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5 things we can learn from Arnold about muscle building

5 Dinge, die wir von Arnold über den Muskelaufbau lernen können

Here is a brief summary

  1. The muscle pump is not just cosmetic. It also contributes to muscle growth. Use multiple sets of moderate to high repetitions to pump your muscles full of blood.
  2. Develop a strong mind-muscle connection to recruit more muscle fibers.
  3. Visualize the muscles you are training and imagine how you will perform your next exercise between sets. Use your mind to build your body.
  4. Posing is not just for the competition stage. It can help you to contract your muscles to the maximum and produce more strength during exercises.
  5. Occasionally choose a power exercise and train with lower repetitions. Building mass doesn't mean you should neglect strength. Arnold performed powerlifting.

Wisdom from the golden era

At the height of Arnold's bodybuilding career, we didn't know much about the science of muscle hypertrophy. That's why a lot of the old-school bodybuilding wisdom was anecdotal.

Today, we have a lot more scientific data at our disposal and while many golden-era bodybuilding tactics are labeled "bro science", many others have been scientifically validated.

Let's examine five approaches that contributed to Arnold's bodybuilding success.

1 - Chase the pump

Arnold was a big advocate of training to achieve a pump.

What is a muscle pump? A phenomenon by which the muscles are pumped full of blood during resistance training. This is primarily achieved by performing multiple sets of moderate to high repetitions.

Here's the short summary: During a set with moderate repetitions, the veins that carry blood from the working muscles are compressed by the muscle contractions. However, the arteries continue to deliver blood to the muscles, causing an increased amount of intramuscular plasma to accumulate in the muscle. This causes the plasma to leak out of the capillaries into the interstitial space - the area between muscle cells and blood vessels.

This accumulation of fluid in the interstitial space, combined with the osmolytic properties of lactate, creates an extracellular pressure gradient, which in turn causes a push of plasma back into the muscle.

The end result is blood pooling in your muscles, causing them to swell. Scientists refer to pumping as swelling of the cells.

Here's what Arnold had to say about pumping in the movie Pumping Iron:

"The most satisfying feeling you can feel in the weight room is the pump. Let's say you're training your biceps. The blood rushes to your muscles. Your muscles feel really full - like your skin is going to explode any minute. It's like someone is pumping air into your muscles. There's no better feeling in the world."

Where critics get it wrong

Many see the pump as a temporary condition that is purely cosmetic in nature. This view is somewhat short-sighted. Studies have shown that a hydrated cell stimulates the synthesis of protein and inhibits proteolysis (protein breakdown).

Muscle hypertrophy (growth) is ultimately a function of protein balance - synthesize more muscle protein than you break down and you will build muscle mass. The fact that cell swelling simultaneously stimulates protein synthesis while reducing muscle breakdown is a win-win for muscle building.

What drives this hypertrophy response induced by muscle swelling?

An increased amount of fluid in the muscle fibers leads to a stretching of the cell membrane. It is like filling a water balloon too full. The muscles perceive this as a threat to their integrity and respond through an anabolic signaling cascade that ultimately serves to strengthen the muscle structure.

Unfortunately, no direct studies have yet attempted to determine whether these anabolic effects can be induced by pump training. However, the implied evidence gives reason to believe that this type of training could very well have a positive effect on muscle growth.

Usually, targeted exercises that maintain a constant tension on the muscle induce the pump.

The occlusion and hypoxia generated by "chasing the pump" leads to a number of hypertrophy-enhancing mechanisms. One of these mechanisms includes increased satellite cell activity, which also increases the ability of muscle cells to expand further.

So if muscle development is your goal, don't shy away from including a few pump sets in your training program.

2 - Focus your mind on your muscles

Arnold was clever when he claimed that resistance training is more than simply moving a weight from A to B.

In his words, "the weights are just a means to an end - how well you contract your muscles is all that matters."

To maximize muscle development, he talked about developing a strong "mind-muscle connection" where he visualized the muscle he was training and focused on feeling it working through its full range of motion with each repetition.

While this may sound nonsensical, scientific research has shown that the mind-muscle connection can significantly improve muscle recruitment.

Scientists had a group of subjects perform two sets of lat pulldowns with only basic instructions. After a rest period, the subjects performed a few additional sets, this time receiving instructions to focus on the latissimus dorsi while making sure to focus less on the biceps.

The results? Muscle activity measured via EMG was significantly increased during the sets with a mind-muscle connection. In other words, simply focusing on the target muscle resulted in greater activation of that muscle.

Here's the way you can apply the technique for optimal effects: Instead of thinking about where you should feel a muscle stimulus, think about where you should feel the stimulus.

In the lat pulldown example, you need to focus on pulling the weight down using only the muscles of your upper back. Continue this throughout the process until you reach the lower phase of the movement and then squeeze your shoulder blades together, where you should feel a targeted contraction of your latissimus.

During the eccentric phase of the movement, you are forcing your latissimus to resist the gravitational pull of the weight so that your muscles lengthen in a controlled manner.

Finally, as you approach the starting position of the exercise, you should feel a full stretch in your latissimus and move on to the next repetition without hesitation, repeating the entire process.

By channeling your mental focus in this way, you will shift most of the load to the target muscles of your upper back, maximizing muscle stimulation.

