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The Arnold Split Workout: 6-Day Program

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More than 40 years after winning his last Olympia competition, Arnold Schwarzenegger is still one of the most popular and successful bodybuilders on the planet.

Countless workout enthusiasts look to him for weight training advice, and even the skeptics cannot help but wonder what he did in the gym to build arguably the best classic physique we’ve ever seen.

Whether you’re a fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger and want to train like him or simply want to know exactly how he worked out to sculpt the physique of a Greek God and land seven Mr. Olympia titles, you’re in luck.

Our guide goes over the Arnold split, including all the nuances related to his methods for picking exercises, selecting loads, and making progress. There is a lot of conflicting information on Arnold’s style and workouts, but we’ve done our research to deliver the most accurate representation of how he trained.

Read on to learn more about Arnold’s workouts and his philosophy to decide if his workout style is one you’re brave enough to try.

Who is Arnold Schwarzenegger?

Arnold Schwarzenegger was born in a small village in Austria on July 30, 1947. His father, a former German soldier and police officer raised Arnold and his brother with a firm hand, teaching the young boys about the importance of hard work.

Schwarzenegger became interested in lifting weights at 14 and quickly fell in love with the sport. He won the Junior Mr. Europe title in 1965, showing tremendous talent and potential. Arnold also won several powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting competitions.

The pivotal moment in Arnold’s life came in October of 1968 when he moved to the US. He spoke little English then but saw bodybuilding as his way of making it to the States. 

Wasting no time, Arnold came second in the 1969 Mr. Olympia and then won six consecutive titles from 1970 to 1975. He returned five years later to win the controversial 1980 Mr. Olympia before retiring from the sport.

During the 1970s, Arnold got his nickname the Austrian Oak as a reference to his impeccable physique.

Throughout his bodybuilding career, Arnold tweaked his approach many times, and there are likely more than one Arnold Schwarzenegger splits. Still, one thing never changed: his incredible work ethic and drive to win.

The average Arnold workout included lots of exercises, plenty of workout sets, and countless instances of training to failure

As we dive into the Arnold split, remember that hard work and consistency play a massive role in how effective his methods will be for you.

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What is the Arnold Split?

The Arnold split is the training system Schwarzenegger used to build his physique and win countless bodybuilding competitions. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s workout routine consisted of six weekly workouts, several exercises for each muscle group, and plenty of training sets. 

Schwarzenegger was a huge believer in high-volume training for optimal muscle growth, and the Arnold split reflects that (1). He routinely trained for several hours daily, often splitting his workouts and training twice a day. 

The Arnold workout split allows lifters to train all muscle groups the recommended two times per week (2). Aside from promoting muscle growth, a twice-a-week frequency is recommended for superior strength gains (3).

Arnold Split Workout Schedule

The 6-day workout split Arnold used is a bit of a mystery, but that doesn’t matter. Arnold likely tweaked his training methods countless times, given his long training history, and his philosophy is more important than the precise combination of exercises he did. 

Let’s first take a look at his weekly schedule. Then we’ll discuss each workout in depth:

MondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFridaySaturdaySunday
ChestDeltsLegsChestDeltsLegsoff
BackBicepsAbsBackBicepsAbs
AbsTricepsAbsTriceps
ForearmsForearms

As you can see, the Arnold split routine schedule isn’t anything special. It resembles a six-day upper/lower or push/pull/legs split, but there are some differences.

One notable contrast is that he paired agonist-antagonist (opposing) muscle groups frequently (e.g., chest and back) to take advantage of supersets. For instance, Arnold would do a set of incline barbell presses and immediately jump into an exhausting set of chin-ups.

Depending on his schedule and what other things he had to do, Arnold would do his workouts in one go or split them up into two daily sessions. The former is more practical, but the latter is beneficial because it allows him to recover a bit and do all of his sets in a fresh state. 

Some of Arnold’s favorite exercises included the barbell bench press, incline bench press, bent-over rows, leg curls, close-grip bench press, dumbbell press, and lat pulldowns.

Aside from eating as much as a small army, we can’t deny that Arnold took advantage of steroids. He’s been open about his steroid use, and we must remember that PEDs were legal in the US until February 27, 1991 (4).

Still, regardless of that, Arnold trained incredibly hard for many years. Claiming that steroids were the primary reason for his success would be an insult to him, his work ethic, and the sport of bodybuilding.

The Arnold Split: An In-Depth Look At His Workouts

As shown in a previous point, the Arnold Schwarzenegger workout split consisted of three unique workouts where he trained two or more muscle groups.

