Arnold Schwarzenegger – training, diet and motivation of the bodybuilding legend

Arnold Schwarzenegger – training, diet and motivation of the bodybuilding legend

Many people cannot decide who they want to become in their future. But Arnold Schwarzenegger knew from a young age that he wanted to be a bodybuilder and not just that. He wanted to be the best. He adhered to this idea, worked on it and eventually achieved it. How did he do it all?

The power of Arnold’s vision

“I have always believed that you need to have a vision to keep you motivated and working hard.”

Arnold’s vision was born in early childhood when he first saw the world’s heavyweight champions. He recalls, in particular, how Tommy Kono won Mr. Universe title in 1961. Following these bodybuilders had an incredible impact on Arnold and he began to develop his own vision.

At the age of 15, Arnold decided to start training as a real bodybuilder. “I started following the heroic, elaborate guys and I read the magazine that had Reg Park depicted as Hercules on its cover page.” The magazine described the Reg’s life and how he had become Mr. Universe. It is this edition of the magazine that has become the path to Arnold’s future success. “If I had any feelings of being lost in my life, these feelings were suddenly gone. From that time, I had the direction. I realized that I had a special ability that could not be trained. The ability to see things very clearly. Instead of seeing Reg Park at the stage in London, Arnold saw himself there. “I’ve seen hundreds of bodybuilders around me, holding a trophy and hearing everyone chanting my name.”

Arnold Schwarzenegger
Author of the photo: Mary Frampton, Los Angeles Times 

Arnold was motivated by a vision of victory more than anything else. “It was so strong that I didn’t even need the discipline – I was just attracted to go to the gym every day. I knew that every training is taking me one step closer to turning this beautiful vision into reality. My life took a single direction – Mr. Universe, training and shaping.

In the age of 20, Arnold reached his goal and became the youngest Mr. Universe in history. Instead of enjoying the glory and relaxing, Arnold decided to train even more. “I felt I was undoubtedly a new hope of bodybuilding. But I still didn’t get where I wanted to be. Becoming Mr. Universe is like winning the Golden Glove or the Olympic Games in Boxing – it’s great, but it’s far from being the best boxer.

But Arnold didn’t want to be just a great bodybuilder, he wanted to be the best. “I realized it would take me a while. In America, extraordinary bodybuilders like Serge Nubret and Dave Draper were more elaborate, more popular and their posing more sophisticated.

When Arnold was 21, he moved to America and people began to notice him immediately. “They whispered about me. They said this is the boy from Austria. He is the boy who is already making a deadlift of 317 kilograms.” That assured Arnold that he had taken a difficult but correct step. “I hardly understood English. I couldn’t watch news or read newspapers. I felt isolated from the outside world. I felt alone. Nevertheless, they welcomed me with open arms. I got so much love and support from bodybuilders who didn’t even know me. I will never forget it, it was something really special.

All bodybuilders long for perfection and Arnold was no exception. “I never felt I reached 100% of my potential. I think every bodybuilder feels that way. He wants to have bigger triceps, bigger thighs and shaped belly.” Arnold’s successful bodybuilding career was built on continuous improvement and attempts to improve small physical details. Working on these details maintained Arnold’s hunger for victory and fuelled his vision.

We took pictures like fanatics. Franco Columbu took pictures of me and I took pictures of him. We compared photos, observed improvements, and tried to find problematic spots. With hard work you can achieve your goal and become successful. That’s great for bodybuilding. If you are good at it and achieve your goals, you will be able to apply the same principles to anything else in your life.

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Author of the photo: verejná doména Madison Square Garden Center 

Training according to Arnold Schwarzenegger

 “The biggest mistake in bodybuilding today is that people don’t include basic exercises in their workouts.”

However, by basic exercises Arnold did not mean easy exercises. Many contemporary fitness centres are overcrowded with people sitting on machines, not at dumbbell stands. “When I go to the gym today, no young boy learns about moving barbell overhead or pulling a big dumbbell to his chin straight from the floor. They all use machines.

