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.

If you want to train like Ronnie Coleman then this article is for you!

Introduction

  • Part 1: Ronnie’s Back / Bicep / Shoulder Workouts
  • Part 2: Ronnie’s Quad / Hamstring / Calf Workouts
  • Part 3: Ronnie’s Chest / Tricep Workouts

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you everything you need to know about Ronnie Coleman’s training program.

Ronnie Coleman trained 6 days per week using a modified push / pull / legs split. His goal was to train each muscle group twice per week with many different exercises and lots of volume and intensity to stimulate as much muscle growth as possible.

Here is the exact training split that Ronnie Coleman used during his career:

The Ronnie Coleman Training Split

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

As you can see Ronnie trained each muscle group twice per week: once early in the week and once alter in the week. On Sunday Ronnie takes a rest day to help his body rest and recover.

Ronnie Coleman’s training split is very similar to the classic 6 day push / pull / legs split used by Chris Bumstead and many other professional bodybuilders. The big difference is Ronnie trained his shoulders together with his back and biceps rather than his chest and triceps.

Ronnie trained like a bodybuilder but he also loved lifting heavy weights in the gym. Just take a look at Ronnie Coleman bench pressing the 200 pound dumbbells like they are a couple of peanuts:

Talk about a strong chest! Ronnie Coleman was a big believer in the principle of progressive overload. He believed that lifting heavier weights over time on his favorite exercises was one of the best ways to build muscle.

As long as he trained with heavy weights AND high reps he knew his muscles would have no choice but to grow.

Here is Ronnie talking about his general 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 any better myself!

One of the really interesting things about Ronnie Coleman’s training program is he used two completely different workouts for each muscle group during the week.

For example he used two completely different back routines.

His first weekly back workout focused on deadlifts and heavy rowing exercises to make his back thicker. On the other hand his second weekly back workout focused on cable pulldowns and other “stretching” exercises to make his back wider.

This is an AWESOME way to train!

By rotating through 2 different workouts for each muscle group Ronnie was able to prevent training plateaus and continue making progress for long periods of time.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.

Ronnie used a similar approach for every other muscle group: he rotated through 2 different workouts to prevent training plateaus and avoid overtraining.

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 Back / Bicep / Shoulder Workouts

Ronnie Coleman trained his back, biceps and shoulders twice a week on Monday and Thursday. These workouts were very long because Ronnie performed several different exercises per body part.

Here is how Ronnie organized his back / bicep / shoulder workouts:

  • Back: 4 exercises
  • Biceps: 3 exercises
  • Shoulders: 5-6 exercises

Talk about a high-volume workout! Ronnie performed 12-13 total exercises for his back, biceps and shoulders.

This is a TON of volume and would be too much for most professional bodybuilders to recover from. However, it worked like magic for Ronnie Coleman.

Ronnie trained his back, biceps and shoulders twice per week but he used completely different exercises on each workout.

Ronnie did this so that he could use more variety and prevent his body from adapting to his routine. He also did this to make it easier to recover from his workouts – especially his back workouts.

Ronnie knew that doing heavy exercises like deadlifts and barbell rows every single back workout would be very difficult to recover from. Instead he focused on “back thickness” exercises like deadlifts and rows on his first back workout and “back width” exercises like lat pulldowns and dumbbell pullovers on his second back workout.

This strategy allowed Ronnie to train his upper back hard twice per week while giving his lower back more time to rest between workouts.

Ronnie used a similar strategy for his bicep and shoulder routines to make it easier to recover from his workouts.

Here is Ronnie Coleman’s first weekly back / bicep / shoulder workout. Check it out:

Ronnie Coleman’s Back / Bicep / Shoulder Routine #1

Ronnie’s Back Routine

  • Exercise #1: Conventional deadlift, 3-5 sets of 4-8 reps
  • Exercise #2: Barbell bent-over row, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #3: T-bar row, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #4: Standing unilateral DB row, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps

Ronnie’s Bicep Routine

  • Exercise #1: Preacher DB curl (supinated grip), 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #2: Ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #3: Seated alternating DB hammer curl, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps

Ronnie’s Shoulder Routine

  • Exercise #1: Seated barbell military press, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #2: Standing DB lateral raise, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #3: Barbell front raises, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #4: Rear delt pec dec, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #5: Bent-over DB rear delt raise, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #6: Standing DB shrugs, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps

Here is the training video for Ronnie’s back exercises:

Here is the training video for Ronnie’s bicep exercises:

And here is the training video for Ronnie’s shoulder exercises:

Talk about a high-volume workout! Ronnie performs 12 different exercises for his back, biceps and shoulders.

