The Old School 70’s Bodybuilding Routine

The Old School 70’s Bodybuilding Routine

The 1970’s produced the most impressive male physiques the world has ever seen. The bodybuilders of the 70’s made Zeus and Hercules look like pencil necks. In this article we will take a look at the 70’s bodybuilding workout routine – and how the 70’s bodybuilders achieved their near perfect physiques.

Current bodybuilders look like pregnant cows with zero bodyfat, in other words, they look absolutely ridiculous. The 70’s bodybuilders were the ideal physique of man – they had low bodyfat, but not so low they looked sick, they had small waists with abdominals clearly defined, big chests, wide lats, big shoulders, and big arms.

They had perfect V-tapers. A V-taper is when the male upper body has a “V” shape. Starting with wide shoulders, wide lats, and moving down in size to a tight waist – like a “V”. 

In this article we will review the de-facto bodybuilding routine of bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Frank Zane, Franco Columbu, Lou Ferrigno, Boyer Coe, Bill Grant, Mike Mentzer, Serge Nubret and other bodybuilders from the golden era of bodybuilding.

The workout routine they used was a high-volume approach. In lay-mans terms ‘high volume’ means they did a whole lot of work to achieve their physiques. Both in the gym and in the “kitchen”.

Todays top bodybuilders follow a routine of working out one bodypart per week for one hour per workout session. For example they may work Chest on Monday, Back on Tuesday, rest on Wednesday, Legs on Thursday, Shoulders and Arms on Friday, and rest on Saturday and Sunday.

The 70’s era bodybuilders were in the gym 6 days per week doing lots of heavy work, resting very little, and spending a long time in the gym to achieve the look of perfection.

Their routine was not set in stone. A trainer must use his instinct to find what works for him. We will look at the bodypart splits (the days they worked each muscle groups) and the exercises they used. It is for the reader to determined his choice of exercises and rep scheme (the amount of reps you will do per set).

Bodybuilding in the 1970’s was about achieving perfection of the male body. 70’s bodybuilding was about building the most aesthetic, muscular and strong body attainable by man. Below we will look at how they accomplished this.

This is the de-facto bodypart split of the 1970’s era bodybuilders:

Monday: Chest and Back

Tuesday: Shoulders and Arms

Wednesday: Legs

Thursday: Chest and Back

Friday: Shoulders and Arms

Saturday: Legs

Sunday: Rest

Abdominals (Abs), Calves, Neck and Trapezius work was done 4-6 times per week or as needed.

The seventies bodybuilders would typically start their routine with abdominal or calf work (if needed).

After the abs and calves they would start with their hardest and heaviest exercise. The exercises they used were the most basic, multi-joint movement that build the most muscle. They would start with the hardest and heaviest and work towards the lightest exercises.

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Exercise Selection

Monday and Thursday

Chest Exercises:

Flat Barbell Bench Press / Incline Barbell Bench Press / Dips / Chest Flyes / Dumbbell Pullovers

Back Exercises:

Pullups / Chinups / Bent Rows / T-Bar Rows / Deadlifts

Tuesday and Friday

Shoulder Exercises:

Military Press / Behind the Neck Press / Dumbbell Overhead Press (Arnold/Scott Press) / Front Dumbbell Raises / Side Dumbbell Raises

Biceps Exercises:

Barbell Curls / Dumbbell Curls / Incline Dumbbell Curls / Concentration Curls

Triceps Exercises:

Standing French Press / Skullcrushers / Close Grip Bench Press / Cable Pulldowns / Cable Pushdowns

Wednesday and Saturday

Leg Exercises:

Squats / Hack Squats / Leg Press / Leg Extensions / Leg Curls

Daily or as Needed

Abdominal Exercises:

Situps / Rope Crunches

Calf Exercises:

Standing Calf Raises / Donkey Calf Raises / Seated Calf Raises

Forearm Exercises:

Seated Barbell Wrist Curls/ Reverse Barbell Wrist Curls / Behind the Back Barbell Wrist Curls / Hammer Curls / Reverse Barbell Curls

Neck exercises:

Wrestlers Bridges / Neck Curls / Neck Harness Curls

 Sample Routine

This is a sample workout routine that can be used to get started on the Old School 70’s Bodybuilding Routine:

Monday and Thursday:


Flat Barbell Bench Press – 5 sets / 1-12 reps per set

Incline Bench Press – 5 Sets / 5-12 reps per set

Flat Bench Dumbbell Flyes – 5 Sets / 8-12 reps per set


Chinups – As many sets as it takes to complete 50 Chinups

Bent Rows – 5 Sets / 8-12 reps per set

T-Bar Rows – 5 Sets / 8-12 reps per set

Notes: The rep scheme should fall between 5-12 reps per set, depending on how heavy the weight is, with 8 reps being ideal. You will start with lightweight and move up in weight with each set.

Always start this day with Flat Barbell Bench Press. You will do 5 total sets. Each set you will go up in weight 10, 15, or 20 lbs depending on strength level. You will want to end this exercise as heavy as possible, even with only 1 or 2 reps. This will “activate” your strength and allow you to lift heavier in all your next exercises.

A favorite of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s was to combine Chest and Back exercises into a superset. That means doing two exercises in a row without stopping. For example: he would do a set of Flat Barbell Bench Press and then immediately do a set of Chinups without rest. Arnold would continue like that until all 5 sets were finished.

Supersetting Chest and Back is an excellent way to build muscle, sweat out toxins and burn bodyfat because it’s very hard work.

