Arnold Shoulder Workout: How He Built His Boulder Shoulders

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With such overpowering chest and bicep development, it’s easy to forget how impressive Arnold Schwarzenegger’s shoulders were. The truth is that Arnie had huge delts, with equal development through the front, medial, and rear portions.

Arnold’s shoulder mass was built on a power training foundation involving many pressing movements. The striations and detail came from lots of isolation moves for each of the deltoid heads. In this article, I’ll lay out Arnold Schwarzenegger’s shoulder workout in the lead-up to the 1975 Olympia – the year his Mr. O prep was famously filmed for the classic docu-dramaPumping Iron.

arnold shoulder workout bodybuilding

Arnold’s Shoulder Workout

In his 1975 Mr. Olympia prep, Arnold trained his shoulders in a dedicated session by themselves. This allowed him to give them total dedication without his energy being diverted to another body part. He and Franco Columbu, his training partner, would typically train their legs at Gold’s Gym in Santa Monica at 10 am on Tuesday and Friday and then be back at six to work their shoulders.

Here’s Arnold’s 1975 Mr Olympia-winning shoulder workout:

  • Barbell Clean and Press: 1 set of 30 reps
  • Arnold Press: 5 sets of 6 reps
    • superset with Bentover Lateral Raise: 5 sets of 12-15 reps
  • Lying Lateral Raise: 5 sets of 12 reps
  • Cable Lateral Raise: 5 sets of 12 reps
  • Alternate Dumbbell Front Raise: 3 sets of 12 reps

Exercise Descriptions

arnold schwarzenegger shoulder and arm workout

1. Barbell Clean and Press

Back in the mid-60s, before coming to America, Arnold did a lot of powerlifting. As well as making him incredibly strong, it also helped build the mass foundation of his physique, including his shoulders. By 1975, he didn’t need any more mass, so he used the clean and press as a general warm-up move. Here’s how he did it:

  1. Stand in front of a loaded barbell.
  2. Hinge at the hips to lower to the bar with an overhand grip just slightly wider than shoulder width.
  3. Drive with your legs to bring the bar up to shoulder height, tucking your elbows under the bar. You will now be in the starting position for the military press.
  4. Press the bar overhead.
  5. Reverse the clean motion to return the bar to the floor.

arnold arms and shoulder workout

    2. Arnold Press

    The Arnold Press is the only exercise named in Arnie’s honor, which says a lot about his dedication to shoulder training. He believed it was the best shoulder move in existence because it worked the front and medial delts at the same time.

    1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and a pair of dumbbells held at shoulder level with your palms facing inward.
    2. Press the dumbbells overhead, rotating your hands so that the palms face outward in the top position. Stop just before lockout to keep tension on the delts.
    3. Pause for a second and then lower, reversing the palm position so that the palms are again facing inward in the bottom position.

    arnold arm and shoulder workout

      3. Bent-over Lateral Raise

      The bent-over lateral raise targets the rear delts, making it an ideal superset partner for the Arnold Press, which hits the other two heads.

      1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and a pair of dumbbells at your sides.
      2. Bend forward so your torso is at a 45-degree angle. Allow the weights to hang at arm’s length with your arms slightly bent and locked in that position.
      3. Pivot from your shoulder to bring the weights out and up to shoulder level. Turn your wrists as your arms come up so that your thumbs are lower than your little fingers in the top position.
      4. Lower under control.

      arnold shoulder and arm workout

        4. Lying Lateral Raise

        The lying lateral raise was a favorite side delt exercise for Arnold and Franco because it was super strict, forcing the medial delts to do all the work. This was one of Arnold’s favorite lateral raise variations.

        1. Set a decline bench to a 30-degree angle and lie on the bench on your side with a dumbbell in your upper hand.
        2. With your arm slightly bent and locked in position, lower the dumbbell in front of you below the level of your body.
        3. Pivot from the shoulder to bring the dumbbell up until it is perpendicular to your torso.
        4. Lower under control and repeat.

        arnold schwarzenegger arms and shoulder workout

          5. Cable Lateral Raise

          The cable lateral raise is another strict version of the side lateral movement to isolate the medial delts. Arnold included two dedicated side lateral movements because he knew how impressive wide, striated side delts are. This is also one of my favorite cable shoulder exercises to do.

