The actor-bodybuilder-powerlifter-producer-businessman-(stops for breath)-politician-philanthropist-sports promoter is one of the most popular personalities in the health and fitness industry. Arnold Schwarzenegger can be credited for taking the sport of bodybuilding mainstream.
The pro bodybuilders before Arnie, especially the ones on top of the food chain were reserved and camera shy. Hardly any Mr. Olympia that came before the Governator ever gave any media interviews or TV appearances.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s big ambitions pushed him into the acting world. In turn, Arnie’s showbiz success helped pull crowds to bodybuilding shows. The Austrian Oak proved to be the Weider brothers’ best asset. It would be safe to say that bodybuilding wouldn’t be what it is today if not for Schwarzenegger.
More Than Just Aesthetics
Golden era bodybuilders were not just about vanity. Bodybuilders like Arnold, Franco, Tom Platz, Dave Draper were strong as bulls. Back in the day, many bodybuilders even competed in strongman competitions. How many pro bodybuilders do you think can achieve the same feat today?
In the golden era, not only did bodybuilders have proportionate and symmetrical physiques, but they also focused on improving their athletic performance and overall health. With all the deaths surrounding pro bodybuilding, we are not sure if we can say the same thing about the current state of the sport. But hey, this article is not about comparing today’s bodybuilders with golden years’. Let’s do what we do best, drool over how cool Arnie is.
Also Read: 21 Bodybuilders Who Died of Heart Attack
The Beginning of Arnold’s Lifting Journey – Olympic Weightlifting
Very few Arnie fans know this, but before he got into bodybuilding, the Austrian Oak was a competitive weightlifter and powerlifter. Unlike most of today’s Instagram fitness celebs, Arnold Schwarzenegger did not wait to turn 18 before starting lifting weights.
Arnold competed in at least three Olympic-style weightlifting contests when he was only 14 years old. And if that was not enough, he won the heavyweight class of the Austrian Olympic lifting championships at age of 18.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best lifts during his teen years:
- Overhead press: 119 kg (264 lbs)
- Clean & jerk: 135 kg (298 lbs)
- Snatch: 110 kg (243 lbs)
According to the Terminator star, he thoroughly enjoyed his Olympic lifting years. He claimed that he performed better in front of an audience compared to his training sessions in the gym. No wonder he turned out to be one of the best showmen of our generation.
Trivia: Arnold spent a week in military prison once because he went AWOL to compete in the Junior Mr. Europe contest, which he ended up winning.
But soon, Arnold realized that his body type was not best suited for the sport and he stopped competing in Olympic weightlifting after 1965.
Beginning in 1966, the action hero switched to powerlifting. With his hard work and grit, Arnie found success in this sport. It was in powerlifting that the GOAT got his first taste of victory (see what we did there?). The rest, as they say, is history.
Arnold Schwarzenegger competed in at least three powerlifting meets between 1966 and 1968. The highlight of his powerlifting career came in the 1968 German Powerlifting Championships, where, at 20 and already Mr. Universe, he won the heavyweight class while dressed in ordinary gym clothes.
The Austrian Oak’s best lifts include:
- Squat: 215 kg (474 lbs)
- Bench press: 200 kg (441 lbs)
- Deadlift: 310 kg (683 lbs)
Trivia: In 1967, Schwarzenegger won the Munich stone-lifting contest by lifting a stone weighing 508 German pounds (254 kg / 560 lb). He lifted the stone while wearing a shirt, trousers, and tie. How cool is that?
Although the Predator star met with quick success in his new career, he wanted to explore new avenues and thus switched to bodybuilding.
Fascinated with Reg Park and the chiseled physiques he saw in fitness magazines, Arnold decided to make a switch to bodybuilding. Hardly did anyone know then that along with his physique, the Governator would end up transforming the sport forever.
Arnold realized his childhood dream of migrating to America in 1968. He found instant success in the bodybuilding circuit and founder a mentor in Joe Weider. In other words, he landed in the right place at the right time.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s unofficial Gym records:
- Squat: 247 kg (547 lbs)
- Bench press: 227 kg (500 lbs)
- Deadlift: 322 kg (710 lbs)
- Cheat curl: 125 kg (275 lbs)
Arnold Schwarzengger’s Workouts
“Muscle Builder” magazine covered some workouts of Arnold and Dave Draper in the Mecca, Gold’s Gym, Venice, California, in 1970. For the first time, people got a glimpse of the kind of weights the bodybuilders were throwing around in the gym.
