Arnold Schwarzenegger's training program
It's misleading, really, to mention Arnold's chest and back routines separately; he supersetted the two exclusively for most of his bodybuilding career. (We can,
however, focus on the exercises for each bodypart separately, keeping in mind
that he paired them up in his routines.)
He had a few simple reasons for employing supersets: One, it saved time and
allowed him to train chest and back in just one hour combined; two, he felt he
could handle more weight this way and develop greater muscle density (as is the
logic behind training opposing muscle groups together); and, of course, he
relished having both his chest and back--essentially, his entire upper
body--pumped up at the same time. "When the chest and the upper back are pumped
simultaneously, there is an indescribable feeling of growth stimulation and
massiveness," he said.
But Arnold warned beginners about this style of training, recommending that they
work into it slowly because of the demands it places on endurance and stamina.
Even non-beginners can struggle. Arnold once told a story about how he
introduced his chest/back workout to several experienced bodybuilders while
visiting South Africa. According to The Oak, two of his training partners
"passed out cold and a third became so ill that he lost his breakfast!"
Did we mention that he performed this workout three days a week?
* Despite relatively high rep ranges, Arnold went as heavy as he could when
training chest to elicit maximal growth. He typically used the pyramid
principle, increasing weight and decreasing reps on each set of a given
* He also regularly employed straight-arm pullovers in his training using either
a dumbbell or barbell, despite their exclusion from this routine. Arnold felt
that pullovers expanded the thorax and enlarged his ribcage, though this was
never proven to be fact.
* In addition to supersets, he also frequently performed forced reps, iso-tension
(holding poses between sets and after workouts) and peak contractions (squeezing
the muscles at the top of each rep) in his training. He did whatever it took to
EXERCISE SETS REPS
Bench Press 1 30-45
Bench Press 5 20-6*
Incline Barbell Press 5 10-15
Flat-Bench 5 10-15
Weighted Dip 5 15
*Pyramid up the weight and lower your reps set to set.
* FLAT-BENCH DUMBBELL FLYE
Arnold did flyes much like anyone would, with one small yet noticeable
difference: Instead of bringing the dumbbells together to touch at the top of
each rep, he stopped when they were about 10 inches apart, then lowered them
back down. He felt this offered constant tension on the pectorals, especially
the outer pecs.
It wasn't just recently that bodybuilders of all levels coveted an immensely
wide, thick and chiseled back, a la Ronnie Coleman and Dorian Yates. Arnold,
along with Franco Columbu and others from their generation, also knew the
importance of the back double-biceps and lat-spread poses for winning major
When Arnold trained back, he didn't just concentrate on lifting the weight to a
desired position--that would've been way too concrete and typical. He would
never be the best doing, and thinking, the way everyone else did. With lat
pulldowns, he attempted to pull the sky down on top of him, not simply move the
bar to his upper chest. When deadlifting, those weren't weight plates on the
ends of the barbell, they were massive planets. The thinking was abstract, sure,
but effective nonetheless.
Which brings us to Conan the Barbarian, naturally. "Had I been aware of Conan
during my competition years, I probably would have imagined I was him during my
workouts," Arnold said leading up to his role in the movie. He was intent on
developing his back for the picture because he knew it would be easily visible
from many camera angles. The last thing he wanted was less-than-stellar lats if
he was to be a proper barbarian. "I'll want my back muscles to bristle with
power," he said. "If my back is writhing and rippling during fight scenes, the
public will know that I am a rugged fighter."
* Arnold believed that the best way to train back was to train all areas of
it--outer, upper, lower and middle--and finish the workout with a power
movement, like deadlifts or cleans, that works all the back muscles.
* After each back exercise, Arnold stretched his lats by pulling hard on a
stationary object with either one or both arms fully extended. This, he figured,
helped him achieve great overall lat development, and remain flexible and limber
in the upper body.
* When he wanted to hit the lower lats, he always used a narrow grip for
chin-ups, pulldowns and any type of row. The lower lats were important to Arnold
when doing twisting back poses onstage, as they complemented his immense width
EXERCISE SETS REPS
Wide-Grip Pull-Up 5 15-8*
T-Bar Row 5 10-15
Bent-Over Barbell 5 10-15
Chin-Up 5 12
Barbell Deadlift 3 6-10
*Pyramid up the weight and lower your reps set to set.
