The Arnold 6-Day Split Workout Plan (Ultimate Guide)


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Schwarzenegger, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Even those that don’t follow fitness and health know the name – and for a good reason.

One of the most influential men in the modern age, Arnold not only popularized bodybuilding worldwide but was at the head of the spear of bulky Hollywood men.

His legendary 6-day split has been published in several books, and it (clearly) worked for him, but will it work for you? Let’s find out!

About Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenegger was born in 1947 in Allied-controlled Austria. Arnold grew up in a rural environment, spending his youth on farms and out in nature. He often talks about going for long walks in the woods or using “natural equipment” to exercise as a teen.

Arnold has also been quoted as saying his father was strong, stern, and full of tough love. This really embedded in Arnold and led him to become the hard worker we all know him as today.

In the early 1960s, a football coach took a young Arnold in to help him train at the gym – and a legend was born.

He competed in his first bodybuilding competition at the age of 17, and in his whole career has amassed some amazing accomplishments, including:

  • Mr. Universe (Amateur) – 1967
  • Mr. Universe (Pro) – 1968, 1969, and 1970
  • Mr. Olympia 2nd place – 1969
  • Mr. Olympia 1st place – 1970 – 1975, and 1980
  • Several powerlifting feats

His massive height (6’ 2’’) would typically be seen as a disadvantage in today’s bodybuilding, but in the classic days, this gave him a very lean and “flowy” look. And for those of you wondering, yes – Arnold has admitted plenty of times to abusing anabolic steroids.

That said, he’s still one of the most legendary bodybuilders ever to grace the stage and is only outshined by Ronnie Coleman. And, similar to Ronnie, Arnie was also pretty strong:

  • Clean and press – 264 lb
  • Snatch – 243 lb
  • Clean and jerk – 298 lb
  • Squat – 545 lb
  • Bench press – 520 lb
  • Deadlift – 683 lb

With his sheer strength and size, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to realize he’d fit perfectly into the macho-based movies of the 70s, 80s, and 90s.

His first role in 1970 was in Hercules in New York, but it certainly was not his last:

  • Arnold starred in some of the most action-packed movies of all time, such as Conan the Barbarian, Predator, Total Recall, Terminator, and The Expendables.
  • Arnold also appeared in documentaries about bodybuilding, like Pumping Iron.

He was so famous in movies that even some of the props he wore became actual products we can buy, such as his Seiko SNJ025 watch he wore in Predator – literally nicknamed “The Arnie.” For those of you wondering, the watch is huge.

Not only was his watch huge, but his vision was as well. Arnie took a stand and decided to try his hand at politics. In 2003, Arnie announced his candidacy for Governor of California, and on October 7, 2003, he became Governor.

Since then, he’s retired from politics and acting and lives a life of simplicity. Work out, eat good food, drink good wine, try to save the planet, and get to the choppa!

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Predator - "Get to the choppa!"

But enough about his history – it’s about time we look at his workout!

Arnold 6-Day Split Overview

One thing to remember is that Arnold trained during a time when fitness was barely a thing. You trained how you thought was correct. What felt good meant it must be good, right? This means the workouts might seem a bit brutish and simplistic compared to the workouts of today.

  • Fitness level: Advanced
  • Duration: 16 weeks
  • Workouts per week: 6 workouts per week
  • Average workout duration: 75 minutes
  • Equipment needed: Full gym
  • Goal: Build muscle

Generally, you’ll find two approaches to training today. You have the group that does hard and heavy movements for low volume. Then, there’s the group that prefers lighter weights with more volume.

Arnold did neither – or rather – he did both. See, Arnie was known for pushing heavy weights for a great number of sets. This isn’t something most people can do responsibly. However, some of you with great genetics will certainly do great with this approach!

Looking at the book Arnold wrote, The Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding, there are actually two different variations of this training plan:

Variation 1 Variation 2
Day 1 – Chest and Back Day 1 – Chest, Back, and Legs
Day 2 – Shoulders and Arms Day 2 – Shoulders and Arms
Day 3 – Legs and Lower Back Day 3 – Chest, Back, and Legs
Day 4 – Chest and Back Day 4 – Shoulders and Arms
Day 5 – Shoulders and Arms Day 5 – Chest, Back, and Legs
Day 6 – Legs and Lower Back Day 6 – Shoulders and Arms
Day 7 – Rest Day 7 – Rest

Both are high frequency, and with no rest day in the vast majority of the days, you better make sure your recovery is on point to be able to keep up.