In the workout, the Mr. Universes pyramid up to 425 lbs for singles on the bench press. It makes us believe that they could have hit a bigger 1RM (one rep max) without all the preceding sets.
The Expendables star’s mayhem does not end here. He then uses 100-pound dumbbells for eight reps on flat bench flyes – 100-pound dumbbells on flyes!
After crushing flyes, the bodybuilding icons still had gas left in the tank. Arnie then goes on to barbell row 315 lbs for 10 strict reps.
To finish off the workout, the golden-era legends moved on to squats. The squat routine was unlike any regular leg session. The titans performed a total of eight pyramiding sets, finishing the workout with 456 lbs for 6-8 reps.
Put these numbers into our sleek one rep max calculator, and it will tell you that Arnie’s best 1rm squat would be 566 lbs.
Yes, bench press, dumbbell flyes, barbell rows, and then squats. The bodybuilders looked in a mood for some show-off. And show-off they did.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Training Philosophy
Now that you know how strong Arnie was at his prime but are wondering how you could replicate his results, we have got you covered. These are the principles the Governator swore by:
1. Compound Lifts Are King
Binge-watch Arnie’s old training footage and you will hardly see him using any machines.
The Austrian Oak is a fan of free weight exercises. Apart from helping him build his signature size and symmetry, compound lifts made him stronger and aided in building a solid foundation.
Arnold recommends beginners start their training journies with multi-joint lifts like bench press and squat. “Once you have gained 15 pounds or more of muscle mass . . .” Schwarzenegger says, “you are ready to begin adding a great variety of exercises to your routine.”
2. Find The Right Lifting Partner
If you want to get stronger and build muscle, your best bet would be to train with someone stronger than you. A lifter with more experience can cut short your learning curve and help you put on muscle mass and gain strength in a shorter period.
The Governator put his ego aside and found a training partner in Franco Columbu. The Italian bodybuilder was one of the strongest pound-for-pound bodybuilders in the world. The guy deadlifted a car out of a parking spot in the legendary documentary “Pumping Iron” for god’s sake.
Franco’s best lift includes a 301 kg squat, 238 kg bench press, and a 340 kg deadlift.
Remember: Find a training partner who is not only stronger but has more lifting experience than you. Lifting with a stronger rookie increases your chances of an injury in the gym.
3. Go Heavy or Go Home
We are yet to find a video of Arnie lifting light or moderate weight. As soon as he stepped inside a gym, he meant business. According to Arnold, weight training is about progressive overload, and if you do not eventually increase the load, your body will not have reason to progress.
“Every great bodybuilder I know started out with basic movements and trained them very heavy. Franco Columbu was a world-class powerlifter; Sergio Oliva was on Cuba’s Olympic weightlifting team. I competed in both of these sports while bodybuilding. For one thing, it feels great to be strong and it gives you a psychological edge (in any competition, and in life), but heavy training develops muscles to a degree that you can’t get exclusively from light, pumping workouts.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger
4. Follow a Perfect Form
Although we just got off talking about the importance of lifting heavy, it does not mean that heavy weights should come at the cost of your lifting form.
Incorrect lifting form is one of the most common causes of injury inside the weight room. Although the Austrian Oak lifted heavy, he never compromised on his form.
He lifted with a full range of motion and emphasized the importance of maintaining a mind-muscle connection for optimal muscle fiber recruitment and stimulation.
“To get big, you have to get strong. Beginning and intermediate bodybuilders shouldn’t be as concerned with refinement as with growth.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger
5. Know Thy Weakness
Unlike most brofessors who turn their heads when they are told about their weaknesses, Arnold sought feedback and was open to fixing his training and diet to fix his lagging muscle groups.
At one point, Arnold felt his calves had fallen behind the rest of his physique. Rather than hide his weakness, he famously cut off the legs on his pants and wore shorts to constantly remind himself of his weakness and redouble his efforts to grow his calves. He trained calves more frequently, early in his workouts when he was fresh, and sometimes between sets for larger body parts.
Next Read: Train Like a Champion: Arnold Chest Workout
Like a fine wine, Arnold Schwarzenegger improved with each year. In his bodybuilding prime, he was lifting more weight than he used to during his powerlifting days. Not only was he lifting heavier, but he was also performing a higher number of reps.
So, if your goal is to build a Greek god-like physique, apart from focusing on your conditioning and symmetry, you should also try to lift as heavy as you can.