When you see Arnold Schwarzenegger’s famous music videos and videos thumping and banging in “Pumping Iron,” it’s summertime in Venice Beach, California. There are times you can catch him on the beach, in the ocean, or soaking up some sun as he prepares to defend his Mr. Olympia title.
It’s quite the contrast to my settings. I started this adventure in January 2023 and it will end 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 for that matter. I’m in my barn grinding superset after superset for 90 minutes to two hours at a time.
These mornings start with a hot breakfast because that will be the last thing I feel for a while. As I enter 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 train chest and back this morning. If you are a subscriber to Arnold’s newsletter, or have seen any of his old articles in past issues of FLEX or M&F, then you’ve seen this workout and know what to expect. I’m not looking for sympathy here because I signed up myself.
It’s time to relax
As I prepare for the first practice of the day, it’s 28 degrees outside and in my barn. It is not heated and I use solar lamps to see. It takes three layers of clothing to train when it’s so cold. I also need to make sure my layers are loose, so I have the proper 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 have to use a form as close as possible to his.
As I prepare, my mind is already racing. I’m not trying to put extra pressure on myself because it might be counterproductive, but let’s be real: I’m sharing this journey with the world every time I post on social media, or you read any of these series episodes. Earlier in the morning, I had received a very nice message. The person said he was inspired by what I was doing and cheered me on until the end. Someone I’ve never seen from a place I’ve only seen on TV and the internet was inspired by it. There is no room to take a start. I sip my pre-workout, do my abs, and stretch around the house before doing the 200-foot walk to the barn. This helps make the challenge a little easier. Then it’s gone.
I always end each day by preparing for training the next morning. It helps me get started faster, which can make the session more productive. As difficult and intense as it may seem, once I get started, the rest falls into place. After the first set, I briefly warm up my hands and switch weights for set number two. No, I don’t wear gloves unless absolutely necessary.
Overheating when cold
At the end of the first exercise, I don’t even think about the temperature anymore. It’s just about getting ready for the next phase of training and motivating myself to give it my all. Between sets, I sip my BCAAs and check my phone for a new song, a podcast, or to snap a photo of something I think might be worth sharing. I also have a running timer. As soon as this timer goes off, the phone breaks down and the weight increases.
Fast forward 15-20 minutes and we are now on to the next part of the workout. I’m pretty hot at this point and the thermometer is the last thing on my mind. I briefly rub my hands against my hoodie or stuff them in my pockets to keep them warm when I’m not changing dumbbells or cable grips. People hear that I train under these conditions, and they ask me what I think. At this point I don’t think I will. It’s about making the most of the time I train because I haven’t come this far to go this far.
Halfway through, we get closer to an hour, and for me, there’s no difference between being in my barn and being in a gym. I sweat and breathe like I’m in a nice 68 degree building when the one I’m in is actually about 35 right now. I’m far from done, but it won’t do to think about it.
Finish the job, no matter what it takes
As the training progresses, I tell myself that in my work as a writer, I’m covering and talking to people who are literally the best in the world at what they do. I interviewed over 60 different world champions. Many of their pictures hang on the walls of this barn, including Arnold’s. They got to where they were by doing the right thing. If I want to end this, I have to do whatever it takes. Yeah, it would be easier to stick to the same weights for these next supersets, but I know I could do a little more if I had to, and that person who messaged me that morning wouldn’t nothing less. I do it for me too. The whole point of me undertaking this was to achieve new personal bests and to do it halfway 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 practice, it had been almost two hours, but I didn’t feel like it. I double-checked my diary on my phone to make sure I had done everything. It’s a crazy feeling at the end of these sessions to know that I’ve done the entire workout on my plan, it’s like a blur. I’m exhausted, but I take 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’ve done yet another workout and I’m one step closer to completing this challenge. Then it hits me. The next stop is in five hours. I better get some food because I’m going to need it. Maybe I can sneak in a nap, too. On the upside, the temperature can soar to 40 by then.
If you want to know more about my personal Arnold challenge or to see updates throughout the four weeks, follow me on Instagram @rocklockridge.