How to Build Something From Nothing And Be #1 at it (the Arnold Effect)

Last week I told you. . .Arnold effect

. . .That megastars aren’t just supported by the crowd.

Except for their elite skill and their entertainment value, there is another a reason they’ve have risen meteorically, and it’s because. . .

. . .They’ve been helped by  big industry influencers, businessmen, and teams of marketers.

This is how megastars like George St-Pierre (MMA) and Magnus Carlsen (chess) have become so immensely popular. Now, why would these marketers and other people help them out?

Because, they’re ordered to by the industry big shots.

And these industry big shots want — and need — as many poster boys as they can find. So that they can grow the market of that industry. And why do you think they want to do that?

Well, obviously, so that they can earn more money.

In other words, it’s not an act of generosity.

There’s a strong incentive there.  For example, George St-Pierre has definitely been one of the main driving forces behind pushing the UFC into the mainstream.

He’s been the perfect poster boy for the kind of image that the UFC has wanted to portray in order to be respected and accepted into the mainstream.

Because GSP has been the perfect martial artist gentleman, always acting politely and sportsmanlike.

And in chess, they’re hoping that Magnus Carlsen can do the same thing, and bring it into the mainstream. . .

. . .Because that’s where the big money is.

And the reason I tell you this is because this is what we’re going to look at today. We’re going to examine someone who brought an obscure sport into the mainstream, and in doing so, helped build a multibillion dollar industry.

We’re going to look at how. . .

Arnold Schwarzenegger Made Bodybuilding Big


To hell with it. We’re either going to be #1 or #2 in every field we’re in or we’re going to be out.

–Jack Welch

This is what how Arnold Schwarzenegger thought, from a very early age. He quickly decided he was going to be the best — and he wouldn’t settle for anything less.

Arnold was an athletically talented teenager. He considered going pro in soccer or swimming. But ultimately, he didn’t do it. Because he didn’t think he could become the best at it.

He didn’t think he had the best physique for those sports, plus he thought that the competition was too tough.  So Arnold chose bodybuilding instead. Because he believed it was a better fit for his body.

Even though bodybuilding was a very small sport at the time, with little money and fame, Arnold didn’t care that much.

And this is key.

Because it’s a mindset you’ll see among many ultra-successful people. They’d rather build something of their own — no matter how much work it takes — than following a lane created by someone else.

Most people don’t think like this. They’re afraid of trying new things.

Unless the thing is safe, and has been proven to work by someone else, most people won’t do it. Especially when it comes to something like their choice of career.

Most people’s mindset: “I’ll wait until someone else does it, see how it goes, then make a decision.”

Arnold’s mindset: “By being an early adopter I’m given seizing the opportunity to get ahead, and become the best!”

And Arnold did become the best, and he did make a ton of money in the process.

But how did he do it? What principles did he follow? What is the Arnold Effect?

To explain these things, I think it’s best we start from. . .

The Beginning

When Arnold was 20, he flew to England to compete for the title of Mr. Universe, but he came in at second place. At first, he was devastated.

But soon, things brightened up. For Arnold met some very influential people in the bodybuilding industry who were impressed by him.

One of those people was Charles Bennett, a judge at the competition. Bennett let Arnold stay with him in England — for free. He also coached him and gave him (lots of) free food.

With the help of Bennett, and some other people, Arnold went on to win the title of Mr. Universe in his next competition.

Then he went to Germany where he studied business, worked out (and coached) for several hours per day in the gym, in preparation for his next Mr. Universe competition. How was Arnold able to balance all these things at the same time?

With some damn dedication. . .

. . . Combined with a cocktail of steroids.

When Arnold was 21 years old he moved to the U.S and started working with Joe Weider — who was the top dog in the bodybuilding and fitness industry.

It was at this point, when Arnold moved to the U.S, that his road to megastardom started. And it was also now that his entrepreneurial talent started shining through.

Because over the coming years he started a couple of businesses of his own. One of those businesses sold fitness and bodybuilding products. This would turn out to be a very smart idea some years later.

Arnold effect

Arnold showed himself to be a savvy businessman and he made his first million dollar around age 30. Not from bodybuilding, but from real estate.

