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The Arnold Split – How To Train Like The Greatest Bodybuilder Of All Time

If you want to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger, you’ll have to train like him. The question is, what did an Arnold split look like?

My name is Steve Hoyles and I’m a personal trainer and gym owner, with 20+ years in the fitness industry.

In researching this article I’ve watched literally hours of Arnold footage, I’ve read dozens of articles and I’ve reviewed his written work through a personal trainer’s lens.

It has led me to one rock-solid conclusion…

There’s absolutely NO SUCH THING as an ‘Arnold Split’.

So rather than tell you I’ve got access to a secret, never-seen-before Arnold Split Routine, I’m going to go one better.

I’m going to distill hours and hours worth of Arnold training content into a single advice-packed article. 

You’ll learn how he trained different body parts, the principles he used, and how you can apply them to your own training.

Arnold Split – How he trained

To build a workout program like the ones Arnold would have followed, we have to consider the kind of exercises he liked to use. Here’s what my research kept telling me…


Arnold famously had outstanding chest development relative to his rivals. The exercises he commonly used to hit his chest were…

  • Barbell Bench Press 
  • Incline Bench Press
  • Decline Bench Press
  • Dumbbell Fly
  • Dips
  • Pullovers


You don’t earn the nickname ‘the Austrian Oak’ without a solid back. To develop the width and thickness, Arnold frequently used…

  • Deadlifts
  • Cleans
  • Bent over barbell row
  • T-Bar row
  • Good Mornings
  • Pull Ups


Arnold had great symmetry across his physique, meaning he needed big shoulders to match the size of his chest, arms and back. To build his shoulders he used…

  • Barbell Shoulder Press
  • Dumbbell Shoulder Press
  • Behind the Neck Press
  • Arnold Press
  • Lat Raises
  • Reverse Fly


All great bodybuilders have solid, thick legs and Arnold was no different. He famously struggled with his calf muscles early on, until he hit them with huge volume! Leg day looked like this…

  • Back Squats
  • Front Squats
  • Stiff Legged Deadlift
  • Leg Extensions
  • Leg Curls
  • Leg Press


Arnold was a proponent of massive volume for ab work, often hitting thousands (yes, you read that right) of sit ups and crunches per day.

He also worked his abs with the compound lifts that made up so much of his training. Here are the exercises for abs…

  • Leg Raises
  • Sit Ups
  • Roman Chair Crunches


According to the stats, Arnold had 22-inch arms. For perspective, the average man has around 12-inch arms, so they were pretty massive! Here’s how he blasted his arms to that size…

  • Close Grip Bench Press
  • Curls at various angles
  • Concentration Curls
  • Tricep Pushdown
  • Overhead Tricep Extension

Equipment needed for the Arnold split

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Adjustable Dumbbells

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Classic
Read our best adjustable dumbbell guide here

These are the dumbbells we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 50 hours of research and compared over 100 dumbbells. Adjustable dumbbells make sense for most home gyms as they save space.

The Nüobell dumbbells go all the way to 80lbs per hand. This means they are much more versatile than most 50lbs adjustable dumbbells. You can use these for heavy shrugs, squats and bench press etc.

The main reason they are the top pick is because of their shape. They actually feel like real dumbbells and are not awkward to lift like some others.

The Arnold split – a sample training program

As I said at the top of the article, there’s no ‘official Arnold split’, so ignore any website or article that tells you otherwise.

To think a guy like Arnold followed the same approach his entire career is ludicrous anyway.

What we can do is use what we know and show you a program that would look like the kind of thing Arnold would have followed.

It’s not for the faint-hearted, it’s a high volume, 6 day split workout designed to hit you hard!

Day 1: Back day

Start the week hard – by hitting your back. Why back? Because it’s large and it includes some deadlifting, which will need time to recover from.

These workouts aren’t about dozens of exercises – they’re based around big compound movements, done well and at a high intensity.

Good Mornings515
Bent Over Row610
Pull Ups5To Failure
T-Bar Row615

Arnold split day 1 back exercise infographic

1. Good mornings

In this case, the good morning is serving as a warm up for the work about to be done. It’s a safe exercise to perform because of the light weight and the simple movement pattern.

It’s also a great way to strengthen the hamstrings.

Equipment needed for good mornings:

  • Barbell
  • Plates

Rogue Ohio Cerakote Bar

Rogue Ohio Bar Cerakote
Read our best Olympic barbell guide here

This is the bar that we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 120 hours of research and tested over 100 barbells.

It is affordable but comes with some high specs. The Rogue Work Hardening and 190k PSI tensile strength mean the bar will last a lifetime in a home gym.

It is a multi-purpose bar with a 28.5mm diameter shaft and composite bushings in the sleeves. This means it’s balanced for heavy slow bench presses but you can also perform snatches and fast overhead lifts.

Strong Home Gym good morning form tips:

  • Set the barbell on your upper back
  • Push your hips back
  • Maintain a straight back throughout
  • Lower your torso towards the ground
  • Torso should reach parallel to floor
  • Straighten up by pushing hips forward 
  • Keep back straight on return
  • Repeat as necessary

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Lifting too heavy
  • Arching the back
  • Not using hamstrings properly

2. Deadlifts

Deadlifts are the biggest and heaviest pull we have and they’re the major exercise here. We’re going high volume with a medium-heavy weight to pack on both size and strength. This is a serious amount of work.

Equipment needed for deadlifts:

  • Barbell
  • Weight plates

Rogue Fleck Bumper Plates

Rogue Fleck Bumper Plate
Read our best bumper plates guide here

Bumper plates are ideal for a home gym.

They can last a lifetime and allow you to do additional lifts which require you to drop the bar.

