It’s impossible to think of bodybuilding without thinking of Arnold Schwarzenegger. He’s one of the most successful bodybuilders of all time, and lots of bodybuilders today look up to him. It’s one of the reasons why the Arnold split, which helped him win seven Mr. Olympia titles, has become so popular.
What is the Arnold split? The Arnold split is a six-day workout split in which you train the chest and back, shoulders and arms, and legs twice per week. It’s a muscle-building program that’s designed to help you increase muscle mass and improve your physique. Because of its high amount of volume, it’s only for advanced lifters.
In this article, I’ll provide a brief overview of the Arnold split, discuss its pros and cons, and talk about who should and shouldn’t do the Arnold split. I’ll also discuss various ways to program the Arnold split and provide a sample Arnold split workout at the end.
The Arnold Split: Overview
The Arnold split is a workout split that Arnold followed whenever he was preparing for a bodybuilding contest. It’s a high-volume, high-frequency routine that’s not for the faint of heart but can deliver big results if you stick with it.
With the Arnold split, you work out six days per week and train each muscle group twice per week. The typical muscle group breakdown of the Arnold split is chest and back, shoulders and arms, and legs. Volume is high, with three to four sets for most exercises, and anywhere from 6-25 reps in a set.
The Arnold split is an advanced routine that should only be done by lifters who have been training for at least two years. It also requires you to stay on top of your nutrition and recovery, and it’s not an ideal program for people with inconsistent training schedules.
Need a workout program? Get 3 free workouts on Fitbod right now.
3 Pros of the Arnold Split
1. Training antagonistic muscle groups helps reduce fatigue within a single workout.
One of the benefits of the Arnold split is that you often train antagonistic, or opposing, muscle groups within the same workout.
For example, you’ll do two workouts per week that target the chest and back. Because the exercises that work these areas of the body utilize different muscles, you can train them more intensely without having to dedicate an entire day to each muscle group.
Additionally, the chest and back are not the primary muscles used in exercises that target the shoulders and arms. Not only can you train your upper body on back-to-back days but it also allows you to train your arms and shoulders when they’re well-rested instead of tacking those exercises onto the end of a long upper body training session.
2. Each muscle group has several days to recover.
Even if you work out six days in a row, doing body part splits gives you plenty of time to rest each muscle group before you have to train it again. There are at least 48 hours between each body part workout, giving your muscles an adequate amount of time to recover.
3. It encourages balanced training.
The Arnold split targets each muscle group evenly, which helps you develop a well-rounded physique.
You’ll still need to be mindful of your exercise selection — you don’t want to only do quad exercises on your leg days, for example. But because you’ll be training each muscle group twice a week, you can focus on each one equally. It also gives you more opportunities to work on your weak areas, which can help prevent injuries.
2 Cons of the Arnold Split
1. It’s time-consuming.
Depending on how many exercises you do, how long you have to wait for equipment to become available in the gym, and how long you rest in between your sets and exercises, it can take close to two hours to complete each workout.
It’s also imperative that you don’t skip a training day in order to reap the benefits of the program, and working out six days a week is challenging for a lot of people.
2. It doesn’t leave room for other activities.
A six-day workout split doesn’t leave much flexibility for doing other kinds of workouts during the week.
While some steady-state cardio can be incorporated into the Arnold split, you won’t be able to do high-impact workouts like HIIT or train for other goals such as a marathon at the same time. There just wouldn’t be enough time for you to recover and dedicate enough of your energy to each goal.
Is The Arnold Split Right For Me?
Because it’s a challenging program that requires a lot of time and dedication, the Arnold split isn’t for everyone. Below are examples of people that the Arnold split may or may not be right for.
Who Should Do the Arnold Split
- Bodybuilders preparing for a competition. The Arnold split is based on the workouts Schwarzenegger himself did to prepare for bodybuilding competitions. Bodybuilders who are looking for a routine that can deliver big results may find success with the Arnold split.
- Experienced lifters who are looking for a challenge. If you’ve been lifting for several years and your progress has stalled or you’ve become bored with your current routine, you can give the Arnold split a shot. The mental toughness that’s required to get through this program will pose a challenge that can help keep you motivated.
