Since the first-ever Mr. Olympia back in 1965, the world of bodybuilding has seen its fair share of greats: Dorian Yates, Phil Heath, Ronnie Coleman, and Jay Cutler, to name a few. But of all the bodybuilders to be crowned Mr. Olympia, no one has stood out in the ranks quite as much like Arnold Schwarzenegger, the bodybuilder.
Schwarzenegger has achieved a phenomenal amount during his lifetime, and his bodybuilding techniques are still considered fundamental necessities among the greats today. Let’s take a closer look at Schwarzenegger and his bodybuilding techniques that kept him on the Mr. Olympia throne for six years in a row.
Who is Arnold Schwarzenegger the bodybuilder?
Born in Austria on July 30, 1947, Arnold Schwarzenegger started lifting weights at age 15. He first walked into the spotlight when he won Mr. Universe in 1967 at the age of 20. He then went on to win Mr. Olympia six years in a row, from 1970-1975.
These days, Schwarzenegger has his bodybuilding event named after him, titled “The Arnold Sports Festival.” It’s widely considered the second-most important bodybuilding event after Mr. Olympia.
Schwarzenegger is known for much more than his muscles. He is a household Hollywood name. He landed the role as Conan The Barbarian in 1982, and his acting career exploded from there. He’s been in hugely successful action films, such as The Terminator, Predator, The Running Man, Total Recall, and Commando.
He’s also had his fair share of leading roles in family comedy films, such as Twins, Junior, Kindergarten Cop, and Jingle All The Way.
Schwarzenegger entered the world of politics on October 7, 2003, when he replaced Gray Davis as California’s governor. He served for the remainder of Davis’ term before being re-elected in 2006. He served as the Governor of California until 2011, when he returned to acting.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Bodybuilding Techniques
Schwarzenegger was genetically gifted, and like all body-builders at his level, steroids also came in to play. Arnold might not have been a natural bodybuilder, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that whatever he was doing in the gym was consistently allowing him to beat his rivals at Mr. Olympia. Let’s take an in-depth look at his body-building techniques and what you need to know about how to build a body like his.
Arnold Schwarzenegger Golden Six
One of the most-used phrases when talking about Schwarzenegger’s method is “The Golden Six.” Schwarzenegger started his bodybuilding career with full-body training routines that he performed six times a week. The routine consisted of six straightforward exercises that would lead the way to Mr. Olympia.
The Golden Six routine is as follows:
- Squat: 4 sets of 10 reps
- Wide-grip flat bench press: 3 sets of 10 reps
- Chin-up: 3 sets until failure
- Behind-the-neck overhead press: 4 sets of 10 reps
- Barbell curl: 3 sets of 10 reps
- Bent knee sit-up: 3 sets until failure
As you can see, it’s a super simple training method, and it’s best performed on alternative days to allow for ample recovery. Schwarzenegger still recommends this to anyone just starting in the gym. It’s a great way to build overall strength and targets every muscle.
By keeping your first real routine simple (such as this or the 5×5 method), you make it much easier to track your progress. And it’s a great training method for people with limited time.
Schwarzenegger had one of the best chests in bodybuilding. A lot of that could come down to his famous agonist-antagonist training. This involves working two opposing muscles simultaneously. If you were training the chest, and your main exercise was the flat bench press, you would perform bent-over rows between your sets on the bench.
This is because your pressing stress is improved when you work the antagonist muscles (back) between your sets. It’s important to allow adequate rest between sets of around 2-3 minutes to reduce muscular fatigue.
Another important factor is to ensure that you’re training both the agonist and antagonist on the same plane of motion. Some pairing examples include:
- Vertical bench press – Barbell Row
- Standing overhead press – Chin-up.
- Seated dumbbell press – Lat pulldown
- Standing barbell curl – Tricep pushdown.
- Leg extension – Seated hamstring curl
One of the biggest benefits of this training method — other than increased pressing strength — promotes the body to develop more evenly. You’re making sure that you’re putting in the same amount of effort to both pairs of muscles. This is important for a balanced physique and better posture.
If you’re rushed for time, it’s possible to superset the movements. But ideally, you’d allow yourself 2-3 minutes rest between each exercise to maximize strength.
The Ultimate Chest/Back Training Program
As a little treat, here’s the chest/back split that Schwarzenegger used to use when he was in training for a competition. Unlike the agonist/antagonist method, you perform the complete number of sets for each exercise before moving onto the opposite body part.
- Warm-up: Bench Press – 1 set of 30-45 reps
- Bench Press: 5 sets of 6-8 reps
- Wide-grip behind-the-neck chin-up: 5 sets of 10-15 reps (Pyramid up the weight each set and reduce the number of reps)
- Incline barbell press: 5 sets of 10-15 reps
- T-Bar row: 5 sets of 10-15 reps
- Flat bench dumbbell flye: 5 sets of 10-15 reps
- Wide-grip barbell row: 5 sets of 10-15 reps
- Dips: 5 sets of 15
- Close-grip chin-up: 5 sets of 12
- Dumbell pull-over: 5 sets of 15-20 reps
As you can see, it’s possible to use this program and pair the exercises 2-9, so you perform them as an agonist-antagonist set. If you’re in a hurry and feeling brave, you could superset them.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Bodybuilding Legs
Schwarzenegger didn’t train his legs at all in his first year of bodybuilding, but it soon became apparent that this wasn’t going to work. No one wants to be the person who skipped leg day. When he paired up with his coach, Joe Weider, the first thing that became apparent was that Schwarzenegger needed to work on his legs.
