Even by today’s standards, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s arms were, at their peak, impressive and many agree that when it comes to biceps developmentArnold Schwarzenegger has never been bettered. With arms stretching the tape to nearly two feet, they were his one- two knockout punches in his seven Mr. Olympia victories, punctuating a physique that was also, head to toe, ahead of its time.Speaking of peak, his biceps had plenty—his right one in particular, which he cannily displayed more often than his left. His triceps, while perhaps slightly less imposing than his biceps, showed a remarkably full horseshoe when at his sides and in his signature side- arm pose. Sometimes maligned for his forearm development, Arnold’s lower arm limbs actually complemented his uppers perfectly, and while they may not have impressed in repose, they jumped to life when he hit his biceps shots, seeming to double in thickness and vascularity.

SEE ALSO: Arnold’s Complete Physical Evolution

Over the past five decades, the question has been asked: “How can I get my arms to look like Arnold’s?” In short, you can’t. Just as you were born with your own unique set of genetic attributes, so was Arnold, and among his was the DNA for a stunning set of pipes. That said, hope isn’t lost. Arnold hammered his biceps hard, using myriad advanced training principles. He also mastered the art/science of visualization, which allowed him to almost will his biceps’ transformation from mere muscles to mountains.. It’s founded on principles Arnold read about in this very magazine when he was cutting his teeth in the gym. Just as his idol, Reg Park, influenced the training of young Arnold, so, too, can you follow the formula that worked so well for the Austrian Oak. It’s based on tried-and-true techniques that have been serving the bodybuilding community since Day 1. And that’s what we have here: a 42-set of nuts-and-bolts moves with a high- intensity barrage that annihilated, and consequently grew, the biceps, triceps, and forearms of the man many label the best bodybuilder the world has ever seen.

From Tiny Seeds Grow Mighty Oaks

It’s significant (and encouraging) to note that Schwarzenegger wasn’t born with massive guns. In fact, when he first started training seriously, in 1962, the 15-year-old future Austrian Oak was a mere sapling—all six feet and 150 pounds of him. But, he’s quick to point out, “When I was 10 years old, I was already flexing my arms every day. By the time I started bodybuilding at age 15, biceps were the most noticeable muscle group on my body. By flexing my biceps so much, I’d learned to control them more completely. This mind-link ability then translated into my bodybuilding when I began training with weights. When I did a curl, it felt special, because I could instantly sense blood rushing into the muscle.”

See the Biceps. Be the Biceps.

Many of us are aware of the mind games Schwarzenegger played in an effort to psych out his opponents come competition time (as illustrated in the film Pumping Iron). However, he didn’t reserve such tactics only for Lou Ferrigno, Franco Columbu or Sergio Oliva. In fact, the person to whom he applied his most intense psychological stratagems was himself.

“Throughout my bodybuilding career,” Schwarzenegger reflects, “I was constantly playing tricks on my mind. This is why I began to think of my biceps as mountains, instead of flesh and blood. Thinking of my biceps as mountains made my arms grow faster and bigger than if I’d seen them only as muscles.” He continues, “When you think of biceps as merely muscles, you subconsciously have a limit in your mind, which for biceps is something in the area of 20” or 21”. When you limit yourself to that measurement, it is very hard to get to that level and, needless to say, impossible to get past it. But when you think about mountains, there is no limit to biceps growth, and therefore you have a chance of going beyond normal mental barriers.”

That being said, Schwarzenegger makes the point that it is important to temper our zeal with a healthy dose of pragmatism. “Enthusiasm is extremely important at all levels of bodybuilding. However, a beginner must learn to be satisfied with small gains —overjoyed, in fact. He must not be told that giant gains come easily, or that he can get super big overnight as long as he trains like a champion. His progress should be a history of small successes, and he should look forward to each gain with great anticipation.” But always keep your eye on the prize.

