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Train like Reg Park and Arnold Schwarzenegger

Strength Oldschool

Reg Park - Hercules Movie Poster

Author: Unknown

At age 15 Arnold glanced in a store room window and saw what was a cover of a magazine depicting the new Hercules movie starring none other than Reg Park. Arnold was not a man to learn from books or abstract ideas but by identifying with what he considered to be admirable individuals. “Reg Park became my idol,” Arnold said in 1976. “In time I would base my whole bodybuilding future on Reg.” - Fantastic: The Life of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I was a 15-year-old farm kid growing up in Austria when I was first inspired by a bodybuilding magazine with a picture of him on the cover from one of his Hercules movies. My life was never the same. He was so powerful and rugged-looking that I decided right then and there I wanted to be a bodybuilder, another Reg Park. I could not have picked a better hero to inspire me. Reg went from bodybuilding to the movies. He became a smart and successful businessman, and he was the first person who gave me a glimpse of what my life could someday become if I dreamed big and worked hard. – Arnold Schwarzenegger, A Tribute to Reg Park.

Reg Park as Hercules

I knew that would be me. I would look like Reg Park. I studied every move he made, every gesture. From that point on my life was utterly dominated by Reg Park. His image was my ideal. It was fixed indeliably in my mind. All my friends were more impressed by Steve Reeves, but I didn’t like him. Reg Park had more of a rough look, a powerful look, while Steeve Reeves seemed elegant, smooth, polished. I knew in my mind that I was not geared for elegance. I wanted to be massive. It was the difference between cologne and sweat. I found out everything I could about Reg Park. I bought all the magazines that published his programs. I learned how he started training, what he ate, how he lived, and how he did his workouts. I became obsessed with Reg Park; he was the image in front of me from the time I started training. The more I focused in on this image and worked and grew, the more I saw it was real and possible for me to be like him. – Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder.

From the beginning I was a big believer in the basic movements, because that was Reg Park’s preference. He would stay with the basic exercises – bench presses, chin-ups, squats, rowing, barbell curls, wrist curls, pullovers, leg extensions, calf raises. These were the movements that worked most directly on all body parts. I was following his example to the letter. And as it turned out, I could hardly have chosen more wisely. The basic exercises were creating for me a rugged foundation, a core of muscle I could later build upon for a winning body. Reg Park’s theory was that first you have to build the mass and then chisel it down to get the quality. – Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder.

A Young Arnold Schwarzenegger

The basic exercises will appear throughout the entire training program. There are no alternatives to these exercises. For example, every bodybuilder has to do squats from the time he starts until he finishes. You can’t build your legs without the squat. – Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder


Reg Park

An athlete from the start, he dedicated his teenage years excelling in soccer. He had no interest in bodybuilding until, at age 16, Park met a muscleman named David Cohen. Upon learning that Cohen lifted weights at his friend’s house, Reg Park joined in with curiosity. Park’s legendary physique would grow from barbells, dumbbells and a simple chinning bar.

Upon discharge from the military in 1948, he saw his very first physique contest. This was the inaugural NABBA Mr. Universe contest, in which John Grimek edged out over Steve Reeves in controversial fashion. It was this contest that inspired Reg Park to compete himself. After one year of hard training, Reg Park earned the title of Mr. Britain in 1949. He then subsequently spent six months in the United States (thanks to a gift from his parents). There, he met up with famed publisher Joe Weider, who began to feature the Englishman prominently in his muscle magazines. The next year, Park was runner-up to Steve Reeves in the 1950 NABBA Amateur Mr. Universe in London (also a close contest).

After a second full year of training, Reg Park broke what had been an American monopoly on bodybuilding titles by winning the 1951 National Amateur Bodybuilders Association (NABBA) Amateur Mr. Universe. He cemented his superstar status by winning the 1958 AND 1965 NABBA Pro Mr. Universe titles. Standing 6’1″ and with a top weight of 250 pounds, Park was known for his muscular mass that was the forerunner to modern bodybuilding today. Park was also renowned for his strength, which he often demonstrated in contests and strongman exhibitions. It is on record that he was the first bodybuilder to bench press 500 lbs.

Training like Reg Park

If you’re a beginner and you want to train like Arnold Schwarzenegger, then you have to train like Arnold Schwarzenegger trained as a beginner. When Arnold first began training he trained 3 days a week, so you’ll train three days a week. When Arnold first began training he followed a Reg Park's routine, so you’ll follow a Reg Park's routine.

Reg Park and Arnold Schwarzenegger

When Arnold first began training, he focused on the big heavy compound lifts, so you’ll focus on the big heavy compound lifts. This is how Arnold got his start on the road to being the best that there ever was and it’s my hope that this could be your start as well. Let’s take a look at some of the programs advocated by Reg Parks, all of which Arnie would have used at some point. Try to imagine Arnold at 15, 16 and 17 doing the exact same things that you’ll be doing. Try to recreate for yourself some of the same excitement, determination and raw power that Arnie did, and ultimately, success.

Reg Park and 5×5

The 5×5 model was Reg Park’s choice du jour for packing on slabs of muscle and producing hundreds of pounds of strength. This is also the model that Arnie came to know and love during his formative years. But this isn’t Bill Starr’s 5×5, this is Reg Park’s 5×5 and it’s a little different. The first two sets of five are actually used as warm-up sets. So let’s say we’re going to work our way up to a 150 lb bench, the first set of five would be about 60% or 90 lbs, and the second set of five would be about 80% or 120lbs. After that you would get down to the grit, what Reg liked to call Stabilizer Sets; 3 sets of 5 at 150lbs. So it would end up looking like:

5×90 (Warm-up @ 60%)
5×120 (Warm-up @ 80%)
5×150 (3 stabilizer sets)

When you can get all your reps of 5 at 150 lbs, you add 5 lbs. So next time your bench it would be:


Reg liked to use about 3-5 minutes to rest in between sets.

One more thing: When you’re first starting any 5×5 program you never want to start with your max. Typically you start 30-45 lbs below what you think you can do and work your way back up. Starting anywhere near your maximum capacity is a good way to stall out, so give yourself a running start. If that means starting with an empty barbell, well, just consider that Arnold and Reg both started at the same place you will.

Onto the programs…

Young Arnold Front Double Biceps

The Reg Park Beginner Routine

Here is a workout that he and Arnold used with great success (provided by Kaya Park, Reg’s grandson)

Workout A

Back Squats 5×5
Chin-Ups or Pull-Ups 5×5
Dips or Bench Press 5×5
Wrist Work 2×10
Calves 2×15-20

Workout B

Front Squats 5×5
Rows 5×5
Standing Press 5×5
Deadlifts 3×5 (2 warm-up sets and 1 “stabilizer set”)
Wrist Work 2×10
Calves 2×15-20

Week 1: A, B, A
Week 2: B, A, B
Week 3: A, B, etc

** If you have tried the routine above, please share your experience with using the routine. Did you achieve good gains? Comment below.

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Keep training hard,

Strength Oldschool

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