Of all the training programs I’ve used over the years, the Arnold Split is one of my favorites.
It’s ideal for intermediate trainees who prefer shorter, more frequent workouts, as well as advanced lifters wanting to spur new growth.
First thing I want to do is explain briefly what the Arnold Split split is, and who should use it.
Then I’ll lay out the routine in full, so you can see which exercises you’ll be doing on which days, as well as how many sets and reps to do.
Finally, I’ll look at the pros and cons of the Arnold Split, so you can decide if it’s the right program for you.
What is the Arnold Split?
The Arnold split is a 6-day workout routine that involves three different workouts — one for your chest and back, one for your shoulders and arms, and one for your legs. Each workout is done twice a week.
It’s one of a number of routines that Arnold lays out in his Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding, first published back in the 1980s.
The traditional way to do the Arnold Split involves training Monday through Saturday, then taking Sunday off.
Here’s what it looks like:
- Monday: Chest/Back
- Tuesday: Shoulders/Arms
- Wednesday: Legs
- Thursday: Chest/Back
- Friday: Shoulders/Arms
- Saturday: Legs
- Sunday: Off
Schwarzenegger’s original plan also has you training the abs six days a week.
However, there’s no rule that says your training routine has to fit neatly into a 7-day week. Most training programs are set up that way, more out of convention and convenience than anything else.
Personally, I much prefer to take a day off after training my legs, which is typically the hardest and most demanding workout of the week.
This means the routine doesn’t match perfectly with a 7-day week and runs over an 8-day period instead.
Here’s what it looks like:
- Day 1: Chest & Back
- Day 2: Shoulders & Arms
- Day 3: Legs
- Day 4: Rest
- Day 5: Chest & Back
- Day 6: Shoulders & Arms
- Day 7: Legs
- Day 8: Rest
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 have the time to 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.
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.
Is the Arnold Split Effective?
The Arnold split is certainly an effective way to gain muscle. Each muscle group is trained at least twice a week, which tends to work better than a training frequency of once a week.
And because you’re only training 2-3 muscle groups in a single workout, you also get the opportunity to hit each muscle with a sufficient level of volume to stimulate growth.
However, the high frequency of training means that it’s not going to be suitable for everyone, and you will need to make sure your nutrition and recovery are on point in order to make the most of any 6-day workout routine.
Who Should Use the Arnold Split?
The Arnold split is an advanced workout routine suitable for late intermediate and advanced lifters who want to gain muscle as fast as humanly possible.
Let’s assume you’re on a mission to gain as much muscle as you can in the shortest time possible, and you’ve decided that an increase in training volume is necessary.
You’ve moved beyond the beginner stages of training, there’s no great drama or stress going on in your life, your diet is sufficient in both calories and protein, and you’re getting plenty of sound, restful sleep each night.
You also have the discipline, time and dedication required to eat right and train hard for months at a time.
If so, the Arnold Split is definitely a viable option.
If you’re someone who prefers shorter, more frequent workouts, and you’re able to train on a consistent basis 5-6 days a week, the Arnold Split can work very well.
Distributing your weekly training volume across 5 or 6 workouts, rather than 3 or 4, allows for shorter training sessions, making them easier to fit into your day.
Training more often can also make your workouts feel less exhausting, which in turn makes it more likely that you’ll actually do them.