“Whether it’s muscle or money, you have to make it with your mind,” reminds the Oak. “I once asked a fellow whom I had seen train for four years whether he had ever thought of winning the Mr. Universe. His answer was ‘Nah, I could never do that.’ He was right. With that attitude, he could never experience serious progress.” Got your head on straight now? Good! Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.


A Shocking Development

As he did with every aspect of his life, Arnold Schwarzenegger analyzed exactly what steps would be required for him to build the greatest biceps ever. Although his earliest biceps workouts consisted primarily of barbell and dumbbell curls, as he became exposed to American bodybuilding magazines, he picked up new exercises, such as the preacher curl.

By the age of 19, Schwarzenegger had already devised a method of training biceps unlike any other—one to which his still-developing muscles couldn’t help but respond. “A typical training program would include barbell curls, dumbbell curls (seated or standing), preacher bench curls and concentration curls. Keep in mind, though, that the way I trained changed a lot of times, because I’d always try to shock the muscles,” Schwarzenegger says. “I recall days when my training partners and I would do 20 extremely heavy sets of biceps work, with only four or five reps each set. Another day—maybe only two days later—we would do 10 more sets, 15 reps each, using a lighter weight.

“This shocking method was extremely important to my training. Your muscles tend to become complacent and resist growth if you are constantly doing the same workout for them. But if you try all different types of training methods, exercises, weights, set-rep combinations and training tempos, you keep the muscles off balance. They sort of say to themselves, ‘Wow, there’s a new thing here. He just did 10 sets of 20 reps, and the next workout he’ll do 20 sets of five reps. I’ll never get used to this. I can never build up a resistance to the training, so I guess I’ll have to grow!’”

And his arms did just that. They grew to 17 inches when he was 17, 18 inches at 18 and past 19 inches by the time he was 19. In fact, Schwarzenegger used this seemingly haphazard, yet carefully planned, system of shocking his biceps to stretch the tape measure past the 20-inch mark. Interestingly, despite the great success he achieved with this program, he instinctively knew he could create even bigger and, more important, better biceps by making a few alterations to his training system.


Ever the perfectionist, the Oak decided to modify what had been a wildly successful biceps routine for him. Whereas previously his sole concern was with packing on beef, now, as a professional competitor, he realized that he’d have to become more discriminating as to how and where he placed it.

To this end, he chose to break up his biceps training into two distinct routines: offseason, which comprised the nine months following the Mr. Olympia contest, and pre-contest, which accounted for the three months leading up to the Olympia. The offseason routine concentrated on building quality mass, while the pre-contest routine focused on etching crystalline detail into his massive boulders of muscle.

Do as I Say, Not as I Do

It could be argued that Arnold Schwarzenegger is at least as, if not more, physiologically gifted than any pro bodybuilder ever. His recuperative powers are almost otherworldly and his threshold for pain legendary. So trying to emulate either of these two workouts may not be advisable, or feasible, for even an experienced bodybuilder.

But, gifted or not, Schwarzenegger can also be credited with being history’s hardest thinking bodybuilder. Nothing he ever did throughout his bodybuilding career was accidental or haphazard, which means his programs can serve as tried-and-true templates for your own bodybuilding success, regardless of your experience level or development. “For beginners, I’d simply advise doing five sets of barbell curls and five sets of dumbbell curls—10 total sets of eight to12 repetitions,” Schwarzenegger says. “Concentrate on a strict movement, and try to gain some strength. Experiment with different curling arcs until you find the one that puts maximum resistance on your biceps.” After training for a year or so, a bodybuilder is considered to be at the intermediate level, at which point Schwarzenegger advises, “I’d look at your biceps development and determine where you have weak points. Then I’d give you a tailored program to bring these weaker areas of your biceps up to par. “If you lack biceps fullness,” he continues, “do heavy dumbbell curls. If you lack peak, do everything with dumbbells. Do plenty of concentration curls and dumbbell curls lying back on a high bench, like Reg Park used to do them.” Schwarzenegger says 12 sets total for biceps should serve the intermediate bodybuilder nicely.

