When you see the famous Arnold Schwarzenegger clips and videos in "Pumping Iron," it's summertime in Venice Beach, California. There are moments when you can spot him on the beach, in the sea, or sunbathing as he prepares to defend his Mr. Olympia title.
It's quite a contrast to my settings. I started this project in January 2023 and it will be completed in February. It's the middle of winter in my home state of West Virginia, and I'm not at Gold's Gym or any other gym. I'm in my barn grinding superset after superset for anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours at a time.
Those mornings start with a warm breakfast because it's going to be the last warm thing I'll feel for a while. As I begin week 3 of the Arnold Challenge I have lost 11 pounds on the scale and am noticing improvements in my strength and endurance. I'm getting ready to work chest and back this morning. If you've subscribed to Arnold's newsletter, or seen any of his previous articles in the back issues of FLEX or M&F, then you've seen this training and you know what I'm getting at. I'm not looking for sympathy here because I signed up for it myself.
time to relax
As I get ready for the first workout of the day, it's 28 degrees outside and in my barn. It's not heated, and I use solar lights to see. It takes three layers of clothing to exercise when it's that cold. I also need to make sure my layers are loose so I have adequate range of motion. Arnold made the most of his moves when he was the reigning world champion. It's not just about doing the exercises. I need to use the shape as close to his as possible.
As I get ready, my mind is already running at full speed. I'm not trying to put any extra pressure on myself as that might be counterproductive, but let's be honest: I'm sharing this journey with the world every time I post on social media or you read any of these episodes of the series. Earlier in the morning I had received a very kind message. The person said they were inspired by what I was doing and cheered me on to the end. Someone I've never seen from a place I've only seen on TV and the internet is inspired by that. There's no place to take off. I sip my pre-workout, do abs, and stretch inside the house before taking the 200-foot walk to the barn. This helps make the challenge a little easier. Then it's time to go.
I always end each day preparing for the next morning's workout. This helps me get started faster, which can make the session more productive. As hard and intense as this may seem, once I get going, the rest falls into place. After the first set, I warm up my hands briefly and switch weights for set number two. , I don't wear gloves unless absolutely necessary.
overheating in the cold
At the end of the first exercise I don't even think about the temperature anymore. It's all about getting ready for the next phase of training and pumping myself up to give everything I've got. Between sets, I sip on my BCAAs and use my phone to check for a new song, podcast, or to snap a photo of something I think might be worth sharing. I also have a timer that is running. Once that timer expires, the phone goes off and the weight goes up.
Fast forward 15 to 20 minutes and we are now on to the next part of the workout. I'm pretty warm at this point and the thermometer is the last thing on my mind. I rub my hands briefly on my hoodie or tuck them in my pockets to keep them warm when I'm not changing barbells or cable grips. People hear that I'm training in these conditions and ask what I think. At this point I don't think I'm going. It's about making the most of my training time because I didn't come this far to get this far.
We're approaching an hour at the halfway point, and for me there's no difference between being in my barn and being in a gym. I'm sweating and breathing like I'm in a nice 68 degree building while the one I'm in is around 35 now. I'm far from done, but it's not going to be done when I think about it.
Finish the job no matter what it takes
As the training progresses, I tell myself that in my job as a writer, I'm reporting on and talking to people who are literally the best in the world at what they do. I've interviewed over 60 different world champions. Many of her photos hang on the walls of this barn, including Arnold's. They got where they were by doing what was necessary. If I want to end this, I must do what is necessary. Yes, it would be easier to stick with the same weights for the next few supersets, but I know I could do a little more if I had to, and the person who texted me this morning wouldn't do less want. I do this for myself too. The whole point for me was to set new personal bests, and half-heartedly it would only hurt my own potential. So I swap the lighter dumbbells for a heavier pair and add more plates to my cable station.
By the end of the practice, almost two hours had passed, but it didn't feel like it. I double checked my log on my phone to make sure I did everything. It's a crazy feeling at the end of these sessions knowing that I've completed the entire workout according to my plan. It feels like a fuzzy feeling. I'm exhausted, but I'm taking a moment to open the doors to let in some fresh air and cool off (yes, you read that right). I enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that I have completed another training session and am one step closer to completing this challenge. Then it hits me. The next step is in five hours. I'd better get something to eat because I'm going to need it. Maybe I can take a nap too. On the other hand, the temperature could climb to 40 by then.
To learn more about my personal Arnold Challenge or to see updates throughout the remaining four weeks, follow me on Instagram @rocklockridge.