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The Oak’s Unique Lifts

In and out of the gym, Arnold Schwarzenegger did it his way.

Of all the qualities that distinguish Arnold Schwarzenegger from the rest of us, some are as simple to pinpoint as a shoulder press or a calf raise. Nearly from the beginning of his bodybuilding career, people have followed his path, hoping to duplicate some of his success. The unique exercises in the Oak’s regimen in the mid-’70s became popular primarily because he was doing them. Now, three decades later, many of them have fallen into disuse — typically because they’re more difficult to master than less-effective alternatives. Here are some exercises that helped Schwarzenegger win seven Mr. Olympia titles, but even so, most modern trainers don’t do them.

Incorporate them into your own workouts and experience what made the Oak grow.

Arnold Presses

Arnold Presses

You know a lift is unique to you when it bears your name. Arnold presses are dumbbell shoulder presses with a crucial twist. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder level with your palms facing you and your elbows near your sides (as if at the top position of dumbbell curls). Your thumbs are facing out. Then, as you press the dumbbells up, rotate your hands so that your thumbs point toward each other. In the top position (just short of lockout), your palms are facing forward.

Reverse the twist during the descent. Schwarzenegger did these for the greater range of motion they afforded, stimulating the front delts, in particular, from a different angle.

Donkey Calf Raises

Donkey Calf Raises

Before the rise of the donkey calf machine, the current California governor performed these with Franco Columbu and one or two other pals riding on his back. Place your toes on a block, rest your elbows on a high bench, and have someone (preferably a beautiful woman) sit on your lower back. Raise your heels up and down, getting a maximum stretch and contraction for each rep. Sure, it looks ridiculous — all the more so because bodyweight donkey calf raises are rarely performed today. You may not always have access to a machine and, even if you do, the “old-school way” provides a freer movement. This exercise was a major contributor to Schwarzenegger’s phenomenal calf growth.

Front Squats

Several current champions — including Ronnie Coleman and Chris Cook — perform front squats, but otherwise this one-time weight-room standard is slipping into history. Today, few trainers do front squats, simply because they’re hard work. They require that you perform a free-weight squat while balancing a barbell on your front deltoids and clavicles (a somewhat painful position) and steadying yourself while the weight threatens to tug you forward.

Use a barbell pad or wrap a towel around the center of the barbell for extra support. With your arms crossed in front of your chest, balance the bar on your front delts and clavicles. Stand with your heels on a board for better balance. Squat to just below parallel, keeping your elbows high and your torso upright throughout. Use a light weight until you get the hang of these. Front squats can be performed on a Smith machine, but that eliminates the struggle to balance the bar.

Front Squats

The difficulty of front squats is precisely what makes them so beneficial. They also place a greater emphasis on the lower quads than back squats do.

Schwarzenegger believed that front squats were the exercise that most altered his thigh musculature.

Lying Incline Side Laterals

Lying Incline Side Laterals

Standing side laterals stress the medial deltoids primarily during the top half of the ascent (when the weight is traveling mostly upward) and only minimally during the bottom half of the ascent (when the weight is traveling mostly outward). By doing side laterals while lying on an incline bench, Schwarzenegger was able to apply greater stress at the beginning of each rep (and less during the top half of each rep). Lie on your right side on an incline situp bench and grasp a dumbbell with your left hand. Keeping your elbow locked and your arm straight or nearly straight, raise the dumbbell until it is directly over your shoulder joint. After getting eight to 12 reps, lie on your left side to work your right medial deltoid.

Reverse Preacher Curls

Original Mr. Olympia (1965-66) Larry Scott popularized reverse curls on a preacher bench (Larry Scott pictured right), and Schwarzenegger incorporated them into his training. Unlikemost of today’s champs, Schwarzenegger never neglected his forearms. In fact, he would sometimes train them every day before contests. He believed lower-arm mass gave his physique a full and complete look.

Reverse Preacher Curls

These curls work the forearms, brachialis and biceps together. Perform them with a straight bar. Schwarzenegger liked to do reverse preacher curls as a transitional exercise (after his biceps workout and as the first exercise of his forearm training). Barbell wrist curls followed reverse preacher curls.

Wide-Grip Behind-The-Neck Chins

Wide-Grip Behind-The-Neck ChinsFew pros do chins these days, let alone the behind-the-neck variety. The Oak frequently did them with a grip far beyond shoulder width, believing that this method stretched out and broadened his upper lats. Start each rep from a dead stop with your arms straight, and then pull yourself up with a smooth motion. Duck your head forward and touch the bar to your traps. Contract in the top position. If you can’t do eight reps on your own, have a spotter lighten the load by giving your feet a slight boost. Conversely, if you can do more than 12 reps on your own, add resistance via a weighted belt or by holding a dumbbell between your thighs.

Bottom Line

The career of Arnold Schwarzenegger, both in and out of the gym, is a classic example of an individual relying on his instincts. He figured out a strategy that worked for him and then followed it to the letter.

Give these “forgotten” exercises a try and who knows, maybe in 30 years, you’ll be consumed by the California budget debt … or maybe not.

Author: Greg Merritt


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