How to Work Out Like Arnold Schwarzenegger

When you say the word "bodybuilding," the name that instantly comes to mind is Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnold has been crowned the "king" by many in the bodybuilding field, as he really did take the sport to a whole new level.

As such, many involved in bodybuilding today look up to him and try to recreate the programs he used, hoping to sculpt a body that resembles the one he built. In doing so, you’ll fare best if you can recreate the Arnold Schwarzenegger workout routine as outlined in his book, The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding. This program was utilized when he was initially working on developing a good foundation of mass, in his early 20s. At the end of this period, Schwarzenegger weighed in at a solid 240 pounds, due to the fact that he focused on building the greatest proportion of his strength early on with this program.

If you haven't had a chance to pick up his book, we've decided to give you the basics of the Arnold Schwarzenegger workout to get you started:

Arnold’s Principles

When it comes to his approach to training, Arnold Schwarzenegger has some key principles that he stresses must be present in any program regardless of who you are. First off, Schwarzenegger notes that people do have individual needs and, therefore, you must listen to your body to some degree when deciding on the type of program you should utilize. Variations will depend on your body type; how fast or slow you're able to gain muscle (this is partially genetic); your own individual metabolic rate; what weak points you have in your body; and the level of recuperation you normally experience.

After taking into account those variables, the other factors that must be touched upon when you decide to embark on the Arnold Schwarzenegger workout are:

Progressive Resistance

If you want to continue to progress with your workouts and strength levels, you must continually add weight to the bar — it really is that simple.

Correct Rep Range

Arnold advises doing 8-12 reps for the upper-body muscles and 12-16 for the lower-body muscles. This is due to the fact that the lower-body muscles can withstand fatigue slightly better than the upper body, so they can handle the higher rep range.

Training to Failure

Note that this does not mean exhaustion; rather, it means training until the point when you cannot complete another rep without stopping to take a rest beforehand.

Full Range of Motion

Arnold Schwarzenegger believes that the only way to stimulate the entire muscle and every possible muscle fiber is by moving throughout the entire range of motion when doing each exercise.

Good Quality of Contraction

It's important to realize that weights are just a means to stimulate the muscle, and in order to accomplish this stimulation, you need to isolate the muscle effectively. This is done by only choosing as much weight as the muscles you are targeting can handle to ensure that other muscles do not get called into play.

Also, focusing the mind on contracting the target muscles while keeping the others relaxed will additionally help ensure that they are getting the full workout.

Heavy Days

In his early training days, Arnold Schwarzenegger spent a lot of time doing power-lifting movements, trying to gain as much strength and raw muscle mass as possible. As he progressed onward, he realized that, to stay on top of his game, he would need to focus on really working on that definition and separation. This was accomplished by performing a greater amount of high-rep isolation training.During this time, though, Schwarzenegger didn't want to sacrifice the thickness, density or hardness he had created in his earlier days, so he would be sure to dedicate at least one day a week as a "heavy day," and on that day he would use maximum strength moves. This enabled him to get the best of both worlds.


Finally, the last principle that rounds out the basic program requirements of the Arnold Schwarzenegger workout is that there must be sufficient recuperation between lifting. Schwarzenegger notes that different muscle groups will take longer to recover than others, with the biceps being the fastest and the lower back taking the longest. However, a 48-hour window between sessions should work well as guideline.

Often, Schwarzenegger feels that bodybuilders can get past a "sticking" point by taking more rest rather than by working harder, as is commonly done. When you are lifting with such an intensity, you are going to require more time to gain strength between sessions, so if the weights are not moving up, this could be a strong signal that you're not allowing for enough down time between sessions.

So, by first making sure all of these principles are covered, you are already on the right step to training with the same methodology as Arnold Schwarzenegger used.

Arnold’s Philosophy on Sets

When it comes to how many sets per exercise you should be performing, Arnold most commonly recommends doing four sets, unless there are specific goals you are working toward.

