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The Arnold Schwarzenegger Bicep Routine!

Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time. He won the Mr. Olympia contest 8 times and revolutionized the sport of bodybuilding. 

Arnold was known for his larger-than-life personality and of course his mind-blowing biceps development. If you want to learn how Arnold trained his biceps then this article is for you!

Introduction

  • Part 1: Arnold’s Offseason Training Split
  • Part 2: Arnold’s Offseason Bicep Workout
  • Part 3: Arnold’s Favorite High-Intensity Techniques
  • Part 4: Arnold’s Pre-Contest Training Split
  • Part 5: Arnold’s Pre-Contest Arm Workout

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you how Arnold Schwarzenegger trained his 22-inch biceps for size and strength.

Arnold Schwarzenegger used a high-frequency training program where he hit every muscle group 2-3 times per week. In the offseason Arnold used a training split where he trained his biceps, triceps and shoulders together twice per week. For example:

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Bodybuilding Training Split

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

Most bodybuilders would have a hard time recovering from this high-frequency training split. Then again Arnold wasn’t most bodybuilders!

He believed that this higher-frequency training split was ideal for building quality muscle tissue in the offseason.

A lot of people believe that Arnold must have used some crazy training routine to build his 22-inch arms.

It’s true that Arnold sometimes used high-intensity training techniques like drop sets to “shock the muscle.” However, most of the time Arnold focused on performing lots of high-quality sets on the basic free weight exercises.

Here is Arnold’s training partner Ric Drasin talking about how Arnold trained his biceps:

“So many people think he must have done all these elaborate moves to get thick biceps like that. But no, it was the basic exercises and the truth is the basic exercises always work.”

Arnold’s go-to bicep routine included basic free weight exercises like standing barbell curls, 45 degree incline dumbbell curls, preacher ez-bar curls and dumbbell concentration curls. Check it out:

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Offseason Biceps Workout

  • A1: Standing barbell curls, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps
  • B1: 45 degree incline DB curls, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps
  • C1: Preacher ez-bar curls, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps
  • D1: DB concentration curls, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps

Here is a great video of Arnold performing some of his favorite biceps exercises:

Arnold loved experimenting with new training methods in the gym but he focused on these 4 biceps exercises throughout his career. Arnold believed there was no replacement for these basic free weight exercises.

Here is the Austrian Oak himself talking about these basic exercises:

“I think it is absolutely essential to do the barbell curl to get the thickness of the biceps, to do the incline dumbbell curl and to do the concentration curl.

The concentration curl was so important because I could really isolated the biceps with a heavy weight and to really build the biceps peak.”

Arnold focused on the same basic exercises throughout his career. However, he used many different high-intensity training techniques to shock his muscles into growth.

Here is Arnold talking about the importance of shocking the muscle to stimulate growth:

“I think everyone knows when they get into training that they are not going to become a champion from one day to the next. The question then becomes, how can I speed up the process?

I believe you have to shock the muscle, shock the muscle, shock the muscle with different kinds of training principles.”

Arnold used many different techniques to shock his muscles.

For example he often supersetted leg extensions and back squats for his quads or performed tri-sets for his shoulders. However, when it came to training the biceps Arnold liked to use drop sets.

Drop sets are a high-intensity training technique where you train to failure, then reduce some weight off the bar and continue busting out repetitions. You can drop the weight 1, 2, 3 or even more times during a drop set to further fatigue your muscles.

As Arnold used to say:

“Without stripping there is no excitement!”

Arnold isn’t talking about stripping the clothes off his housemaid – he’s talking about stripping weight off the bar during a drop set!

Arnold popularized several different ways to perform drop sets for his biceps. Check it out:

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Favorite Drop Set Strategies

  • Strategy #1: Mega Drop Sets
  • Strategy #2: 1-10 Drop Sets
  • Strategy #3: Strip The Rack Sets

Now let’s take a closer look at each of these training strategies.

Strategy #1: Mega Drop Sets

This was one of Arnold’s favorite drop set strategies.

He would pick a rep range like 6 reps and train just shy of failure. Then he would strip a bunch of weight off the bar so that he could perform another 6 reps with a lighter weight.

Arnold would continue to drop the weight and perform 6 reps until he was using an ultra-light weight.

Here is Arnold describing his mega drop sets on barbell curls:

“By the time you’re on the lower weights, the burning is so intense that 45 pounds feels like 225 pounds.”