Example Chest/Back Superset Routine:

Flat Barbell Bench Press superset with Chinups – 5 sets / 5-12 reps per set of Bench Press, as many chinups as possible per set

Incline Barbell Bench Press superset with Barbell Bent Rows – 5 sets / 5-12 reps per set

Chest Dumbbell Flyes superset with T-Bar Rows – 5 sets / 8-12 reps per set

Tuesday and Friday:


Behind the Neck Barbell Press – 5 sets / 5-12 reps per set

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Arnold/Scott Press – 5 Sets / 8-12 reps per set

Lateral Dummbell Raises – 5 sets / 8-12 reps per set


Barbell Curls – 5 sets / 8-12 reps per set

Incline Dumbbell Curls – 5 sets / 8-12 reps per set

Concentration Curls – 5 sets / 8-12 reps per set


Close Grip Bench Press – 5 sets / 8-12 reps per set

Standing French Press – 5 sets / 8-12 reps per set

Cable or Rope Pushdowns/Pulldowns – 5 sets / 8-12 reps per set


The Trapezius muscles (traps) are the muscle connecting the neck and the shoulders. Some trainers traps may need some additional work. For a man with narrow clavicles it is generally advisable to avoid trap work. For a man with wide clavicles trap work is usually necessary.

Trapezius exercises:

Barbell Shrugs / Dumbbell Shrugs / Farmers Walks

Notes: Always start this day with the Barbell Shoulders Presses. Those with shoulder problems can substitute the Behind the Neck Barbell Press with Standing Military Press (Barbell Presses to the front). The rep scheme should fall between 5-12 reps with 8 being the ideal. Start the Barbell Press with light weight and move up in weight with each set until you are hitting about 5 reps.  The Arnold/Scott Press and the Lateral DB Raises should be performed with 8-12 reps per set.

The Biceps and Triceps exercises should be performed with 8-12 reps per set. Heavier weight does not need to be used with each set.

To save time and get an insane pump the Biceps and Triceps exercises can be supersetted. To do that you will do one exercise of Biceps immediately followed by one Tricpes exercises until all sets and exercises are completed.

Example Biceps/Triceps Superset Routine:

Standing Barbell Curls superset with Close Grip Bench Press – 5 sets / 8-12 reps per set

Incline Dumbbell Curls superset with Standing French Press – 5 sets / 8-12 reps per set

Concentration Curls superset with Rope Pulldowns – 5 sets / 8-12 reps per set

Wednesday and Saturday:


Squats – 5 sets / 5-20 reps per set

Hack Squats – 5 sets / 8-20 reps per set

Lying Leg Curls – 5 sets / 8-20 reps per set

Leg Extensions – 5 sets / 8-20 reps per set

Notes: Always start Leg day with Squats because they are the hardest exercise. The squats will be performed in the same fashion as the Flat Bench Press. We will start with a lightweight and move up in weight with each set. The first set of Squats will be done with the empty bar for approx. 20 reps. Then you will add weight with each set depending on your strength levels, ending the 5th set with anywhere between 1-5 reps.

The Legs respond very well to higher rep schemes so we will keep the low end of the other leg exercises at 8 reps and the high end at 20 reps per set.

Abs and Calves as Needed:

Both Abs and Calves respond well to higher rep ranges. 20 reps per set is good for calves and even more than that is good for abs. You will need to experiment with the suggested exercises to find what works best for you. Both abs and calves can be worked up to 6 times per week. Arnold Schwarzenegger started every workout with calf work and wrist/forearm work and ended each workout with ab work.

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Forearm Work as Needed:

Forearm work can be done on Tuesdays and Fridays along with Biceps and Triceps work. Forearm work can also be done on any other days the trainer sees fit. Forearms can handle a lot of work and some trainers will need to do a lot of forearm work to get their forearms to grow. Forearms can be done in rep changes of 8-12 reps per set.

Neck Work as Needed:

Some trainers will need to do neck work and some won’t. The neck can grow from heavy breathing during exercises like Squats, Overhead Pressing and Deadlifts but some trainers will need to do additional work. Neck work should be done in the rep ranges of 8-20. Neck work can be done 2-3 times per work or more if needed. Neck work is essential if trainer does not have naturally big and/or muscular neck.

Notes about the Old School 70’s Workout Routine

Old school bodybuilders trained for strength as well as muscle size. They would often do an exercise as heavy as can be until they found their one rep max. Each week a trainer can pick one exercise and go as heavy as possible to find their one rep max. The perfect exercises to do a one rep max on are the Flat Barbell Bench Press, the Deadlift, and the Squat.

The Deadlift is not included in the sample workout above but can be added to any back day for ultimate strength and mass gains. The deadlift should not be performed for over 5 reps. It is a heavy weight exercise designed to build ultimate strength. Warmup with light weight and add progressively heavier weight to obtain your one rep max.

When following the 70’s workout routine be sure to not take too long of a rest period. One minute rest per set/superset is good. Resting very little and working very hard provides excellent fat-burning benefits.

Diet and Eating

Bodybuilders of the Golden Era ate BIG. In particular, they ate a lot of protein and saturated fat. Whole raw eggs were consumed by many as a staple protein/fat source. Steak, Beef, Chicken, and Tuna were staple protein sources as well. Carbohydrates were eaten during “bulking” (putting on weight) phases and were gradually reduced during “cutting” (losing weight) phases. Many of them made their own protein shakes consisting of raw eggs, milk powder and whatever else they could think to add.

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