The Arnold Schwarzenegger Training Split | The Ultimate Guide!


Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time. He was known for his high-frequency training splits where he trained each body part 2-3 times per week with tons of volume and intensity.

If you want to learn how Arnold organized his training then this article is for you!

Introduction

  • Part 1: Arnold’s Offseason Training Split
  • Part 2: Arnold’s Pre-Contest Training Split

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you the exact training splits that Arnold used to become a bodybuilding champion.

Arnold Schwarzenegger trained each body part 2-3 times per week using a high-volume bodybuilding training program. During the offseason Arnold trained 6 days per week using the following training split:

The Arnold Schwarzenegger 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

Arnold liked this split because he could train each muscle group twice per week with a lot of volume and intensity. He also liked the fact that he could train antagonistic muscle groups together like chest and back or biceps and triceps.

Arnold says that training opposing muscle groups together in the same workout gives you an unbelievable pump that is great for stimulating muscle growth.

Let’s take a quick look at some of Arnold’s workouts. Here is the chest routine that Arnold performed on his chest / back workout. Check it out:

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Chest Routine

  • Exercise #1: Bench press, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps
  • Exercise #2: Incline bench press, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps
  • Exercise #3: V-bar dips, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps
  • Exercise #4: Flat DB flyes, 3-6 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #5: Cable crossover, 3-6 sets of 8-20 reps

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

Talk about a high-volume workout! Arnold performed around 5-6 exercises for his chest using everything from barbell pressing exercises to dumbbell and cable flies.

Arnold trained his upper back immediately after he finished training his chest. Here is his favorite upper back routine:

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Back Routine

  • Exercise #1: Pull ups (wide / overhand grip), 3-6 sets of 5-15 reps
  • Exercise #2: Cable pulldowns (wide / overhand grip), 3-6 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #3: T-bar rows, 3-6 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #4: Barbell bent over rows, 3-6 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #5: Seated cable rows, 3-6 sets of 8-20 reps

Here is Arnold performing some of his favorite back exercises:

In total Arnold performed about 10-12 exercises for his chest and back. This is an unbelievable amount of volume but Arnold thrived on this kind of workload. Arnold performed similar high-volume routines for his lower body and shoulder / arm workouts.

Arnold transitioned to his pre-contest phase about 3-4 months before his bodybuilding competitions like the Mr. Olympia contest.

Arnold used an even more intense training split for his pre-contest phase: he trained twice per day, six days per week and trained each muscle group 3 times per week. 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

Sunday:

  • AM: Off
  • PM: Off

Talk about a high-volume training split! Most professional bodybuilders would end up in the hospital if they tried something this intense but it worked like magic for Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Arnold didn’t just change his training split for his pre-contest phase: he also changed his actual workouts.

During his pre-contest phase Arnold trained each muscle group using antagonistic supersets and other high-intensity training techniques. An antagonistic superset is where you alternate between sets for opposing muscle groups.

For example on his chest / back day Arnold would perform 1 set for his chest, rest 30 seconds, perform 1 set for his upper back, rest 30 seconds and then perform another set for his chest.

Arnold loved this strategy because it increased his endurance during his workouts and it gave him a huge pump.

Here is Arnold’s favorite pre-contest chest / back routine. 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 used antagonistic supersets in his other workouts as well. This routine worked great most of the time but Arnold also loved to shock his muscles with different high-intensity techniques to keep his body off-balance.

Here is Arnold making fun of his own routine:

“I know you’re going to start first with the bench press, and then you’re going to do a set of chin ups, and then you’re going to do another set of bench presses.

I know that routine! That’s why you have to go and use the shocking principle.”

One of Arnold’s favorite high-intensity techniques is the pre-exhaust method. He absolutely loved to use this technique to bring up his legs.

Arnold would perform a set of leg extensions and then immediately go and perform a heavy set of squats. The leg extensions would pre-fatigue his quads and help him target his quads better during the squats.