Our team has compared over 100 types and the Rogue Fleck plates came out on top.

They are great value, use color allowing you to quickly see how much you’re lifting and the pattern will give your home gym a unique look.

Strong Home Gym deadlift form tips:

  • Grip the bar about shoulder width apart
  • Bend your legs and keep your back straight
  • Lift your chest up
  • Drive through the legs keeping arms straight
  • Lift the bar to hip height
  • At the top of the movement squeeze the glutes together 
  • Reverse the movement on the way down 

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Going too heavy
  • Rounding the back
  • Driving the legs first – legs and back should move together

3. Cleans

Cleans are one of those key exercises that build strength and power across the entire body. I love them, think everyone should learn them and wish people did more of them. In this case it’s a power development move, designed to hit that lower and mid back hard!

Equipment needed for cleans:

  • Barbell
  • Bumper Plates

Strong Home Gym clean form tips:

  • Assume overhand or hook grip
  • Tilt your chest forward 
  • Push your hips back
  • Keep back straight throughout 
  • Drive hips forward, pulling bar to chest 
  • Drive elbows underneath the bar
  • ‘Drop’ into squat position
  • Stand up to finish the movement
  • Repeat

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not keeping back straight
  • Not catching bar in a deep squat

4. Bent over barbell rows

This is the classic horizontal row exercise and has been a staple of training programmes for years. It’s a way to not only train the lats, but also activates the glutes and lower back as it requires them to work in order to keep the torso stable whilst lifting a heavy weight.

As you lift the weight, focus on squeezing the shoulder blades together throughout to activate the upper back muscles.

Equipment needed for bent over barbell rows:

  • Barbell
  • Plates

Strong Home Gym barbell row form tips:

  • Hold the barbell shoulder width apart
  • Keep a straight, stiff back 
  • Chest points down with a slight incline
  • Slight knee bend
  • Pull the barbell to chest
  • Squeeze shoulder blades together 
  • Lower with control
  • Repeat as many times as required

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not keeping back straight
  • Not squeezing shoulder blades together

5. Pull ups

Pull ups here are to hit the lats and biceps hard. We’re looking for reps to failure, so use the exercise properly.

We’re shooting for thickness and width here, so don’t stop until you can’t lift yourself any more. Remember the Arnold principle of WORK YOUR ASS OFF!

Equipment needed for pull ups:

Strong Home Gym pull up form tips:

  • Hold the pull up bar with an overhand grip 
  • Grip slightly around shoulder width
  • Lean back and pull chest to bar 
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together 
  • When chest reaches the bar slowly lower yourself
  • Repeat the movement

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not lowering to full extension
  • Not pulling chest to bar

6. T-bar rows

This is a class Arnold row pattern. I like it as a way to hit the mid and upper back, and Arnold often used a close and sometimes neutral grip to hit the middle of the back.

As you lift the weight, focus on squeezing the shoulder blades together throughout to activate the upper back muscles. Don’t be afraid to move your torso if it helps you get extra reps out.

Equipment needed for T-Bar rows:

  • Barbell
  • Plates
  • T-Bar Handle
  • Corner Plate

Strong Home Gym T-Bar row form tips:

  • Close or narrow grip
  • Keep a straight, stiff back 
  • Chest points down with a slight incline
  • Slight knee bend
  • Pull the barbell to chest
  • Squeeze shoulder blades together 
  • Lower with control
  • Repeat as many times as required

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not keeping back straight
  • Not squeezing shoulder blades together

Day 2 (and 5): Legs

Leg day is up next – the principles of training we’ve discussed are in action again. Hard work, hitting failure, multiple angles and full ranges of movement.

This isn’t for those looking for an easy workout…

Back Squats66-8
Front Squats66-8
Stiff Legged Deadlifts610
Leg Extensions520
Leg Curls520
Leg Press525

Arnold split day 2 leg exercise infographic

7. Back squats

The king of leg exercises. No leg day is complete without a squatting pattern. The back squat is usually the leg lift that allows you to lift the heaviest weight, so it’s the exercise on which the main leg strength is built.

We’re looking for max weight possible for the reps here.

Equipment needed for back squats:

  • Barbell
  • Plates
  • Squat rack

REP PR-4000 Power Rack

REP-PR-4000 Power Rack
Read our best squat rack guide here

Looking for an affordable yet high quality power rack?

Look no further!

After comparing over 100 types of squat racks the PR-4000 came out on top.

You can add any attachment to it (including cables, dip bars and plate holders). You can even add additional uprights to back to make it even more of a beast!

The 1 inch westside hole spacing means you can position the spotter arms to the ideal height when you bench press. So you can safely drop the bar and have a full range of motion when you lift.

And the 3×3″ 11 gauge steel make this the best value rack we could find.

Strong Home Gym back squat form tips:

  • Place the bar on the upper back
  • Stand tall, brace core
  • Keeping the chest up
  • Push hips back and bend knees 
  • Make sure thighs are parallel to floor
  • Drive feet into the floor to stand
  • Repeat as required

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not squatting deep enough
  • Placing bar on neck, not back

8. Front squats

Front squats are another favorite exercise for building serious leg strength, and as such they’re next in line. Arnold relied heavily on the free weight exercises to build strength, so this is what we’re doing here.

He also referenced front squats often in my research.

Equipment needed for barbell front squats:

  • Barbell 
  • Weight plates
  • Squat rack

Strong Home Gym barbell front squat form tips:

  • Hold the bar in the rack position
  • Open hand grip, elbows up, chest up
  • Stand straight and engage the core
  • Push hips back and bend knees 
  • Make sure thighs are parallel to floor
  • Drive feet into the floor to stand
  • Repeat as required

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not squatting deep enough
  • Leaning forward during lift

9. Stiff legged deadlifts

The stiff legged deadlift was frequently referenced by Arnold in interviews about his leg day. It’s a great exercise because it eccentrically loads the hamstrings, and allows you to lift very heavy weights.