Each session would repeat twice per week, allowing him to accumulate more volume for growth, especially in the upper body.

Arnold Split Chest Workout

man incline chest fly dumbbell
Type ExerciseSet 1 (reps)Set 2 (reps)Set 3 (reps)Set 4 (reps)Set 5 (reps) Set 6 (reps)
Set Bench Press (Barbell) 3020121086
Set Incline Bench Press (Barbell)151210866
SupersetChest Fly (Dumbbell)1212121212
Superset Pullover (Dumbbell) 12 12 12 12 12
Set Chest Dip To Failure To FailureTo FailureTo Failure

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Arnold Schwarzenegger was a huge fan of the flat barbell bench press as one of his primary pec-building exercises. He and Franco did the exercise together, pyramiding the weight up, often doing heavy sets with 400 pounds. The pair would then gradually strip the weight from the barbell until they ended up with an empty bar.

The Austrian Oak also loved the incline barbell press to develop the upper portion of his chest and build balanced pecs. Doing the incline barbell bench press was also great for developing his shoulders.

Schwarzenegger was a huge fan of the dumbbell fly and pullover. He supersetted the two exercises to induce overload and expand his ribcage, leading to a more pronounced upper body.

Unlike most people who pick light dumbbells for the fly and pullover, Arnold reasoned it was necessary to use heavier weights. In his words, “How will you add size using 25-pound dumbbells?”

To finish his already demanding chest session, Arnold did four sets of bodyweight dips to failure. He enjoyed the exercise and believed it was necessary for targeting the lower portion of the chest and creating real separation between the pectoralis major and abs.

Arnold enjoyed pairing his chest and back training into one.

Arnold Split Back Workout

Type Exercise Set 1 (reps) Set 2 (reps)Set 3 (reps) Set 4 (reps) Set 5 (reps) Set 6 (reps)
SetWide Pull Up To Failure To FailureTo FailureTo FailureTo Failure
SupersetBent Over Row 15 12 108 6
Superset Lat Pulldown (Cable)15121086
SetStraight Leg Deadlift1512101010

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Arnold tackled back training from three sides. He did movements for back thickness, performed exercises to emphasize width, and finished his training with hip hinge activities to bring out the definition in his lower back. 

First, Arnold leveraged the wide-grip pull-up to emphasize his lats and focus on broadening his back (5). He did five sets, each consisting of as many reps as possible.

He then supersetted bent-over rows with lat pulldowns to further train his back for width and create thickness and a 3D appearance. 

Each back workout ended with straight leg deadlifts. Arnold performed the exercise to focus on his lower back and bring out striations.

To understand how impressive Arnold’s workouts used to be, consider that he would start his back sessions with up to 15 pull-ups per set before proceeding to row 300+ pounds. He did rows and pulldowns back to back and finished his sessions with five sets of stiff-leg deadlifts.

Arnold Split Shoulders Workout

man seated shoulder press dumbbell
Type Exercise Set 1 (reps)Set 2 (reps) Set 3 (reps)Set 4 (reps) Set 5 (reps) Set 6 (reps)
Set Clean and Press55555
Superset 1Shoulder Press (Dumbbell)15121088
Superset 1Front Raise (Dumbbell)15121088
Superset 2Lateral Raise (Dumbbell)15121088
Superset 2Upright Row (Barbell)15121088
Set Reverse Fly (Dumbbell)1212121212

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Arnold considered the clean and press a staple in his shoulder workout routine and enjoyed going heavy, following the 5×5 principles. He also did plenty of supersets to save time and shock his muscles.

For instance, one superset Arnold enjoyed doing was a dumbbell press with front raise. Doing so allowed him to train the mid and front shoulders evenly (6).

Another superset Arnold enjoyed was lateral raises with upright rows. Both exercises emphasize the middle portion of the deltoids, and doing the two back-to-back is a great way to exhaust the shoulder muscle group and promote growth, Arnold believed. 

Unlike most people, Arnold did dumbbell raises by lifting the weights above his head. His logic was that doing so allowed him to train his shoulders through a full range of motion and promote better activation, resulting in more growth. 

The final exercise Arnold usually did for his shoulder training was a regular reverse fly with dumbbells. He was also known to do shoulder isolation exercises on cable machines for the constant tension they provided.

According to the Austrian Oak, one mistake trainees make with the dumbbell press, and similar exercises is to lock out their elbows at the top of overhead presses.

He says that doing so takes the tension away from the shoulders and instead forces the triceps to work extra hard, defeating the purpose of the exercise.

