What was Arnold Schwarzenegger's secret to supreme muscle gains?

The Austrian Oak's high-volume training approach explained

(Original Caption) April 1976- Jeff Bridges (L) and Arnold Schwarzenegger who is lifting weights in a movie still from "Stay Hungry".
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Arnold Schwarzenegger, a name synonymous with bodybuilding greatness, sculpted one of the most iconic physiques in history. A key component of his success was his high-volume training approach, a method that has intrigued and inspired countless fitness enthusiasts.

What’s workout volume, though? Volume is calculated by multiplying sets, reps, and weight. Following Arnie’s footsteps, your aim should be to increase volume from workout to workout. You can do low sets with high reps in one session and high sets with low reps in the other. This allows for switching up your workout without sacrificing gains.

Of course, there is more to the Austrian Oak’s training secrets than this. Let’s dive into the principles behind this regimen and how you can incorporate elements of it into your own workouts.

The High-Volume Philosophy

Arnold’s training was characterised by an extraordinary volume of sets and repetitions. His philosophy revolved around the idea that more work equated to greater muscle stimulation and growth.

As a result, Arnie practically lived in the gym, training twice a day, six days a week. He would often hit each major muscle group multiple times within a week to enhance muscle growth and build his incredible physique.

The Double-Split Routine

A hallmark of Arnold’s regimen was the double-split routine, which divided his training into two sessions per day. This crown-piece of an approach allowed him to maintain high energy levels and focus on specific muscle groups without overextending himself in a single session.

Here’s a sample split to give you an idea of how Arnie used to work out in his heyday:

  • Days 1, 3, 5
  • Morning: Chest, Back
  • Evening: Legs, Calves, Abs
  • Days 2, 4, 6
  • Morning: Shoulders, Triceps, Biceps
  • Evening: Calves, Abs
  • Day 7
  • Rest

This split ensured balanced development and sufficient recovery time between sessions for each muscle group.

Arnold Blueprint to mass

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Chest and Back Supersets

Arnold was famous for his chest and back supersets, which combined opposing muscle groups to maximise pump – when muscles are full of blood and are inflated/look larger after the workout – and efficiency.

Supersetting exercises such as bench presses with wide-grip pull-ups and incline presses with T-bar rows allowed him to train intensely and keep his workouts dynamic. Here’s a sample chest and back superset for reference:

  • 1. Superset
  • Bench Press: 5 sets of 8-10 reps
  • Wide-Grip Pull-Ups: 5 sets to failure
  • 2. Superset
  • Incline Barbell Press: 5 sets of 8-10 reps
  • T-Bar Rows: 5 sets of 10 reps
  • 3. Superset
  • Dumbbell Flyes: 5 sets of 10 reps
  • Seated Cable Rows: 5 sets of 10 reps

The high volume and minimal rest between sets (typically less than a minute) created an intense workout environment, leading to incredible muscle pumps and growth stimulation.

Some handy tips on how to work out like Arnie

As you can imagine, high-volume training can be taxing on the body, especially for beginners. Start by incorporating one or two high-volume sessions per week and gradually increase as your endurance and recovery improve.

Just because you do high volume, that doesn’t mean you should neglect lifting technique. Maintain proper form to prevent injuries and ensure that you’re effectively targeting the intended muscles.

Importantly, you must pay attention to your body’s signals and take rest days when needed to avoid overtraining. Recovery is crucial, and if you ignore it, you'll get injured, which will put you behind your training schedule.

Incorporating supersets into your routine is a brilliant way to save time and increase intensity. Pairing opposing muscle groups, like chest and back, can optimise your workout efficiency.

High-volume training—and muscle building in general—demands adequate nutrition. Consuming enough protein is paramount to support muscle repair and growth. Plus, you must ensure you stay hydrated to maintain performance and recovery.

Arnie’s high-volume training approach is a testament to the power of dedication and intensity in bodybuilding. By integrating some of his methods into your routine, you can push your limits and achieve impressive gains. Remember, consistency and smart training are key.

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Matt Kollat
Section Editor | Active

Matt Kollat is a journalist and content creator who works for T3.com and its magazine counterpart as an Active Editor. His areas of expertise include wearables, drones, fitness equipment, nutrition and outdoor gear. He joined T3 in 2019. His byline appears in several publications, including Techradar and Fit&Well, and more. Matt also collaborated with other content creators (e.g. Garage Gym Reviews) and judged many awards, such as the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance's ESSNawards. When he isn't working out, running or cycling, you'll find him roaming the countryside and trying out new podcasting and content creation equipment.