It also helps to build the lower back and glutes too.

Equipment needed for stiff legged deadlifts:

  • Barbell
  • Plates

Strong Home Gym stiff legged deadlift form tips:

  • Grip the bar just outside shoulders
  • Deadlift the bar into your starting position
  • Keeping your back and legs straight
  • Tilt hips back, tip torso forward
  • Keep legs straight
  • Feel your hamstrings stretch fully
  • Push the hips forward stand back up
  • At the top, squeeze the glutes together
  • Repeat as required

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Bending the knees
  • Arching the back

10. Leg extension

I’m not going to write the usual explanation here, because each machine is different. Instead, let’s talk about how to approach it in this workout. 

We’re using the leg extension to maximize the contraction of the quads. Having done the strength work, we’re now looking at causing the biggest burn for the leg muscles.

We’re going to do that with several high rep sets, isolating the different parts of the muscles.

Execute a full range of movement with each rep, and squeeze the muscle HARD at the top of the rep.

Note: If you’re interested in expanding your knowledge on leg extension machines, make sure to explore our comprehensive guide on the best leg extension machines.

11. Leg curl

As with the leg extension, there’s too many different variations of the machine to give you a detailed coaching guide. I’ll talk about how to use it effectively in this workout.

As with the leg extension, we’re including the leg curl in the workout to really get the most from the hamstring muscle.

We want to isolate it as best as we can to really fatigue it at the end of the session. Lift through a full range of motion, going from full extension to full contraction of the muscle.

12. Leg press

The leg press is here with a ‘final boss’ role to play. You’ve hit the leg muscles with heavy weight exercises.

You’ve targeted both the quads and hamstrings individually, using high volume lifts for both. 

Finally, it’s a ‘finisher’ with the leg press. It’s a way to milk every last drop of effort out of the legs, before you walk out of the gym like Bambi on ice.

High reps, medium weight, do as much as you can. 

If you want to learn more about leg press machines – be sure to check out our best leg press machine in-depth guide.

Day 3: Chest

Despite the great chest development, Arnold didn’t hit his chest any harder than his other body parts.

Chest day wasn’t given special attention – he trained all of his body hard. What made chest day effective for Arnold was the emphasis on the range of movement and time under tension.

Flat Barbell Bench Press86-8
Incline Barbell Bench Press810-12
Chest Flyes615
Dumbbell Pullovers510

Arnold split day 3 chest exercise infographic

13. Flat barbell bench press

Probably the most popular exercise in the world, the bench press is an incredibly effective way to build strength in the upper body.

It’s a way of building all over chest development and is an easy exercise to learn. We’re going with lots of sets here.

Equipment needed for barbell bench press:

  • Barbell 
  • Weight plates
  • Bench

REP AB-3000 Bench

REP AB-3000 Weight Bench
Read our best weight bench guide here

This is the weight bench we recommend for ‘most people’.

We compared over 70 benches against 12 criteria. This is our highest-ranked flat, incline & decline (FID) bench.

Some adjustable benches can be a bit wobbly when on the incline. But the AB-3000 is very sturdy.

With a height 18mm it’s comparable to benches that cost twice as much.

Strong Home Gym barbell bench press form tips:

  • Grip the bar just wider than shoulders 
  • Push feet firmly into the ground
  • Lift the bar over your chest
  • Lower the barbell over your chest
  • When the bar reaches your chest, pause
  • Drive bar directly back upwards
  • Repeat as many times as required.

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Grip too narrow
  • Going too heavy
  • Not hitting full depth

14. Incline barbell bench press

Arnold famously loved this exercise and used it a lot in his training.

It’s a perfect way to integrate more shoulder and upper chest work into the exercise, and it serves as a great additional variety to your benching.

Equipment needed for incline barbell bench press:

  • Barbell
  • Adjustable Bench

Strong Home Gym incline barbell bench press form tips:

  • Set the bench to a slight incline 
  • Lie Underneath the barbell
  • Grip wider than shoulders
  • Lower the bar to your chest
  • Feel a stretch at the bottom
  • Press barbell back to a full extension
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not lowering bar far enough
  • Going too heavy
  • Setting the incline too steep

15. Parallel bar dips

Arnold used dips to target his lower chest, which is common amongst people who don’t use a decline press very often.

It’s a great exercise for stretching the chest and shoulders too, creating more time under tension. Recruitment of the triceps builds arm strength as well. 

Equipment needed for dips:

  • Parallel bars
  • Power tower or power rack with dip attachments

Strong Home Gym dip form tips:

  • Start position has arms at full extension
  • Leaning forward slightly
  • Initiate movement by pushing elbows back
  • Continue descent until full elbow bend
  • Feel full pectoral muscle stretch
  • Pause and push back up to full extension
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not reaching full stretch of chest
  • Not pushing to full arm extension

16. Flat dumbbell fly

What I personally love about the way Arnold executed this exercise is the huge range of movement he performed them with.

Compared to machines (or the lazy lifters), his range of movement is just massive – see how far he opens up his chest. You should do the same!