Arnold Split Bicep Workout

TypeExerciseSet 1 (reps)Set 2 (reps)Set 3 (reps)Set 4 (reps) Set 5 (reps)Set 6 (reps)
SetBicep Curl (Barbell)2015121086
SupersetSeated Incline Curl (Dumbbell)12121212
Superset Chin Up (Close Grip)To failureTo failureTo failureTo failureTo failure

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The barbell curl was another foundational exercise Arnold did back in the day, and given how impressive his biceps were, it’s safe to say that it was effective. Like with many other exercises he did, Arnold enjoyed pyramiding up on barbell curls. 

He would start with a lighter weight for up to 20 reps to force blood into the muscle group and improve activation. Then, he would add load to the bar and do fewer reps with each passing set until his last.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s workouts for the biceps included a superset, usually consisting of a seated dumbbell curl and a close-grip chin-up. The bench angle for the incline curls would be set at a 30-degree angle. 

When doing the close-grip chin-up, Arnold squeezed his biceps extra hard at the top position and did each set to failure.

Try a few of his methods if you ever struggle to grow your biceps. You’ll probably experience the most significant muscle soreness in your life, and the muscle group will have no choice but to grow.

Arnold Split Tricep Workout

man tricep dips
Type ExerciseSet 1 (reps)Set 2 (reps)Set 3 (reps) Set 4 (reps)Set 5 (reps) Set 6 (reps)
Set Bench Press – Close Grip (Barbell)2015121086
SupersetSkullcrusher (Barbell)12121212
SupersetOne Arm Tricep Extension (Dumbbell)12121212

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Just as Arnold and his training partners did heavy work for their biceps, they used the close-grip bench press to overload their triceps through a good range of motion. Arnie would again start with a lighter set for more reps to force blood into the muscle group before going heavy. 

The typical triceps superset included barbell skull crushers and one-arm overhead extension. It wasn’t anything fancy, but going hard and overloading the muscles with heavy weights allowed Arnold to build some of the most impressive triceps in bodybuilding (7).

Arnold Split Forearm Workout

Type ExerciseSet 1 (reps)Set 2 (reps)Set 3 (reps)Set 4 (reps) Set 5 (reps) Set 6 (reps)
SupersetSeated Palms Up Wrist Curl201512121010
SupersetSeated Palms Down Wrist Curl201512121010

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There isn’t much to say about Arnold’s forearm training. He didn’t put too much emphasis on that area of his body, probably because it received enough stimulation from the many back and biceps exercises he did.

Still, a good superset consisting of wrist and reverse curls will exhaust your forearms and bring a burning sensation like none you’ve experienced before.

Arnold Split Lower Body Workout

man good morning barbell
Type ExerciseSet 1 (reps)Set 2 (reps) Set 3 (reps)Set 4 (reps) Set 5 (reps) Set 6 (reps)
SetSquat (Barbell)8 to 128 to 128 to 128 to 128 to 128 to 12
Set Deadlift (Barbell)8 to 128 to 128 to 128 to 128 to 12
SetGood Morning (Barbell)8 to 128 to 128 to 128 to 12 8 to 12
SupersetLeg Extension (Machine)8 to 128 to 128 to 128 to 128 to 12
SupersetLying Leg Curl (Machine)8 to 128 to 128 to 128 to 128 to 12
SetStanding Calf Raise (Machine)3020151412

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Did you know that Arnold’s legs were a weak point for him? Here’s a quote from him: “Building up my legs was hard for me because I have long legs and long muscles.”

Still, Arnold trained hard to develop a pair of legs that matched his impressive upper body. 

The primary movement Arnold did for his legs was the barbell squat. It wasn’t anything fancy, but it got the job done because he went extra hard. He also included the leg press from time to time.

Arnold would do sets of 8 to 12 reps with 300 to 400 pounds on the bar.

Given that his best squat was 545 pounds, those weren’t incredibly heavy sets for him. He rested less between sets to shock his muscles and promote metabolic stress.

His leg workouts also included deadlifts and good mornings. Both movements emphasized the posterior chain and allowed Arnie to develop his legs evenly (8, 9). 

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As with most other Arnold workouts, his leg sessions included at least one superset. He enjoyed pairing leg extensions and curls because the two are isolation exercises that train the opposing quadriceps and hamstrings.

Doing the two movements back-to-back allowed Arnold to burn his legs out and put the finishing touches.

Arnie’s go-to exercise for the calves is the standing machine calf raises, but he also enjoyed doing donkey calf raises to mix things up and have fun with his training partners.