He kept up his hectic schedule consisting of working out for competitions, running his businesses, and attending college.

It was now that Arnold’s big break came — thanks to his. . .

Talent For Marketing And Promotion

Which he used to attract lots of attention to the documentary Pumping Iron in 1977.

Thanks to the success of Pumping Iron, Arnold was able to kill two birds with one stone: He furthered his career as an upcoming actor, and he helped grow the bodybuilding industry.

Arnold’s actually a lot more intelligent than people think he is . .

. . .For example, when I was on exchange in Canada,  I had this course in marketing. A guy who I was doing a team assignment with — a guy who was considered smart, and was a straight-A student — told me:

“Dude, Arnold Schwarzenegger is an idiot. He doesn’t know anything except how to flex his biceps and take steroids. He’s a stupid Neanderthal.”

I asked the guy, “How do you suppose he became so successful then?”

And, of course, I didn’t get a good answer back.

(The answer I got was: “Well, uh, he took steroids!”)

That just goes to show that lot of people who are considered smart really aren’t. For some reason, this guy couldn’t get over the “stupid bodybuilder” stereotype.

But anyway, how did Arnold become so successful?

Through his skillful promotion of Pumping Iron. And the reason he was able to do this was because he knew something very important about human nature. . .

. . .That it’s not enough to be great at what you do (though I wouldn’t call Arnold a great actor).

You also have to create a bit of shock-and-awe. You’ve gotta entertain people. And Arnold’s is great at that.

Yes, shock-and-awe. That’s the best way of describing the marketing strategy for Pumping Iron.

What did Arnold do?

For starters, he had to make bodybuilding seem interesting to outsiders who didn’t understand the lifestyle, the sport, or the culture that revolved around it.

The following quote is from a clip where Arnold talks about the movie.

“The greatest feeling you can get in the gym, or the most satisfying feeling you can get in the gym is the pump…..It’s as satisfying to me as coming is. You know, as having sex with a woman and coming.

So can you believe how much I am in heaven? I am like getting the feeling of coming in the gym, I’m getting the feeling of coming at home, I’m getting the feeling of coming backstage when I pump up, when I pose off in front of 5000 viewers I get the same feeling.

So I am coming day and night! I mean, that’s terrific, right? Haha, so you know, I’m in heaven!


Arnold made bodybuilding and gym-going seem cool by comparing it to having sex. How did that go?

It went pretty damn well.

Imagine how awesome that must’ve sounded to the people who didn’t know what it was like. . .

. . .When you go to the gym and lift heavy weights — and you get to experience “the pump” — AND IT’S AS ENJOYABLE AS HAVING AN ORGASM!

Who wouldn’t want to go to the gym after hearing that?

So, yes, that got a lot of attention.

And then there’s something else to consider: Nowadays, the things Arnold said in that clip just sound a little funny, but to say those things back in 1977 was extremely controversial.

And it was remarkable enough for people to spread the word and start talking. . .

. . .Talking about Arnold, talking about the movie, and most importantly, talking about the bodybuilding scene.

And this resulted in a dramatic spike of interest for bodybuilding and gym-going, among people in the mainstream. It didn’t take long until it became a trend.

And when that happened, Arnold began spending plenty of time educating and informing people in the mainstream about the lifestyle, the sport, and the products.

And what do you think happened after that?

The fitness and bodybuilding industry grew massively.

And here’s the key point:

Since Arnold was the most famous bodybuilder, and had a large stake in the industry — which he had helped build — he was now fast becoming a big time celebrity. And he was able to use his new-found fame as an asset for:

  1. Skyrocketing his acting career and,
  2. Making a ton of money in the fitness and bodybuilding industry

This is how Arnold became a bodybuilding megastar, and started making serious money.

He was able to do this because he helped build and promote an industry where he was high man on the totem pole.

He didn’t do this overnight, it happened over the course of ca 10 years. But when it did happen — as Arnold had bet it would — he was in a strategic position thanks to having invested a lot of time getting there.

This is the Arnold Effect. And it is what you should take away from studying his success. . .

