Arnold Schwarzenegger’s advanced chest and back workout

As you would expect from a workout used by former Mr. Olympia and bodybuilding GOAT Arnold Schwarzenegger in its splendor, this workout is not for the faint of heart and comes with a disclaimer. “Some people wanted to see my real Golden Age training. I want to issue a serious warning. If you haven’t worked out for a long time, this isn’t a good idea,” says Schwarzenegger.

The workout starts with a (casual) 10 minutes of abdominal exercises and continues with the king of compound movements: the deadlift. Then, no stone is left unturned as you blast your way through a thorough hypertrophy grill.

“It took me at least two hours, and then I went back to the gym to work out for another two hours at night. I was a bodybuilding champion and I was also a powerlifting champion in Europe.’

We’re confident that one workout of the day will be enough, and as Schwarzenegger says, “If it feels like too much, stop.”

“You’ve been the way you are for a long time, you’re not going to reboot overnight as a different person, so the way you achieve your big visions is through achievable goals,” he adds .

In other words, scale the workout to your abilities rather than your ego.

Ab warm up

5 sets / 30 seconds rest between sets

Hollow Body Hold – 30 seconds

Start lying on your back. Press your back against the floor as you exhale. Lift your shoulders and head as you lift your legs to a 45-degree angle with your feet off the floor. Extend your arms overhead and your legs as straight as possible without lifting the lower back off the floor.

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V-Sit Crunch x 5 reps

Start lying on your back with your feet an inch off the floor. Place your hands on either side of your head and lift the knees toward your chest to the V-sit position, feeling your core engage. Reverse the movement. To do this exercise backwards, you can perform it like a regular sit-up with your knees bent and feet planted on the floor.

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Russian twists x 10 reps

Beginning in the V-sit position, sit with your knees bent, feet off the floor, chest up and core engaged. Use a light dumbbell or alternatively body weight. Holding the barbell with both hands, rotate your torso in alternating directions while keeping the hips evenly on the floor. If you start to feel the exercise in your lower back instead of your abs, move forward a little further and consider doing the exercise backwards by placing your feet on the floor.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s advanced chest and back workout


1: Deadlifts x 3 sets and 10, 8 and 6 reps

Choose a weight that will push your effort to a challenging 8 out of 10 at the end of all 3 sets. Walk your shins toward the bar with your feet under your hips. The deadlift is a hinge movement. Imagine closing a car door with your buttocks as you tuck hips behind heels and reach your hands toward the bar. Your shoulders should be above the bar and the middle foot below. Keeping your back and head aligned, tuck your shoulder blades into your back pockets while keeping your torso stiff to create tension between you and the bar. You should hear the plates rattling. Push the floor away from you while keeping the bar close. Lock the hips without returning the weight and reverse the movement. Take a generous 90s rest between sets.

Superset 1 – Perform 4 sets

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2A: Wide-grip chin-ups x 10

While programming recommends weighted chin-ups, you can regress this exercise with bands or body weight. Chin-ups require a supinated grip (palms facing you). They can be performed with bent legs like the MH demonstration or with straight legs and bent feet. Grab the bar wide. With your core engaged, bring the shoulder blade down to start the movement. Push the bar toward you as you exhale. Resist the downward part of the movement and keep your core tight to avoid swinging.

incline db bench press

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2B: Incline Dumbbell Bench Press: 15, 12, 8, and 6 reps

With the bench at a 30-degree angle, lie back with your spine slightly bent and lift the dumbbells above your chest. Have a neutral grip (palms facing inwards). Inhale as you lower the dumbbells. Your elbows should be slightly tucked in an arrow shape. Feel a big stretch across your chest before exhaling and push the dumbbells back to their starting position. Squeeze the pecs as the ribcage is lifted at the top of the movement.

Superset 2 – Perform 4 sets

3A. Flat Barbell Bench Press x 15, 12, 8 and 6 reps

If you consider that your chest will be fatigued from your previous superset, adjust the weight selection slightly lower than your usual bench press strength sets, keep the weight constant and let the decrease in rep range carry you through. Flatten the bench and begin lying on your back with your nose under the bar and a slight curve in your back. Reach for the bar with a wide grip and remove the barbell from the rack so that it is directly above your chest. Slowly lower the bar to touch the lower part of your pecs while holding your chest. Push the bar away from you so that it returns to the starting position.

