The Ronnie Coleman Training Program!


Ronnie Coleman was the greatest bodybuilder of all time. He won the Mr. Olympia title a record 8 times in a row from 1998 – 2005 and set a new bodybuilding standard for size and conditioning.

Ronnie wasn’t the most genetically gifted bodybuilder in the world. He just outworked everyone else on his way to becoming a champion. If you want to learn how the greatest bodybuilder of all time trained then this article is for you!

Introduction

  • Part 1: Ronnie’s Pull Workout #1
  • Part 2: Ronnie’s Leg Workout #1
  • Part 3: Ronnie’s Push Workout #1
  • Part 4: Ronnie’s Pull Workout #2
  • Part 5: Ronnie’s Leg Workout #2
  • Part 6: Ronnie’s Push Workout #2

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you everything you need to know about Ronnie Coleman’s training program. The Ronnie Coleman training program is based around three things:

  1. High Volume
  2. High Frequency
  3. Heavy-Ass Weights!

Ronnie Coleman was known as the strongest bodybuilder in the world. He lifted weights that other bodybuilders couldn’t even dream of lifting!

Just take a look at Ronnie bench pressing 200 pound dumbbells like they were a couple of peanuts:

Talk about a strong chest!

So what kind of training program did Ronnie use to become the biggest, strongest bodybuilder in the world? That is a great question. Ronnie Coleman trained six days per week using a traditional push / pull / legs training split.

With the classic push / pull / legs split you train your entire body over three separate workouts. You have a “push” day where you train your chest / shoulders / triceps, a “pull” day where you train your back / biceps and a “legs” day where you train your quads / hamstrings / calves.  For example:

  • “Push” Day = Chest / Shoulders / Triceps
  • “Pull” Day = Back / Biceps
  • “Legs” Day = Quads / Hamstrings / Calves

There are a few different ways to set up a push / pull / legs split. Ronnie Coleman used a version where he trains 6 days per week and hits each body part twice per week.

Here is what Ronnie’s weekly training split looked like:

The Ronnie Coleman Training Split

  • Monday: Pull Workout #1
  • Tuesday: Legs Workout #1
  • Wednesday: Push Workout #1
  • Thursday: Pull Workout #2
  • Friday: Legs Workout #2
  • Saturday: Push Workout #2
  • Sunday: Rest Day

Ronnie did make 1 major modification to this split: he actually trained his shoulders on his back / biceps day. So his “pull” workout was actually a back / biceps / shoulder workout.

So Ronnie trained each body part twice per week. One of the really interesting things that Ronnie did is he used two completely different workouts for each body part.

For example Ronnie’s back workout on Monday focused on heavy deadlifts and rowing exercises to make his back thicker. Ronnie’s second back workout on Thursday was completely different: it focused on lat pulldowns to the front and back of his head to make his back wider.

Ronnie used a similar strategy for all of his other body parts. In other words he used completely different exercises in his first and second weekly workout for each body part.

Why would Ronnie do this? You have to remember that Ronnie was an extremely strong bodybuilder. If Ronnie performed the exact same workout twice per week he would quickly burn out. He needed more variety in his routine in order to recover and continue making progress.

If Ronnie tired to perform deadlifts and heavy bent over rows twice per week he would overtrain his lower back! Just take look at Ronnie repping out 9 plates on T-bar rows:

If Ronnie tried to do this twice per week then he would overtrain his lower back! Ronnie figured out that he had to alternate a heavy back workout with a lighter one each week if he wanted to make long-term progress.

I hope you found this overview of Ronnie Coleman’s training program helpful. Now let’s take a closer look at the exact workouts Ronnie used to become the greatest bodybuilder of all time.

Part 1: Ronnie’s Pull Workout #1

Ronnie Coleman trained his back using two completely different workouts. Early in the week he has a “back thickness” day where he focuses on heavy deadlifts and rowing exercises to make his back thicker. Ronnie also uses these heavy exercises to build his lower back.

Later in the week he has a “back width” day where he focuses on lat pulldowns and seated cable rows to make his upper back wider.

