The Oak's Unique Lifts

In and out of the gym, Arnold Schwarzenegger did it his way.


Of all the qualities that distinguish Arnold Schwarzenegger from the rest of us, some are as simple to pinpoint as a shoulder press or a calf raise. Nearly from the beginning of his bodybuilding career, people have followed his path, hoping to duplicate some of his success. The unique exercises in the Oak’s regimen in the mid-’70s became popular primarily because he was doing them. Now, four decades later, many of them have fallen into disuse — typically because they’re more difficult to master than less-effective alternatives. Here are some exercises that helped Schwarzenegger win seven Mr. Olympia titles, but even so, most modern trainers don’t do them.

Incorporate them into your own workouts and experience what made the Oak grow.


You know a lift is unique to you when it bears your name. Arnold presses are dumbbell shoulder presses with a crucial twist. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder level with your palms facing you and your elbows near your sides (as if at the top position of dumbbell curls). Your thumbs are facing out. Then, as you press the dumbbells up, rotate your hands so that your thumbs point toward each other. In the top position (just short of lockout), your palms are facing forward. Reverse the twist during the descent. Schwarzenegger did these for the greater range of motion they afforded, stimulating the front delts, in particular, from a different angle.


Before the rise of the donkey calf machine, the current California governor performed these with Franco Columbu and one or two other pals riding on his back. Place your toes on a block, rest your elbows on a high bench, and have someone (preferably a beautiful woman) sit on your lower back. Raise your heels up and down, getting a maximum stretch and contraction for each rep. Sure, it looks ridiculous — all the more so because bodyweight donkey calf raises are rarely performed today. You may not always have access to a machine and, even if you do, the “old-school way” provides a freer movement. This exercise was a major contributor to Schwarzenegger’s phenomenal calf growth.

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