Equipment needed for flat dumbbell flyes:

  • Bench
  • Dumbbells

Strong Home Gym flat dumbbell fly form tips:

  • Set the bench flat
  • Lie back and hold dumbbells ahead
  • Lift your feet off the floor
  • Lower dumbbells out to the sides
  • Open as wide as possible
  • Maintain an almost-straight arm throughout
  • Feel a full stretch
  • Pull the dumbbells back up and to the center
  • Repeat as necessary

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not reaching full stretch of chest
  • Bending elbows too much
  • Rushing the return

17. Dumbbell pullovers

I was surprised when I saw an interview where Arnold said this was his FAVORITE chest exercise – I’ve never heard anyone say that!

I don’t even really consider it a chest staple (mostly because it’s easy to butcher). Still though, if Arnold loved it, who am I to argue?!

Equipment needed for dumbbell pullovers:

  • Bench
  • Dumbbell

Strong Home Gym dumbbell pullover form tips:

  • Reach behind you in an overhead position
  • Take a dumbbell in both hands
  • Extend arms directly in front of your head
  • Maintain straight arms throughout
  • Extend dumbbell overhead and behind
  • Go until you feel a stretch in the lats
  • Don’t allow lower back to arch
  • At maximum stretch, pause
  • Return the dumbbell over your face
  • Repeat as necessary

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not reaching full stretch of lats
  • Allowing your back to arch

Day 4: Arms

You just know a guy with 22 inch arms is putting the effort in, and this is no different.

In this workout, we’re following the principles of range of movement, training to failure and shocking the muscles. No place for the faint hearted!

Close Grip Bench Press515
EZ Bar Curls510-12
Dumbbell Curls510
Tricep Pushdown515
Overhead Tricep Extension515
Concentration Curl615 (per side)

Arnold split day 4 arms exercise infographic

18. Close grip bench press

The close grip bench press is a way to recruit the tricep muscles in a heavy weight exercise.

Performing the exercise with a wider grip uses the chest more, but by bringing the grip inwards, you put more emphasis on the triceps.

Equipment needed for close grip bench press:

  • Barbell 
  • Weight plates
  • Bench

Strong Home Gym close grip bench press form tips:

  • Grip the bar with hands 6-12 inches apart 
  • Push feet firmly into the ground
  • Lift the bar over your chest
  • Lower the barbell over your chest
  • When the bar reaches your chest, pause
  • Drive bar directly back upwards
  • Repeat as many times as required.

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Grip too wide
  • Going too heavy
  • Not hitting full depth

19. EZ bar curl

EZ Bar curls were a go-to for Arnold. They’re a fantastic way to activate the biceps muscle groups, and the bar itself is a little more elbow and wrist friendly than the straight bar (which Arnold also used). High volume curls for the win!

Equipment needed for EZ bar curls:

  • EZ Bar 
  • Weight plates

Strong Home Gym EZ bar curl form tips:

  • Hold the EZ bar on the ‘upward’ diagonals
  • Keep your elbows tucked in by your sides
  • Curl the bar towards your chest
  • At the top movement, squeeze to maximize contraction
  • Lower the bar to the starting position
  • Repeat as required

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not lowering bar to full extension
  • Not tucking elbows into sides

20. Dumbbell curls

Dumbbell curls are one of the first exercises you’ll learn, and they’re one of the best too.

They allow for a long range of movement, activate the biceps well, and give great contraction opportunities. Go medium-heavy weight here.

Equipment needed for dumbbell curls:

  • Dumbbells

Strong Home Gym dumbbell curl form tips:

  • Dumbbell in each hand, elbows tucked
  • Arms straight palms facing outwards
  • Bend elbows and curl up
  • At the top of the movement, pause
  • Lower dumbbells to full extension
  • Repeat as required

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not lowering dumbbells to full extension
  • Going too heavy 
  • Arching your back to help

21. Tricep pushdown

As with the leg day, Arnold spent a lot of time isolating muscles after the compound movements had been performed.

It was during these that he maximized the contraction of the muscle, forcing all of that extra growth.

Equipment needed for tricep pushdowns:

  • Cable station
  • Straight bar

REP FT-5000

REP Fitness FT-5000 Cable Machine
Read our best cable machine guide here

This is the cable machine we recommend for ‘most people’.

We compared over 100 cable machines against 10 criteria. This is our highest-ranked cable machine.

The main reason is this is commercial-like quality for a reasonable price.

It also boasts a 224lbs weight stack on both sides. Comparable models have sub 200lbs.

Some cable machines can feel a bit wobbly during certain exercises, but the FT-5000 provides exceptionally stable and smooth resistance throughout the entire range of motion.

Strong Home Gym tricep pushdown form tips:

  • Position straight bar at chest height
  • Hold the bar with an overhand grip 
  • Tuck your elbows into your sides
  • Press the bar down to straight arms
  • Make the bar reach your body
  • Return it to the starting position
  • Keep elbows are tucked in throughout
  • Repeat as necessary

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not tucking elbows
  • Allowing arms to raise on return
  • Going too light

22. Overhead tricep extension

This is another arm exercise that Arnold frequently mentions as part of his arm routine.

It’s a nice way to isolate the triceps, and the rope allows more freedom of movement than a fixed bar path would.

Equipment needed for overhead tricep extension:

  • Cable station
  • Rope grip

Strong Home Gym overhead tricep extension form tips:

  • Turn your back to the cable station
  • Set the rope set as high as possible
  • Hold on to it from behind your head
  • Bend forwards, keeping your back straight
  • Pull the cable down with you
  • Keep arms up and bent 
  • Straighten the arms to full extension 
  • Repeat as necessary

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not extending arms fully
  • Not bending arms fully on return

23. Concentration curls

Concentration curls are subject to one of the most famous scenes in all of fitness… the famous ‘pump’ scene from Pumping Iron (google it!).

It was a key exercise for Arnold on his arm day, so it belongs here too!