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mega drop sets are a great plateau buster. Just make sure you only perform them on your last set for that exercise!

Strategy #2: 1-10 Drop Sets

Arnold sometimes trained with low reps in his bicep routines. He felt that these heavy, low-rep sets were essential for developing that thick, dense look in his biceps.

One of Arnold’s favorite strategies was to perform a drop set where he performed 1 rep on the first attempt, 2 reps on the second attempt and so on. Arnold kept stripping weight off the bar and increasing the reps until he performed 10 reps with an ultra-light weight.

Here is Arnold describing this method:

“Many times we would start out with a heavy weight and do just 1 rep. Then I have them pull off just enough weight that I can do 2 reps.

Then they pulled off more weight and I did 3 reps, then 4 reps, then 5 reps after that. And this is how I would train without ever letting the bar down to really let the biceps know who’s boss.”

Arnold says that he often worked up to 275 pounds in the standing barbell curl for his single repetition. Talk about a strong pair of biceps!

Strategy #3: Strip The Rack Sets

Strip the rack sets were another one of Arnold’s favorite drop set methods.

Arnold would pick up a heavy dumbbell and train to failure on the standing 1-arm dumbbell concentration curl. Then without resting he would pick a lighter dumbbell and train to failure with that.

He would just keep going down the rack until he was using the lightest dumbbells.

For example Arnold might use the 60’s, 50’s, 40’s, 30’s, 20’s and 10’s for his strip the rack drop set on dumbbell concentration curls. Talk about a brutal set! 

Arnold trained hard in the offseason but he took things to a completely different level when he started his pre-contest training program.

Arnold would train twice per day, six days per week leading up to the annual Mr. Olympia competition.

Here is 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

Arnold’s only rest day was on Sunday. As you can see Arnold started training his biceps three times per week on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Talk about a high-frequency training program!

Arnold also started using antagonistic supersets for his biceps and triceps during his pre-contest phase. An antagonistic superset is where you alternate back and forth between sets for opposing muscle groups.

Arnold would perform 1 set for his biceps, rest 30-60 seconds, perform 1 set for his triceps, rest 30-60 seconds and perform another set for his biceps. He would continue this process until he performed 3-5 sets for each exercise.

Antagonistic supersets have many advantages for building muscle. They help you recruit more muscle fibers, they improve your muscular endurance and they let you perform more work in less time. Talk about a powerful training method!

If you want to learn more about the science of antagonistic supersets then check out my article “Supersets: The Ultimate Guide!

Here is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s favorite pre-contest biceps routine. Check it out:

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Pre-Contest Arm Workout

Superset #1

  • A1: 45 degree incline DB curl, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • A2: Cable rope pushdown, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps

Superset #2

  • B1: Standing alternating DB curl, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • B2: Lying ez-bar extension (to forehead), 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps

Superset #3

  • C1: Preacher ez-bar curls, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • C2: Diamond push ups, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps

Superset #4

  • D1: DB concentration curls, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • D2: Overhead rope cable extension, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps

Superset #5

  • E1: Preacher ez-bar curl (reverse grip), 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • E2: Barbell wrist curl, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps

As you can see Arnold broke up his pre-contest arm workout into 5 separate supersets.

Arnold didn’t perform any other high-intensity training methods like drop sets or tri-sets. He felt the supersets alone were enough to get him into great shape and to bring his best physique to the bodybuilding stage.

If you are stuck at a training plateau for your biceps then you have to try an antagonistic supersets routine like Arnold.

Many bodybuilding coaches like Milos Sarcev and John Meadows swear by them for building the biceps.

Conclusion

Arnold Schwarzenegger used a very smart training program to build his 22-inch biceps.

Arnold focused on the basic free weight exercises like incline curls, preacher curls and dumbbell concentration curls. However, he also wasn’t afraid to use high-intensity training techniques like drop sets and supersets to blast through training plateaus.

Most bodybuilders will have a hard time recovering from Arnold’s exact training program where he trains 1-2 times per day and 6 days per week.

However, you can absolutely use some of Arnold’s favorite bicep training strategies in your own routine to get faster results.

Perhaps the biggest thing you can learn from Arnold is the power of setting goals and visualizing what you want to achieve. Here is the Austrian Oak himself driving this point home:

“You have to create a goal for yourself, whatever it may be. You need a short term goal and a long term goal and you’ve got to go after that. If you do not see it and you do not believe it, who else will?”

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