Arnold's Alphabet

Arnold Schwarzenegger's Most Important Workout Tips From A-Z
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You probably figure that you mastered the ABCs of bodybuilding during your first month in a gym. But what about the D’s and E’s and even the Q’s and Z’s? Get out your notepad and No. 2 pencil. What follows is an alphabeti
cal training primer from the legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger. It begins with fundamentals—A (abs), B (biceps), C (calves)—but the seven-time Mr. Olympia adds his unique take on each. This guide, true to Arnold himself, will veer far off beaten paths when the Austrian Oak serves up unexpected workout concepts like hypnosis, visualization, and sweating it out in the altogether. Even the 13th Mr. O, Phil Heath, could learn from this lexicon as Mr. O No. 3 reveals the secrets that made him, arguably, the greatest bodybuilder of all-time. Everyone should take notes as Arnold dishes out his A to Z workout advice.

 

A is for Abs

“One common mistake bodybuilders make is neglecting abdominal training. They seem to feel abs are less important than chest, arms, and other big muscles, and they think they have plenty of time to develop abs later on when they’re preparing to get onstage or go to the beach. Don’t be deluded. Always work your abs. I worked abs at least every other day and often every day. One trick I used throughout the day was to constantly suck my abs in and hold that for as long as I could. I’d do that repeatedly, because not only did it remind me to keep my waist as small as possible, but it’s also an excellent isometric exercise.”

 

B is for Biceps

“I like partials as a way of keeping a set going. This is a great technique for barbell curls. Try doing half reps after you’ve done 10 full reps. Instead of putting the weight down, do, say, five or six half reps, letting the weight descend to about halfway before curling it up to the shoulders again.”

 

C is for Calves

“To turn my calves from a weakness to a strength, I copied the calf routine of [1965 pro Mr. Universe] Reg Park, making a few adjustments to suit my own individual body. The idea was to train my calves at least five times a week, if not seven, using the heaviest possible weights. Soon I was using twice my previous resistance but not worrying at all about the number of repetitions. The program called for a minimum of 10 sets per day, which gave me a deep burn. I stuck mostly to donkey calf raises and the standing calf machine, and I always worked calves first, when I was freshest. Probably the biggest secret of improving my lower legs was that I paid special attention to them for years.”

 

D is for Double split

“All during my Olympia reign, I trained twice per day. For example, I’d do chest and back in the morning and legs in the afternoon. Bodybuilding was my job, so I could devote four to six hours to training six days per week. I realize most people don’t have that luxury. Still, if you have the time you can benefit from doing a big body part like thighs in one workout and smaller body parts like calves and abs in a separate workout on the same day.”

 

E is for Experimentation

“I’m constantly changing my exercises. I believe all exercises are effective. Some movements work better for one bodybuilder than for another, but that’s something that can be decided only through experimentation. You must do every exercise in the book. That’s the only way to figure out which ones work best for you.”

 

F is for Flexing

“If you’re a competitive bodybuilder, you can never practice posing too 
much, and, whether you compete or not, hitting poses is excellent exercise.
 Flexing your muscles helps flush the area with blood and builds a greater mind-to-muscle connection. Remember, when you pose a muscle, you’re contracting it, and this constitutes a kind of isometric training. I know of bodybuilders who hardly do any training in the gym a week or so before a contest. All they do is pose, hour after hour, and they end up fantastically cut. This is one of Joe Weider’s tricks.”

 

G is for Gyms

“Almost every bodybuilding star in the world started training at home, myself included. I made tremendous progress the first
 year. After that, I hit a sticking point due 
to a lack of equipment. Also I was missing the inspiration that comes from training with people who were better than me. So 
I joined a professional gym, and my gains practically doubled overnight. You can develop a magnificent body by training at home, but to make it to the top, you must train with the best equipment and where the greatest training knowledge is available. In both instances, that place will be a fully equipped commercial gym, preferably one where some of your fellow members are experienced bodybuilders.”

 

H is for Hypnosis

“When people see me doing concentration curls with my eyes closed, they think I’m focused on doing the exercise. Actually, I’m really thinking about a mountain of muscle— a giant, unreal biceps, more than 30 inches around. At times like that, I function in another dimension, far above the mundane business of doing simple reps. it’s a kind of self-hypnosis, a way of making the muscle function beyond its own rational ‘thinking.’ The muscle obeys under hypnosis. It becomes very suggestible, and it tries to give substance to illusion.”

 

I is for Instinct

“As a bodybuilder, you must go through all the preliminary stages to learn how your body reacts to everything—training, nutrition, and recuperation. As you’re training, you’re developing your instincts, developing your sensitivity so you can ‘hear’ what your body is telling you. This takes about a year. But once you’ve gone through all the trial and error and learned to listen to your body, you’re ready to perfect a method of exercising and nutrition that works best for you. At this point, you can use your instincts to make subtle, responsive changes day to day and set to set to maximize your gains.”

 

J is for Juxtaposition

“Supersetting has long been part of my workouts. I’ll superset a chest exercise with a back exercise or a biceps exercise with a triceps exercise or a quadriceps exercise with a hamstrings exercise. That way I’m working both sides of an area, stretching and contracting in opposite exercises, and one pumps up the other to keep the blood in the area. Juxtapositioning exercises has always been a key to my muscle growth.”