          1. Stand side-on to a cable pulley machine with the pulley set at its lowest level. Grab the cable handle with your outside arm.
          2. Starting from a straight arm position, pivot from the shoulder joint to bring the dumbbell out and up to shoulder level (but no higher).
          3. Lower under control and repeat.

          arnold schwarzenegger shoulder workout

            6. Alternate Dumbbell Front Raise

            The front raise is an effective exercise to target the front deltoid. That’s the part of the muscle responsible for the mass of the shoulders as viewed from the front.

            1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand at your sides with plans facing inward.
            2. Pivot from the right shoulder to bring that arm directly up to an overhead position.
            3. Lower under control, resisting the force of gravity on the way down.
            4. Repeat with the left side.
            5. Alternate sides to complete your rep count.

            arnold's shoulder workout

              Arnold Schwarzenegger Shoulder Training Tips

              In a 1977 interview with Muscle Builder Power magazine, Arnold said, “A man who has developed wide, broader shoulders feels superior and has a greater sense of security and confidence about him.”

              Yet, for the first few years of his bodybuilding career, Arnold’s delts were the least impressive part of his upper body. He had to work tirelessly to bring them up to par with his chest, back, and arms. Along the way, he collected a number of invaluable training tips.

              Here are seven of Arnold’s training tips for huge, wide, striated shoulders:

              Tip #1:Keep barbell training to a minimum

              Arnold preferred to work mostly with dumbbells and cables for his shoulder work. He knew that he was getting plenty of front delt stimulation with barbell exercises during his chest workouts. He also appreciated the benefits of being able to rotate his palms on exercises like the Arnold Press, which was named after him.

              Tip #2: Don’t work shoulders with chest

              A lot of people pair their chest and shoulders in their split routine workouts. However, Arnold advised against this because the heavy flat and incline bench pressing would pre-exhaust the front delts. This will prevent you from using maximum poundage on his front delt-specific exercises.

              Arnold either worked delts by themselves or after hitting his arms.

              You can see the full Arnold Split here.

              Tip #3: Don’t neglect the traps

              Arnold was well aware that the trapezius muscle needed to be evenly developed along with the delts and back to create an award-winning physique. He trained the traps separately to the shoulder but often did so straight afterward. He’d do exercises to target both the upper traps, like shrugs, and the middle traps, like cable pull-ins.

              arnold shoulder press workout

              Tip #4: Go light and strict for rear delts

              The rear deltoids are very small muscles. You don’t have to use very much weight to work them effectively. If you go too heavy, the surrounding muscle groups will take over, and you’ll lose the benefit of the exercise. This muscle also responds best to relatively high reps, so train them with lighter weights in the 12-15 rep range.

              Tip #5: Make use of drop sets

              Arnold loved to do drop sets to burn out the front shoulders. He’d do this standing in front of the dumbbell rack. First, he would grab a pair of dumbbells that allowed him to smash out eight reps. Then he’d re-rack them and immediately grab the next pair of weights down the rack. He’d go for another eight reps with this weight.

              Arnold would continue down the rack, aiming for eight reps on each mini-set. He’d do as many five or six drops to complete the drop set.

              Tip #6: Incorporate Isometric Laterals

              After doing a set of lateral raises, Arnold would sometimes grab a heavier pair of dumbbells and lift them out to the sides as high as possible. He’d then hold this isometric contraction position for as long as possible until the intense burn in the side delts was unbearable.

              Tip #7: Superset Press with Raises

              An intensity enhancer that Arnold sometimes employed was to superset a pressing movement, such as the Arnold Press, with an isolation raise exercise like dumbbell lateral raises. Five of these supersets would completely blitz his delts. To make things even more intense, Arnold would turn the superset into a tri-set by adding upright rows for his upper trapezius.

              shoulder workouts arnold

              Wrap Up

              Arnold trained deltoids as hard as anyone. In fact, his shoulder workouts with Franco were legendary, with other gymgoers staring in awe at the intensity they were able to muster up. The results were obvious, with both men becoming multiple Olympia winners.

              If you’re up for it, give the Arnold deltoid workout a trial run. Then let us know in the comments section below how you got on – provided you can lift your shoulder to type on the keyboard!

              Want to keep training like Arnold? Check out our articles on his Chest workout, Back Workout, and Abs Workout.

              (All image credits to original owners)

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