Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Advanced Chest & Back Workout


As you’d expect from a workout used by former Mr. Olympia and bodybuilding GOAT Arnold Schwarzenegger in his pomp, this workout isn’t for the faint of heart and comes with a disclaimer. ‘Some people wanted to see my real workout from the Golden Era. I want to give a serious warning. If you haven’t been training for a really long time, this isn’t a good idea,’ says Schwarzenegger.

The workout begins with a (casual) 10 minutes of abs and continues with the king of compound movements: the deadlift. Subsequently, no stone is left unturned as you work your way through a thorough hypertrophy grilling.

‘It took me at least two hours, and then I went back to the gym for another two hour workout at night. I was a bodybuilding champion, and I had also been a powerlifting champion in Europe.’

We’re sure the one workout for the day will suffice, and as Schwarzenegger says ‘if it feels like too much, stop.’

‘You’ve been the way you are for a long time, you aren’t going to reboot as a different person overnight, so the way you get to your big visions is through achievable goals,’ he adds.

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

Ab Warm Up

5 sets / 30 seconds rest between sets

ab exercises, ab workouts

Hollow Body Hold – 30 Seconds

Start lying on your back. Push your back into the floor as you exhale. Lift your shoulders and head while lifting your legs into a 45 degrees with your feet off the floor. Extend your arms overhead and your legs as straight as you can manage without the lower back leaving the floor.

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V-Sit Crunch x 5 reps

Begin lying on your back with your feet elevated one inch off of the floor. Have your hands either side of your head and lift the knees towards your chest to the V-sit position so you feel your core engage. Reverse the movement. To regress this exercise you can complete it as a normal sit up with your knees bent and feet planted on the floor.

ab exercises, ab workouts

Russian Twists x 10 reps

Begin in the V-sit position, sat with your knees bent, feet off the floor, chest elevated and core engaged. Use a light dumbbell or alternatively bodyweight. Holding the dumbbell with both hands, twist your upper body in alternating directions while keeping the hips evenly sat on the floor. If you start to feel the exercise in your lower back rather than your abs, inch a little further forward and consider regressing the exercise by planting your feet on the floor.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Advanced Chest & Back Workout


1: Deadlifts x 3 Sets and 10, 8 and 6 Reps

Choose a weight that will push your exertion to a challenging 8 out of 10 at the end of all 3 sets. Walk your shins to the bar with your feet underneath your hips. The deadlift is a hinge movement. Imagine shutting a car door with your bum while sending the hips behind the heels and reaching your hands towards the bar. Your shoulders should be over the bar and middle foot underneath. Keeping your back and head in line, put your shoulder blades in your back pockets while holding your torso rigid to create tension between you and the bar. You should hear the plates clink. Push the floor away from you while keeping the bar close. Lock out the hips without sending the weight back 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 the programming recommends weighted chin ups, you can perform this exercise regressed with bands or bodyweight. 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 flexed feet. Take a wide grip on the bar. With your core engaged, shrug the scapula down to initiate the movement. Drive the bar towards you whilst you exhale. Resist the downward portion of the movement and keep your core tight to avoid swinging.

incline db bench press

Men’s Health

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

With the bench set at 30 degrees, lie back with your spine slightly arched and take the dumbbells up 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 you exhale and push the dumbbells to their beginning position. Squeeze the pecs with the ribcage lifted at the top of the movement.

Superset 2 – Perform 4 Sets

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

Considering your chest will be feeling fatigued from your previous superset, adjust the weight selection a touch lower than your usual bench press strength sets, keep the weight constant throughout and let the decline in rep range carry you through. Set the bench flat and begin lying on your back with your nose under the bar and a slight arch in your back. Reach towards the bar with a wide grip and unrack the barbell so that it is directly over your chest. Slowly lower the bar to touch the lower portion of your pecs while keeping your chest engaged. 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 begin with your legs bent or straight. With your core locked, shrug the shoulder blades up to your ears, and then back and down to initiate the movement for optimal lat recruitment. Drive the bar towards your chest and squeeze the shoulder blades together. Slowly lower yourself to the beginning position but maintain core engagement to prevent swinging. Should you need to regress the exercise, you can use a band or try inverted rows.

Superset 3 – Perform 4 Sets

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4A. Dumbbell Flys x 10 reps

It’s important that for this exercise you choose a weight that’s considerably lighter than your dumbbell bench press. At this point your chest and arms will be feeling the intensity. Start with the dumbbells up above your chest with a slight bend in your arms. However, this time, with the palms facing inwards (neutral grip). Open them outwards slowly until you get a big stretch across your chest, without over extending 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 chest pump.

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

Deadlift the barbell off the floor into the bent over hinge position with the bar touching your thighs and a wide grip. Keep your head in line and your core tight with your hips set behind your heels. With your shoulders away from your ears, row the barbell towards your hips whilst squeezing the shoulder blades back and down. Slowly lower the barbell so it grazes your thighs and you get a big stretch between the scapula.

Tri-set 1 – Perform 4 sets

home back workouts

5A. Barbell Pullovers x 15 reps

In this traditional hypertrophy tri-set, choose a weight considerably lower than your barbell bench press. Start with the barbell over your chest, a slight bend in the arms and a pronated grip (palms facing away from you). Lower the barbell over your head so that you feel a stretch in your shoulders and chest, let your ribcage flare but keep your core tight and don’t over extend the spine. Engage your back to bring the barbell back to its beginning position.

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5B. Dips x To Failure

This exercise can be regressed to use a band looped between the bars. Standing between the parallel bars, jump so that you are held with your feet off the floor with your knees bent. Lock the shoulders away from your ears. Lean forward and lower your body towards the bars so that 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 regress the exercise upon hitting your last reps with eccentric dips.

chest fly

5C. Dumbbell Flys x 12 to 15 reps

It’s important that for this set you drop the weight from the previous set of flys you completed given the high-rep range and position in the workout. Start with the dumbbells up above your chest with the palms facing inwards. Inhale with a slight bend in your arms, opening them outwards slowly until you get a big stretch across your chest. Exhale and push the dumbbells back to their original position. Since this will be your last opportunity in the workout to push your chest, should you want to push your exertion levels a touch further, pause at the top of the movement to feel more of a stretch.

Tri-set 2 – Perform 4 sets

seated cable row

Men’s Health

6A. Seated Cable Rows x 10 reps

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

single arm dumbbell row

6B. Single Arm Bent Over 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 opposite leg should be out to the side of the bench and other hand will hold the dumbbell as it hangs below your shoulder. Allow your shoulder to stretch forward before you start the rep, pull the shoulder blade into your back pocket to initiate the movement. Row the dumbbell in an arc shape towards your hip. Minimise momentum and slowly lower the dumbbell back to the beginning position.

home back workouts

6C. Dumbbell Pullovers x 15 reps

Start with one dumbbell over your chest, with the hands forming a diamond shape under one end of the dumbbell and a slight bend in the arms with the angle locked. Lower the dumbbell over your head so that you feel a stretch in your shoulders and chest, engage your back to bring the dumbbell back to its beginning position. Keep your core engaged and the pace of reps steady. If you got this far, well done, you’ve survived.

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

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