Edge

Arnold Schwarzenegger's Muscle-Building Mental Strategy

Arnold’s ability to outthink his peers made him the greatest.

Arnold Schwarzenegger
Hulton Archive / Stringer

One needs to look no further than Pumping Iron (1976) for evidence of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s psychological mastery as he playfully but persistently dogged rival Lou Ferrigno at every turn to gain a mental edge onstage.

But that’s not the only instance of how the mind can be your most valuable asset when it comes to training. Putting your brain to work on every single rep is a habit that you should actively work toward every time you set foot in the gym.

As Arnold put it: “While you’re doing an exercise, if you concentrate and visualize your muscles growing while commanding and demanding them to grow, the results will come much faster. The mental picture you form of what you want to be and what you want to accomplish can greatly aid your progress toward attaining those goals. I focused all of my mental concentration on accomplishing my goal whenever I was at the gym. Every repetition of every set was done with intense concentration. I visualized each exercise, completed each repetition and set as bringing me closer to my goal.”

Visualizing the end game is also a huge game changer for those willing to engage in the practice.

“When people see me doing concentration curls with my eyes closed, they think I’m focused on doing the exercise,” he says. “Actually, I’m really thinking about a mountain of muscle—a giant, unreal biceps, more than 30 inches around. It’s a kind of self-hypnosis, a way of making the muscle function beyond its own rational ‘thinking.’”

Arnold has also repeatedly stressed the importance of avoiding negative people, never admitting defeat—not even to the weights—and entering each workout with clear vision and purpose.

So in a way, flexing your gray matter is the key to building the mass that you so desperately crave. Additionally, if you want to build a physique like Arnold’s, it’s important to remember that his was one that was built simply with uncomplicated tactics and uncommon resolve.

Check out nine of Arnold’s old-school routines and the methodology behind each one.

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