Old-school weightlifting offers a wide range of benefits for the body. It’s a great way to build bulk, increase strength, and improve tone.

Whether you want to get swole — or just want to tone and strengthen — old school bodybuilding can help you hit your goals. Here’s a rundown of the best vintage workouts for all fitness levels.

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Photography by Ezequiel Giménez/Stocksy United

Old school weightlifting generally refers to the Golden Era of Bodybuilding. This period spanned from the 50s through the 70s, and was made popular by names like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sergio Oliva. Basically, think LA’s Muscle Beach and you’re right on the money.

While this style of bodybuilding lacks today’s advanced equipment, it can still produce amazing results. Common old school weightlifting equipment includes:

With the right training strategies, vintage bodybuilding workouts can net you some serious benefits. Modern approaches might achieve more optimal gains in overall athletic performance, but old school stuff is amazing for crafting your body. If you want to look like Arnie, train like him.

It’s maybe fitting that old school exercises might also be good for old school people. As we age, we lose muscle mass. Maintaining an active lifestyle — especially with techniques designed to build muscle — can help you do more for longer.

Ready to get your lift on? Here are nine old school weightlifting exercises.

1. Cross-bench pullovers

Blitz your chest and lats with this classic upper body resistance exercise:

  1. Sit at the end of your bench with your feet against the floor at either side.
  2. Grip a dumbbell in each hand and lie back on the bench with your beck and head supported.
  3. Stretch your arms straight up and grip the weights so that your palms face each other.
  4. As you inhale, engage your core and stretch the weights back over your head.
  5. Stretch til the weights are parallel with your head (not lower) and hold for a beat.
  6. Steadily return your arms upright, remaining in control of the weight.
  7. Complete 8–12 reps and 2–3 sets.

2. Good mornings

A classic old school bodybuilding move that nails your posterior chain. Proper form is essential:

  1. Stand with your feet at shoulder to hip-width apart.
  2. Support a loaded barbell across your upper back and engage your core.
  3. Bend forward at the hips with your knees slightly bent. Keep your torso aligned from the base of your neck to your glutes.
  4. Lean forward and hold for a beat.
  5. Stand back up steadily by pushing through your hips.
  6. Complete 8–12 reps and 2–3 sets.

Pro tip: Avoid rounding your lower back while doing these.

3. Push-ups

A push-up is as old school as it gets, right? The classic version keeps the arms further from your body to work the upper muscles more effectively:

  1. Lie on the ground facing down.
  2. Place your hands flat on the floor parallel to your shoulders.
  3. Push with your upper arms and raise yourself up, keeping your spine aligned.
  4. Hold for a beat.
  5. Steadily lower yourself down.
  6. Complete 8–12 reps and 2–3 sets.

4. Single-arm dumbbell rows

Focusing on one arm at a time lets you sculpt your back muscles precisely, the essence of old school bodybuilding. One-armed dumbbell rows make it possible:

  1. Place your dumbbell on the left side of your bench.
  2. Kneel with your right leg on the bench.
  3. Lean forward so your torso is parallel to the ground.
  4. Reach down and grip the dumbbell with your left hand.
  5. Keep your torso still as you can while lifting the weight with your shoulder and back muscles.
  6. Steadily lower the weight back down, keeping it controlled.
  7. Repeat with the opposite arm/leg.
  8. Complete 8–12 reps and 2–3 sets.

5. Sissy squats

These squats are super for your quads and butt. To make them happen:

  1. Stand beside a support — like a pole, bench, or squat rack — with your feet fully together.
  2. Grip your support and engage your core.
  3. Lean backwards as you rise to your tiptoes, bending at the knees.
  4. Lean backwards as deep as you can while stretching your knees to the floor.
  5. Hold for a beat.
  6. Rise back up by driving through the balls of your feet.
  7. Complete 8–12 reps and 2–3 sets.

Pro tip: You might want to avoid sissy squats if you have issues with your knees.

6. T-bar rows

By precisely targeting your arms and back, you can row row row your way to being built like a battleship:

  1. Load up one side of a barbell and secure the other end into a corner.
  2. Stand with the bar between your legs, with feet shoulder width.
  3. Grip the bar beneath the weight and pull it to your chest.
  4. Keep your elbows tight and engage your shoulder blades as you hold the weight to your chest.
  5. Steadily lower the weight back down.
  6. Complete 8–12 reps and 2–3 sets.

Pro tip: Be sure to keep your movements controlled and steady. Also, you can use a close grip hand to help lift the bar if that feels better for you.

7. Tiptoe farmer walks

Your forearms and calves will get a serious rip from this classic exercise. It’s an ideal substitute if your gym doesn’t have a calf raise machine:

  1. Stand with legs shoulder-width apart.
  2. Grab a weight in each hand. Each weight should weigh the same amount.
  3. Transfer your weight forward through your feet and raise to your toes.
  4. Stretch out your calves and hold for a beat.
  5. Complete 8–12 reps and 2–3 sets.

8. Wide-grip chin-ups

Old school weightlifters did chin-ups with a wider grip than we typically see today. To try them at home or in the gym:

  1. Face the pull-up bar with an overhand grip, palms facing away from you.
  2. Grip the bar with your arms wider than shoulder-width. They should make a V-shape.
  3. Take the weight off your legs so you’re hanging with your feet off the floor and arms straight.
  4. Lift with your arms and pull your chest up to the bar.
  5. Hold for a beat.
  6. Lower yourself down.
  7. Complete 8–12 reps and 2–3 sets.

Pro tip: Don’t drop all of your body weight down when you lower yourself down. Keep things slow and steady.

9. Zercher squats

Bodybuilders like naming moves after themselves. Ed Zercher invented this squat variant that doesn’t require a rack:

  1. Start with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  2. Face your toes outwards.
  3. Cradle a barbell with your elbows by bending your arms and clasping your hands together against your chest.
  4. Steadily lower into a squat and keep your hips pushed back. Do this until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  5. Hold for a beat.
  6. Return to start.
  7. Complete 8–12 reps and 2–3 sets.

All the usual advice that would apply for any exercise also applies to vintage exercise techniques. But there are some specific things to keep in mind, including nutrition.

A lot of serious bodybuilders stick to a strict diet consisting of tons of protein and minimal fats. While this type of diet can be healthy, it’s important to avoid extreme eating habits. Some research suggest folks who devote themselves to bodybuilding may be at higher risk of developing eating disorders or self-image issues.

Additionally, it’s vital you don’t push past your limits. Always let your body recover from each workout before you hit the gym again. And if it hurts, stop!

P.S. Don’t forget to stay hydrated, fam.

With the benefit of today’s technology and sports science, you can get those same results. But there’s something to be said about going old school and using vintage methods. The most important thing is that you use methods that work for your unique and goals.