How many of us have seen Pumping Iron?
No doubt almost anyone who has been a fan of bodybuilding has watched it at least once.
It’s Bodybuilding 101, and if you’re new to bodybuilding or fitness, find a copy and watch it now. You’ll be glad you did.
For generations, Pumping Iron has inspired millions of people to lift weights and improve their own physiques. There have been images and clips that have been featured all over social media.
Have you ever considered that there are actual lessons that can be taken away from watching the cult classic? It’s true.
After committing myself to watching the movie again (let’s be real, like I needed a reason), here are 11 nuggets of knowledge that can be practiced by anyone looking to improve themselves.
1. Always Strive to be Better
This is the first lesson and we haven’t even gotten to the official opening credits of the movie. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu were two of the top bodybuilders in the world at the time and it could be argued they were THE top two.
Yet they are in a studio with a ballet teacher learning about transitioning between poses so they can perform their routines better onstage. Even the best were trying to be better so we should all follow that lead and look to improve as well.
2. It's All About the Pump
The most famous part of the movie has to be when Arnold is doing concentration curls and is discussing the pump which he compares to something else he is a big fan of. Although the quote was controversial and has been repeated for decades, the pump itself is a sign of a great workout and you should work to achieve it every time you train. Then go after that other thing later.
3. You Need to Focus
It could be argued that Ken Waller was going to win the 1975 Mr. Universe regardless of what Mike Katz was doing because Waller was simply the better man that day. Maybe Katz would’ve finished ahead of Roger Walker or Paul Grant if he would have concentrated on pumping up and preparing to take the stage instead of looking for his T-shirt that Waller allegedly hid from him. (It was revealed years later that Waller didn’t really take the shirt and the segment talking about it was added after the show.)
The lesson here is you should focus on what you’re doing and not get distracted because it could haunt you later.
4. Be a Good Representative
There are a few segments throughout the movie where Arnold is making appearances and doing photo shoots. It was obvious he loved being Mr. Olympia and wanted to be the best ambassador for the sport he could be. Perhaps we should have this same attitude and work to be a better representative for bodybuilding and fitness so others can be inspired and want to follow the sport and industry.
5. When the Wolf Wants the Food, It's There
There has always been this belief that the challenger to a title is hungrier than the champion who holds it. When the bodybuilders are relaxing at the beach, one of them advises Arnold that “the wolf on the hill isn’t as hungry as the wolf climbing the hill.” Without missing a beat, Arnold retorts, “he’s not as hungry but when he wants the food it’s there.”
In other words, Lou might want the title but not as bad as Arnold wanted to keep it. The lesson here is make sure you want the goal and are obsessed with making it yours. Otherwise you may not like the results.
6. Push Yourself
The big training segment has got to be one of the most intense and inspiring part of the film because it’s showing how bad they want it. Lou doing drop sets on barbell curls, Arnold banging out rep after rep of T-Bar Rows, and of course Ed Corney’s memorable set of 11 reps with 315 on squats with Arnold cheering him on.
Each bodybuilder was giving their all on every set because they wanted to be the best the day they took the stage. Then Arnold talks about how the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th reps were what separated the champions from those “not being a champion.”
7. Having a Partner Helps
There were several scenes where it showed two of the stars pushing each other. Arnold with Ed Corney on the squats or Franco at Muscle Beach bench pressing were two examples. Lou’s family was right there with him clanging and banging in the gym back in New York. Although bodybuilding is an individual sport in terms of competition, almost all of them trained with each other as partners. Having a partner obviously pushed them to do more reps and helped provide a spot when necessary which made the set safer.
8. Confidence is Key
Arnold was confident to say the least, but that was what it took for him to win. Arnold was announced as the winner on the evening of the Olympia Finals, but you can argue he had Lou Ferrigno beat the morning of the show when Arnold joked about Lou needing another month. The look on his face after that statement showed a lack of confidence and could be seen as a sign of defeat.
Regardless of whether you want to be a competitive bodybuilder or not, having confidence in your own abilities is crucial if you want to succeed in reaching your goals.
9. Be Careful Who You get your "Advices" From
As the competition draws closer, Arnold talks about how if Lou was in shape or even in better shape than himself, he would take him to a room and “help him”. He then goes on to talk about giving his friend Franco “the wrong advices.”
During an interview in South Africa, Arnold shares a story about how he tricked another bodybuilder getting ready for the Mr. Munich by telling him to scream during his presentation and it would really wow the judges. It wowed them all right and Arnold shares that they “threw him out” as a result of his vocal showing. Whether Arnold actually would resort to those tactics or not, the takeaway is be careful who you ask for advice and make sure it’s in your best interest.
10. Posing Should be a Priority
Bodybuilders in particular need to pay strict attention to the prejudging segment of the Olympia where the lightweight athletes are being compared and going through their individual routines. Franco is posing at one point with Arnold, Danny Padilla, and Robby Robinson watching on and they are amazed by Franco’s back. Then Ed Corney is up who was considered one of the greatest posers of all time. After he’s finished, Arnold looks at the cameraperson and says “that, now THAT is posing.”
The heavyweights are up next and you will notice that they take their time and hold each pose. Nowadays bodybuilders move too quickly during their individual routines and you can’t really appreciate the physique that’s being showcased. If you’re someone who wants to compete, follow what obviously worked for the greats in the movie and hold your poses so the judges and fans can see what you’ve worked so hard to build and create for the show.
11. Block out Negativity
Arnold talks about this in detail during one clip of the interview he did for the movie. He uses the example of if his car was stolen how he would handle it because he cuts his emotions off to focus on the task at hand. Which for “the Oak” was to win the Olympia. He also talks about following this same creed when his dad died and how he didn’t go home for his funeral. (This is another segment that was shared years later as being false as his dad actually died during a time Arnold wasn’t preparing for a show in 1972.)
Regardless of whether his examples were true or not, the lesson remains the same and should be followed in your own pursuit of excellence. Stay positive and block out negative forces in your own pursuit of personal excellence.
Now that you’ve seen these lessons of knowledge that can be applied from the 1977 docudrama, you should go watch the movie and see if you can find any more nuggets of information that can be shared. If you do, share them in the comments below.