In his competitive heyday, huge arms, characterized by those peaked biceps, were Arnold Schwarzenegger’s not-so-secret weapon. While there were a few guys, notably Sergio Oliva, who could match Arnold in the chest and back departments, when the Oak hit his trademark twisting double bicep shot, it was lights out!
Upper arm training came naturally to Arnold. At the age of 19, his bis and tris already stretched the tape to 20 inches. Eventually, they’d grow to 22 1/4 inches, with a biceps peak that was unrivaled (although Robbie Robinson came close). Arnie was no slouch in the triceps department either. Though early photos show an imbalance, by the time he began his Olympia winning streak, he’d built a pair of hulking triceps to match his alpine-like biceps.
Arnold didn’t neglect his forearms either. After powering through more than 40 sets for his upper arms, he’d spend another half hour frying his forearms.
In this article, I’ll lay out Arnold Schwarzenegger’s arm workout that he used to create his most impressive Mr. Olympia physique in 1974.
Arnold’s Arm Workout
- Barbell Curl: 6 sets of 6-8 reps
- Incline Dumbbell Curl: 6 sets of 6-8 reps
- Preacher Curl: 6 sets of 6-8 reps
- Concentration Curl: 5 sets of 6-8 reps
- Close Grip Bench Press: 5 sets of 6-8 reps
- Cable Pushdown: 5 sets of 6-8 reps
- Lying EZ-Bar French Press: 5 sets of 6-8 reps
- Dumbbell Kickback: 5 sets of 6-8 reps
- Barbell Reverse Curl: 5 sets of 8-10 reps
- Reverse Preacher Curl: 5 sets of 8-10 reps
- Barbell Wrist Curl: 7 sets of 10 reps
Arnold Schwarzenegger and his training partner Franco Columbu would sometimes superset biceps and triceps training. However, this was usually only done in the three months leading up to the Mr. Olympia competition. Interestingly, in the lead-up to the 1974 Olympia, which most pundits consider to be his best-ever onstage physique, he stuck to straight sets.
Arnold trained his biceps and triceps together. He loved the awesome pump effect produced by working both sides of the upper arms. Back in the 70s, pro bodybuilders trained with what is, from a modern perspective, an extremely high volume. Arnold would do about 23 sets for the biceps and another 20 sets for the triceps, then finish with 17 more sets for forearms. That’s a total of 60 sets!
Arnold’s Biceps Training Tips
There was nothing unique in the choice of exercises that Arnold and Franco performed. While genetics undoubtedly played a part, it was the way they applied the exercises that put these two legends’ heads and shoulders (not to mention biceps and triceps) above the competition.
Here are Arnold’s top biceps training tips:
1. Train Heavy and Hard
Arnold believed that training heavy in the 6-8 rep range was the key to biceps muscle growth. He kept all of his sets in that range, using the same weight on every set. On the first set, he’d be able to pump out all eight reps with some difficulty. Then, if he was doing barbell curls, he’d toss the barbell across to Franco, who’d do his eight reps.
As fatigue set in on subsequent sets, Arnold would allow himself to cheat slightly by bringing in momentum through a backswing. He felt that the extra benefit of using max weight compensated for the less-than-strict form.
2. Include a Supination Exercise
Arnold favored barbell curls because they allowed him to use the heaviest amount of weight. But he also knew the value of being able to rotate his palm up as he was doing the curling action. This supination of the wrist allows for total biceps activation.
As a result, Arnold made sure to always include at least one dumbbell curl exercise that allows for palm rotation.
3. Use a Full Range of Motion
Even though he was determined to lift as much weight as possible, Arnold never compromised on range of motion. He believed that the lower part of the range of motion was key to creating thickness in the lower biceps. This helps create the impression that the bicep rises like a mountain directly from the elbow joint.
Arnold made sure to lower the weight all the way until his arms were fully extended and then to come all the way up until the bar almost touched his shoulders. In the top position, he fully contracted the biceps.
Arnold’s Triceps Training Tips
Arnold knew that triceps were the key to massive-looking arms. After all, your arms spend 99% of the time hanging at your sides. It’s the size of their triceps that makes them look big. Here are Arnold’s four key tips for building impressive triceps:
1. Isolate the Triceps Heads
To fully develop the triceps and bring out the horseshoe effect, Arnold knew he needed to hit each of the three triceps heads separately. To do this, he made sure to use a range of training equipment, including barbells, dumbbells, and cables. Each device hits a different area of the triceps.
2. Vary Your Hand Position
Arnold believed that hand position made a big difference in triceps activation. A thumbs-up position when doing exercises like triceps pushdowns, he claimed, better activated the outer head of the triceps. Arnold believed that when you turn your hand so the palm is down, you place more stress on the inner head of the triceps.
3. Explode on the Positive, Control on the Negative
Arnold used visualization a lot during his arm workouts. During the positive part of a triceps exercise, such as pressing the bar down on triceps pushdowns, he imagined that he was exploding the bar forcefully into the floor. Then, on the negative, he would control the movement to maximize the eccentric benefit.
4. Lock Out for Upper Triceps
Arnold also separated his triceps into three separate heads, as well as dividing them into upper and lower halves. He believed that completely locking out your arms at the top of a triceps exercise preferentially works the upper half. By holding the peak contraction for 3-4 seconds, you’ll get even more out of the movement.
Arnold’s mega set arm training routine was a product of its time. There is no doubt, however, that it worked wonders for him. By all means, give the Arnold biceps, triceps, and forearm workout routine a try; just be prepared not to be able to lift your arms for a few days! If you really want to fully train like Arnold, check out his Chest Workout, Back Workout, Shoulders Workout, and Abs Workoutas well.
(All image credits to their original owners)
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