Finally, Schwarzenegger reserves his most surprising bit of advice for advanced trainers. “The biggest post-intermediate-level mistake is to burn the biceps out. Biceps are basically a small muscle group, and you can’t do too much for them without overtraining,” instructs the Terminator of training. So, what constitutes overtraining? “I’d say the upper limit for biceps would be 15 sets in a hard workout, but I see all kinds of bodybuilders doing 25 to 30 sets on a regular basis.” Not that there would be anything wrong with hitting the biceps with 25 to 30 sets per workout—if your name happened to be Schwarzenegger.

Hasta la Vista

Schwarzenegger spilled the beans and gave readers his sage advice for building massive biceps; now it’s your turn to put his wisdom to use. Put this magazine down, get to the gym and start bombing! Before you do, let the Oak offer you one last bit of wisdom, an axiom regarding muscle growth that spurred him through every workout to ultimate success: “It’s a case of mind over matter. If you’ve got the mind for it, only one thing matters—reaching your goal. And you will!

The Grand Scheme: 10 Arnold-Approved Tips

The workout we selected is a precontest routine (as opposed to an off-season program) that Arnold used during his bodybuilding heyday. His arm training can be broken down and discussed in terms of macro principles (sets, reps, and any other non-exercise-specific practices) and micro principles (specific exercise technique). First, the macros:

10. Use Supersets

Arnold was a proponent of supersetting biceps and triceps, just as he did with chest and back. Going into a competition he wanted to achieve a maximal pump during each work- out and, as he once put it, “zoom in on chiseling in all the cuts and shape possible.” Supersetting provided him that oppor- tunity. Off-season, he often trained bi’s and tri’s individually with straight sets, even if he did them in the same workout.

9. Use Fewer Sets, Higher Reps, Less Rest

Arnold did slightly fewer total sets and used higher reps for arms precontest. Off-season biceps or triceps workouts might feature four exercises with five to six sets of six to eight reps each. His precontest routine still includes four exercises but with four sets of eight to 10 reps. He also cut rest periods to a minimum; he didn’t rest during supersets and often wouldn’t even rest between supersets.

8. Use a Higher Frequency

In the off-season, when maximum size was his goal, Arnold would typ- ically train arms twice a week. Precontest, this was bumped up to three days a week, again to fully pump and define the arms. This essentially negated the lower volume he used in each workout.

7. Don’t Forget Forearms

Arnold didn’t rely on biceps or back training to work his forearms; he regularly performed wrist curls and reverse curls both off-season and pre- contest.“You must bomb your forearms with as heavy a poundage as you are capable of,” he once said. “The laws of muscle physiology…apply to the forearms in the same manner as they do to all muscle groups.”

At certain times in his career Arnold liked to train forearms daily. We don’t expect you to do that, but his set total from workout to workout is doable. He aimed for at least 10 sets of forearms after bi’s and trio’s. Arnold’s off-season forearm training split up forearm flexion exercises (wrist curls) and extension moves (reverse curls, reverse wrist curls). As you can see from the routine, his superset incorporates a flexion and an extension exercise, as his precontest program wasn’t designed to build bigger forearms as much as more detailed ones.

All in the Details

As you can imagine, the Oak was extremely particular about how he performed each exercise in his routine. Strict form was a high priority. Hence, the following micro principles that applied to his biceps and triceps exercises.

Arnolds Top Biceps Tips


6. Find the dumbbell rack and supinate

Arnold wasn’t concerned with building only bigger biceps, he was über-focused on accentuating his biceps’ peak. To achieve this, he trained with dumbbells as well as barbells. “No amount of barbell curls could produce the same intense contraction and resulting soreness of the biceps that I got from rotating the palm outward as far as I could at the top part of the dumbbell curling motion,” Arnold was quoted as saying in an issue of Muscle Builder (the forebear of M&F).