Schwarzenegger’s new bodybuilder leg workout looked a bit like this:
- Barbell squat: 5 sets of 8 reps
- Front squat: 5 sets of 8 -10 reps
- Leg press: 5 sets of 10 reps
- Leg extension: 5 sets of 10 reps
- Lying hamstring curl: 8 sets of 10 reps
Schwarzenegger would often keep his rest periods under a minute between sets when it came to training legs. While this is not for the faint-hearted, it helps keep as much blood in the muscle as possible throughout the training session.
Schwarzenegger was openly conscious about his calves, as are many gym-goers. Instead of hiding them, he cut off his sweat pants’ bottom, so they were always visible in the gym. Instead of blaming genetics as most people do, he used this constant reminder to drive him to attack his calves up to six times a week.
For Schwarzenegger, training the calves was all about volume and variety. Here’s an example:
- Donkey calf raises 5 sets of 15-30 reps.
- Standing calf raises 5 sets of 15-30 reps.
- Leg-press calf raises 5 sets of 20-30 reps.
- Standing one-legged dumbbell calf raise: 3 sets of 15-30 reps.
If you’re relatively new to high-volume calf training, then it’s highly recommended that you stretch in between each set to reduce the chance of muscle cramps while you’re training.
Schwarzenegger took a similar approach to abs as he did to his calves: lots and lots of volumes. His ab workouts looked like 30 minutes of non-stop ab exercises. He’d perform these pretty much every day at the end of the training session.
When you pair this amount of volume with the core workouts he’d get from the bigger compound movements, you start to understand how he achieved the aesthetics of his mid-section!
We can’t have a complete list of Schwarzenegger’s training techniques without mentioning how he got his 22” arms. Schwarzenegger would superset biceps and triceps when he was preparing for a contest. He’d train them twice a week for size and three times a week for the definition.
One of his arm training’s key aspects was lowering the weight slowly through the rep’s negative portion and exploding through the positive portion.
He’d pair bicep and tricep exercises as mentioned with his agonist-antagonist method, alternating between standing barbell curls and tricep pushdowns — with minimal rest in between sets — to keep as much blood in the muscle as possible throughout the training session.
Arnold Schwarzenegger Bodybuilding Tips
Now that you get the gist of how Schwarzenegger trained his main body parts let’s take a look at a handful of tips for you to apply to all of your training. This is a great way to better understand and adopt the winning Schwarzenegger mindset throughout your training.
Don’t Get Comfortable.
Schwarzenegger was famous for training his muscles as if they had his personality, and he would never let them get too comfortable. He was always looking for different ways to shock them.
After a while of using the same exercise, a muscle will begin to stop responding as efficiently. This is when you shock the muscle by changing the exercise. This can mean swapping an exercise for another, like training the biceps using the standing barbell curl for some time and then changing it for hammer curls.
Alternatively, you can adjust each exercise. Take your normal leg extensions and try performing them with a 3-second pause at the end of each rep — whatever it takes to keep your muscles guessing as to what’s coming next.
Chase the Pump
The pump should be the goal of every workout, according to Schwarzenegger. The “pump” is when blood rushes to the muscle you’re training, creating that swollen look. If your goal is to pack on muscle, then chasing the pump should be on your mind at all times.
The best way to get a pump is to do high-volume training with minimal rest between sets. You need to focus on the muscle you’re training and imagine blood rushing into it as you contract the muscle with every rep.
Heavy Weights, Low Reps
To get bigger, you have to get stronger. While high-volume workouts are important for adding definition to a physique, getting, strong first is of utmost importance.
To get stronger, you should prioritize the big compound movements and add weight with each workout. To do this successfully, you need to make sure that you’re paying as much attention to your eating and resting as to the workouts themselves.
Go Past Failure
When you train a muscle to failure, you take it to the point it already knows how to reach. Learning to take the muscle past failure is the key to inducing growth. Don’t try and take every set past failure, but certainly apply it to your last couple of sets with each exercise.
Different methods for training past failure include drop-sets, negatives, forced reps, cluster sets, and partials.
Safeguard Yourself From Over-Training
Sometimes, just because you want a specific body part to grow doesn’t mean you should train it every day. It’s important to ensure you have adequate rest and recovery between training sessions and working the same muscles.
Arnold Schwarzenegger would always be sure to have one day a week where he didn’t touch a weight or take on any strenuous activities. The recovery period is when the muscle develops and grows, so be sure you’re not cutting it short.
Bodybuilding the Arnold Schwarzenegger Way
Schwarzenegger was often in the gym six days a week and twice a day. Unless you’re lucky enough to be a professional bodybuilder, we all know that most of us don’t have the time. However, that doesn’t mean that working toward a Schwarzenegger physique is a fruitless mission.
Use these bodybuilding tips, and be sure to get plenty of protein and calories to facilitate growth. Getting a Schwarzenegger physique is hard work, but it’s not impossible. Persistence, precision, and plenty of rest are the keys to success.
For more great tips for getting the most out of your workouts, be sure to join our page and contact us with any questions.