Regardless of how you feel about Arnie, you can’t deny that the man had one hell of a chest back in the day.
Peaking at the impressive 58 inches, Arnold’s chest was big. But aside from being big, it was also full, balanced, and insanely remarkable from every angle. Whether doing a front double bicep, hitting the side chest pose, or flexing for a most muscular, his chest looked like something that couldn’t possibly belong to a human being.
The sport of bodybuilding has also gained tremendous popularity over the last several decades, and we can’t deny Arnold’s contribution to that very fact.
So, today, we decided to pay our respects to the Austrian Oak by sharing the chest workout he used to build one of the most impressive pectoral muscles to date.
“You Gotta Shock The Muscle!”
Before looking at the training Arnold used to build some of the most impressive pecs, we have to discuss something fundamental about his character: the man knew how to work hard.
While Arnie was mostly bodybuilding in the 60s and 70s - way before everyone had a camera in their pocket - there are still plenty of training clips you can watch, study, and use for motivation.
There were many hardworking bodybuilders back then - Lou Ferrigno, Frank Zane, Franco Columbu, to name a few - but Arnold was on another level. The man routinely trained for over three hours, ate until bursting, and pushed himself to his limits on every set.
So, while it never hurts to examine Arnold's exact plan to build a big chest, we can’t discount the importance of good old hard work for getting results.
Nobody can say it better than Arnold himself:
“If you want to win, there is absolutely no way around hard, hard work.”
The Three Exercises Arnold’s Done For Chest Growth
Arnold’s bodybuilding career lasted for over a decade, and he likely changed up his chest-training approach several times. But, what never changed significantly is his exercise selection. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the three movements Arnold swears by:
1. Flat Barbell Bench Press
Among the many videos of Arnold pumping iron, one of the most common exercises we see is the flat barbell bench press, which he loved to do. He would often start with a good warm-up with 135 pounds to get the blood flowing and improve his mind-muscle connection. After that, he would gradually pyramid up by going to 225, 275, 315, 365, and finally––405 pounds.
In most of his videos, we can see Arnie using quite the wide grip for his bench press, often bouncing the barbell off his chest and pressing it three-fourths up to keep constant tension on his chest.
Arnold was also a massive fan of high-repetition training and often did upward of 30, even 40 reps during his warm-ups and while working out.
2. Incline Barbell Bench Press
After finishing multiple brutal sets on the flat bench––including multiple reps with 405 pounds––Arnold often jumped to the incline barbell press to further punish his pecs. He would start his sets with 225 pounds and gradually pyramid up to 300+, making sure to get at least ten reps per set.
Interestingly, Arnold used a higher incline for his upper chest. Traditionally, recommendations are to use a low to moderate angle of 30 to 45 degrees. Arnold performed his pressing at a greater incline, which likely involved his shoulders to a greater degree. But hey, who are we to question his methods? It clearly worked for him.
3. Dumbbell Fly
While some physical therapists today frown at the flat dumbbell fly, calling the movement dangerous and harmful for shoulder health, Arnold loved it back in the day. In fact, Arnold enjoyed the exercise so much that he compared the movement pattern to hugging a tree.
Contrary to what many therapists suggest now, Arnold would lie on a flat bench with a heavy dumbbell in each hand. He would bend his elbows slightly and lower the weights until his arms almost touched the floor.
Once he stretched his pecs to their limits, he would reverse the arc motion, squeezing his pectorals as hard as he could. What made his fly technique different from everyone else was that he stopped the fly short. Instead of performing each repetition until the dumbbells met above his chest, he would stop when the weights were 10 inches apart. He reasoned that chest flys became easy near the top and the tension on his pectorals decreased. So, he decided to skip the last portion of each repetition and save his energy to do shorter but more productive reps.
One Of Arnold’s Most Popular Chest Routines
Unlike many bodybuilders, Arnold loved to challenge himself by resting less during workouts and often pairing agonist-antagonist muscle groups. The Austrian Oak often trained chest and back together, producing such immense pumps that he felt his muscles would burst through the skin by the end of each workout.
Here is his popular chest and back workout:
Bench Press - several warm-up sets
Bench Press - pyramid up from 225 to 405
Weighted Wide-Grip Pull-ups - 5 sets to failure
Incline Barbell Bench Press - 5 sets of 10 to 15 reps
T-bar Rows - 5 sets of 10 to 15 reps
Flat Dumbbell Flys - 5 sets of 10 to 20 reps
Wide-grip Barbell Row - 5 sets of 10 to 15 reps
Bodyweight or Weighted Dips - 5 sets of 15 to 20 reps
Chin-ups - 5 sets of 12 to 15 reps
Straight Arm Pullovers - 5 sets of 15 to 20 reps
Arnold would alternate between chest and back exercises, resting as little as possible in-between.
One of the greatest bodybuilders had a simpler chest routine he performed early in his journey. According to some sources, he did the routine three times per week, though we haven’t been able to find confirmation of that from the man himself. Here is the routine:
Flat Barbell Bench Press - 5 sets of 6 to 12 reps
Incline Barbell Bench Press - 5 sets of 6 to 12 reps
Bodyweight Dips - 5 sets to failure
Flat Bench Dumbbell Flys - 5 sets of 10 to 15 reps
Dumbbell Pullovers - 5 sets of 6 to 15 reps
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