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The Austrian Oak – Arnold Schwarzenegger

It’s been more than three decades since Arnold Schwarzenegger won the last of his seven Mr. Olympia titles in 1980, yet the workouts that helped mould him into arguably the greatest bodybuilder ever are as valid today as they were then. From the time he migrated from Munich to Southern California in 1969, right through to his first retirement from professional bodybuilding in 1975 (1980 represented his brief competitive comeback), everything Arnold did revolved around training. He would train twice a day at Gold’s Gym in Venice, joined by all of his closest friends—bodybuilding icons like Franco Columbu, Frank Zane, and Dave Draper.


The Chest:

Trying to describe Arnold’s chest and back routines separately can get a little tricky; he super-setted the two exclusively for most of his bodybuilding career. (For the sake of organisation in this article, however, we’ll focus on each body part separately, as each routine can also stand on its own.) Arnold had simple reasons for employing supersets: One, they saved time and allowed him to train chest and back combined in roughly one hour. Two, he felt he could handle more weight this way, and so develop greater muscle density (the same logic behind training opposing muscle groups together). And, of course, three, because he relished the experience.

When Arnold was in pre-contest mode, he would amp up the intensity of his training by pairing his chest and back workouts, creating a mega workout of searing intensity. Here’s what it looked like:

Arnold’s Chest and Back super-sets:

Bench Press *1 30-45

Bench Press 5 6-8

Wide-Grip Behind-the-Neck Chin-up 5 15-8*

Incline Barbell Press 5 10-15

T-Bar Row 5 10-15

Flat-Bench Dumbbell Fly 5 10-15

Wide-Grip Barbell Row*** 5 10-15

Dip 5 15

Close-Grip Chinup 5 12

Dumbbell Pullover 5 15-20

*Iso-Tension Contraction

**Performed as a warmup ***Pyramid up the weight and lower your reps set to set ****Performed standing on a block or bench for better ROM *****Performed as a finishing exercise

The Back:

Building a wide, thick, detailed back isn’t a new idea revealed exclusively to modern-day bodybuilders like Ronnie Coleman, Jay Cutler, and Phil Heath. Arnold, Franco Columbu, and others they trained with also knew the importance of the back double-biceps and lat spread poses for winning major competitions. When Arnold trained back, he didn’t just concentrate on lifting the weight to a desired position as other bodybuilders did. After all, he would never be the best at training the way everyone else did. On lat pulldowns, for instance, he attempted to pull the sky down on top of him as opposed to simply moving the bar to his upper chest. When deadlifting, those weren’t weight plates on the ends of the barbell, they were massive planets. The thinking was abstract, sure, but effective nonetheless.

The Shoulders:

“A man who has developed wide, broader shoulders feels superior and has a greater sense of security and confidence about him,” Arnold once told a magazine. Not surprisingly, he scoffed at the large number of bodybuilders he knew whose training regimens were absent any sort of shoulder work. No wonder the one exercise named after him, the Arnold Press, is a deltoid movement.

His Legs:

In Arnold’s early days, his leg-training protocol suffered from two critical weaknesses: disuse and, as Joe Weider called it, primitivism. The former was pretty straightforward: The young Austrian didn’t train legs at all in his first year of bodybuilding. After finally catching on to the needs of his lower body, he went overboard, even going so far as to train legs every day for a year with 10 sets of squats and 10 sets of leg curls. Not surprisingly, he wasn’t satisfied with the results.

The Triceps:

Though his Alpine-peaked biceps could take much of the credit for his 22″ arms, Arnold was no slouch in the triceps department, either, sporting impressive horseshoes. After initially focusing on bi’s early in his career, he wised up and sought to build hulking triceps by employing multi-joint movements like the close-grip bench press and weighted dip to go along with his old-standbys, pressdowns (on a lat-pulldown machine) and French presses.


Inspired by photos of his boyhood idol Reg Park in the German magazine Der Muskelbilder, Arnold made his first visit to a gym as a teenager. The young Oak watched gym-goers lifting weights, and did his best to commit the exercises to memory so he and his friends could do them at home. Four in particular stood out, all arms exercises: the cheating barbell and Zottman curls for biceps, and the pushdown and close-grip bench press for triceps. At the time, having big arms interested him the most, so this served as his starting point.


Arnold’s midsection wasn’t his strong suit. He didn’t have a naturally small waist, nor did he possess the deeply etched six-pack of a Frank Zane or a Serge Nubret. But his abs weren’t a glaring weakness, either. Perhaps that was because he was a master of deception. Look at shots of him posing and you’ll notice that he would often twist his upper body in such a way that he’d end up facing the camera or the judges regardless of the pose. This gave him the appearance of having a smaller waist, and was an important strategy for him in competition.


Arnold’s self-consciousness about his calves has been well-publicised over the years. They used to be small, so he’d cut the bottoms off his sweatpants while he trained to expose them. This motivated him to improve the area, which he ultimately did by building massive gastroc and soleus muscles. Extreme high-volume and high-training frequency were his keys to bringing up this weak point; but it was even more than that. Arnold seemed to be a bit more cerebral when it came to calf training.

Stay tuned for the “Arnold Built Package” releasing Spring 2018!

Have a great week folks!


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