Arnold A To Z: Ask Arnold—Wisdom Of The Austrian Oak

Arnold knows best. Absorb his knowledge in this compilation of his Ask Arnold Muscle & Fitness columns.

From 1996 to 2008—or put another way, from Jingle All the Way through his second term as Governor of California—Arnold Schwarzenegger had a somewhat irregular, almost-monthly feature in Muscle & Fitness.

The by-line identified him as "Arnold Schwarzenegger, seven-time Mr. Olympia," in order to differentiate him from all the other versions of Arnold in our lives. The title was a simple command: "Ask Arnold."

If they looked underneath most—but not all—of these articles, astute readers would see the phrase, "Adapted from previously published Muscle & Fitness content." While it's probably naive to think Mr. Freeze personally hammered out these columns on a typewriter on the set of Batman & Robin, to quibble over whether Arnold actually wrote his column would be to miss the point.

By the mid-90s, Arnold had starred in 30 movies, written a handful of best-selling fitness books, and chaired the President's Council on Physical Fitness in Sports. To his readers, Arnold the character was much more real and pervasive than Arnold the man. He "wrote" these columns back in the 70s, when his values became the values of the entire fitness industry.

Think of it this way: "Ask Arnold" is basically like Arnold if he were your dad. You know more or less what he thinks, but if you ask him over breakfast how to address your spindly calves, he's going to gently repeat it to you again: Work the big muscles. Focus on your weaknesses and address them first. Stay balanced. Train with people better than you, and keep your goals clear. Eat lots of protein, lift heavy, and live with the attitude you need to win.

Regardless of who typed those values, they're as central to what we do now as they've ever been. With that in mind, enjoy this selection of 10 questions and answers from "Ask Arnold."


Dear Arnold: I want to become a pro bodybuilder, but I train at home and I don't think my equipment is adequate. Is there any way to enter the pro ranks by training only at home?

Almost every bodybuilding star in the world began training at home, myself included. I made tremendous gains the first year, then hit a sticking point because of my inadequate gym equipment.

Also, I felt strongly that I needed to train with people who were better than me, and who could give me instruction on lifting technique and nutrition that would improve my strength and mass. When I joined a professional gym, my gains practically doubled overnight.

To answer your question, I feel it's possible to develop a magnificent body by training at home, but to make it to the top—which is where you say you want to go—you must train with the best equipment and where the greatest training knowledge is available.

Training at home can take you only so far, then you must make a total commitment to go all-out. Even if joining a gym costs you in the short run, in the long run—once you hold a trophy in your hands—you'll realize you spent your money wisely.

I've been training for more than a year now, and although I've achieved very good muscularity, I can't increase my measurements, no matter what I do. I eat three good meals per day and train each body part twice per week. B.H.

I suspect your problem has its roots in diet. In other words, try eating more than you do now, say 4-5 meals per day. That doesn't mean you should stuff yourself with a whole load of food at every sitting.

"Between Breakfast And Lunch, Try Eating Some Cottage CHeese And Fruit."

I'd suggest a fairly large breakfast with a protein shake. If possible, eat a big lunch, too, and dinner around 7:30 p.m. Between breakfast and lunch, try eating some cottage cheese and fruit, and drink another protein shake in the afternoon between lunch and dinner.

Try to increase your training poundages, but not to the point where form is sacrificed. Stick to 3-4 sets of 6-8 repetitions each per movement, and do 2-4 exercises per body part, depending on your training level.

Give yourself at least eight weeks before checking your measurements again. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Should you tense the muscles of the body part you're training?

One of the best ways to bring out the muscularity (veins, striations and definition) of a body part is by tensing, flexing and holding the muscle after a set. When I was in heavy training for the Mr. Olympia, I often tensed the particular muscle while training, too.

That is, if you're doing a set of barbell curls, be sure to flex the biceps at the top of the movement. This helps bring up the peak. By tensing the muscles continually, you learn muscle control, which is very important while posing onstage.

Learn to control your calves, thighs and abs especially. Continuous tensing helps develop good, mature muscle separation, creating the look of a champion.

I've been working out for eight months now, but I haven't worked my legs. What exercises should I be doing?

The worst thing any bodybuilder can do is neglect leg training. And many do at the beginning, primarily because it's the toughest. I suggest that any beginner include the basics: the squat, leg press, leg extension and leg curl.

Obviously, your upper body is far more advanced than your legs now, which means you'll have to work the legs twice as hard to compensate. To start, try three sets of 10 repetitions each of the squat and leg press, and three sets of 15 repetitions each of the leg extension and leg curl.

Don't forget the calves. They're the most stubborn of the body's muscles and must be worked harder. Do calves first thing every workout. Include five sets each of standing raises and donkey raises. Each set should be about 12 reps; use as much weight as possible.

When training thighs, use as much weight as you can for the allotted number of reps, but always warm up thoroughly. Use a lifting belt in the squat and proceed with safety in mind.

I'm making plans to enter my first contest sometime this spring. Can you give me a few tips on how to train as contest time nears?