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Arnold 6-Day Split Schedule & Details

As mentioned, there are two types of weekly training styles for you to follow. Now, I’d imagine someone with less experience would benefit more from variation 2 since more frequency could lead to better gains. Because they’re new, they probably aren’t moving a lot of weight, and recovery should be manageable as well.

Variation 1

This variation includes three different days that you’ll repeat throughout the week.

Day 1 – Chest and Back Day

  • Bench Press – 3 / 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Incline Bench Press – 3 / 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Dumbbell Pullovers – 3 / 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Chin Ups – 3 / 4 sets x 10 reps.
  • Bent-Over Row – 3 / 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Deadlifts – 3 / 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Crunches – 5 sets x 25 reps

There are some good combinations of exercises here. However, it lacks hitting the costal and lower pecs. It’s probably also not the smartest idea to do deadlifts at the very end of your session, as you do run a slightly higher risk of injury.

Lastly, doing bent-over rows and deads in the same session? Good luck.

Day 2 – Shoulders and Arms

  • Barbell Clean and Press – 3 / 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Dumbbell Lateral Raise – 3 / 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Upright Row – 3 / 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Military Press – 3 / 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Standing Barbell Curl – 3 / 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Seated Dumbbell Curl – 3 / 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Close Grip Bench Press – 3 / 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Standing Barbell Tricep Extension – 3 / 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Wrist Curls – 3 / 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Reverse Wrist Curls – 3 / 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Reverse Crunch – 5 sets x 25 reps

First off, the volume in this session is ridiculous. I’d probably put in a rest/cardio day and do the core and forearm movements on that day.

A clean and press are good, but it’s probably not the best movement for only hitting the shoulders. Upright rows are also quite dangerous if done incorrectly.

Day 3 – Legs and Lower Back

  • Squat – 3 / 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Lunges – 3 / 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Leg Curl – 3 / 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Stiff Leg Deadlift – 3 / 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Good Mornings – 3 / 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Standing Calf Raise – 3 / 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Crunches – 5 sets x 25 reps

Usually, you don’t need to do extra training for the lower back. However, the stiff legs and good mornings only target the lower back as a secondary muscle, with the glutes being the primary target. This is better than day 2, in my opinion.

Variation 2

This is the higher frequency workout that hits every muscle three times per week.

Day 1 – Chest, Back, and Leg Day

  • Bench Press – 5 sets x 6 – 10 reps
  • Dumbell Fly – 5 sets x 6 – 10 reps
  • Incline Bench – 6 sets x 6 – 10
  • Cable Crossovers – 6 sets x 6 – 10
  • Dips – 5 sets to failure
  • Dumbbell Pullover – 5 sets x 6 – 12 reps
  • Wide Grip Pull-Up – 6 sets to failure
  • T Bar Row – 5 sets x 6 – 10 reps
  • Seated Pulley Row – 6 sets x 6 – 10
  • One Arm Dumbbell Row – 5 sets x 6 – 10 reps
  • Stiff Leg Deadlift – 6 sets x 15 reps
  • Squat – 6 sets x 8 -12 reps
  • Leg Press – 6 sets x 8 -12 reps
  • Leg Extension – 6 sets x 8 -12 reps
  • Leg Curl – 6 sets x 8 -12 reps
  • Barbell Lunge – 5 sets x 15 reps
  • Standing Calf Raise – 10 sets x 15 reps
  • One Leg Dumbbell Calf Raise – 5 sets x 15 reps

Okay, this session is just plain stupid. I’m not quite sure if Arnold really followed this, but the idea of doing 80+ sets in one day is not only stupid but also downright dangerous!

