Resurrecting the Oak - Part 1

Arnold's favorite training principles


Arnold Schwarzenegger did a lot of things wrong. He performed endless sets of leg extensions thinking that he was "cutting up" his thighs. He believed that pullovers would spread the rib cage and pull-ups would widen the shoulder girdle by spreading the scapulae. He used the broomstick twist to "trim" his waist. He even did cheat curls. Early in his career, his post-workout meal consisted of an entire chicken and a pitcher of beer. The Oak would sometimes train two hours in the morning and another two hours at night. And doesn't everybody know how unproductive that kind of overtraining is? Yessiree, Arnold really didn't know what he was doing half the time, did he? With that kind of backward thinking and archaic training philosophies, it's no wonder he never built an impressive bod.

Wait...hold on. What the flying fuck did I just say? Schwarzenegger arguably had the best physique of his day. In fact, given the drug-bloated and downright unhealthy look of today's "champions," the Oak might well have had the most awesome build in history! But what about all of those "mistakes" that he made in his training?

It reminds me of the day I was deadlifting at the gym. This little twerp walked out of his advanced-step aerobics class and informed me (during my set) that I really needed to put on a belt before I hurt myself. I've taken shits bigger than this prince of atrophy, and he's instructing me on how to train! I told him to take his Spandex wearin', Muscle Media readin', soccer playin' ass back to the juice bar. Then I thought of Arnold. All of today's experts like to talk about what he did wrong. For the most part, they're right. But did those incorrect beliefs make one ounce of difference in Arnold building 22.5-inch arms?

Sure, Arnold did have Herculean genetics. Yep, he took steroids, too. And, yes, he did make the movie "Red Sonja." But despite all of those things, despite all the misguided ideas about training, what Arnold did worked. Today, bodybuilders demand a dozen double-blind studies, a university-tested scientific analysis, and a magnetic resonance imaging report before they'll try a new training program. Arnold just did it. And if it didn't hurt badly enough, he did it another way until it did. Guys today "can't" squat because of their back problems. Arnold knew in the '70s that those who spout excuses and cite "studies" are basically just afraid of hard work. One of my favorite pics of Arnold shows him doing insanely heavy squats, barefooted, with no safety supports. Poor guy must not have read all of those scientific studies!

One of Arnold's favorite training methods was to incorporate "Advanced Training Principles" into his workouts. In his classic (and recently revised) "Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding," he outlines several methods of increasing training intensity. Many of these strategies, designed to "shock" your muscles into growth, have fallen by the wayside and are being neglected by modern lifters. Maybe these modern guys have read so much about the science of training that they view these techniques as old-fashioned and perhaps even dangerous...or maybe they're just a bunch of sissified little girls!

Listen, don't think about it. Just resurrect some of these training gems and throw a few into your next workout.

1-10 system

Use this Austrian torture method with barbell curls and bench presses. Load up the bar with a weight that you can only handle for one maximal rep. Curl it or press it, then immediately strip off just enough weight so that you can get two reps. Again, take off just enough weight so that you can get three reps. Continue until you do a final set of ten reps. That'll be 55 reps. Now go find your left testicle. It rolled out of your shorts leg about halfway through the set.

I go, you go

Another "fun" way to do curls, grab an EZ-curl bar and a partner. Perform a set of curls and hand the bar to your buddy. He's going to try and beat your reps. Then, he hands it back to you, and the process continues until you're both doing singles. The bar never hits the floor. Just make sure that your training partner isn't a strength coach from Canada who's loaded up on Power Drive!

The platoon system

This oldie-but-a-goodie is also called "21s." If we're talking Arnold, we're talking biceps, so let's use curls as an example again. Perform a series of half reps in the lower range of motion, basically lifting the weight until the arms are parallel to the floor. Do seven reps. Without stopping, do another seven reps using only the upper range of motion. Again without resting, perform the final seven reps using the full range of motion. Disregard the blood running from your ears. Arnold, of course, did ten reps in each range of motion — big show off!

Forced negatives

The safety squad is really going to squeal about this one. Most weight trainers these days know the importance of eccentric or negative training. Arnie instinctively knew this, too, but he took it one step further. The next time you bench, curl, or perform military presses, have your partner apply extra resistance by pressing down on the bar on the negative portion. When benching, just pretend that you're the wicked witch and that little tramp Dorothy has just parked her farmhouse on your sorry ass. Fight the weight all the way down. As you fatigue, the original weight itself will provide enough resistance so that, in a sense, you're doing a descending set. Since negatives are largely responsible for soreness, forced negatives on the bench press will leave your chest feeling worse than Pamela Anderson Lee after the recent "desecration."

Running the rack

This is like the stripping method applied to dumbbells. Arnold used this technique with dumbbell presses. He would start with 100 pounds and press them until failure. Then he would go to 90 pounds without resting and pump out more until failure. He would continue this all the way down the rack. You can also try running up the rack first, performing fewer reps as you get heavier, and then working your way back down the rack.


Work until failure on a given exercise, then pause only a few seconds and knock out another rep or two. Rest a few more seconds, allowing for just a little recovery, and get another rep. Just don't put the bar down or rack it during the set. Arnold would use this with pull-ups, too. He would drop from the bar, take a few deep breaths, and continue.

The flushing method

Remember when Schwarzenegger saying that "having a pump is like having sex — I feel like I'm coming all day" to Johnny Carson? Well, me neither. Hell, I was nine years old. However, I'm told that it happened. One way to get that orgasmic pump involves using a light weight and holding it at various points during the path of the movement. For example, Arnold would use this with lateral raises by raising the weights only about five inches away from his thighs and holding them there for ten seconds. You'll know that you're doing it right when the lactic acid buildup makes the pain almost unbearable. Charles Poliquin has a similar method where you pause at various points while doing the eccentric portion of a pull-up. You'll be shaking like a victim of Parkinson's disease on a roller coaster by the end of the set. (Yeah, I know it's called neuromuscular failure, but let's not take the fun out of this, okay?)

You may have noticed that some of these methods sound very familiar. It seems that every modern "expert" has reinvented these techniques and given them his own scientific-sounding names. Of course, most of these intensity principles weren't original to the Oak, either, although he was one of the first to popularize them. For more of these advanced training principles, pull out that old copy of the "Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding" and read chapter four again. And listen to Arnold:

Never be satisfied with your development, learn to love the challenge and, most of all, stay hungry.

Now go have some chicken and a beer.

Chris Shugart is T Nation's Chief Content Officer and the creator of the Velocity Diet. As part of his investigative journalism for T Nation, Chris was featured on HBO’s "Real Sports with Bryant Gumble." Follow on Instagram