* WIDE-GRIP PULL-UP
When Arnold said wide, he meant it; many vintage photos show his hands much
wider than shoulder-width apart when doing pull-ups. (Hint: That makes it
tougher.) He started from a complete hanging position and pulled himself as high
as possible, usually touching the bar behind his head. His first eight or so
reps were strict, then he'd cheat a bit to get the last few up.
Legendary Weider writer Dick Tyler once wrote of Arnold's first visit to a gym,
inspired by photos of Reg Park in the German magazine Der Muskelbilder. The
young Oak watched gym members lifting weights and did his best to commit to
memory the exercises they did so that he and his friends could do them at home.
Four in particular stood out, all arm exercises: the cheating barbell and
Zottman curls for biceps, and pressdowns and the close-grip bench press for
triceps. At the time, having big arms interested Arnold the most and would serve
as his starting point in bodybuilding.
When Arnold arrived in America, he'd never even seen a preacher bench, an
apparatus he would soon use religiously to build biceps that would surpass those
of predecessors Larry Scott, Rick Wayne and Sergio Oliva, who Arnold once
regarded as having "the biggest arms I've ever seen."
He found that bodybuilders in America trained more methodically, and had a firm
understanding of anatomy and physiology. Despite having already won a Mr.
Universe title and possessing two of the biggest arms in the world, he felt he
could do better. "I wasn't reaching my fullest potential," he said. "The deep
fibers of my muscles were untouched. It was as if I had built a large building
on top of a foundation of sand." He recalled watching Larry train and was
"particularly fascinated watching him bomb his biceps on a curling machine. His
arms looked deep and thick from training."
* Arnold wasn't afraid to cheat on arm exercises, especially standing curls. He
felt that going very heavy was the best way to gain size, and if a little body
english was required to get the weight up, so be it.
* To achieve full development, Arnold always included at least one exercise in
his routine, like a dumbbell curl, in which he rotated his palm up (supination)
as he lifted the weight.
EXERCISE SETS REPS
Barbell Cheat Curl 6-7 6-8
Incline or Seated 6-7 6-8
Preacher Curl 6-7 6-8
Concentration Curl 5 6-8
Barbell Reverse Curl 5 8-10
Reverse Preacher 5 8-10
Barbell Wrist Curl 7 10
* CONCENTRATION CURL
The Oak didn't always sit down for this one, as most people do nowadays. He'd
often just bend over at the waist, holding a 65-pound dumbbell in one hand and
supporting himself with his elbow on his knee. He kept this one strict--no
Though the majority of credit for his 22-inch-plus arms was attributed to his
eye-popping biceps, Arnold acknowledged early on that two-thirds of that girth
resided on the other side of his humerus. After initially focusing more on his
bi's, Arnold wised up and sought to build hulking triceps by employing
multijoint movements like the close-grip bench press and weighted dip to go
along with his old-standby pressdowns (on a lat pulldown machine) and french
As with chest and back, Arnold often supersetted biceps and triceps, though
usually just during precontest training. This further demonstrates his firm
belief in the benefits of training opposing muscles together, an idea recognized
before him by Joe Weider and still adopted by many bodybuilders today. His
precontest routine typically consisted of five torturous supersets, repeated
four times each, followed by five supersets for forearms. If he sought gains in
size, he'd do this twice a week; for definition, three times weekly.
Although cautioning novice lifters against doing his routine ("This system ...
is a severe form of advanced training that is not recommended for beginners"),
ever the promoter, he advocated the routine to others in a feature article
titled "How I Built My 22 1/2" Arms." "If you're an advanced trainer and want to
shock your arms into growth, why not give my twice-a-week arm growth program a
try?" he wrote. "It brought my arms up to their present massive size ... see
what it can do for YOU!"
* Arnold believed that to increase arm size, you had to gain weight. He
estimated that it takes about a 10-pound weight gain to add 1 inch to the arms.
To do this, he would increase his calorie intake by 1,500-2,000 per day over his
* His typical rep entailed lowering the weight slowly on the negative and
exploding it up on the positive. This gave him a "double benefit on each rep"
and promoted maximum growth.
* During most of his career, Arnold trained arms 2-3 days per week with very
high volume. He was even known to devote 1-2 hours to his triceps alone. Of
course, conventional training wisdom doesn't condone this.
