Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ‘Golden Six’ routine for building strength and size

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ‘Golden Six’ routine for building strength and size

In the pre-Internet era, sources of information concerning bodybuilding were scant, mostly in the form of bodybuilding and fitness magazines and books written by the great bodybuilding champions, the greatest one being Arnold Schwarzenegger, of course. Many of his routines published in magazines were body-part split routines he used in the 60s and 70s. However, the majority of these routines were for intermediate and advanced lifters who had already built up a solid strength base and were, therefore, useless for beginners.

These were usually high-volume routines with lots of sets and reps, which while no doubt would have been effective for someone using anabolic steroids and had above average genetics, would have been futile for a 16-year old guy weighing barely 140 pounds and whose diet primarily consisted of burgers and cakes.

Most beginners do the same mistake during their first gym sessions of trying to do the exact same routine used by professional bodybuilders, in the hopes this would magically transform their physique into that of a Greek statue. However, this was not the way Arnold first started out in the gym, nor the way he made most of his physique. Even though Arnold is famous for the high-volume body split routines he published in various Weider magazines when he first started training he emulated the training philosophy of his idol and future mentor, the legend Reg Park.

Arnold said that he had found out everything he could about his idol and bought all the magazines containing his training programs. He said he had learned how Reg started training, what he ate, about his lifestyle and the way he performed his workouts. He practically became obsessed.

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The Austrian Oak managed to build his strength foundation by performing full-body training such as Park’s 5×5 strength routine and later his own “Golden Six” routine which we’re going to look into in this article. By the time he won his first ‘Mr. Olympia’ title, when Arnold started using anabolic steroids and had increased his training volume and intensity, he had already succeeded in building an imposing physique by using these basic full body workout routines as its main base.

The ‘Golden six’ routine

This routine was a training program consisting of 6 key movements which Arnold did when he started training at a gym in Munich and according to him, one of the programs that he made “remarkable” muscle and strength gains on. Also, this was the workout routine which he prescribed for all of his personal training clients who were also on a quest to “get huge”.

Arnold claimed that Welsh bodybuilder and former Mr. World Paul Grant used this workout routine and gained more than 60 lbs of lean muscle mass in little less than a year. His progression was in the form of a gradual increase of the number sets in the first 5 movements, moving up to 4 sets after 3 months and then 6 sets after 6 months.

We should take into consideration, however, that this is the same man who, when attempting to get his first movie role, convinced the producers that he had done Shakespeare back in Austria, so one needs to take everything he says with a grain of salt. Here’s the lineup for the ‘Golden six’ exercises:

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Exercise Sets Reps
Barbell squat 4 10
Wide-grip barbell bench press 3 10
Chin-ups 3 To failure
Behind the neck press 4 10
Barbell curls 3 10
Bent knee sit-up 3-4 To failure

Additional notes:

Workout cycle

Arnold recommends that you do this routine 3 times a week every other day in a 3-month cycle.

How to progress

Once you’re able to do 2-3 reps above the recommended number increase the load. Strive to increase the weight at every training session.

Rest intervals

Rest up to 2 minutes between sets of squats and no more than a minute and a half for the other movements.

Training advice

The classic full-body workouts done in the ‘Golden Era of bodybuilding’ in the 60s and the 70s are ideal for beginners, especially ectomorphs who are trying to bulk up quickly and build a solid strength base. These kind of workout routines performed by legends such as John McCallum, Reg Park, Peary Rader and many others have sadly become totally neglected and are under-appreciated by many personal trainers today, which is a total shame, because even though they may not be fashionable or fitness mainstream any more, they are nonetheless the perfect method to lay the foundation for a muscular, strong and well-balanced physique.

The recipe for success is pretty simple: get in, train hard, get out, eat, recover, repeat. It’s really that simple.

When it comes to exercise selection in this routine, one could make a couple of adjustments, like adding in some barbell rows or some deadlifts, because there is a small imbalance between the push and pull exercises here, as well as switching the behind the neck press with a standard overhead press.

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Not only does the behind the neck press force the body to move in an unnatural plane of movement which puts your rotator cuffs under a tremendous stress, it is also much harder to progress on it compared to the standard overhead press and as we all know increasing the weight is the main thing you should focus on. You can also do one more substitution, such as replacing the sit-ups with a more efficient ab movement like the hanging leg raises.


If you’re just starting out with bodybuilding and are looking for an efficient workout routine to build strength and muscle, ditch the body part splits, isolation movements and other unnecessary stuff, and give Arnold’s ‘Golden six’ routine a try. In fact, regardless of how advanced you are in your training career, a cycle of this routine will undoubtedly be extremely productive, that is if you’re eating enough of the right foods and recover adequately. It is simple, fun and effective and it comes with Arnold’s seal of approval. What more could anyone want?

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