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The Arnold Split: Workout Schedule
Workout 1: Chest & Back A
- Flat Bench Press 4 sets x 5-8 reps
- Reverse Grip Lat Pulldown 4 sets x 8-12 reps
- Push Ups 3 sets x As Many Reps As Possible
- Single-Arm Dumbbell Row 4 sets of 5-8 reps
- Dumbbell Flyes 4 sets x 12-15 reps
Workout 2: Shoulders & Arms A
- Dumbbell Shoulder Press 4 sets x 8-12 reps
- Lateral Raise 3 sets x 10-15 reps
- V-Bar Triceps Pressdown 3 sets x 10-15 reps
- Standing Dumbbell Curl 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- Overhead Triceps Extension 3 sets x 10-15 reps
- Hammer Curl 3 sets x 12-15 reps
Workout 3: Legs A
- Barbell Squat 4 sets x 5-8 reps
- Leg Press 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- Leg Extension 2 sets x 12-15 reps
- Seated Leg Curl 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- Romanian Deadlift 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- Standing Calf Raise 4 sets x 5-8 reps
Workout 4: Chest & Back B
- Neutral Grip Pull-ups 4 sets x As Many Reps As Possible
- Incline Dumbbell Press 4 sets x 8-12 reps
- Seated Cable Row 4 sets of 8-12 reps
- Cable Crossover 4 sets x 12-15 reps
- Wide Grip Front Lat Pulldown 3 sets x 8-12 reps
Workout 5: Shoulders & Arms B
- Barbell Press 4 sets x 5-8 reps
- Face Pulls 3 sets x 15-20 reps
- Rope Triceps Pressdown 3 sets x 10-15 reps
- Incline Dumbbell Curl 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- Lying EZ Bar Triceps Extension 3 sets x 12-15 reps
- Dumbbell Preacher Curl 3 sets x 12-15 reps
Workout 6: Legs B
- Deadlift 4 sets x 5-8 reps
- Leg Press 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- Bulgarian Split Squat 2 sets 8-12 reps
- Glute Ham Raise 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- Seated Leg Curl 3 sets x 12-15 reps
- Standing Calf Raise 4 sets x 15-20 reps
You can throw in some work for your abs as and when you have the time.
Arnold Split: The Pros
1. Allows For a Higher Volume Of Training
The Arnold Split is useful if you’ve got several years of serious training behind you, and you’re finding it hard to put on muscle mass.
For advanced lifters, increasing your weekly training volume (the number of hard sets you do for a muscle group) is sometimes all the stimulus your muscles need to start growing again.
There’s a link between the number of hard sets you do for a muscle and the speed at which that muscle grows. Put differently, a higher volume of training, up to a point at least, will typically lead to a faster rate of muscle growth.
Training 5-6 days a week allows for a relatively high volume of training while still keeping the workouts down to a reasonable length.
2. Allows for an Effective Training Frequency
On the Arnold Split, the major muscle groups are worked directly twice a week, which is an effective frequency for growth.
Research shows that when you hit a muscle twice a week, it tends to grow faster compared to training it once a week.
Some of the smaller muscle groups are trained more often. The biceps and triceps, for example, are worked four times a week.
That is, you work your arms directly on shoulders and arms day. But they’re also worked indirectly when you train your chest and back.
It’s the same story with the deltoids, which are trained directly twice a week on shoulders and arms day. However, they also get some indirect work when you train your chest and back.
3. Easy to Incorporate Supersets
The Arnold Split also makes it relatively easy to incorporate agonist-antagonist supersets in your workouts.
On chest and back day, for example, you do a set for the chest, then a set for the back, followed by a set for the chest, and so on. One group of muscles has a chance to rest while you do a set for the opposing muscles.
Supersets have several benefits.
For one, they cut down on the amount of dead time you might spend sitting around resting between sets. This allows you to condense the same amount of training into a shorter period of time.
As well as saving time, supersets do have the potential to enhance your performance in the gym.
In one study, a group of trained men was able to do significantly more reps on the leg extension when they did the leg curl beforehand .
In fact, the men were able to crank out, on average, three additional reps on the leg extension machine when they did leg curls immediately, 30 seconds or 60 seconds earlier.
It’s the same story with shoulders and arms day, where you can do a set for your biceps, followed by a set for your triceps, and so on.
You get a great pump in your arms while simultaneously cutting down on the amount of time you’d otherwise spend resting between sets.
Arnold Split: The Cons
1. Big Time Commitment
One of the main downsides with the Arnold Split is that it requires you to be in the gym 5-6 days a week.
Not everybody wants to train six days a week, mainly because it limits what you can do with your spare time. You don’t even get the weekends free.
Working out three or four times a week still leaves you with plenty of time to do other things.
2. A Lot to Recover From
Lifting weights 5-6 days a week, especially if your overall training volume is on the high side, is going to be too much for some people to recover from.
And by recovery, I’m not just talking about individual muscle groups. As long as your overall volume isn’t excessive, individual muscles should have no problem recovering from one workout to the next.
Rather, what I’m talking about is systemic recovery.
What does that mean exactly?
Every exercise you do has an effect on the muscle or muscles involved in that exercise. A compound exercise like the bench press, for example, is going to stimulate the muscles in your chest, shoulders and triceps.
This is known as a local effect.
However, training also has what’s known as a systemic effect, which refers to the impact a given workout has on your entire body.
When you’re deciding how to set up your training program, you need to consider the recovery requirements of your body as a whole, not just the individual muscles.