. . . Because you can do the same thing, in some niche of your own. Lots of people are doing it in different variations.

It’s especially common among artists; musicians, moviemakers, and authors. But the Arnold effect can be applied to just about any niche. Here’s how:

  • You find some niche where you have the potential to become one of the best and most reputable people
  • If you can’t find any niche like that, perhaps you can create your own? This is now done by lots of people on the Internet who think outside the box.
  • You get in early before there’s too much competition. To improve your odds of success.
  • You put in the time. . . and build your strategic position by creating some kind of long-term asset. Perhaps a niche-related business.
  • Finally, you cooperate with other people in the same niche to grow the market and make it popular in the mainstream. You do this via marketing, entertainment, and education. Like how Arnold made Pumping Iron happen.

The best-case long-term scenario is that you become a megastar poster boy (or girl) for your niche, with the help of industry big shots.

And since you’ve put in the time to build a strategic position in that particular niche, you’ll be able to earn an increasing amount of money as the market for the niche grows. . .

. . .And more importantly, this will allow you to keep making money long after your niche-related talent dies out. As is often the case for professional athletes.

And so, taking into account the three previous articles, we can sum up some different strategies for long-term success. If you:

  • Have a talent + develop supplemental activities = Become elite at anything
  • Get into a niche early + become the best at it + build a strategic position + grow that niche + educate and inform the mainstream = Cash out using The Arnold Effect

And when you decide to use the Arnold Effect, remember that you’re taking a risk.

But, then again, you’re always taking risks.

When you get on a bus you’re betting your life on the assumption that the driver won’t do something crazy, like driving off a cliff.

But you still get on that bus.

Because if you don’t you’re not getting to your destination.

So you do it anyway because you know that. . .

. . .Where there is no risk there is no reward.

Photo credit:

Flickr: 1, 2,



  1. Thank you Ludvig for another awesome post.

    It makes me curious how do you break down this things and how do you choose the stuff you want to break down?

    Anyway great stuff.

    Arnold kicks ass and your approval is not needed., hehe.

    Take care and keep being a machine!

  2. I really don’t get how people can fail to respect what Schwarznegger accomplished and put it down to him just being a dumb bodybuilder or taking steroids. The guy went into a country that wasn’t his, a culture he didn’t belong to, and over several decades has successfully applied himself to 3 or 4 different domains – bodybuilding, business, the movie industry, politics. The thing I love most about him is he doesn’t limit himself. He doesn’t allow himself to be defined by a given context – whether it’s where he’s from or what he does. He’s always open to the next thing, to change, to trying new stuff. He believes who he is can fit anywhere. It’s a lesson more of us could do with getting hold of.

  3. I agree with Dubiousvalue, that Arnold is far from the perfect role model. I would not switch places with him. Money and career is not enough to compensate the lack of self mastery.

    I like the idea for your niche Ludvig.
    I have my own (niche and idea). After reading this post I realized that my present course of action is exactly “The Arnold Effect”.
    No one was really interested about it when I came up with it, so I decided to develop it on my own.

  4. I remember the film “pumping iron”. Really great and inspirational guy. I’m just about to read “Total Recall” now. Thanks for the article.

  5. I love that Arnold clip because of the audacity of that comment. He just wanted to make an outrageous comment to troll people and get them talking about the movie, and it worked.

    Arnie trolled a lot of people in those days, and he knew exactly what he was doing. A true marketing genius.

  6. I so love Arnold! His autobiography is full of gold nuggets of wisdom.
    And by the way, Ludvig, it looks like the pieces you write get better every time! Never ever stop!

  7. While being an interesting read(didnt know much about Arnold Schwarzenegger) i think this is horrible advice.

    If everyone did this and acted so selfishly there would be serious problems, not just for those people, but for the entire economy i am sure.

    • Hey Emma-May.

      There’s nothing selfish about being an entrepreneur — if that’s what you mean. No one gets rich without improving the world for other people. Well, nearly no one. Arnold didn’t.

  8. MR. VEINS says:

    The first step to doing anything is to fuck fear and just do it.

    Arnold is one of the top examples of this.

