5 Things We Can Learn From Arnold About Building Muscle

Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of the most inspiring bodybuilders to date, and to get to where he is he had to find some stuff out on his own. Basically, he came to understand that pumping your muscles wasn’t simply about appearance, but it also contributed to growing your muscles when combined with multiple sets with a medium to high number of reps. This engorges your muscles, helping you grow faster. Also, he figured out that if your mind-body connection is strong, you could use a lot more muscle fibers than if it wasn’t, and that he needed to visualize the muscles he was training.

Not only that though, but he also tried to think about his next set and how it would look like while he was lifting weights. This made Arnie realize that his mind was a crucial tool in creating his body. One more thing Arnold grasped fairly quickly that posing wasn’t simply for competitions, but it also contracted muscles to the max and made him stronger while lifting. The last thing is the reason why this legend powerlifted – he picked a power move and went heavy on it, with low reps to build strength as well as size. Realizing these things, Arnie became a legend and so can you.

When Arnold Schwarzenegger was at the top of his game, muscle hypertrophy wasn’t really major news, as we didn’t have any information on it. Instead, the wisdom that people used to get their bodies to look awesome and feel strong as well was mostly anecdotal and circumstantial. However, after all these years and now that the internet has come into play, we have all the information we could possibly need, supported by credible scientific proof. Many of the techniques from before we became an internet-faring civilization have since been proven to be effective, even though they were called “bro science”. Let’s dive into what made Arnie great.

1. Pumping Up His Muscles!

Arnold always chased the pump and he always trained to get his muscles as pumped up as possible. But what is pumping up, exactly? Well, it’s what happens when your muscles have so much blood in them after you do some resistance training. You can get your muscles pumped by doing multiple sets with a medium to high number of reps. Basically, what happens is that when you do a set with a moderate number of reps, your veins, which are supposed to take blood out of your muscles, are contracted by your muscles and cannot do their job. In the meanwhile, your arteries keep pulling blood into the contracted muscle which makes a lot of intra-muscular blood plasma which seeps out of your capillaries into the space between your muscles and blood vessels, known as the interstitial area.

When you put a lot of fluid in this area, which already has the osmolytic properties of lactate, you make a pressure gradient that’s extra-cellular, which makes plasma rush back inside your muscles. This results in your blood gathering in your muscle tissue, making it swell. This is the muscle pump. In the movie “Pumping Iron”, Arnie said that he was most satisfied in the gym by getting a pump. If you train your biceps and the blood is going in it, you get a really tight feeling, almost as if your skin was about to burst open at any second. He said it felt like someone was blowing his muscles up with air, like a kid’s water toy, and that there was no better feeling in the world.

Now, while many think of the pump as something temporary that only affects your appearance, this is not true. There are scientific studies that have shown that when a muscle cell is hydrated, it’s more likely to create protein and less likely to go into proteolysis, which is the process of breaking down protein. Protein balance is what controls muscle hypertrophy, which is growth itself. If you can make more protein than you break down, you’ll put on mass, it’s that simple. When your cells swell, it makes your muscles create more protein and destroy less to use for energy, which means that swelling isn’t just cosmetics – it’s muscle growth as well.

So, what makes the muscles grow by swelling? Well, when you get more fluid in your muscle tissue, the cell membranes of the muscle fibers are stretched as they fill up more and more, having them look like overinflated balloons. The muscles, viewing this “threat”, respond by trying to conserve their integrity and starting an anabolic signaling cascade that usually reinforces its own structural cohesion. However, there haven’t been any studies that looked at the anabolic effects and their derivation from the pump, but as many “bro science” facts, there is evidence enough that it works well for muscle growth and that it has a really positive effect.

When you do targeted movements on a small area of muscle, you will get the pump. It will result in occlusion and hypoxia made from chasing it, but that has positive effects as well – it makes you grow ever more muscle fiber! Another positive effect is the satellite cell activity which makes your muscles able to expand continuously. Of course, this means that if you want to get your growing up to par, make sure to throw some pumping sets in your workout schedule.

2. By Keeping His Mind on His Muscles!

Arnie was very shrewd when he said that doing some resistance training was way more than just lifting a weight from one point to another. He says that the weights are just a means to an end – contracting your muscles well is what matters much more! If you want to push your muscle development to the maximum, you need your body and your mind to be in sync. To do this, visualize your muscles as they’re being activated and then feel them as they go through a full range of motion for the rep. Although it might sound a bit lackluster, there is research that shows that your mind-body connection can really boost your muscle recruitment! The researchers had their subjects do two sets of lat pulldowns each with only the most basic of instructions. Afterwards, there was a period of rest and they did two more sets with instructions to concentrate on their latissimus dorsi while de-emphasizing their biceps.

The results were incredible – the muscle activity in the lats was much higher by EMG in the sets that the people concentrated on what they were doing, which proved that mind-muscle connection was really important for building muscle. When you concentrate on your muscles and their activity, you will work the muscle more than if you hadn’t concentrated, even though you’re lifting the same amount of weight. To do this as efficiently as possible, don’t think about what you’re feeling when you’re lifting – instead think about what you need to be feeling at that moment in time.

When you’re performing lat pulldowns, you need to focus all of your mental energy on the pull of the weight using only the muscles that you want to activate – the ones in your upper back. Keep doing this until you get to the bottom stage of the move and then squeeze your shoulder blades as tightly as you humanly can, which will give you a contraction in your latissimus dorsi. When you’re doing the eccentric part of the repetition, make your lats resist gravity as hard as possible so that your muscles will lengthen again with as much control as possible. When you get back to square one, your lats should be stretched, so keep doing the next rep exactly as you did that one. You need to keep your mental energy properly focused and channeled so that you’re able to direct your stress in the muscles that you’re actually targeting – the ones in your upper back. This will boost muscular stimulation to its upper limits.
There are also other scientific studies that have demonstrated the same for other muscle groups as well. These were focused on your abdominal muscles as well as your glutes, but they had identical results – when you concentrate your effort, your neutral activation is increased and your musculature feels better. If you can’t do it right now, don’t give up! Keep trying – sometimes it needs some more time to establish a solid mental connection with your muscles. It can be much easier to connect with the muscles on your extremities than with those on the torso, but if you practice hard and be patient enough, you’ll establish a link with every single muscle in your being.