Several studies have been conducted for other muscle groups such as abs and gluteus, all showing the same thing - focused effort increases neural activation of the targeted muscles.

Don't be discouraged if it takes longer to build a mental connection with certain muscles than others. It is generally easier to establish a mental connection with the muscles of the arms and legs than with the muscles of the torso. However, with practice and patience, you will build a connection with all the muscles in your body.

3 - Visualize your performance

Arnold regularly used a visualization technique. He visualized what he wanted his muscles to look like and then imagined his muscles taking on that shape during training.

Regarding his upper arm training, Arnold said: "In my mind, I saw my biceps as mountains - hugely huge - and I imagined moving enormous amounts of weight with this superhuman mass of muscle."

Visualization techniques have long been used in the field of motor learning. These cognitive tactics improve performance on motor tasks even without direct training of these skills.

There are several theories that could explain this phenomenon. One proposes that mental imagery activates the same motor pathways involved in the execution of the movement. There is evidence that EMG muscle activity during visualization is comparable to muscle activity during physical training, albeit to a lesser degree.

Other studies show that both visualization and physical training result in significant neurological changes, although some research suggests that the changes occur in different areas of the brain.

Scientists say that visualization can have a positive effect on performance during resistance training. Another study has shown that exercisers can significantly improve their ability to achieve maximal voluntary contractions during leg presses by simply visualizing the movement during pauses between sets.

The subjects were also able to increase the total number of repetitions they could perform compared to a control group that did not use visualization. In other words, this means that a brief period of mental imagery between sets can increase both the quality and quantity of your exercise performance.

There is another benefit of visualization that plays a role. Visualization tends to increase your motivation and spur you on to perform at your best. So if you can develop a mental image of your muscles and make that image very real - just like Arnold did - then the results will follow.

4 - Hold a pose

You can watch almost any training video of Arnold from the old days and you'll see images of him posing in front of the mirror. Arnold posed between sets, after training and on his non-training days.

He posed alone and he posed with his colleagues at Gold's Gym in Venice. Heck, in Pumping Iron he even posed in the shower with Franco! He spent hours holding poses for every major muscle group from every possible angle - sometimes to the point of exhaustion.

The purpose of this posing was to improve his presentation skills. Bodybuilders win or lose a competition based on their ability to present their bodies. But for Arnold, posing was more than simply being able to show off a muscle group on the competition stage.

Arnold believed that posing would develop his muscles harder and better. He even claimed that posing helped his training performance. He was on to something.

The science of posing

Biomechanker Dr. Mel Siff wrote about the benefits of posing in his book Supertraining. Siff referred to posing as "training without load" and noted that Russian scientists used this technique to increase the strength of muscles and connective tissue.

Although studies on the subject are scarce, implied and empirical evidence suggests that posing has positive effects on muscle strength and development. The greatest benefit may be its ability to improve neuromuscular control.

It helps you develop the mind-muscle connection. Through consistent posing, you will be better able to maximally contract your muscles, which will allow you to generate more power during exercise.

As a result, you'll improve your ability to target a given muscle during exercise, which can result in increased growth and better symmetry.

So if you think poses are just for bodybuilders and teenage wannabes, think again. Best of all, you don't have to work for hours like Arnold to get results. Even actively contracting your muscles for just five or ten minutes a day can lead to bigger gains.

5 - Train heavy

Arnold didn't believe that bodybuilders should train like powerlifters. But he did believe that bodybuilders needed to master different training techniques. In his opinion, an essential technique for building a muscular body was maximum strength training.

Arnold said: "The basis of bodybuilding is to develop muscle mass by moving heavy weights."

Arnold proceeded as follows: Most of the time, he stuck to his high-volume workouts, which included moderate to high repetition ranges with light weights. He trained this way about four days a week.

But about two days a week, he chose a "power exercise" for a specific muscle and tested its strength.

If he wanted to test his quadriceps strength, he chose squats and if he wanted to test the strength of his pecs, he chose bench presses. Along the way, he never strayed too far from progressive overload and setting personal bests.

Many Arnold fans won't know this, but Arnold won two weightlifting competitions in 1964 and 1965, and two powerlifting competitions in 1966 and 1968. His best performances included 264 pounds in the clean and jerk, 243 pounds in the snatch, 470 pounds in the squat, 440 pounds in the bench press and 680 pounds in the deadlift.

Impressive for a bodybuilder who did not specialize in these exercises.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that bodybuilders who increase their strength on the heavy basic exercises tend to show more muscularity than "pretty boys" who simply perform isolation exercises and bodyweight exercises with light weights.

This is not to say that moving lighter weights is not beneficial. But the best results can usually be observed when heavy training with basic exercises and low to moderate repetitions is combined with lighter targeted training with moderate to high repetitions.

Trial and error: the origin of success

Successful people tend to find the best methods to achieve results.

If it worked, Arnold added it to his training arsenal. For this reason, he and his colleagues were ahead of their time. They learned through trial and error to use a variety of methods to maximize muscularity.

Use heavy weights for the big basic exercises, but don't avoid the pump. Find out how to maximally contract the different muscles and visualize success. Learn from the governor and watch your muscles grow.

By Bret Contreras, Brad Schoenfeld, PhD


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