Day 2 – Shoulders and Arms Day

  • Barbell Curl – 6 sets x 6 – 10 reps
  • Seated Dumbbell Curl – 6 sets x 6 – 10 reps
  • Dumbbell Concentration Curl – 6 sets x 6 – 10 reps
  • Close Grip Bench Press – 6 sets x 6 – 10 reps
  • Tricep Pushdown – 6 sets x 6 – 10 reps
  • Barbell French Press – 6 sets x 6 – 10 reps
  • One Arm Dumbbell Tricep Extension – 6 sets x 6 – 10 reps
  • Seated Barbell Press – 6 sets x 6 – 10 reps
  • Lateral Raises – 6 sets x 6 – 10 reps
  • Rear Delt Lateral Raise – 5 sets x 6 – 10 reps
  • Cable Lateral Raise – 5 sets x 10 – 15 reps
  • Standing Calf Raise – 10 sets x 15 reps
  • Standing Calf Raise – 5 sets x 15 reps

If you think this is a disgusting amount of volume, I agree… It doesn’t seem like the training is structured in any way. It also, for some reason, seems impossible.

Unless you have the best genetics (and drugs), you simply wouldn’t be able to recover from a program like this.

For instance, one session has both lateral raises with dumbbells and with cables. Now, you don’t need both. In fact, you’re far better off just choosing and committing to one of those two.

Why? They both do the same exact thing!

The cable lateral raise could actually provide you better results since the mechanical tension is the same at the bottom as it is at the top. Compared to the dumbbell lateral raise, for the first part of the lift, these have almost zero resistance.

This is why it’s important to structure a workout based on your goals, your biology, and what you have available in regard to equipment.

What Goes Into a “Good” Plan

First, you’d focus on muscles that need the most amount of work or the movements that require the most amount of neurological concentration. Then, you’d move on through the workout, with each exercise being more “precise” than the previous.

So you wouldn’t do a close grip bench for triceps after already benching because your pecs are fatigued. You might be able to do a JM Press, however.

For example:

Bench Press Focuses primarily on the chest, shoulders, and triceps. 
Incline Dumbbell Press Still hits the chest, shoulders, and triceps; however, more stress is on the shoulders now, and the target muscle has shifted to the upper pecs.
Decline Dumbbell Fly  Now the primary target is the lower pecs, and the triceps are completely removed; the exercises are becoming more specific
Dumbbell Lateral Raises ONLY the shoulders are targeted, meaning the fatigued muscles would not limit this muscle growth
JM Press While the chest and shoulders might stabilize, it’s still only a tricep movement; again, the limits are the target muscle
Tricep Pushdown Now the only muscle being worked is the tricep; more specified and fewer limitations from other muscles
Core Since the core wasn’t really active in any of the other movements (not significantly), you can hit core last; I wouldn’t do core after leg/back training because then the abs get fatigued, meaning less ability for them to work

This is how you structure a workout.

You’d start broad with complex movements and become more refined and specific as the session goes on. Someone who deadlifts as their last movement is either so strong they need the muscle fatigue or is just stupid and asking for an injury.

By treating every movement as a muscle-building factor rather than just a movement, you’ll start to realize how to build a session. Don’t fatigue smaller muscles if those still play a large role in some of the upcoming movements. For example, unless needed, you wouldn’t do pushups to failure and then bench… Sounds pretty silly, right?

Why Did Arnold Choose This Plan?

Looking at what Arnold was famous for as a competitor, it isn’t hard to imagine why when looking at his training program. He prioritizes the chest, arms, back, and shoulders. In fact, a common critique of Arnold was the fact that his legs and calves weren’t proportionally big enough compared to the rest of his body.

Arnold Schwarzenegger flexing in black and white

Moving on from the overall structure, we also have to discuss the sheer amount of volume again. How precisely is someone going to do 105 sets in one workout? It just isn’t possible.

Even looking at the pro bodybuilders today, they don’t have that amount of volume. In reality, Jordan Peters – a famous British bodybuilder and bodybuilding coach – has often said that you shouldn’t have more than 20 – 23 sets per session…

Now, you might be thinking, “Oh, but Arnold was the best!” – was he, though? Let’s look at some of his measurements vs. those of current Mr. Olympia – Big Ramy:

Arnold  Big Ramy
Arms 22’’ 24’’
Chest 57’’ 54 – 57’’
Waist 30’’ 35’’
Quads 28.5’’ 35.5’’
Weight 225 – 235 lbs 295 – 310 lbs

One more thing – Ramy is four inches shorter than Arnold, meaning he packs 70 lbs of muscle in a much shorter frame! A lot of that comes from his quads – obviously – but it just isn’t a competition. Arnie would struggle against the guys today, and I think a big problem was his training program.

