Arnold Schwarzenegger's Workout Routine & Diet Plan

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Published by James Cunningham, BSc, CPT | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: May 10, 2024
FACT CHECKED by Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
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Arnold Schwarzenegger has probably done more for the bodybuilding industry than most other athletes. His subsequent Hollywood and political career have made him a household icon.

We’ve regularly listened to Arnold Schwarzenegger 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.

His dedication should motivate you to also attain your goals.

How Does Arnold Schwarzenegger Structure His Workouts?

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

You May Also Like: Arnold Schwarzenegger Workout PDF

Workout Plan A

Days: Monday, Wednesday, Friday

Split: Morning and afternoon training sessions

1 - 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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.

Based on insights from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 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

  • 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


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. 

According to insights from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), it is important to ensure that your body is fully recovered before pushing it to the extreme again [2].

Arnold’s Dietary Breakdown

diet plan

Through my practical knowledge, I understand the shift to vegetarian and vegan diets, like Arnold's recent change, can still support high-intensity training while promoting overall health.

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.

You May Also Like: Bulking Diet Plan PDF

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, but there are many bodybuilders who have achieved success by just eating plants.

Recommended posts:

Arnold Schwarzenegger Home Workout

Arnold Schwarzenegger's home exercise plan consists of push-ups, dips between chairs, the row between chairs, sit-ups, bent-leg raises, bent-over twists, squats, calf raises, and pull-ups. In his at-home sessions, Arnold mainly uses his body weight to build lower and upper body muscles.

The full exercise session can be completed with no equipment, except for the last exercise, where you will either need a doorway pull-up bar or go outside and use a tree branch.

"Even without a gym, we can also control our physical fitness. Body weight, or freehand training is the oldest method in the world."

- Brett Williams, Certified Personal Trainer

The principle of progressive overload is the primary principle for Arnold`s no-gym at-home exercise routine. There is no other way for a gym and a no gym-required routine to build strength and muscles if you fail to increase the total volume or intensity of each session.

You must increase sets, reps, or the total amount lifted to continue experiencing hypertrophy and strength gains.

It would be helpful to use some form of external resistance, such as weight plates for bodyweight exercises like pull-ups and push-ups to facilitate hypertrophy.


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.


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About The Author

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Sport & Exercise Science from University of Hertfordshire. He's a Health & Performance Coach from London that brings a unique blend of academic knowledge of health supplements and practical exercise experience to the table for his readers.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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