How Did Arnold Schwarzenegger Train? A Chronicle of the Austrian Oak’s Favorite Workouts

It’s far from the most controversial thing in the sport to say: Arnold Schwarzenegger is the greatest bodybuilder of all time. A seven-time Mr. Olympia, Arnold helped push bodybuilding into the mainstream first as an athlete, then as a promoter, and finally, as an actor. His first major movie break came in 1977 when the iconic bodybuilding documentary Pumping Iron was released. From there came a litany of well-known roles in Terminator, Predator, and Conan the Barbarian.

On seeing Arnold’s physique, countless athletes have asked the same question across decades: How do I look like that? 

Arnold’s physique was built through a workout program that dabbled in powerlifting, bodybuilding, and weightlifting at various points in his training career. What makes Arnold even more unique is how he has changed his training across his life. 

Here, I’ll take you through how young Arnold built his body, how middle-aged Arnold perfected it, and how the current Arnold protects it. 

Arnold’s Training Philosophy

Throughout his training career, Arnold has focused on a set of core principles to build his body: 




Arnold’s Intensity

From a young age, Arnold embraced hard work within the gym, famously training his legs so hard as a teenager that he was unable to ride his bicycle home and was forced to walk. (1) As he grew in experience, intensity came to mean using a combination of heavy weights for low reps; moderate weights for high reps; and training twice a day with a large number of sets. 

Arnold was renowned for how hard he trained and the length of his workouts, but he was not an advocate of high-intensity training (or HIT, the practice of training to absolute failure using a minimal number of sets). 

Check out BarBend’s guide to HIT: Use High-Intensity Training to Unlock New Gains

Casey Viator, one of the original HIT proponents later recorded a HIT workout with Arnold. The ‘Austrian Oak’ found it so demanding that he eventually quit! Indeed, as strength historian Randy Roach’s claims: intensity ‘is in the eye of the beholder.’ (2

Nevertheless, hard work was a cornerstone of Arnold’s approach, and he regularly advised trainees to enjoy the difficulty of their workouts.

[Read More: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s & Phil Heath’s Upper Body Workout at Arnold Sports Festival UK]

Arnold’s Focus

Just as important (if not moreso) was Arnold’s belief in focusing during the workout. For the Oak, this was defined as two things: mind-muscle connection (or feeling the movement through the muscle) and developing a pump during the workout. 

[Read More: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Timeless Bodybuilding Tips]

Combined, these philosophies ensured that he was always able to target the correct muscle group. In particular, Arnold used these approaches to great effect when bringing up lagging or weak muscle groups such as his notoriously weak calves early in his career.

Arnold’s Progression

Arnold’s calves provide a nice starting point for Arnold’s third training philosophy: progression.

Put simply: Arnold continually stressed the importance of using heavier and heavier weights and—if necessary—more and more sets

This idea, while hardly revolutionary, was something Arnold pushed to the absolute extreme. In 1969, Arnold’s own bodybuilding idol, Reg Park, told him that his calves would only grow when he began doing sets with 1,000 pounds on the calf raise. Arnold took this advice and began to use progressively heavier weights during his training. (1)

The Three Lives of Arnold

Whether he was starting out, at his peak, or as an ‘elder statesman’ of the gym, Arnold has continually preached his pillars of training to aspiring bodybuilders. But Arnold is far from a single-sport athlete. His advice can be applied across strength sports—and he’s got the credentials to demonstrate why.

Arnold’s Early (And Undocumented) Training

Arnold dabbled in a range of strength sports before sticking with bodybuilding. During his younger days, he competed in powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting competitions and—on one occasion—a stone lifting contest, too. 

Alas, there are thus undocumented phases of his training when Arnold used powerlifting and weightlifting programs to prepare him for competition.

[Read More: How Strong Was Arnold Schwarzenegger? We Look Back at the Oak’s Short-Lived Powerlifting Career]

Perhaps because he changed (and became) the face of the sport, much of his autobiographical memories focus on his bodybuilding upbringing. Arnold’s first workouts in Austria were simple full-body programs wherein each muscle group was hit for three sets of ten reps. (1)

Increasing His Volume (And Intensity)

Encouraged by his early progress, Arnold slowly built up his workouts to six times a week, eventually splitting between different body parts. His inspiration at the time came from American bodybuilding magazines and his idol Reg Park

It wasn’t until Arnold moved to Germany in 1966 that he really shook up his training program. Training alongside Mr. Europe and Mr. Universe champions, he realized that they all seemed to superset their training—getting more work done in a shorter period. (1)

Supersets require an athlete to perform two exercises back-to-back without resting (or resting minimally) in between. Check out BarBend’s guide to supersets to learn how to integrate the greats’ strategies into your own repertoire.

Enter the Mind-Muscle Connection

It was not, however, until Arnold moved to America in 1968 that his training philosophy truly evolved. Training under the tutelage of Joe Weider and in the now iconic gyms on America’s West Coast (including Gold’s Gym), Arnold continued to grow in size and stature.

Interestingly, he was known for his training simplicity. Former training partner Ric Drasin recalled Arnold’s adherence to basic movements, without a huge amount of variety. What distinguished Arnold from his peers was the time he spent in the gym and the number of sets he dedicated to each muscle. (3

[Read More: Arnold Schwarzenegger Reveals His Heaviest Lifts Ever]

His philosophy during this time was all about hard work, long sessions in the gym, and focusing absolutely on the mind-muscle connection. Arnold set the standard for how a pro bodybuilder should train in the 1970s and 1980s. Fellow bodybuilding legend Tom Platz recalled everyone doing the ‘Arnold workout’ when he first moved to California. (4)

The basic framework of these workouts has remained despite Arnold’s changing priorities. As a Hollywood star (and even during his time as Governor of California), Arnold continued to train intensely in the gym, albeit at a lower body weight. 