Equipment needed for concentration curls:

  • Dumbbells

Strong Home Gym concentration curl form tips:

  • Bend over, feet shoulder width apart
  • Place lifting arm on inside of one leg
  • Curl up the dumbbell
  • At the top of the movement, pause
  • Lower dumbbell to full extension
  • Repeat as required

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not lowering dumbbells to full extension
  • Going too heavy 

Day 6: Shoulders

Shoulder training is interesting, because they’re so integral to every other upper body movement. You’d imagine they would have already done enough indirect work throughout the week.

Despite that, they’re still given a lot ot attention…

Barbell Shoulder Press610
Dumbbell Shoulder Press612
Behind the Neck Press615
Arnold Press615
Lat Raises515
Reverse Fly625

Arnold split day 6 shoulders exercise infographic

24. Barbell shoulder press

The go-to shoulder exercise for mass and strength, this is an exercise that will keep you honest.

Unlike a push press or push jerk, it’s a strict movement without any kind of leg intervention to help you. As with all things Arnold, this was hit with high volume!

Equipment needed for military press:

  • Barbell 
  • Weight plates

Strong Home Gym barbell shoulder press form tips:

  • Grip the bar just outside shoulder-width. 
  • Squeeze your glutes tight to lock your lower back
  • Keep your chest up
  • Press the barbell overhead 
  • Push until full extension
  • Lower the bar to your chest
  • Repeat as required

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not pressing barbell to full extension
  • Arching your back
  • Using your legs to drive up

25. Dumbbell shoulder press

In this case, the dumbbells allow free movement. They’re unilateral, so train both sides.

It’s a way to combine overhead pressing strength with smooth and precise form to maximize the effect of the exercise. All in all, a great push exercise.

Note: If you want more push exercise ideas, also check out our push exercises and push day workout articles.

Equipment needed for dumbbell shoulder press:

  • Dumbbells

Strong Home Gym dumbbell shoulder press form tips:

  • Stand upright with dumbbells at shoulder height
  • Press the dumbbells directly overhead
  • At full extension, pause briefly 
  • Lower dumbbells back to shoulders
  • Repeat as necessary

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not pressing dumbbells to full extension
  • Arching your back

26. Behind the neck press

Arnold frequently mentioned his use of this exercise in his interviews. It was a key part of his shoulder training and was employed as a volume exercise.

It’s a great way to help open up the chest and improve shoulder mobility. 

Equipment needed for the behind the neck press:

  • Squat rack
  • Barbell
  • Plates

Strong Home Gym behind the neck press form tips:

  • Hold the bar across your back
  • Grip the bar wider than shoulder-width 
  • Squeeze your glutes tight to lock your lower back
  • Keep your chest up
  • Press the barbell overhead 
  • Push until full extension
  • Lower the bar to your upper back
  • Repeat as required

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not pressing barbell to full extension
  • Arching your back
  • Not lowering the bar fully

27. Arnold press

I couldn’t write a program and not include the exercise named after the man himself, could I?! The Arnold Press is a rotational shoulder press designed to maximize contraction.

It does this by increasing the stretch at the front deltoid. It’s an effective exercise and is still popular today.

Equipment needed for Arnold presses:

  • Dumbbells
  • A bench

Strong Home Gym Arnold press form tips:

  • Sit on a bench holding dumbbells
  • Dumbbells should be at chest height
  • Palms face your chest
  • Press the dumbbells overhead
  • Rotate the dumbbells as you press
  • At full extension, palms should face away
  • Return dumbbells to chest
  • Rotate dumbbells back to start position
  • Repeat as necessary

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not pressing dumbbell to full extension
  • Not rotating during the press

28. Lateral raises

This exercise exists in the program as a pure volume play. You’re not going to build huge strength here, but you’ll be able to add huge volume.

The lat raise was commonly used was build the deltoid ‘cap’, increasing the thickness of the muscle.

Equipment needed for lateral raises:

  • Dumbbells

Strong Home Gym lateral raise form tips:

  • Take a dumbbell in each hand
  • Lean forward slightly
  • Use an overhand grip
  • Lift the dumbbells out to the side
  • Go as high as possible
  • Return to the start position
  • Repeat as necessary

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Rushing the movement
  • Swing back and forth to ‘help’

29. Dumbbell reverse fly

This a classic bodybuilding exercise for good reason – it hits the rear deltoids very well.

This was one of the reasons why Arnold had such great shoulder development – he trained the rear delts hard too.

This is a light weight, so you MUST hit it with high volume to get the training effect. 

Equipment needed for reverse fly:

  • Dumbbells

Strong Home Gym reverse fly form tips:

  • Take a dumbbell in each hand
  • Bend forward keep your back straight
  • Keep arms straight and pointing directly below you
  • Engage rear deltoids and upper back
  • Lift the weights out to the sides
  • Squeeze the upper back muscles together
  • Slowly return to the start position
  • Repeat as necessary

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Rushing the movement
  • Swing back and forth to ‘help’

Abs and calves

You may have noticed that there’s no abs and calves in here, and might be wondering why that is?

The answer is because in several interviews I read and watched, Arnold said that he trained his abs and calves every single day.

The high volume approach he took to other muscle groups applied here also. He said he would regularly do 2000 Roman Chair crunches as his warm up, after cardio.

His calf workout was simple too – donkey raises and calf raises. Heavy weight, high volume. This is how it would look in a workout…

Leg Raises2050
Cable Crunches1025
Roman Chair Crunches1050
Calf Raises1025
Donkey Calf Raises1025

Arnold split day 6 Abs and Calves exercise infographic

30. Leg raises

The leg raise is a way engage the abs through a large range of movement. By using a bench you increase the available space, increasing the time under tension.

