Arnold Schwarzenegger — Bodybuilding Career, Competition History, and Biography

From his pre-bodybuilding days to his time as Governor of California, learn more about the life of the "Austrian Oak."

People around the world have their own thoughts when they hear the name Arnold Schwarzenegger. Most may know him as the star of blockbusters like Conan the Barbarian and The Terminator series. Some may think of him solely as the Governor of California and an activist for various causes. People who follow strength sports probably remember him best as a bodybuilding icon and fitness advocate for over five decades.

The truth is, Schwarzenegger is all those things — and you can explore his life in greater detail below.

Early Days

Arnold Schwarzenegger was born on July 30, 1947, in Thal, Austria, near the city of Graz. He began training with weights as a teenager thanks to the inspiration of Reg Park, an actor and bodybuilder best known for his role in Hercules films in Europe.

When he turned 18 in 1965, Schwarzenegger had to enlist in the military for a one-year minimum commitment, where he famously left his base once without permission to compete in a bodybuilding contest. (He won.) After his military stint, he focused solely on his strength and sports aspirations.


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Aside from appearing in amateur physique shows in his teens, Schwarzenegger also competed in Olympic lifting and powerlifting meets during his early years. Though he found some success in pure strength events, he really began to build his reputation on the European bodybuilding circuit in the late ’60s.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Rise in Bodybuilding 

Schwarzenegger’s win at the 1967 NABBA Mr. Universe show at 19 years old turned plenty of heads, including that of bodybuilding magazine tycoon Joe Weider, who began featuring the upstart in his publications.

By the start of 1968, the Austrian powerhouse had entered three major contests and won two of them, with his only loss coming to Chet Yorton at the 1966 NABBA Mr. Universe. This momentum made him a favorite to win the 1968 IFBB Mr. Universe, but he lost to the much smaller but far leaner Frank Zane.

Though the loss stung, Schwarzenegger learned that he needed to be more ripped and improve his posing if he wanted to win the biggest titles in the IFBB.

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After rebounding, Schwarzenegger moved to the United States full-time and went on a tear, winning four international titles in 1969 in both the Tall and Overall categories. He made his Mr. Olympia debut that same year, placing second to defending champion Sergio Oliva. That was his third major defeat in bodybuilding — it would also be his last.

An Olympia Dynasty 

In 1970, Schwarzenegger won the NABBA Universe again along with the AAU Mr. World, where he defeated Oliva in a massive upset. This contest was also significant because it’s where he met his longtime business partner Jim Lorimer, who later helped him create the Arnold Sports Festival.

“The Austrian Oak” defeated Oliva again at the 1970 Mr. Olympia, marking his first time winning the biggest prize in the sport. With both the Universe and Olympia in his possession, there was little doubt that the 23-year-old was the top bodybuilder on the planet.

He would compete solely in the Mr. Olympia contest from 1971 until his initial retirement in 1975, winning the title six years in a row. That final year was also the subject of the influential docudrama Pumping Iron, released in 1977.

Following supporting appearances in movies like The Long Goodbye and Stay Hungry, Pumping Iron proved to be the break Schwarzenegger needed to truly get his acting career off the ground. His final pro bodybuilding show came at the 1980 Mr. Olympia, which he won in controversial fashion. This brought his total Olympia count up to seven, a record at the time.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Bodybuilding Competition History

Schwarzenegger stood at a height of 6’1″ and typically weighed around 230 pounds on the stage. His frame was nearly unmatched at the time, leading to more than a dozen contest wins throughout his career. Here’s a look at his competition history, as recorded by Muscle Memory:

  • 1966 Mr. Europe – Winner
  • 1966 NABBA Mr. Universe – Tall, Second Place
  • 1967 NABBA Mr. Universe – Winner
  • 1968 IFBB Mr. Universe – Second Place
  • 1968 NABBA Pro Universe – Winner
  • 1969 IFBB Mr. Europe – Winner
  • 1969 IFBB Mr. International – Winner
  • 1969 IFBB Mr. Olympia – Second Place
  • 1969 IFBB Universe – Winner
  • 1969 NABBA Pro Universe – Winner
  • 1970 IFBB Mr. Olympia – Winner
  • 1970 NABBA Pro Universe – Overall Winner
  • 1970 AAU Mr. World – Winner
  • 1971 IFBB Mr. Olympia – Winner
  • 1972 IFBB Mr. Olympia – Winner
  • 1973 IFBB Mr. Olympia – Winner
  • 1974 IFBB Mr. Olympia – Winner
  • 1975 IFBB Mr. Olympia – Winner
  • 1980 IFBB Mr. Olympia – Winner

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Training Style

In addition to being one of the most successful bodybuilders of all time, Schwarzenegger was also one of the most influential. His book, The Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding (later reprinted and updated as The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding), has been viewed as a bible for the sport for decades. 