This palm rotation, called supinating, is what Arnold believed helped him peak his biceps more than anything. It’s simple, yet painful, to do: At the top of each rep of a dumbbell curl, turn your palm outward to where your pinkie finger is closer to you than the rest of your hand, and squeeze the peak contraction hard. “The pain of con- traction is incredible! Remember, there’s no growth without pain.”

5. Let the Hand Lag

Arnold also believed in another technique to bring out the peak in his biceps, which involved letting the hand “lag.” Most people keep their wrists straight and turn them only at the top of each rep when curling with dumbbells. Arnold let the dumbbell settle on his fingers, keeping the wrists extended as he curled the weight up. He felt this resulted in a longer lever arm and allowed him to achieve a stronger contraction.

4. Slow Down the Reps

When shaping and peaking was the objective, Arnold stressed applying strict form to all biceps exercises, using moderately slow rep speeds so “the biceps feel it every inch of the way up and down.”

Arnold’s Top Triceps Tips


3. Don’t Go Too Heavy

Using a manageable weight is a good tip for any body part, but Arnold was adamant when it con- cerned the triceps. He felt many bodybuilders went way too heavy with this muscle group. On cable pressdowns, he once said: “Many guys pack on so much weight that they’re forced to depend on the pectorals, the front deltoids, the abdominals, the intercostals, and the triceps. This means the effectiveness of the movement is split up too many ways.”

2. Isolate the Heads

Look at Arnold’s exercise selection for tri’s: one overhead movement, one using a reverse grip, another ly- ing down, and then a standard press- down. The Oak masterfully varied exercises to focus on the particular triceps heads individually. “Triceps exercises must be isolated to work all three muscle heads properly,” he said. “Consequently, you must know which exercises best affect each head.” Overhead triceps exercises target the long head; pressdowns
hit the lateral head; and reverse- grip variations zero in on the `medial head.

1. Again – Don’t Cheat!

Arnold noticed lots of guys letting their form slip on triceps moves. “You mustn’t take the cheating prin- ciple too far,” he said. “Each exercise is designed to work a specific muscle in a particular way. Focus your full attention on each repetition.”

Using Arnold’s Routine

Sure, the arm routine here worked for Arnold, but knocking it out three days a week for the majority of us is a bit, well, excessive. Here’s some advice for making the routine more feasible. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a one-in-a-million kind of guy, if not a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon.

“No kidding,” you say. “Why are you telling us something we’ve known since we had muscles worth flexing?” By overstating the painfully obvious, we hope to make the point that as a uniquely gifted athlete, Arnold was capable of doing things in a gym that most mere mortals might find overtaxing if not damn near impossible.

Even in advanced athletes, symptoms of overtraining, including chronic fatigue and injury, can result from trying to follow Arnold’s workouts to a T.

That being said, we believe that all bodybuilders—young and old, novice and pro—can benefit by following the principles presented by Arnold in this article. Because bodybuilding is such an individual activity, it only makes sense that you should tailor every routine to your personal capabilities and goals anyway. Unless you’re at an advanced level, we advise you not to try to emulate the volume of work Arnold did for biceps. If you’re a beginner or an intermediate trainee, do two or three sets per exercise from his offseason routine and see how it goes. If you’re an advanced competitive bodybuilder, we recommend that you confine yourself to performing three of the five pre-contest sets.

Arnold’s Off-Season Routine

Arnold Schwarzenegger arms workout

When bulking up, Schwarzenegger would follow a six-day split, hitting arms twice per week. Incredibly, each arm workout would take a full two hours: 45 minutes for triceps, 45 minutes for biceps and 30 minutes for forearms, in that order. “The severity of using absolute maximum poundage for each exercise of this super- bombing routine requires three to four days of rest between arm workouts so that full recuperation and maximum growth occur,” Schwarzenegger instructs. Breaking down curls into two main categories—mass building and isolation—Schwarzenegger chose two exercises from each group to ensure that he would build not just mass, but quality mass.