However, Arnold does not insist on the inclusion of basic exercises because he longs to live in the past. It all comes from decades of his experience in bodybuilding and hard work, which, according to Arnold, cannot be replaced by fitness machines. “Get everything out of you, in every series. Don’t spare yourself for the next one. This is a mistake many people make.” Arnold believes that every repetition and every series must be done with high intensity, because it moves you closer to the goal.

We chose a few of Arnold’s favourite exercises for you, with which he prepared for Mr. Olympia. That they are truly effective is also evidenced by the fact that Arnold was awarded the title Mr. Olympia even 7 times!

Chest exercises

“There are 3 chest exercises that you should always train. Bench press, incline bench press at different angles, and dumbbell flyes.

Arnold used to be known for the size and width of his chest. He achieved it due to the possibility of extreme muscle tension when pulling dumbbells lying on a flat bench (dumbbell flyes).

“Exercising with a dumbbell lying on a flat bench is a workout that has worked to fully develop my pectoral muscles. Remember, it is important for the muscles to stretch and strengthen them. In this exercise, I tightened my arms as far as I could, then returned to the original position to touch the dumbbells. You will not replace this exercise with any machine.”

Arnold Schwarzenegger a tréning hrudníka
Author of the photo: Spc. Amburr Reese

Back exercises

“I trained my back using pull-ups with reverse grasp, bent-over big dumbbell row, bent-over one-arm dumbbell row, and bent-over with specially adjusted dumbbell. I relied on these exercises from the beginning to the end of my career.”

If you already have dumbbell rows included in your workout plan, do them to support your chest. “There are many bodybuilders who have trouble working out the lower back. You need to relax your body and allow the lower back to keep the load on your legs when doing bent-over rows. This will give you the proper strength and develop a wide back.

Biceps and triceps exercises 

Arnold trained all kinds of biceps uplifts. One of the techniques he used to shock biceps was that he began the first repetition with 124 kilograms. At the second one, he lowered the weight, and at the third repetition he reduced the weight even more. “That was the way I grew without ever putting the dumbbell down on the ground. I wanted to let my biceps know they had no idea what to expect. They will never get used to the method of my workouts because I always have a trick up my sleeve.”

Arnold used a large barbell uplifts to build a wide biceps. To isolate the biceps, he trained dumbbell uplifts on an inclined bench and isolated biceps uplifts. “Heavy-weight isolated biceps uplifts were able to isolate the biceps, creating a “peak” on the biceps. I used a lot of narrow-grip presses for the triceps. Later, there were also different variants of the triceps extensions.

Shoulder exercises 

Arnold worked on his shoulders with the following exercises:

  • barbell press
  • behind-the-neck barbell press
  • lateral raises
  • military press
  • dumbbell press

“We’ve always been doing presses with a two-arm dumbbell from behind the head, and special presses with a dumbbell that stretched the front deltoid from below and fully outlined it from above. Now this technique is called Arnold’s presses.”

Thigh and leg exercises

Squat is the most important exercise for creating large thighs. I did a squat with a barbell behind my head, a front squat, a front kicks, lunges, a one-leg deadlift, a “good morning” exercises and a lot of leg curls.”

Ab exercises

The classic training we did to develop the abdomen was made up of lifting the legs in the lying position, lifting the legs hanging on a trapeze and sit-ups (crunches). We believed that 500 repetitions of the Romanian sit-ups really did work.[1]

Arnold’s variation of training before Mr. Olympia

In this variation of training, you exercise each muscle group twice a week. This training plan comes from the book The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding, written by Arnold Schwarzenegger himself and Bill Dobbins. [2] [3] 