During contest training, I would cut down my rest between sets and step up the tempo of my workout in any way possible.

I've also found staggering my sets effective at times. I may choose 3-4 widely different exercises—say for biceps, calves, lats and chest—and do one set of each without rest, then repeat in rotation for several sets.

In that way, each body part gets the chance to recover fully and I increase my heart rate, burning off fat and calories and clearing the way for definition.

When I was zeroing in on the big contest, I also used to stand in front of the mirror between sets of biceps exercises and flex my arms, holding the flex for a minute, maybe two, even three minutes. I did that because contest posing is hard.

You're flexing and grinding just like you do during a workout. Having muscle is one thing, but having posing control over it, and endurance, is another.

I've had some success winning local bodybuilding events, but when I try a national competition, fall to pieces. Any advice on how to take it to the next step?

To be blunt, work harder on your posing or forget about it. As the caliber of competition increases, so does the standard of posing.

If you have the muscle, just a few impressive poses will win prizes in local contests.

When you step up the ladder to regional or national events, however, you're competing against experienced athletes who spend whole days practicing and polishing their stage routines. Unless you know how to show off your development to its fullest advantage, you'll never win the top awards in tough competition.

One more thing: You might have the best physique on the stage on any particular day, but unless you show your cuts and muscles through great poses, you'll be marked lower than your competitors. In other words, you'll lose even though you have the best body.

So make sure you show the judges your best angles. Choose poses that flaunt your best body parts and disguise your weaknesses. And remember, posing is as much about attitude as anything else. Dominate the stage with an aggressive posture, and you'll come away a champion. Good luck.

How often do you suggest changing your training program? Do you find that a variety of exercises works better than a select few?

The most successful bodybuilders change exercises and training routines infrequently. It takes years to learn how to train your body so that it responds the way you want it to, and once you've discovered what works best, why constantly change?

In fact, changing routines is one of the biggest mistakes less-advanced trainers often make. Most champs find the exercises and sets-and-reps combinations that are most productive and stay with them for years, even if they make minor adjustments from workout to workout.

I'm still using basically the same arm program that I did at the height of my bodybuilding career.

I'll occasionally vary the order of the exercises in my routine, but I stay with the same result-producing movements.

I'll occasionally experiment with tri-set or giant-set combinations, especially if I'm in a hurry and don't have the time to complete my entire workout. But these variations are simply a diversion for time's sake or to keep my routines fresh.

When I'm in the gym for some serious training, I stick with my main exercises and keep my mind focused on lifting as much weight as safely as possible.

What role does the mind play in building a super physique?

Every cell in the body is an individual intelligence working in a definite order, ideally for the good of the whole body. The subconscious mind controls the body in its individual parts as one whole, perfect unit. The body in whole or part may be greatly influenced by the conscious mind stressing certain demands upon the subconscious.

While you do an exercise, if you concentrate and visualize your muscles growing as you command them to grow, the results will come much faster. The picture you form in your mind of what you want to be and what you want to accomplish can greatly aid your progress toward your goals.

When I was just a 15-year-old kid starting out, I visualized myself looking like Reg Park, only better. I kept telling myself that I could and would develop my body until I could beat my idol.

I told myself before and after every workout that I was going to be the best.

I went to bed at night and formed a mental picture of myself winning the Mr. Universe title. I wrote down the measurements I wanted to have when I won.

I focused all my concentration on accomplishing my goal whenever I was at the gym. Every repetition of every set was done with intense concentration. I visualized each rep, set and exercise as bringing me closer to my goal.

I never had the slightest doubt that I'd someday be the world's greatest bodybuilder. Some people may call that arrogance; I call it supreme confidence developed from using the full power of the mind.

Does a single best exercise or routine per body part exist? The diversity of exercises and routines seems to make bodybuilding needlessly complicated

For a good laugh, I enjoy reading the covers of some muscle and health mags today. To catch your eye, they'll commonly trumpet such blurbs as "The 10-Minute Workout," "Eat Fat to Lose Weight," or "The Only Ab Exercise You'll Ever Need." Because these statements go against what many people—especially bodybuilders—generally think.

They perpetuate the mistaken belief that muscle building is about discovering secrets: The secret workout of the top pros that produces dramatic results; The secret bodybuilding supplement that will promote muscle growth far better than all the others; The secret exercise that will eliminate those love handles and give you that sought-after 6-pack.

I laugh because I know that isn't what bodybuilding's about. Rather than looking for easier methods, less-difficult movements, shortcuts and ways to cheat through your workout, you should actually be looking for ways to make your routine more demanding so that you can thoroughly stress—then rest—your muscles.

While 25 years ago I may have done 50 sets in a brutal shoulder workout that included compound sets, dropsets and forced reps, today many bodybuilders would consider that too much. But that's what worked for me, and I'll bet darn few of them could keep up!

