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Steve Reeves - Classic Routines by David Gentle



Steve ReevesRenowned for his fabulous good looks and out of this world physique, Mr. America and Mr. Universe Steve Reeves became famous through the medium of the Hercules muscle movie videos, and yet ironically, the film star Reeves was but a shell of his pre-movie days, being ordered to slim down for the widescreen epics to appeal to a larger audience.  Despite the passing of time and it is actually 40 years since Steve won the Mr. America crown, he remains the pinnacle of perfection to millions of fans despite all those muscle fashions and fads, with an aesthetic physique many still attempt to emulate.  Real beauty is timeless, as is good taste.  Get a hundred people to choose between freaky muscle champs, or classic figure, and my bet is Reeves would score, as classic, over 90 percent of opinions.

Born on 21st January, 1926 in Glasgow Montana, USA of parents Lester Dell and Golden Viola Reeves. Steve’s father was killed when he was just one and a half years old. His first award in a lifetime of honours and he has received more awards recently than during his world active bodybuilding career, was, the healthiest baby in Valley County Montana. Even with today’s vast choices of physiques, Steve Reeves because of a strong combination of facial as well as physical beauty and symmetry had and still has the most universally envied development in modern times. World famous photographer Russ Warner is quoted in Milton T. Moore’s super book “Steve Reeves One of a Kind” as saying, I don’t think there is one chance in 50 trillion that the particular mix of heredity genes that formed the product we see in Steve Reeves will occur in combination again. Steve was a very unusual bodybuilder. He had the overall beauty that no other bodybuilder had ever been able to achieve. I have had the occasion to work with photographically most of the top bodybuilders in the world but when the good Lord made Steve Reeves he threw the mold away.  

Steve commenced bodybuilding when he was about 15 years of age, being the first to admit he had a good foundation and was an easy muscle gainer and after a year or so, soon had a potentially powerful physique.

His first instruction was at Ed Yarick’s gym in Oakland California where he was firmly encouraged to enter and won, all the local bodybuilders and physique competitions. A well balanced and harmonious development was always his aim.  

Drafted into the United States army from 1944 to 1946 during which period of time, he spent nineteen months in the Far East, Philippines and Japan – being involved in the battle of Balete Pass, and witnessing the many horrors of warfare and later contracting malaria.

Steve all the time managed to obtain some form of training albeit often with Tarzan-like rope climbing, general free exercise such as push-ups or dips and tension exercise. Later he designed his own weights and basic pulley apparatus.

On leaving the 125th Infantry in the Philippines and the service, he resumed training at Yarick’s making rapid progress. His first major contest was entering and winning the Mr. Pacific Coast in 1947. Steve won the Mr. America contest in Chicago on the 29th June being just 21 years old competing against amongst others the popular Alan Steven and even younger Eric Peterson who at just 18, won the Most Muscular division. Steve with his fabulous physique went on to greater glories. Eric despite his most muscular body faded into obscurity as some sort of lesson there.

The Battle of the Giants

Steve ReevesAlready highly popular after giving many exhibitions throughout the USA, Steve again competed in the Mr. America in 1948. This time being closely beaten by the great Clancy Ross. Another man with a great balanced body thought by many to excel that of Grimek. Steve came second and Alan Stephen made third place with this fame preceding Reeves came over to London in 1948 complete with highly fashionable soot suit and purple wide shoulder jacket on the 23rd August to compete for the very first time in Europe in the now classic battle between Reeves and legendary John C. Grimek. The battle of the giants. Now physical culture history saw Grimek nearly forty years old wining the first ever NABBA Mr. Universe title . There had been an earlier (Mr. Universe) and Steve still on his way up in the world of bodybuilding taking his loss like a true champion. Like a true champion he said perhaps you will permit me to say that I believe the judges imminently fair and had the audience said that night there is only one John Grimek and I only hope in future I will be able to emulate the position he holds in the bodybuilding world.    

