Arnold Schwarzenegger, also known as the Austrian Oak, is a world-renowned actor, politician, and professional bodybuilder. At just 20 years old, Arnold became the youngest person to win the Mr. Universe title in the sport of competitive bodybuilding.
In 1968, Arnold made the move from Austria to America and ended up winning five Mr. Universe titles along with seven Mr. Olympia titles. To share his knowledge and love of bodybuilding, Arnold wrote a few books, including The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding: The Bible of Bodybuilding, first published in 1985.
Whether looking to step on stage, get in shape, or learn a thing or two about bodybuilding, many consider this book to be a must-have. Arguably the most popular feature of The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding is the training programs, including basic and advanced versions.
Although this article will not fully disclose the training programs, it will discuss the main principles of the legendary Arnold split.
Table of Contents
- 1 What is the Arnold split?
- 2 Principles of the Arnold Training Split
- 2.1 Train to failure
- 2.2 Perform 4 sets per exercise in multiple rep ranges
- 2.3 Perform 12 sets per muscle group
- 2.4 Train each muscle group two to three times per week
- 2.5 Incorporate power training
- 2.6 Arnold Split Chest and Back Workout Routine
- 2.7 Arnold Split Shoulders, Upper Arms, and Forearms Workout Routine
- 2.8 Arnold Split Thighs, Calves, and Lower Back Workout Routine
- 3 Arnold Split Spreadsheet
- 4 Pros and Cons of the Arnold Split
- 4.1 Arnold Split Pros
- 4.2 Training muscle groups twice per week
- 4.3 12 sets per muscle group is a decent rule of thumb
- 4.4 Best suited for advanced trainees
- 4.5 Arnold Split Cons
- 4.6 Six training days per week is a lot
- 4.7 Each workout session can be lengthy
- 4.8 Requires a lot of focus and discipline
- 4.9 Not ideal for beginners
- 5 Advanced Training Principles used by Arnold Schwarzenegger
- 6 Other Exercise Posts
- 6.1 Barbell Row Benefits, Muscles Worked, and Form
- 6.2 The Top 5 Leg Press Muscles Worked
- 6.3 Hack Squat Muscles Worked and Benefits
- 6.4 Leg Extension Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 6.5 Hammer Curl Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 6.6 Inverted Row Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 6.7 The 5 Best Benefits of Planks
- 6.8 The 8 Main Muscle Groups Worked by Squats
- 6.9 The 7 Best Compound Chest Exercises
- 6.10 Seated Cable Row Benefits, Form, and Muscles Worked
- 6.11 The Landmine Press: Muscles Worked, Benefits and Form
- 6.12 The 6 Best Gym Machines For Weight Loss
- 6.13 How to Deadlift with Proper Form
- 6.14 The 5 Best Gym Machines for Chest
- 6.15 Incline Bench Press Muscles Worked and Benefits
- 6.16 The Top 10 Pull-up Muscles Worked
- 6.17 Arnold Press Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 6.18 Romanian Deadlift Benefits and Muscles Worked
What is the Arnold split?
The Arnold training split is a six-day workout program where you train each major muscle group twice weekly.
Here’s what a week of training would look like while following the Arnold split:
- Day 1 (Monday) – chest and back
- Day 2 (Tuesday) – shoulders, upper arms, and forearms
- Day 3 (Wednesday) – quads, hamstring, calves, and lower back
- Day 4 (Thursday) – chest and back
- Day 5 (Friday) – shoulders, upper arms, and forearms
- Day 6 (Saturday) – quads, hamstring, calves, and lower back
- Day 7 (Sunday) – rest
Abdominals every day
The example above is adapted from Arnold’s Basic Training Program #1. It’s also important to note that basic and advanced versions of the program are included in The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding, each with two levels.
These are organized like this:
- Basic Training Program #1
- Basic Training Program #2
- Advanced Training Program #1
- Advanced Training Program #2
With that said, in this context, the term “basic” is a bit of a misnomer. Even the Basic Training Program #1 is a serious bodybuilding program consisting of three separate workouts performed twice weekly.
For Basics Training Program #2, you’re training each body part three times per week with six training sessions per week. For Advanced Training Program #1, you train twice daily with up to 21 distinct exercises in a single training session.
