The Arnold Schwarzenegger Back Workout!


Arnold Schwarzenegger had many amazing body parts. He had the best chest development of all time and his biceps were absolutely enormous. However, in my opinion Arnold’s upper back was just as amazing as his chest and arms.

If you want to build an upper back like Arnold Schwarzenegger then this article is for you!

Introduction

  • Part 1: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Offseason Training Split
  • Part 2: Arnold’s Offseason Back Workout
  • Part 3: Arnold’s Pre-Contest Training Split
  • Part 4: Arnold’s Pre-Contest Back Workout

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you exactly how Arnold Schwarzenegger trained his back for size and strength gains.

Arnold trained his upper anywhere from 2-3 times per week using extremely high-volume workouts with lots of sets, reps and exercises. Arnold believed that his high-volume training program was essential for developing the width and the thickness of the upper back.

Every muscle group in Arnold’s back was fully developed including his lats, traps, rhomboids, teres major and spinal erectors. Arnold used his massive back to hit some incredible poses including his trademark twisted double back bicep pose.

I can’t think of another bodybuilder who can pull off this pose like Arnold!

Here is the exact training split that Arnold Schwarzenegger used in the offseason:

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Offseason Training Split

  • Monday: Chest / Back
  • Tuesday: Shoulders / Arms
  • Wednesday: Legs
  • Thursday: Chest / Back
  • Friday: Shoulders / Arms
  • Saturday: Legs
  • Sunday: Off

In the offseason Arnold trained his upper back twice per week on Mondays and Thursdays. Arnold trained his upper back right after he trained his chest. He felt that training opposing muscle groups together like chest and back really helped with getting a great pump.

Here is one of Arnold’s favorite back workouts for growth. Check it out:

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Back Workout

  • A1: Pull ups (wide / overhand grip), 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps
  • B1: Cable pulldowns (wide / overhand grip), 3-6 sets of 8-20 reps
  • C1: T-bar rows, 3-6 sets of 8-20 reps
  • D1: Barbell bent over rows, 3-6 sets of 8-20 reps
  • E1: Seated cable rows, 3-6 sets of 8-20 reps

Arnold trained his upper back with a wide variety of exercises including pulldowns, pull ups and different types of rows. Arnold says that he viewed his upper back as two separate body parts: back width and back thickness.

Arnold says that the lats are mostly responsible for the width of the back while the traps, rhomboids and spinal erectors are mostly responsible for the thickness of the back. Arnold’s absolute favorite exercise for improving his back width was pull ups.

He loved performing wide overhand grip pull ups but he also performed pull ups with a supinated or hammer grip. Pull ups are an old-school exercise that you don’t see many bodybuilders perform these days. That is a shame because they are truly one of the best lat exercises you can do.

For back thickness Arnold loved performing heavy rowing exercises like t-bar rows and barbell rows. Here is a great video of Arnold training to failure on the t-bar row:

Talk about a high-intensity set! Arnold gets the most out of this exercise by using a full range of motion. He gets a full stretch on his back in the bottom position and a full contraction on his back in the top position.

Arnold says that these full range of motion exercises like t-bar rows, barbell rows, cable rows and deadlifts are absolutely essential for developing the lower back, spinal erectors and overall back thickness.

I think Arnold is right – there is a night-and-day difference in back thickness between a bodybuilder who trains progressively on these basic exercises and one who focuses on machine and isolation exercises.

Arnold completely changed his training program around 3 months before his next bodybuilding competition. Arnold switched to a new 6-day training split with 2-a-day workouts. Check it out:

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Pre-Contest Training Split

Monday: 

  • AM: Chest / Back
  • PM: Legs

Tuesday: 

  • AM: Shoulders / Arms
  • PM: Calves / Abs

Wednesday:

  • AM: Chest / Back
  • PM: Legs

Thursday: 

  • AM: Shoulders / Arms
  • PM: Calves / Abs

Friday:

  • AM: Chest / Back
  • PM: Legs

Saturday:

  • AM: Shoulders / Arms
  • PM: Calves / Abs

Now THAT is a brutal training schedule! When Arnold talks about training 4-5 hours per day this is the training split he is referring to. This kind of training schedule is enough to send the average bodybuilder to the hospital but for Arnold it worked like magic.

Arnold believed the 2-a-day workouts were essential for getting into shape fast and presenting his best possible physique on the bodybuilding stage. Arnold did one other thing during his pre-contest workouts: he started using antagonistic supersets in all of his workouts.

For example Arnold would perform a set for back, rest 30 seconds, perform a set for chest, rest 30 seconds and perform another set for back. These antagonistic supersets helped Arnold to perform more overall volume in less time and gave him an amazing pump.

Here is one example of what Arnold’s pre-contest chest / back routine looked like. Check it out:

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Pre-Contest Chest / Back Workout

Superset #1:

  • A1: Bench press, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps
  • A2: Pull ups (wide / overhand grip), 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps

Superset #2:

  • B1: Incline bench press, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps
  • B2: Cable pulldowns (wide / overhand grip), 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps

Superset #3:

  • C1: V-bar dips, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps
  • C2: T-bar rows, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps

Superset #4:

  • D1: Flat DB flyes, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps
  • D2: Barbell bent over row, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps

Superset #5:

  • E1: Cable crossover, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps
  • E2: Seated cable row, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps

Arnold changed his exercises all the time. However, this is a very good example of what his typical pre-contest chest / back workout looked like. The bottom line is Arnold used a high-volume / high-frequency training program to build one of the best backs the bodybuilding world has ever seen.

I wonder if we will ever see someone hit a twisted double back bicep pose like Arnold where he leans his body down to one side.

If you are looking for a great back training program to shock your muscles into growth then give Arnold’s back routine a shot. I especially like how Arnold divides his back workouts into “width” and “thickness” and how he focuses on old-school exercises like pull ups, t-bar rows and heavy barbell rows.

These mass-building exercises worked for Arnold in the 1970s and they will work for you too!

“I love it when people say that something can’t be done. That’s when I really get motivated; I like to prove them wrong.”

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

Thanks for checking out my site! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen and I'm the founder of Revolutionary Program Design. If you want to reach your size and strength goals faster then you've come to the right place. My goal is to make RPD the #1 strength training resource available anywhere in the world. So grab a seat, kick back and relax. There's never been a better time to lift weights or to learn the art and science of strength training program design.

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