Arnold Split: Workout Routine, Benefits, and Drawbacks

The “Arnold split” is a 6-day workout routine created by seven-time Mr. Olympia winner Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Renowned for its intensity, weightlifters often hail the “Austrian Oak’s” regimen as the ultimate blueprint for building muscle mass.

But what is the Arnold split exactly?

What are the benefits and drawbacks of following this legendary workout plan?

And how do you know if it’ll work for you?

Get evidence-based answers to these questions and more in this article.

What Is the Arnold Split?

The Arnold split is a six-day workout routine created by Arnold Schwarzenegger, outlined in his 1985 book, The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding

Technically, when people refer to the Arnold split, they’re usually talking about one of the two “basic” training routines that Arnold shares—specifically, his “Level 1” program.

Despite being labeled “basic,” this routine is not for beginners—many experienced lifters find it challenging. 

The second level of the basic program and the two “advanced” programs are even more demanding, to the point that they’re often unrealistic for most natural weightlifters.

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The Arnold Split Workout Routine

The Arnold split contains three separate workouts: chest and back; shoulders, upper arms, and forearms; and thighs (quad and hamstrings), calves, and lower back.

You repeat these workouts twice weekly for a total of six training sessions. Here’s the basic layout:

You also train your abs in every workout.

Now, let’s look at how to perform each workout:

Day #1: Chest and Back

Arnold’s chest day isn’t like most bodybuilding chest workouts. Instead of training only the pecs, he liked to train his chest alongside his back (often using “supersets”). For him, this was the best way to improve conditioning and maximize “the pump.”

Here’s the workout:

Day #2: Shoulders, Upper Arms, and Forearms

Day 2 of the Arnold split is a mammoth workout that trains all three “heads” of the deltoids and the entire arm.

Here’s the workout:

Day #3: Thighs, Calves, and Lower Back

Day 3 of the Arnold split is a rigorous lower body workout focusing on the quads, hamstrings, calves, and lower back—areas Arnold believed were critical for a well-balanced physique.

Here’s the workout:

  • Squat: 4 sets of 15, 10-to-12, 8-to-10, and 6 reps
  • Lunge: 4 sets of 15, 10-to-12, 8-to-10, and 6 reps
  • Leg Curl: 4 sets of 15, 10-to-12, 8-to-10, and 6 reps
  • Standing Calf Raise:  5 sets of 15 reps
  • Stiff-Leg Deadlift: 3 sets of 10, 6, and 4 reps (to failure)
  • Good Morning: 3 sets of 10, 6, and 4 reps (to failure)
  • Crunch: 5 sets of 25 reps

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The Arnold Split’s Training Principles

To maximize your results on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s workout routine, he recommends following these principles:

  • Progressive Overload: Arnold emphasizes progressive overload (gradually increasing the weight you lift over time), which is the primary driver of muscle growth. The easiest way to implement this is to use double progression.
  • Training to Failure: Arnold advises pushing each set to the point where you cannot perform another rep without resting (“failure”). He believes this maximizes muscle fiber stimulation, leading to greater muscle growth.
  • Full Range of Motion: To fully activate every muscle fiber, Arnold recommends performing each exercise through its entire range of motion, from fully stretched to fully contracted.
  • Quality of Contraction: Arnold emphasizes the importance of focusing on how well you contract your muscles during every rep. He suggests starting with lighter weights that allow precise, controlled movements, ensuring the target muscle does most of the work without help from surrounding muscles.
  • Warming Up: While Arnold considers warming up essential for preventing injuries, he doesn’t specify a strict warm-up routine. Instead, he suggests general light barbell or dumbbell exercises for each body part, followed by a light set of each exercise in your workout before you begin your heavier training.
  • Power Training: In Arnold’s regimen, “power training” involves lifting weights near your one-rep max. He believes power training is important because it builds “dense” muscle that’s easy to maintain, increases muscle and tendon strength, prevents injuries, and builds mental toughness.
  • Rest Between Sets: Arnold recommends keeping rest periods between sets to a minute or less. According to him, short rest periods allow you to recover most of your strength while ensuring your muscle fibers are fatigued enough to necessitate growth.

Benefits of the Arnold Split

1. It contains a good mix of compound and isolation exercises.

The Arnold split primarily comprises compound exercises (exercises involving multiple joints and muscles). Focusing on compound exercises is beneficial because they allow you to train dozens of muscles simultaneously and lift heavy weights safely, which is generally better for muscle and strength gain.

The Arnold split also contains a reasonable amount of isolation exercises (exercises involving just one joint and muscle). Adding isolation exercises to your workout routine is sensible because they allow you to continue training a muscle when it’s no longer practical to do so with a compound exercise. 