Even an advanced lifter may not be able to adhere to the training volume and frequency in Basic Training Program #1, let alone the other three training programs. This article will primarily discuss Basic Training Program #1 as it’s the most widely applicable. When we say “Arnold split,” Basic Training Program #1 is what we’re referring to.
If you want to learn more about the other programs, pick up a copy of The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding.
Principles of the Arnold Training Split
- Train to failure
- Perform 4 sets per exercise in multiple rep ranges
- Perform 12 sets per muscle group
- Train each muscle group two to three times per week
- Incorporate power training
Here are the five main principles of the Arnold workout split:
Train to failure
Arnold says that “training to failure in bodybuilding doesn’t mean training to complete exhaustion.” When performing a set, continue to do repetitions without resting until no more reps can be performed.
“Training to failure” is commonly interpreted as muscular failure instead of technical failure. Technical failure is when you stop a set because your form breaks down. Technical failure is more applicable to strength athletes performing highly skilled compound movements, so there’s a greater risk of injury.
Since the primary goal is to target a specific muscle group to elicit a stimulus for muscle growth, muscular failure benefits bodybuilders.
At first, only some muscle fibers are activated, but as they fatigue, more and more muscle fibers get involved until no more can be recruited. At that point, you fail to perform any more reps. Arnold believes that it’s important to train to failure because it’s required to recruit all of the available muscle fibers within that muscle group, leading to maximum muscle growth.
Perform 4 sets per exercise in multiple rep ranges
Before jumping into an all-out failure set, it’s essential to warm up by performing 1-2 sets with a lighter weight and higher reps. Arnold suggests pyramiding up in weight and down in reps for each set.
Here’s an example of what that would look like with a dumbbell bench press:
- Set 1 – Perform 15 reps with 50lb dumbbells
- Set 2 – Perform 10-12 reps with 60 lbs dumbbells
- Set 3 – Perform 8-10 reps with 65 lbs dumbbells
- Set 4 – Perform 6 reps with 70-75 lb dumbbells
- Set 5 (optional) – Perform 6 reps with the same weight again, and get help from a training partner if needed to achieve the number of repetitions.
This approach ensures that the target muscle and central nervous system are primed to handle heavier weights.
Perform 12 sets per muscle group
Regarding training volume, Arnold believes that at least four sets per exercise are needed to stimulate all of the muscle fibers fully. Doing more than that risks overtraining because the total training volume is too high. For Basics Training Program #1, perform a total of 12 sets per muscle group split across three different exercises.
Arnold notes a difference in the training volume required to elicit hypertrophy for a small muscle group compared to a large muscle group. Generally, fewer total sets are needed to stimulate hypertrophy for muscles such as the biceps and triceps because they are far less complex than the back or quads.
For example, you can do a complete biceps workout with 9-12 sets, whereas it may take 16-20 sets to work the legs because of how many muscle groups make up that area. With that said, smaller muscle groups recover faster, so more sets are unlikely to compromis recovery.
However, as long as you follow the Bascis Training Program #1, the number of sets you need to perform is already accounted for, so you don’t need to worry about the optimal training volume for each muscle group.
Train each muscle group two to three times per week
Training each muscle group twice weekly makes the Arnold Split a more advanced training program. This training frequency stimulates muscle protein synthesis (MPS) multiple times weekly, which results in an increase in tissue.
The increased training frequency allows for greater training volume, which is ideal for intermediate and advanced trainees that need more volume to progress. Although beginners can benefit from training each muscle group two to three times per week, this program isn’t ideal because a six-day workout split isn’t strictly necessary for making progress.
Interestingly, each muscle group is trained two to three times per week. Other bodybuilding workout routines typically utilize a bro split, which is where you train each muscle group once per week.
What’s more, the research now shows that training a muscle group twice a week is better than once. So Arnold was ahead of his time with his unique split, which may be why his physique dominated the stage.
Incorporate power training
A common misconception amongst bodybuilders is that strength work isn’t beneficial. Arnold believes that low-rep strength training is the only way to develop a physique that showcases hardness and density. Arnold noticed that bodybuilders of the 1940s and 1950s valued strength just as much as an aesthetic physique.
By the 1980s, bodybuilders started to stray away from traditional power training, negatively impacting their looks on stage. Power training stimulates hypertrophy of the muscle fibers, but it also makes the muscle fibers pack much tighter together. Therefore, power training results in a hard, dense world-class physique.
