The Arnold Schwarzenegger Training Program!


Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time. He won the Mr. Olympia contest seven times in a row from 1969 – 1975 and then again in 1980.

If you want to become a bodybuilding champion then Arnold Schwarzenegger’s training program is for you!

Introduction

  • Part 1: Arnold’s Chest / Back Workouts
  • Part 2: Arnold’s Shoulder / Arm Workouts
  • Part 3: Arnold’s Leg / Abs Workouts
  • Part 4: Arnold’s Favorite High-Intensity Techniques
  • Part 5: Arnold’s Pre-Contest Training Program

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you everything you need to know about how Arnold Schwarzenegger trained to become one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time.

Arnold Schwarzenegger trained six days per week using an old-school high-volume bodybuilding program.

Arnold loved to train antagonistic muscle groups such as chest and back or biceps and triceps on the same day. He believed this was key to maximizing the pump and building as much muscle mass as possible.

Here was Arnold’s off-season training split:

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Bodybuilding 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 Schwarzenegger trained each muscle group twice per week using a bodybuilding-style training split. Arnold’s only off day was on Sunday.

Arnold Schwarzenegger believed that the basic compound exercises were best for building muscle. He focused on exercises such as bench presses, chin ups, squats, and deadlifts to build up his legendary physique.

Arnold sometimes used machines and cable exercises. However, he truly believed that you cannot replace exercises like bent-over barbell rows, t-bar rows, overhead presses and stiff-legged deadlifts for building muscular density and “the look of power.”

Just take a look at the following video:

Arnold used old-school full range of motion exercises like the t-bar row as the backbone of his workouts!

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you Arnold’s training program including the exact exercises he used to train each muscle group.

I will also teach you some of Arnold’s favorite high-intensity training techniques that he used to “shock the muscle.” Some of Arnold’s favorite muscle-building techniques include two-a-day workouts, drop sets and supersets.

Even if you do not copy Arnold’s exact workouts I am confident you will learn some ideas that you can use in your own training program. Now let’s get down to business…

Part 1: Arnold’s Chest / Back Workout

Arnold Schwarzenegger trained his chest and back twice per week on Monday and Thursday. Arnold believed it was absolutely essential to train these big muscle groups together on their own training day.

He says that he could lift more weight training this way and the pump he got in his chest and back was simply unbelievable.

Many people believe that Arnold Schwarzenegger was the bodybuilder with the greatest chest development of all time. The way his chest popped off his body in his side chest pose is simply unbelievable!

Arnold used three main exercises to build up his chest:

  • Exercise #1: Bench presses
  • Exercise #2: Incline bench presses
  • Exercise #3: Dumbbell flyes

These are the exercises that Arnold relied on during the peak of his career. Of course these were not the only exercises that Arnold used. Arnold was famous for his high-volume workouts that lasted up to 2 hours.

Here was Arnold’s go-to chest routine:

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

As you can see Arnold used a wide variety of exercises to build up his chest. He relied heavily on bench presses and incline presses to really build up size of his chest.

Arnold was blessed with a very large rib cage so he was able to really feel his chest with these exercises.

However, Arnold’s most famous chest exercise was the dumbbell fly. Arnold performed dumbbell flyes in a very special way: he lowered the dumbbells as far down as he could while keeping his arms slightly bent.

Here is a perfect video demonstration:

Why did Arnold perform his flyers this way? Every experienced bodybuilder knows how important the stretch is for building muscle.

Arnold figured out that his chest grew faster if he really stretched it out as much as he could with flyers and other isolation exercises. This may sound like “bro-science” but there is a ton of research showing that loaded stretches are one of the best ways to build muscle.

Arnold also had many high-intensity training techniques that he liked to use during his chest routine such as super sets and drop sets. I will talk about these more in part 4 of this article.

Arnold Schwarzenegger approached his upper back training in a very unique way. Arnold actually viewed the upper back as being two separate muscle groups:

  • Back Width
  • Back Thickness

Arnold believes that in order to become a bodybuilding champion you need an upper back that is very wide but also very thick. In order to build the ultimate upper back Arnold used different types of exercises to target the different muscle groups in his upper back.

Arnold relied on exercises like wide-grip pull ups and cable pulldowns to train his lats. The lats are the muscle group that really makes your upper back wider.

On the other hand Arnold relied on heavy rowing exercises and deadlifts to make his back thicker. Arnold believed these heavy barbell exercises were perfect for making the spinal erectors, the traps, the rhomboids and even the lats as thick as possible.

Here was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s go-to upper back training routine. Check it out:

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Upper 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

As you can see Arnold trained his upper back with a wide variety of exercises including pull ups, pulldowns, barbell rows and seated cable rows.

Arnold was also a big fan of deadlifts and sometimes performed them in his back or leg routine. Arnold’s record on the deadlift was 715 pounds and it shows in his upper back development!