Arnold Split Ab Workout

TypeExerciseSet 1 (reps)Set 2 (reps)Set 3 (reps)Set 4 (reps)Set 5 (reps)Set 6 (reps)
SetDecline Crunch2525252525
SetCable  Crunch25252525

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Like his forearm training, Arnold didn’t do many exercises for his abs. He bet on the basics and trained the area twice per week, just like all the other muscle groups. 

Arnold didn’t emphasize his ab training much simply because the area received a lot of stimulation from the many compound movements he did.

Arnold’s Training Intensity Tactics For Shocking His Muscles

Arnold was no stranger to hard work. He routinely punished his body and tested his limits with the help of Franco Columbu and other partners. 

Most of the time, Arnold and his bodybuilding friends did their workouts as outlined. But, from time to time, they leveraged intensity techniques to switch things up, shock their muscle groups, and renew their growth. 

Arnold used three primary tactics to force progress: max effort reps, 1 to 10 reps, and the stripping method.

Max Effort Reps 

Arnold used the max effort reps method to determine his one-repetition maximum for the day. He did so by gradually increasing the load on the bar until he couldn’t get more than a single rep:

  • Set 1 – 20 reps
  • Set 2 – 15 reps
  • Set 3 – 10 reps
  • Set 4 – 8 reps
  • Set 5 – 5 reps
  • Set 6 – 3 reps
  • Set 7 – 1 rep

Once Arnold reached that point, he increased the weight to the point where he could barely do even one rep:

  • Set 8 – 1 rep
  • Set 9 – 1 rep

1 to 10 Reps

Arnold used the 1 to 10 reps method to exhaust his muscles thoroughly. He would start with

a weight with which he could only do a single rep and have two training partners remove plates after each set. Each time they removed some weight, he would do reps until he got to 10. 

 For example:

  • 405 pounds – 1 rep
  • 365 pounds – 2 reps
  • 325 pounds – 3 reps
  • 285 pounds – 4 reps
  • 255 pounds – 5 reps
  • 235 pounds – 6 reps
  • 215 pounds – 7 reps
  • 195 pounds – 8 reps
  • 175 pounds – 9 reps
  • 155 pounds – 10 reps

 The load might seem light for Arnie but keep in mind that he would do these sets back-to-back with almost no rest.

The Stripping Method

After doing a top set with a heavy load, Arnold would have two partners gradually remove weight off the bar. With each removal, he would do five reps. The process continued until Arnold was training with an empty bar. He would do 20 reps and take a break.

The method is similar to the 1 to 10 reps tactic and works to shock the muscles and force new growth. Here is how it might look after a top set with 365 pounds on the barbell bench press:

  • Set 1 (335 pounds) – 5 reps
  • Set 2 (295 pounds) – 5 reps
  • Set 3 (245 pounds) – 5 reps
  • Set 4 (205 pounds) – 5 reps
  • Set 5 (165 pounds) – 5 reps
  • Set 6 (125 pounds) – 5 reps
  • Set 7 (85 pounds) – 5 reps
  • Set 8 (45 pounds; just the empty bar) – 20 reps

Using a workout tracker can help you keep track of these tactics and see what ones works best for you.

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Arnold Split: Progression And How to Get Started

The Arnold split is incredibly demanding and not for the faint of heart. It features six workouts per week, a ton of sets, plenty of compound exercises, and supersets that will leave you gasping for air. 

We recommend starting the split with an introductory week or two. In other words, you should not begin the split as we’ve outlined but progress the volume and intensity gradually over some time.

Doing so is necessary to get used to the workout routine, keep muscle soreness at bay, and reduce the risk of overtraining.

Jumping into workout routines might seem the obvious way to start making progress immediately, but the approach doesn’t work well for Arnold’s training program.

For example, you can start by doing fewer sets per session and using a weight you can handle comfortably for at least ten reps. If the plan calls for six sets of an exercise, do four. If you have to do heavy sets of five reps, do lighter sets of ten reps instead.

Additionally, leave some reps in the tank and avoid training to failure initially. Pushing yourself to your limits is necessary for building muscle mass in the long run, but you don’t have to work as hard initially.

The training program is difficult enough, and there is no real need to overtrain yourself.

Progressive Overload On The Arnold Split

Increasing the weight you’re lifting is also necessary for long-term progress. Still, you have to be intelligent about it because increasing the load too quickly can lead to technique breakdown, cause you to miss reps, and increase the injury risk. 

Only add more weight to exercises when you can complete all of the prescribed repetitions with good form.

