I tried a 20-minute arm workout from Arnold Schwarzenegger—if you want stronger arms, you should too

Build strength and muscle in your arms and shoulders with this efficient workout

Fit&Well fitness writer Harry Bullmore performing a biceps curl in garden
(Image credit: Future / Harry Bullmore)

You don't need loads of equipment to build stronger arms—just ask Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

The Terminator star recently shared a workout from trainer Cory Gregory in his Arnold's Pump Club newsletter, which promises to pump up your biceps, triceps and shoulders with just a couple of water jugs.

"If you don’t have any home equipment, buy two quarts or two gallon jugs of water," the newsletter reads. "These will be your weights. Of course, if you have dumbbells, you can use those too. Then, it’s time you get a pump."

Intrigued, I grabbed a couple of dumbbells and headed into my garden to try the routine.

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How to do the workout

  • 1A: Biceps curls 3x20 repetitions
  • 1B: Triceps rollbacks 3x20 repetitions
  • 2A: Hammer curls 3x20 repetitions
  • 2B: Triceps kickbacks 3x20 repetitions
  • 3A: Arnold press 3x20 repetitions
  • 3C: Lateral raises 3x20 repetitions

This six-move workout is arranged into three supersets; paired exercises performed back to back with minimal rest in between.

After each superset, Schwarzenegger advises "resting as little as possible" (I went for 60 seconds) before repeating the two exercises. 

In practice, this means that during the first superset you'll do 20 biceps curls followed by 20 triceps rollbacks. Once you've finished both exercises, rest for a minute and repeat. 

When you've finished three rounds of this sequence, move on to the next superset. 

I tried doing this workout outside on a sunny day—here's everything I noticed during the routine. 

1. You don't need an hour or more for a great workout

Scrolling through social media and seeing people spend hours in the gym, it can be easy to think you need to dedicate a huge chunk of your day to exercise. Yet this workout offers an effective and efficient alternative. 

Schwarzenegger challenges his newsletter readers to finish this three-round workout in 20 minutes. 

Factor in a warm up, along with some post-session stretches, and that takes you to the half-hour mark—not bad at all considering you're strengthening your arms and shoulders in one fell swoop. 

2. Leave your ego at the door

As a CrossFit fan, the vast majority of my dumbbell workouts are done with 22.5kg/50lb weights. I quickly found I didn't need anything near that heavy for this workout.

I grabbed a 12.5kg/27.5lb pair and thought I was being conservative with my choice, but five minutes later I was contemplating subbing them out for a lighter set.

The high number of repetitions, twinned with the short rest times, meant my arm and shoulder muscles were on fire. So if you only have a light set of dumbbells at home, this is a great way to challenge your muscles.

I also benefited from Arnold's popularized phenomenon called "the pump"; my working muscles swelled with blood and other fluids, increasing in size, which left my t-shirt sleeves feeling a bit tighter. 

Fit&Well fitness writer Harry Bullmore performing a triceps rollback

(Image credit: Future / Harry Bullmore)

3. It's likely you'll need two different dumbbell weights

I found the mix of exercises in this workout called for two different dumbbell weights. 

While I was able to stick with my 12.5kg/27.5lb pair for most of the session, the triceps kickbacks and lateral raises called for much lighter dumbbells.

Of course, this isn't a problem if you're using adjustable dumbbells as you can just twist the dial to change the load. If you're lifting water jugs, you could add or remove water, but this might interrupt the flow of your workout.

Would I do this workout again?

This is an accessible, efficient workout for building stronger arms and shoulders; I'd happily recommend it to anyone looking for a solid upper-body session. 

Having stronger arms can bring all kinds of benefits. It makes lifting objects feel easier, both in and out of the gym. Plus, strength training sessions like this one can boost your bone density, improve your joint health and reduce your risk of injury.

I also find lifting weights simply makes me feel good. The science is there to back this up, with a 2018 meta-analysis published in the JAMA Psychiatry journal concluding that this type of training "significantly reduced depressive symptoms among adults". 

And, subjectively, I was practically fizzing after this workout. Sweaty? Yes. Sore? Undoubtedly. But the sense of achievement and enjoyment I felt far outweighed both of these physical symptoms. 

If you want a pair of versatile weights to add to your home workout space, take a look at our guide to the best adjustable dumbbells, where we've tested top options to help you find the right pair for you. 

Harry Bullmore
Fitness Writer

Harry Bullmore is a Fitness Writer for Fit&Well and its sister site Coach, covering accessible home workouts, strength training session, and yoga routines. He joined the team from Hearst, where he reviewed products for Men's Health, Women's Health, and Runner's World. He is passionate about the physical and mental benefits of exercise, and splits his time between weightlifting, CrossFit, and gymnastics, which he does to build strength, boost his wellbeing, and have fun.

Harry is a NCTJ-qualified journalist, and has written for Vice, Learning Disability Today, and The Argus, where he was a crime, politics, and sports reporter for several UK regional and national newspapers.