Additionally, incorporating power training increases strength in other rep ranges, so it has tremendous carry-over. Lastly, it helps strengthen the attachment of the tendon to the bone, which may help prevent injuries.
Arnold Split Program
Here’s a sample week of the Arnold Split Basic Training Program #1. The spreadsheet is linked below.
Arnold Split Chest and Back Workout Routine
- Flat barbell bench press – 4 sets of 15, 10-12, 8-10, and 6 reps
- Incline barbell bench press – 4 sets of 15, 10-12, 8-10, and 6 reps
- Pullovers – 4 sets of 15, 10-12, 8-10, and 6 reps
- Chin-ups – As many sets as needed to get 50 reps up to 10 sets
- Bent over rows – 5 sets of 15, 10-12, 8-10, 6, and 8 reps
- Deadlifts – 3 sets of 10, 6, and 4 reps
- Crunches – 5 sets of 25 reps
The Arnold Split chest and back workout routine consist of nearly all compound exercises, including barbell bench press, bent-over rows, and deadlifts. Perform three exercises for the chest, three exercises for the back, and one for the abs. Work in various rep ranges for each exercise that targets muscular endurance, hypertrophy, and power/strength.
At more than 25 total sets for this workout alone, it will likely take around 90 minutes to complete. This is a very high-volume, and frequency training program, so optimizing recovery is critical. This workout is supposed to be completed twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays.
Arnold Split Shoulders, Upper Arms, and Forearms Workout Routine
- Barbell clean & press (or overhead press) – 4 sets of 15, 10-12, 8-10, and 6 reps
- Dumbbell lateral raises – 4 sets of 15, 10-12, 8-10, and 6 reps
- Upright rows – 3 sets of 10, 6, and 4 reps
- Push-press – 3 sets of 6, 4, and 2 reps (drop set to failure on each set)
- Standing barbell curls – 4 sets of 15, 10-12, 8-10, and 6 reps
- Seated dumbbell curls – 4 sets of 15, 10-12, 8-10, and 6 reps
- Close-grip overhead press – 4 sets of 15, 10-12, 8-10, and 6 reps
- Standing barbell tricep extensions – 4 sets of 15, 10-12, 8-10, and 6 reps
- Wrist curls – 4 sets of 15, 10-12, 8-10, and 6 reps
- Reverse wrist curls – 4 sets of 15, 10-12, 8-10, and 6 reps
- Reverse crunches – 5 sets x 25 reps
Unlike the chest and back workout highlighted in the previous section, the Arnold Split shoulders, upper arms, and forearms workout includes more isolation exercises. This workout will also take around 90 minutes unless supersets are utilized.
To cut down on time, skip the forearm exercises because they are already getting a lot of work from the other movements. If using supersets, we recommend performing a bicep exercise, then a tricep exercise. They are antagonistic muscle groups and won’t interfere with each other’s performance.
If you are unfamiliar with barbell cleans, we suggest doing overhead presses instead. For the abs, you are doing reverse crunches to target the lower abs, which often go neglected in training. This workout is programmed to be performed twice weekly on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Arnold Split Thighs, Calves, and Lower Back Workout Routine
- Barbell squats – 4 sets of 15, 10-12, 8-10, and 6 reps
- Lunges – 4 sets of 15, 10-12, 8-10, and 6 reps
- Leg curls – 4 sets of 15, 10-12, 8-10, and 6 reps
- Standing calf raises – 5 sets x 15 reps
- Straight leg deadlifts – 3 sets x 10, 6, and 4 reps
- Good mornings – 3 sets x 10, 6, and 4 reps
- Crunches – 5 sets x 25 reps
Similar to the chest and back workout, the Arnold Split thighs, calves, and lower back workout routine has numerous compound lifts that can be very taxing. It has a good balance of quad-focused and posterior chain exercises that hit the glutes and hamstrings. Even calf raises are included for a complete lower body workout.
Good mornings are an old-school exercise that hammers the erectors and low back. Perform variations of the exercises listed above when performing this workout twice per week as programmed. For example, you could do back squats on Wednesdays and front squats on Saturdays.
Overall, this high-volume lower body workout will likely take more than 90 minutes to complete. Train abs in the morning if you want to cut it down to six exercises and save some time.