This first workout is Ronnie’s back thickness workout. He also uses a variety of exercises to overload his biceps and shoulders. Check it out:

Ronnie Coleman’s Pull 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
  • E1: Preacher DB curl (supinated grip), 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • F1: Ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • G1: Seated alternating DB hammer curl, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • H1: Seated barbell military press, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • I1: Standing DB lateral raise, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • J1: Barbell front raises, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • K1: Rear delt pec dec, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • L1: Bent-over DB rear delt raise, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • M1: Standing DB shrugs, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps

Here are some clickable links for Ronnie’s training videos:

Most bodybuilders train with really heavy weights OR high-volume workouts with lots of sets, reps and exercises. The thing that makes Ronnie Coleman so special is he trained with high volume and ultra-heavy weights in the same workout!

Some of Ronnie’s best lifts on his first “pull” workout include deadlifting 800 pounds for 2 reps, t-bar rowing 450 pounds for 9 reps and military pressing 315 pounds for 12 reps. Ronnie was a human forklift in the gym!

Some people say that using progressive overload and getting stronger over time isn’t that important if your goal is to build muscle. Many experts believe that training to get stronger is a waste of time for a bodybuilder. They believe that a high-volume approach is the “science-based” way to train.

Give me a break!

Do you really think Ronnie Coleman could have built the greatest back of all time without throwing around some heavy slag iron in the gym? Guys like Ronnie Coleman and Dorian Yates know the importance of getting stronger over time.

Ronnie may not have had the best genetics for bodybuilding. After all, guys like Flex Wheeler and Kevin Levrone had him beat hands-down in the genetics department.

It didn’t matter to Ronnie though. No one else was willing to deadlift 800+ pounds for reps or barbell row 500+ pounds for reps. THAT is how Ronnie built the thickest upper back of all time!

Something to think about…

Part 2: Ronnie’s Leg Workout #1

Ronnie Coleman started every leg workout with some type of squat. Ronnie focused on back squats n his first weekly workout and front squats in his second weekly workout. This is a great training strategy for advanced bodybuilders who “burn out” if they do the same exercises too often.

Now let’s take a look at Ronnie’s back squat workout.

Check it out:

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 are some clickable links for Ronnie’s training videos:

Ronnie Coleman was known for his unbelievable leg development. It’s easy to see why after watching his training videos! Ronnie lifts unbelievably heavy weights with absolutely perfect form on all of the major leg exercises.

There is one thing that Ronnie does on his quad exercises that I find really interesting: he almost always uses a partial range of motion!

Take another look at Ronnie’s squat or leg press videos. He only performs the bottom two-thirds of the range of motion. He never locks out his legs during his set and stays far away from the top of the movement.

This is an advanced training strategy that many bodybuilders use to build maximum muscle mass. Ronnie believes that the bottom two-thirds of the exercise is where most of the muscle growth is occurring. Therefore Ronnie decides to exclusively focus on that part of the range of motion.

If you are an advanced bodybuilder then you may want to use partial range of motion reps in the stretched position of your quad exercises just like Ronnie.

Part 3: Ronnie’s Push Workout #1

Ronnie uses 2 completely different workouts to overload his chest and triceps each week. Ronnie’s first weekly chest day focuses on barbell pressing exercises. He performs the flat bench press followed by the incline and decline bench press.

On Ronnie’s second weekly chest day he focuses on dumbbell pressing movements. This is a really interesting way to set up your chest workouts.

Now let’s take a closer look at Ronnie’s first weekly chest / triceps workout. Check it out:

Ronnie Coleman’s Barbell Chest Workout

  • A1: Flat BB bench press, 3-5 sets of 5-15 reps
  • B1: Incline BB bench press, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • C1: Decline BB bench press, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • D1: Seated unilateral DB french press, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • E1: Hammer strength machine dips, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • F1: Standing cable tricep pushdown, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps

Here are some clickable links for Ronnie’s training videos:

If you watch enough of Ronnie’s training videos then you will see that Ronnie likes to perform partial range of motion reps on almost all of his chest exercises.

Just take a look at his bench press video! Ronnie explodes the bar off his chest. However, as soon as the bar gets about two-thirds of the way up he drops it right back down to his chest.

Ronnie feels his chest working the most in the bottom half of the bench press so he wants to focus on this part of the range of motion.

