Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED

Arnold Schwarzenegger has probably done more for the bodybuilding industry than most other athletes. He wasn’t the most successful bodybuilder in history.

But his subsequent Hollywood and political career have made him a household icon.

We’ve regularly listened to Arnold Schwarzenegger on working out and how he managed to break into the US bodybuilding scene as a young Austrian kid.

So, we spent about two months going through old and new interviews to come up with some details about his workout routine and diet.

Let’s see if you could handle this kind of dedication.

How Does Arnold Schwarzenegger Structure His Workouts?

mr olympia arnold schwarzenegger

Arnold has spoken a lot about the amount of time he committed to working out. His training plan would demand two trips to the gym each day.

And he would do that for six days every week. His thinking was that in order to be the best, he had to work harder at the gym than all of his competitors.

Looking at the number of sets and reps below gives you an idea of how much time he would have spent working on his body.

“If you don’t find the time, if you don’t do the work, you don’t get the results.”

 

- Arnold Schwarzenegger.

OK, let’s take a closer look at the Arnold Schwarzenegger workout plans.

youtube

Workout Plan A

Days: Monday, Wednesday, Friday

Split: Morning and afternoon training sessions

1 - Chest

chest
  • Bench press: 5 sets of 6-10 reps
  • Cable crossovers: 6 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Flat bench flyes: 5 sets of 6-10 reps
  • Dumbbell pullovers: 5 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Incline bench press: 6 sets of 6-10 reps
  • Dips: 5 sets, each one to failure

2 - Back

back
  • Wide-grip chin-ups: 6 sets of to failure
  • Pulley rows: 6 sets of 6-10 reps
  • T-bar rows: 5 sets of 6-10 reps
  • Straight-leg deadlifts: 6 sets of 15 reps
  • One-arm dumbbell rows: 5 sets of 6-10 reps

Related: The Best Back Exercises

3 - Legs

legs
  • Leg presses: 6 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Leg curls: 6 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Barbell lunges: 5 sets of 15 reps
  • Leg extensions: 6 sets of 12-15 reps
  • Squats: 6 sets of 8-12 reps

4 - Calves

  • Standing calf raises:10 sets of 10 reps
  • Seated calf raises: 8 sets of 15 reps
  • One-legged calf raises (with weights): 6 sets of 12 reps

5 - Forearms

forearm
  • Wrist curls: 4 sets of 10 reps
  • Reverse barbell curls: 4 sets of 8 reps
  • Wright roller machine: 4 sets to failure

6 - Abs

Various crunches: 5 sets to failure

Related: The Best Abs Exercises

Now, there are a couple of different approaches you can take to splitting these workouts into two sessions.

One theory is to take a few of the exercises for each body part for the morning gym session, and the rest for the afternoon. This could give you the right combination of targeting lots of compound muscle groups.

This has been proven in studies to help with faster muscle growth as it might trigger increases in testosterone and growth hormones [1].

The other option is to pick three focus points for the morning and three for the afternoon. Whichever way you choose, just make sure you follow that approach consistently from week to week.

“Don't be afraid to fail. You can't always win, but don't be afraid of making decisions.”

 

- Arnold Schwarzenegger

Workout Plan B

Days: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday

Split: Morning and afternoon training sessions

1 - Biceps

  • Barbell curls: 6 sets of 6-10 reps
  • Seated dumbbell curls: 6 sets of 6-10 reps
  • Dumbbell concentration curls: 6 sets of 6-10 reps

2 - Triceps

Triceps
  • Close-grip bench presses: 6 sets of 6-10 reps
  • Pushdowns: 6 sets of 6-10 reps
  • Barbell French presses: 6 sets of 6-10 reps
  • One-arm dumbbell triceps extensions: 6 sets of 6-10 reps

3 - Shoulders

shoulders and bench press
  • Seated barbell presses: 6 sets of 6-10 reps
  • Lateral raises: 6 sets of 6-10 reps
  • Rear-delt lateral raises: 5 sets of 6-10 reps
  • Cable lateral raises: 5 sets of 10-12 reps

Related: Exercises to Widen Shoulders

4 - Calves

  • Standing calf raises: 10 sets of 10 reps
  • Seated calf raises: 8 sets of 15 reps
  • One-legged calf raises (with weights): 6 sets of 12 reps

5 - Forearms

  • Wrist curls: 4 sets of 10 reps
  • Reverse barbell curls: 4 sets of 8 reps
  • Wright roller machine: 4 sets to failure

6 - Abs

Various crunches: 5 sets to failure

The same concept applies to workout plan B, where you may want to mix things up a bit between the morning and afternoon sessions

 

What About Weights?

