6 Training Tips From Ronnie Coleman!


Ronnie coleman training tips

Ronnie Coleman is one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time. Ronnie won the Mr. Olympia contest a record 8 times in a row and set a new bodybuilding standard for size, symmetry and conditioning.

So what makes Ronnie so special? How was he able to dominate the sport of bodybuilding for almost a decade? In my opinion it was Ronnie Coleman’s training style that separated him from his competitors!

Introduction

  • Tip #1: Train Each Muscle Twice Per Week
  • Tip #2: Train With Progressive Overload
  • Tip #3: Train With Free Weights Over Machines
  • Tip #4: Divide Your Back Into “Width” And “Thickness”
  • Tip #5: Use Partial Reps For Chest, Triceps And Quads
  • Tip #6: Train Your Shoulders With Many Exercises

In this guide I want to teach you 6 of Ronnie Coleman’s most important training tips for building muscle mass.

Most professional bodybuilders train each muscle group once per week with lighter weights and a heavy emphasis on machine exercises. Ronnie Coleman did the exact opposite: he trained each muscle group twice per week with unbelievably heavy weights and an emphasis on free weight exercises over machines.

Ronnie used a high-volume approach for each muscle group but he always used the progressive overload principle in his workouts and trained to lift heavier and heavier weights over time.

Here is Ronnie Coleman explaining his training philosophy:

“It’s called bodybuilding and the only way you can build muscle is with repetition. Heavy weight, as heavy as possible and for as many repetitions as possible.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself! Even if you do not use Ronnie Coleman’s exact training program I am confident you will find these training tips helpful.

Note: if you have trouble reading the training routines in this article then check out this guide on how to read a training program. Now let’s get down to business…

Tip #1: Train Each Muscle Twice Per Week

Ronnie Coleman trained each muscle group twice per week using a 6 days per week training split. Check it out:

The Ronnie Coleman Training Split

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

Ronnie Coleman’s split is very similar to a 6 days per week push / pull / legs split. The main difference is that he trained his shoulders on his back / biceps training day.

So why is Ronnie’s training split such a big deal? Ronnie Coleman’s training split lets him train each muscle group twice as often as his competitors. This means he can build muscle mass and strength much faster than anyone else.

One of Ronnie’s favorite strategies was to train each muscle group with two completely different workouts using completely different exercises. For example Ronnie Coleman trained his chest using barbell exercises on his first weekly workout and dumbbells on his second weekly workout. Check it out:

Ronnie Coleman’s Barbell Chest Workout

  • A1: Flat barbell bench press, 3-5 sets of 5-15 reps
  • B1: Incline barbell bench press, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • C1: Decline barbell bench press, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps

Here is the full training video for this workout:

Ronnie Coleman’s Dumbbell Chest Workout

  • A1: Flat dumbbell press, 3-5 sets of 5-15 reps
  • B1: Incline dumbbell press, 3-5 sets of 5-15 reps
  • C1: Flat dumbbell fly, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps

Here is the full training video for this workout:

As you can see Ronnie Coleman trained his chest with two completely different workouts.

On his first chest workout he used different barbell exercises like the flat bench press, incline bench press and decline bench press. Then on his second chest workout he used different dumbbell exercises like the flat dumbbell press, the incline dumbbell press and the flat dumbbell fly.

This is such an awesome way to train. Alternating between two different workouts per body part works great for building size AND strength.

This strategy works great for size gains because the different exercises let you overload different muscle fibers within your target muscle to stimulate more growth. However, it also works great for strength gains because you are preventing your central nervous system from adapting to your routine.

Most bodybuilders can make progress for a very long time if they rotate through 2 or even 3 different workouts per body part using different exercises.

DC Training is another bodybuilding program that does a great job of rotating through several workouts per body part.

Tip #2: Train With Progressive Overload

Ronnie Coleman was one of the strongest bodybuilders the world has ever seen. He was famous for throwing around the 200 pound dumbbells on his chest day like they were a couple of peanuts and for squatting / deadlifting 800 pounds for reps on his leg and back days.

Here is a great quote by Ronnie Coleman on the importance of training heavy:

“Everybody wanna be a bodybuilder, but nobody wants to lift no heavy ass weight!”

There are a lot of bodybuilders and fitness experts today who say that you don’t have to lift heavy to build muscle or that lifting heavy is dangerous and a great way to get injured.

As Arnold Schwarzenegger once said, “What the hell are you talking about?” If progressive overload isn’t important for building muscle then everyone could get huge lifting the pink dumbbells for sets of 20 reps!

Ronnie Coleman knew that if he wanted to build as much muscle mass as possible then he would have to lift heavier and heavier weights throughout his career. Ronnie always lifted with perfect form and usually trained in higher rep ranges. However, he made sure that he was training in such a way that he got stronger over time.