There’s no denying Arnold worked hard, but it seems he pushed way too far due to mental reasons. He had a hard upbringing with tough love from his dad, and he felt the only way he could prove himself was with training. It did work out, and he’s a legend, but this training program is… absurd.

Arnold Schwarzenegger Diet

While Arnie is plant-based right now, it’s important to remember he wasn’t always this way. No, the Austrian was all too eager to slam steak after steak in order to gain all zhe muszles.

I’m betting some of you have even seen the meme:

How many grams of protein do you eat?
All of them.

Seems about right.

Arnold used to follow a very stereotypical bodybuilder diet that consisted of various smaller meals throughout the day. It may seem like a fad, but the fact that these are easier to digest might be one of the reasons he was able to keep his waist so tight!

Some of his regular meals would look like this:

  • For breakfast, he’d eat a healthy amount of oatmeal, egg whites, and fresh fruit. Sometimes, he’d also add a normal omelet with bacon and other meats.
  • Lunches and dinners would usually consist of a decent amount of protein (chicken, beef, pork) with some carbohydrates.
  • For snacks, Arnie would reach for fruits, nuts, dried meats, and protein shakes.

You may have noticed that there’s a great absence of veggies, and this is something many dieticians have warned bodybuilders against. We need a certain amount of healthy veggies to get all our vitamins and minerals – but also fiber!

Arnold, unlike modern bodybuilders, didn’t really follow macros but rather just amounts of food and adjust these for bulking or cutting. Very old school, but it worked.

Arnold was also competing at a time when supplements weren’t really prevalent. There were no amino acids, but there were maybe creatine and whey protein. It’s much more likely that he made his own shakes with whole foods, which isn’t necessarily better, but it got him to his goals.

Today. Arnold owns a supplement company called the Arnold Schwarzenegger Series, which has various options like whey, creatine, BCAAs, and pre-workout.

None of these are “necessary,” but some, like creatine, certainly do help. Regardless of your overarching goal, you should create a diet that needs as little supplementation as possible.

Something like creatine would be hard to get from your diet, so creatine gets a pass here….

3 Arnold 6-Day Split Workout Pros

  1. Legacy: This might not seem like a real pro, but think about the mental “boost” some will get by doing Arnold’s workouts. It might help certain people stay on track, be more consistent, and try harder. It’s not really the intent of a workout plan, but you should take every win that you can. Arnold is a legend, no doubt, and a big supporter who would love to follow this plan.
  2. Mechanical tension: Mechanical tension is the key to muscle growth and essentially refers to the “hardness of a set/workout.” You’ll have mountains of mechanical tension on this plan – no doubt! It might be a bit too much for some, but for those that have the (supernatural) recovery capabilities, it’ll certainly help them grow.
  3. The diet is simple: This plan’s diet is extremely simple and approachable. This might not seem obvious, but eating to gain mass is lowkey the hardest part of gaining mass. Keeping things simple will allow any person following this to make the most of each meal, and these acute changes will lead to a great change over a few months.

5 Arnold 6-Day Split Workout Cons

  1. IT’S WAY TOO MUCH: Now, this has been hinted at before, but jeez, is there too much – of everything? Too many sets, too many reps, too many workout days, just way too much of everything. We don’t grow in the gym – we grow while recovering. How much time will you have to recover if you do 400+ sets per week?! Not much…
  2. Gun to a knife fight: This ties in with the first point, but we simply don’t need that extreme level of volume. In fact, there’s a term called max-recoverable-volume, which means the most amount of sets you can recover from (shoutout to Dr. Mike Israetel). This program seems to dismiss the idea of limits (and reason) and destroys whoever follows it with volume.
  3. No priorities: The workouts are okay, but there aren’t any priorities. The workouts are all exactly the same, meaning you’ll most likely develop muscle imbalances. You’d ideally start with legs in one session and chest the next. This allows you to target both muscle groups in a fresher state. This is why a “Push” session done twice a week will start once with the chest and once with the shoulders.
  4. Rest days are lacking: Most of us would benefit from more rest, and certainly more than just one rest day for every 6 days of training. If you’re still set on training 6 days per week, your volume needs to drop dramatically.
  5. The diet is too simple: While this plan doesn’t really give you much to go off on regarding diet, it certainly could’ve given you more than just that. A macro guide would’ve been nice.