It is a shame that many modern-day bodybuilders skip these old-school exercises like pull ups and barbell rows. It’s just like Arnold said: the basics are the basics and you can’t beat the basics. If you want to build a wide, thick back then Arnold is a perfect role model.

Part 2: Arnold’s Shoulder / Arm Workout

Arnold Schwarzenegger trained his shoulders and arms twice per week on Tuesday and Thursday using lots of sets, reps and exercises. Arnold believed the key to building massive shoulders and arms was to really “feel” the working muscle on your exercises and to get a great pump.

Arnold started almost all of his shoulder workouts with some type of overhead press. Then he moved onto different isolation exercises to train all 3 heads of the delts.

Here is one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s go-to shoulder routines. 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

Talk about a high-volume shoulder workout! Arnold believed that you had to train using a combination of compound and isolation exercises to maximally develop the shoulders. He started almost every shoulder workout with some type of overhead press.

Arnold used dumbbell overhead presses, military presses and even the controversial behind-the-neck press!

Back in the 1970’s most bodybuilders used the behind the neck press without any problems. It was widely considered to be one of the best mass-building shoulder exercises. It seems like most modern-day bodybuilders are terrified of this exercise!

After his major pressing exercise Arnold moves onto a bunch of isolation exercises to really isolate and pump up the shoulders. Arnold used many different types of shoulder raises but he also relied on all types of upright rows.

Many modern-day bodybuilders such as Ronnie Coleman train their shoulders using a similar type of routine.

Once Arnold finished training his shoulders he moved right onto training his biceps. Arnold has said on many different occasions that he used three primary exercises to build up his biceps: barbell curls, incline dumbbell curls and concentration curls.

Here is what Arnold’s go-to bicep workout looked like:

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Bicep Workout

  • Exercise #1: Standing barbell curls, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps
  • Exercise #2: 45 degree incline DB curls, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps
  • Exercise #3: DB concentration curls, 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps

Arnold believed in using exercises to really isolate the biceps. Of course that doesn’t mean he never trained heavy! Arnold says that he lifted as much as 275 pounds in the standing barbell curl for reps! Now THAT is a lot of weight!

If you have seen the move “Pumping Iron” then I am sure you remember the scene of Arnold performing standing concentration curls. Here is a great video for this exercise:

Arnold believes this exercise was absolutely key for isolating the biceps and making them “pop” during the rear double biceps pose. Arnold performed his triceps routine right after training his biceps.

One of Arnold’s best tips when it comes to training the biceps is to visualize your muscles performing the exercise as much as possible. Arnold used to visualize his biceps as mountain peaks that were exploding through the gym ceiling!

Modern research shows that Arnold was correct: visualizing your biceps performing the exercise and blowing up in size really does help with muscle growth. When it comes to training the biceps the “mind-muscle connection” really is everything!

Now let’s talk about Arnold’s triceps training routine. Arnold was never known for his triceps development but that was only because of his mind-blowing biceps development!

In reality Arnold trained his triceps with just as much intensity as he did any other body part. Here is one of Arnold’s go-to tricep routines:

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Tricep Workout

  • Exercise #1: Lying ez-bar extensions (to forehead), 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps
  • Exercise #2: Bench press (shoulder-width grip), 3-6 sets of 5-20 reps
  • Exercise #3: Seated DB overhead extensions, 3-6 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #4: Standing rope cable pushdowns, 3-6 sets of 8-20 reps

Arnold stuck to the basic mass-building exercises for his tricep workouts. He loved to perform exercises like close-grip bench presses, skull crushers and overhead triceps extensions. These were the exercises he got his best results from.

You also have to keep in mind that Arnold performed a TON of pressing exercises for his chest and shoulders.

Arnold’s chest workout alone often featured 4-6 pressing movements which indirectly trained his triceps. He only needed to “finish off” his triceps with this workout to stimulate growth.

It may not look like a lot of volume compared to a Jay Cutler style arm workout but this simple triceps routine worked like magic for Arnold.

Part 3: Arnold’s Leg / Abs Workout

In my opinion Arnold doesn’t get enough credit for his incredible leg development.

Arnold’s legs were perfectly proportionate to the rest of his body and he had extremely deep separation between all four heads of his quadriceps. Arnold’s legs complemented his upper body and really gave his physique that classic bodybuilding look.

Arnold trained his quads, hamstrings and calves twice per week on Wednesday and Saturday. Here is what Arnold’s go-to leg workout looked like:

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 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #4: Leg extensions, 3-6 sets of 8-20 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 started off his leg workout by training his quadriceps. Arnold was a big believer in back squats and front squats for building up his legs.

Sometimes Arnold would place a small wooden board under his heels while he squatted. This type of heels elevated squat makes your quadriceps work much harder and is a great strategy to use if you are a taller lifter.

