The Arnold Schwarzenegger Chest Workout!


Arnold Schwarzenegger is known for many things: his thick Austrian accent, his larger-than-life personality and his desire to give back and change the world. Of course Arnold is also known for his unbelievable chest development!

Introduction

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

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you exactly how Arnold Schwarzenegger trained his chest during his career as a professional bodybuilder.

Arnold Schwarzenegger had the biggest chest in the history of professional bodybuilding. In his prime Arnold’s chest measured a mind-blowing 57 inches. Even the legendary bodybuilder Ronnie Coleman couldn’t match Arnold’s chest development!

Arnold trained his chest anywhere from 2-3 times per week using high-volume bodybuilding style workouts. He performed many different exercises for his chest including bench presses, dips and dumbbell flyes to ensure complete development.

Here is the exact training split that Arnold used during the peak of his bodybuilding career:

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Offseason Training Split

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

As you can see Arnold trained his chest and back twice per week on Monday and Thursday. Arnold performed all of his exercises for his chest and then all of his exercises for his back. Arnold loved training his chest and back on the same training day because it gave him an unbelievable pump in his upper body.

Let’s take a look at one of Arnold’s favorite offseason chest workouts. Check it out:

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Offseason Chest Workout

  • Bench press, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps
  • Incline bench press, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps
  • V-bar dips, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps
  • Flat DB flyes, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps
  • Cable crossover, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps

Arnold performed five different chest exercises with lots of sets and reps on each exercise. Most bodybuilders would quickly overtrain on this routine but it worked like magic for Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Arnold says that his absolute favorite chest exercises were the bench press, the incline bench press and the dumbbell fly. Arnold used the bench press and incline bench press as his primary mass-building chest exercises. Arnold was strong enough to bench press 500 pounds for 1 rep and could rep out 315 pounds on the flat or incline bench press for sets of 20 reps. Talk about a strong chest!

Arnold’s other favorite exercise was the flat dumbbell fly. Here is a great video of Arnold performing this exercise:

Arnold performed dumbbell flyes with a huge range of motion. He lowered his arms down as far as he safely could and then only raised the dumbbells up about 80% of the way to keep constant tension on his pecs.

Arnold says that the dumbbell flies were absolutely essential for him to really isolate the chest.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s High-Intensity Training Techniques

Arnold Schwarzenegger loved to mix things up in his chest routines with different high-intensity training techniques. One of his favorite ways to shock his chest into growth was to use drop sets.

A drop set is a training method where you train to failure, reduce the weight on the exercise and train to failure again. This process can be repeated as many times in a row as you want. Here is Arnold sharing his thoughts on drop sets:

“Without stripping there is no excitement!”

No, Arnold isn’t talking about stripping the clothes off of his house maid. He’s talking about stripping the weight off the bar during a drop set! Here are three of Arnold’s favorite drop set techniques for building a huge chest:

  • The Shock Method
  • The 1-10 Method
  • Running The Rack

One of Arnold’s favorite drop set techniques is called the shock method. Normally Arnold performed several warm up sets on the bench press or incline bench press leading up to his heaviest weights. With the shock method Arnold threw a heavy weight on the bar and immediately performed a big double drop set.

Here is Arnold describing the shock method:

“I’m going to start now with 315. And I’m going to do 20 reps with 315. And then I’m going to drop the weight and I’m going to go and do another 10 reps. Then I’m going to drop the weight again and I’m going to do another 10 or 20 reps. My chest is shaking after that, it is cramping and being tortured because I have shocked the muscle.”

Another one of Arnold’s favorite drop sets is the 1-10 method. Arnold starts with a heavy weight for 1 rep. Then he drops the weight and performs 2 hard reps. Then he drops the weight and performs 3 hard reps. He keeps dropping the weight until he has performed 10 hard reps on his last set. This is a brutal training method but it worked like magic for Arnold.

The last drop set method Arnold used for chest is called “running the rack.” Arnold would perform dumbbell flies with a heavy weight like the 70 pound dumbbells. After reaching failure he would swap them for the 60 pound dumbbells and train to failure, then the 50 pound dumbbells and so on.

At the end of his set he was lifting the 10 pound dumbbells for as many reps as he could and his chest was aching in pain.

Arnold loved to use these high-intensity techniques in the offseason to build muscle. However, about 3 months before a competition Arnold changed his entire training program. He started using 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

This new split let Arnold train every muscle group 3 times per week. Arnold believed that this increased training frequency was essential for getting into peak contest shape.

Arnold also started using antagonistic supersets in all of his workouts. For example Arnold would perform a set for chest, rest 30 seconds, perform a set for back, rest 30 seconds and perform another set for chest.

Here is what Arnold’s typical pre-contest chest / back workout looked like:

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

As you can see Arnold performed about 5 antagonistic supersets for his chest and back. Antagonistic supersets have many advantages over regular “straight sets” including improved muscular endurance and a higher-quality pump in both muscle groups.

The bottom line is Arnold used a high-volume, high-frequency and in many cases high-intensity training program to build the biggest chest of all time.

If you are looking for a new chest routine then Arnold’s chest program will give you plenty of ideas. I especially like how Arnold focused on the exercises that worked best for his structure and how he incorporated high-intensity training methods like drop sets and antagonistic supersets.

Even if you don’t use Arnold’s exact routine there is still plenty you can learn from the Austrian Oak about building a big, strong chest.

Always remember:

“Without stripping there is no excitement!”

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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