Arnold Schwarzenegger's golden six is a classic three-day full-body bodybuilding plan composed of only six exercises. If you want to build muscle fast like the Austrian Oak, Arnold suggests that you start with this program. But what is the golden six? And how can you apply it to your life? In this article, we’re going to break down the insights of the legendary Mr. Olympia himself and by the end of this article, you’ll learn how to build muscle fast like Arnold Schwarzenegger himself.
The Golden Six Program
Barbell Back Squat
The first exercise in the program is the Godfather of all leg exercises, the barbell back squat. It is performed for four sets of 10 reps, three days a week. This is the only leg exercise in the program. Now, it might seem crazy to only do 12 sets of legs per week, but when performed correctly, the back squat provides such a big muscle-building stimulus that 12 sets will be plenty for a newer lifter.
Please note that while the Barbell Back Squat is an excellent workout, depending on your physiology, this can be a difficult movement. For example, as described by Arnold in the Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding, due to his body proportions he'd always lean forward a bit when performing a Barbell Back Squat. However, the most optimal way to perform this movement is with a perfectly upright torso. Other bodybuilders like Franco Columbu or Tom Platz, due to their shorter stature and physical proportions were able to easily squat with a completely upright torso.
If you're in the former camp like Arnold, I recommend switching the conventional Barbell Back Squat with a Hack Squat, which will allow you to fatigue the legs in a similar range of motion without being concerned about balancing the bar or you could perform a Barbell Front Squat which frontloads the weight. The weight further to the front will allow you to remain more upright as you counterbalance yourself by sitting backward into the squat.
Barbell Bench Press
Next up is the barbell bench press. It will be performed each day for three sets of 10 reps. Like the back squat, it provides a significant amount of muscle-building stimulus, so you don't need to do an insane amount of volume for it to work. If, for whatever reason, you struggle significantly with the Barbell Bench Press you can shift this movement with a Dumbbell Bench Press. With dumbbells, you can get a much better stretch on the pecs at the bottom of the movement since they allow for a greater range of motion. Additionally, pressing with one weight in each hand is better for newer lifters because they often have significant strength imbalances from side to side.
The pull-up is the next exercise in the program. It is performed for three sets of as many reps as you can manage. While pull-ups primarily hit the lats, if done correctly with a focus on scapular retraction at the top of the movement, they also do a decent job of hitting all the upper back muscles. The main issue with pull-ups is that someone newer might not even have the strength and coordination needed to perform at least six strict pull-ups per set. So, if someone can't manage at least three sets of six, performing pull-ups with a band for assistance or even doing assisted pull-ups would be appropriate until they can do at least six reps of the real thing.
Behind the Neck Barbell Press
Onto the fourth and most controversial exercise of the program, the behind-the-neck barbell press. It is performed for four sets of 10 reps each training day. This barbell pressing variant is loved by some who say it does a great job building their shoulders, while others claim it causes irreversible damage to your shoulder and rotator cuffs. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. You can perform this movement safely if you have sufficient shoulder external rotation and thoracic spinal extension. But, most people lack this type of mobility. So, unless you're confident in your shoulder health and mobility, it is strongly suggested that you replace any behind-the-neck pressing movements with regular seated shoulder presses using a barbell or dumbbells.
The barbell curl is the next exercise in the program. It is performed for three sets of 10 reps each training day. Oftentimes, Arnold would be seen performing cheat curls using momentum and some power from the hips to fling the bar up into the top position before slowly controlling it down through the negative or eccentric portion of the movement. While this may work for advanced lifters, for newer lifters, this type of overloaded eccentric training could actually cause more damage to the muscles than their untrained bodies could recover from in time for their next training session. So, when starting off, it is recommended to stick to strict form barbell curls.
Bent Knee Sit ups
For the final exercise in the program, we have bent knee setups. They are performed for three sets of as many reps as possible each training day. As most bodybuilders know, direct ab training isn't really necessary. You get a lot of indirect core work from pull-ups, deadlifts, squats, and other compound movements. Besides, working your abs won't actually give you visible abs if your body fat percentage is too high. While working them can make them slightly bigger, so they'll pop more at higher body fat percentages, direct ab work is not needed to have great visible abs.
So, that's the Golden Six program and some suggestions on how to update it. If your goal is to build muscle, this program is a good place to start. Remember, consistency and proper form are key to seeing results. Happy lifting!
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