“For me life is continuously being hungry. The meaning of life is not simply to exist, to survive, but to move ahead, to go up, to achieve, to conquer.” - Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnie is a man who needs no introduction. From his on-screen stardom, catalogue of bodybuilding titles, as well as just casually being the governor of California, he is well beyond what most would consider a "household" name.
"Hasta La Vista, Baby"
From incredibly humble beginnings, Arnie's presence in the bodybuilding community is virtually unparalleled. His 800 page best selling book "The New Encyclopedia Of Bodybuilding" is a gospel of iron, and features knowledge and insight from one of the world's most groundbreaking bodybuilders. Originally published over 30 years ago, the knowledge and practices of the Austrian athlete have stood the test of time, and we have compiled and summarised our Top 11 Lifting Hacks straight from Arnie himself, to give you the most out of your training.
1. Focus on Multi-joint Movements
Arnold has always been renowned for his appreciation of multi-joint, compound lifts. Building his workouts around the bench press, dead lifts, rows, presses and squats, The Governator considers these a staple in any bodybuilder's routine, due to the sheer weight and overloading potential possible.
Beginners to bodybuilding should focus on learning and understanding these movements, to allow for an increase in both strength and size.
2. Warm Up, Then Train Every Set To Failure
Arnold has always been as strong advocate of training every set to failure. In reaching complete muscle failure with every set, being the inability to complete another rep due to muscle fatigue, Arnold was able to continue to challenge himself, reach new heights, and most importantly; grow.
"I'll be back."
Arnie recommends starting with multiple warm up sets, before pyramiding up with each working set, meaning increasing weight and decreasing reps, taking each set until you physically can't perform another repetition. Arnold also favoured keeping his sets within the 6-12 rep range, to increase pump and hypertrophic growth.
3. Don't Overtrain
While Arnie increased training frequency and volume to bring up his lagging calves, he is quick to warn that sometimes, the aforementioned technique can be counter productive.
"There will be times when a body part lags behind because you are overtraining it, hitting it so hard, so often, and so intensely that it never has a chance to rest, recuperate and grow" he wrote in The New Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding.
His answer? Listen to your body, and never be afraid to try a different approach.
4. Attack From Different Angles
While different variations of an exercise will utilize the same muscle groups, they will place different emphasis and focus on particular muscles. Arnold was a major fan of using slightly different angles or approaches, to keep his body guessing, push past plateaus and to challenge himself with every session.
Arnold would often substitute barbels for dumbbells on movements such as the bench press and overhead press, to allow for a longer range of motion, and greater stretch, or would slightly adjust the angle of the bench to shift the focus of the exercise.
5. Utilise Cheat Curls Effectively
While the "cheat curl" certainly gets a bad wrap in most gyms, Arnold was a major supporter. However, he would utilize the cheat curl in his bicep routine to push past muscle failure, and allow him to overload his biceps with a heavier weight, after fatiguing using stricter form and a full range of motion.
"Do it. DO IT NOW!"
Just like a bigger chest is grown from overloading with heavy weight on the bench press, Arnold applied the same principal to his staple bicep exercise, the standing barbell curl, and would strive to overload his biceps with as much weight as possible.
6. Vary Rep Ranges
Although Arnold favoured the 6-8 rep range for multi joint movements, he would often follow these exercises with single joint or "isolation" exercises, within the 8-12 rep range.
While performing these higher reps on an exercise such as the dumbbell bicep curl, Arnold would hold and squeeze the peak contraction at the top of every rep. The combination of this squeeze, with a muscle-mind connection and higher rep range allowed for the best pump possible.
7. Understand Your Muscles
Simply going through the motions didn't cut it for Arnie when he was building his iconic physique, and he believed it was of prime importance to not understand which muscle group you were recruiting, but specifically which head of the muscle, and how it was working.
The best way to do this? Arnold learnt from the legendary Vince Gironda "Do 20 sets of a particular movement, then nothing else from that part".
There's no doubt that tomorrow morning you will understand exactly which part of the muscle group was used.
8. Superset for a Killer Pump
When focusing on small muscle groups, such as arms or delts, Arnold would often superset complementary muscle groups such as biceps and triceps by performing back to back exercises, to maximise the pump.
This would increase the volume of blood carried to the muscles in the arms, carrying oxygen and nutrients for growth, and result in an inflated look and fuller feeling. Although larger muscle groups such as legs or back were more demanding, Arnold would utilize super sets for isolation exercises in these larger muscle groups prior to competing to maximise results.
9. Turn Weaknesses Into Strengths
It's easy to hide under developed calves and hamstrings under trackies, or neglect your back in favour of the "mirror muscles", such as chest, biceps and abs.
"Come with me if you want to live"
Arnie however, didn't believe in this, and did the polar opposite. He was renowned for cutting the bottoms off pants to constantly be reminded of his lagging calves, and used that as motivation to train his calves more frequently, sometimes even during rest periods for other multi joint movements.
While it's easy to focus on your strengths and pump them up to make them even more eye catching, Arnold promotes a well rounded and balanced physique.
10. Build Abs Indirectly
Arnie's core and mid section was always one of his major strengths. His training secret? Utilise them indirectly by performing heavy, multi-joint movements.
Arnold's ab routine consisted of high rep go to movements such as the crunch, but he used ab isolation exercises to enhance and chisel his already strong and powerful midsection. As he trained legs and back three times weekly, his core was getting a major workout day in and day out, so much so, that direct ab training was a luxury, rather than a necessity.
11. Focus on Reps As Well As Well As Sets
While working towards a desired number of sets, Arnold also placed importance on working towards a total number of reps, and performing however many sets necessary to get there.
Arnie favoured this approach for improving bodyweight exercises such as pull ups and chin ups, setting the goal of 50 reps, and using as many sets as required to achieve this goal, even when the final sets only consisted of 1-2 reps.