Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Arm Workout, Explained and Remixed for All Experience Levels

Here’s how to build arms like Arnold, no matter your experience level.

A bodybuilder’s arms are their calling card. You could make a case for other muscles being more important in the eyes of a judge at a physique show, but nothing drops jaws and turns heads like a pair of thick and muscular arms.

Arnold Schwarzenegger knew that. It inspired him to make his arms among the best ever seen on a bodybuilding stage, and his arms undoubtedly contributed to his legendary run at the highest echelons of the sport.

Luckily for the layman physique enthusiast, Schwarzenegger publicized his approach to biceps and triceps training for current and future generations to study and learn from.

These workouts are how Schwarzenegger built some of the most impressive arms in bodybuilding history. Note that the workouts herein were pulled from Muscle & Fitness, a magazine that Schwarzenegger has graced the cover of dozens of times. The workouts below are just two of many different routines that Schwarzenegger published throughout his career. 

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Bodybuilding Workouts for Arms

A Word of Advice

Before you dive right into Schwarzenegger’s arm workouts, a word of caution. Following the training style of your favorite bodybuilder, whether they be a golden-era great or a rising star in the modern day, isn’t guaranteed to give you the same results as them.

Putting aside the genetic differences in how people respond to exercise, the workouts employed by your favorite bodybuilder in their prime may not necessarily be what they did to get to that level in the first place.


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[Related: 12 of the Biggest Men’s Bodybuilders of All Time]

Moreover, professional physique athletes make physical training the centerpieces of their livelihoods. They also spend many years adjusting to the intense workloads required to succeed at the highest levels of the sport. 

All that to say — temper your expectations. If everyone could achieve Schwarzenegger’s physique by following his workouts to the letter, the landscape of modern bodybuilding would look quite different.

The Arnold Schwarzenegger Arm Workout(s)

Like many of his predecessors (and those that have followed in his wake), Schwarzenegger adhered to two different styles of training during the year — he would have off-season workouts, focused on muscle growth and strength-building, and separate workouts strictly for competitive preparation. 

Below, you can find two different variations of Schwarzenegger’s approach to arm training. The first workout is more appropriate for the off-season (or a bulking phase if you’re a recreational lifter), while the second more closely align with the needs of a bodybuilder in close proximity to a big show. 

The Workout — Off-Season

Schwarzenegger worked predominantly with supersets to build his iconic arms. As such, you’ll notice his arm workouts consist of multiple supersets working both the biceps and triceps.

  • Barbell Cheat Curl: 5-8 x 8-12
  • Incline Dumbbell Curl: 5-8 x 8-12
  • Single-Arm Concentration Curl: 5 x 10
  • Alternating Dumbbell Curl: 5 x10

Note that Schwarzenegger does distinguish his forearm training from his upper arms, but would often work both muscles in the same session.

The Workout — Competition Prep

A bodybuilder preparing for an upcoming show will focus more on maintaining and defining their existing musculature than adding to it. That said, Schwarzenegger didn’t shy away from hard training, even within weeks of taking the stage. In fact, he preferred to amplify his training to pump and volumize his arms. 

  • Incline Dumbbell Curl + Triceps Pressdown: 4 x 8-10
  • Alternating Dumbbell Curl + Single-Arm Overhead Triceps Extension: 4 x 10
  • Preacher Curl + Lying French Press: 4 x 10
  • Concentration Curl + Reverse Triceps Pressdown: 4 x 8-10
  • Reverse Preacher Curl + Barbell Wrist Curl: 4 x 10-12 

Once again, Schwarzenegger does distinguish his forearm training from his upper arms, but would still smash his forearms in the same workout as his upper arms. 

How to Modify the Arnold Schwarzenegger Arm Workout

Training exactly like Schwarzenegger in his heyday isn’t guaranteed to turn you into the Austrian Oak. Schwarzenegger was blessed with, debatably, the best genetics in bodybuilding history.

Even if you’re not a biological lottery winner, you can still draw inspiration from how he trained his arms and use his wisdom to grow your guns. 


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[Related: Bodybuilder Lee Labrada Maintains Shredded Quads at 62 Years Old]

Note: These workouts modify Schwarzenegger’s general approach to off-season arm training, but are not the only workouts he performed throughout his career in bodybuilding.

As a Beginner

Scores of bodybuilding enthusiasts took up careers in the weight room because they saw Schwarzenegger in a magazine, at a bodybuilding show, or on the silver screen. If you fall into that camp and are taking your first steps in the gym, power to you.

You’ll have to make some significant adjustments to his workout if you want to reap the benefits it provides, however. Here’s an example:

  • Barbell Curl: 3 x 12, 8, 6
  • Alternating Dumbbell Curl: 2 x 8
  • Lying Triceps Extension: 3 x 12, 8, 6
  • Cable Pressdown: 2 x 8 
  • Concentration Curl + Single-Arm Triceps Extension: 2 x 8 & 12

This workout maintains the general structure of Schwarzenegger’s training but makes it far more palatable to a beginner. You’ll perform fewer supersets, which preserves energy. There are fewer overall sets as well, since as a beginner, you can grow muscle just fine with less work than a high-level athlete requires to improve.

You’ll also notice the absence of direct forearm training. Beginner bodybuilders generally don’t need such specialized attention to detail just yet — your forearms will grow just fine by virtue of holding onto the weights you’re working with.

As an Intermediate

As a physique athlete with several years of gym experience under your belt, you’re poised to train more similarly to Schwarzenegger. That said, you should still proceed with caution and make some sensible adjustments to his workouts.