A lot of experts would say that Ronnie is using bad form on the bench press. I strongly disagree! Many bodybuilders have used partial reps in the stretched position of various exercises to build their incredible physiques.

The first Mr. Olympia winner Larry Scott was using partial reps on preacher curls way back in the 1960s to build his legendary biceps!

More and more research is coming out showing that the stretched position of most exercises is where the most muscular damage occurs.

Just think about a barbell bench press: how much is the chest working when the bar is near lockout vs when the bar is an inch above the chest? It’s not even close – the chest is working so much harder in the bottom position!

What Ronnie is doing here is he is performing all of his reps within the most productive part of the movement for hypertrophying his chest.

Of course it isn’t strictly necessary to train this way. Dorian Yates exclusively used a full range of motion on all of his exercises and it didn’t seem to hurt his results.

The decision to perform full range of motion reps or to perform partials in the stretched position ala Ronnie Coleman is a personal one.

If you are an advanced bodybuilder then I recommend you experiment with both styles and figure out which one works best for you. Of course using a combination of both rep styles in your training doesn’t make you a bad person!

Part 4: Ronnie’s Pull Workout #2

Ronnie Coleman’s second back workout was all about making his back wider.

Ronnie focused on different types of lat pulldowns and seated cable rows to really overload his lats. He also focused on a variety of bicep and shoulder exercises on this day to balance out his upper body.

Check it out:

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
  • E1: Machine preacher curls, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • F1: Standing alternating DB curls (supinating grip), 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • G1: Standing cable ez-bar curl, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • H1: Seated DB overhead press, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • I1: Machine lateral raise, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • I2: Machine overhead press, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • J1: DB front raises, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • K1: Cable standing rear-delt pull-apart, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • L1: Cable bent-over rear-delt pull-apart, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps

Here are some clickable links for Ronnie’s training videos:

One interesting aspect of Ronnie’s back training is that he doesn’t perform any exercises specifically designed to target his lower back.

You won’t find any back extensions, good mornings, or reverse hyperextensions in Ronnie’s routine! Instead Ronnie relies on exercises such as deadlifts and rows to build up his lower back and overall spinal erectors.

This is a rather interesting approach that some bodybuilding coaches such as Dante Trudel have used with their trainees.

If you are going to go this route with your lower back training then you are going to need to pick heavy rowing exercises that feature a little bit of “body-English.”

When Ronnie performs barbell rows and t-bar rows you can clearly see that he is initiating the movement with his posterior chain before his shoulder extensors take over the movement.

I wouldn’t necessarily advise you to use Ronnie’s exact form on t-bar rows etc. but this is may be necessary to some degree if you abstain from more targeted lower back work.

The rest of Ronnie’s Thursday workout is rather straightforward. He picks a healthy variety of exercises to work his biceps and shoulders.

Once again I am inclined to think his shoulder development had more to do with the fact that he was overhead pressing 160 lb dumbbells than anything else but his routine is still quite interesting.

Part 5: Ronnie’s Leg Workout #2

This is Ronnie’s second leg workout of the week. In reality it looks quite similar to his first leg workout during the week.

Ronnie picks 2-3 old-school exercises for his quads and hamstrings and then goes to town on them with a blend of heavy-ass weight, moderate to high reps, and perfect form. This is the Ronnie Coleman way!

Check it out:

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 are some clickable links for Ronnie’s training videos:

I am constantly amazed at the number of bodybuilders that refuse to include front squats in their routine. Ronnie clearly benefited tremendously from this exercise.

So why do so many bodybuilders neglect the front squat? To be perfectly honest with you a lot of bodybuilders today are practically allergic to hard work in the gym!

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of bodybuilders out there training their asses off on the big compound lifts. But way too often I see people searching for ways to make their exercises easier rather than more effective.

Ronnie didn’t become the greatest bodybuilder of all time by shying away from a challenge.

Instead he picked the most bang-for-your-buck exercises for every body part and charted a course to performing them with more weight and for more reps than any of his competitors.

Whether it was front squats with 6 plates a side or 9-plate t-bar rows or 5-plate bench presses, Ronnie never backed down from a challenge. This is the kind of attitude that makes you a champion.

If you are looking for ways to make your workouts easier rather than more effective then you need to sit down and ask yourself some serious questions.