  9. Dubiousvalue says:

    Your articles are swinging in a Tim Ferris arc – it upsets me. The style is becoming more egotistical, less matter-of-fact, and more promotional.
    Mr. Schwarzenegger is a man of limited self-control; while he has found commercial success, he is a man of bad character. He is a notorious rake, and clearly his methods to obtain success were largely shameless.
    As an admirer of the Stoics, I am surprised that you choose to feature a man who applies his considerable energies to gross excess.

    • Hey there,

      I’m not sure what you mean.

      What do you mean by:

      –“swinging in a Tim Ferris arc”?

      –“more promotional.” -> What am I promoting? I have no product.

      “Mr. Schwarzenegger is a man of limited self-control”

      –What are you referring to?

      “clearly his methods to obtain success were largely shameless.”

      –Seems to me like you’re choosing to only see the negative side of it.

      “As an admirer of the Stoics, I am surprised that you choose to feature a man who applies his considerable energies to gross excess”

      –Sure, I admire the Stoics. But I don’t treat it like a religion.

      • Dubiousvalue says:

        He is a well-documented letcher, adulterer, and liar.
        What I’m saying is that there is a difference between victory as a barbarian and victory as a person of reason, dignity, and virtue.
        The heart of Stoic philosophy is the belief that we should distance our response to base impulses.

      • “What I’m saying is that there is a difference between victory as a barbarian and victory as a person of reason, dignity, and virtue”

        In practical terms, what is that difference? Arnold Schwarzenegger, as a bodybuilder, actor, /and/ as a politician, stuck to competitive fields. You’re not going to take the city without lobbing a few heads. That’s the nature of what he did.

        As for Mr. Schwarzenegger being a letcher or whatever, the fact is that as a letcher he has contributed more to society than almost anybody else has regardless of personal virtue. Somebody as concerned with moral purity as you are would probably be better off focusing on themselves, don’t you think?

  10. Martigan says:

    Arnold is a Damn role model. Just to imagine that he came from a tough childhood and bad family iand came to US and made the American Dream. it is great
    As you say he is a hungry winner

  11. Hi Ludvig,

    I completely agree with you that Arnold is a lot more intelligent than people think. I don’t think it’s just about the size of his success, but also the length of it.

    I think any celebrity who can maintain success for such a long time has more than just a great team behind them – they have intelligence too and understand what the market wants and take the necessarily risks.

    Hence the reason there is so few.

    I guess Madonna is another example of this.

    I almost feels sorry for current celebrities of today’s world, who once they’ve been rinsed for all the the money they can produce they are chucked on the pile. And they are clueless what to do next.

    ‘Intelligent Celebrity’ are two words that don’t really ever go together – that’s why I can’t fucking stand them (they’re normally full of shit!)


    • Hey Naomi,

      “I think any celebrity who can maintain success for such a long time has more than just a great team behind them ”

      — That makes sense.

      I don’t know much about Madonna. But I’m definitely surprised she’s been able — and motivated enough — to stay at the top of the music industry.

      “I almost feels sorry for current celebrities of today’s world, who once they’ve been rinsed for all the the money they can produce they are chucked on the pile. And they are clueless what to do next.”

      — Overnight success / one-hit wonder rappers are a prime example of this!

      • I’m in the middle of “Education of a Bodybuilder”, what a guy! If it’s only about muscles, why was it Arnold and not some random bodybuilder before him? There was plenty of them in America…

      • I would guess because they didn’t have the business savvy and the charisma he did. They didn’t really understand it was — or COULD be — a legit business until Arnold hooked up Pumping Iron.

        Then lots of them tried to get on the wagon. Lou Ferrigno did great job riding that fame he got from the movie, for example.

  12. That’s a good idea Ludvig. I’m following this path of being a big fish in a small pond, as time pass by I can turn little pond into a big lake…


    • Hey Wojciech,

      Me too. Except self-development isn’t a very small pond ;)

      • You seems to have a good “angle” and that’s what it’s about. Also you are methodical about it and that’s a trait of a winner.

        I realized Polish market is too small for me, when the amount of readers of my Polish website started to go down, when I started to create better, more well researched, more “profound”content… Ultimately I want to grow.

