a busy facility. Essentially, I went from working two full time jobs to working three.
Obviously, that kind of workload puts a damper on your personal life. I stopped hanging out with most of my friends, broke up with the girl I was seeing, and essentially withdrew from my life. Even as I was doing it, and seeing the consequences, I pulled further and further away.
As I worked longer and more ferociously, my time was less and less my own. The friends I saw infrequently got (understandably) pissed and pulled back.
In the end, I achieved the success I was looking for, but at a price: my circle of close friends had dwindled from twelve to three—I learned not one, but two lessons.
The first is that anything great requires great sacrifice, and sometimes you just need to be okay with the fallout on your way to success. As a general life plan, this is selfish and will do more harm than good, but for short bouts of dedicated time, this works well.
The second is that you can sort your friends from your acquaintances by who is willing to let you back into the fold after you fall off the face of the Earth for the better part of a year.
Arnold decided that dropping Sully off the cliff was a price worth paying to advance his quest, just as I now realize that certain relationships (which I now understand were superficial) we an acceptable needed to serve as a sacrificial offering to the Gods of Success.
There’s a scene in the movie Commando that cracks me up every time. And I want to share it with you. But first, let’s talk about how it helped me.
When I first started training clients, I was like most beginning trainers: meticulous to a fault. I had a very rigid plan; a specific program where I was going to do specific exercises in a specific order. I didn’t want to deviate from the exercises or the order because that would compromise the efficacy and the integrity of the Almighty Plan.
The problem was, I was working at a busy gym; and as anyone can tell you—even the best laid plans quickly go awry in a place like that.
I would leave one station to go to the next perfectly planned station only to find that some other person had the audacity to be using the piece of equipment I needed.
So, instead of telling them why they were the worst person in the universe, my client and I did the only thing I could think to do: we waited.
Yes. We waited until the equipment was free to use it…because we obviously couldn’t do something else. After all, it as a plan! It was perfect! Change it!? Are you kidding me? I wrote the damn thing in pen for heaven’s sake!
I would get so stressed out about it that I started to hate training. It was always a battle. I thought that great trainers must all work in private studios. I lost a lot of sleep over this. (Gimme a break—I was like 20 years old and two months on the job.)
Thankfully, as I was still in the throes of trying to figure this all out, I happened to catch Commando on TV, and I was saved. Once again, Schwarzenegger would step up to teach me a lesson in one of the most ridiculous scenes in movie history:
Soldiers fall by the handful to the mighty Matrix, and he takes up their guns and continues on his way to his daughter.
Believe it or not, this scene—as hilarious as it is—helped me to become a better trainer. I realized that my job was to give my clients a great workout and get them results, just as Arnold’s was to save his daughter. It didn’t matter what I had to do or how I had to deviate from my plan, I needed to do my job.
Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention, and so from that day, I learned to be more fluid when I trained. Barbell wasn’t available? No problem, we’ll use dumbbells for a set. Someone hogging the pull-up bar? It’s fine, we’ll come back—for now we’ll do lunges.
I learned to replace exercises, having a general awareness of what equipment was free, and understand programming on a deeper level that allowed me to train my clients more efficiently.
If I hadn’t learned all of this this, I would have failed my clients and myself. Even if I had managed to be successful in a gym setting, I wouldn’t be able to create the kinds of workouts that I do—I certainly wouldn’t have been able to create the kinds of workouts I do.
Just as Matrix somehow fought his way out of a bullet riddled tool shed, I eventually fought my way out of my self-imposed ineptitude, becoming a much more successful trainer in the process.
Last but most certainly not least, Arnold gave me insight on how to choose both friends and business partners—and those are often the same people.
As most successful people can tell you, you have to make friends to do business. And, all other things being equal, people want to do business with their friends.
In my experience, your true friends are the once you can be yourself with—the ones you can be an idiot with, quote movies with, make fun of. Your friends will bust your balls and call you out on your shit, but always be there to go on an adventure with you.
Well, Arnold knows his friends by the strength of their handshake:
Anyone who lets you call them a son of a bitch and is then willing to mid-air arm wrestle with you upon sight is probably a guy you can go into battle with.
If you can’t be foolish with someone, you can’t do business with them, because good business often involves a lot of foolishness.
More importantly, if you feel you can’t do business with a simple handshake—with or without the bicep flex—you probably shouldn’t do business with them.