Of course Ronnie isn’t just lifting the pink dumbbells in the gym like a lot of other high-volume bodybuilders! In the above videos Ronnie Coleman deadlifts 800 pounds for 2 reps, barbell rows 495 pounds for 8 reps and t-bar rows 450 pounds for 9 reps.

Ronnie Coleman can’t be human – he must be a silverback gorilla!

Ronnie trains very heavy on his back thickness exercises. However, when it comes to his biceps and shoulders he focuses on isolation exercises and trains for a big pump.

The biceps and shoulders are much smaller muscle groups and Ronnie is more focused on using a lot of training volume to bring up these body parts. This is a very smart approach.

Even high-intensity bodybuilders like Dorian Yates focus on isolation exercises for the shoulders and arms rather than heavy compound exercises.

On Thursday Ronnie Coleman performed his second back / shoulder / biceps workout. He used completely different exercises for this workout, especially for his back.

For his second back routine Ronnie Coleman focused on “back width” exercises like lat pulldowns and dumbbell pullovers. These exercises target your lats which make your back look wider when they are fully developed.

Ronnie liked having a separate “back width” routine because it gave him a break from all of the deadlifts and rowing exercises that he likes to perform.

Ronnie also likes to train his lats with higher reps so having a separate day for these exercises makes a lot of sense.

Here is Ronnie’s second weekly back / biceps / shoulder workout. Check it out:

Ronnie Coleman’s Back / Biceps / Shoulder Routine #2

Ronnie’s Back Routine

  • Exercise #1: Lat pulldown (wide / overhand grip), 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #2: Behind the neck lat pulldown (wide / overhand grip), 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #3: Seated cable row (v-handle), 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #4: Lying DB pullovers, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps

Ronnie’s Bicep Routine

  • Exercise #1: Machine preacher curls, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #2: Standing alternating DB curls (supinating grip), 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #3: Standing cable ez-bar curl, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps

Ronnie’s Shoulder Routine

  • Exercise #1: Seated DB overhead press, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #2: Machine lateral raise, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #3: Machine overhead press, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #4: DB front raises, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #5: Cable standing rear-delt pull-apart, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #6: Cable bent-over rear-delt pull-apart, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps

Here is the training video for Ronnie’s back exercises:

Here is the training video for Ronnie’s bicep exercises:

Here is the training video for Ronnie’s shoulder exercises:

Once again Ronnie performs 13 total exercises for his back, biceps and shoulders.

Most professional bodybuilders would have a very hard time recovering from this many exercises in one workout but it worked like magic for Ronnie.

Even on his lighter back workout Ronnie is lifting unbelievably heavy weights. He is performing lat pulldowns with the entire weight stack plus an extra 45-pound plate attached to the machine. He is also lifting the 160 pound dumbbells for reps for his shoulder workout. That is absolutely ridiculous!

This may be Ronnie’s “lighter” back / bicep / shoulder workout but even here he is lifting weights that are too heavy for most world-class powerlifters.

In my opinion the biggest the biggest thing you can learn from Ronnie’s back / bicep / shoulder workouts is the way he approached his upper back training. I highly recommend you think of your back in terms of two separate body parts:

  • Back thickness
  • Back width

The best back thickness exercises include all types of rows and deadlifts. On the other hand the best back width exercises include pull ups, pulldowns and pullovers. You will have a much easier time building your upper back if you think of it as two separate body parts.

This tip worked for Ronnie Coleman and he had the best upper back of all time! As they say, “success leaves clues.”

Part 2: Ronnie’s Quad / Hamstring / Calf Workouts

Ronnie Coleman was known for his unbelievable leg development. His quads, hamstrings and calves were all massive and in perfect balance with the rest of his body.

Ronnie Coleman’s lower body workouts were much shorter but he still trained his quads, hamstrings and calves with lots of volume and intensity.

Here is how Ronnie organized his lower body workouts:

  • Qaudriceps: 3 exercises
  • Hamstrings: 2 exercises
  • Calves: 2 exercises

Ronnie Coleman trains his quads with 5 classic bodybuilding exercises: squats, leg presses, hack squats, lunges and leg extensions. Of course his favorite leg exercise is the squat.

Ronnie always starts his first leg workout with back squats and his second weekly workout with front squats. He alternates between these two types of squats to add variety to his workouts and prevent training plateaus.