Last year, BarBend covered the then 75-year-old Arnold workout routines. While he has largely substituted dumbbells and barbells for machines, he continues to train honestly and consistently. 

Check out our coverage here: “Don’t Think, Just Act” — Arnold Schwarzenegger Shares How He Trains at 75 Years Old.

Arnold’s Workouts Over His Career

To give you a taste of how Arnold’s workouts have changed over time, it’s useful to examine his training programs as a beginner; as an elite bodybuilder; and now as an advanced trainee.

Arnold’s Beginner Program

In Arnold: Education of a Bodybuilder, the Oak detailed a program for trainees largely inspired by some of the first workouts he completed. There are ten exercises, each done for three sets of eight to 10 reps with 30 seconds rest between sets (unless otherwise noted). (1)

Bench Press

Wide-Grip Chin-Up

Military Press

Barbell Curl

French Press

Back Squat

Leg Curl

Calf Raise (5 x 15)

Sit-Up (3 x 50)

Wrist Curl (3 x AMRAP)

Want to learn more about AMRAP (as many reps or rounds as possible) training? Check out BarBend’s AMRAP guide.

Arnold’s Olympia Workouts

Arnold’s initial workouts were all about building a muscular base. By the time he was competing in (and winning!) Mr. Olympia titles in the 1970s, he had shifted to fine-turning his physique. This meant a keen focus on each muscle group. 

[Read More: The Arnold Schwarzenegger Workout Split (and How to Modify It)]

He famously achieved this by training twice a day, six days a week! 

On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday

(Morning) Chest

Barbell Bench Press: 4 x 10,8,6,4

Barbell Incline Bench Press: 4 x 10,8,6,4

Dumbbell Flye: 3 x 10,8,6

Dip: 3 x 15,10,8

Pullover: 3 x 15

(Morning) Back

Weighted Chin-Up: 4 x 10+

Close-Grip Chin-Up: 4 x 10

T-Bar Row: 4 x 15,12,8,6

Barbell Row: 4 x 8-12

(Evening) Legs

Squat: 5 x 20, then 4 x 10,8,6,4

Front Squat: 4 x 10,8,8,6

Hack Squat: 3 x 10

Leg Curl: 4 x 20,10,8,6

Standing Leg Curl: 4 x 10

Straight-Leg Deadlift: 3 x 10

(Evening) Calves

Donkey Calf Raise: 4 x 10

Standing Calf Raise: 4 x 15,10,8,8

(Evening) Abs

Crunch: 3 x 25

Bent-Over Torso Twist: 100 reps per side

Machine Crunch: 3 x 25

Crunch: 1 x 50

On Tuesday, Thursday, & Saturday


Behind-the-Neck Overhead Press: 5 x 15, then 4 x 10,8,8,6

Lateral Raise: 4 x 8

Bent-Over Lateral Raise: 4 x 8

Dumbbell Shrug: 3 x 10


Barbell Curl: 5 x 15,10,8,6,4

Incline Dumbbell Curl: 4 x 8

Concentration Curl: 3 x 8

Skull Crusher: 4 x 15,10,8,6

Cable Triceps Pressdown: 3 x 8

Single-Arm Triceps Extension: 3 x 10


Barbell Wrist Curl: 4 x 10

Reverse Wrist Curl: 3 x 10


Seated Calf Raise: 4 x 10


Reverse Crunch: 4 x 25

Seated Twist: 100 reps per side

Vertical Bench Crunch: 4 x 25

The Current Arnold Split

Late last year, Arnold revealed his tips for training in his 70s. Training nearly every day, he splits his workouts between 45 to 60 minutes on the bicycle and then short, circuit-style workouts for roughly 30 minutes. 

His arm and shoulder workout, for example, is a series of short, sharp circuits, pushed for high rep sets with little rest. (5

Machine Preacher Curl: 1 x 30, 4 x 10-12

Machine Dip: 1 x 30, 4 x 10-12

Overhead Press Machine: 5 x 10-12

Machine Lateral Raise: 5 x 10-12

Machine Rear Delt Flye: 5 x 10-12

What Can We Learn From Arnold?

First things first: your training age, experience, and goals matter! How Arnold trained shifted dramatically across his career. What he did as a beginner no longer served him as an elite bodybuilder and similarly as someone who is now just interested in maintaining his health and mobility. 

At his peak, Arnold did not hit one heavy set to failure like six-time Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates, or push incredibly heavy weights like eight-time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman. But he did train with intensity, consistency, and with a focused effort to engage each muscle to the max

These tips, which broadly underpin current Mr. Olympia Derek Lunford’s training, continue to hold across the tests of time.


Schwarzenegger, Arnold. The Education of a Bodybuilder. Simon and Schuster, 1977.

Roach, R., 2008. Muscle, smoke & mirrors. AuthorHouse.

Drasin, Ric, 2019. ‘Training with Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Austrian Oak.’, June 12. 

McGough, Peter. 2013. ‘Tom & Arnold.’ Muscular Development, April 3. 

Nelson, Keith. 2023. ‘Arnold Schwarzenegger Shares His Workout Routine at 75.’ Men’s Health, May 24.

Featured Image: UCLA Library Digital Collections + Photo_Doc / Shutterstock

The post How Did Arnold Schwarzenegger Train? A Chronicle of the Austrian Oak’s Favorite Workouts appeared first on BarBend.


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