This is part three of a series called “You’ve Got 31 Days” — i.e., the number of days you have to get in shape in May, before taking your shirt off becomes obligatory. All month, we’ve been testing a fitness routine from one celebrity or athlete each week. From Marky Mark to Dwayne Johnson to Arnold Schwarzenegger, we want to know if these regimens live up to the physiques of the superstars behind them.
In the world of bodybuilding, there are many Mr. Olympias, but there’s only one who went on to become a cyborg, alien hunter and successful politician: Arnold Schwarzenegger.
For the last installment of this series — and after what would prove to be a much-needed two weeks of warm-ups — it's only appropriate to end my little fitness experiment with the quintessential bodybuilder of our time. Fortunately, the basic training routine from his glory days is outlined online in an eight-week program called Blueprint To Mass.
The only caveat? This program is still integrated with Schwarzenegger-branded supplements from MusclePharm, despite the line being discontinued due to misleading packaging and protein-spiked products. If you substitute those for legitimate weight-gaining proteins and creatine powders, you’ll be all set. (And it goes without saying, but if you’re not using these supplements in conjunction with high-intensity training like this, they won’t do you any good.)
Below, you’ll find the details of this unsurprisingly grueling workout and how I fared. I’m no gym rat — just an average guy who grew up playing sports but put fitness on the backburner in favor of my career — so my experience should represent a pretty fair assessment of whether Arnie’s plan is beneficial to normal-sized human beings.
“The last three or four reps is what makes the muscles grow. This area of pain divides a champion from someone who is not a champion. That’s what most people lack, having the guts to go on and just say they’ll go through the pain no matter what happens. I have no fear of fainting. I do squats until I fall over and pass out. So what? It’s not going to kill me. I wake up five minutes later and I’m OK. A lot of other athletes are afraid of this. So they don’t pass out. They don’t go on.” — Arnold Schwarzenegger
Day 1: Chest, Back and Abs
Exercises: Barbell bench press (with stripping method), barbell incline bench press, dumbbell fly, dumbbell pull-over, pull-up (wide-grip), bent over barbell row, bent over two-dumbbell row, hanging leg raise
Of the three I’ve done so far, Blueprint To Mass is the most comprehensive workout routine, highlighting nutrition, training and philosophy. The amount of information to digest is the first real test for anyone looking to get a body like Arnold in his Mr. Olympia years, because if you’re not willing to put in the time to do it right, the statuesque physique isn't going to follow. This program is the antithesis to today’s “get fit in five minutes” apps.
Throughout the guide, Schwarzenegger focuses on “shocking the muscle.” For the uninitiated (like me), this is a method of weight-training wherein the sets, reps, weight and sequence of exercises are changed day-to-day so your muscles don’t get complacent. One technique is the barbell stripping method, described as such: immediately after the final set, take off some weight and lift for 5-10 reps, then take off some more and lift 5-10 more reps, continuing without rest until you’re down to the bar, then finishing with 20 reps.
I tested this on the first day during the barbell bench press, after a warm-up of stretching and stationary biking. Unlike Marky Mark’s standard 3-4 sets of 15 reps, the Blueprint recommends 5 sets, with 30 reps, then 8, 6, 4 and 2 — par for the course for the day. Halfway through, I was completely wiped and about ready to pass out, but didn’t feel I had quite earned that bodybuilding rite of passage. By the time I got to pull-ups, I couldn’t even get my chin to the bar, so I moved to an assisted machine — grimacing through a final set that would have been a breeze if it was my first exercise of the day.
Day 2: Shoulders, Arms and Abs
Exercises: Clean and press, standing dumbbell press, front dumbbell raise, side lateral raise, upright barbell row, barbell curl (1-10 method), incline dumbbell curl, concentration curl, close-grip barbell bench press, lying triceps press, dumbbell one-arm triceps extension, palms-up and palms-down barbell wrist curl over a bench, decline crunch
The most basic component of Schwarzenegger’s nutrition plan is eating one gram of protein per pound of body weight every day. I weigh 185 pounds and don’t eat meat, so to gauge how much I would need to alter my diet, I ate regularly the first day and tracked the amount of protein I was taking in. The result: 85 grams ... meaning I would need to more than double my protein intake. So I bought a weight-gaining protein powder, as noted in the supplements guide, and added some meat substitutes like vegan sausages and veggie burgers to my grocery run.
