For decades, Arnold Schwarzenegger was considered by many to be bodybuilding’s greatest champion and most intense athlete. His training programs are analyzed, studied and, in some cases, criticized even today – more than four decades since he last won the Sandow Trophy in 1980. However, when was the last time that has anyone actually tried to train like the austrian oak? I don’t mean doing a workout that was shared in an issue of FLEX or Muscle & Fitness. I mean, every set, every rep, in a way as similar as the seven-time Mr. Olympia himself for a long period of time. Arrive the Arnold Challenge.
That’s what I’m going to do.
For four weeks I will be doing the infamous “double-split” superset and triset routine that Arnold shared in one of the weightlifting bibles, “The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding.” Logistically and materially, there will be some adjustments and alternatives, which will be explained as we go. But the integrity of the Arnold Challenge and the effort required to complete these two-hour, twice-daily marathon workouts will be respected.
How did we come here?
For those of you who don’t know me – and that may very well be many of you – I’ve been writing in the fitness industry for over a decade. I started training in 1999 as a skinny teenager in West Virginia. Like many people who follow bodybuilding, I have seen Pumping Iron and read many magazine issues featuring Schwarzenegger. I had his “New Encyclopedia”, and I literally read and studied this book for so long that I wore out the binding. Seriously.
Many previous issues of FLEX and Muscle & Fitness featured examples of his workouts from when he was the #1 bodybuilder on the planet, and I regularly took them for myself just to see if I could do it. Sometimes I survived, many others I realized the intensity and volume was too much for me at this point.
I followed bodybuilding, but I was well aware that the IFBB Pro League was not in my future as an athlete. So, I mainly focused on getting bigger and stronger. Ten years after I started working out, I started writing blogs to motivate myself, and after submitting an article to a popular website, I got my signed break as a writer.
It may 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 covered on a few platforms and I have been able to share my own insights with readers around the world. I have also written various articles on Arnold’s training. I would scale them down for a beginner to try or put my own spin on them. The first issue of a major print magazine that my work was featured in actually had it 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 every year. I covered the Arnold Classic, the Arnold Strongman Classic, I participated in the Pump & Run three times and I even got to attend the International Sports Hall of Fame ceremony. I met and shook hands with Arnold several times. In 2022, I even got the photo you see below, and had the honor of covering that year’s World’s Strongest Firefighter competition. He shared this article on his social media platforms which I feel honored for.
To cover Arnold – now Arnold is watching me
Fast forward to how it all happened. Arnold and his team publish a newsletter that I subscribe to, and you should too. He also shared a free e-book that featured one of his Golden Era chest and back superset workouts. I then decided that I wanted to try it. So I emailed my editor at M&F to see if there would be any interest in writing about it, because let’s be real. The 17-year-old me who read the magazine would love 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 series of workouts.
I met a few members of Arnold’s team a year ago through other stories and they’re nice guys. I also do some reporting, and if anything related to Arnold comes up, they can either verify or clarify the news so that I have the best possible information to share with readers. I contacted them to let them know what was going on and for any advice they might have.
One of these gentlemen asked only one favor: “Please don’t die.”
I promised to do my best to survive. The day I did the first workout they asked for updates throughout. I send them photos and video clips, which they certainly found hysterical. Two hours later I was done and they congratulated me for surviving. They then probably thought I was crazy for doing it. Then something amazing happened.
I posted one of these videos on my Instagram and Twitter accounts. They were later shared on Arnold’s social media. For perspective, the video that got the most attention on my own platforms was around 9,000 in total. Once shared on Arnold’s platforms, it was viewed 230,000 times on Instagram and 125,000 more on Twitter. I thought that was very cool, but it also got our wheels spinning. What if I did the whole program for a month?
My intentions were to find versions of a full body workout program created or made by Schwarzenegger, and do those workouts once a week for a month. As daunting as the Arnold challenge may seem, I thought I could do it. Each workout once a week for four weeks? Yeah, I can handle that, as long as the pain afterwards doesn’t get me bedridden.
I texted Jeff and he called me. We are discussing it and think it would be great to do it. I inform the two gentlemen with whom I have already shared this odyssey, and in addition to encouraging me, they also sent me an additional message.
“Arnold said to remind you that there was always two o’clock in the morning and two o’clock in the evening.”
No turning back
I only intended to do the workouts once a week. The moments he referenced are his famous “double split” routine that he would use to prepare for the Mr. Olympia. It was not my original intention. I told them I hadn’t gone 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 informed her of what this entailed. Two-hour workouts, twice a day, six days a week. I should do chest and back in the morning, legs in the evening. The next day would be shoulders in the morning, arms and abs in the evening. I would then repeat this three times in a week. Sunday would be my only day off. She always thought I could do it.
“Four weeks? You got that.
After my tires swelled up a bit, I agreed to give at least my best. To be clear and transparent, I understand Arnold is aware that a writer he’s spoken to before is trying this. I don’t think he knows it’s me specifically at the moment, but he might become more aware of me by the end. It would be great as long as it’s because I finished it. But for now, I’m just focusing on training.
The next four weeks of my life are going to be intense, and to make the pressure even bigger, we’re going to recap those four weeks in this series. I’ll break down the workouts, the weight comparisons I use to show the balance of the workouts, and 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 will try to lose some weight and see how hard I can push myself. I probably won’t get stronger, and size isn’t my prize.
On a personal level, I needed to take the Arnold Challenge to get me back on track and push myself to new levels of personal fitness success, and that’s as important as it gets to me. For clarity, some may think this is live and available for playback as the workouts are over and we will be posting them one by one. No, by the time you read this I will only be in week two. There is nothing guaranteed. Anything can happen, but what I see happening is that I do the work and hopefully inspire some people to push themselves to achieve their own form of greatness. Time will tell, but I’m going to give it my all, and I hope you’ll join me on this journey by reading the articles, following me on Instagram @rocklockridge, and feel free to offer encouragement. I will probably need it.