Former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will be hosting a strongman event on the Santa Monica Pier on Saturday, Jan. 19, with the ticket and merchandise proceeds benefiting Ventura County, Santa Monica and CalFire Benevolent funds.

The Arnold Strongman USA Competition will be the first Arnold Sports event held in L.A. and will see 10 of the strongest athletes from around the world competing. In addition, it will see local firefighters compete to be “World's Strongest Firefighter.”

Schwarzenegger will host alongside Matt Iseman (American Ninja Warrior), and guests include Thor Bjornsson (the Mountain in Game of Thrones). We spoke to the former governor about all of this and more.

L.A. WEEKLY: While you were focusing on acting and then politics, were you always maintaining an interest in strongman competition?
ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: Like many people, I always admired strong men, powerful men. That’s why I got into weightlifting when I was a kid. And I don’t believe in subtracting, I only believe in adding to my life. So as I have started new careers, in Hollywood and in politics, I never, ever walked away from fitness or gave up my interest in the sport. In 1975, when I retired from bodybuilding, I wanted to lift up the entire sport, and I’ve been on a fitness crusade ever since. I did seminars, I wrote books, we made movies like Pumping Iron. I started organizing events in 1976 with my partner, Jim Lorimer, and we have slowly grown the Arnold Sports Festival from a one-day bodybuilding event in Columbus, Ohio, to the biggest sports festival in the world. Today, in Ohio, we draw 200,000 spectators to watch 22,000 athletes competing in 80 sports. We’ve expanded to five continents. I have always maintained my interest in promoting fitness for everyone.

But somehow, I have never brought the Arnold Sports Festival to L.A. When we started planning the Arnold Strongman USA, I knew it had to be here, at the pier, right next to the original Muscle Beach. People don’t realize that right next to the pier, there was a fitness festival every day with people doing gymnastics and lifting and all kinds of feats of strength. So we will honor that history.

It's wonderful that the money will be going to the Ventura County, Santa Monica and CalFire Benevolent funds — was that your idea?
The final, and most important, rule in my motivational speeches is to give something back, and this year after the terrible fire season that we had, I thought it would be a great idea to help out the firefighters and give the city of Santa Monica a fantastic event that we hope to repeat every year. We wanted to support our local firefighters in Santa Monica and Ventura County, and I’ve always been a big supporter of CalFire, so it was a natural fit. When I was governor, I traveled to so many fires, and I was always blown away that we have the bravest and the best firefighters in the world. At one point when I was governor, there were 2,000 fires burning at once around the state — and they were still up to the job. And let me tell you, I visited Paradise last year, and I saw these firefighters working 24-hour shifts and then volunteering to give out turkeys to the residents of Paradise in their off time. I met firefighters who had lost their own homes but instead of dealing with their problems, they were protecting others. If they can be that selfless, donating the proceeds from this event is the least we can do. 

Also, the firefighters competition — is that new this year? A way to honor the work that the firefighters did in 2018?
The firefighters competition was a fun idea that we had to pump them up and give them a chance to shine in front of the crowd. They deserve it after the amazing work they did over the past year, the work they always do. If you want to talk about strength, these firefighters are so strong. They’re carrying almost 100 pounds of gear, running up ladders, carrying people away from danger. We know they’re strong, they have endurance, and they can work 24 hours straight without sleeping. To me, they’re just as impressive as professional athletes. I want to put the spotlight on them so that everyone can see how amazing they are.  

Do you have any tips for the competitors, or maybe for people considering getting involved in strongman competition?
If I were to give advice to those interested in becoming involved in the sport of strongman, I would start by saying competing like this is not everyone’s cup of tea. But all of us can watch them and be inspired. If you want to get started, I will say what I always say to anyone who wants to start a new journey in fitness, “Reps, reps, reps.” If you don’t put in the work, if you don’t do the reps, you won’t be able to accomplish your goals. The more reps you do, the more likely you are to succeed. And that goes for every part of life, whether it is lifting a fire truck or learning a new language or acting or getting good grades.

I have no advice for the competitors, because I have never in my life lifted things as heavy as they have. Just to give you an idea — my best dead lift was 715 pounds. On Saturday, these guys will start their dead lifts at 700 pounds and work up to 1,100 pounds. My best is their warmup. They are a different kind of animal, almost superhuman. 

What else do you have going on in 2019?
It’s a big year. We just launched our Fair Maps Incubator last week at my USC Schwarzenegger Institute to help fight gerrymandering, the 200-year-old practice of politicians picking their voters instead of voters picking their politicians by drawing horrible district lines, all over the country. We won in five states in 2018 and now one-third of districts will be drawn by commissions instead of politicians, and we want to keep winning in other states. So that’s at the top of my list.

I’m also continuing to advocate for clean energy all over the world. We have to stop polluting, because 7 million people die every year around the world from pollution, and that is unacceptable.

And I’ll continue my fitness crusade, with the Arnold Sports Festivals and also with Ladder, the company I just launched with LeBron [James], Cindy Crawford and Lindsey Vonn. I will continue promoting after-school programs through After-School All-Stars because I know so many kids have no safe and nurturing place to continue to learn and grow after school. I’ll be filming a movie in the middle of the year. And in November, the new Terminator comes out.

Luckily, I’m a machine. But truly, I’m the luckiest man in the world, because one day I can be working for political reform, one day I can be filming a movie, and the next day I can be hosting a strongman contest to benefit the firefighters. Only in America.

Arnold Strongman USA takes place at noon on Saturday, Jan. 19, at Santa Monica Pier. Get tickets here.

Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting LA Weekly and our advertisers.