At the gym, it was back to basics, with exercises like the classic clean-and-press to the barbell curl over a bench. For me, a relatively scrawny newcomer in a gym full of shirt-busting Broseidons, it would be easier to stick to the safety of workout machines. But Arnold is all about the purity of dumbbells and barbells, a contemporary take on ol' Sisyphus' boulder push.
The barbell curl using the 1-10 method was the ultimate killer. As the Blueprint says, this is a technique of working from one rep to 10 reps, but starting with a weight where you can only lift one rep. Then you take off enough weight so you can only lift two reps, and so on. As Schwarzenegger writes, “I loved this technique, and it's a total shock to the muscle.” It was, but what shocked me more was how fatigued I was by the end, using only 15-lbs for the last 10 reps because my arms couldn’t lift anything heavier. Even the Gold’s-Gym-tank-wearer near me gave me a side eye as if to say, I'll have what he's having.
Day 3: Legs
Exercises: Barbell squat (max effort technique), stiff-legged barbell deadlift, good morning, barbell lunge, leg extension, seated leg curl, standing calf raise, seated calf raise, cable crunch
The first two days, I didn’t even come close to eating the amount of protein suggested, so I was determined to reach that goal on Day 3. When I told my girlfriend about what it would take for me to eat 185 grams of protein — and that Arnold at his height was eating 250 grams per his 250-lbs of bodyweight — she referenced Beauty and the Beast’s Gaston and his proclamation of eating five dozen eggs every morning (if you do the math, it’s not far off).
I started off the morning with a four-egg omelette with kale and vegan sausage. During the workday, I had a protein shake with soy milk, almonds, a tofu sandwich and a green juice smoothie with added protein. By the time I got to the gym, my body was raring to go, baffled by the insane amount of protein I had ingested. So I spent 20 minutes on a stationary bike at a high-intensity setting to get the blood flowing.
The last of the intensity techniques outlined is “max effort." The program notes that this should only be worked up to every couple weeks, but I’ll add that you should only attempt these when working out with a spotter, especially when doing something like the barbell squat, the subject of many, many viral workout fails. Max effort consists of working up to a weight where you can only do one rep, sort of the opposite of the 1-10 method, but here you’re resting between each set. Starting off with this had my legs trembling, which made the seated leg extensions and leg curls a welcome respite. But despite the punishing routine, my body still felt congested with protein, so I finished with a 1,500-meter sprint on the rowing machine until I soaked my shirt with sweat and finally felt normal again.
Day 4, 5 and 6: Repeat sequence with some exercise variations.
Day 7: Rest
It can't be stressed enough: the real hurdle of this program is time. These workouts take hours when done with the correct number of sets, and meal planning for the day is no simple feat.
But the nutrition and supplements guide is also where Blueprint To Mass gets dubious. While Schwarzenegger may swear by the one gram of protein per one pound of bodyweight guide, it doesn’t seem to have evidence-based research behind it. Before upping your protein to these levels or adding heavy doses of supplements like creatine, you should first consult your doctor or a nutritionist.
That said, a full eight weeks of following this guide to a T will certainly fill out your T-shirts. After just one week, I noticed greater definition in my muscles, especially my arms and shoulders, which I corroborated with others just in case the extra protein was making me hallucinate. Personally, I would incorporate cardio into this regimen if I were to take it on for a longer period of time — as you can see, I already did that despite its absence from the outline.
And even if you’re not looking to gain mass, Arnold’s philosophy of pushing through the pain to get a few more reps — more than most people are willing to do — is something everyone should adopt for their own physical fitness routines.
Want more? Read up on workouts from Marky Mark and The Rock. This series will continue on a more intensive month-long basis, so send any suggestions for regimens you want me to test to firstname.lastname@example.org.