Although building enormous, deeply chiseled muscles like Arnold Schwarzenegger takes a full-time commitment to bodybuilding, almost anybody can get harder and stronger muscles through an aggressive and systematic program of lifting weights. According to both fitness coach Ben Cohn and Schwarzenegger’s own “New Modern Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding,” the key to strength training is rotating through multiple stages of training in order to push your muscles as hard as is safely possible.
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Basics Step 1
Work out six times per week, alternating between upper body days and lower body days.
Spend the first six weeks doing three sets of eight repetitions for each exercise. During this stage, set your weights so that you struggle with, but successfully complete, the final set for each exercise.
Do five sets of five repetitions for each exercise during the six weeks of the second stage. Set your weights so that you struggle with the third set, need help for the final repetitions of the fourth and need help for most of the repetitions for the fifth. According to Schwarzenegger, working to the point of muscle failure is where the real work gets done.
During the six weeks of the third stage, do an inverse pyramid for each exercise. This means doing five sets, starting with five repetitions for the first set and doing one rep less each set until your final set is of a single repetition. Use high weights for this stage, to the point that you struggle from the start and need help with the final repetition of every set.
Take a week off between stages to help recovery. Record your workouts, including progress, weights, repetitions and your perceived exertion, in a journal.
Upper Body Workout
Perform two different chest exercises, such as bench press, dumb bell press or butterflies.
Alternate between biceps and triceps exercises, two for each muscle group. Biceps exercises include barbell curls, preacher curls and dumb bell curls. Triceps exercises include triceps push, reverse curls and dips. Alternating between opposing muscle groups is a practice called “super-setting,” said to help performance in both exercises.
Perform two exercises for your shoulders, such as dumbbell shrugs, barbell military press, shoulder press or dumbbell military press.
Perform two exercises for your upper back, such as lateral pull-down, dumb bell row and seated row.
Lower Body Workout Step 1
Begin your workout with squats. Squats are a core bodybuilding exercises that every workout should include, according to Cohn.
Alternate between exercises for your hamstrings and your quads, just as you did for your biceps and triceps. Do two exercises for each muscle group. Hamstring exercises include leg curls, lunges, good-morning exercises, and the clean and jerk. Quad exercises include leg press, leg extension and dead lift.
Perform two exercises for your calves, such as calf raises, seated calf extensions and donkey raises.
Perform a core workout including lower back, abdominals and oblique abdominals. This can be a series of sit-ups, crunches and back extensions, or you can use specialized machines available at many gyms and health clubs. Cohn also recommends considering a core-building group fitness class for this stage of the workout.