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“My Lifts Aren’t That Great”, Says Arnold Schwarzenegger As He Reveals His Heaviest Lifts (Squat, Deadlift and Press)

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 


Most people would (rightly) place Arnold Schwarzenegger on the Mount Rushmore of bodybuilding. 

The seven-time Mr. Olympia winner is commonly considered to have possessed one of the best physiques in history. 

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But you might not know that Schwarzenegger, long before he made his pilgrimage to the gold coasts of California to pursue bodybuilding, got his start as a strength athlete.

Schwarzenegger first dabbled with strength training when he competed in a handful of Olympic lifting competitions in the 1960s. 

Fast forward more than fifty years to Nov. 21, 2023, when Schwarzenegger revealed his all-time one-rep max lifts during an appearance on The Pat McAfee Show.

Historical Context of Schwarzenegger’s Strength Training

In the 1960s, strength training and bodybuilding were vastly different from today’s practices. Strength athletes often engaged in Olympic lifting, focusing on clean and jerk and snatch techniques. 

Schwarzenegger, starting his journey in this era, contributed significantly to the evolution of these sports. His approach laid the groundwork for future bodybuilders and strength athletes.

The Science Behind Heavy Lifting

Mr. Schwarzenegger is correct on both counts. The latest scientific research on muscle hypertrophy strongly supports the benefits of lifting heavy, or lifting near muscular failure, for bulking up. 

Heavy lifting produces more mechanical tension on a muscle, thus encouraging more growth.

A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that lifting heavy weights significantly enhances muscle thickness and strength compared to lighter loads lifted for more repetitions . 

Another research in Sports Medicine emphasized that near-maximal lifting is crucial for maximizing muscle hypertrophy .

Training Regimen and Diet During His Peak

During his peak years, Schwarzenegger’s training regimen was rigorous. He followed a split routine, often training twice a day. His workouts included heavy compound lifts, isolation exercises, and high-volume training. 

His diet was equally disciplined, focusing on high protein intake, healthy fats, and controlled carbohydrates to support muscle growth and recovery.

Comparison to Modern Bodybuilders and Powerlifters

Schwarzenegger correctly notes that bodybuilders have embraced strength gain in their training more so than during his era. 

Some of the strongest bodybuilders ever — think Stan Efferding, Nick Walker, Bev Francis, or eight-time Mr. O Ronnie Coleman — lift tremendously heavy weights during their workouts or have backgrounds in strength sports. 

Coleman, in particular, is famous for his heavy-duty compound lifting throughout his career, including a famous two-rep max squat of 800 pounds.

Arnold Schwarzenegger vs. Modern Powerlifting Records

The barbell back squat, bench press, and deadlift are the three competitive disciplines of powerlifting. 

An athlete’s one-rep maxes across the squat, bench press, and deadlift are summed to create a Total, determining their ultimate ranking. Schwarzenegger’s self-reported best lifts would earn him a Total of 1,845 pounds. 

But how does that stack up to modern powerlifters, and would prime Schwarzenegger stand a chance at a world-level powerlifting meet?

Figures are mixed, but it is generally reported that Schwarzenegger weighed about 260 pounds during his off-season when he wasn’t losing fat for a bodybuilding competition. 

This would place him in the middle of the 120-kilogram category in the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF). At the 2023 IPF World Classic Powerlifting Championships, the winning Total in the 120s, according to the official scoresheet, was 2,099.9 pounds. 

Schwarzenegger’s best lifts, had he performed them in that same IPF competition, would earn him a 12th-place finish overall.

It’s essential to note that Schwarzenegger almost certainly maxed out his lifts in the weight room, not during the rigors of a sanctioned competition. 

Powerlifting competitions are rigorous, and athletes must adhere to many rules and regulations. 

This often results in athletes performing slightly below their maximum potential; it’s common for strength athletes to have a better “gym Total” than what they produce in competition.

Challenges and Injuries

Schwarzenegger faced his share of challenges and injuries throughout his career. Heavy lifting, while beneficial, also comes with risks. 

Over the years, Schwarzenegger underwent multiple surgeries, including shoulder and hip replacements. His approach to recovery emphasized rest, rehabilitation exercises, and a continued commitment to fitness.

Arnold’s Advice to Aspiring Lifters

For those looking to improve their strength and physique, Schwarzenegger offers timeless advice. 

Focus on compound lifts, maintain a disciplined training routine, and prioritize nutrition. Balance heavy lifting with overall health to avoid injuries. Schwarzenegger’s philosophy underscores consistency and a lifelong commitment to fitness.

Schwarzenegger’s Heaviest Lifts

How strong was Schwarzenegger in his prime? Well, from the Austrian Oak’s own mouth, his best-ever back squat, bench press, and deadlift were:

  • Back Squat: 610 pounds
  • Bench Press: 525 pounds
  • Deadlift: 710 pounds

“I was very happy with my lifts. [Lifting heavy] made me grow really fast,” Schwarzenegger said on air of his strength prowess. “But I have to say, my lifts are not at all great compared to what bodybuilders are doing today.”

Schwarzenegger’s Current Fitness Routine

The Oak emphasized to Mr. McAfee that, while his ultra-heavy max-out days are behind him, he still gets after it in the gym daily: “Every day I ride my bike down to Gold’s Gym, I work out for 45 minutes, then I ride back. 

That’s what I do every day.” This routine highlights his dedication to maintaining his fitness and health even in his later years.

Cultural Impact and Legacy

Schwarzenegger’s impact extends beyond bodybuilding and strength training. His success story has inspired countless individuals to pursue fitness and bodybuilding. 

His transition from bodybuilding to Hollywood and politics showcases his multifaceted legacy. Schwarzenegger’s influence remains evident in popular culture and the fitness industry.

Conclusion

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s contributions to bodybuilding and strength training are monumental. His heaviest lifts, training philosophy, and enduring fitness routine continue to inspire. 

As the fitness world evolves, Schwarzenegger’s legacy as a pioneer and icon in bodybuilding and strength training endures, motivating future generations to push their limits and achieve greatness.

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