In the 1970s, there was no need to consult grizzled mountaineers or your dentist’s dog-eared copies of National Geographic to find the world’s most majestic peak.
Denizens of any local gym knew that impressive mountain could be found in Venice, California, where there lived and trained an Austrian-born mountain of a man bearing an equally prodigious surname. Even today, many agree that when it comes to biceps development, Arnold Schwarzenegger has never been bettered. Sporting a pair of guns that purportedly stretched the tape to surreal 22-plus inches, the Austrian Oak shattered previous standards and created a whole new archetype one to which every generation of bodybuilders since has aspired.
The Question Remains
So here we are, some 30 years later, and the question still begs: How did he do it; how did he carve those Matterhorns of muscle nestled between his rotator cuffs and elbows? Even more significant to you, the dedicated bodybuilding enthusiast, is the question, “Can I apply Arnold’s biceps training principles to spur new growth in my own arms?”
The answer is an emphatic yes. Although it must be noted that Schwarzenegger was uniquely qualified from a physiological standpoint to be an elite bodybuilder, the principles upon which he based his biceps-building plan visualization, dedication, intensity, and consistency can be employed by anyone, from novice to professional.
To help you chart the course Schwarzenegger took to develop the world’s greatest biceps. We culled information and quotes from the extensive body of work that has appeared in Weider Publications over the years in Arnold’s name.
From Tiny Seeds Grow Mighty Oaks
It’s significant (and encouraging) to note that Schwarzenegger wasn’t born with massive guns. In fact, at the time he performed his first bodybuilding workout in 1962, the 15-year-old future Austrian Oak was a mere sapling all six feet and 150 pounds of him. But, he’s quick to point out, “When I was 10 years old, I was already flexing my arms every day. By the time I started bodybuilding at age 15, biceps were the most noticeable muscle group on my body. By flexing my biceps so much, I’d learned to control them more completely.”
“This mind-link ability then translated into my bodybuilding when I began training with weights. When I did a curl, it felt special, because I could instantly sense blood rushing into the muscle.”
See The Biceps, Be The Biceps
Many of us are aware of the mind games Schwarzenegger played in an effort to psych out his opponents come competition time (as illustrated in the film Pumping Iron). However, he didn’t reserve such tactics only for Lou Ferrigno, Franco Columbu or Sergio Oliva. In fact, the person to whom he applied his most intense psychological stratagems was himself.
“Throughout my bodybuilding career,” Schwarzenegger reflects, “I was constantly playing tricks on my mind. This is why I began to think of my biceps as mountains, instead of flesh and blood. Thinking of my biceps as mountains made my arms grow faster and bigger than if I’d seen them only as muscles.”
“When you think of biceps as merely muscles, you subconsciously have a limit in your mind, which for biceps is something in the area of 20″ or 21″. When you limit yourself to that measurement, it is very hard to get to that level and, needless to say, impossible to get past it. But when you think about mountains, there is no limit to biceps growth, and therefore you have a chance of going beyond normal mental barriers.”
That being said, Schwarzenegger makes the point that it is important to temper our zeal with a healthy dose of pragmatism. “Enthusiasm is extremely important at all levels of bodybuilding. However, a beginner must learn to be satisfied with small gains overjoyed, in fact. He must not be told that giant gains come easily, that he can get super big overnight as long as he trains like a champion.”
“His progress should be a history of small successes, and he should look forward to each gain with great anticipation.”
Eye on the prize.
“Whether it’s muscle or money, you have to make it with your mind,” reminds the Oak. “I once asked a fellow whom I had seen the train for four years whether he had ever thought of winning the Mr. Universe. His answer was ‘Nab, I could never do that.’ He was right. With that attitude, he could never experience serious progress.” Got your head on straight now? Good! Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.
A Shocking Development
As he did with every aspect of his life, Arnold Schwazenneger analyzed exactly what steps would be required for him to build the greatest biceps ever. Although his earliest biceps workouts consisted primarily of barbell and dumbbell curls, as he became exposed to American bodybuilding magazines, he picked up new exercises, such as the preacher curl. By the age of 19, Schwazenneger had already devised a method of training biceps, unlike any other one to which his still-developing muscles couldn’t help but respond. “A typical training program would include barbell curls, dumbbell curls (seated or standing), preacher bench curls and concentration curls. Keep in mind, though, that the way I trained changed a lot of times because I’d always try to shock the muscles,” Schwarzenegger says.
“I recall days when my training partners and I would do 20 extremely heavy sets of biceps work, with only four or five reps each set. Another day maybe only two days later we would do 10 more sets, 15 reps each, using a lighter weight.
“This shocking method was extremely important to my training. Your muscles tend to become complacent and resist growth if you are constantly doing the same workout for them. But if you try all different types of training methods, exercises, weights, set-rep combinations and training tempos, you keep the muscles off balance. They sort of say to themselves, ‘Wow, there’s a new thing here. He just did 10 sets of 20 reps, and the next workout he’ll do 20 sets of five reps. I’ll never get used to this. I can never build up a resistance to the training, so I guess I’ll have to grow!'”
And his arms did just that. They grew to 17″ when he was 17, 18″ at 18 and past 19″ by the time he was 19.
In fact, Schwarzenegger used this seemingly haphazard, yet carefully planned, system of shocking his biceps to stretch the tape measure past the 20″ mark. Interestingly, despite the great success he achieved with this program, he instinctively knew he could create even bigger and, more important, better biceps by making a few alterations to his training system.
Ever the perfectionist, the Oak decided to modify what had been a wildly successful biceps routine for him. Whereas previously his sole concern was with packing on beef, now, as a professional competitor, he realized that he’d have to become more discriminating as to how and where he placed it. To this end, he chose to break up his biceps training into two distinct routines: offseason, which comprised the nine months following the Mr. Olympia contest, and precontest, which accounted for the three months leading up to the Olympia.
The offseason routine concentrated on building quality mass, while the precontest routine focused on etching crystalline detail into his massive boulders of muscle.
When bulking up, Schwarzenegger would follow a six-day split, hitting arms twice per week. Incredibly, each arm workout would take a full two hours: 45 minutes for triceps, 45 minutes for biceps and 30 minutes for forearms, in that order. “The severity of using absolute maximum poundage for each exercise of this super-bombing routine requires three to four days of rest between arm workouts so that full recuperation and maximum growth occur,” Schwarzenegger instructs.
Breaking down curls into two main categories mass building and isolation Schwarzenegger chose two exercises from each group to ensure that he would build not just mass, but quality mass.
Exercise 1: Cheating barbell curl
“The cheating barbell curl stands alone for building mass. I start the movement with the barbell at the thighs, with a shoulder-width grip, and nudge it into motion with a slight body movement. This gives me sufficient momentum to pass any sticking points as long as I keep concentrating. I go to full biceps flexion, then lower the bar slowly to the starting position.”
“Since the palms face up, I get the benefit of supination, which peaks up the outer head of the biceps during full flexion, as well as developing thickness through the central section of the muscle.”