For instance, Arnold’s legs workout calls for 8 to 12 reps on the incline bench. You should only increase the weight when you can press a specific load for 12 reps on all six sets.

In any case, the original Arnold split program isn’t suited for a large percentage of trainees. Don’t be afraid to tweak the program and find ways to make it fit your goals, preferences, and ability to recover.

Tips And Tricks For The Arnold Split Workouts

1. Use a Variety of Machines and Free Weights

Arnold was a huge fan of variety in his training. He believed that doing the same thing repeatedly or only sticking to a specific type of exercise would impede his progress. 

Barbell movements made up a large percentage of the average Arnold split workout, but he also used dumbbells, cable machines, and more. 

For instance, Arnie was a fan of cable exercises for his shoulders because they provided constant tension and led to excellent muscle activation. 

Machines were another favorite type of equipment as Arnold often used such movements in

a superset fashion. A notable example is how he paired leg curls with leg extensions.

2. Don’t Be Afraid to Try New Things

Exercise physiology and sports nutrition research has come a long way since the peak of Arnold’s career. Studies show us how things work and provide insight on how we should do certain things for optimal results.

Still, if you’re going to learn one thing from Arnold, it should be to try new things in your training.

Arnold didn’t read studies to find the optimal number of sets or the best rep range for muscle growth. He subscribed to the idea of hard work and shocking his muscles with numerous techniques. It clearly worked for him.

Other splits to consider:

3. Do More Work

The simplest and most reliable way to make better progress with your training is to do more work: sets, exercises, weekly sessions, etc.

One of the defining characteristics of Arnold’s training is that he always outworked everyone around him and pushed himself to his limits.

Of course, for more work to bring better results, it should move hand-in-hand with good recovery. Arnie cared for his body by fueling himself with high-quality food, getting enough protein, and sleeping (10, 11).

4. Surround Yourself With Hardworking People

Arnold never trained alone. He always had Franco Columbu, Dave Draper, and other notable bodybuilders by his side.

Surrounding himself with like-minded and hardworking individuals undoubtedly played a role in Arnie’s commitment and motivation to push himself beyond his limits. 

Regardless of your workout plan, surrounding yourself with committed and hardworking training partners will always lead to better results. Accountability and motivation are powerful forces that drive progress.

Can Beginners Do The Arnold Split (Who Should Avoid It)?

Beginners should not consider the Arnold split for a couple of reasons. First, they can make optimal progress with far less training. Second, such a demanding workout approach will increase the risk of getting injured or overtrained.

Likewise, people who’ve taken a long break from training and are just returning to the gym should avoid the Arnold workout split. You might have years of training experience, but you will need to ease into your training and gradually increase the volume and intensity.

The third group of people who should avoid the Arnold split is those dieting to shed fat. Being in a calorie deficit means you cannot do as much training and recover positively, so an easier training plan with fewer workout days will be your best option for fat loss training.

Arnold Split vs. PPL (Push/Pull/Legs): Pros And Cons Of Both Approaches

As discussed earlier, the Arnold split resembles a 6-day push/pull/legs split in some ways. Both approaches are designed for more advanced trainees and have you rest for only one day per week.

A notable difference between Arnie’s training and a PPL split relates to the structure of each session. Arnold was a big fan of pairing chest and back and shoulders with arms.

In contrast, a PPL split has you pair ‘push’ and ‘pull’ muscles for the individual sessions. The leg sessions on both splits are identical: train every muscle below the waist.

An example of a push workout would be one where you train your chest, shoulders, and triceps. Similarly, a pull workout would train the muscles you use for pulling: the back, biceps, and forearms.

It’s important to note that neither split is necessarily better than the other. Both approaches offer benefits and drawbacks, and what matters most is that you apply yourself and stay consistent with your workouts.

One benefit of a PPL split is that workouts tend to be more manageable. You train muscles that enjoy working together, which allows you to provide a good stimulus with fewer sets and exercises.

Final Words

The Arnold split is an advanced training approach for building muscle mass and strength. It features a variety of exercises and lots of workout sets. Another notable characteristic is that Arnold was a big fan of variety and constantly looked for ways to shock his muscles into growing.

Some of Arnold’s methods might seem unnecessary or ineffective in the face of today’s research, but few people have achieved as much as him and have the right to argue. 

Arnold’s workout split is certainly not for everyone. It is a grueling and incredibly demanding approach that will overtrain most people. But, given the right tweaks, good nutrition, and proper recovery, it can work.

Even if you don’t follow his split down to a T, there is a lot to learn from the Austrian Oak about effective training.

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