By far, the biggest problem is that this plan was designed and followed by someone using exogenous hormones – steroids. For those of you who don’t know, steroids can massively change your recovery capabilities, not just for muscles but your CNS (central nervous system) as well.

This means that Arnold was capable of doing something the vast majority of us will never be able to do because he has an advantage. It’s not an unfair one – steroids are technically “legal” in bodybuilding.

However, natural athletes train, diet, and live vastly different from their enhanced peers for a few different reasons:

  • As you diet, your natural testosterone levels begin to drop. So does T3 (thyroid hormone), and thus not only is it harder to lose fat, but it’s even harder to retain muscle mass!
  • Steroids are known to increase strength, meaning that enhanced athletes can move heavier weights, meaning they can build (and retain) muscle a lot easier.
  • Enhanced individuals also have a slight increase in metabolism, meaning they can get away with more calories before becoming sloppy. The steroids also mean they get to diet a lot harder without losing muscle mass.

Do steroids really make that much of a difference? Well, seeing as the current Natural Mr. Olympia (Paul Krueger) is 70 – 80 lbs lighter than Big Ramy with less conditioning… Yes, they make a difference.

Overall, this plan is “fun” and “interesting,” to give it some credit, but it’s completely bonkers when you think about actually doing it. You’ll either tear multiple muscles or never progress. The overarching goal should be progressive overload, not “how many sets can I do in a day?”

Arnold 6-Day Split Workout Conclusion

Look, Arnold deserves all the respect he gets. The man is a living legend and has helped bodybuilding more than anyone else on the planet. He’s really only outshined by the best of the best, and when looking at the training plan, that’s impressive.

The plan is definitely not smart. It’s not structured. It’s not progressive, nor is it sustainable. This plan seems to have been developed by someone who just looked at all the exercises you can do in a day and said, “Screw it, I’ll do them all!”

Of course, there are a few problems with this:

  • Doing similar movements with different equipment doesn’t mean more gains.
  • Doing more than 40 sets in one session means you probably aren’t working as hard as you think you are.
  • Having multiple high-volume lifting days in a row with no rest days will usually lead to injury.

And finally, no one is Arnold but Arnold. This plan was made for him. You wouldn’t wear a tailored suit that was made for someone else because it wouldn’t fit properly. This plan was created to address his weaknesses (peep all the calve raises) and to boost his “wow” factor even more.

A plan like this shouldn’t be followed blindly because:

  • You don’t have Arnold’s genetics, meaning your exercise selection and volume will be different.
  • You don’t have a leisurely life like Arnie did, in which he probably could sleep for most of the day, lift, and go for a run on the beach. You, however, need to go to work.
  • You don’t have steroids (hopefully!), meaning you have even fewer recovery capabilities than Arnold.
  • You probably don’t have the funds to eat as much (and as well) as he did, which will also hinder recovery.

Overall, the plan is a nice laugh, but that’s what it stays. It’s novel, it’s humbling, and it’s inspirational, but it certainly isn’t something I would even consider doing.

What you can do is steal some of his ideas!

This means doing some of “his” movements, such as the super wide dumbbell flyers to help give you a wide chest. Dumbbell pullovers will help with those, too.

You can steal some diet ideas as well, not that there are all that many to steal…

I wouldn’t really rate this plan. To be honest, I don’t think he followed this plan to a T. If he really did, I would expect a lot more injuries.

If you’re still super keen on trying this, jeez… Sleep as much as you can, eat as much as you can, destress more than you ever have, and don’t expect many returns on your investment.

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