Cheating Barbell Curl



Incline Dumbbell Curl



One-Arm Concentration Curl



Standing Alternate Dumbbell Curl



1) Cheating Barbell Curl

Before Arnold got into his precontest routine (during which his intention was to shape and define his arms), he had to develop mass in his biceps, and the stand- ing barbell curl was his preferred means of achieving this goal. He often referred to this exercise as the “cheat curl” because he would put a touch of body English into each rep to get the weight up. 

“The cheating barbell curl stands alone for building mass. I start the movement with the barbell at the thighs, with a shoulder-width grip, and nudge it into motion with a slight body movement. This gives me sufficient momentum to pass any sticking points as long as I keep concentrating. I go to full biceps flexion, then lower the bar slowly to the starting position. Since the palms face up, I get the benefit of supination, which peaks up the outer head of the biceps during full flexion, as well as developing thickness through the central section of the muscle.”

2) Incline Dumbbell Curl

“I lie on a 45-degree incline bench. I prefer the low incline because it permits the biceps to fully extend at the bottom of the movement and remain under this tension during the entire movement upward. One of the rules of muscle kinetics says that the greater the initial tension on the muscle, the greater the number of contracting fibers during flexion. Therefore, when you have a lot of fibers contracting all at once, you are building mass. I strive for full extension and full contraction.” At this point, his arms engorged with oxygen-carrying blood, Schwarzenegger would move on to the isolation movements.

3) One-Arm Concentration Curl

Arnold had a couple of particulars concerning concentration curls: 1) He started each rep with the back of his hand facing forward, not his palm, then rotated his wrist a full 180 degrees by the end of the rep to increase range of motion. 2) Arnold always curled the weight up to his deltoid, not his chest, which he felt put more stress on the biceps’ outer head and accentuated its peak. 

“This one is done in a standing bent-over position using the free arm for support against a bench. Form during this concentration curl movement becomes highly critical. The tendency prevails, even among the most experienced bodybuilders, to draw the elbow in toward the chest during this movement. The elbow must not move from the vertical plane of the curling movement. The upper arm must remain vertical, and the dumbbell must be curled to the shoulder. Although it seems like a restricting uncomfortable movement, it remains the secret to peak biceps development.”

Finally, with his arms screaming for mercy, Schwarzenegger would head back to the dumbbell rack for a final assault with his fourth exercise.

4) Standing Alternate Dumbbell Curl

“As the dumbbell is curled, the hand is supinated as though trying to touch the little finger to the outer head of the biceps at the peak of the contraction. With this movement, you get that famous little burst of muscle that peaks up the outer biceps head and lends the ultimate touch to any kind of biceps pose. So you must remember to twist the hand as you curl. The biceps come into play quite strongly to supinate your hands, as well as to flex the arms. This little twist gave me separation, brachialis development and lower biceps thickness.”

Arnold’s Pre-Contest Routine

Arnold Schwarzenegger arms workout

“Three months before a contest, I would change my arm routine completely,” says the Oak. “My goal now was to zoom in on chiseling in all the cuts and shape possible. I’d cut down on my sets and go to a superset style of training and try to get a maximum pump each workout.”

During this period, Schwarzenegger would shift into overdrive, training each entire arm in superset fashion with little or no rest between the supersets. Being that he was now working on a six-day double split (two workouts per day, six days per week), he’d be blasting his arms with this grueling routine three times each week. And you thought his mass-building routine was a bear!

But there’s more. “When I was zeroing in for a big contest, I’d stand in front of the mirror between sets for biceps and flex my arms, holding the flex for a minute, maybe two, even three minutes. I’d do that because contest posing is hard. Having muscle is one thing, but having control over it and endurance are two others.”




Superset 1



Incline Dumbbell Curl



Triceps Pushdown



Superset 2



Standing Alternate Dumbbell Curl



One-Arm Overhead Extension



Superset 3



Preacher Curl



Lying French Press



Superset 4



Concentration Curl



Reverse Triceps Pushup



Superset 5



Reverse Preacher Curl



Barbell Wrist Curl