If You Like Working Out with Weights While Deployed Overseas, You Can Thank Arnold Schwarzenegger

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger drops in on U.S. troops at the Paul Smith gym, Camp Victory, Baghdad, Iraq, Nov. 17, 2009. Schwarzenegger encouraged a soldier while spotting him during a bench press. (U.S. Army/Spc. Amburr Reese)

When people think of George H.W. Bush's time as the president of the United States, they're likely more apt to think of him as a "wimp" (as Newsweek famously labeled him in 1987) rather than a meathead weightlifter. But long before he sat down in the Oval Office, Bush was a believer in strength and resistance training. The only thing the presidency changed was his workout partners -- and that relationship became a huge boon for the fitness of U.S. troops deployed overseas.

In 1990, Bush named actor, bodybuilder and seven-time Mr. Olympia Arnold Schwarzenegger as chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. Schwarzenegger also became his sometime gym buddy in the White House. In the latest episode of the Jocko Podcast, Schwarzenegger reveals how he used that position to get the Bush administration to send proper weights and barbells over to U.S. troops in the Middle East. 

Schwarzenegger's latest book, "Be Useful: Seven Tools for Life" is part memoir and part self-help book. The former governor of California discusses the many roles he's played, both on and off the silver screen, and how his hard work and determination helped him get there and succeed. Becoming chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports is just one of those many roles.

Jocko Willink is a former Navy SEAL, author and corporate leadership consultant. His podcast, the appropriately named Jocko Podcast, talks about all things discipline, hard work and leadership. Clearly, Jocko and Arnold had a lot to talk about, given the episode's two-hour runtime.

Never in the history of fitness has there ever been a bigger evangelist for weight resistance training than Schwarzenegger, for obvious reasons and for some very personal ones, which he discusses at length in "Be Useful." About 37 minutes into his conversation with Jocko, the topic turns to weight training, and how its introduction revolutionized so many areas of fitness, from professional sports to physical rehabilitation. The actor then tells Jocko how the U.S. military began getting into the weight room.

Shortly after becoming head of the White House fitness council, Schwarzenegger and Bush were discussing fitness on a regular basis. Bush, he says, was working out regularly at both Camp David and the White House. During one conversation, Bush expressed concern over an article he'd read in The New York Times, describing how American troops were forced to work out with sandbags because they had no weight training equipment.

"Do you know why they're working out with sandbags?" Schwarzenegger asked Bush. "First of all, because resistance training is good. But the other reason is, you haven't sent them any barbells and dumbbells yet. Do you think they wouldn't rather lift with dumbbells and barbells?"

It seems like an audacious thing to say to the president of the United States, but it worked. Bush's response: "Can you organize that?"

"I said, 'You're talking to the right guy,'" Schwarzenegger recalled.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, then-chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, with President George H.W. Bush. (Courtesy photo)

With Bush's blessing, the actor sought donations from any weight equipment manufacturer that would talk to him -- and America's meathead suppliers responded in true patriotic fashion. He collected some 40 tons of weightlifting gear, which he collected and put in a crate. That prompted a call from the 12th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Colin Powell.

"He says, 'Arnold, I'm not gonna be that stupid and ship this over with a ship, but you never heard that,'" Schwarzenegger told Jocko. "'I'm gonna fly the f*cking thing over there. It's gonna be there in two days.'"

Within three weeks, Schwarzenegger started receiving letters from U.S. troops in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, thanking him for helping procure the weight equipment. But the saga doesn't end with Desert Storm: Schwarzenegger described how he returned to Iraq to visit American troops in 2003 to screen "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines."

"I went to various different places over there to show them the movie," he says. "That's when I saw, all of a sudden: gyms, where they were working out. The craziest thing was when I went back there in 2009, ... I saw gymnasiums that were much bigger than any gymnasium in the world."

Arnold Schwarzenegger with Jocko Willink (left) and podcast co-host Echo Charles. (Arnold Schwarzenegger vis Facebook)

Schwarzenegger described a tent half the size of a football field filled with workout equipment. He specifically mentioned bench-press benches, Life Cycles, Stairmasters and treadmills, but anyone who has visited a gym at a major overseas location knows what Schwarzenegger is really talking about.

"That's when I realized that we have now gotten to the point where there is no fire station that doesn't have weights, no police station that doesn't have weights, no military station that doesn't have weights," Schwarzenegger said. "This is what happened in the period between the '70s and the '90s. It was an explosion in every direction, ... and that was my way of being useful. I believe in this."

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