After squats he performs 2 more accessory exercises for his quads. For hamstrings Ronnie focuses on different types of leg curls and stiff legged deadlifts. These are the classic hamstrings exercises that many bodybuilding champions like Dorian Yates and Arnold Schwarzenegger used throughout their careers.

Now let’s take a look at Ronnie’s back squat workout. Check it out:

Ronnie Coleman’s Lower Body Routine #1

Ronnie’s Quad Routine:

  • Exercise #1: Back squats, 3-5 sets of 4-12 reps
  • Exercise #2: Leg press, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #3: Leg extensions, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps

Ronnie’s Hamstrings Routine:

  • Exercise #1: Standing unilateral leg curl, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #2: Stiff legged deadlift, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps

Here is the training video for Ronnie’s quadricep exercises:

Here is the training video for Ronnie’s hamstring exercises:

Ronnie was known for lifting heavy weights in the gym but he took things to the next level by squatting 800 pounds for 2 reps. Wow!

After his bodybuilding career Ronnie Coleman was asked if he regrets squatting so heavy in training. Ronnie responded in his usual laid-back style:

“The only thing I regret is stopping at 2 reps with 800 pounds in the squat. I had at least 5 reps in me!”

Ronnie also lifts an incredible amount of weight on the leg press and the leg extension machine although he liked to train with higher reps on these exercises.

Ronnie’s hamstrings routine is very simple: he performs a few working sets on kneeling leg curls and stiff legged deadlifts. Ronnie always had fantastic hamstrings development so 2 exercises was more than enough for him.

Now let’s look at Ronnie’s second weekly leg workout. Check it out:

Ronnie Coleman’s Lower Body Routine #2

Ronnie’s Quadriceps Routine

  • 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

Ronnie’s Hamstrings Routine

  • 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 training video for Ronnie’s quadricep exercises:

Here is the training video for Ronnie’s hamstring exercises:

Ronnie often worked up to 600+ pounds on the front squat for reps – incredible!

One of the really interesting things about the way Ronnie performs his quadricep exercises is he almost never locks out his reps. Instead he performs partial reps in the bottom position of exercises like squats, hack squats and leg presses. This is really easy to see in the above video.

Ronnie Coleman used partial reps in the bottom position of his exercises so often that I call these “Ronnie Coleman partial reps.”

So why is Ronnie training this way? Doesn’t he know that he would get better results by training through a full range of motion?

The truth is Ronnie knew exactly what he was doing. He knew that the bottom position of exercises like squats and hack squats is where you stimulate the most quad growth so he wants to spend as much time in that part of the exercise as possible.

His quads don’t have to work as hard at the very top of these exercises so he completely skips that part of his exercises to keep more tension on the quads.

This is an advanced training technique that many professional bodybuilders including the 2 time Arnold Classic winner Branch Warren use in their training programs.

For his second hamstrings routine Ronnie Coleman performs 2 different types of leg curls. Leg curls are a classic bodybuilding exercise that let you really isolate the hamstrings.

If you want to learn how to get the most out of your leg curls then you can check out my article “Leg Curls: The Ultimate Guide!”

I think you’ll be surprised at how much you don’t know about this classic hamstrings exercise.

Part 3: Ronnie’s Chest / Tricep Workouts

Ronnie Coleman trained his chest and triceps twice a week on Wednesday and Saturday. These workouts were very long because he performed 3-4 exercises for both body parts.

Here is how Ronnie Coleman organized his chest / tricep workouts:

  • Chest: 3 exercises
  • Triceps: 4 exercises

As usual Ronnie trained his chest and triceps using completely different exercises in his two weekly workouts. For example Ronnie was known for having a “barbell chest day” and a “dumbbell chest day.”

On his barbell chest day Ronnie Coleman focused on different barbell pressing exercises like the bench press, incline bench press and decline bench press.

On his dumbbell chest day Ronnie focused on different dumbbell pressing exercises like the flat dumbbell bench press, the incline dumbbell bench press and the decline dumbbell bench press.

Ronnie also used a similar strategy for his 2 weekly tricep routines.

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

Ronnie Coleman’s Barbell Chest Workout

Ronnie’s Chest Routine

  • Exercise #1: Flat BB bench press, 3-5 sets of 5-15 reps
  • Exercise #2: Incline BB bench press, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #3: Decline BB bench press, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps

Ronnie’s Tricep Routine

  • Exercise #1: Seated unilateral DB french press, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #2: Hammer strength machine dips, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #3: Standing cable tricep pushdown, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps

Here is the training video for Ronnie’s chest exercises:

Here is the training video for Ronnie’s tricep exercises:

Ronnie Coleman was known for his unbelievable pressing strength and these videos show us why. For this video Ronnie bench pressed 495 pounds for 5 reps – wow!

