Arnold Schwarzenegger Shares Tip for Staying Motivated in the Gym

As the winner of no fewer than seven Mr. Olympia titles, champion bodybuilder turned action star Arnold Schwarzenegger has proven that it is possible to keep up with your gym goals over a decades-long career, no matter how packed your schedule. And in a recent edition of his newsletter, he revealed one of the lesser-known secrets that have helped him and others stay committed to their workouts.

“I’ll be honest. Sometimes when I started lifting weights, the goal of being Mr. Austria or Mr. Europe wasn’t enough for me,” he wrote. “Those were motivations to be ripped for the contest. What about the rest of the year? I wanted to show up at the lake in Thal and have the girls say, ‘Look at your muscles.’ I also wanted to prove to the teacher who told me I was a Neanderthal who would be a total failure in life that he was wrong. Every time I got on the tram to go to the stadium in Graz, I saw him telling me I’d never amount to anything. I saw the girls who would show up at the lake the next summer and be shocked at my biceps.”

Spite, Schwarzenegger explained, can be one heck of a motivator. In fact, it’s not at all uncommon to use the negative comments you’ve received in the past as fuel. “Absurd goals have driven people since the beginning of time,” he continued. “Michael Jordan became the greatest basketball player of all time because he wanted to prove the coach that cut him in high school wrong.”

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In 2019, the author and critic Roxane Gay wrote about the power of having a nemesis in igniting your own productivity. Schwarzenegger applies the same principles to life in general. While it might feel selfish or small-minded to center revenge or attention in the pursuit of your goals, it’s ultimately about whatever works in the short-term, while you’re building the habits that will benefit you in the long run.

“You migth have heard these types of things called petty before,” he said. “They’re not petty—they’re kindling. You never light a fire by starting with the biggest log. You start with some little stuff, some petty stuff, really. Normally it takes some newspaper and small sticks to start a fire. That becomes the fuel that grows it. I want to give you permission to have a motivation, a reason, that you would never say to anyone but yourself. As long as it fuels you, that is all that matters. Embrace it.”

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Philip Ellis is News Editor at Men’s Health, covering fitness, pop culture, sex and relationships, and LGBTQ+ issues. His work has appeared in GQ, Teen Vogue, Man Repeller and MTV, and he is the author of Love & Other Scams.

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