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If you’ve been reading this series on Muscle & Fitness or following me on Instagram, then you know that for four weeks, I took on the challenge of training like the great Arnold Schwarzenegger by following his legendary “double split” training routine from his days as Mr. Olympia. What started out as a proposal for me to try one of his workouts one time has culminated in me finishing what I consider one of bodybuilding’s greatest training challenges.
Before we get into the final results, here’s a brief look at what this process entailed. The competition program I followed was in his book “The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding.” A week of training like Arnold would look like this.
I would also have to train calves and abs every day. No bodypart required less than 20 work sets per workout. Almost all of them were combined into supersets and trisets. Each workout lasted close to two hours. In summary, I’ve performed 48 workouts that lasted almost 100 hours in total for a month. I trained for a total of 24 hours a week. Sunday was my only day off, and I assure you that I needed it.
Aside from the articles I was writing, I was also texting members of Arnold’s team as well as my editor for M&F to validate that I was actually doing these workouts. I used my social media to show the training and results as I progressed. I didn’t even shave my beard for a month so people watching can see that the before and after photos weren’t faked.
Simply going through the motions of these workouts wasn’t enough. I had to push myself each time I trained because as long as I was doing this, I wanted to get as much out of it as I could. Because of that, I pretty much lived with DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). I would have to take naps during the day to recover, and I used various recovery strategies to prepare for the next workouts such as foam rolling, percussive guns, hot and cold-water treatment, and lots of stretching.
This challenge took a toll on me mentally as well. Not only did I do this program alone, but I did it in the middle of winter in my unheated barn. I already know the question that came to your mind: “How cold did it get?” The coldest temperature I trained in was 24 degrees (thank you, Pacterra Athletics for the gear that kept me a little warmer during this freeze). Stuffy noses and headaches were the norm for quite some time. The good news for me was that I never got too sick, and I managed to finish every workout without cutting anything short.
Not having that person pushing me on and having to find ways to get myself up for the next workout was the toughest challenge of all. As someone who grew up with childhood domestic violence and was the victim of a lot of bullying growing up, I have a history of depression and losing my self-confidence. Some days were harder than others for obvious reasons, but I’m writing this so, spoiler alert: I found a way and got the job done.
All of that combined with the family commitments that I was determined not to miss, and the several miles I would have to travel in order to do that, and you can imagine how much of a grind this was. One example was after I did the third leg workout of the week, then had to drive for over an hour that evening. I stayed in the car as long as possible because I wanted to make sure I could walk without too much of a limp.
Now, here’s what many people reading this may be wondering: how did it go? I set a goal of losing 20 pounds from start to finish. Unfortunately, I got a cold at the end, but I still managed to drop 16 pounds on the scale. I dropped two pants sizes as well. I also got stronger. When I first started the program, I could only incline bench press 225 for 6 reps. By the end, I pressed 255 for 6, and I got 260 for 4 reps after that.
Before starting this, I hadn’t squatted in six months. I found other ways to train legs instead. On the first squat workout, I didn’t go over 185 pounds for 15 reps. By the last leg workout four weeks later, I squatted 225 for 20. I was thinking about Ed Corney in “Pumping Iron” during every rep too. That was the first time I had ever squatted that much weight for that many reps. I was always more into powerlifting-styled training, so anything over 5 under a bar was cardio.
Arnold would occasionally share my posts on social media, and he acknowledged this series and program on one of his newsletters, which helped add fuel to the fire for the final week. Once the last workout was over, I allowed myself three treat meals for the rest of the weekend, but that was it. I will need a full week to deload and recover, but all in all, I feel ok physically and am already planning out my next training program,
Mentally, I’m ecstatic because I managed to not only push myself to an extreme that I never previously thought was possible, but I was able to inspire other people along the way by sharing the journey. My wife was the one who cemented my fate to take this on when she told me that I could do it. I hope that my four-week odyssey shows others that they may be capable of far more than they realized. Limits are self-imposed more often than not, and you’re capable of far more than you may think now.
Arnold and his team are developing an app that will feature fitness programs of all levels so you can achieve your own personal fitness success. You could also get his book to find different routines to challenge you like I did when I bought my first copy many years ago, and my second copy this year because I wore the binding of the first copy out.
If you want to test yourself at a higher level and have the desire and time to commit, you can also use this version of the double split that has previously been shared with M&F. I had a pretty well-equipped home gym so I didn’t have to worry about working around others or waiting on equipment. So, if you try this program in a commercial gym, do the best you can with the surroundings you’re in.
Despite my workouts being primarily a solo act, there was a team behind this challenge who helped me throughout the month. My personal thanks go out to Arnold as well as two members of his team, Daniel and Noah, who put up with a lot of messages and saw lots of videos and numbers from me. I also want to thank Jeff Tomko and everyone at M&F for their support throughout this process. And last but not least, my family for their understanding and support throughout this journey.