Everybody knows who Arnold Schwarzenegger is and every weightlifter whether it be powerlifter, bodybuilder, or strongman idolizes him in some way shape or form. When you have someone who changed the game as much as Arnold did, weightlifter or not, it’s practically impossible not to idolize him. Many people don’t know he was a competitive powerlifter several years before becoming a bodybuilder and attributes muscle density, thickness, and hardness to powerlifting.
“I especially like the idea of heavy days for maximum chest development. Once a week I usually trained my chest with extra heavy weight: 5 or 6 reps at the most. 100-pound Flys, Incline Presses using 365 pounds for 6 to 8 reps, super-heavy 450-pound Bench Presses to produce the maximum pectoral mass and thickness.”-Arnold Schwarzenegger
When Arnold started training to become a bodybuilder he didn’t want to lose the mass, and thickness that powerlifting gave him, so he scheduled heavy days into his training routine. Once a week he would pick one body part and max out with a strength movement. For example with legs he would max out with squats, and with chest he would go as heavy as possible on the bench press. You could argue that Arnold was a “powerbuilder” (someone who trains for both strength and aesthetics) like Stan Efferding or Johnnie Jackson. He developed this chest power training routine to capitalize on both strength and mass, which is not like any typical strength or powerlifting program.
The Power Training Program
Note:(Do a light warm-up to build up to your 20 rep max.)
This is the meat of the program right here, the bench press. This is all you really need for this program to be a success, the rest is optional. The twenty rep set is going to build up your endurance and help you develop your slow twitch muscle fibers which most powerlifters neglect. The ten rep set is going to train a mix of both fibers and help fatigue you more for the heavy sets. The five rep set is the bread and butter of powerlifting building raw power. The three rep max will boost speed and power and optimize the contribution of the CNS. The one rep max tests everything and is the peak of the program, however it’s not a true max and is not as taxing on your body.
For the five 1-2 rep sets you’ll most likely have to drop down the weight to what you where using with the three rep set. A recommendation here would be to incorporate “no feet” bench while using a 1-2 second pause, especially to those whose sticking point is off the chest. The last ten rep set can be done either way, preferably again with feet up and practicing keeping the elbows tucked and shoulders pinched. The rest of the routine below is what Arnold wrote out, but to a lot of people is unnecessary. A few sets of flys should suffice, stretching and holding on the bottom, however it’s up to you to decide.
This routine should be done once a week and you may incorporate a speed, or dynamic day. Keep in mind not to use to much volume and to rest/deload accordingly. You should see improvements for at least 6-8 weeks and may want to consider something else after that time-frame, however it can go much longer if catered to correctly. The beauty of this program is the fact you have multiple attempts to hit a PR (personal record) in every workout. If you miss your twenty rep set, you still have a chance to hit your ten rep set, and if you miss that you’ve still got many more attempts. This builds confidence which is one of Reg Parks “rules” in building a routine and is quite underrated. Unlike some programs such as a simple 5×5 routine where if you miss your first set 99% of the time you’re going to miss the other four.
Adding weight is very simple, if you hit your reps for that set, add five pounds next session. For example if I complete my twenty rep set, but miss my ten rep set I will only add on five pounds to the twenty rep set next week. Jumping more than five pound increments is not really recommended, but it can work and will most likely take you an extra workout or two before you hit your reps again. Below you can see Allen Baria talking about how he trained to get up to a 655 pound raw bench press. He describes the same method that Arnold used.
BOMPA, T. (2005) Periodisation Training for sports. 2nd ed. Human Kinetics
Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Bill Dobbins.The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding.New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998.