For decades, Arnold Schwarzenegger has been regarded by many as bodybuilding's greatest champion and most intense athlete. His training programs continue to be analysed, studied and sometimes criticized to this day - more than four decades since he last held up the Sandow Trophy in 1980. But when was the last time someone really tried to train like the Austrian oak? I don't mean a workout that was shared in an issue of FLEX or Muscle & Fitness. I mean, every set, every rep, much like the seven-time Mr. Olympia himself over an extended period of time. In comes the Arnold Challenge.
I will do that.
For four weeks I will be doing the infamous "double split" superset and triset program that Arnold shared in one of the strength training bibles, The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding. Logistically and in terms of equipment, there will be a few optimizations and alternatives that will be explained later. But the integrity of the Arnold Challenge and the effort required to complete these two-hour marathon workouts twice a day are respected.
how did we get here
For those of you who don't know me - and that could be a great many of you - I've been writing in the fitness industry for well over a decade. I started training in West Virginia in 1999 as a scrawny teenager. Like many people who follow bodybuilding, I watched Pumping Iron and read numerous issues of magazines featuring Schwarzenegger. I had his The New Encyclopedia and I literally read and studied this book for so long that the cover wore out. Serious.
Many back issues of FLEX and Muscle & Fitness had samples of his workouts from when he was the #1 bodybuilder on the planet, and I recorded them regularly for myself just to see if I could pull it off. Sometimes I survived, with many others I found that the intensity and volume were too much for me at that point.
I pursued bodybuilding but was well aware that the IFBB Pro League was not in my future as an athlete. So my main focus was on getting bigger and stronger. Ten years into my education, I started blogging for motivation, and after submitting an article to a popular website, I got my breakthrough as a writer.
It might have been a small article, but for me I was now part of the bodybuilding industry.
Since becoming a writer, my personal transformation has been reported on a number of platforms and I have been able to share my own knowledge with readers around the world. I have also written various articles about Arnold's training. I would scale them down for a beginner to try or give them my own twist. The first issue of a major print magazine that ever featured my work actually had him on the cover. That was in 2010 and I still have my copy to this day.
I'm also a four hour drive from Columbus, Ohio, where the Arnold Sports Festival is held each year. I've competed in the Arnold Classic, the Arnold Strongman Classic, the Pump & Run three times, and even got to attend the International Sports Hall of Fame ceremony. I met Arnold a few times and shook his hand. In 2022 I even got the photo you see below and it was my honor to cover this year's World's Strongest Firefighter competition. He shared this article on his social media platforms, for which I am honored.
From Covering Arnold - w Arnold is watching me
Fast forward how this all came about. Arnold and his team publish a newsletter to which I subscribe and you should too. He also shared a free e-book featuring one of his Golden Era superset workouts for chest and back. I then decided that I wanted to try it. So I emailed my editor at M&F to see if there was any interest in doing an article on it, because let's be honest. The 17 year old me who read the magazine would be thrilled to be featured on their platform. My editor, Jeff Tomko, suggested I try it out every week for a month. I agreed and was ready to begin this training series.
I met some members of Arnold's team through other stories a year ago and they are nice guys. I also do some news articles and if anything comes up related to Arnold they can either review or clarify the news so I have the best possible information to share with readers. I reached out to them to let them know this was happening and for any advice they may have.
One of these gentlemen asked for only one favor: "Please don't die."
I promised to do my best to survive. The day I did the first training, they kept asking for updates. I send them pictures and video clips that I'm sure they found hysterical. Two hours later I was done and they commended me for surviving. Then they probably thought I was crazy because I actually pulled it off. Then something incredible happened.
I posted one of these videos on my Instagram and Twitter accounts. They were then shared on Arnold's social media. For comparison, the video that received the most attention on my own platforms had around 9,000 total. Once shared on Arnold's platforms, it received 230,000 views on Instagram and another 125,000 on Twitter. I thought that was very cool, but it also got our wheels turning. What if I did the whole program for a month?
My intention was to find versions of a total body workout program that Schwarzenegger either created or ran and do those workouts once a week for a month. As daunting as the Arnold Challenge seems to be, I figured I could do it. Each workout once a week for four weeks? Yes, I can deal with that as long as the pain hasn't left me bedridden afterwards.
I texted Jeff and he called me. We're discussing this and think this would be great. I am informing the two gentlemen with whom I previously shared this odyssey and besides the encouragement they also sent me an additional message.
"Arnold said to remind you that there were always two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening."
I planned to only do the workout once a week. The times he was referring to are his famous "double split" routine that he used to prepare for the Mr. Olympia. That wasn't my original intention. I told them I hadn't made it that far. My wife caught wind of this text exchange and said the words that sealed my fate.
"You've trained hard before, you know the workouts, I think you can do it."
I then shared with her what that meant. Two-hour workout, twice a day, six days a week. I would have to do chest and back in the morning and legs in the evening. The next day it would be shoulders in the morning, arms and abs in the evening. I would then repeat this three times a week. Sunday would be my only day off. She still thought I could do it.
"Four weeks? You got that."
After my tires were pumped up a bit, I agreed to at least get the best out of myself. To be clear and transparent, I understand that Arnold is aware that an author he has previously spoken to is attempting this. I don't think he's quite sure it's me yet, but he might become more aware of me in the end. That would be great as long as it is because I finished it. But now I'm just concentrating on training.
The next four weeks of my life will be intense and to add to the pressure we will summarize those four weeks in this series. I'll break down the workouts, use weight comparisons to show the toll of the workouts, and I'll monitor my progress and stats along the way. In the end you will see the changes for yourself. Arnold used these workouts to maximize his physique for competition. I'm going to try to lose weight and see how hard I can push myself. I'm probably not getting any stronger, and size isn't my price.
On a personal level, I had to do the Arnold Challenge to get back on track and take myself to a new level of personal fitness success, and that's the biggest thing for me. For clarity some may think this is live and available to read as the workouts are complete and we will only be releasing them one at a time. , if you are reading this I am only in my second week. There is nothing guaranteed. Anything could happen, but what I see is that I can get the job done and hopefully inspire some people to push themselves to achieve their own form of greatness. Time will tell but I will give it my all and I hope you will join me on this journey by reading the articles, following me on Instagram @rocklockridge and giving me all the encouragement. I will probably need it.