All you need for this 6-day dumbbell-only workout routine is a couple of adjustable dumbbells and a bench. It’s ideal if you train at home, or travel a lot and don’t always have access to a well-equipped gym.
The default version of the program involves training six days a week on set days – Monday through Saturday. Sunday is a rest day.
Here’s what it looks like:
- Monday: Chest/Back
- Tuesday: Shoulders/Arms
- Wednesday: Legs
- Thursday: Chest/Back
- Friday: Shoulders/Arms
- Saturday: Legs
- Sunday: Off
This schedule isn’t set in stone, and you can move your rest day around depending on your schedule.
One week you might be able to train six days straight before taking a day off. The following week you might train three days in a row, take a day off, then train for another three days.
Some weeks you might only do five workouts, other weeks you might manage six.
But the basic workout schedule remains the same – you train chest and back, followed by shoulders and arms, followed by legs, then rinse and repeat.
What is the Arnold Split?
The Arnold split is a 6-day workout routine that involves training your chest and back, shoulders and arms, and legs twice per week. It’s one of a number of routines detailed in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding.
Other than the way the workouts are organized, the routine outlined below isn’t one that Arnold Schwarzenegger actually used.
The term “Arnold Split” refers to the way the workout schedule is set up (which muscle groups are trained with which other muscle groups, and how often those muscle groups are trained), rather than the specific exercises, sets and reps.
One defining characteristic of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s training programs is that they involve a high volume of training.
As an example, the chest and back workout in his Level I Exercise Program, which he designed for beginners, comprises 33 sets. For shoulders and arms, it’s a whopping 51 sets.
That’s a lot of sets, far more than a lot of people are going to need, or will even have time for.
Arnold Split: 6 Day Dumbbell Workout
The exercises, sets and reps are listed below. You’ll find video demonstrations for each exercise at the bottom of the page.
Workout 1: Chest & Back
- Push Ups 4 sets x As Many Good Reps As Possible
- Incline High Row 4 sets x 8-12 reps
- Flat Dumbbell Bench Press 4 sets x 10-15 reps
- Dumbbell Pullover 4 sets x 12-15 reps
- Weighted Crunch 3 sets x 15-20 reps
Workout 2: Shoulders & Arms
- Shoulder Press 4 sets x 8-12 reps
- Lateral Raise 4 sets x 15-20 reps
- Triceps Kickback 2 sets x 15-20 reps
- Overhead Triceps Extension 2 sets x 10-15 reps
- Dumbbell Preacher Curl 2 sets x 12-15 reps
- Hammer Curl 2 sets x 8-12 reps
Workout 3: Legs
- Bulgarian Split Squat 4 sets x 8-12 reps
- Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift 4 sets x 10-15 reps
- Dumbbell Leg Extension 4 sets x 10-15 reps
- Sliding Leg Curl 4 sets x 10-15 reps
- Reverse Incline Crunch 3 sets x 15-20 reps
Workout 4: Chest & Back
- Low Incline Dumbbell Press 4 sets x 8-12 reps
- Single-Arm Dumbbell Row 4 sets x 8-12 reps
- Dumbbell Flyes 4 sets x 12-15 reps
- Dumbbell Pullover 4 sets x 8-12 reps
Workout 5: Shoulders & Arms
- Chest-Supported Y-Raise 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- Bent Over Lateral Raise 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- Incline Dumbbell Curl 4 sets x 8-12 reps
- Triceps Kickback 2 sets x 15-20 reps
- Overhead Triceps Extension 2 sets x 10-15 reps
- Incline Reverse Curl 3 sets x 15-20 reps
Workout 6: Legs
- Goblet Squat 4 sets x 10-15 reps
- Deficit Reverse Lunge 4 sets x 8-12 reps
- Hip Thrust 4 sets x 10-15 reps
- Dumbbell Leg Curl 4 sets x 12-15 reps
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
Incline High Row
Flat Dumbbell Bench Press
Bulgarian Split Squat
Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
Sliding Leg Curl
Low Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
Dumbbell Shoulder Press
Overhead Triceps Extension
Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
Incline Dumbbell Curl
Incline Reverse Crunch
Dumbbell Leg Extension
Deficit Reverse Lunge
Dumbbell Leg Curl
Nutrition for Muscle Growth
When it comes to building muscle and gaining weight, what you do in the gym is only part of the story. Without the right diet, much of your hard work will go to waste.