They also allow you to train through different ranges of motion, which likely produces more complete growth than only doing compound exercises. 

2. It emphasizes progressive overload. 

Many bodybuilding programs make minor aspects of muscle growth the focus of your training. For example, they encourage you to train your muscles until they are swollen, pumped, and sore despite evidence that these aren’t necessary for muscle growth. 

In contrast, the Arnold split prioritizes getting progressively stronger over time, which is paramount for gaining muscle and strength. In other words, the Arnold split highlights what really matters when it comes to building muscle. 

3. It trains each body part twice weekly. 

Many bodybuilding workout splits organize workouts by body part—they train your chest on one day, your back on the next, your shoulders the day after, and so forth.

This usually means you train each body part just once per week, which research shows isn’t as effective as training your muscles more frequently. 

On the other hand, the Arnold split trains each muscle group at least twice per week, which is typically better for muscle-building purposes. 

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Drawbacks of the Arnold Split

1. It’s time-consuming.

The Arnold split has you training 6 days per week, and each workout is lengthy, comprising between 7 and 11 exercises.

When your workout routine requires such a significant time commitment, it can be challenging to maintain, especially if you have limited time for training.

2. It isn’t suitable for beginners.

The volume (number of sets) and frequency (number of weekly workouts) in the Arnold split are unnecessary for beginners; doing fewer sets less often will likely yield better results.

Arnold also advocates advanced training methods in his book—drop sets, negative reps, forced reps, and so on—which add a layer of complexity that’s unnecessary and potentially confusing for novices. 

3. Some of the principles aren’t backed by science. 

Certain aspects of the Arnold split, such as training to failure, short rest periods, and extensive warm-ups, lack scientific support.

While these methods may be effective in some scenarios, research shows training shy of failure, taking plenty of rest, and doing short but adequate warm-ups are superior for gaining muscle and strength. 

Who Should Follow the Arnold Split?

Many people see pictures of Arnold posing in his prime and think the Arnold split will help them achieve a similar physique. Case in point:

Arnold PosingArnold Posing

It’s sensible to temper these expectations, though.

Beginners won’t get good results from the Arnold split—the volume, intensity, and frequency are too high and will likely lead to burnout rather than progress. 

The Arnold split is better suited to intermediate or advanced weightlifters with plenty of time to train and no recovery issues. In other words, unless you’ve been training for at least a year and your diet and sleep are on point, you probably shouldn’t attempt the Arnold split. 

FAQ #1: Is the Arnold split good for growth?

Yes, the Arnold split can be highly effective for muscle growth for some people. Specifically, it works well for intermediate or advanced weightlifters (people with at least 12 months of consistent training under their belt) who have plenty of time to train, are eating enough calories and protein, and get plenty of rest. 

However, a less intense training regimen is likely more fitting if you don’t meet these criteria. 

[Read More: The 12 Best Science-Based Strength Training Programs for Gaining Muscle and Strength]

FAQ #2: Arnold Split vs. PPL: Which is better?

The 6-day PPL and Arnold splits share a lot in common: They involve training six days per week, train each body part at least twice weekly, emphasize compound weightlifting and progressive overload, and so on. Thus, choosing the right routine for you mostly depends on your preferences. 

The Arnold split involves training your large upper body muscle groups (chest and back), smaller upper body muscles (shoulders, biceps, triceps, and forearms), and legs in separate workouts. If this approach works for you, choose the Arnold split.

If, on the other hand, you prefer to organize your training into “pushing,” “pulling,” and lower body exercises, PPL is likely better, 

Another option is to follow a hybrid routine that includes elements of PPL and the Arnold split, often referred to as “PPL x Arnold split” routines. Here’s how this might look:

  • Day 1: Chest and back
  • Day 2: Shoulders, upper arms, and forearms
  • Day 3: Thighs, calves, and lower back
  • Day 4: Push
  • Day 5: Pull
  • Day 6: Legs
  • Day 7: Rest

PPL x Arnold split routines have become popular in recent years, primarily because people on Reddit and bodybuilding forums tout them as the perfect mix of bodybuilding and strength-focused training (“powerbuilding”).

While PPL x Arnold split routines can work, they have the same issues as the regular 6-day PPL and Arnold splits: they require a significant time investment, and if you don’t have your diet and recovery dialed in, they’re overkill for most people. 

[Read More: The Ultimate Guide to the Push Pull Legs Workout Routine]

FAQ #3: How much should you eat while following the Arnold split?

To fuel your training while following the Arnold split, it’s sensible to follow a bulking diet (eat in a calorie surplus) and eat plenty of protein.

To learn exactly how many calories and how much protein you’d need to get results on the Arnold split, take the Legion Diet Quiz.

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