After squatting Arnold used all sorts of different machines to train his quadriceps including 45 degree leg presses, vertical leg presses, machine hack squats and leg extensions.

Sometimes he also performed walking dumbbell lunges to bring up his quads. Arnold tried just about everything to bring up his legs at one point or another!

Arnold’s hamstrings routine was much simpler: he focused on classic bodybuilding exercises like leg curls and stiff-legged deadlifts. Arnold’s hamstrings were trained indirectly with his heavy back exercises such as barbell rows, t-bar rows and deadlifts so he didn’t need to perform as much volume for them.

Part 4: Arnold’s Favorite High-Intensity Techniques

Arnold was known for his high-volume training style. His workouts took as much as 1-2 hours to complete. However, Arnold also a big believer in “shocking the muscle” with different high-intensity training techniques to keep his body off balance.

Here are some of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s favorite ways to shock his muscles:

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Favorite High-Intensity Training Techniques

  • Technique #1: Supersets
  • Technique #2: Drop sets
  • Technique #3: Iso-holds
  • Technique #4: Giant sets

The one thing these techniques have in common is they allowed Arnold to train beyond muscular failure to really overload his muscles. Arnold believed these techniques were absolutely essential to his success as a bodybuilder so let’s take a closer look at each of them.

Arnold’s High-Intensity Technique #1: Supersets

One of Arnold’s favorite high-intensity techniques was supersets. A superset is defined as two exercises performed back-to-back with no rest in between exercises. Arnold actually had two different ways he performed supersets in his workouts.

The first strategy was to superset two different exercises for the same muscle group.

Arnold absolutely loved super setting leg extensions with back squats to bring up his legs. He says the key was to train all the way to failure on the leg extensions before moving onto the squats.

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

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

This routine is a lot harder than it looks! Trying to squat immediately after a hard set of leg extensions is extremely challenging.

When Arnold first started performing these pre-exhaust supersets his quads were so fatigued that he could barely squat 315 pounds! However, after a few months he was back to squatting 400-500 pounds and his quads completely blew in in size!

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!

The other type of superset that Arnold loved using was called “antagonist supersets.” The basic idea is to alternate between sets for opposing muscle groups.

Arnold often performed a set of bench presses, rested a minute, performed a set of chin ups, rested a minute and then performed another set of bench presses. For example:

Arnold’s Chest / Back Antagonistic Supersets

  • Bench press x 8-12 reps, rest 1 minute
  • Pull up x 8-12 reps, rest 1 minute
  • Bench press x 8-12 reps, rest 1 minute
  • Pull up x 8-12 reps, rest 1 minute
  • And so on…

Arnold Schwarzenegger loved to use chest and back supersets like this one right before his bodybuilding competitions. He felt this type of superset was ideal for losing body fat and getting more work done in less time.

This type of superset also makes you stronger and increases your muscular endurance. It’s no wonder Arnold performed many of his chest / back or bicep / tricep workouts this way!

Arnold’s High-Intensity Technique #2: Drop Sets

Arnold’s second-favorite high-intensity technique was drop sets. To perform a drop set you would train to failure, then strip some weight off the exercise and continue pumping out reps with the lighter weight. Arnold often performed as many as 5-10 drops for a single exercise!

For example Arnold loved performing drop sets on seated DB overhead presses. He would press the 110 pound dumbbells for 6 reps, then the 100 pound dumbbells for 6 reps, and so on until he pressed the 40 pound dumbbells for a grueling six reps. For example:

Seated dumbbell overhead press drop set

  • 110 pounds x 6 reps, rest 10 seconds
  • 100 pounds x 6 reps, rest 10 seconds
  • 90 pounds x 6 reps, rest 10 seconds
  • 80 pounds x 6 reps, rest 10 seconds

And so on. Arnold kept going down in weight until his shoulders could barely move. All of this counted as just one set!

Arnold used a similar strategy on exercises like barbell curls and machine hack squats. If Arnold was feeling good and wanted to increase his training intensity then a hard set of drop sets was always on the menu!

Here is what Arnold’s 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, done!

Talk about a brutal set! Just performing 1 all-out set of hack squats is hard enough. Performing an all-out drop set on hack squats takes things to a completely different level!

One of the interesting things about Arnold’s drop sets is he usually performs them for lower reps. This is a great strategy for targeting the fast-twitch muscle fibers and building slabs of functional hypertrophy.

Arnold’s High-Intensity Technique #3: Iso-Holds

Arnold sometimes used iso-holds on different exercises to really overload his muscles. The term “iso-hold” stands for “isometric hold.”

For shoulders Arnold would perform a set of dumbbell lateral raises to failure. Then he would hold the dumbbells out to his sides and hold the dumbbells there as long as he could. After 20-30 seconds his shoulders would be screaming in pain!