What should your diet look like if you want to build muscle?
First, make sure you’re getting enough food. Your daily calorie intake should provide somewhere between 250-500 calories over and above your maintenance calorie requirements.
That is, if you’re maintaining your weight on 2500 calories per day, you’d aim for somewhere between 2750 and 3000 calories per day.
It is possible to gain muscle while in a calorie deficit, but it tends to happen more slowly compared to being in a calorie surplus.
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That’s because one of the things that slows muscle protein synthesis – the key driving force behind muscle growth – is a restriction in the availability of energy.
Once you’ve calculated what your daily calorie intake should be, the next step is to calculate your macros, the first and most important of which is protein.
Set your daily protein intake at roughly 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. That will do the job for most people.
Someone weighing 180 pounds, for instance, would aim for a daily protein intake of around 126 grams of protein per day (180 x 0.7 = 126). If you prefer metric, multiply your bodyweight in kilograms by 1.6.
Rather than getting all your protein in one or two large meals, it should be spread out throughout the day. Aim for a minimum of 3 protein-rich meals each day, with each meal containing somewhere between 20 and 40 grams of protein.
Ideally, you’ll get some protein within the first few hours after getting out of bed, before a workout, after a workout, and before going to bed.
As far as protein supplements are concerned, they’re not strictly necessary for building muscle. They do make it a lot easier to hit your protein targets for the day which is why I use them myself. But think of them as an optional extra, rather than a strict requirement.
Your fat intake can vary from 20 to 40 percent of total calories. Some days it might be a little higher, others a little lower. But on average, your fat intake should be set at around 30% of your total calorie intake.
Once protein and fat are taken care of, the rest of your calories will come from carbohydrate.
As fat intake goes up, carbohydrate intake will go down and vice versa. Some days you might eat a little more fat and less carbohydrate. Other days you might eat more carbohydrate and less fat.
As long as total calories and protein are set at the right level, it doesn’t matter too much.
Using these numbers, here’s an example of what a daily diet might look like for a guy weighing 175 pounds (79.5kg), with a maintenance calorie intake of 2500 calories per day.
- Calories: 2800 calories
- Protein: 123 grams
- Fat: 93 grams
- Carbohydrate: 368 grams
These numbers aren’t set in stone, but they do give you some ballpark numbers to aim for. The two most important numbers are calories and protein. As long as you’re hitting those targets, the carbs and fat can vary from day to day.
The Benefits of Dumbbells
Dumbbells have a lot of things going for them. They’re relatively cheap, don’t take up a lot of space, and can be used for dozens of different exercises that work your entire body.
With nothing more than a couple of adjustable dumbbells, you get a highly effective workout for all the major muscle groups without the need for lots of expensive equipment.
The fact dumbbells don’t require a lot of space makes them ideal if there’s no room in your house for a lot of gym equipment.
Not only does training at home save you money on gym fees, it’s also very convenient.
You just pull the dumbbells out from under your bed, or wherever they’re stored, and start training.
Even if you only have 10 or 15 minutes to spare, you can do a few exercises for this or that muscle group.
Then, later in the day, when you get another 10 or 15 minutes to spare, you can focus on another muscle group.
For some people, doing a bit of weight training here and there is a more practical way to fit weight training into their day, which means the workouts are far more likely to get done.
Dumbbells can also be an effective way to work around injuries, mainly because they give you a lot more freedom of movement.
If you find that certain free weight exercises cause your joints to flare up, doing the same exercise with a dumbbell may actually feel better, allowing you to work around any dings or dents that have built up over the years.
Pressing exercises performed with a barbell, for example, put your shoulders and arms in a fixed position, which can sometimes lead to pain in your shoulders, elbows or wrists.
But doing the same exercise with dumbbells gives you a lot more flexibility about how the exercise is done.