As you can see Ronnie Coleman loves to use partial reps on his chest exercises.

For the bench press he only performs the bottom half of the range of motion. Ronnie believes that the bottom half of the range of motion is where the chest works the hardest so he focuses on that part of the exercise to keep constant tension on his chest.

Ronnie uses a similar strategy for his other chest exercises like the incline bench press and the decline bench press. Ronnie Coleman had the second best chest development of all time so clearly this strategy worked for him.

If Ronnie’s chest workout was all about lifting heavy weight then Ronnie’s triceps routine was all about high reps and training for the pump. He focuses on a variety of exercises to train all 3 heads of the triceps and trains to get as much blood flow in his triceps as possible.

Once again Ronnie uses partial reps in the stretched position of his triceps exercises to stimulate as much growth as possible.

Now let’s look at Ronnie Coleman’s second weekly chest / triceps routine. Check it out:

Ronnie Coleman’s Chest / Triceps Routine #2

Ronnie’s Chest Routine

  • Exercise #1: Flat DB press, 3-5 sets of 5-15 reps
  • Exercise #2: Incline DB press, 3-5 sets of 5-15 reps
  • Exercise #3: Flat DB fly, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps

Ronnie’s Triceps Routine

  • Exercise #1: Lying ez-bar extension (behind head), 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #2: Close grip bench press (with ez-bar), 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #3: Two-arm seated DB french press, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #4: Two-arm bent-over DB tricep kickbacks, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps

Here is the training video for Ronnie’s chest exercises:

Here is the training video for Ronnie’s tricep exercises:

In my opinion Ronnie Coleman is even stronger on dumbbell chest exercises than he is on barbell chest exercises. In this video Ronnie Coleman bench press the 200 pound dumbbells for 12 reps – wow!

It’s just like Ronnie Coleman always said:

“Everybody wanna be a bodybuilder but no one wants to lift no heavy ass weight!”

Once again Ronnie Coleman uses partial reps on all of his chest exercises. This makes sense – the chest is stretched the most in the bottom position of dumbbell pressing exercises so he wants to focus on this part of the range of motion as much as possible.

For his triceps workout Ronnie uses a wide variety of triceps exercises.

Ronnie performs a very cool superset where he performs ez-bar skull crushers immediately followed by close grip bench presses with the same wight. This is a triceps training strategy that John Meadows and many other bodybuilding coaches have used in their workouts.

Conclusion

Ronnie Coleman is known as the greatest bodybuilder of all time. I can’t imagine someone else matching Ronnie’s physique from the 1999 Mr. Olympia contest – it was absolutely perfect.

The Ronnie Coleman training program is not for everyone.

The average bodybuilder will have a very hard time recovering from 6 high-volume / high-intensity workouts per week. However, there is so much you can learn from Ronnie’s program to help you build muscle mass faster.

Here are some of my favorite insights from Ronnie Coleman’s training program:

  • He trained each body part twice per week using different exercises on each day
  • He trained his upper back as two separate muscle groups: “back thickness” and “back width”
  • He performed partial reps in the stretched position for his chest, triceps and quadriceps exercises

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. 

Here is a true story: Ronnie Coleman and Jay Cutler were competing against each other in the 2004 Mr. Olympia contest. Jay Cutler told an interviewer that this was the year he was finally going to beat Ronnie Coleman and win the Mr. Olympia title.

Ronnie Coleman’s response was priceless:

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

Ronnie has the mindset of a true bodybuilding champion. He believed in himself and stopped at nothing to turn his great Vision into reality. Jay Cutler never even had a chance in 2004 and Ronnie’s superior mindset was the primary reason why.

People often ask Ronnie Coleman why he wanted to become a bodybuilding champion. Ronnie likes to joke that he only competed so that he could keep his free gym membership!

Ronnie’s gym owner let him train for free on the condition that he competed in a bodybuilding contest.

The truth is Ronnie always had that inner drive to be the best he could be. Not everyone has this inner drive. Some people are perfectly OK with living an average life.

Ronnie was different: he wanted to realize his full potential as a human being and to leave his mark on the world.

Ronnie shared his genius with the world and helped to raise the collective consciousness of mankind. I hope his incredible story inspires you to do the same.

Here is one more quote by Ronnie Coleman to pump you up even more:

“Hard work and training. There’s no secret formula. I lift heavy, work hard and aim to be the best.”

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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