Arnold Split Spreadsheet
- Experience level: intermediate, advanced
- Program goals: gain strength, build muscle
- Training frequency: 6 days per week
- Program length: 12 weeks (can be ran indefinitely)
- Spreadsheet: The Arnold Split Basic Training Program #1 Spreadsheet
Pros and Cons of the Arnold Split
Arnold Split Pros
- Training muscle groups twice per week
- 12 sets per muscle group is a decent rule of thumb
- Best suited for advanced trainees
Training muscle groups twice per week
As discussed, the research suggests that training muscle groups twice weekly is better than once, especially for hypertrophy. In this way, muscle protein synthesis is stimulated multiple times per week, and volume can be increased.
For intermediate and advanced trainees, this is critical to progress. With that said, focus on recovery and modify intensity accordingly to avoid soreness for the second training session of the week.
12 sets per muscle group is a decent rule of thumb
Twelve sets per muscle group is enough training volume to stimulate hypertrophy. Anywhere from 10-20 sets per muscle group (less for smaller muscle groups) is the sweet spot for muscle growth.
When it comes to the optimal amount of training volume, it depends on the individual. Adjust this according to rate of recovery and progress. Otherwise, 12 sets per muscle group is a good place to start, and it’s excellent that Arnold even mentioned that smaller muscles, like the biceps or triceps, can grow from less direct volume.
Best suited for advanced trainees
Although there are four variations of the Arnold Split training program, they are not ideal for beginners due to the training frequency and volume. However, they may benefit an intermediate or advanced trainee looking to stimulate new growth or take their physique to the next level.
Overall, the Arnold Split is best suited for Advanced Trainees that want to build overall size and strength. Adjust the program to focus on muscle groups that need more volume to grow.
Arnold Split Cons
- Six training days per week is a lot
- Each workout session can be lengthy
- It requires a lot of focus and discipline
- Not ideal for beginners
Six training days per week is a lot
Even if you are an intermediate or advanced lifter, training six days per week requires a lot of time and may not be ideal for busy schedules.Tremendous progress can be experienced lifting anywhere from 3-5 days per week.
Beyond scheduling conflicts, training six days per week can cause burnout, injury, or illness from poor recovery. Progress may also stall from overtraining.
Each workout session can be lengthy
Beyond training nearly every day, each workout session will take most people between 90 and 120 minutes to complete because of how many exercises and sets you have to perform. If following the Arnold Split workout routine, superseting some exercises might be more time efficient.
Also, consider utilizing an intra-workout drink to keep energy levels high. This is another reason why this training program is unsuitable for most people. The longer the training session, the more likely someone will skip the workouts.
Requires a lot of focus and discipline
There’s no doubt that being a bodybuilder is a 24/7 job. To be a successful bodybuilder, it’s important to prioritize sleep, nutrition, training, recovery, and hydration. This training program was developed by a world-renowned professional bodybuilder that could tailor his lifestyle towards training, sleep, and eating.
It requires a lot more focus and discipline than most people anticipate.
Not ideal for beginners
The high amount of volume and training frequency makes these workouts more compatible to advanced lifters. Always aim for the minimum effective dose when it comes to training.
Doing more than that is counterintuitive and may actually slow or halt progress. Sometimes less is more, and that’s definitely the case here. None of the four variations of the Arnold Split Training Program are suitable for beginners.
Advanced Training Principles used by Arnold Schwarzenegger
- The shocking principle
- Forced reps
- Partial reps
- Negative repetitions
- Forced negatives
- Cheat reps
- Drop sets
Here are some advanced training principles that Arnold outlines in the New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding:
The shocking principle
As the name suggests, the shocking principle is a form of progressive overload essential for increasing strength and building muscle. Manipulating various aspects of the training session keeps the body guessing.
Doing the same exercises, rep schemes or weights for weeks on end will cause the body to adapt and stop responding. Increasing reps, sets, or weights for a given exercise, shortening your rest periods, changing your exercise order or exercise selection can help muscle tissue avoid adaptation.
Performing additional repetitions with the assistance of a training partner or tool is considered to be forced reps. Forced reps may be problematic because the raining partner may not know give more or less help than needed or they may not always be there to help.
This is why Arnold prefers using a rest-pause training method to perform forced reps. This is when you train to failure using a heavyweight, then you rest for a few seconds and try to perform an additional rep. Repeat this until complete failure. It’s essential not to rest for too long because the muscle fibers may recover, and then be activated again instead of recruiting new ones.
