Four Times Arnie Was Right About Building Muscle and Burning Fat, Before The Science

In an effort to help you boost the effectiveness of your training sessions, add muscle and burn fat, we’ve put together four tips, tricks and techniques that Arnold has sworn by for decades, that science is only just catching up with.

1/ Focussing on Big ‘Bang for Your Buck’ Movements First Results in Serious Gains

Although no stranger to using lighter weights and ‘chasing the pump’ (we’ll get to that later), Schwarzenegger knew right from the start that in order to build big muscles, you need to lift some big weights. The best way to ensure you’re maximising the tonnage you shift in the gym? Focus on big multi-joint, ‘compound’ movements, that tap into multiple muscle-groups simultaneously.

Arnold’s Take: “Every great bodybuilder I know started out with basic movements and trained them very heavy. It feels great to be strong and it gives you a psychological edge, but heavy training develops muscles to a degree that you can’t get exclusively from light, pumping workouts.”

Arnie knew it back then, but every trainer worth his salt now knows that beginning your workouts with heavy compound lifts such as squats and deadlifts is one of the most effective ways to build muscle, and the science agrees.

arnold schwarzenegger diet

When it Comes to Fat Loss: How Much You Eat Matters Just as Much as What You Eat

Even though Arnie didn’t count calories like many fitness aficionados chasing fat loss today, Arnold knew that focussing on how much he ate would impact his fat-loss far more than worrying about what types of foods he was consuming. In fact, Arnie was an early advocated for dietary sustainability, realising that cutting out the foods he loved was a fast-track to misery and wasn’t sustainable in the long run.

In his newsletter Arnold shared with fans, rather than completely overhaul his diet when it came time to lose body fat, he would simply reduce his portion sizes, keeping the types of foods he was consuming the same and just reducing the quantity.

Science has since shown that being in a consistent ‘caloric deficit’ is the only way to burn body fat, and that the types of foods you consume matter far less than you may think for fat loss.

What’s important to add, though, is that although the quantities were the most important factor for Arnold’s fat-loss in the short-term, sticking to the types of foods he enjoyed eating may have been the key factor in sustaining this calorie restriction for long enough to achieve Schwarzenegger’s ripped Mr.Olympia physique.

arnold schwarzenegger

Jack Mitchell//Getty Images

Chasing the Pump Isn’t Just for the Mirror, It Adds Major Muscle

In recent years, ‘the pump’ – the feeling of engorged, swollen muscles one encounters when training with high reps and plenty of sets – has received some bad press, with many trainers labelling it as a vainglorious waste of time that does little more than ineffectually (and temporarily) swell the muscles up with blood, before they steadily deflate post workout.

Even with these naysayers in his ear, it’s unlikely that Arnold would have stopped chasing the pump, as his feelings on this practice were, errr… enthusiastic to say the least.

“The greatest feeling you can get in a gym or the most satisfying feeling you can get in the gym is the pump. Your muscles get a really tight feeling like your skin is going to explode any minute and it just blows up and it feels different, it feels fantastic.”

I’ll save you the rest of this speech, but let’s just say Arnold compared the pump favourably to the climax of another, more private pursuit.

But even if Arnie was pumping up for the feeling alone, research has shown that dropping the weight, upping the reps and chasing the pump, especially after heavy lifting, can have some seriously beneficial muscle-building effects. Effects science is only just beginning to understand.

Perhaps they should have consulted Arnold?

Developing You Mind/Muscle Connection Will Help You Pack on Pounds

One of Arnold’s favourite talking points back in the day was the mind/ muscle connection. He’d often implore trainees to put every ounce of their focus into the working muscle, staying fully present with each rep and concentrating hard on the contracting muscles.

Even recently, in his newsletters he continues to offer up advice on the subject: “In order to get the perfect pump, your mind has to be the body’s guide, thinking about every part of the movement, every contraction, every squeeze.”

This type of meathead mindfulness works to do more than just keep you from getting distracted in the gym, though. Lots of data is now emerging to show that concentrating on the muscles you’re working, one lift at a time, won’t just help you to eek out more reps, it can actually help you to further activate the working muscles. This activation is pivotal in achieving optimal muscle growth, and Arnold knew it all along.

The take away? Focus hard, for harder muscles.

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Headshot of Andrew Tracey

With almost 18 years in the health and fitness space as a personal trainer, nutritionist, breath coach and writer, Andrew has spent nearly half of his life exploring how to help people improve their bodies and minds.    

As our fitness editor he prides himself on keeping Men’s Health at the forefront of reliable, relatable and credible fitness information, whether that’s through writing and testing thousands of workouts each year, taking deep dives into the science behind muscle building and fat loss or exploring the psychology of performance and recovery.   

Whilst constantly updating his knowledge base with seminars and courses, Andrew is a lover of the practical as much as the theory and regularly puts his training to the test tackling everything from Crossfit and strongman competitions, to ultra marathons, to multiple 24 hour workout stints and (extremely unofficial) world record attempts.   

 You can find Andrew on Instagram at @theandrew.tracey, or simply hold up a sign for ‘free pizza’ and wait for him to appear.

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