Schwarzenegger feels that this is the best approach because:

1. This is the minimum amount needed to fully stimulate the muscle fiber;

2. If you do more than four sets, you could risk overtraining;

3. Using four sets will allow you to perform a total of three or four exercises per body part (for a total of 12-16 sets per part), which is an ideal range to be in for each lower and upper body part accordingly.

Again, this can vary depending on your own individual recovery ability and the specific muscle, but it’s a good guideline to use.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Workout

This brings us to the actual workout. The following has you working out six days a week, and you should be training abdominals on a daily basis. It is going to be best used either by those who are just starting out with weight training or those who have a slightly slower recovery ability.

Since you'll be working each body part once every three days, this ensures that you are allowing enough time for a full recovery. This is how your week’s layout will look:

Day 1: Chest and Back


-- Bench press

-- Incline press

-- Pull-overs

Perform four sets of 8-12 reps each.


-- Chin-ups, done to fatigue (progressively working up to doing 50 reps at a time)

-- Bent-over rows, four sets of 8-12 reps

-- Deadlifts, three sets consisting of 10, then 6, then 4 reps

Day 2: Shoulders, Upper Arms and Forearms


-- Barbell clean and press, four sets of 8-12 reps

-- Dumbbell lateral raises, four sets of 8-12 reps

-- Heavy upright rows, three sets of 10, 6, 4 reps to failure

-- Push-presses, three sets of 6, 4, 2 reps to failure

Upper Arms

-- Standing barbell curls, four sets of 8-12 reps

-- Seated dumbbell curls, four sets of 8-12 reps

-- Close-grip press, four sets of 8-12 reps

-- Standing triceps extensions with barbell, four sets of 8-12 reps


-- Wrist curls, four sets of 8-12 reps

-- Reverse wrist curls, four sets of 8-12 reps

Day 3: Thighs, Calves and Lower Back


-- Squats, four sets of 8-12 reps

-- Lunges, four sets of 8-12 reps

-- Leg curls, four sets of 8-12 reps


-- Standing calf raises, five sets of 15 reps each

Lower Back/Hamstrings

-- Straight-leg deadlifts, three sets of 10, 6, 4 reps to failure

-- Good mornings, three sets of 10, 6, and 4 reps to failure

Note that for abdominal training, you should alternate between crunches and reverse crunches, performing five sets of 25 reps every single day you train.

On the seventh day of the week you are to rest completely and allow your body a chance for full recovery.

Advanced Techniques

After you’ve been doing this Arnold Schwarzenegger workout program for a while, you can focus on starting to incorporate more advanced techniques into your program such as forced reps, partial reps, isolation training, negative reps, forced negatives, and cheating reps.

Arnold recommends that you get a good grasp of the basic program first before even thinking about the more advanced principles. By doing so, you can be sure that you are using the correct training technique and will learn more about how your body responds and recovers from training.

The Lifestyle Approach

Finally, the last thing you must keep in mind is that if you are looking to make extraordinary gains the way Arnold did, you are going to have to make building muscle a priority in all aspects of your life — this includes the way you think, the way you eat, the way you sleep, and the people you socialize with. What you do outside of the gym is going to be just as, if not more, important than what you are doing inside the gym.

Nutrition, in particular, is of great importance and is what Arnold believes is responsible for some of the big improvements we see in the bodybuilding world today.

He recommends at least one gram of protein per pound of body weight and found himself eating a diet comprised of about 40% protein, 40% carbohydrates and 20% fat. At 240 pounds and doing intense training, Arnold's total caloric requirements were phenomenally high, therefore at these values he was getting more than he needed to support basic nutritional requirements.

So, be sure you do not overlook this part of the equation. Even if you follow the Arnold Schwarzenegger workout principles, you still won't get optimal gains unless you take into account everything else you are doing that can impact your training progress.

Arnold took his training very seriously — he made it a way of life. So, if you want to get yourself even close to resembling him, you should aim to do the same.