- Anyone who has aesthetics-based rather than strength-based goals. The Arnold split is a bodybuilding program for people who want to gain muscle mass and improve their physique. You can even run it if you’re coming off of a strength block and want to do a hypertrophy training program for a few months.
Who Should Not Do the Arnold Split
- Beginners. The Arnold split is not for new lifters who are just getting started with a lifting routine. A full-body routine that you can complete within an hour or so two or three times a week is more suitable for new lifters.
Related Article: 2-Day Workout Split for Beginners (That Actually Works)
- Anyone returning from a long break from the gym. If you’ve taken an extended hiatus from the gym, you shouldn’t jump straight into a high-volume program. Your body will need time to reacclimate to a lifting routine, and you have to gradually build back up to the levels you were at before.
- Anyone who doesn’t have a lot of time to work out. These workouts are long and can take a couple of hours to complete. Many people split them up and go to the gym twice a day, but that’s not always possible for people with families or busy jobs. Even getting to the gym six days a week is too much for a lot of people. If you don’t have the time to commit to this program, it’s best to follow a three-day or four-day workout split instead.
- Anyone who’s burnt out from exercise. The Arnold split should not be done by someone who’s been training at a high intensity for a long period of time. To give both your body and your mind a break, you should first follow a lower-impact routine for a couple of months before attempting the Arnold split.
If you’re looking for an alternative to the Arnold split that can help you build muscle and get stronger, check out the Fitbod app and get three free workouts!
How to Program the Arnold Split
Arnold Split: Workout Schedule and Muscle Group Breakdown
As I’ve mentioned, the Arnold split is meant to be done six days per week, with each day focusing on specific muscle groups. The typical order of the Arnold split is:
- Chest and back
- Shoulders and arms
- Legs and lower back
The days on which you choose to work out are up to you. Most people who do the Arnold split choose to work out Monday-Saturday and rest on Sundays.
If working out six days in a row is too much for you, you can take a rest day after the third day. The only drawback to doing this is that you won’t be working on a standard seven-day training schedule. Some of your training or rest days will spill over into a new week.
For example, taking a rest day every three days means your schedule would look like this:
- Monday – Chest and back
- Tuesday – Shoulders and arms
- Wednesday – Legs and lower back
- Thursday – Rest
- Friday – Chest and back
- Saturday – Shoulders and arms
- Sunday – Legs and lower back
- Monday – Rest
- Tuesday – Chest and back
- Wednesday – Shoulders and arms
- Thursday – Legs and lower back
- Friday – Rest
- Saturday – Chest and back
- Sunday – Shoulders and arms
- Monday – Legs and lower back
- …and so on
There’s nothing wrong with following this schedule if you need the rest after three consecutive training days, but it’s easier for most people to go to the gym on the same days each week.
How Long to Run the Arnold Split
I recommend running the Arnold split for no longer than 16 weeks. After that, it’s best to deload and then move into a strength phase for 12-16 weeks.
This will give you a mental and physical break from the high volume and frequency of the Arnold split. You’ll also be able to put your newly-built muscle to good use and make it stronger.
Related Article: How To Deload For Bodybuilding (Ultimate Guide)
Arnold Split: Progressions
Over the 16 weeks of the Arnold split, there are various ways you can progress in terms of volume and weight.
When you first start the program, I recommend starting with lighter weights with which you can perform each set and still have 2-3 reps left in the tank. The routine will get very tough very quickly because of how often you’ll be doing it, so it’s better to start easy and work your way up as your body adjusts to the volume.
I also recommend that you only increase the weight on a movement once you’re able to complete all of the prescribed reps with proper form. So if your routine calls for four sets of six to eight bench presses, you’ll only increase your weight on the sets with which you were able to complete eight reps without form breakdown.
How much you increase the weight is up to you. A good rule of thumb is 5lbs for upper body exercises and 10lbs for lower body exercises, but you can go higher or lower than that depending on the movement and how much additional weight you believe you can safely handle.
If you have experience lifting weights but you’re new to high-frequency or high-volume training, you may also wish to start by cutting the number of sets in half for the first two weeks and gradually adding more volume.
This isn’t the way the original routine was written, but the majority of gym-goers will never be able to look or train like Arnold, anyway. Finding ways to make the routine work for your individual needs will make you more successful in the long run.