Encouraged by the late great Oscar Heidenstam, who instantly recognized Steve Reeves classic line. They both traveled across the channel to France and just three days later on the 26th August in Cannes, Steve won the title of Le Plus Bel Athlete Du Monde and Mr. World from the Federation François Physique. One year later in 1949, Steve, along with almost a who's who of American bodybuilders, tried for the Mr. U.S.A. crown. Again he was beaten by Grimek the winner and Clancy Ross who took second place. Reeves came third and genial George Efferman of huge pectoral fame came fourth.  Possible reasons for Steve's placing being this was the age of huge bulk and competitors often not knowing before it was too late, whether the judge sought sheer size or as over in Europe, little muscle other than good deltoids and razor cut abdominals.   Physiques are influenced greatly by judging requirements and of course of beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.

The Physique of the Century

Steve ReevesTo the delight of his European fans in 1950, Steve who was then instructor at Bert Goodrich's gym (Bert was arguably the premier Mr. America) decided on an all out attempt at wining the NABBA Mr. Universe title competing against a list of top stars including Britain very own Reg Park. Later himself a triple winner said it all when he remarked on Reeves. The man had everything. A physique of the century. On 24th June at the Scala Theatre, Steve Reeves won the Mr. Universe title and the unique originally designed Sandow statuette later copied and muscled up for the Olympia winner. Reg Park came second and third place went to the late Jean Ferrero, another highly aesthetic physique. Steve's measurements officially recorded at the event something that is no longer followed were weight 214 pounds, neck 18 inches, chest expanded 52”, arms 18 and a half, forearms 14 and  half, wrists 7 and quarter, calf 18 , thighs 26 and height 6 foot, 1 inch.  Although Oscar Heidenstam considered that Reeves was in fact taller and more like 6 foot, 3 inches (actually I have stood next to Steve several times and he appeared to be the same height as me. i.e., 6 ft 1 inch DG)  

Certainly at times Reeves gained or lost muscle size almost at will yet always retaining harmonious and balanced physique.  Never did one feature lag behind or outshine another.  In his recent book Steve Reeves, "Building the Classic Physique the Natural Way", Steve sets out his idea about the ideal physique proportion, this being arm size 252% of wrist size calf size 192% of ankle size, neck size 79% of head size, chest size 148% of pelvis size, waist 86% of knee size and weight 295% of height. My opinion of all this is that it all looks far too complicated to work out and that only the human eyes could judge in an instant through physical symmetry.  

As mentioned earlier, Steve was the first to admit that he had the perfect foundation and right from the start was an easy gainer. His premier workout schedule consisted of the following exercises:

  • Dumbbell swings for warm-up, 1 x 20,
  • Cleans 1 x 10,
  • Overhead press 1 x 10,
  • Supine press 1 x 10,
  • Rowing 1 x 10,
  • Reverse curls 1 x 10,
  • Good morning 1 x 10, and,
  • Deep breathing lateral raise for great chest expansion 1 x 10.

Even the very earliest photos of him at 15 displayed an already impressive physique with obvious star potential. His handsome features, healthy styled mop of hair, and general vitality were also enormous assets for any future muscle star and film icon. Even had the pleasure of his company in recent years at the Oscar Foundation Awards, I can vouch he had lost none of his charm or physical charisma.

Reeves Training Philosophy

Steve ReevesSteve Reeves basic training philosophy, like a breath of fresh air considering the majority of today’s steroid assisted growth monsters, with their marathon kill a bull, workouts, is in his own words, from a personal interview, he gave me as follows: "Since the first workout I believe that a successful schedule is composed of exercises that the bodybuilder enjoys performing. If you like certain exercises, it is obvious you will put more effort into your training period. You should go through a program not as a duty but as something that it is a real pleasure. Train only three nights a week and enjoy it that way. Any more time in the gym will be both mentally and physically draining to me and I think it is for those dedicated zealots who spend most of their waking time in the gym. You will notice that usually burn themselves out in time making little progress for the many hours of slaving they did."  

Certainly many of Reeve’s contemporaries disappear into obscurity once they lost balance in training. Full body workout will benefit cardiovascular fitness just three times a week. Despite being considered old fashioned by some, still work best for most professional bodybuilders.  

