Seven weight training lessons you can learn from Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold turns 72 today
Long before he hit the big time in both Hollywood and politics, Arnold Schwarzenegger won seven Mr. Olympia titles. He's widely regarded as one of the early bodybuilding icons, but it's often overlooked just how influential his training methods were.
It would be easy to assume that Schwarzenegger only became famous through his success and how he looked, but the way in which he imparted weight training wisdom really made the difference.
Even into his seventies, Arnie is still killing it in the gym.
These are seven of his most tried-and-tested methods that can help anyone build muscle, gain strength or just improve overall fitness.
1. Build up from your bodyweight
Anyone with access to the Internet has seen Arnold throw heavy dumbbells and barbells around as if they were peanuts.
But the Austrian recommends building up a base level of strength through your bodyweight first.
Writing at the home of his new supplement company Ladder, this bodyweight workout should be performed two or three times a week - with a day's rest in between.
- Squat To Stand: 2 sets x 8 reps
- Plank: 2 sets x 20 second holds
- Hip/Glute Raise: 2 sets x 8 reps
- Superman Stretch: 3 sets x 8 reps
- Reverse Lunge: 3 sets x 8 reps [each leg]
- Press Ups: 3 sets x 8-10 reps
- Squats: 3 sets x 8-10 reps
- Side Plank: 3 sets x 20 second holds [each side]
- Step-Ups [with chair]: 3 sets x 3 reps [each leg]
- Mountain Climbers: 3 sets x 12 reps [each leg]
- Hip/Glute Raise: 3 sets x 10-15 reps
- Five-Second Plank + Press Up: 3 sets x 8-10 reps
- Split Squats: 3 sets x 8-10 reps [each leg]
Perform all exercises back-to-back, with 30 seconds to a minute’s rest in between.
2. Cut back on the chatter
It’s easy to get distracted if you bump into your pal at the gym, but you aren’t going to have the most effective workout this way.
While putting YouTube comedians from the Chad Goes Deep podcast through their paces, Arnold was clear: "For every set of exercising, you're allowed to do one set of talking".
Comedian JT asked the Austrian "who's your favourite co-star ever?" – but he should have waited until Arnold's set on the chest press was finished.
"Shut up and do your set", Schwarzenegger replied.
3. The mind-muscle connection
Most people associate bodybuilding with vanity, but when it comes to flexing your muscles, there’s method to the madness.
By concentrating on contracting a muscle as you train it, you actually recruit more fibres than you would otherwise.
This is more commonly referred to as the mind-muscle connection, and it’s something Arnold was a keen proponent of.
One particular study found that this sort of focus applied while training resulted in 12.4% greater bicep growth.
4. Lifting heavy to get lean
It might be your preference to perform endless amounts of cardio when trying to lose weight, but that's not the most effective method.
Arnold was a firm believer that you should always lift heavy free weights, regardless of whether you were looking to build muscle or burn fat.
This is backed up by evidence, as well as Arnold's experience.
A study conducted by Greek researchers compared lifting heavy to lifting light. To do this, they split guys into two groups.
- One group trained with 80-85% of their one rep max (heavy)
- The second group lifted with 45-65% of their one rep max (light)
Naturally, those lifting at 85% of their maximum did not manage as many reps - but their results were more impressive.
5. Keep your workouts varied
And that's what really gets results.
6. Super sets
Arnold's training was built around super sets.
A super set is achieved simply by pairing two exercises together, with little or no rest in between. You can super set agonist muscle groups (which work in synergy, such as the chest and triceps), or antagonist muscles (such as the biceps followed by triceps).
This method is a lot harder than straight sets - but you'll develop great cardiovascular and anaerobic fitness in doing so.
7. Volume is key
Whether you train with a typical bodybuilding split (chest on Monday, back on Tuesday etc) or you follow a different programme, making muscle and strength gains ultimately depends on volume.
That is, the number of sets and reps you perform over a period of time when targeting a muscle group.
Arnold aimed for 30 reps on each exercise, and 30 overall sets on each muscle group.
It doesn't matter whether you follow three sets of 10, or five sets of six, all that matters is achieving the overall volume.