For decades, Arnold Schwarzenegger has been 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 – over four decades since he last held up the Sandow Trophy in 1980. However, when was the last time someone actually tried to train like the Austrian Oak? I don’t mean doing one workout that was shared in an issue of FLEX or Muscle & Fitness. I mean, every set, every rep, in as similar of a fashion as the seven-time Mr. Olympia himself for an extended period of time. In comes the Arnold Challenge.
That is what I’m going to do.
For four weeks, I am going to do the infamous “double-split” superset and triset program that Arnold shared in one of the bibles of lifting, “The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding.” Logistically, and equipment-wise, there will be a few tweaks and alternatives, which will be explained as we go along. But the integrity of the Arnold Challenge and effort it takes to complete these two-hour, twice a day marathon workouts will be respected.
How Did We Get Here?
For those of you that don’t know me—and that very well may be a lot of you—I’ve been writing in the fitness industry for well over a decade. I started training in 1999 as a scrawny teenager in West Virginia. Like many people who follow bodybuilding, I saw Pumping Iron and read numerous issues of magazines that featured Schwarzenegger. I had his “New Encyclopedia,” and I literally read and studied that book for so long that I wore the binding out. Seriously.
Many past issues of FLEX and Muscle & Fitness featured samples of his workouts from his days as the No. 1 bodybuilder on the planet, and I’d regularly take them on for myself just to see if I could do it. Sometimes I survived, many others I realized the intensity and volume were too much for me at that stage.
I followed bodybuilding, but I was well aware that the IFBB Pro League wasn’t in my future as an athlete. So, I mainly focused on getting bigger and stronger. Ten years after I started training, I began writing blogs for motivation, and after submitting an article to a popular website, I got my break signed as a writer.
It may have been one small article, but to me, I was now part of the bodybuilding industry.
Since I became a writer, my personal transformation has been covered on a few platforms, and I’ve been able to share my own knowledge with readers around the world. I’ve also done various articles about Arnold’s training. I would scale them down for a beginner to try or put my own twist on them. The first issue of a major print magazine that my work was ever featured in actually had him on the cover. That was 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’ve covered the Arnold Classic, Arnold Strongman Classic, participated in the Pump & Run three times, and even get to attend the International Sports Hall of Fame ceremony. I’ve met and shook hands with Arnold a few times. In 2022, I even got the photo you see below, and I was honored to cover that year’s World’s Strongest Firefighter competition. He shared that article on his social media platforms, which I feel honored for.
From Covering Arnold—Now Arnold’s Watching Me
Fast forward to how this all came to be. Arnold and his team publish a newsletter that I subscribe to, and you should as well. He also shared a complimentary e-book which featured one of his Golden Era chest and back superset workouts. I then decided I wanted to try it. So, I emailed my editor at M&F to see if there would be interest in a write-up about this because let’s be real. The 17-year-old me that read the magazine would be thrilled to be featured on their platform. My editor, Jeff Tomko, suggested I actually try it every week for a month. I agreed and was all set on starting this series of workouts.
I’ve met a couple of members of Arnold’s team a year ago through other stories and they are nice guys. I do some news stories as well, and if anything Arnold related comes up, they can either verify or clarify the news so I have the best information possible to share with readers. I reached out to them to let them know this was happening and to get any advice they may have.
One of those gentlemen only asked for one favor: “Please don’t die.”
I promised to do my best to survive. The day that I did the first workout, they asked for updates throughout. I’m sending them pics and video clips, which I’m sure they found hysterical. Two hours later, I was done, and they praised me for surviving. They then probably thought I was crazy for actually going through with it. Then, something incredible happened.
I posted one of those videos on my Instagram and Twitter accounts. They were then shared on Arnold’s social media. For perspective, the video that got the most attentions on my own platforms was around 9,000 total. Once it was shared on Arnold’s platforms, it got 230,000 views on Instagram and 125,000 more 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 intentions were to find versions of a full-body training program that Schwarzenegger either created or did, and do those workouts once a week for a month. As daunting as the Arnold Challenge appears to be, I thought I could do it. Each workout once a week for four weeks? Yeah, I can handle that, so long as the pain afterwards didn’t keep me bedridden.
I texted Jeff and he called me. We discuss it and think this would be great to do. I inform the two gentlemen that I’ve previously been sharing this odyssey with, and besides giving me encouragement, they also sent me one extra message.
“Arnold said to remind you that there was always two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening.”
No Turning Back
I had only intended to do the workouts once a week. The times that he referred to are his famous “double split” routine that he would use to prepare for the Mr. Olympia. That wasn’t my original intent. I told them I hadn’t taken it that far. My wife got 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 would have to do chest and back s in the morning, legs in the evening. On the next day, it would be shoulders in the morning, arms, and abs in the evening. I would then repeat that three times in a week. Sunday would be my only off day. She still thought I could do it.
“Four weeks? You got that.”
After my tires got pumped up a bit, I agreed to at least give this the best go I can. To be clear and transparent, my understanding is that Arnold is aware that a writer he’s talked to before is trying this. I don’t think he knows it is me specifically yet, but he may become more aware of me by the end of this. That would be awesome as long as it is because I finished it. But for now, my focus is only on the workouts.
The next four weeks of my life are going to be intense, and to make the pressure even more significant, we’re going to recap those four weeks in this series. I will break down the workouts, comparisons in weight I use to show the toll of the workouts, and I’m going to monitor my progress and stats along the way. At 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 likely won’t get stronger, and size isn’t my prize.
On a personal level, I needed to do the Arnold Challenge to get myself back on track and push myself to new levels of personal fitness success, and this is as big as it gets for me. For full clarity, some may think that this is live and available to read because the workouts are done and we’re just going to release them one at a time. No, by the time you read this, I will be only in week two. There is nothing guaranteed. Anything could happen, but what I see happening is me getting the job done and hopefully inspiring 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 likely need it.