Here is what Arnold’s pre-exhaust quad routine looked like:

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Pre-Exhaust Quadriceps Routine

  • Exercise A1: Leg extensions, 5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise A2: Back squats, 5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise B1: Leg presses, 3-6 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise C1: Hack squats, 3-6 sets of 8-20 reps

Here is Arnold Schwarzenegger describing the pre-exhaust method:

“The biggest progress I made in my quad training, though, was in 1971, when I was looking for ways to define my thighs.

I began supersetting leg extensions with squats, performing the extensions first. Now we call this pre-exhaustion.”

Arnold performed this workout 2-3 times a week when he really wanted to bring up his lagging quads. Many other bodybuilders including Dorian Yates and Stan Efferding have also used leg extensions to pre-exhaust their quads before moving onto more compound exercises.

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.

Another one of Arnold’s favorite training methods is the drop set. Arnold would perform huge drop sets with up 7 drops on a single exercise!

For example here is how Arnold performed drop sets on the seated dumbbell overhead press:

Arnold Schwarzenegger Shoulder Drop Set

  • Step #1: Press the 110 pound dumbbells x 6 reps, no rest
  • Step #2: Press the 100 pound dumbbells x 6 reps, no rest
  • Step #3: Press the 90 pound dumbbells x 6 reps, no rest
  • Step #4: Press the 80 pound dumbbells x 6 reps, no rest
  • Step #5: Press the 70 pound dumbbells x 6 reps, no rest
  • Step #6: Press the 60 pound dumbbells x 6 reps, no rest
  • Step #7: Press the 50 pound dumbbells x 6 reps, no rest
  • Step #8: Press the 40 pound dumbbells x 6 reps, no rest

Talk about a massive drop set! Arnold called these “stripping the rack” sets because he just went down the rack of dumbbells and picked up the next lightest pair every time he reached failure.

Here is Arnold describing this training method:

“We went to the 110 pound dumbbells and did dumbbell presses.

We did 6 reps. So we picked up the 100s and did another 6 reps. Then we picked up the 90s and did another 6 reps. Then we picked up the 80s and we went all the way down to the 40s and we could barely do 6 reps with the 40s.

I could tell you, I did not no where to put my arm because my deltoids were screaming in pain. Why? Because I shocked the muscle.”

Arnold says that his drop sets were so intense that they made the 40 pound dumbbells feel like the 110 pound dumbbells by the end of the set.

Arnold used a similar strategy on the hack squat machine for his quads. He would work up to a really heavy set of 6 reps, drop the weight and then continue performing more reps.

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

  • Step 1: Perform 6 reps with your 6-rep max, drop the weight
  • Step 2: Perform 6 reps, drop the weight
  • Step 3: Perform 6 reps, drop the weight
  • Step 4: Perform 6 reps, drop the weight
  • Step 5: Perform 6 reps, drop the weight

Arnold sometimes even used drop sets with single repetitions! Here is Arnold describing one of his favorite ways to perform drop sets for his biceps:

“On the barbell curl we would start out with a heavy weight we could lift for 1 rep. Then I have them pull off just enough weight that I can do 2 reps.

Then pull off plates so I can do 3 reps. Then pull off plates so I can do 4 reps. I did this until I was lifting a light weight for 10 reps.”

It’s hard to believe that someone could make progress using a twice per day, 6 days per week training split but Arnold Schwarzenegger was no ordinary bodybuilder!

He had the vision to be a champion and he was determined to do whatever it takes to make it happen.

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Conclusion

Arnold Schwarzenegger trained using two different splits during his bodybuilding career: a 6 days per week offseason split where he trained each muscle group twice per week and a 6 days per week pre-contest split where he trained each muscle group 3 times per week.

The average bodybuilder will have a hard time recovering from Arnold’s exact routine but there is a lot you can learn from the greatest bodybuilder of all time.

Here is one more quote from the Austrian Oak to pump you up even more:

“You must see it. You must believe it. And you must never stop working to make it happen.”

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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