A glimpse into how men used to train - Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold Schwarzenegger, despite being 30 years past his peak, still has a magnetic hold on alpha males, even to this day. His impact is undeniable and his physique inspired generations of young alpha males to take up weight training or up their current training. Boys worldwide wanted muscles like Arnold Schwarzenegger and he never failed to display them predominately in his movies. He was a superhero come to life and amongst the toxic masculinity crowd, that never goes out of style.
So how did Arnold Schwarzenegger train? How did he build the body that inspired generations? You got a glimpse of how he trained in the ancient movie Pumping Iron: What was always shocking to me was just how much Arnold trained. It is mind-blowing how many hours he put in at the gym each week. He trained twice a day, six days a week. And all that was devoted strictly to weight training, cardio was not done by bodybuilders of the Arnold era.
Everyone loved Arnold’s arms which were, at the time, far and away the best arms anyone had ever seen. While Freddy Ortiz and Robbie Robinson both had arms with the peak, the shape and symmetry as good as Arnold Schwarzenegger, neither had the sheer size of Arnold’s arms. There was a sameness as to how bodybuilders of that era trained. The other top bodybuilders of the day, Bill Pearl, Reg Park, Sergio, Ferrigno, Zane, Franco, Serge Nubret, et al, all were high volume/high frequency trainers. That was the excepted orthodoxy of the day.
We present to you one thin sliver of Arnold’s overall training regimen. This is the exact training routine Arnold used to train his guns at the absolute peak of his bodybuilding career. I gleaned this priceless information from a rare copy of Rick Wayne’s 1978 classic bodybuilding training book, 3 More Reps, The Science of Advanced Bodybuilding. In it, Arnold Schwarzenegger lays out his overall training strategy.
Wayne’s book was all about training. In volume 1 he outlines the exact training (all in their peak years) of Arnold, Franco, Robbie Robinson, Frank Zane, Mike Mentzer and Ed Corney. Rather than try and zero in on the entirety of Arnold’s training, we decided to isolate his bicep/tricep routine: he trained them (biceps and triceps) in ‘straight-set’ style, no super-setting. He was an expert exercise technician that made (for the bodybuilder) the critical mind-muscle connection that enabled him to zero in on exactly the muscle he wanted to isolate and stress.
Barbell cheat curl 6 sets of 8 reps (his favorite: add poundage on each set)
Seated dumbbell curl 6 sets of 6 reps
Dumbbell concentration curl 6 sets of 10 reps
Close grip bench press 6 sets of 8 reps
Cable pushdowns 6 sets of 10 reps
Nose-breakers 6 sets of 8 reps
Dumbbell tricep press 6 sets of 10 reps
Seven arm exercises 42 sets
Arnold did this routine THREE TIMES A WEEK. Add it up snowflake, 126-sets of biceps and triceps per week! Oh, but wait! The bad news gets worse: guess what else the Austrian Oak did? Three other days a week he performed three forearm exercises….
Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday
Wrist curls 6 sets of 12-15 reps
Reverse curl 6 sets of 10 reps
Wrist roller 6 sets to failure
18 sets per session 54 sets per week
Add this 54 sets of weekly forearm work to his 126 sets of biceps/triceps and you arrive at a grand total of 180 sets per week - for arms alone! As we have mentioned in prior columns, at his awesome peak, prior to winning his 7th Mr. Olympia, Arnold Schwarzenegger was performing 700-sets per week! He fit it in by going to the gym twice a day, six days a week.
Monday, Wednesday, Friday
Morning Chest, Back, Legs
Afternoon Calves, Forearms
Tuesday, Thursday, Friday
Morning Arms, Shoulders
Afternoon Calves, Forearms
Starting in the late 1980s, bodybuilders began to include cardiovascular exercise as a regular part of the bodybuilding template. Cardio was used to attain the super low sub-3% body fat percentiles routinely attained by the modern IFBB pro bodybuilder. Back in Arnold’s day, champion bodybuilders were competing and winning with 10% body fat percentiles (Bill Pearl.) Arnold at his peak was likely sporting a 7% body fat percentile, at best. Could you imagine trying to weave a cardio regimen into his marathon approach?
Obviously, this kind of volume requires a tremendous amount of time. Add to the gym time showering and travel time to and from the gym. Weight training, Arnold-style, is damn near a fulltime job. Yet, he was hardly alone, Arnold, Draper, Sergio, Robbie, Franco, Waller, Zane and all the other all-time greats of that era used this super high-volume high-frequency training approach. That they got results is undeniable – if it is necessary is debatable.
Want to train like Arnold Schwarzenegger? Pack a lunch, you’re going to be in the gym awhile. If you decided to go “full Arnold” train the arms three times a week: three bicep and four tricep exercises for six sets per exercise. I would drop the forearms; biceps and triceps alone come to 120+ cumulative sets of arms per week.
I would suggest that in order to save time, super-set, alternate, biceps and triceps, set of biceps, set of triceps, rest; set of biceps, set of triceps, rest. Even by using the time saving super-setting tactic, be prepared to train biceps/triceps for 60-minutes thrice weekly. If anyone tries this, let us know the results. It would likely require a 90-day commitment. Good luck. God Speed!
About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of numerous books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher biography here.