When training Steve was always dedicated and determined, otherwise, "There is a time and a place for everything and a time and a place for training and training talk is in the gym and not everywhere".  Continuing Steve’s own words, "When I walk into the gym for my workout, I banish all outside thought and influence in my mind. I am there for one purpose, the best possible workout I can get.  Throughout my workout I concentrate to the maximum on my exercises. But once my workout is done, I leave the gym.   I concentrate on enjoying life and the many things about me."  

On training, Steve said, I have never been too concerned with measurements (although he has always had some mighty muscles), working always towards proportion and symmetry instead of tape measurement size.  

On training various body parts, e.g. biceps, "In building the bicep one should make it a point to use full extension and contraction. If this method is not used, the arm will not develop that long full bicep". (Although others say bicep shape is predetermined by genetics)".  His favourite exercise was the incline bench curl.  

Regarding  triceps: One thing that in my opinion is not given enough time and thought is the outer head of the tricep (silicon implants in those days). When fully developed, it gives a more distinct horseshoe shape. A good exercise for the other head is the tricep bench extension, using just a moderate light dumbbell."  

For chest, and Steve Reeves had the original Gladiator style pectoral shape suiting his film epics to a tee and his Roman army chest plates were designed according to physical ideal.  Reeves had them naturally. He preferred to use the incline press for upper pecs and for the lower pectorals, "I have found that the best exercise to really build bulk in the lower pec, is the dumbbell bench press, performed wide.  Wide standard bench press with barbell, put most stress on the upper pecs, and not tricep."  

For shape and definition, he preferred bent arms laterals.   Steve also said, "Avoid overtraining the obliques, (side waist muscles) and trapezius (muscular base of the neck). It will make your shoulders look narrower." Reeves shoulders measured with calipers, reached 23 and a half inches. The only man I have seen with wider shoulders was the late Rubin Martin.  

When it came to back exercise: "The one-arm rowing is one of the best shaping exercises for the lats allowing for the full extension and contraction (he always did full range movement.) I would also add that my personal lats exercise is the lats machine pulldown (Reeves in fact enjoyed any type of cable exercise)."  

Finally training legs, Steve says, "The exercise which is my favourite (for the legs) is the front squat (a safe exercise for the lone trainer as it is easy to drop the bar after the last few reps). With regards to calves, I rely on the donkey raise for my calf development. This is performed by leaning over the waist and having a trainer sit astride my hips. I really enjoyed this exercise doing many sets of maximum reps. Reeves preferred higher reps rather than low reps with heavy weights.  'I also tried to work my calves elsewhere. The bench is a good spot and running and walking in the sand are good for development." Steve trained regularly just three times a week training all body parts in one workout, usually, employing eight to twelve repetitions with about five to six sets per exercise.

Steve's Mr. America Routine

Naturally over the course of the year, Steve trained using literally hundreds of different routines and used just about every exercise system and apparatus, but for posterity, here's his actual routine when training for the Mr. America, one that helped him maintained and built his great shape.

For this chest he performed:

  • Wide grip bench press three x 10 reps.
  • Inclined press, arms outward, 3 sets of 12 reps.

For the deltoids (shoulders)

  • Front raise 3 to 5 sets x 10 reps.

For lats

  • Overhead downward pull on the lats bar 3 x 12 reps.
  • Rowing 3 x 12 reps.
  • Cable pulley rowing 3 x 15 reps.

For triceps any extension movement

  • Using dumbbell with both hands 3 x 10 ,
  • Triceps extension 3 x 10, decreasing weights at each set.

For the bicep

  • incline preacher bench curl, 5 to 6 sets of 10 reps.

For thighs

  • Front squat on a high block 3 x 15 reps
  • Hack squat 3 x 15 reps
  • Legs curl4 x 10 reps

For Calves

  • toe press on the legs machine using high reps and large number of sets and, For lower back

Hyperextensions 4 x 12 reps

Whatever the program, history records that Steve Reeves eventually won the Mr. America and all of five decades later will still remain one if not the most admired of all physique stars to ever grace the posing dais.

Steve Reeves - Classic Routines Copyright by David Gentle  All Rights Reserved

Steve Reeves

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