Arnold Schwarzenegger's Squat routine
by Arnold Schwarzenegger - 1976
When I was first learning how to train, I used to do full squats. I did them
exclusively for the thighs. I labored under the belief that if I did my full
squats faithfully on a firm reps and sets basis, I would get everything I needed
in the way of thighs. Over the years my thinking has changed considerably.
Everybody does squats: weightlifters, bodybuilders, football players, track
athletes and even ballet dancers. The squat increases the power, speed and
spring of the legs. When practiced with heavy breathing, it permanently expands
the rib cage. It can help you gain weight. It can help you lose weight. with
these multiple benefits, the squat goes on record and the best all-around
Well, if it could do all these things, how come I even bothered to change my
style of squatting? My business is bodybuilding, first of all. It's nice to have
all the capabilities of the athlete, and I accept them as a side effect of doing
squats. However, I am more directly concerned with defining and shaping my
thighs for the purposes of some things from my standpoint, and other things from
yours which I think everybody should know.
The full squat, all the way down and all the way up, has the advantage of
working a lot of other body parts besides the thighs; like back, glutes and
chest. They certainly developed the lumbar muscles of my lower back, That was a
terrific advantage. The disadvantage was that 50 percent of the effort worked my
thighs, and at least 30 percent worked my glutes. I found that the first third
of the movement of coming up from a full squat worked my glutes. The final
two-thirds of the movement worked the entire thigh, but no particular part. So,
what happened was my rear got big, and my thighs got bulky and shapeless. Nether
of these two effects served my purpose for bodybuilding.
There are several ways to do squats. The most conventional of these remains the
regular squat with the barbell resting on the shoulders behind the neck and a
movement consisting of a full deep knee bend with return for the fully erect
position. There is the half squat - half way down and all the way up -- that may
also be done astride a bench of protection against going too deep. Another is
the tension squat where you don't lock out your knees at the top. You drop
three-quarters of the way down and return to a position three-quarters of the
way up. The movement is performed through the middle half of the entire range of
movement. There is the jump squat which is excellent for weightlifters and other
athletes interested in getting extra spring and starting power. Front squats,
where the weight is held across the chest, is done with a straight bar. The
sissy squat involves only the front quadriceps and is done with the hips held
forward, dipping low using knee flexion only. The hack squat is done with the
barbell held behind the legs, or on the specially designed hack machine. The
one-legged squat rounds out the basic list of the most familiar forms of the
For me, the only advantage of the full squat was that it built my back along
with my thighs. As a result I was able to deadlift 700 pounds. If you want
power, the full squat is the way to get it. If it's shape and size you want,
then there are several different and better ways, such as I described.
Position of the feet exerts different pressures and enables you to concentrate
on different areas of the thighs. For instance, when you put your feet close
together and parallel, all the effort of the squat goes into the quadriceps and
gives the thigh a front sweep look. It should be done with a block under the
heels for better balance. A friend of mine, Karl Schranz, world champion skier
to many years, worked his legs that way using as much as 400 pounds. Skiers
everywhere are now doing this exercise.
With the feet a normal width apart, say, about 18 inches, every area of the
thigh, outside middle and inside, is worked in the regular squat movement. With
the feet farther apart, toes pointed out, the effect of the squat is felt on the
inside of the thigh. The heels may also be moved closer together with the toes
still pointed out, and the inside thigh continues to be effected. The position
of the feet largely determines which part of the thigh will work.
I have reverted to using the vertical sliding Smith machine for my squats. This
machine enables me to concentrate on my legs. I can place my feet forward of the
vertical line of my body, and I can't fall back, like I would using a barbell.
Thus, with my back straight, feet about 10 inches apart, and my knees straight
ahead. I do tension squats, going three-quarters of the way down and coming up
to a position a quarter of the way form the top. The movement gives my thighs an
incredible burn and gets the more lateral muscles. I always do this one before a
contest. I burn out as many reps as I can, never completing a movement If you
lock out, you give your muscles a chance to rest, and that 's not what you want.
you have to torture the muscle with unusual training so that it will respond.
I used to use a lot of weight on the squat. Not anymore. I find now that
concentration lends its own form of resistance. By thinking I can direct the
effort, I can make every movement count, not only the sets. By doing the sliding
squat on the sliding Smith machine, I am able to concentrate using less weight.
I direct my attention to what the thighs are doing. I literally think the
definition into them. The pleasure of my thought overrides the pain. The
positive aspects of cuts and veins and shape spur me on, and the whole thing
become a labor of love.
I would always have a beginner start with the parallel squat, five sets,
starting with 20 reps and decreasing the number on subsequent sets, finishing
with six reps. For the beginner I would increase the amount of weight only as I
perceived his increased muscle size. I wouldn't try to rush his strength. I
would experiment with him, vary his squatting post ion, try to find what was
best for him. People have different structures, therefore they must utilize the
"instinctive" training technique. A great bodybuilder like Frank Zane squats
narrow while another great one like Ken Waller squats much wider, and both of
them have sensational thighs. Everybody beginner, intermediate and advanced.,
alike, should all experiment with various foot positions to determine what
I usually warm up with 135 pounds, 30 reps, I drop to 20 reps on my second set,
then down to 15 and 10 for the others. As I go down in reps, I go up in weight,
peaking at about 400 pounds for eight reps.
I prefer to start out with leg extensions. I get more definition when they
precede squats. By the time I get to the squat my legs feel numb, like I
couldn't use another pound on anything. But after my first couple of squat sets
the numbness goes away. The lingering transition makes my squats doubly
effective in getting definition.
I wear a lifting belt for squats, but not tight. For guys who are afraid of
getting sore, or who can't walk or exercise for a couple of days following leg
work, I'd suggest they use the sauna or steam room and whirl pool after their
workout. I let the heat penetrate me, and that usually relaxes me and dissipates
I personally like the pain form training because it indicates I've worked hard
enough for things to grow. It's a great satisfaction.
Some bodybuilders like to squat without a mirror in front of them. I like the
mirror. It helps me keep in the groove. In order to see myself in it I have to
keep my head up. That forces me to come up with my back more vertical which
shifts the weight all to my legs. It allows me to see if I am twisting to the
side, which is a bad habit to get into for the questionable pressures it puts on
You can guess by now that I have gotten away from using monstrous poundages on
squats of any kind. My needs have forced me to find ways or doing leg work that
develop cuts and definition along with size. I am still experimenting. Just
remember, you have to apply the technique of quality training to your legs the
same as the rest of your body. That means more sustained tension, shorter rests
between sets, no rest between repetitions and, finally, total concentration. Do
that, and you'll end up with great legs.
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