What is the point I'm making here? You probably already know that bodybuilding is a 3-D sport that requires extreme dedication, discipline and drive, but there just aren't many so-called secrets that will give you a shortcut to success or make your workouts any less taxing.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Done correctly, I believe all exercises are effective. That isn't to say some movements work better for one bodybuilder than for another, but that depends more on the individual: his or her genetics, level of ability, makeup of fast- vs. slow-twitch fibers, age, sex, etc.

More importantly, I believe bodybuilders should devise a training routine combining exercises based on several factors that I list below. While I just said that any given exercise done right can induce a gain in strength and muscle size, some are far better choices than others, but that's for you to determine.

If you're a beginner or intermediate, concentrate on basic, compound movements. Such exercises like the squat, deadlift and bench press don't isolate individual muscles but rather work more than one muscle group. That makes them more demanding exercises, as they stimulate a greater degree of muscle tissue.

For mass-building, rely on free weights (barbells and dumbbells) over machines and cables. I still don't know a single advanced-level bodybuilder who built his or her physique on machines only. Could you be the first? I doubt it.

To get big, you have to get strong. Like Franco Columbu and even some of today's [now former] top pros like Eddie Robinson and Mike Francois, I trained like a powerlifter before I began serious bodybuilding. That means using weights (after your initial warm-up sets) that cause muscular failure before reaching 10 reps. You may feel "pumped" after doing high-rep sets, but they do very little for building maximum muscle size.

If you haven't changed your workout in three months, you've already stopped growing. Within a basic framework, I was constantly changing my exercises. I liked to shock my muscles by not letting them grow complacent in a consistent routine. Joe Weider calls this the "muscle confusion training principle;" if you haven't changed your workout lately, I'd say you're the one who's confused.

Not all bodybuilders respond equally well to the same exercise.

This is something that can be decided upon only through experimentation. You must, at some point, try every exercise in the book. That's the only way to build your physique from all angles. This will also help you develop an instinct for what works best for you.

Finally, forget the notion of shortcuts and mystical exercises. Expect to train hard and, over time, your hard work will pay great dividends.

What's your favorite body part to train?

For me, as a beginner, it was chest, followed by arms. The fact that these muscle groups quickly exploded in size only fueled my intensity to keep training them hard. You wouldn't know it now, but this Mr. Olympia soon developed an imbalanced physique. This asymmetry cost me a couple of early bodybuilding titles and forced me to redouble my calf-training efforts.

I started this column with a question: What's your favorite body part to train? Did anybody respond with calves? Do you look forward to calf training, or do you despise it? The fact is you must feel the same passion and enthusiasm for training your worst muscle group as you do for your best.

When I came to America, Joe Weider made it eminently clear that my future success as a bodybuilder depended on my ability to bring up my conspicuously narrow calves. From that point, I had to learn to love training calves.

The most obvious answer to lagging calves—but one that many people still fail to undertake—is to prioritize your lower-leg training. That simply means to train calves first in your workout, when your energy and enthusiasm are highest, not at the end when you're tired and more likely to just blow it off.

Another good point to remember is that your calves, like your forearms, get plenty of lightweight stimulation throughout the day, which works the slow-twitch fibers. You can imagine, then, that high-rep sets with light weights will work only those same fibers.

Yet because the slow-twitch fibers don't grow like the fast-twitch fibers do (think of a marathon runner standing next to a powerlifter), heavy weights are the answer.

What's heavy? I thought my 400-pound calf raises were until I trained in South Africa once with Reg Park, who was an early idol of mine. He loaded more than 800 pounds on the machine and explained to me that if I really wanted development, I'd have to take my calf training more seriously. Not too many months later, I was pushing close to 1,000 pounds. Heavy weights were, in fact, the answer.

Much has been written about one technique I used to motivate myself to train my calves harder, and it really worked. I cut the cloth from the lower legs of my sweatpants, exposing my calves to ego-bruising ridicule. I knew that if I exposed only my better body parts: my arms, chest or deltoids, all I'd get from my peers would be wonderful comments and I'd soon forget about my horrid lower legs.

The cornerstone exercises in my calf workout were donkey calf raises, standing toe raises on a calf machine, and seated calf raises to bring out the diamond shape. I did six sets of each exercise with as much weight as I could possibly handle and still do 10-15 reps.

But the real secret in my growth wasn't just doing the reps, but rather in the way I did them. On the donkey raise, I'd start with two guys sitting across my back. As my calves fatigued, one guy would jump off and I'd continue.

With the standing toe raise, I held the peak contraction for a count of 3-or-4 before slowly lowering. And on the seated calf raise, I switched to a pumping style when I grew fatigued, pounding out reps as I tried to bring my knees just a bit higher on each successive rep.

Under normal circumstances, you can get a pretty good burn; by adding dropsets, holding for a peak contraction, using a training partner to assist you with forced reps and selectively using the Cheating Training Principle, you can make your calves literally scream for help.

Some bodybuilders say they do the same movements I do but still don't get the same results. My answer is simple: These athletes merely go through the movements and nothing more. My workout is a constant challenge. I force the muscles to grow. And I'm not afraid of a little pain.