        It’s like in “manosphere” I would write a post “25 reasons why feminists are cancer of Western civilization”. and I would get 100.000 hits and 100 comments in a day. But write a post about “getting your shit together'” that took you a week to write… 100 hits and o comments.

      • Thanks man.

        You keep at it. Good things come to those who hustle.

  13. Heathenwinds says:

    So I guess your accidental trilogy has 4 parts now?

    Seriously though, your last 4 posts probably fill in everything that I was missing or unsure about. Let’s all have a beer together when we’re superstars, eh?

  14. Great insights Ludvig. I particularly like the part at the end where you talk about steps and ensuing results…becoming elite and cashing out don’t seem like shabby options :)

    Another point to complement what you have said: The most successful individuals are rarely those who keep a limited presence. What do I mean by this? Simply put, unless an individual engages in avenues such as television or film to increase his visibility/recognition, he is constrained to the (relatively) small group of friends and contacts he builds up himself. That is a path to mediocrity.

    Narendra Modi, India’s new prime minister, has proven to a genius in the art of expansive presence. He used holograms to “appear” in front of audiences in thousands of locations that he could have never visited in person. He built a marketing team that ensured that his first 100 images on Google consisted of a head shot sidelined with pithy quotes and nationalistic references.

    Just something to consider. Great stuff as always; I find it intriguing particularly because I am a student of marketing!

    • Hey Sreyas,

      Great comment. I studied marketing too.

      “The most successful individuals are rarely those who keep a limited presence.”

      –Good point. But I think some people — those who’re charismatic –can use it SO much better than those who have zero charisma/likeability/mystique. This is something I wanted to illustrate with the chess player examples in the last article on megastars.

      Thank you for the great example of Narendra Modi. I am going to study up on him now.

  15. Abgrund says:

    What’s your megastar niche, Ludvig?

    • I don’t have a name for it — it’s more of an idea. I need some catchy name for it.

      But it includes knowing practical things from different disciplines of knowledge.

  16. I read Arnold’s bio and learned a lot from reading it but I definitely did not think about his rise to success from this angle. But it’s a nice explanation for how he made it happen.

    So, I think that it’s basically about doing/finding/grinding away at something you’re good at, while learning how to build an audience, which seems to take a lot of time.

    Not necessarily hard or complex, but time-consuming.

    • Olivia,

      “So, I think that it’s basically about doing/finding/grinding away at something you’re good at, while learning how to build an audience, which seems to take a lot of time. ”

      –Many people believe that, me included.

  17. Good stuff sir!

    I’m going to do for entrepreneurship what Arnold did for weightlifting – coming with everything I do!

  18. The big question of the Arnold Effect is “when do you know that you are an early adopter?”

    And take the plunge.

    • Good question, Mike.

      I guess there are some different ways of getting a sense whether you’re early or not (Google adwords, Google Trends, etc).

      But at the end of the day it’s about gut feeling.

  19. Man! Arnold is the effing man! Did not know he did all of that I just thought he was some dude that got lucky and just happen to come across some elite people.

    Now I know! You can never judge a book by its cover!

    Great post Ludvig!

  20. “And this was remarkable — remarkable enough to get people talking”

    Yeah, that may have been the main thing that was really smart but he also did other things. He went to talk shows, played up his role as the bad guy, and made himself seem like an evil “machine”.

    you can look more here if you want

    And you get to see how they created pumping iron! :)

    • Haha man awesome movie. Lou Ferrigno and his father crack me up.

      23:44 “Terrific! Big enough for me!” — such a funny ‘bad guy’.

      24:15 — “This is for the big baby, Lou!”

      28:25 — “We loved those kinda scenes, to shock people” –> I guess Arnold wanted to shock-and-awe alright nice call on that

      35:08 — “And then you go BOOM, take a look at this hunk’a man! You try now.” — man, Lou’s father is awesome

    • Great video, thanks for sharing.

  21. Youre right about the success of Arnold, but there is more to it than that i think.for example one reason he became a successful actor was because he knew so many actors because he was friends with them.


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