EXERCISE SETS REPS
Close-Grip Bench 5-6 6-8
Cable Pressdown 5-6 6-8
Lying EZ-Bar French 5-6 6-8
Dumbbell Kickback 5 6-8
* LYING FRENCH PRESS
Arnold preferred the cambered bar for this one. He'd space his hands about 8-10
inches apart and lower the bar from an arms-extended position (perpendicular to
the floor) to behind his head with his elbows flexed past 90 degrees.
Arnold used to discuss his shoulders as though they were the missing link to
complete upper-body development. "A man who has developed wide, broader
shoulders," he once said in a magazine article, "feels superior and has a
greater sense of security and confidence about him." Not surprisingly, he
scoffed at the large number of bodybuilders he knew whose training regimens were
absent of any sort of shoulder routine. No wonder the one exercise named after
him, the Arnold Press, is a delt movement.
Early in his bodybuilding career, The Oak's deltoids were the weakest aspect of
his upper body. So Arnold concentrated on them tirelessly, training all three
deltoid heads--anterior, posterior and middle--and after winning the 1967 Mr.
Universe contest in London, he attributed his victory in large part to his
improved shoulder development. Three years later at the 1970 Universe, he beat
his idol Reg Park, along with Dave Draper, and again wrote that he was thankful
he'd trained his shoulders so hard and that his width up top was what made the
Joe Weider once asked Arnold what importance he thought bone structure served in
overall shoulder development; in other words, are some people born with it and
some not? The future governor of California acknowledged that certain
individuals did possess a genetic advantage, at the time namely Steve Reeves and
Frank Zane, but didn't concede failure to those who don't. He maintained that
anyone could widen his shoulders by at least 2 inches via "direct and
* Arnold kept barbell work to a minimum when training shoulders. He reasoned
that all the bench and incline presses he did, which also hit the delts to some
degree, would suffice.
* For a good while, he trained delts first in a workout that included arms,
citing that his delts were naturally weak and needed to be worked when fresh.
* The trapezius muscles were never neglected in Arnold's training, despite not
always being mentioned. He was apt to work his traps with his delts.
EXERCISE SETS REPS
Barbell Clean and 1 20-30
Arnold Press 5 6
--compound set with--
Bent-Over Lateral 5 8-10
Lying Lateral 5 12
Cable Lateral Raise 5 12
Alternating Dumbbell 3 12
*Arnold started with 95-pound dumbbells, then descended in 10-pound
increments without resting, finishing with 55s, doing six reps at each
**Lying sideways on an incline board
* CABLE LATERAL RAISE
Using a low pulley, Arnold raised one arm out to the side, knuckles up, to
shoulder height and squeezed. The arm stayed slightly bent throughout to ease
tension on the elbow joint. To bring the rear deltoid head into play, sometimes
he'd grip the handle behind his body.
In his early days, Arnold's leg-training protocol suffered from two critical
pitfalls: Disuse and, as Joe Weider called it, primitivism. The former was
pretty straightforward--the young Austrian didn't train legs at all his first
year of bodybuilding. After finally clueing in to his lower body, he went
overboard, even going so far as to train legs every day for a year, doing 10
sets of squats and 10 sets of leg curls each day. Not surprisingly, he wasn't
satisfied with the results.
His primitive ways were most reflective in lifting "retreats" that he and his
buddies would go on in the Austrian countryside, as described in another
Tyler-written story. They'd load up several cars with weights and drive to a
remote area in the trees where they could train. They'd squat from morning till
afternoon, then rest and drink beer, then go right back to squatting again.
That's how they did it--pick an exercise and do it until you can't do it
When Joe came into the picture, such antiquated training methods went by the
wayside, as did the beer-drinking. He felt Arnold's legs had become bulky
without enough definition. "[Your legs] suffer by comparison [to your upper
body] and it is of the most urgent necessity that you completely alter your
leg-training program," Joe told young Arnold. "I rather imagine, too, that
others may have noticed this odd effect and are puzzled by it."
Arnold agreed, which produced the type of workout you see here, not to mention
wonderfully proportioned legs.
* Arnold often split his quad workouts into two sessions, doing his first three
thigh exercises in the morning and doing the last one or two in the evening.
This assured that every exercise was performed at utmost intensity.
* Despite the intensity of his leg training, Arnold kept his rest periods
between sets short, no more than one minute. This created a "flushing" effect,
keeping maximum blood in the muscles for the entire session.
* Sometimes he would do leg curls in the middle of his quad workout (after front
squats and before leg presses) to give the front of his thighs a short break.