Arnold Split: Additional Considerations
When doing the Arnold split, there are several training methodologies you can introduce to help keep your workouts more exciting and, in some cases, reduce the amount of time you spend in the gym.
One of the biggest benefits of the Arnold split is how it emphasizes antagonistic muscle groups in each workout. This makes it easy to incorporate supersets in which you perform one exercise and then move into the next movement with little to no rest in between. You can pair incline bench presses with bentover rows or bicep curls with tricep extensions.
There are some studies that suggest that supersets aren’t more effective at building muscle or increasing energy expenditure during a workout. But they can help your workout go by faster. And because there’s almost no rest in between each exercise, you’ll get a bit of cardio as well.
Drop sets refer to the process of performing one set at a specified weight for a prescribed number of reps or until failure, then decreasing the weight for each subsequent set.
Like supersets, drop set training isn’t necessarily any better than performing straight sets when it comes to building muscle. But there is also some evidence that drop sets can help improve muscular endurance and stimulate the growth of type I muscle fibers due to an increased amount of time under tension.
However, it should also be noted that training until absolute failure is taxing on the CNS and shouldn’t be done during every workout. If you want to utilize drop sets, I’d recommend setting a goal for the number of reps you want to hit in each set. Then choose weights with which you can perform all of the prescribed reps while feeling like you can do 2-3 more reps with good form.
Max Effort Reps
Arnold frequently trained max effort reps. He would start an exercise with a high number of reps, then increase the weight and lower the reps until he couldn’t perform more than one rep. He would do this by following a pyramid rep scheme of 20, 15, 10, 8, 5, 3, 1, 1, 1.
As is the case with drop sets, max effort reps shouldn’t be done every day or even every week. Max effort training is exhausting, and doing it too frequently can impact your recovery and increase your risk of injury. It should really only be done at the end of your training cycle or as a temporary way to help you break through a plateau.
Related Article: How Often Should You Max Out Lifting Weights?
I mentioned earlier that the Arnold split allows you to train your shoulders and arms while they’re fresh.
I also mentioned that you can train the upper body on consecutive days because you’re not focusing on the same muscle groups in each workout.
However, the shoulders, biceps, and triceps are indirectly worked through many chest and back exercises. As such, you may still find it difficult to recover enough within 24 hours to train the shoulders and arms after your chest and back day.
One way to work around this is to utilize undulating periodization so you can modify the intensity of each workout. Your first chest and back day can be done at high intensity while your shoulder and arms workout the next day can be done at a lower intensity.
Later in the week, you’ll do the opposite. Your chest and back day will be done at a lower intensity and your shoulder and arms day will be done at a higher intensity.
Even though you’ll still train your upper body on back-to-back days, you’ll be able to better manage your fatigue and avoid burnout or overtraining.
What Results Can You Expect From The Arnold Split?
The results you can expect from a 16-week Arnold split program will depend on how consistently you follow the program. Your genetics, previous training background, diet, recovery, and other lifestyle habits will also determine your results.
If you eat enough calories, avoid an excessive amount of cardio, get enough sleep, and manage the stresses of your daily life properly, you can likely gain 4-8lbs of muscle. You may gain some fat as well, but you can keep it to a minimum by doing a lean bulk.
You may notice more of an increase in muscle mass in your upper body than in your lower body because the Arnold split requires four upper body training days per week. But your legs will also grow a decent amount if you maintain a high amount of volume with your leg exercises.
Additionally, even though this isn’t a strength-based program, you will get stronger. Hypertrophy training not only increases muscle size but also improves its ability to handle heavier weights. This is also why I advise doing a strength block after you finish the Arnold split.
Looking for a workout program? Try using the Fitbod App, which will design your program based on your logged training data and goals. The workouts will adapt automatically to your levels of recovery and rate of progress. With over 600 movements and exercises videos, you can be sure to perform the movements correctly for optimal results. Take the guesswork out of your workouts. Try 3 free workouts on Fitbod.
Arnold Split Sample Workout
Below is a sample workout with exercises and set/rep schemes based on the original Arnold split. This routine is written with straight sets, but you can utilize supersets if you need to save time.
You can also incorporate drop set training or max effort reps whenever you feel like you need an extra push — though keep in mind that you should not train to failure during every workout.