 

K is for Knowledge

“If I had to name just one component for workout success, it would be knowledge. Never think you know everything. As soon as you get complacent, your muscles also get complacent and that means they have no reason to grow. I am constantly trying to learn more from expert trainers, from other bodybuilders, from books, and from my own body. Everything I learn contributes to my growth—whether I discover something that works for me or I try something that doesn’t work and I can therefore move my workouts in a more effective direction.”

 

L is for Loose form

“All champion bodybuilders use some form of cheating in their workouts, some more than others. The cheating principle works best in conjunction with strict training. Start a set in strict style and continue until you can’t complete another strict rep. Then continue past the sticking point, using body momentum for two or three cheating reps. Cheating doesn’t work for every exercise. Don’t cheat squats, for example. But it’s great for things like curls and side laterals.”

 

M is for Mental picture

 

“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.”

 

N is for Nonchalance

“I see guys in the gym all the time who put on an act about going to war against the weights. They stalk all about or they shout or make a big commotion to get ready for every lift. I’ve never wasted any of my valuable energy on that stuff. I’m the opposite. I’m very nonchalant the whole time I’m in the gym. Between sets, I’m probably joking with Franco [Columbu]. During the set, I’m always focused, but before and after the set I’m not trying to increase stress. Instead, I want to keep stress as low as possible so I can save energy for the next set.”

 

O is for Overtraining

“Most of the time overtraining is just another word for under-resting or under-eating. A lot of bodybuilders use overtraining as an excuse for under-working. Of course, overtraining is a real thing, and, of course, you need to beware of it. However, if your gains stall, I recommend you first look at the things you’re doing outside of the gym to recover from your workouts. It’s more likely the problem lies there and not with what you do inside the gym.”

 

P is for Partner

“From my earliest days of training in Austria, I always had a training partner. Usually, I trained with two partners. That way there was always at least one person there to encourage me and spot me and watch my form. It’s important to have partners who can keep up with you and push you. I liked training with Franco, because he was so strong, and the camaraderie kept the workouts fun.”

 

Q is for Quads

“Building up my legs was hard because
I have long leg muscles. The long-legged bodybuilder has to use a wider variety of exercises. And you have to keep varying your routine so your muscles are constantly surprised by the demands you’re putting on them. I also think legs respond best to a few more reps, not 8–10 per set, more like 12–15.”

 

R is for Rest

“You don’t grow in the gym. In fact, it’s the only time you’re not growing. You break down your muscles when you train, and the remainder of the day you build them back up. the key to this is getting plenty of quality rest. When I trained twice a day, I used to go home or to the beach and nap between workouts. I’d also always made sure I got at least eight hours of sleep each night and often more like nine or 10. I thought of sleep or even just rest as growing time, and, as the name suggests, that time is crucial to bodybuilding success.”

 

S is for Shocking

“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 sets of 15 reps, using a lighter weight. This shocking method was extremely important to my training. Your muscles tend to resist growth if you’re constantly doing the same workout for them. But if you try all different types of training methods, weights, set-rep combinations, and training tempos you keep the muscles off balance and growing.”

 

T is for Too Heavy

“The biggest mistake bodybuilders make is they use too much weight and consequently a whole lot of other muscles are forced to come into play, negating much of the desired effect. For example, in doing triceps pushdowns, many guys pack on so much weight that they’re forced to depend on pectorals, front deltoids, abdominals, intercostals, and triceps, which means the effectiveness is split up too many ways. They turn an isolation exercise like pushdowns into a compound exercise! Always choose a weight you can manage with good form for at least six reps.”

 

U is for Unclothed

“At first when my calves were a weakness, I kept them all covered up in sweatpants. But then when I really wanted to focus on bringing them up, I cut my sweatpants off at the knees so everyone always saw my calves. This motivated me even more to put in the work to bring them up to the same level as the rest of me. If you have a weakness, don’t hide it away. Expose it so you and everyone can see it, and let that drive you even harder to turn that weakness into a strength.”

 

V is for Volume

“At first when my calves were a weakness, I kept them all covered up in sweatpants. But then when I really wanted to focus on bringing them up, I cut my sweatpants off at the knees so everyone always saw my calves. This motivated me even more to put in the work to bring them up to the same level as the rest of me. If you have a weakness, don’t hide it away. Expose it so you and everyone can see it, and let that drive you even harder to turn that weakness into a strength.”

 

W is for Watching

“The mirror is a valuable workout tool, just like barbells or benches. It helps me stay in the groove on a lot of standing exercises. For example, when squatting, in order to see myself in the mirror I have to keep my head up. That forces me to come up with my back more vertical, which shifts more of the weight to my legs and less to my back.”

 

X is for X frame

“Width is one thing you can never have too much of. No one ever said a bodybuilder was too wide. I sometimes would train lats with shoulders to focus my whole workout on the width around the top of my X frame: upper lats and delts. One would pump up the other and stretch out my whole upper body. Actually, one of the best feelings you can have as a bodybuilder is to feel as though you’re so wide you won’t fit through any doorway.”

 

Y is for You

“There are so many different opinions regarding bodybuilding, you have to experiment and discover which system suits you best. It’s all well and good reading what a champion has to say, but be prepared to put some work into discovering what methods suit your particular circumstances best. Such things as your physical structure and your work or school schedule have to be considered when planning your routine. You might find yourself changing your ideas every six months or so. I did. Find what works for you, and be prepared to change it when it stops working.”

 

Z is for Zest

“The greatest secret to my bodybuilding success was how much fun I had. Other bodybuilders see all they have to do as a burden, but I never did. Without a zest for training your hardest every time you step in the gym, you’re never going to get the most out of your workouts.”

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