Then he'd do more sets of hamstrings at the end of the workout.
EXERCISE SETS REPS
Barbell Squat 5 8
Front Squat 5 8-10
Leg Press 5 10
Leg Extension 5 10
Lying Leg Curl 8 10
* FRONT SQUAT
Arnold liked this movement for building up his lower quads just above the knee
to accentuate the "teardrop," aka vastus medialis. He went heavy (no surprise)
and took it down very low, thighs well past parallel to the floor. To avoid
injury, he always made sure to keep his back straight throughout and warmed up
Abs were never Arnold's best bodypart. He didn't naturally have a small waist,
nor did he possess the deeply etched six-pack of Frank Zane or even Serge Nubret.
But his midsection was never really a weakness, either. Perhaps that was because
he was a master of deception. Look at shots of him posing and you'll notice that
most of the time he would twist his upper body in some way to face the camera or
the judges, regardless of the pose. This gave him the appearance of having a
smaller waist, and it was an important strategy for him in competition.
He also defied any genetic shortcomings by adopting an extremely high-volume
routine, which consisted of many exercises and lots of reps (see workout box).
Smartly, he also acknowledged that eating clean played a major role in ridding
fat in the area and helping his abs show through. That his vacuum wasn't
Zane-like wasn't for a lack of effort or passion.
Arnold considered the midsection one of the most critical parts of the male
physique, citing the sculpted abdominals of Greek gods as his inspiration. "In
physique competitions, if your abdominal region has a slight layer of fatty
tissue on it," he once said, "you might as well forget about taking home a
* Arnold felt that abdominal work should be done every day. (We typically don't
recommend such volume, however.) He was even known to train abs twice a day on
occasion, when he wanted to make a noticeable difference in a short time.
* He usually trained abs at the end of his workout, after calves, the other
bodypart he felt needed more frequent training to spur development.
* Arnold's oblique training consisted primarily of controlled twisting motions
while holding a bar across his shoulders. He was careful not to build up muscle
in that area, for fear that it would make his waistline larger.
EXERCISE SETS REPS
Hanging Knee Raise 3 25-50
Roman Chair Sit-Up 4 25-30
Lying Leg Raise 3 25-30
Side-to-Side Twists 3 50
Back Extension 3 15
Seated Leg-Up 4 25-50
* LYING LEG RAISE
Lying on a flat bench with his arms overhead, hands grasping the bench for
stability, Arnold started with his legs straight, parallel to the floor. He then
contracted his abs to raise his legs until they were perpendicular. He lowered
them slowly back down, keeping constant tension on his midsection.
You're likely familiar with Arnold's self-consciousness about his calves; they
used to be small, so he'd cut the bottoms off his sweatpants to expose them,
which motivated him to bring them up, a goal at which he was ultimately
successful. So you've heard. But did you know about his "relationship" with his
calves? He used to literally communicate with them. Seriously. Here's what he
had to say in a past issue of MUSCLE BUILDER:
"The calves are like no other muscle, and every day they seem to have a
different mood," he said. "Sometimes I can do calf raises with shoes on and it
feels better, then other times the shoes get in the way and I have to do this
exercise with bare feet.... It's strange; kind of supernatural.
"A secret I learned is to test the calves' personality or attitude with two or
three sets, then I know which way they want to go that particular day. The
calves will let you know--just give them a chance to 'talk' to you." He went on
to say it's "almost like they have a mind of their own--a brain that the other
muscles don't have."
* Arnold couldn't use enough variety in his calf training. Anything that would
shock the stubborn calves was fair game--high reps, low reps, super-short rest
periods (15-30 seconds), supersets, you name it.
* For the most part, he took his calf exercises through a full range of
motion--down for a full stretch and up until they nearly cramped. However, he
also occasionally did full sets of partial reps, which allowed him to go much
heavier, or finished off regular sets with a few partials.
EXERCISE SETS REPS
Donkey Calf Raise 5 15-30
Standing Calf Raise 5 15-30
Leg-Press Calf Raise 5 20-30
Standing One- 3 15-30
Legged Calf Raise
(with a dumbbell)
* STANDING ONE-LEGGED CALF RAISE
Holding a dumbbell in one hand, Arnold would stand on one leg on a wooden block,
concentrating on each calf muscle separately. He made sure the block was high
enough so his heel wouldn't touch the floor at the bottom of the movement, even
though he stretched the calf fully on each rep
by Joe Wuebben