In one study, for example, 60 minutes of downhill running led to a reduction in muscle strength in the quads when it was measured 24 and 48 hours after exercise .
However, the researchers also found that the biceps were significantly weaker when strength levels were measured immediately as well as 24 hours after the run.
In fact, the biceps were, on average, 17% weaker the day after the run. That’s despite the fact that the biceps are not heavily involved in downhill running.
Recovery is about more than allowing enough time between training sessions for the same muscle group. Your body as a whole, from connective tissue to your central nervous system, also needs a break.
The ability of your body to recover is affected not just by the amount of training you do, but your diet, the amount of sleep you’re getting, as well as what else is going on in your life.
Anything causing you an undue amount of anxiety, worry or some other form of psychological stress that you don’t want to feel has the potential to impair your gains.
Physical and psychological stress make withdrawals from the same account. Too much of the latter can make it harder to recover from and adapt to the former.
Is the Arnold Split Suitable for Beginners?
Believe it or not, Arnold actually designed this training split for beginners.
However, the overall volume is way more than most beginners need, or can even recover from.
As an example, the shoulders and arms workout in his Level I Exercise Program, which he claims is suitable for beginners, comprises a whopping 51 sets.
That’s not 51 sets per week. That’s 51 sets in a single workout.
Arnold’s Shoulders and Arms Workout
Here’s what the complete shoulders and arms day looks like, as described in Arnold’s Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding.
- Clean and Press 5 sets x 8-12
- Dumbbell Lateral Raise 5 sets x 8-12
- Upright Row 1 set x 10, 1 set x 6, 1 set x 4
- Push Press 1 set x 6, 1 set x 4, 1 set x 2
- Barbell Curl 5 sets x 8-12
- Seated Dumbbell Curl 5 sets x 8-12
- Close-Grip Bench Press 5 sets x 8-12
- Standing Barbell Triceps Extension 5 sets x 8-12
- Wrist Curls 5 sets x 8-12
- Reverse Wrist Curls 5 sets x 8-12
- Incline Sit-Ups 5 sets x 15
Arnold’s Chest and Back Workout
This is what the Level I version of Arnold’s chest and back workout looks like. Again, keep in mind this was targeted at beginners.
- Flat Barbell Bench Press 5 sets x 8-12
- Incline Bench Press 5 sets x 8-12
- Dumbbell Pullovers 5 sets x 8-12
- Chin-Ups (do as many repetitions at a time as you can until you reach a total of 50)
- Bent-Over Rows 5 sets x 8-12
- Deadlifts 1 set x 10, 1 set x 6, 1 set x 4
- Leg Raises 5 sets x 25
Without the chin-ups, that’s a total of 28 sets.
If we assume it takes a total of 10 sets to do 50 chin-ups (and I’m being generous here, it’s going to take most people more than 10 sets to do 50 chin-ups), that’s 38 sets in total.
Arnold’s Leg Workout
Finally, we have Arnold’s leg workout:
- Squats 5 sets x 8-12
- Lunges 5 sets x 8-12
- Leg Curls 5 sets x 8-12
- Standing Calf Raises 5 sets x 15
- Stiff-Legged Deadlift 1 set x 10, 1 set x 6, 1 set x 4
- Good Mornings 1 set x 10, 1 set x 8, 1 set x 6
- Leg Raises 5 sets x 25
For the average beginner, that’s going to be too much. Lack of time and issues with recovery mean that many beginners who start off with the intention of going to the gym six days a week will fall off the wagon before too long.
If you’re a complete beginner who wants to focus on hypertrophy, you’re better off with a training program that involves lifting weights 3 or 4 times a week, such as a 3-day full-body workout, a 4-day upper/lower split or a 4-day push/pull routine.
Once you’ve built a solid foundation of strength and size, then you can think about adding a fifth or even a sixth training day.
If you are just starting out, and you’re adamant about wanting to train 6 times a week, do 3 or 4 main lifting sessions, combined with some low-intensity cardio on the other 2 or 3 days.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is the Arnold 6-day workout split better than a PPL split?
Both an Arnold split and PPL (push/pull/legs) routine are solid choices for intermediate and advanced lifters who want to build muscle.
You can expect identical results in terms of lower body gains, as both programs involve training the legs twice a week, on separate days to the upper body.
The Arnold split does have the advantage of training the shoulders and arms when they’re fresher, rather than at the end of a long upper body workout.