3. By Visualizing His Next Set!

Arnie always used visualization to imagine the way he wanted his muscles to appear, and then made them take this form by training while imagining the transformation simultaneously. In regards to his upper-arm training, he said that he saw his biceps as huge mountains and he saw himself lifting giant piles of weight with these two amazing slabs of muscle on his arms. Motor learning often uses visualization-style techniques since they boost performance on the motor tasks without even needing to be practiced beforehand. There are a few theories that may bring about an explanation to this seemingly illogical phenomenon. One of the theories says that the same exact motor pathways that run the necessary movement are pre-activated by the mental imagery. This isn’t unsubstantiated – EMG muscle activity when you’re visualizing can be compared to actually exercising, with lower intensity.

Another study says that when you both visualize and exercise, you get some distinct neurological effects in your body, but some research says that these effects are going on in different areas of your brain altogether! The researchers who studied this showed that visualizing and practicing will have positive effects on your training, especially resistance training. There is another study that showed that the people who visualized their muscles during leg presses while resting, boosted their abilities of doing maximal voluntary contractions. The lifters who boosted their total number of reps they could perform were compared to lifters who another group which didn’t visualize and didn’t get as big an upgrade. Simply put, if you visualize the feeling of lifting in the resting period before lifting, you’ll have a far better effect and improvements in both the quality and quantity of your lifts. If you visualize, you also get another perk – you become more motivated, making you try to out-do yourself! If you can imagine your muscles and make that image very realistic like Arnie did, you’ll have awesome results!

4. By Striking Poses!

Go on the internet and find any video of Arnold Schwarzenegger that’s older than his political career and you’ll see him posing in front of a mirror. He didn’t only do it there though – he posed between sets, after working out and even when he was having a day off! He posed both alone and with friends at the Gold’s Gym Venice. In the movie “Pumping Iron”, Arnie posed with Franco in the shower as well! This legend would pose for hours on end, hitting every single muscle that he wanted to activate from all possible angles until he got exhausted. When Arnold posed though, he wanted to improve his presentation, which is the number one reason that bodybuilders win or lose competitions. However, Arnie said that posing was much more than this – he said it wasn’t just about looking the part, but being the part as well! This is why Arnie thought that posing made his muscles harder and better, while also developing them more. He said that it even helped him lift more – how close was he to the truth?

Turns out, pretty close. Dr. Mel Siff, a biomechanist, was quoted in “Supertraining” where he talked about the good sides of posing. Dr. Siff said that it was “loadless training”, invented by the Russian scientists to boost the strength of human muscles and the connective tissues as well. Even though there aren’t many (or any) scientific studies on this topic, there is both implied and solid, empirical evidence that said that when you do pose, your muscle strength and development improve, but the best perk of them all? The ability to boost your neuromuscular control. When you make your connection between your mind and your body, you need to improve it with posing. If you practice a lot, you will become better at it and you will be able to contract your muscles as much as they will contract, which will let you lift more when you exercise. This means that you’ll be better at hitting any one muscle when you’re working out, which will let you grow them out more, both in size and in symmetry. So, next time you go to the gym and see someone posing, don’t disqualify them as phonies immediately – they might just be the next Arnold. Besides, they only need 5-10 minutes daily to get the improvement, so many hours of hard work aren’t needed.

5. By Going Heavy!

Mr. Schwarzenegger didn’t think that powerlifters and bodybuilders needed to lift the same way, but he did think that the bodybuilders should master as many techniques as possible. One of them was the maximal strength training, which he said is the development of muscle mass by lifting some really heavy weights. Arnold did this by doing some high-volume training sessions with a medium to high rep range and lighter weights. He did this for four days a week, but two days a week he’d do a power move for a specific muscle, which would allow him to test his strength. If he wanted to see how strong his quads were, he’d do some squats. If he wanted to check out his pec strength, he’d do some bench presses. This means he was never too far away from progressive overloads and from setting new and better personal records.

A lot of Arnold’s fans don’t realize this, but he won two weight-lifting contests in 1964 and 1965, and two power-lifting contests in 1966 and 1968. His best lifts are a 264 pound clean and press, a 243 pound snatch, a 298 pound clean and jerk, a 470 pound squat, a 440 pound bench press and a 680 pound deadlift. He never specialized in any of these lifts, but you have to say: that’s pretty impressive! There is some anecdotal evidence that says that bodybuilders who tend to push their limits when it comes to their strength, have better-looking muscle structures than just show-offs who keep pumping away on their bodyweight exercises and their single-joint moves. Lighter weights are, of course, useful, but the best results are seen when you’re lifting heavy and you’re doing low to medium reps in a compound training exercise, and you combine that with lighter, medium to high rep targeted training.

In conclusion, some of our idols who became successful and famous figured out some stuff about the human body that we should all listen to, and even if it isn’t substantiated with empirical evidence it can still make a difference! Arnold tried everything and if it was effective, he put it into his training routine. This is why he and his friends were so good back then, because they employed trial and error to learn, improve and adapt, which lead them to maximum muscle development. Go heavy with some big basic exercises, don’t run from the pump, get your muscles to contract with concentration and visualize yourself succeeding. The Terminator knows a thing or two about muscles – listen!

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