Chest and Back Day 1
- Flat barbell bench press – 4 x 6-8
- Bentover rows – 4 x 8-10
- Dumbbell incline bench press – 3 x 10-12
- Cable crossovers – 3 x 10-12
- Dumbbell pullovers – 3 x 10-12
- Seated cable rows – 3 x 10-12
Shoulders and Arms Day 1
- Overhead press – 4 x 6-8
- Seated Arnold press – 4 x 8-10
- Lateral raises – 3 x 10-12
- EZ curl bar bicep curls – 3 x 12-15
- Hammer curls – 3 x 12-15
- Skull crushers – 3 x 12-15
Leg Day 1
- Squats – 3 x 6-8
- Straight-leg deadlifts – 3 x 8-10
- Leg press – 4 x 10-12
- Hamstring curls – 4 x 12-15
- Calf raises – 4 x 15-20
- Cable crunches – 2 x 25
Chest and Back Day 2
- Incline barbell bench press – 4 x 6-8
- Pullups – 4 x 8-10
- Dumbbell pec flyes – 3 x 10-12
- Kroc rows – 3 x 10-12
- Dips – 3 x 10-12
- Lat pulldowns – 3 x 12-15
Shoulders and Arms Day 2
- Seated dumbbell press – 4 x 6-8
- Face pulls – 4 x 8-10
- Close grip bench press – 3 x 8-10
- Overhead tricep extensions – 3 x 10-12
- Bicep 21s – 3 sets
- Shrugs – 3 x 15-20
Legs Day 2
- Deadlifts – 3 x 6-8
- Hack squat – 3 x 8-10
- Good mornings – 4 x 8-10
- Glute ham raise – 4 x 10-12
- Leg extensions – 4 x 12-15
- Lying leg raise – 2 x 25
If you’re looking for more high-volume training plans, check out the Fitbod app. You can customize your workouts based on when you can work out and which body parts you want to focus on the most. Download the Fitbod app today and get your first three workouts for free!
Frequently Asked Questions
Is The Arnold Split The Same As PPL?
The Arnold split and PPL are not the same. The only similarity between the two programs is that they each have dedicated leg days.
When it comes to training the upper body, the workouts in each split focus on different muscle groups. The Arnold split focuses on training antagonistic muscle groups, such as the chest and back, within the same workout. A PPL routine splits up the muscles based on the functions they perform, such as pushing or pulling.
Is The Arnold Split Effective?
The Arnold split is an effective hypertrophy program. Because you train each muscle group twice per week, you can gain muscle mass and increase muscle size within a relatively short amount of time.
How Much Should You Be Eating When Doing the Arnold Split?
How many calories you need to eat when following the Arnold split is highly individual. But as a general rule, you should at least eat at maintenance, if not in a surplus, so you can take full advantage of the muscle-building benefits the Arnold split offers.
Related Article: What Should Your Calories & Macros Be When Bulking?
Can You Do Cardio When Following the Arnold Split?
You can do cardio while following the Arnold split. However, keep in mind that when you’re lifting weights six days a week, your body will be under a lot of stress. Doing several bouts of HIIT or other intense cardio workouts can negatively impact your recovery.
I recommend starting with two or three steady-state cardio sessions per week and gauging how you feel before trying to add anything extra to the program.
Related Article: 3 Differences Between LISS Cardio and HIIT
Do You Have To Workout Twice a Day When Doing the Arnold Split?
Some people do two-a-days when following the Arnold split so they don’t have to spend a long time in the gym for each workout, especially if they also do cardio. But it’s not necessary, and if you can’t or don’t want to go to the gym twice a day, you don’t have to.
The Arnold split isn’t for everyone, but if you stick with it and control other important variables such as your nutrition and recovery, you can improve your physique and get stronger in the process.
If you find that the volume or training frequency is too much for you, you can always try taking a mid-week rest day or incorporating undulating periodization to manage your training intensity. This will allow you to keep up with the six-day split without becoming burnt out.
About The Author
Amanda Dvorak is a freelance writer and powerlifting enthusiast. Amanda played softball for 12 years and discovered her passion for fitness when she was in college. It wasn’t until she started CrossFit in 2015 that she became interested in powerlifting and realized how much she loves lifting heavy weights. In addition to powerlifting, Amanda also enjoys running and cycling.