The Arnold Schwarzenegger Shoulder Workout | The Ultimate Guide!

Arnold Schwarzenegger was best known for his unbelievable chest and biceps. However, he also had some incredible shoulder development! His delts were absolutely massive with the front, side and rear delts being fully developed. If you want to learn how to build shoulders like Arnold Schwarzenegger then this article is for you!


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

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

Arnold trained his shoulders 2-3 times per week using extremely high volume workouts. Arnold almost always trained his shoulders and arms together on the same training day to save time.

Here is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s offseason bodybuilding training split:

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Offseason Training Split

  • Day 1: Chest / Back
  • Day 2: Shoulders / Arms
  • Day 3: Legs
  • Day 4: Chest / Back
  • Day 5: Shoulders / Arms
  • Day 6: Legs
  • Day 7: Off

As you can see Arnold trained his shoulders twice per week on Tuesday and Friday right before he trained his arms. This was the only way he could train each body part at least twice per week.

Now let’s take a look at one of Arnold’s go-to offseason shoulder workouts. Check it out:

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Shoulder Workout

  • Exercise #1: Seated DB overhead press, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps
  • Exercise #2: Barbell upright rows, 3-6 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #3: Front DB raises, 3-6 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #4: Lateral DB raises, 3-6 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #5: 45 degree rear delt DB raises, 3-6 sets of 8-20 reps

As you can see Arnold trained his shoulders with a wide variety of exercises. He wanted to make sure that he targeted all three heads of the shoulders for complete development.

Most bodybuilders would overtrain if they tried to perform this kind of high-volume shoulder workout twice per week but for Arnold it world like magic.

Arnold says that his favorite shoulder exercise was the overhead press. He almost always started his shoulder workout with the dumbbell overhead press, barbell overhead press or behind the neck press. After his heavy overhead presses he moved onto a variety of isolation exercises for his front, side and rear delts.

Other famous bodybuilders like Ronnie Coleman and Dorian Yates use a similar approach for their shoulder workouts.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s High-Intensity Training Techniques

Arnold Schwarzenegger loved using high-intensity training techniques like drop sets and forced reps to shock his muscles into growth. This was especially true during his shoulder workouts! Arnold believed that these high-intensity techniques were absolutely essential for maximally developing the deltoids.

One of Arnold’s favorite shoulder training techniques was the “down the rack” drop set.

Let’s say Arnold was performing seated dumbbell overhead presses. He would pick up the 110 pound dumbbells and perform a tough set of six reps. Then he would grab the 100 pound dumbbells and perform as many reps as he could. He kept going until he was using the 10 pound dumbbells for as many reps as he could. Talk about an intense set!

Arnold used down the rack drop sets on all kinds of shoulder exercises like seated dumbbell overhead presses, side lateral raises, front raises and rear raises.

Another one of Arnold’s favorite shoulder training techniques was tri-sets. The basic idea is to perform 3 exercises for the shoulders back-to-back with only 10 seconds rest in between sets. For example:

  • Perform exercise #1, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform exercise #2, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform exercise #3, rest 2-3 minutes, repeat!

Arnold’s favorite shoulder tri-set featured overhead presses, upright rows and lateral raises. Arnold felt this was an incredible way to bring up the side delts. Arnold also used some unique exercises to train his shoulders. One of Arnold’s favorite shoulder exercises is the Arnold press.

Here is a perfect demonstration of this exercise:

During the Arnold press you let your hands drift into the front of your body in the bottom position. Arnold says this exercise placed a huge stretch on his front delts and was one of his key exercises.

Arnold also had a unique way of performing dumbbell raises: he raised his arms way above parallel. Arnold says that this technique gave him a much stronger contraction in his delts than just going up halfway.

Arnold trained hard in the offseason but he took his training to another level when he was getting ready for a bodybuilding competition. About 3 months before his next competition he started performing 2-a-day workouts and trained each muscle group 3 times per week.

Here is Arnold’s favorite pre-contest training split:

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Pre-Contest Training Split


  • 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

Sunday: Off

This training split would put most bodybuilders in the hospital but it worked like magic for Arnold. He felt that this increased training frequency was absolutely essential for bringing his best physique to the bodybuilding stage.

Arnold also performed more high-intensity training techniques leading up to the competition to really bring out as much definition in his muscles as possible.

Here is a good example of what Arnold’s pre-contest shoulder workout looked like. Check it out:

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Pre-Contest Shoulder Workout

  • Exercise A1: Arnold press, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps, 1 minute rest
  • Exercise B1: Barbell overhead press, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps, 10 seconds rest
  • Exercise B2: Barbell upright row, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps, 10 seconds rest
  • Exercise B3: Bent-over DB lateral raise, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps, 1 minutes rest
  • Exercise C1: DB lateral raise, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps**, 1 minute rest

**On your last set perform a “down the rack” drop set. Pick up a heavy pair of dumbbells and train to failure. Then pick up the next lightest pair of dumbbells and train to failure. Continue dropping the weight and going to failure until you are lifting the 5-10 pound dumbbells.

Arnold tried to squeeze all of his favorite training techniques into his pre-contest workouts like drop-sets and tri-sets.

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The bottom line is Arnold used a high-volume, high-frequency and high-intensity training program to build a massive pair of shoulders that perfectly complemented the rest of his upper body.

If your shoulders are lagging behind the rest of your body then Arnold’s shoulder workouts will give you plenty of ideas. I especially like how Arnold combines heavy overhead pressing with plenty of isolation work to get the best of both of these worlds.

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

“Forget plan B. To test yourself and grow, you have to operate without a safety net.”

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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