Here are some of Ronnie Coleman’s best lifts:

  • Bench press: 495 pounds for 5 reps
  • Military press: 315 pounds for 12 reps
  • Squat: 800 pounds for 2 reps
  • Deadlift: 800 pounds for 2 reps
  • T-bar row: 450 pounds x 8 reps
  • Barbell row: 495 pounds x 8 reps

Just take a look at Ronnie Coleman barbell rowing 495 pounds for reps:

If you’re wondering why Ronnie Coleman was so much bigger than his competitors then this is it. All the top bodybuilders nail their diet every single day and all the top bodybuilders are using the same “super supplements.”

The thing that made Ronnie a champion was his ability to train with back-breaking weights day-in and day-out throughout his career. No one could lift the weights that Ronnie lifted and no one ever got close to his level of muscular development.

I’m not saying that progressive overload is the key to building muscle. However, it is a VERY important piece of the muscle-building puzzle. If you have not gotten any stronger in the past 2 years then you probably haven’t built much muscle, either.

If you want to learn more about how to use progressive overload to build muscle then check out the following article:

In that article I show you how to use the progressive overload principle with 5 of the most popular bodybuilding programs including Dorian Yates’ “Blood And Guts” Training, Mountain Dog Training and Fortitude Training.

Tip #3: Train With Free Weights Over Machines

Ronnie Coleman was an old-school bodybuilder. He believed that free weights were almost always superior to machines and if you wanted to build maximum muscle mass then you had to focus on free weight exercises.

Just take a look at Ronnie Coleman’s weekly back workouts:

Ronnie Coleman Back Workout #1

  • A1: Conventional deadlift, 3-5 sets of x 4-8 reps
  • B1: Barbell bent-over row, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • C1: T-bar row, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • D1: Standing unilateral DB row, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps

Here is the full training video for this workout:

Ronnie Coleman Back Workout #2

  • A1: Lat pulldown (wide / overhand grip), 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • B1: Behind the neck lat pulldown (wide / overhand grip), 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • C1: Seated cable row (v-handle), 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • D1: Lying DB pullovers, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps

Here is the full training video for this workout:

I don’t know about you but I don’t see any fancy machine exercises in these back workouts. All I see are old-school free-weight exercises like deadlifts, barbell rows, lat pulldowns and seated cable rows.

Of course I don’t count cable exercises as machines. As Charles Poliquin correctly pointed out, cables are really just re-directed dumbbells and should be considered a free weight exercise.

So what makes free weight exercises so special? Free weight exercises force your body to recruit more muscle fibers to lift the weight. All other things being equal, free weight exercises are always going to deliver better results than machines.

Of course that does NOT mean that machine exercises are useless. Ronnie Coleman really liked to use machine exercises to train his legs. Here are Ronnie’s 2 weekly leg workouts:

Ronnie Coleman’s Back Squat Workout

  • A1: Back squats, 3-5 sets of x 4-12 reps
  • B1: Leg press, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • C1: Leg extensions, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • D1: Standing unilateral leg curl, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • E1: Stiff legged deadlift, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps

Here is the full training video for this workout:

Ronnie Coleman’s Front Squat Workout

  • A1: Front squat, 3-5 sets of 4-12 reps
  • B1: Machine hack squat, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • C1: Walking lunge (BB on back), 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • D1: Lying leg curl, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • E1: Seated leg curl, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps

Here is the full training video for this workout:

As you can see Ronnie Coleman used about 2 machine exercises per leg workout. He mostly used them for old-school bodybuilding exercises like hack squats, leg presses and leg curls.

The bottom line is Ronnie Coleman used free weight exercises as the foundation of his training program and it really shows in his physique. If you want to build muscle as fast as possible then you too should make free weights the foundation of your routine.

Tip #4: Divide Your Back Into “Width” And “Thickness”

The upper back is one of the most complex regions of the body. There are so many different muscle groups that you have to train for complete development. Most bodybuilders think about the back as two separate muscle groups: “back width” and “back thickness.”

Here are the body parts that make up these regions of the back:

Back Width Muscle Groups

  • Lats
  • Teres Major

Back Thickness Muscle Groups

  • Traps (Upper / Middle / Lower)
  • Rhomboids
  • Spinal Erectors

Most bodybuilders will pick use different exercises to train their “back width” and their “back thickness” in a single workout. Ronnie Coleman uses a completely different approach: he actually has a separate back width training day and a separate back thickness training day.

On his back width day Ronnie focuses on cable pulldowns, seated cable rows and lying dumbbell pullovers to train his lats and teres major.

On his back thickness day Ronnie uses heavy deadlifts, barbell rows and dumbbell rows to train his traps, rhomboids and spinal erectors.

Here are Ronnie’s 2 back workouts:

Ronnie Coleman’s Back Thickness Workout

  • A1: Conventional deadlift, 3-5 sets of x 4-8 reps
  • B1: Barbell bent-over row, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • C1: T-bar row, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • D1: Standing unilateral DB row, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps

Ronnie Coleman’s Back Width Workout

  • A1: Lat pulldown (wide / overhand grip), 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • B1: Behind the neck lat pulldown (wide / overhand grip), 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • C1: Seated cable row (v-handle), 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • D1: Lying DB pullovers, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps

One of the big advantages of Ronnie’s back training program is that his lower back had a full week to rest in between back thickness workouts.