Partial reps are an intensity technique that involves partial range-of-motion repetitions when total range-of-motion repetitions can no longer be completed. The best time to do partial reps is at the end of the set, right before reaching complete muscular failure.
Utilize a training partner or perform independently. Partial reps are great for isolation exercises like barbell curls, leg extensions, etc.
Two types of isotonic muscle contractions exist: concentric and eccentric. The concentric (positive) part of a lift occurs when the muscle is shortening, whereas the eccentric (negative) part of the lift occurs when the muscle is lengthening.
Simply put, when performing a dumbbell bicep curl, the concentric part of the exercise is when you lift the dumbbell up, and the eccentric part of the exercise is when you lower the dumbbell back to the starting position.
Most people are more robust during the negative part of an exercise, so they may fail to be able to lift the weight, but they can still control it on the way down. Negative repetitions are an intensity technique where a training partner assists with the exercise’s concentric part. Still, you control the weight on your own during the eccentric portion.
When performing negative repetitions, slowly control the weight on the way down instead of just letting it drop. Arnold used to implement this technique by performing cheat curls, where he used the momentum to curl the barbell, then slowly lowered the barbell. This placed much tension on the biceps and helped stimulate new growth.
Forced negatives go hand in hand with negative repetitions. Being stronger on the eccentric portion of a lift allows further increase in intensity by having a training partner push down on the weights as you lower them.
This training method is better suited for cables and machines rather than free weights. Forced negatives should only be performed carefully and smoothly without sudden jerks to reduce the risk of injury.
Typically, bodybuilders use strict form when performing an exercise, but there are instances where using some momentum may be beneficial. Cheat reps, also known as the cheating method, are where other muscle groups are used to assist the target muscle.
This does not mean using poor technique, and it’s should be used only occasionally. The idea behind the cheating method is to do as many reps with strict form as possible until fatigued, then use just enough momentum to get a few more reps.
The cheating method is most suitable for isolation exercises, such as barbell curls or tricep extensions. Unlike what most people might think, cheating is used to make an exercise harder, not easier. This advanced overlord technique was made famous by Arnold but is often performed incorrectly.
When you perform two exercises in a row without stopping, you do what’s known as a superset. Not only are supersets a great way to add intensity to your training, but they are also a viable option for someone with a limited time to train.
There are two types of supersets:
- Type 1 – Perform two exercises in a row for the same body part
- Type 2 – Perform two exercises in a row for different body parts
An example of the first type of superset would be performing barbell curls followed by hammer curls without resting in between exercises. Since both exercises target the biceps, they get obliterated rather quickly.
An example of the second type of superset is to perform a barbell curl followed by tricep extensions; this is also known as antagonist supersets because you’re hitting two muscles that perform opposite actions.
It seems that doing antagonistic supersets is superior to doing two back-to-back exercises for the same muscle group because your performance for the second exercise isn’t impaired. Whereas barbell curls followed by hammer curls hinders performance because the biceps are already fatigued.
Supersets are time efficient and great for building muscle as well as endurance. They are best suited for isolation exercises.
The last advanced training principle we will discuss are dropsets, which is an intensity-enhancing training technique that’s extremely popular amongst bodybuilders.
Dropsets are when an exercise is performed until failure, then the weight decreases (usually by 20%) and reps continue until failure again. Some people even implement double or triple dropsets, when weight is reduced two to three times and go until failure at each weight increment.
Dropsets are well suited for pin-loaded machines because the pin can be quickly moved, whereas free weight exercises might requirea training partner to strip the plates. Dropsets also work well for dumbbells for quickly increasing weight until failure.
It’s essential to drop the weight as fast as possible so the muscle does not have enough time to recover between dropsets. Arnold refers to dropsets as the “stripping method” in The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding.
The Arnold Split and a Push Pull Legs split are both ideal for a six-day workout routine because you train each major muscle group twice per week, and there’s enough time in between sessions to allow for adequate recovery. The main difference between the Arnold split and Push Pull Legs split is how the training is organized and which body parts are trained on which days.
The Arnold Split is unsuitable for beginners because the sheer amount of training volume is unnecessary to see progress. You are better off starting with a beginner bodybuilding program that has an appropriate amount of training volume.
Not to mention, most people will find it challenging to adhere to a six-day training program. It’s better to find a program that fits your schedule rather than trying to make an unrealistic program work.