What are your goals, and what are you willing to do to achieve them? If you can’t handle a little bit of pain from 1-3 sets of front squats then you are in the wrong sport.

People asked Ronnie all the time how he lifted the weights he did. His response was always the same: “Light weight Baby! Ain’t Nothin’ But A Peanut!!”

Part 6: Ronnie’s Push Workout #2

Ronnie’s second “push” workout looked completely different from his first one. For this workout Ronnie focused on different dumbbell chest exercises such as the flat dumbbell press and the incline dumbbell press.

For his triceps workout Ronnie focused on a wide variety of exercises including skull crushers and seated french presses.

Check it out:

Ronnie Coleman’s Dumbbell Chest Workout

  • A1: Flat DB press, 3-5 sets of 5-15 reps
  • B1: Incline DB press, 3-5 sets of 5-15 reps
  • C1: Flat DB fly, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • D1: Lying ez-bar extension (behind head), 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • D2: Close grip bench press (with ez-bar), 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • E1: Two-arm seated DB french press, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • F1: Two-arm bent-over DB tricep kickbacks, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps

Here are some clickable links for Ronnie’s training videos:

Ronnie was famous for throwing around the 200 pound dumbbells on flat and incline presses like they were peanuts! How on earth does someone get this strong?

To be honest I’m not sure if Ronnie Coleman is even human. I think he is actually a silverback gorilla just pretending to be human!

One of the things that I really like about Ronnie is he wasn’t afraid to push himself close to failure on at least some of his sets. A lot of bodybuilders who train with high-volume workouts are absolutely terrified of training to failure.

You are never going to get stronger if you are constantly leaving “5 reps in reserve” on your sets. As Greg Doucette says if you want results then you have to train hard!

Take another look at Ronnie performing incline dumbbell presses. He performs 5 reps on his own with the 200 pound dumbbells. Then his training partner steps in and helps Ronnie perform 2 extra “forced reps.”

Talk about a hard set!

Ronnie’s triceps training is a little less “sexy” than his chest training. Ronnie’s triceps were always one of his slightly weaker body parts. Ronnie just gets in some quality sets on three completely different exercises designed to target all 3 heads of the triceps.

If you are looking for someone’s triceps training to emulate then you can’t go wrong with Ronnie Coleman.

Conclusion

There are many things you could take a way from the Ronnie Coleman training program. I will simply leave you with six of the most important takeaways when I first studied Ronnie’s training style many years ago.

Check it out:

  • Ronnie trained body parts twice per week with different exercises on each day.
  • Ronnie largely stuck with the same basic exercises for his entire career.
  • Ronnie trained with heavy slag iron day-in and day-out.
  • Ronnie used his heavy rowing exercises to develop his lower back and spinal erectors.
  • Ronnie used partial-reps in the stretched position for chest, shoulders, triceps, and quads.

And most importantly:

  • Ronnie Coleman had the “growth mindset.” He knew in his heart he was destined to be a champion and he outworked his competition day-in and day-out until he reached his goal. 

I want to show you the mindset of a true champion. In 2004 Ronnie Coleman and Jay Cutler were competing for the Mr. Olympia contest. Jay Cutler said that this is the year he was going to finally beat Ronnie Coleman and win the Mr. Olympia title.

Ronnie Coleman replied in his usual laid-back style:

“I think Jay Cutler’s smoking crack and he ain’t in his right mind!”

Just compare these two mindsets:

  • Jay Cutler: “I think Ronnie’s 100% beatable.”
  • Ronnie Coleman: “I think Jay Cutler’s smoking crack!”

Ronnie has the mindset of a true bodybuilding champion. Jay Cutler never even had a chance in 2004 and this difference in their mindsets was the primary reason why.

I hope you found this overview of Ronnie Coleman’s training program helpful. If you have above-average recovery ability and want to train like the greatest bodybuilder of all time then I highly recommend you give Ronnie’s training routine a shot.

You may never be as big or as strong as Ronnie but you can always use him as an ideal to strive for.

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.

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

Dr. Mike Jansen

I am the creator and owner of Revolutionary Program Design. I help advanced athletes take their training to the next level and achieve results they never imagined possible.

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