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With such overpowering chest and bicep development, it's easy to forget how impressive Arnold Schwarzenegger's shoulders were. The truth is that Arnie had huge delts, with equal development through the front, medial, and rear portions.
Arnold's shoulder mass was built on a power training foundation involving many pressing movements. The striations and detail came from lots of isolation moves for each of the deltoid heads. In this article, I'll lay out Arnold Schwarzenegger's shoulder workout in the lead-up to the 1975 Olympia - the year his Mr. O prep was famously filmed for the classic docu-drama Pumping Iron.
In his 1975 Mr. Olympia prep, Arnold trained his shoulders in a dedicated session by themselves. This allowed him to give them total dedication without his energy being diverted to another body part. He and Franco Columbu, his training partner, would typically train their legs at Gold's Gym in Santa Monica at 10 am on Tuesday and Friday and then be back at six to work their shoulders.
Here's Arnold's 1975 Mr Olympia-winning shoulder workout:
Back in the mid-60s, before coming to America, Arnold did a lot of powerlifting. As well as making him incredibly strong, it also helped build the mass foundation of his physique, including his shoulders. By 1975, he didn't need any more mass, so he used the clean and press as a general warm-up move. Here's how he did it:
The Arnold Press is the only exercise named in Arnie's honor, which says a lot about his dedication to shoulder training. He believed it was the best shoulder move in existence because it worked the front and medial delts at the same time.
The bent-over lateral raise targets the rear delts, making it an ideal superset partner for the Arnold Press, which hits the other two heads.
The lying lateral raise was a favorite side delt exercise for Arnold and Franco because it was super strict, forcing the medial delts to do all the work. This was one of Arnold's favorite lateral raise variations.
The cable lateral raise is another strict version of the side lateral movement to isolate the medial delts. Arnold included two dedicated side lateral movements because he knew how impressive wide, striated side delts are. This is also one of my favorite cable shoulder exercises to do.
The front raise is an effective exercise to target the front deltoid. That's the part of the muscle responsible for the mass of the shoulders as viewed from the front.
In a 1977 interview with Muscle Builder Power magazine, Arnold said, "A man who has developed wide, broader shoulders feels superior and has a greater sense of security and confidence about him."
Yet, for the first few years of his bodybuilding career, Arnold's delts were the least impressive part of his upper body. He had to work tirelessly to bring them up to par with his chest, back, and arms. Along the way, he collected a number of invaluable training tips.
Here are seven of Arnold's training tips for huge, wide, striated shoulders:
Arnold preferred to work mostly with dumbbells and cables for his shoulder work. He knew that he was getting plenty of front delt stimulation with barbell exercises during his chest workouts. He also appreciated the benefits of being able to rotate his palms on exercises like the Arnold Press, which was named after him.
A lot of people pair their chest and shoulders in their split routine workouts. However, Arnold advised against this because the heavy flat and incline bench pressing would pre-exhaust the front delts. This will prevent you from using maximum poundage on his front delt-specific exercises.
Arnold either worked delts by themselves or after hitting his arms.
You can see the full Arnold Split here.
Arnold was well aware that the trapezius muscle needed to be evenly developed along with the delts and back to create an award-winning physique. He trained the traps separately to the shoulder but often did so straight afterward. He'd do exercises to target both the upper traps, like shrugs, and the middle traps, like cable pull-ins.
The rear deltoids are very small muscles. You don't have to use very much weight to work them effectively. If you go too heavy, the surrounding muscle groups will take over, and you'll lose the benefit of the exercise. This muscle also responds best to relatively high reps, so train them with lighter weights in the 12-15 rep range.
Arnold loved to do drop sets to burn out the front shoulders. He'd do this standing in front of the dumbbell rack. First, he would grab a pair of dumbbells that allowed him to smash out eight reps. Then he'd re-rack them and immediately grab the next pair of weights down the rack. He'd go for another eight reps with this weight.
Arnold would continue down the rack, aiming for eight reps on each mini-set. He'd do as many five or six drops to complete the drop set.
After doing a set of lateral raises, Arnold would sometimes grab a heavier pair of dumbbells and lift them out to the sides as high as possible. He'd then hold this isometric contraction position for as long as possible until the intense burn in the side delts was unbearable.
An intensity enhancer that Arnold sometimes employed was to superset a pressing movement, such as the Arnold Press, with an isolation raise exercise like dumbbell lateral raises. Five of these supersets would completely blitz his delts. To make things even more intense, Arnold would turn the superset into a tri-set by adding upright rows for his upper trapezius.
Arnold trained deltoids as hard as anyone. In fact, his shoulder workouts with Franco were legendary, with other gymgoers staring in awe at the intensity they were able to muster up. The results were obvious, with both men becoming multiple Olympia winners.
If you're up for it, give the Arnold deltoid workout a trial run. Then let us know in the comments section below how you got on - provided you can lift your shoulder to type on the keyboard!
(All image credits to original owners)
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