We deliberately left out weights, as this would change on a weekly basis.

Here is what you should plan for.

You would gradually increase the weight for each set during a training session. That’s why he chose to do the same workout 5 or 6 times. It allowed him to gradually overload his muscles and push himself to failure.

The other thing that you’d need to do is to increase the weights slowly every week. Whether you’re going for a 10 or 16-week bulking plan, you have to keep pushing yourself to extremes.

Getting Some Rest

franco columbu's rest and recovery

Arnold has spoken a lot about getting the right amount of rest in between sessions and during the night. While he claims to only need about 6 hours of sleep, most people should probably consider an average of 8 hours.

We also heard of some reports that during his run of Mr. Olympia wins, he would sometimes take a midday nap to allow his muscles to relax after a grueling fitness program. 

If you’re going to push your body to this extreme, then make sure you allow your body to recover as well.

Arnold’s Dietary Breakdown

diet plan

Arnold has apparently switched to vegetarian and vegan diets in recent years, but during his competitive years, he was heavily relying on meat and dairy.

That should not indicate that you can’t achieve huge successes on a plant-based diet, but we wanted to show you what his focus was during the height of his career.

There would have been two things he needed a lot of, and that’s carbs for energy and protein to support muscle growth.

Arnold has mentioned that he would have aimed for one gram of protein for every pound of body weight.

That would have been 250 to 300 grams of protein every single day.

Arnold’s Sample Meals

We weren’t able to find an exact daily meal plan, but he has spoken a lot about the different foods he would eat.

There’s a famous photo of Arnold digging into what looks like a 30+ ounce steak.

And to get his required volume of protein, he would have been reliant on a lot of meat, because veganism wasn’t really that popular back then.

Here’s what we’ve heard him talk about.

  • Breakfast: Large bowl of oatmeal with egg whites and fresh fruit plus a large omelet with bacon strips
  • Lunch: 2 to 4 chicken breasts with lots of green veggies and rice or potatoes
  • Dinner: Large to very large lean steak with lots of veggies and rice or potatoes
  • Snacks: Mixture of fresh fruit, nuts, cheeses, and protein shakes

Our dietitian estimated that Arnold would have needed about 5,000 calories per day to support his energy needs for those tough workout sessions. He took protein shakes as  post workout meal.

If he had done that as a vegan, then he probably would have spent a lot more time eating veggies instead of calorie-dense meat [2], but there are many bodybuilders who have achieved success by just eating plants.

FAQs

How Many Calories a Day Did Arnold Eat?

Arnold ate more than 5,000 calories a day during the peak of his career. Considering that he regularly trained twice a day at the gym for several hours, that meant that he spent a lot of the remainder of the day getting through some very large meals.

How Much Protein Did Arnold Schwarzenegger Eat?

Arnold Schwarzenegger ate about 250 to 300 grams of protein per day. That was equivalent to about 1 gram per pound of body weight and at the high end of what bodybuilders typically take. He also focused on a variety of protein sources and post workout protein supplements to get a full amino acid profile.

Does Arnold Schwarzenegger Eat Meat?

No, Apparently, Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn’t eat meat anymore. He seems to switch between vegan and vegetarian diets as he still seems to enjoy some dairy products from time to time.

How Many Hours Did Arnold Schwarzenegger Sleep?

Arnold Schwarzenegger apparently only slept for 6 hours at night time. He has said that doing that allows you to be a lot more productive with the remaining 18 hours of every day. But there are some old interviews where he spoke about taking naps in between gym sessions.

Do You Think You Could Achieve That Level Of Commitment?

Looking at his exercise routine reveals a lot about the work ethics he had. And he repeatedly said that if you don’t put in the time and just come up with excuses, then you’ll never be successful.

Hitting the gym that hard twice a day is certainly not something for everyone, but I would challenge you to try out the routine even just once a day.

We suggest getting a training partner like Arnold did to help keep you on track, he always mentioned how working out with Franco Columbu did wonders for him.

You might also want to check out the diet and training routine of Sergio Oliva, the only man to beat Arnold on a world stage event.

Make sure you report back to us how that works out for you.

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4592763/
  2. https://www.myfooddata.com/articles/highest-calorie-foods.php

About the author