Exercises like deadlifts, barbell rows and t-bar rows can take a long time to recover from. They place a ton of stress on the lower back and can really eat into your recovery ability.

By performing all of these exercises together on the same training day Ronnie gave his lower back a full week to rest and recover before his next heavy back thickness day. If Ronnie was performing heavy back thickness exercises twice per week then this might have been more difficult to pull off.

I highly recommend you start thinking about your back exercises as “back width” exercises or “back thickness” the way Ronnie did. This is a very simple but extremely effective tip for building a bigger, stronger back.

Tip #5: Use Partial Reps For Chest, Triceps And Quads

Ronnie Coleman had a special way that he performed chest, tricep and quadricep exercises. Ronnie Coleman never locked out the weight on these exercises. Instead he performed partial range of motion reps out of the bottom position of these movements.

Here is Ronnie performing his partial reps on the machine hack squat for legs:

As you can see Ronnie comes up about 70% of the way and then drops back down into the bottom position of the exercise. Ronnie uses a very similar training technique on chest and tricep exercises like bench presses, dumbbell presses and triceps extensions.

I like to call these “bodybuilding-style partial reps” because so many professional bodybuilders use them in their workouts.

Why on Earth would Ronnie Coleman train this way? Doesn’t he know that a full range of motion is essential for building muscle mass?

The truth is Ronnie Coleman figured out on his own that the bottom position of chest, tricep and quadricep exercises is where the most muscle growth happens. This is where these muscles are stretched the most and there is more and more research coming out supporting loaded stretching techniques for building muscle.

Performing partial reps in the stretched position maximizes the time under tension in the stretched position and keeps maximum tension on the muscle throughout the entire set.

If Ronnie Coleman locked out his legs or even came close to locking out his legs on the hack squat then he would be taking the tension off of his quads.

If you are an advanced bodybuilder then I highly recommend you experiment with Ronnie Coleman style partial reps for your chest, tricep and quadricep exercises. For almost all other muscle groups Ronnie Coleman trained with a full range of motion so don’t try to use this technique on every exercise.

Tip #6: Train Your Shoulders With Several Exercises

Ronnie Coleman was a big believer in high-volume workouts for building muscle. All of his workouts featured lots of sets, reps and exercises to pump his muscles full of blood and to create a ton of muscle fatigue. However, when Ronnie Coleman trained his shoulders he took things to a completely different level.

Ronnie trained his shoulders twice per week with 6 different exercises per workout. Now that is a lot of volume for one of the smaller muscle groups! Here are Ronnie’s 2 weekly shoulder workouts:

Ronnie Coleman’s Barbell Shoulder Workout

  • A1: Seated barbell military press, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • B1: Standing DB lateral raise, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • C1: Barbell front raises, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • D1: Rear delt pec dec, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • E1: Bent-over DB rear delt raise, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • F1: Standing DB shrugs, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps

Here is the training video for this workout:

Ronnie Coleman’s Dumbbell Shoulder Workout

  • A1: Seated DB overhead press, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • B1: Machine lateral raise, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • B2: Machine overhead press, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • C1: DB front raises, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • D1: Cable standing rear-delt pull-apart, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • E1: Cable bent-over rear-delt pull-apart, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps

Here is the full training video for this workout:

Ronnie starts both shoulder workouts with some type of heavy overhead pressing movement. On one day he uses the barbell overhead press and on another day he uses the dumbbell overhead press.

After his first compound exercise he performs a wide variety of isolation exercises for his front, side and rear delts. Modern research tells us that this is a very smart way to train the delts.

The delts actually have seven different muscle heads rather than just three:

  • Front delts = 3 muscle heads
  • Side delts = 1 muscle head
  • Rear delts = 3 muscle heads

If you want to achieve complete development of the deltoids then you really do need to use a wide variety of exercises to target each of these different muscle heads.

Ronnie Coleman wasn’t reading all of the latest scientific studies to figure this out. Instead he relied on his intuition and figured out through trial and error that his delts grew faster if he performed lots of different exercises for them.

This is definitely something to think about for your own shoulder training routines!

Conclusion

Ronnie coleman training tips

Ronnie Coleman may sound like the stereotypical bodybuilding “meat head” when he shouts things like “yeah buddy, “light weight” and “ain’t nothing but a peanut” in the gym. Nothing could be further from the truth!

In reality Ronnie Coleman is an incredibly intelligent bodybuilder with a very deep understanding of what it takes to build as much muscle mass as possible.

Ronnie Coleman put together an extremely well-rounded training program that allowed him to become the biggest and strongest Mr. Olympia champion the world has ever seen.

You may not be able to recover from Ronnie Coleman’s exact training program. However, I am confident that you can use these Ronnie Coleman training tips to make faster progress in the gym.

If you want to learn more about the Ronnie Coleman training program then check out the following articles:

I will leave you with one final quote by the world-champion boxer Muhammad Ali to pump you up even more:

“Champions aren’t made in the gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision.”

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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