The Arnold-Approved Training Program You Need to Try

Arnold Schwarzenegger
Image via Instagram @schwarzenegger

Try this Arnold-approved workout

If you’ve been around the fitness scene for some time, chances are, you would have come around Arnold’s Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding. In his book, the 7x Mr. Olympia champion amongst many things, Arnold Schwarzenegger, lists his experiences and results using various training programs. Keep in mind, he is one of the pioneers of the sport of bodybuilding.

One of the programs Arnold recommends in his book is the antagonistic superset training. Arnold considered them to be better than the usual supersets, where you switch from one exercise to the other without any rest in between sets. However, he still did incorporate supersets but we will get to that.

Full Name: Arnold Schwarzenegger (Golden Era Bodybuilder)

Weight Height Date Of Birth
235 lbs 6’2″ 7/30/1947
Division Era Nationality
Bodybuilding 1960, 1970, 1980

Antagonistic Training

In the antagonistic training, you train opposing body parts in the same workout. For example, Schwarzenegger liked to train his chest and back in the same day, biceps and triceps with sometimes throwing in shoulders, then quads and hams in the same leg workout rather than separating them on different days. This is forever known as the “Arnold Split”, which is still a popular workout routine amongst lifters today as people find it to be very effective.

Although there were no studies or research to prove it, Arnold claimed the antagonistic supersets help him gain muscle mass and improved his strength. Researchers have since backed this technique with data and have given Arnold’s claims a clean chit.

Things to Know About Antagonistic Training

  • You can use the antagonistic training principle of training opposing muscle groups as a superset, as when once muscle group is fatigued you can still use the other, which can help burn calories at a more efficient rate.
  • You also could take a 2-3 minute rest before alternating the exercise.
  • Antagonistic training can help you in building pressing strength by alternating the exercise with pulling movements.
  • It helps in maintaining muscle balance as you’ll be doing the same amount of work on the opposing muscles.
  • Alternating sets with a 2-3 minute rest in between sets can increase muscular strength as compared to super-setting which annihilate the muscles.
  • While following the antagonistic training plan, you need to train your opposing muscles in the same plane to get the best results. For eg. – follow bench press with the bent over barbell row.
Image courtesy of Instagram (@schwarzenegger)

Develop Symmetry with Antagonistic Training

The antagonistic training is better at developing symmetry and eliminating muscle imbalances than most other training methods. If you’re already suffering from a muscle imbalance, train the lagging muscle before the stronger muscle in the alternate sets.

Antagonistic training ensures you’ll be doing enough work on both sides of the bone to build and maintain muscle symmetry. Alternating between pulling and pushing movements will keep you from overdeveloping some muscle groups which can cause a poor posture.

You could also perform supersets as opposed to the alternate sets in the antagonistic training program but be ready for a hard and grueling workout. Make sure you’re following the same intensity in the pulling and the pushing movements, or else you risk creating muscular imbalances.

Use the Same Angles

A major aspect of antagonistic training is to use the same angles while performing the antagonistic exercises. For example, if you are performing dumbbell chest presses on an incline bench, turn around and perform dumbbell rows as the alternate set for your back.

In the same fashion, follow up the standing military presses with chin-ups. Using the same angles will ensure the muscles in direct opposition to the prime movers are trained more effectively.

Shock The Muscle

One thing to keep in mind that Arnold Schwarzenegger was a big advocate of, is shocking the muscle. When you are consistently working out, your body will get used to the abuse, and adapt to it, which is why you have to constantly shock the muscle. This means you throw things into your workout that your body is not used to, whether they be exercises, rep ranges, weights, and so on. That is where you will grow the most, is when your body least expects it.

Image courtesy of Instagram (@schwarzenegger)

The Arnold-Approved Antagonistic Training Program

Let’s take a look at Arnold Schwarzenegger’s training routine.

Day 1 – Chest / Back

Set 1

  • Barbell Bench Press – 3 Sets 15-12-10
  • Bent-Over Barbell Rows – 3 Sets 15-12-10

Set 2

  • Incline Dumbbell Flyes – 3 Sets 15-12-10
  • Chest Supported Dumbbell Rows – 3 Sets 15-12-10

Set 3 

  • Chest Cable Flyes – 5 Sets 15
  • Rear Delt Cable Flyes – 5 Sets 15

Day 2 – Biceps / Triceps

Set 1

  • Cable Bicep Curls – 5 Sets 15-12-10-8
  • Cable Tricep Presses – 5 Sets 15-12-10-8

Set 2

  • Incline Bench Spider Curls – 3 Sets 15-12-10
  • Incline Bench Skullcrushers – 3 Sets 15-12-10

Set 3 

  • Bent Over Concentration Curls – 3 Sets 15-12-10
  • Leaning Dumbbell Tricep Kickbacks – 3 Sets 15-12-10

Day 3 – Shoulders / Back

Set 1

  • Barbell Military Presses – 3 Sets 15-12-10
  • Weighted Chin-ups – 3 Sets 15-12-10

Set 2

  • Plate Front Raises – 3 Sets 15-12-10
  • Straight-Arm Lat Pulldowns – 3 Sets 15-12-10

Set 3 

  • Arnold Presses – 3 Sets 15-12-10
  • Upright Rows – 3 Sets 15-12-10

Day 4 – Quads / Hams

Set 1

  • Leg Extensions – 5 Sets 15-12-10-8
  • Seated Leg Curls – 5 Sets 15-12-10-8

Set 2

  • Leg Press (Feet Low on Platform) – 3 Sets 15-12-10
  • Leg Press (Feet High on Platform) – 3 Sets 15-12-10

Set 3

  • Squats – 3 Sets 15-12-10

Set 4

  • Stiff-Legged Deadlifts – 3 Sets 15-12-10

Intensity of Arnold’s Training

You have to keep in mind that just because you follow the workout routine, does not mean you will see the same results. You have to lift with intensity to really see the results you want. Arnold himself has stated before that he sees people all the time just “going through the motions”, meaning they are in the gym lifting weights, but not really putting much thought into it. He is a firm believer that you have to envision the muscle growing to actually get it to grow.

This is also known as the mind-muscle connection, which is something that many people will fail to incorporate, and in turn will lack results. In order to really see the results you want, you have to envision the growth, and lift like you mean it.

It is one thing to read the workout, but another thing to watch it happening. Look at Arnold’s old training videos and see how much heart he put into each rep, every set. He did not win the Mr. Olympia competition 7x without training with the utmost intensity.

Arnold Schwarzenegger Training Program Wrap Up

Image courtesy of Instagram (@schwarzenegger)

Overall, the Arnold Schwarzenegger Training Program is something definitely worth checking out. The Austrian Oak has a lot of knowledge to pass on when it comes to the gym.

Have you ever tried the antagonistic training principle? Let us know in the comments below. Also, be sure to follow Generation Iron on Facebook and Twitter.

*Header image courtesy of Jamie Wyeth under the CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.

Dylan Wolf
I work mainly in content writing, focusing my free time on bodybuilding and strength sports. I was introduced to fitness in high school and after watching Generation Iron movies. I love to train. I have competed multiple times, even winning a junior title in classic physique. I have a bachelor's in criminal justice and business obtained through Alvernia University. When I am not focused on work or training, I enjoy watching films or reading about anything and everything.