  • Barbell Cheat Curl + Lying Triceps Extension: 3 x 12, 8, 6
  • Alternating Dumbbell Curl + Cable Pressdown: 3 x 8
  • Concentration Curl + Single-Arm Triceps Extension: 3 x 8 & 12
  • Reverse Curl: 4 x 10
  • Single-Arm Wrist Curl: 4 x 10

If you’ve trained bodybuilding for a few years and made decent progress, you shouldn’t flinch at the prospect of banging out multiple supersets in a single session.

However, that doesn’t mean you have the kind of volume tolerance that Schwarzenegger did in his prime. By cutting out a set or two across the board and removing one or two movements, you should be able to fly through this workout while still channeling your inner Schwarzenegger.

As an Advanced Athlete

Strictly speaking, everyone’s definition of “advanced” in bodybuilding varies. Gymgoers with more than five years of dedicated, hard training under their belts (plus at least one show or competition) can safely consider themselves advanced athletes. 

If you fall into that camp, there’s no reason that you shouldn’t be able to run one of Schwarzenegger’s programs as-written. Bear in mind, though, that his workouts may still not be appropriate for you long-term.

These workouts are extremely high-volume and you can’t take it easy on the intensity, either. Consider bringing some intra-workout nutrition with you to stay fueled up along the way. 

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Favorite Arm Exercises for Bodybuilding

The best exercises to build your arms come from the mind of the man himself. Barring access to Schwarzenegger’s wisdom on the matter, you can analyze his preferred arm workouts. There are certain movements (and types of equipment) he leaned on heavily to develop his guns. 

Preacher Curl

Whether he was deep in the off-season or preparing for the Mr. Olympia contest, Schwarzenegger included preacher curls into his arm workouts on a regular basis.

The preacher curl is a unique exercise for the biceps. The pad provides a stable surface to rest your arm against, removing momentum or assistance from your shoulders and hips. 

Further, the incline of the bench itself alters the resistance curve — you’ll notice preacher curls are incredibly difficult when your biceps have the least leverage, which is the right recipe for creating hypertrophy.

Lying Triceps Extension

Triceps training can be tricky, whether you’re an average gym rat or a seven-time Mr. Olympia winner. Some triceps exercises can irritate the elbow joint or fail to elicit a strong mind-muscle connection.

Whether either factor was the main cause behind Schwarzenegger’s preference for supine triceps work is unclear. Regardless, elbow extensions while lying on a bench take your upper body largely out of the equation and place your triceps in a prime position to strongly contract through their full range of motion

Wrist Curl

Your forearms may have less skeletal muscle than your upper arm, but poor development below the elbow will impact the silhouette of your physique — one of the many factors Schwarzenegger built his reputation on.

As such, Schwarzenegger trained his forearms on a regular basis and with a few staple exercises. Wrist curls are straightforward and plenty effective as forearm isolation work. 

Incline Dumbbell Curl

Every bodybuilder, professional or otherwise, would benefit from at least one incline curl in their routine. Schwarzenegger made them a staple, and the results speak for themselves.

The incline curl places your shoulder in a hyperextended — arm behind your torso — position. This posture lengthens the biceps in a way that standard curls with your arm at your side don’t, providing a unique stimulus

Cable Pressdown

Cables are among a bodybuilder’s best friend. They provide consistent, reliable stimulus, and aren’t hamstrung by gravity in the way that dumbbells or barbells are.

As such, Schwarzenegger used his share of cable exercises to develop his arms. The triceps, in particular, stand to benefit from cable work, since many free-weight triceps extensions have an inconsistent resistance profile. 

They’re often way too easy in one area of your range of motion while being too hard elsewhere. Cable work smooths this issue right out. 

Who Is Arnold Schwarzenegger?

Fitness enthusiasts the world over may scoff at such a question, but Schwarzenegger’s legendary pedigree in (and beyond) the world of bodybuilding bears repeating.

Austrian-born Schwarzenegger is a portrait of the self-made man. Born in 1947, Schwarzenegger’s first foray into fitness was actually a brief stint as an Olympic lifter. As an adult, he made a name for himself in the 1970s and 1980s in bodybuilding before turning to a film career and, ultimately, politics later in life. 

Arnold Schwarzenegger's star on Hollywood Boulevard
Credit: Hayk_Shalunts / Shutterstock

In the world of weight training, Schwarzenegger is renowned for his iconic physique. He’s known for having gargantuan, superhuman arms, a massive chest, and one of the tightest waists in the golden age of the sport.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Bodybuilding Career

Schwarzenegger is among the winningest bodybuilders in history, placing first in a slew of competitions spanning multiple decades and different continents. 

  • 1965 Junior Mr. Europe — 1st
  • 1966 Mr. Europe — 1st
  • 1967 NABBA Mr. Universe Amateur — 1st
  • 1968 NABBA Mr. Universe Professional — 1st
  • 1968 IFBB Mr. International — 1st
  • 1969 IFBB Mr. Universe Amateur — 1st
  • 1969 IFBB Mr. Olympia — 2nd
  • 1970-1975, 1980 IFBB Mr. Olympia — 1st

Note: This list is not exhaustive, but serves to illustrate Schwarzenegger’s 15-year run in professional bodybuilding, which contained very few finishes below first place. 

His historic win at the 1975 Mr. Olympia competition in Pretoria, South Africa, was also the subject of the groundbreaking bodybuilding documentary Pumping Iron (1977), in which Schwarzenegger was the star. 

Arms Like the Austrian Oak

Arnold Schwarzenegger is renowned in bodybuilding lore for more than his arms. However, there’s absolutely no shame in considering his biceps and triceps the best in the business, even to this day.

If you want to follow in his footsteps, Schwarzenegger’s arm training routines are a good place to start. If you understand that walking the same path doesn’t necessarily mean you have to mirror every set and rep he performed, you can add inches to your arms in no time, no matter your experience level

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