He typically employed a high-volume style, training twice a day with two-hour workouts six days a week. He also regularly employed supersets and other intensity-boosting techniques to maximize his workouts. For a look at how Schwarzenegger trained for a bodybuilding show, check out the arms workout below: 

Impact on Hollywood and Beyond

After his seventh and final Mr. Olympia win, Schwarzenegger began building himself up as a true Hollywood heavyweight. This era was highlighted by starring roles in Conan the Barbarian and The Terminator, but he had a long string of other box office hits throughout the ‘80s, including Predator, Commando, Raw Deal, and more. 

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That success only increased in the ‘90s, with movies like 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day and 1994’s True Lies earning $520 million and $379 million worldwide, respectively. In all, his movies combined for more than $4 billion at the worldwide box office, according to estimates.

Despite turning his attention to Hollywood and other business ventures, Schwarzenegger always kept his finger on the pulse of bodybuilding and fitness. He, along with Lorimer, began promoting shows in the 1980s, eventually creating the Arnold Classic in 1989, which became bodybuilding’s second biggest contest. That would evolve into the larger Arnold Sports Festival that we know today.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Politics

After officially becoming a U.S. citizen in 1983, Schwarzenegger got more involved in the American political scene. He supported then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan by appearing in an anti-drug music video in 1985. Then, in 1991, U.S. President George H.W. Bush appointed him as the Chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports (now known as the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition), a position he held until 1993.


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His interest in politics came to a head in 2003 when California Governor Joseph “Gray” Davis faced a special recall election that asked voters if they wanted him removed from office with a simple yes or no vote. But that was only one part of the ballot — the second part asked voters to choose his replacement.

It was open season on Davis’ gubernatorial seat, and Schwarzenegger was among the many hopefuls who threw his hat into the ring as a potential replacement.

When the votes were tallied, 55.4% of voters agreed that Davis should be removed from office. Amazingly, Schwarzenegger was officially named as Davis’ replacement with 48.58% of the vote. The seven-time Mr. Olympia champion served as the 38th governor of California as a member of the Republican party from 2003 until 2011.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Children and Family Life

Schwarzenegger was married to Maria Schriver — herself a member of the Kennedy family — throughout his tenure as governor. The two wed in 1986 and went on to have four children:

  • Katherine Schwarzenegger (December 13, 1989)
  • Christina Schwarzenegger (July 23, 1991)
  • Patrick Schwarzenegger (September 18, 1993)
  • Christopher Schwarzenegger (September 27, 1997)

Schwarzenegger and Schriver separated in 2011 following the revelation that Schwarzenegger had fathered a son, Joseph Baena, with a member of their household staff. The divorce was finalized in 2021, with Schwarzenegger saying it was “amicable.”

Baena was born on October 7, 1997, and has since forged a positive relationship with Schwarzenegger. He has even gravitated toward his father’s workout lifestyle. 

Arnold Schwarzenegger Now

Schwarzenegger returned to Hollywood after his time as governor, appearing in films like The Expendables 2, The Last Stand, and Terminator: Dark Fate. He maintained his commitment to bodybuilding and fitness through his partnership with Lorimer and was inducted into the inaugural class of the International Sports Hall of Fame in 2012. 

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In 2023, Schwarzenegger expanded his fitness crusade by creating a daily email newsletter for subscribers and launching his “Arnold’s Pump Club” app. He also joined the cast of the Netflix series FUBAR and is the subject of a three-part documentary, simply titled Arnold, set to release on June 7, 2023.

Even if Schwarzenegger does nothing else, he’s already left a legacy that will be remembered for generations to come. That said, he’d likely tell you that he’s far from finished.

Featured Image: aminuddin amex on Shutterstock