By Andrew Heffernan
Before he was the Governor of California, before he was world's highest-paid movie star — even before he was the Terminator — Arnold Schwarzenegger was possessor of the most impressive chest in history. A three-time Mr. Universe and a seven-time Mr. Olympia, this guy made the dubious practice of lifting inert hunks of steel not only acceptable, but fun. Cool. Hip.
So if there's a person on earth qualified to offer advice on how to build Greek-god pecs, Arnold is your man. The Austrian Oak never shied away from hard work in his chest-building efforts. Forget moderation: Arnold's chest workouts — like all of his training — were long, intense, and brutal.
Over years as a competitive bodybuilder, his workouts grew ever more complex and arduous, but he never strayed from a few basic principles — principles you can apply whether you're a gym newbie or an iron vet. You may not be able to handle every set and rep of Arnold's pec-punishing workouts — they were, after all, designed for a guy with extraordinary genetics. But if you put his time-tested principles to work, you're sure to make serious progress on your quest for a superhero chest.
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During the first few months of your training, Arnold recommends that you stick with just three movements for your chest: the bench press, the incline press, and the pullover.
The first two moves are compound barbell basics — exercises that work the chest in conjunction with the shoulders and triceps muscles, and they're classic strength-and-muscle builders. Assuming your shoulders are healthy, these are go-to pec-building moves for any level of lifter.
Not many iron-pumpers use the third move — the pullover — today, but Arnold believes it helped expand his rib cage to the eye-popping 57 inches it measured at his peak.
Additional benefits to this seldom-used move are the way it stretches the shoulders and lats — areas prone to tightness in many lifters — and its focus on the serratus muscles — the cool-looking ridges on your ribs below and to the outsides of the pectoral muscles.
Championship chest principle No. 1: You'll never go wrong with the basics.
After about six months of training, Arnold recommends you add a couple of exercises (the dumbbell fly and the parallel bar dip) into the mix.
These additional moves work the pectorals from different angles, emphasizing different fibers of the muscles for more complete development. Both moves force the muscles into a stretched position, which many old-school bodybuilders believed enhances growth (they may have been onto something).
On this more advanced level, Arnold recommends you “pyramid" each exercise, adding a little extra weight to the bar on each subsequent set, so that, by your final set, four reps feel as tough as 10 reps did on your first set.
Championship chest principle No. 2: Stretch to win.
If you want to take things to the next level — and again, these are very high-volume workouts that even Arnold performed only in brief spurts before a bodybuilding contest — you can up the ante by adding volume and working your chest and back together in superset fashion, alternating sets of exercises for your back with sets of moves for your chest.
Supersetting has many benefits: It reduces downtime in the gym, which helps when you're trying to squeeze a lot of work into limited time. When you perform many sets back to back for these two mirror-image muscle groups — a technique known as "antagonistic supersetting" — it also drives a huge volume of blood into your torso, giving you that tight, pumped (we know you want to say "pahhmped") feeling that's very motivating.
Championship chest principle No. 3: Superset for an awesome — and time-efficient — challenge.
Here are the step-by-step instructions on how to perform each exercise included in Arnold's chest workout.
Arnold on bench pressing: “Absolutely necessary for a big chest. There is no exercise to replace it."
Barbell incline press
Arnold on pullovers: “There is an interdependence between chest and back exercises. The chest will not reach its full potential size unless the latissimus dorsi muscles are fully developed."
Arnold on dumbbell flys: “Among my favorite exercises."
Parallel bar dip
If you'll be supersetting your chest workout, here are the step-by-step instructions for Arnold's back exercises.
Variations: Close grip (performed with your hands a few inches apart); Wide-grip (performed with your hands wider than shoulder width).
Seated cable row