Training split

Day 1: Chest and back

Day 2: Shoulders and arms

Day 3: Legs and lower back

Day 4: Chest and back

Day 5: Shoulders and arms

Day 6: Legs and lower back

Day 7: Rest

Day 1. and 4. – Chest and back training

Chest exercises
Bench press3-410
Incline Bench press3-410
Dumbbell Pullovers3-410
Back exercises
Chin Up                                                            3-410
Bent Over Row3-410
Ab exercises
Crunches                                                                         525

Day 2. and 5. – Sholder and arm training

Sholder exercises
Barbell Clean and Press     3-410
Dumbbell Lateral Raise3-410
Upright Row3-410
Military Press3-410
Arm exercises
Standing Barbell Curl3-410
Seated Dumbell Curl3-410
Close Grip Bench Press3-410
Standing Barbell Tricep Extension3-410
Forearm exercises
Wrist Curls3-410
Reverse Wrist Curls 3-410
Ab exercises
Reverse Crunch                                              525

Day 3. and 6. – Legs and lower back exercises

Leg exercises
Squats                                                                                        3-410
Leg Curl3-410
Lower back exercises
Stiff Leg Deadlift                           3-410
Good Mornings3-410
Calf exercises
Standing Calf Rise                                                      3-410
Ab exercises
Crunches                                                                         525

Protein matters!

Early in his bodybuilding career, Arnold already knew that protein was the most important nutrient for muscle growth. “There have always been discussions about how much protein the body really needs. I consumed one gram of protein per kilogram of my weight.”

Arnold weighed nearly 107 kilograms, so it was a challenge for him – to take 107 grams of protein a day.It worked best for me when I had 5 meals a day. There are people who can work with three meals a day. For me, 5 meals were ideal because I was never a big eater. I’ve always been happy with a medium-sized steak. Even if you gave me only a small 200-gram steak at the top of my career, I would be happy.

Arnold Schwarzenegger - stravovanie, jedálniček
Author of the photo: Gage Skidmore from Peoria

For breakfast, Arnold often ate noodles, bacon, tomatoes and onions. “That was enough, but two hours after breakfast I was hungry again.” In order to cover his daily doses of the protein he needed for constant growth, Arnold never went far without a protein shake. “Whether I was sitting at a school in Santa Monica City College or working on a construction site, I always pulled a small plastic container full of milk and protein powder out of my bag. That was exactly the remaining 30 grams of protein I needed at that time.

An hour after the protein drink Arnold went to do what he knew best – lifting weights at the gym. After training, he had lunch, usually steak and vegetables. Two hours after lunch, Arnold indulged himself in another protein shake. “I drank protein drinks twice a day to be able to take 107 grams of protein. However, you have to realize that we do not get all the nutrients we need, such as vitamins, minerals or protein itself, from ordinary foods. That’s why we have nutritional supplements. No matter how healthy you eat, you will never get enough of the essential nutrients from ordinary meals.” For dinner, Arnold usually enjoyed grilled chicken with brown rice, vegetables or salad with avocado, macadamia nuts and olive oil. [4] [6]

Arnold has left a huge mark on the bodybuilding world, as evidenced by the IFBB Arnold Sports Festival, also known as the Arnold Schwarzenegger Sports Festival. This event was founded in 1989 in Arnold’s honour. It consists of classic bodybuilding (Arnold Classic), strongman competition (Arnold Strongman Classic) and fitness & bikini expo. [5]


We believe that you learned many new facts about Arnold Schwarzenegger and that you would use his training plan as an inspiration for yours. What do you think about Arnold Schwarzenegger? Let us know in the comments and share our post if you liked it.


[1] Arnold Schwarzenegger Blueprint Trainer: Mass Supplementation Overview –

[2] Arnold Schwarzenegger Volume Workout Routines –

[3] The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding: The Bible of Bodybuilding Fully Updated and Revised with Bill Dobbins by Arnold Schwarzennegger –

[4] Arnold Schwarzenegger Blueprint Trainer: Mass Supplementation Overview –

[5] Arnold Sport Festival –

[6] Arnold Schwarzenegger Bodybuilding, Workout Routine and Diet Plan –

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