There’s a lot of volume here, so get ready!

Equipment needed for leg raises:

  • Bench

Strong Home Gym reverse leg raise form tips:

  • Lie on the bench
  • Move legs to the end 
  • Hold the bench overhead
  • Lower the legs toward the floor
  • Lift up until your legs reach 45 degrees
  • Repeat as necessary

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Rushing the movement
  • Allowing the back to arch
  • Not moving through a full range

31. Cable crunches

The cable crunch is an exercise that allows you to weight train the abs without risking the lower back.

It’s also a good way to add more resistance to the exercise and not jeopardize form too much. 

Equipment needed for cable crunches:

  • Cable station
  • Rope attachment

Strong Home Gym cable crunch form tips:

  • Set the rope high
  • Kneel up, with torso fully extended
  • Hold rope either side of the head
  • Crunch down, engaging the abs fully
  • Slowly return to start position
  • Repeat as necessary

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Using bodyweight instead of abs
  • Not actually ‘crunching’ through abs
  • Returning to start too quickly

32. Roman chair crunches

Another Arnold ab training staple, the Roman chair is a great choice for hitting the abs without hurting your back.

It focuses all of the attention on the abs, with a small range of movement and very limited injury risk.

Equipment needed for Roman chair crunches:

Strong Home Gym Roman chair crunch form tips:

  • Support bodyweight on elbows
  • Start with body straight
  • Lift knees to the chest
  • Slowly lower to start position
  • Repeat as necessary

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Rushing the movement
  • Not fully supporting bodyweight

33. Standing calf raises

Want bigger calves? Work them. Where Arnold differed to most is that he combined heavy weights and high reps.

Usually, it’s one or the other! It worked for him though – a combination of the daily calf training and the weight grew him some great cows… 

Equipment needed for calf raises:

  • Weights – can be bodyweight, barbell, dumbbells etc
  • Plate or bench to elevate the feet from the floor

Strong Home Gym calf raise form tips:

  • Stand on a bench to raise toes
  • Hold the weight
  • Stand on tip toes
  • At peak of the contraction, pause
  • Lower your heels fully
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not maximizing range of movement
  • Going too light

34. Donkey calf raise

The donkey calf raise is an often-forgotten calf exercise, but it’s a fantastic one. It’s a way of hitting the muscles with a lot more weight than when doing ‘normal’ standing calf raises.

You can also bend the knees here to hit the soleus. There’s plenty of images of Arnold doing donkey calf raises around!

Equipment needed for donkey calf raises:

  • Weights – can be bodyweight, barbell, dumbbells, etc
  • Plate or bench to elevate the feet from the floor
  • A place to lean against

Strong Home Gym donkey calf raise form tips:

  • Bend over at the hips
  • Lean on something to stabilize
  • Stand on a bench to raise toes
  • Place weight on your back
  • Stand on tip toes
  • At peak of the contraction, pause
  • Lower your heels fully
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not maximizing range of movement
  • Going too light

This Arnold split workout is the kind of thing he would do, based on what we know about his training from training footage, interviews, magazine articles etc.

I’m not saying it’s exhaustive, or he even followed this workout program. It’s just the kind of thing he would do based on what we know.

To understand more about how and why it looks like it does, read on to learn about Arnold’s training principles. It’s almost like a philosophy of bodybuilding (and training in general).

Despite 20 years in the gym, I found myself nodding in agreement throughout my research for the piece.

It’s a really useful exercise, reading more about these principles. It’ll remind you of what’s important in your training approach. 

The Arnold split: Schwarzenegger’s training principles

Transform Your Body With Arnold’s Training Principles

My research for this piece took me down a deep rabbit hole of Arnold content.

It was a nice step change from usual research, which involves pouring through dozens of scientific studies to make sure you guys get the best fitness advice on the web. 

It was a nostalgic trip through the greatest era of bodybuilding. 

Across the books, the videos, the documentaries and the magazines, the same handful of training principles kept cropping up.

I’ve distilled them down into advice you can apply to your own training, with tips on how to do just that…

1. Volume, volume, volume

The most glaring principle that comes from Arnold’s interviews is the emphasis on training volume. Hard work, and lots of it is a recurring theme of Arnold’s training.

Tales of 5-6 hours in the gym are frequent, and the huge volume of his workouts is the stuff of legend.

The high volume approach for hypertrophy has been subsequently proven in the research as well.

In a study titled ‘Resistance Training Volume Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy but Not Strength in Trained Men’ by Brad Schonefeld et al, the following conclusion was drawn:

…‘muscle hypertrophy follows a dose–response relationship, with increasingly greater gains achieved with higher training volumes.’

Taking this principle and applying it to your own training comes with some obvious limitations…

Arnold had years of training under his belt by the time he hit the big time. His body was already accustomed to huge loads and volumes.

This would have been built up over many years and workouts. You probably don’t.

He was also ‘enhanced’. These substances allow you to build muscle quicker, lift heavier and recover faster.

They’re also illegal (class 3 drug in the USA), and potentially deadly when taken unsupervised. 

They are frequently responsible for heart conditions that can prove fatal, as shown in this 2020 review by Torrisi et al… Sudden Cardiac Death in Anabolic-Androgenic Steroid Users: A Literature Review.

These are big factors to consider before you start shooting for 5-hour workouts every day. 

How to increase your training volume safely…

Play the long game. You won’t be able to go from basic workouts to huge volume overnight. Build your capacity by gradually increasing your training volume. An extra set per exercise to start with. 

Longer sets can help. Moving from sets of 8-10 to 10-12, or even 15+.

