The Arnold Schwarzenegger Leg Workout | The Ultimate Guide!

Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time. He won a record 7 Mr. Olympia titles and has inspired more people to lift weights than anyone else in history.

Arnold’s legs were always his weakest body part and he was determined to bring them up to par with his upper body.

If your legs lag behind the rest of your body then this article will give you Arnold’s blueprint for shocking your lower body into growth!


  • Part 1: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Training Split
  • Part 2: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Leg Workout
  • Part 3: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s High-Intensity Techniques

In this helpful guide I will show you exactly how Arnold trained to bring up his lagging lower body.

Arnold Schwarzenegger trained his legs three times per week with old-school exercises like squats, leg presses, hack squats and stiff-legged deadlifts. Arnold also used plenty of high-intensity bodybuilding techniques like drop sets, supersets and 20-rep breathing squats to shock his muscles into growth.

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

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Double Split Routine


  • AM: Chest / Back
  • PM: Legs


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


  • AM: Chest / Back
  • PM: Legs


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


  • AM: Chest / Back
  • PM: Legs


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

Talk about a high-volume training program! Arnold trained twice per day, 6 days per week during his prime. It’s hard to imagine anyone else being able to recover from this type of training program but for Arnold it worked like magic.

During the offseason Arnold cut back to once-a-day workouts to give his body a little bit of a break.

Here is what Arnold’s typical lower body workout looked like. Check it out:

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Leg Workout

  • Exercise #1: Back squats, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps
  • Exercise #2: Leg press, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps
  • Exercise #3: Hack squats, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps
  • Exercise #4: Leg extensions, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps
  • Exercise #5: Leg curls, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps
  • Exercise #6: Stiff-legged deadlifts, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps

Arnold trained his legs using the classic bodybuilding exercises like squats, leg presses and stiff-legged deadlifts. Arnold was incredibly strong on squats and often used as much as 500 pounds for reps!

If you have ever listened to Arnold talk about how he trained then you know he loved to “shock the muscle” with different high-intensity bodybuilding techniques.

In fact Arnold says that these high-intensity techniques were absolutely critical for bringing up his lagging lower body.

Here were three of Arnold’s favorite techniques to shock his legs into growth:

  • Technique #1: Drop Sets
  • Technique #2: Supersets
  • Technique #3: Breathing Squats

Let’s take a closer look at each of these high-intensity training techniques.

Arnold’s High-Intensity Technique #1: Drop Sets

Arnold Schwarzenegger was a huge fan of drop sets. This was one of his go-to strategies for shocking his legs into growth.

One of Arnold’s favorite ways to do drop sets was to load up the hack squat machine with a weight he could only lift 6 times.

He would bust out 6 reps just shy of failure, then drop the weight and perform another grueling 6 reps. Arnold kept dropping the weight until he was struggling with the empty machine with no extra weight!

Here is what his hack squat drop set looked like in practice:

  • Perform 6 reps with your 6-rep max, drop the weight
  • Perform 6 reps, drop the weight
  • Perform 6 reps, drop the weight
  • Perform 6 reps, drop the weight
  • Perform 6 reps, drop the weight

Arnold just kept going until he was repping out the empty hack squat machine!

Arnold used a similar strategy on other exercises like leg presses and leg extensions. He just performed 1 massive drop set whenever he felt like he needed to shock his muscles into growth.

Arnold’s High-Intensity Technique #1: Supersets

Arnold was famous for using supersets on his chest / back workouts and especially his arm workouts. However, Arnold also used supersets to train his lower body. In fact Arnold says that a special pre-exhaust superset routine gave him the best quadriceps gains of his entire life!

Arnold would perform leg extensions immediately followed by squats.

Here is one of Arnold’s typical quadriceps pre-exhaust routines:

  • Exercise A1: Leg extensions, 5 sets of 8-20 reps, no rest
  • Exercise A2: Back squats, 5 sets of 8-20 reps, 3 minutes rest
  • Exercise B1: Leg presses, 3-6 sets of 8-20 reps, 2 minutes rest
  • Exercise C1: Hack squats, 3-6 sets of 8-20 reps, 2 minutes rest

When Arnold first started performing these pre-exhaust supersets his quads were so fatigued that he could barely squat 315 pounds!

After several weeks of using this routine Arnold was able to squat 400-500 pounds for reps immediately after a set of leg extensions to failure.

Many other famous bodybuilders including Dorian Yates and Stan Efferding have also had success using leg extensions to pre-exhaust their quads.

If you have lagging quads then this pre-exhaust routine is definitely worth trying out!

Arnold’s High-Intensity Technique #1: 20-Rep Breathing Squats

Many bodybuilders during the 1960’s and 1970’s used a high-intensity training technique called “breathing squats” to shock their lower body into growth. The goal is to perform 20 reps with your 10-rep max on the back squat!

Don’t worry, it’s not as impossible as it sounds. First you perform 10 reps in a row with your 10-rep max. Then you lock your legs out and take several deep breaths with the bar on your back.

As soon as you are ready you squat back down and perform another 1-3 reps. You repeat this process as many times as you need to perform 20 total reps.

Here is Tom Platz performing a set of breathing squats with 525 pounds!

Arnold used a modified version of breathing squats whenever he felt like his routine was getting stale and he needed to shock his legs into growth. This is an awesome training strategy for increasing the size of your legs and breaking through training plateaus.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger brought up his lagging lower body with old-school exercises, high-volume workouts and plenty of high-intensity training techniques. If your legs lag behind the rest of your body then Arnold is a great role model.

You may not be able to recover from Arnold’s exact training routine. After all, how many people can make progress training 5 hours per day?

However, I am confident you can take some of Arnold’s favorite lower body training strategies and use them to make faster progress in the gym.

Here is a great quote by Arnold to pump you up even more:

“My definition of living is to have excitement always. That’s the difference between living and existing.”

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

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

What's going on! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen, I'm the creator of Revolutionary Program Design. If you want to take your training to the next level, then you've come to the right place... My goal is to make RPD the #1 strength training resource available anywhere in the world!

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