Arnold Schwarzenegger is perhaps the most famous of the bodybuilders of his era. And, like many of them, he had to get very large in order to compete successfully.
But he didn’t get that way with anabolic steroids. He was able to get so big without using steroids!
How did Schwarzenegger do it? It might surprise you, but he relied on weight and good eating instead of drugs.
Here’s how Arnold Schwarzenegger did it.
Strength training is not all about working against heavy weights for low repetitions (the beliefs of many modern trainees). Strength training is also about working against lighter weights for high repetitions in order to build muscle size. Arnold Schwarzenegger used both types of strength training when he built up his physique to win Mr. Universe and then the Mr. Olympia contests many times over.
Strength training for muscle growth: a study by Wernbom et al. showed that a combination of moderate weights with high repetitions is just as effective for building muscle size as heavyweights with low repetitions.
In fact, when trainees in this study worked out to build muscle, they experienced only very small changes in neuromuscular activation but profound changes in local muscular endurance. In other words, when you force your muscles to contract frequently under load (high repetitions), the signal from the nervous system doesn’t change much, but your muscles get much stronger at doing repeated contractions against resistance. This type of strength building by working out with lighter weights can lead to big muscles.
Strength training for muscle strength: high-intensity strength training (e.g., heavyweights and low repetitions) is more effective than moderate-intensity strength training for increasing voluntary muscular force.
Another study suggests that when you work out close to your maximum capacity in order to keep adding weight for additional resistance, then the neural drive from the brain increases. This means that people who lift progressively heavier weights over time add more strength than those who don’t add more weight when they train, even if both groups use the same resistance during each workout.
Arnold Schwarzenegger followed a routine of lifting both light and heavyweights in order to build maximum size and strength.
The secret of the Austrian Oak’s success was his dedication to training, weights, protein supplements, and healthy eating. He was described by one Mr. Universe judge as having the most perfectly developed physique he had ever seen. Schwarzenegger won Mr. Universe at 19 years of age, then went on to win it six more times over the next six years! After that, Arnold took on Hollywood, where he pursued becoming a serious actor.
Schwarzenegger is famous for many roles but will forever be associated with his role of Conan the Barbarian, in which he played a half-naked muscle man who wielded a mean sword. This film propelled him into stardom while simultaneously making him even more popular among bodybuilders who also enjoyed his success in movies.
But Schwarzenegger’s training was still serious business even when he had Hollywood just a short drive up the road from where he lived in Southern California.
He would reportedly train hard for 2 hours each day, seven days per week, during just one phase of his bodybuilding career. He built most of his muscle size with weights but attributed some of it to doing very high repetitions (100 reps) with lighter weights. He was always adding more weight or increasing the number of repetitions as if there were no end to how much bigger and stronger he could get.
Strength training throughout life: you don’t need to be young and at your maximum muscular potential like Schwarzenegger was when he won his Mr. Universe contests to take advantage of strength training. The biggest changes in neuromuscular function (the nervous system’s ability to produce maximum voluntary force) happen when older people start resistance training. In this study, the older adults who took up a weight training routine increased their neuromuscular function by about 50% after just nine weeks!
In fact, strength training works for just about everyone, from young athletes to senior citizens and even children with developmental disabilities.
Never too old: it seems that you don’t have to be a teenager with an almost perfect body in order to benefit from muscle strengthening exercise. Arnold Schwarzenegger was certainly very proud of his physical condition, but he didn’t start at his peak.
Schwarzenegger was a sickly kid who started lifting weights to improve his health and well-being. He got so hooked on bodybuilding that it later became his profession. But for most people, the benefits of strength training are sport performance enhancement, injury prevention, improved bone density, increased metabolic rate (to burn more calories), and better quality of life. And you don’t have to be an aspiring Mr. Universe either!
To summarize all this science mumbo jumbo: 1) lift heavy things 2) lift progressively heavier things over time 3) keep track of how much weight you are using so you can increase the resistance when you are ready to do so 4) do this for about five months or until you reach your genetic limits, whichever comes first.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s most famous role was probably Conan the Barbarian, in which he played a half-naked muscle-bound man with a sword.
BONUS QUESTION: How do I get jacked like Conan?
ANSWER: See above. But more seriously, you can’t be jacked like Arnold without using steroids, and if you want to use steroids, then don’t ask me about it because I’m not going to teach you how to do that even if I knew how because that wouldn’t be legal nor would it be safe. So please don’t email me asking for advice on how to become an anabolic cyborg. Sorry to be a party pooper!
Alwyn Cosgrove and I had a podcast about this exact topic of how you can get jacked without taking drugs. Look for it on the StrengthCage.com website or on iTunes. You can also read Alwyn’s new book called “The M.A.X. Muscle Plan,” which is all about how he got his start lifting weights and what he did to become so strong and build such impressive muscles in such a short period of time (without steroids). It’s kind of like the opposite of this post but still good reading material.