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3B. Pull ups x 15 reps

Start with a pronated grip (palms facing away from you) with your hands slightly wider than your shoulders. You can start with your legs bent or straight. With your core locked, bring the shoulder blades up toward your ears and then back and down to kick-start the movement for optimal lat recruitment. Push the bar toward your chest and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Slowly lower yourself to the starting position, but maintain core engagement to avoid swinging. If you need to reverse the exercise, you can use a band or try inverted rows.

Superset 3 – Perform 4 sets

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4A. Dumbbell flies x 10 reps

It is important that you choose a weight for this exercise that is significantly lighter than your barbell bench press. At this point, your chest and arms will feel the intensity. Start with the dumbbells above your chest with a slight bend in your arms. This time, however, with the palms facing inward (neutral grip). Slowly open them out until you get a big stretch across your chest, without overextending your elbows, maintain tension and keep them bent. Exhale and push the dumbbells back to their original position. Embrace the stretch and squeeze motion for the signature Arnold breast pump.

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4B. Wide Grip Bent-over Barbell Rows x 12 reps

Raise the barbell off the floor in the bent-forward pivot position with the bar touching your thighs and a wide grip. Keep your head in line and your core tight with your hips behind your heels. With your shoulders away from your ears, row the barbell toward your hips while squeezing the shoulder blades back and down. Slowly lower the barbell so that it grazes your thighs and you get a great stretch between the shoulder blades.

Tri-Set 1 – Perform 4 sets

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5A. Dumbbell pullovers x 15 reps

In this traditional hypertrophy tri-set, choose a weight that is significantly lower than your barbell bench press. Start with the barbell across your chest, a slight bend in the arms and a pronated grip (palms facing away from you). Lower the barbell overhead so that you feel a stretch in your shoulders and chest, extending your ribcage but keeping your core tight and not overextending the spine. Engage your back to return the barbell to the starting position.

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5B. Dips x to failure

This exercise can be reversed to use a band between the bars. Standing between the parallel bars, jump so that your feet are held off the floor with your knees bent. Close the shoulders away from your ears. Lean forward and lower your body toward the bars so your elbows bend behind you, close to your waist. Push the bars away from you so that you return to your starting position. Work to failure, or back off the exercise after reaching your last reps with eccentric dips.

fly chest

5C. Dumbbell Flys x 12 to 15 reps

It’s important for this set that you drop the weight from the previous set of flies you completed, given the high rep range and position in the workout. Start with the dumbbells above your chest with palms facing inward. Inhale with a slight bend of your arms as you slowly open them outward until you get a big stretch across your chest. Exhale and push the dumbbells back to their original position. Since this is your last chance in the workout to push your chest, if you want to push your effort level a little further, pause at the top of the movement to feel more of a stretch.

Tri-Set 2 – Perform 4 sets

seated funicular

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6A. Seated cable rows x 10 reps

Sit on the edge of a bench or on the floor with your legs bent and the height of the cable in line with your chest. Use a narrow cable attachment. With your shoulders away from your ears and a proud chest, row the attachment toward your sternum and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Hold for a count, keep the torso in place and slowly reverse the movement so you get a big stretch in your upper back as you reset for your next rep.

one-arm dumbbell row

6B. Single arm bent across rows x 10 to 12 reps

Start with your knee and palm on the bench. Keep your knee under your hip and your palm under your shoulder. Your other leg should be on the side of the bench and the other hand is holding the barbell as it hangs below your shoulder. Allow your shoulder to extend forward before you begin the repetition, pulling the shoulder blade into your back pocket to start the movement. Row the barbell in an arcing shape toward your hip. Minimize momentum and slowly lower the dumbbell back to the starting position.

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6C. Dumbbell pullovers x 15 reps

Start with one dumbbell above your chest, hands forming a diamond shape under one end of the dumbbell and a slight bend in the arms with the angle locked. Lower the barbell overhead so that you feel a stretch in your shoulders and chest, tighten your back to return the barbell to the starting position. Keep your core engaged and the pace of reps steady. If you’ve come this far, well done, you survived.

Kate is a fitness writer for Men’s Health UK, where she regularly contributes workouts, training tips and nutrition guides.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s advanced chest and back workout

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