Arnold used iso-holds on smaller exercises where it was safe to do so.

Arnold’s High-Intensity Technique #4: Giant sets 

Arnold Schwarzenegger occasionally used giant sets in his routine. A giant set is a series of 4 or more exercises performed back-to-back for the same muscle group. Arnold would occasionally perform giant sets for muscles such as his chest or back.

For example Arnold would perform bench presses, incline bench presses, dumbbell flys and cable crossovers back-to-back with no rest between sets.

Here is what Arnold’s chest giant set routine looked like:

  • Exercise #1: Bench press x 8-20 reps, rest 10 seconds
  • Exercise #2: Incline bench press x 8-20 reps, rest 10 seconds
  • Exercise #3: Dumbbell flys x 8-20 reps, rest 10 seconds
  • Exercise #4: Cable crossovers x 8-20 reps, rest 2-3 minutes, repeat!

Now THAT is a brutal way to train your chest!

Giant sets are so effective because they dramatically increase the time under tension on your muscles. In other words they force your muscles to work much harder and longer during a set than normal. 

Giant sets also help you perform a large volume of work in a short period of time and let you bomb a muscle group from many different angles.

Sometimes Arnold performed a modified version of giant sets called “tri-sets” for his shoulders. The basic idea behind a tri-set is to perform 3 exercises in a row with only 10 seconds rest in between sets.

Tri-sets work in a similar way to giant sets: they force your muscles to work longer during a set and create a ton of muscular damage and metabolic stress.

Here is what Arnold’s favorite shoulder tri-set looked like:

  • Barbell military press x 8-20 reps, rest 10 seconds
  • Upright row x 8-20 seconds, rest 10 seconds
  • Dumbbell lateral raise x 8-20 seconds, rest 2-3 minutes, repeat!

This shoulder tri-set routine is a lot tougher than it looks! Arnold used this routine and many other tri-set routines to get a huge pump in his shoulders and to stimulate as much growth as possible.

If your shoulders are lagging behind the rest of your body then this can be a great training strategy to “shock your muscles” and stimulate some fast muscle growth.

Part 5: Arnold’s Pre-Contest Training Program

Arnold normally performed one workout per day. However, about 2-3 months before the Mr. Olympia contest Arnold started using 2-a-day workouts to transform his body as quickly as possible.

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

As you can see Arnold trained each body part 3 times per week using a twice per day, 6 days per week training split. This is an insane amount of volume but it worked like magic for him.

Arnold really liked to train opposing muscle groups together before his bodybuilding competitions because it let him perform antagonistic supersets.

An antagonistic superset is where you alternate back and forth between sets for opposing muscle groups.

For example one of Arnold’s favorite muscle-building strategies was to perform a set of bench presses, rest 1 minute, perform a set of chin ups, rest 1 minute and perform another set of bench presses.

Arnold used a similar strategy for every other chest and back exercise including dips, t-bar rows and dumbbell flyes.

Here is what Arnold’s 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

Arnold used 5 different supersets for his pre-contest chest / back workout. This is absolutely insane when you realize that Arnold performed this workout 3 times per week!

Anyone else would have crashed and burned on this high-volume training schedule but then again Arnold was anything but average!

Arnold used a very similar strategy for his shoulders and arms day. First he trained his shoulders, then he trained his biceps and triceps together using opposing muscle group supersets. Here is what his pre-contest arm superset workout looked like:

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

Once again Arnold performed 5 supersets for his biceps and triceps. Performing antagonistic supersets for your arms gives you an insane pump and lets you perform a lot of high-quality work in a short period of time.

If you have never tried antagonistic supersets then I highly recommend you give them a shot. They are one of the best training methods you can use to build size and strength. In other words, do what Arnold tells you!

Conclusion

Arnold Schwarzenegger will go down as one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time. He had the best chest development of any bodybuilder ever and one of the most massive and aesthetic physiques the world has ever seen.

Arnold trained with a high-volume bodybuilding program where he trained each muscle group twice per week. Arnold’s program is very difficult for the average trainee to recover from but Arnold was anything but average.

He knew that the only way to become a bodybuilding champion was to work harder than anyone else in the world!

In the end I believe it was Arnold’s mindset that gave him the edge over his competition. Arnold is famous for saying that the body is important but the mind is more important than the body.

It is the mind that makes you perform that last rep to failure. It is the mind that visualizes what the body could look like. It is the mind that makes you perform another set of bench presses or chin ups and it is the mind that makes you perform squats until your legs fall off!

If you want to achieve your bodybuilding goals then you must visualize what you want your body to look like and then train for that physique with everything you’ve got.

I will leave you with one last Arnold Schwarzenegger quote to pump you up even more:

“The mind is the limit. As long as the mind can envision the fact that you can do something, you can do it, as long as you really believe 100 percent.”

Now THAT is the mindset of a true champion! 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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