Stretch Overload for Schwarzenegger Size

One big reason that Arnold’s physique was so far ahead in freaky size and proportion was likely his meticulous attention to stretch overload. Yes, the topic has been a theme in a few of my blogs, but the significance of stretch overload is verified by scientific evidence; more on that in a moment.

If you’re like most trainees you probably neglect overloading your muscles when they’re stretched. That key overload point usually occurs close to the turnaround on most exercises—where you change the direction of a rep. So if you want faster mass gains, try blasting out power partials (X Reps) near the bottom of certain exercises, like close to the bottom of a bench press or calf raise, at the end of a set. That’s where you can overload the target muscle right at its point of maximum force generation. Based the way he trained, Arnold seemed to know that instinctively.

Arnold was a master at getting the most muscle-building potential from every set, and that often included stretch overload. The way he trained calves is a prime example. If you see photos of when he first came to the U.S., his calves were lagging behind most of his other muscle groups.  At least they were until he visited one of his idols, Reg Park.

Arnold was using a few hundred pounds on a variety of calf raises, but when he trained with Reg, who was known to train very heavy, he was shocked to see his mentor pile 1,000 pounds on the calf machine and continue to grind out movement until he could barely budge the massive load. Reg’s calves also just happened to be quite huge.

Arnold soaked up what he saw, as well as the important information he learned.  He began to apply it almost immediately and was soon using 1,000 pounds on his calf raises. The key here, however, is that he wouldn’t stop a set just because he could no longer get all the way to the top. When he couldn’t do anymore full reps, he would simply force the weight up as high as he could, usually just above the stretch point, and continue with partials until the muscles could no longer fire.

Soon his calves were one of his best bodyparts (they were so good that some people accused him of having calf implants; wrong, he just instinctively knew how to train–from peak contraction to stretch overload).

He would also continue to exploit the stretch position during rest periods. For instance, between sets of calf raises he would tensing and stretch the muscle while leaning forward against a wall or machine. Between sets of chins he would do something similar for lats.  He would grab onto a sturdy upright, like the side of a power rack, with one arm at about chest height, bend forward at the waist, head tucked next to his arm, and lean back with his hips to lengthen his lat and pulse in that semistretched position. He’d do that with each arm before his next set of lat work.  He wasn’t exactly a slouch in the lat department either, very likely because of this (coupled with his incredible genetics, of course).

This all stresses the importance of the stretch and semistretch positions of every muscle for mass building. Scientists confirm that through force-generation/muscle-fiber activation research and we often make reference to a particular bird study. But really, who can argue with Arnold’s results?

If you’re not utilizing stretch overload in the gym, it could be a big reason you’re not building more muscle faster. Arnold knew to go for stretch overload at almost every workout, and it’s a good idea to follow his lead since his results speak for themselves.

We’ve found that overloading a muscle at its semistretched point with X Reps (power partials similar to what Arnold used at the end of his calf raises and other exercises) can make each set two to four times more effective at building mass. X Reps work so incredibly well because after you hit failure, you keep firing the muscle at its max-force-generation point, the key mass-building position, according to scientists. It can cut your workout time and significantly jack up your size and strength fast, just as it has for us.

About the Author
Jonathan Lawson has been working in the health and fitness industry for over 20 years; weight training for 21 years, competed in numerous bodybuilding competitions, worked for IRON MAN Magazine for 17 years, co-owns where he has co-published over 15 e-books and writes a daily training blog.  He has appeared on the covers of, and been featured in, dozens of international magazines, books and e-books.