By that, I mean you’re able to make small adjustments to the movement pattern, altering the position of your arms in such a way that any joint pain is significantly reduced, or even eliminated completely.
You’re still working the same muscles, but you’re doing so in a way that’s a lot easier on your joints.
Let’s take the overhead press as an example.
When you press a barbell over your head, your palms will naturally face forward, known as a pronated grip.
But with dumbbells, you have the option of using a neutral grip, where your palms face each other.
For many people, switching to a neutral grip, and bringing your elbows in (rather than flared out to the side) will often make the overhead press feel easier on your joints.
With a dumbbell, you can also perform the exercise one arm at a time. Doing so makes it easier to adjust the path of the dumbbell, the position of your elbows and range of motion in such a way that it doesn’t cause you any pain or discomfort.
It’s also easier on your back as well. Pressing a 40-pound dumbbell over your head will impose less compressive load on your spine than an 80-pound barbell.
Some people have one side of their body that’s weaker than the other, which dumbbells can help to correct.
A small difference in strength between your left and right side is perfectly normal, and isn’t something that most people to worry about.
But if there’s a large imbalance in strength, the stronger side tends to dominate during bilateral movements, which can set you up for injury further down the line.
Unilateral training with dumbbells can help to identify and eliminate any strength imbalances that might exist, creating a better balance of strength.
Dumbbells also offer some benefits in terms of safety, especially if you’re training alone. It’s far better to drop a couple of dumbbells and damage the floor than get crushed by a heavy barbell and damage yourself.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I build muscle with dumbbells only?
You most definitely can build muscle with just dumbbells. A muscle grows when the fibers inside that muscle are exposed to a certain level of tension, irrespective of where that tension comes from.
Resistance is resistance, whether it’s provided by dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, weight machines or your own body.
Is it good to lift dumbbells every day?
In most cases, you’re better off working out with dumbbells a maximum of 5-6 days a week, rather than every day. Training 7 days a week, every week for months on end is going to be too much for most people to recover from.
What are the signs of overtraining?
One of the early signs you’re doing too much is that your performance in the gym takes a dip.
And by your performance in the gym, I’m talking about the number of reps you’re able to do with a given weight, or the amount of weight you’re able to lift for a given number of reps.
If you’re consistently getting weaker rather than stronger, it’s a sign you’re overdoing things relative to the amount of recovery you’re getting.
The solution is to a) reduce the amount of work you’re doing in the gym and/or b) upgrade your recovery, which typically involves eating a better diet, getting more sleep and reducing (or at the very least finding alternative ways to deal with) unwanted sources of psychological stress.
Entering a true overtrained state (known in the scientific literature as overtraining syndrome) is relatively uncommon, at least among the average recreational exerciser. Which is good news, because it’s not a pleasant experience.
Overtraining syndrome is characterized by a constant state of fatigue, exhaustion, and depressed mood that can take months to recover from.
One guy I was reading about, who’d been diagnosed with overtraining syndrome by a team of researchers from Finland, was unable to carry on playing his sport due to constant fatigue and exhaustion.
He couldn’t sleep properly, and was getting by on only 3-4 hours of sleep each night. Despite the fact he was only in his mid twenties, his testosterone levels were low, his brain chemistry was abnormal, he was suffering from tinnitus (the perception of noise or ringing in the ears), and a psychiatric examination showed that he was suffering from major depression.
That’s overtraining syndrome. Feeling a bit tired for a day or so after a hard workout isn’t.
Once you’re in a true overtrained state, it can take months (possibly years) of rest and recovery before you get anywhere close to normal again.
Is 2 hours at the gym too much?
For most people, a 2-hour workout is far more than you need. As long as your workout is set up properly, chances are it won’t take than 45 to 90 minutes to get the job done, especially if you’re training 6 days a week.
However, there are instances where longer workouts can be beneficial. For example, if you’re an advanced lifter with multiple years of training experience, doing heavy strength work, resting for 3-5 minutes between sets, and training in a cold gym (which will necessitate a longer warm-up period), you’ll need more time in the gym.
Other Dumbbell Workout Plans
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