‘Pumping Iron’ came out in 1977, at a time when body building was still genuinely considered freakish. The world had not yet been sufficiently introduced to Arnold Schwarzenegger, and by extension the kind of action star that he would help popularize during the 80s and 90s.
But perhaps more importantly, ‘Pumping Iron’ continues to inspire countless Americans to head out to the gym or to start an exercise routine, no matter what their goals are. Not everyone can be (or wants to be) Mr. Olympia or Mr. Universe, but everyone can take steps to improve their health and wellness. If you’re looking for a movie with “good” guys and “bad” guys, a family man (Mike Katz) and a lovable underdog (Lou Ferrigno), give it a watch when you get a chance. You won’t be disappointed.
Want humor? It has that, too. When a cocky young man asked Arnold for advice, he had this response:
Eight years ago when some fellow came to me in the gym and said, “I want to win Mr. Munich, you know. And I am a perfect poser and I have a fantastic body and I just want to learn and new posing routine, a new style. Something way out, which nobody expects.”
So I said, “Well, let me see the posing routine you have right now.” Well when the guy took his clothes off and posed for me he looked like nothing, number one. And his posing was bad. So I mean, I think he was just crazy, you know? So I thought, well okay, if he thinks he’s the best poser I’m going to pull a little trick on him. And so that’s what I did.
I told him, I said I have a new posing routine from America. I’m in correspondence with all the best athletes in America, and so on. And I told him that the new thing is he has to scream while he is posing. And he looked at me and said, “Wow, that’s a new idea.” I said, “That will really come off impressive when you go out on stage and scream. People can’t miss you! They will look at you!” …
So I taught him how to scream, you know? […] I taught him how to do it. The higher your arms go up, the higher you make a screaming noise. And the lower your arms come down while you are posing, you know the lower the noise. You know, like, “Aaaaah! Oooooh!” This kind of a thing. Well, I practiced with him for about two hours. I spent a lot of time mastering his new posing routine, and he mastered it very well. He was screaming really loud in the end. The high and low. And he went to the Mr. Munich contest. I told him when he walks out he has to scream loud, too. “Aarrrg!” And so he did, and obviously people were not ready for that at all. So he went out there and screamed loud and went through three or four poses with the loud screaming and they carried him off the stage and then they threw him off the stage. And then threw him out. The guy is totally nuts.
‘Pumping Iron’ even has a few lines that will make you ask yourself, “Did Arnold really say that? Was he lying? Was he telling the truth?” I know the answers to many of those questions … but I won’t ruin it for you. You’ll have to do your homework for scenes like “the pump.”
The greatest feeling you can get in a gym, or the most satisfying feeling you can get in a gym is “the pump.” Let’s say you train your biceps. Blood is rushing into your muscles. And that’s what we call the pump. Your muscles get a really tight feeling like your skin is going to explode any minute. It’s really tight. It just blows up and and it feels different. It feels fantastic.
It’s as satisfying to me as cumming is, you know? As having sex with a woman and cumming. So can you believe how much I am in heaven? I am like getting the feeling of cumming in the gym, I’m getting the feeling of cumming at home, I’m getting the feeling of cumming back stage when I pump up, when I pose out in front of 5,000 people. I get the same feeling. So I am cumming day and night! I mean, it’s terrific, right? So I am in heaven.
With that said, the best parts of the film are the scenes where the athletes talk about training, because their advice is applicable to many disciplines:
The body is not used to maybe the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th rep with a certain weight so that makes the body grow then. Going through this pain barrier. Experiencing pain in your muscles, and aching — and go on and go on and go on — and these last two or three or four repetitions, that’s what actually makes the muscle then grow. And that divides one from a champion from one not being a champion. If you can go through [pain], then you may go on to be a champion. If you can’t go through [pain], then forget it. And that’s what most people lack — is having the guts to go in and says, “I go through, and I don’t care what happens.” It aches, and if I fall down I have no fear of fainting in a gym. Because I know it could happen. I threw up many times while I was working out, but it doesn’t matter because it’s all worth it.”
Boom. That’s life summed up right there, and oddly enough it’s spoken by the guy who said “I am cumming day and night!”
Today we live in a society that avoids pain at all costs. We live in a society that fears pain. It fears a whole lot of things … but it really fears pain. Emotional pain. Physical pain. Economic pain.
The truth is, often times the most spiritual, emotional and physical growth we attain comes from enduring hardship. You make muscle by destroying muscle. You improve your endurance by pushing your limits. The mind almost always gives in before the body. Success often comes from the knowledge we gain through failure. If you aren’t pushing yourself to failure, you aren’t pushing yourself. If you show me a successful person, I will show you a person who has failed many, many times.
I firmly believe the U.S. obesity rate is an outward manifestation of the cultural rot going on inside the minds of millions of Americans. When self-esteem reigns supreme and everyone is afraid of offending the guy next to them, you wind up with a “comfort zone culture.” And when you stay in your comfort zone, you get fat and lazy. Insulated from insults or criticism, always seeking to feel good instead of possibly experiencing pain, the mind and the body and the soul atrophy. What’s left is a life wasted. And it’s sad, because it never has to be that way.
I respect anyone who takes a leap of faith on a new career or a new job, because they’re jumping into the super unknown. There might be a pile of pillows at the bottom, or their might be a load of bricks. I respect anyone who writes, because they offer themselves up to the slings and arrows of complete strangers. Those intellectual battle scars bring with them experience that will serve the writer well in the broader war.
Likewise, I respect anyone who finds an exercise routine that works for them and then sticks to it. The body really is a like a piece of clay. The “you” that you want to see in the mirror is there right now. He stares you in the eye every day. He just responds to hard work. When you put in the time you’ll coax him out. And when you do, you’ll think differently and you’ll act differently and those around you will respond in kind. And you will never again want to go back to your comfort zone.
Don’t trust me? Watch ‘Pumping Iron,’ and hopefully some of the all-time greats of body building will change your mind.
Related: Schwarzenegger’s ‘Six Rules for Success’ are sage advice for all Americans