When you see the famous clips and videos of Arnold Schwarzenegger clanging and banging in “Pumping Iron,” it’s summertime in Venice Beach, CA. There are moments you can see him on the beach, in the ocean, or getting some sun as he prepares to defend his Mr. Olympia title.
It’s quite the contrast from my settings. I started this venture in January 2023, and it will conclude in February. It’s the middle of winter in my home state of West Virginia, and I’m not in Gold’s Gym or any other gym for that matter. I’m in my barn grinding out superset after superset for anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours at a time.
These mornings start with a warm breakfast because it will be the last warm thing I feel for a while. As I enter Week 3 of The Arnold Challenge, I’ve lost 11 pounds on the scale, and I’m noticing improvements in my strength and endurance. I’m getting ready to train chest and back on this morning. If you’ve subscribed to Arnold’s newsletter, or you’ve seen any of his past features in the old issues of FLEX or M&F, then you’ve seen this workout and know what I am in for. Not looking for sympathy here because I signed up for this on my own.
Time to Chill
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 train when it’s that cold. I also must make sure my layers are loose, so I have an adequate amount of range of motion. Arnold made the most of his movements when he was the reigning champion of the world. This isn’t just about doing the exercises. I must use form as close to his as possible.
While I’m getting ready, my mind is running at full speed already. I don’t try to put extra pressure on myself because that could be counterproductive, but let’s be real about this: I’m sharing this journey with the world every time I post on social media, or you read one of these installments of the series. Earlier that morning, I had received a very kind message. The person said that he was inspired by what I was doing and cheering me on to the finish. Someone I never laid eyes on from a place I only saw on TV and the internet is inspired by this. There is no room for taking a set off. I’m sipping my preworkout, I do my abs and stretch in the house before making the 200-foot walk over to the barn. This helps make the challenge a little easier. Then, it’s go time.
I always end each day by preparing for the next morning’s workout. This helps me get started faster which can make the session more productive. As tough and intense as this may appear to be, once I get going, the rest falls into place. After the first set, I warm up my hands briefly and change weights for set number two. No, I don’t wear gloves unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Overheating in the Cold
By the end of the first exercise, I’m not even thinking about the temperature anymore. It’s just about setting up for the next phase of the training and pumping myself up to give this all I got. Between sets, I sip my BCAAs and check my phone for a new song, podcast, or to take a pic of something that I think could be worth sharing. I have a timer that is running as well. As soon as that timer goes off, the phone goes down and the weight goes up.
Fast forward 15 to 20 minutes and we’re now in the next portion of the workout. I’m plenty warm at this point and the thermometer is the last thing on my mind. I briefly rub my hands against my hoodie or place them in my pockets to keep them warm when I’m not swapping dumbbells or changing cable handles. People hear that I train in these conditions, and they ask what I’m thinking. By this point, I’m not thinking, I’m going. It’s all about making the most out of the time I’m training because I didn’t come this far to get this far.
By the halfway point, we’re closing in on one hour, and to me, there’s no difference between being in my barn and being in a gym. I’m sweating and breathing as if I’m in a nice 68-degree building when the one I am actually in is around 35 by now. I’m far from done, but it won’t get done thinking about it.
Finish the Work, No Matter What It Takes
As the workout progresses, I tell myself that in my job as a writer, I cover and talk to people that are literally the best in the world at what they do. I’ve interviewed over 60 different world champions. Many of their photos hang on the walls of this barn, including Arnold’s. They got where they were by doing whatever it took. If I’m going to finish this, I have to do whatever it takes. Yeah, it would be simpler to stick with the same weights for these next supersets, but I know I could do a little more if I had to, and that person that messaged me that morning would want nothing less. I am also doing this for myself. The whole point of me taking this on was to achieve new personal bests and half-assing 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 workout, it’s been nearly two hours, 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 to know I did the entire workout on my plan, It feels like a blur. I’m exhausted, but I take a moment to open the doors to let some fresh air in and cool off (yes, you read that right). I enjoy the satisfaction of knowing I did yet another workout and am one step closer to fulfilling this challenge. Then, it hits me. The next step is in five hours. I had better get some food because I’m going to need it. Maybe I can sneak in a nap, too. On the upside, the temperature may rise to 40 by then.
If you want to see more about my personal Arnold Challenge or to see updates throughout the rest of the four weeks, follow me on Instagram @rocklockridge.