If you are going to focus on increasing volume, you have to combine it with increasing your recovery efforts.

Deeper, more restful sleep. Less alcohol, better quality food, increased protein intake. Active recovery, sauna use, massage therapy and a good supplementation regimen is useful too.

2. Strength and power base first

In one interview I watched, Arnold spoke about in his early days he focussed on powerlifting and weightlifting (the sport of weightlifting, not merely lifting weights).

He went on to say how frustrated he is watching younger guys in the gym who haven’t spent time working on these major lifts first.

He called them ‘the basics’ and said they should be performed by everyone, but beginners should be performing them exclusively.

He credits his lower back and traps development on powerlifting and weightlifting. It also served as the foundation stone of his incredible strength that he developed over time. 

Once again, Arnold was ahead of his time when it came to his thoughts here.

In a 2022 meta analysis titled ‘Comparison of Weightlifting, Traditional Resistance Training and Plyometrics on Strength, Power and Speed: A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis’, researchers showed…

‘…these findings support the notion that if the training goal is to improve strength, power and speed, supplementary weightlifting training may be advantageous for athletic development.

Whilst Weightlifting Training and plyometrics may result in similar improvements, Weightlifting Training can elicit additional benefits above that of Traditional Resistance Training, resulting in greater improvements in weightlifting and jumping performance.’

What this means is that by adding weightlifting training (snatches, cleans, clean and jerks etc)  to traditional resistance training for muscle growth, we can improve strength further.

How to include more compound lifting into your training

As a weightlifting coach and owner of a strength and conditioning gym, hearing Arnold say how highly he valued weightlifting and powerlifting makes me VERY happy.

I’ve long believed that everyone would benefit from learning the basics of weightlifting, because it teaches you proper position, activation patterns and lifting technique. 

Regardless of your goals, it’s worth spending some time with a coach learning how to perform the olympic lifts.

Depending on your training stage, spend anywhere between 50 and 90% of your training time working on the big lifts.

Deadlifts, cleans, snatches, jerks, front squats, rows, presses and the like. These are not only the basis of great strength and fitness, they also build huge muscle mass.

3. Use a full range of motion

I learned something new when researching this article. In the Arnold Press, the reason for the rotation was because Arnold felt it improved the range of motion at the shoulder – in particular at the front deltoid.

He valued the increased range, which he (rightly) believed helped him to build additional muscle.

A favorite chest exercise of his was the pec fly – for the same reason. He credits the pec fly for its role in his impressive chest development.

He said his technique was to open up the chest as far as possible – until his arms nearly touched the floor.

This had the effect of increasing the range of movement, which (surprise, surprise), has since proven to be an effective technique.

In a 2020 review titled ‘Effects of range of motion on muscle development during resistance training interventions: A systematic review’, Schoenfeld et al found that…

‘To date, four studies have investigated the impact of variations in ROM on hypertrophy of the lower body musculature. The studies generally show that training with a full ROM produces similar or greater increases in muscle size than training with partial ROM.’

More range of motion =  more time under tension = more muscle.

How to increase range of motion during exercises

There are three ways to increase the range of motion during exercises – all of them are effective, and all of them are worth your time and attention.

The first one is to select exercises that allow you to increase the range of motion.

Take a bench press for example – using dumbbells allows you a greater range of motion than you’d have with a barbell.

Actively look at options that allow a greater range – usually this will be possible with free weights rather than machines.

The second one is to warm up effectively. A good warm up allows you to maximize the range of movement you have at a given joint.

Spend time warming the body with cardio. Then you can loosen tissues with foam rolling etc, before working through a full range of motion in exercises.

The third one is to adopt a regular mobility practice. Spending 10-15 minutes per day working on structured mobility work.

Focus on your shoulders, chest, hips, lower back, hamstrings, ankles and thoracic spine. It will help to prevent injury and improve exercise performance. 

One final thing you can do is really concentrate on maximizing the range of movement with every exercise. Focus on each rep.

You may need to reduce the weight to be able to do this, but it’ll certainly help your training. 

4. Vary training – shock muscles

Arnold was a huge proponent of ‘keeping the body guessing’. In interviews, he says how he would mix up his training to blast through plateaus.

This could look like changing weights, exercise angles, increasing volumes etc. The approach is a key part of one of the most famous ethoses in modern fitness…

This is the famous ‘World-Class Fitness in 100 Words’ statement from Greg Glassman, the inventor of CrossFit. They’re the founding principles of CrossFit methodology…

Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat.

Practice and train major lifts: Deadlift, clean, squat, presses, C&J, and snatch. Similarly, master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, dips, rope climb, push-ups, sit-ups, presses to handstand, pirouettes, flips, splits, and holds. Bike, run, swim, row, etc, hard and fast.

Five or six days per week mix these elements in as many combinations and patterns as creativity will allow.

Routine is the enemy.

Keep workouts short and intense!

Regularly learn and play new sports

I’ve highlighted the couple of lines that you’ll recognize from Arnold’s philosophy of training.

They’ve stood the test of time – so much so that the largest movement in modern fitness is still preaching two of them today, 50 years after Arnold showed the world how important they were.

Practice the major lifts, and vary your training.

How to add meaningful variety into training

There are several effective ways to add variety into training. Here’s a few…

  • Change the training angle – use incline, flat and declines for bench-based exercises such as bench press.
  • Change the weights – use heavy weights for a few reps, or lighter weights for more volume.
  • Change the type of resistance – switch barbells for kettlebells or dumbbells. Use bodyweight or bands. Keep the body guessing.
  • Use drop sets – maximize your ability to lift a weight, then reduce it. Keep going until complete muscular failure. 
  • Mix the exercises – instead of back squats for example, try lunges or front squats. Change the stimulation. 
  • Slow the tempo – by slowing down the lifting speed you can increase the time under tension and make an exercise harder.
  • Employ hyper-focus on a body part – hit the same body part with huge volume for a temporary period. Five days in a week on legs for example. 