If I had to choose one routine over the other, the Arnold split would be the one I’d go for. However, both will produce good results if you train hard, eat right and stay consistent.
How many calories should you eat when you’re doing the Arnold Split?
If you’re lifting weights six days a week, I’m going to assume your main goal is to gain muscle and put on weight. In which case, you want to be in a calorie surplus, which means consuming more calories than you need to maintain your weight.
Specifically, 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.
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.
What was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s workout split?
Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t follow the same workout split for his entire bodybuilding career. Rather, it evolved over time as he learned what worked best for him and his body.
The training routine Arnold used as a beginner was different to the type of training he did with a few Mr Olympia contests under his belt.
Arnold’s workout split would also change depending on whether he was in the off-season or training for a competition.
That is, his pre-contest routine would involve a very high volume of training, with each muscle group being trained directly three times a week with lots of exercises and sets. He’d often be in the gym twice a day, six days a week in order to fit all that training in.
How many hours a day did Arnold Schwarzenegger workout?
Arnold Schwarzenegger was known for his extremely high training volume. In his book Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder, Schwarzenegger wrote that he worked out for 4-6 hours per day, six days per week.
Here’s how he describes the training he did early on in his bodybuilding career:
“I worked out from 9-11 in the morning and then again from 7-9 at night. In the Army, when I had trained six hours continuously, I found that I could never handle the kind of weight I wanted to use. But by spliiting up my schedule, training arms and shoulders in the morning, resting for a few hours and eating at least two substantial six-course meals, then going back to train my legs, chest and abdominals in the evening, I discovered I had plenty of energy to handle a lot of poundage. It was like a whole new workout on a different day. I was rested, my energy was back, and my mind was ready for it.”
Do you have to train twice a day on the Arnold Split?
It’s not necessary to train twice a day on the Arnold split. It’s certainly an option, if that fits your schedule better. But it’s not essential.
Schwarzenegger himself would often train twice a day, but only because that was the only way he could fit in the sheer volume of training he was doing. To quote Arnold directly:
“As I analyzed my training further, it became obvious that each of my [lagging body parts] came towards the end of my workouts, when I was tired from doing numerous sets. Training chest, back and legs in one day was very demanding, and it occurred to me that I could train each body part with more intensity if I trained chest and back in the morning, and then came back late in the afternoon, fresh and rested, to give my legs a really hard workout.”
Did Arnold Schwarzenegger do cardio?
Yes, Arnold did cardio, as well as recommending it to others.
Here’s what he had to say on the subject in his Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding:
“Every serious bodybuilder should do a substantial amount of aerobic training. I have always liked to run several miles a day. Some bodybuilders, however, find that running does not suit them and leads to problems with the legs and ankles, so they seek other ways of developing cardiovascular conditioning. Tom Platz, for example, after working his legs to exhaustion in the gym gets on a bicycle and rides for twenty miles. Bill Pearl used to do the same thing. A lot of bodybuilders are developing their aerobic systems using ‘Lifecycles’ and other types of stationary bicycles. The fact is, the better conditioned your heart, lungs, and circulatory system, the more intense training you will be able to do in the gym and the more progress you will make as a bodybuilder.”
Can I do cardio on the Arnold Split?
Lifting weights six days a week doesn’t leave a lot of room for cardio, unless you’re willing to train twice a day, which isn’t an option for most people.
And even if you do have the time and motivation to train twice a day, it’s important to consider the impact that cardio can have on your ability to grow.
Just like weight training, cardiovascular exercise (particularly of the high-intensity variety) needs to be recovered from and adapted to. This can eat into your body’s limited resources without making any meaningful contribution to muscle growth.
If you do want to do some cardio, I’d stick with low-impact stuff – cycling, incline treadmill walking, rowing, that type of thing. Steer clear of any high-impact, high-intensity work, such as sprinting.
Is the Arnold split good for natural lifters?
Natural lifters shouldn’t train exactly like Arnold, as the overall training volume is going to be too high for most people. Natural trainees can train with high frequency or high(ish) volume, but not both at the same time.
However, there’s no reason why natural lifters can’t train six days a week, hitting their chest and back in one workout, shoulders and arms in another, and legs in the third.
Other 6-Day Workout Splits
- 6-Day Dumbbell Workout Plan for Growth
- 6-Day Upper/Lower Split for Muscle Growth
- 6-Day Push/Pull/Legs Split
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