Almost everyone who has ever picked up a barbell has wondered how the late, great Steve Reeves trained? He was physical perfection and people who weight train are naturally curious about the process that got him there. He was also an interesting personality, and from everything I have heard and read he was a real gentleman and all around good guy. Fame in the bodybuilding world and then in movies did not change him.
Reeves was at the pinnacle in the days when there were few exercise machines or devices other than standard dumbbells and barbells. Lifters and bodybuilders using protein supplements often mixed their own, combining ingredients like powdered milk, soy and Knox gelatin. Those were pre-steroid years. Yet look what men like Reeves, Grimek, and Park achieved without risking their future health by taking drugs.
Some consider Reeves the greatest bodybuilder of all time. It is hard to imagine anyone more symmetrical. Much of what he knew about training he learned at Ed Yarick’s famous gym in Oakland, California.
When Reeves worked out there was no time for small talk. There were no split routines spread over six or seven days a week either. Every workout was a full body workout. Tough as his training was in preparation for competitions, he followed the standard three-days-a-week format. And almost exclusively, he used dumbbells and barbells and a few cables. Nothing fancy.
The following is the exact program, which he called "My Championship Workout," that he used to prepare for the Mr. America (1947) and Mr. Universe (1950) competitions. He put great effort into the workouts and it took two to three hours to complete them. For variety, he sometimes followed other methods, such as super-setting opposing muscle groups, pyramid systems, and so forth. But it is interesting that when preparing for the greatest challenges of his bodybuilding career, he choose very basic weight training movements and did the standard three sets of eight to 12 repetitions per exercise.
Those exercises follow . . .
- Upright Rowing, barbell, narrow grip -- 3 x 8-12
- Press Behind Neck, barbell, wide grip – 3 x 8-12
- Lateral Raises, dumbbells, bent over – 3 x 8-12
- Bench Press, barbell, wide grip – 3 x 8-12
- Incline Press, dumbbells, thumbs in – 3 x 8-12
- Flying Motion, dumbbells, bent armed – 3 x 8-12
- Pulldowns Behind Neck, pulley, wide grip – 3 x 8-12
- Seated Rowing, pulley, narrow grip – 3 x 8-12
- One Arm Rowing, dumbbell – 3 x 8-12
- Incline Bench Curl, dumbbells, down the rack, 6 x 5-7
- Bench Curl, overhead pulley, bar – 3 x 8-12
- Concentration Curls, dumbbell, elbow on knee – 1 x 8-12
- Triceps Pushdowns, high pulley, narrow – 3 x 8-12
- Triceps Extensions, dumbbell, behind neck – 3 x 8-12
- Triceps Crossovers, dumbbell, lying on bench – 3 x 8-12
- Parallel Squats, barbell, heels on block, 3 x 8-12
- Hack Lifts, barbell, heels on block, 2 x 8-12
- Front Squats, barbell, in clean position – 2 x 8-12
- Leg Curls, workout partner resistance – 2 x 8-12
- Calf Raises, leg press machine – 3 x 20-25
- Forward Bends, barbell, seated on bench – 3 x 12-15
- Knee Raises, ankle weights, vertical bench – 2 x 20-25
- Neck Work, partner resistance, 4 sides – 1 x 15-20
What did he eat?
He followed a healthful but basic diet of lean meats, fish, dairy, fruits and vegetables. There was no sugar, white flour or other processed foods in his diet. For breakfast, he mixed in a blender "The Steve Reeves Power Drink." It contained fresh orange juice, Knox gelatin, a banana, honey, 2-4 eggs, and a protein powder he made himself. It was a mixture of powdered egg whites, powdered milk, and soy protein.
There used to be advertisements that read: "Train like Reeves. Eat like Reeves. Look like Reeves." Well, his methods certainly worked. But I think his DNA may have had something to do with it, too. Notes to the rest of us: Train regularly and never give it up. We will be stronger. We will look better and last longer. We will be the best that we can be . . . but there was only one Steve Reeves.
Source of Reeves training information: Building the Classic Physique the Natural Way, by Steve Reeves.
Was Steve Reeves strong or did he just look strong?
There’s a story about the training he did at Bob Hoffman’s famous York gym, prior to the Mr. Universe competition. Apparently, some of the hardcore lifters thought Reeves training was a little on the wimpy side. One of them made a comment and Reeves was quoted as saying, “I can be as strong as I want to be. Follow me.” He loaded a seven foot Olympic bar to total about 400 lbs. He reached down with his arms extended wide to grip the outside lip of the 45 pound plates, and he dead-lifted the weight. Strength & Health magazine editor and weightlifting champion, John Grimek, was there and confirmed Reeves' fingertip, or Snatch grip, dead lift.
Grimek also said that in impromptu feats of strength, Reeves could clean a 225 pound barbell while kneeling. He regularly pressed 120 pound dumbbells for reps on 45-degree incline benches.
Other Good Steve Reeves History Sources
A July, 1994 interview with Steve Reeves from The Perfect Vision Magazine.
Return from Steve Reeves Championship Workout to Muscle Stories.