These are some of the many potential ways you can add effective variety into your training.

It’s important that you add effective variety into your workouts though – don’t be tempted to put in pointless novelty that’s less challenging, just for the sake of difference. 

5. Always train to failure

The training-to-failure question has been around for a long time, but Arnold was always clear on it. You ALWAYS hit failure.

There’s an important distinction though – failure doesn’t mean ‘collapse in a heap’, it means ‘technical failure’, whereby you train until you can’t maintain the high quality form.

This is a point Arnold repeats time and again across scores of interviews spanning several decades. Basically, if you want muscle, you have to work HARD for it. 

In training footage from the legendary Gold’s Gym in Venice Beach, you’ll regularly see Arnold and his training partners collapsing under a heavy or long set of squats.

You’ll see them hitting failure on the bench, eeking out those last few reps on curls. 

They even pioneered the use of drop sets to maximize failure. They were the pioneers of lifting lighter weights as energy depleted during a cut.

At a time when light weights were considered not very effective, they embraced the use of them.

Pyramid sets, drop sets and escalating density approaches were a key part of the Golds Gym training methods.

Is failure necessary?

Through our modern lens, we know that training to failure isn’t strictly necessary to incite hypertrophy, but it’s very useful and should be at least part of your training. 

Training to failure does appear to help build muscle and strength – particularly in people with a lot of training experience according to a 2016 study by Nobrega and Libardi titled ‘Is Resistance Training to Muscular Failure Necessary?

They concluded…

‘…repetitions to failure seem essential for increases in muscle strength and mass of similar magnitude to high intensity resistance training when performing low intensity resistance training.

When it comes to trained individuals, evidence shows greater increases in muscle strength after high intensity resistance training performed to muscle failure compared to no failure.

So whilst it’s not vital, it’s certainly very effective at helping to increase muscle mass and strength. Particularly in well trained individuals.

It’s important to state though that as long as your weight training includes sufficient load, progression and volume then you’ll build muscle.

Training to failure does however underline the value of hard work, and the mental strength you develop by pushing yourself so hard can have a huge benefit when motivation to train is low. 

The lessons we’ve drawn from the content consumed so far give us a guideline as to how we should approach our training.

By following these five principles, we’ll build effective workouts and pack on muscle sooner. 

Those five principles again…

  1. Programs should be high volume
  2. Build a strength and power base
  3. Use a full range of motion
  4. Vary training to shock muscles
  5. Always train to failure

Include these principles in your training and you won’t go far wrong!

So why is Arnold considered a legend?

In bodybuilding and fitness circles, Arnold Schwarzenegger is a bona fide legend. He wasn’t the biggest bodybuilder, and his title records have been surpassed.

So why is he still considered the GOAT?

Here’s my take…

He put weight training on the map

Thanks to the 1977 documentary ‘Pumping Iron’, Arnold became a breakout star. He had already dominated the bodybuilding world by then, but the sport hadn’t made it to the mainstream.

The only people who lifted weights were athletes and weirdos. Arnold helped to change that, and started a revolution in weight training.

He showed the world what a bodybuilder was, and what he could do. He overcame boundaries – lack of classical acting training, a heavy accent and a jock perception to become a huge star.

He paved a way for fitness to be accepted. Back then bodybuilders were freaks and misfits.

Not after Arnold entered the mainstream – a muscular physique became sought after almost overnight.

He changed the way we trained 

From a 5000 square foot gym in Venice Beach, California, many of the training approaches we now take for granted were invented.

Arnold was using superset, tri-set density training approaches years before the rest of the world caught on.

It seems so obvious to us now, but not back then – they were learning and inventing as they went. It was innovation through experimentation. 

He was the one who taught us to use compounds, then isolation exercises. He was the guy who taught us about the mind-muscle connection.

He taught us to mix up our angles of attack on muscles. Much of what we know have scientific proof for, he was doing years ago. Not because the labs said so – it was because the results did.

He was the last of the classics

The generation of bodybuilders in the 1970’s and early 1980’s were the last ‘great’ generation, before the freaky era came in.

Sure, these guys were huge and all taking steroids (they’ve said so – that’s not an allegation), but they weren’t going to the lengths that the guys do now.

They had aesthetic physiques, and the sport was judged differently then. It was more accessible and the average gym goer could relate to it.

Not achieve it, but aspire to. Nowadays, bodybuilders are completely unrelatable to the average gym-goer. 

We’ve all got a debt of gratitude to Arnold. I honestly believe that without him, fitness wouldn’t have experienced the boom it has. Hollywood would look VERY different too!

The Arnold Split: The bottom line

They say there are two certainties in life – death and taxes. I’d like to offer up a third… that fitness websites will write inaccurate articles about Arnold Schwarzenegger for clicks.

Not us. 

This article is well-researched and doesn’t make any claims I’m not happy to defend. 

The workout program contains a huge amount of volume and if I’m honest, I don’t think many mere mortals will manage it without reducing the volume.

Despite that, I think you should embrace the challenge!

It’ll definitely work for muscle building, so if that’s your goal, go for it! You’ll learn what it takes to be the greatest…

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Hi! My name is Steve Hoyles. I’m a personal trainer, gym owner and fitness copywriter. Since graduating with my Sports Science degree in 2004 I’ve worked in the fitness industry, helping thousands of people reach their health and fitness goals. My writing has been read by millions of people in over 200 countries.

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