Steve Reeves: The Greatest Bodybuilder of the Silver Era

Steve Reeves was born in Glasgow, Montana. His early years showed very little promise of becoming a professional bodybuilder. Reeves had poor posture growing up. His mother made him wear a brace which caused immense pain if he rounded his shoulders. As a result, Steve developed perfect posture. This formed the foundation for one of the greatest physiques in bodybuilding.

His bodybuilding career started at a young age. Whilst in High School, Reeves was approached by Ed Yarrick. Ed went on to become Steve’s trainer and mentor in the early years.

After returning from World War 2 Steve moved to California and rose to fame. In 1946 Steve began to take over the bodybuilding world.

Over the next four years, Reeves took home the following trophies:

  • Mr. Pacific Coast, 1946 & 1947
  • Mr. America, 1947
  • Mr. USA (2nd place), 1948
  • Mr. World, 1948
  • Mr. Universe (2nd place), 1948
  • Mr. USA, 1949
  • Mr. Universe, 1950

Winning the Mr. Universe title was enough for Reeves. After securing the most prestigious award in bodybuilding, he turned to acting. Steve made the move to New York and took to the big screen.

Reeves was soon the highest-paid actor in Europe with a career spanning 18 movies. His standout roles were Hercules, Goliath, and Sandokan.

Steve Reeves was a world-class bodybuilder and the first to make the move into Hollywood. Arnold credits Reeves with inspiring him to transition from bodybuilding to acting.

Physique Measurements

Weight:  215 – 225lbs  (93 – 102.1kg)

Height:  6’1”   (185.5cm)

Arms   18.5”   (47cm)

Chest   52”   (132cm)

Waist   29”   (73.5cm)

Thighs   26”   (66cm)

Calves   18.5”   (47cm)

Training & Workouts

Bodybuilding has changed since Reeves took the Mr. Universe title in 1950. Steve Reeves would not agree with the path bodybuilding has taken.

Steve was a lifetime advocate of natural bodybuilding. He spoke out against the use of steroids on several occasions. Reeves wanted a physique that was both aesthetic and healthy. Steroids were not widely available in the 40s and 50s.

Steve’s training method was different from today’s enhanced bodybuilders. Steroids allow you to train with more volume and less rest. That’s why most bodybuilders today favor the body part split.

Reeves trained three days a week, resting for a day and a half between workouts.

Steve’s Training Schedule:

Monday: AM workout

Wednesday: PM workout

Friday: AM workout

Reeves made sure every workout pushed him to his limit. He focused on training the whole body in every session. The order in which he trained his muscle groups is as follows:

  • Delts
  • Chest
  • Back
  • Biceps
  • Triceps
  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves
  • Lower back
  • Abs

See the exact workout Steve Reeves used to get in shape for Mr. America & Mr. Universe here.

The order of Steve’s programming isn’t by accident. There are rules he followed when training to ensure he built the best physique possible.

Attention to Recovery

Steve believed every workout needs a day and a half of recovery afterward. He also advocated resting for 45-60 seconds between sets. This is no surprise as Steve was famous for his intensity. Resting longer allowed him to push to his limit in the gym.

After completing all sets of one exercise, Reeves would rest for 2 minutes before moving on.

Legs Come Last

As legs are one of the most taxing body parts to train, Steve was a big believer in training them last. This also allowed him to push harder in his upper-body training. Most compound lifts require your legs for stability and power. If you fatigue the legs at the start, your upper body movements will suffer.

Use the upper body movements as a way to warm up your legs, so by the time you come to squats you’re firing on all cylinders.

Pair Antagonist Muscles

Steve was an advocate of training opposing muscle groups back to back. After chest, he would move on to a back exercise. The same was true of biceps and triceps, as well as quads and hamstrings.

Train Slow and Deliberate

Steve’s books document how disciplined he was in his training. Reeves used a slow tempo and performed every exercise with perfect form. The focus was on the mind-muscle connection.

The slow tempo allowed Reeves to focus on the muscle and reap the rewards in full. Steve’s philosophy was that if you can’t maintain perfect form, drop the weight.

“No brain, no gain. Not no pain, no gain. I would do my exercise real strict, real correct. You know, slow and perfect form. No cheating” – Steve Reeves

Set a Goal

Steve was an advocate of goal-setting. He believed you should have a clear vision every time you step into the gym. If you train without a goal you’ll take shortcuts. The physique you create won’t live up to your potential.

Be specific and focus on why you’re training in the first place.

Steve had a decorated bodybuilding career, but he also took long absences from the sport. If he didn’t have a specific focus, Reeves would place his attention elsewhere. This allowed him to give his all to any goal. When Reeves turned his attention to bodybuilding, he was tunnel vision. There are stories of Steve transforming his physique in record time.

Power Walking for Health

Cardiovascular training was of little importance in the early days of bodybuilding. The health benefits weren’t understood and it had no correlation to building muscle. Regardless, Steve was a keen power walker.

Reeves published several books on power walking and wrote articles on its benefits. Steve favored power walking over running as it placed less pressure on his joints.

Nutrition & Diet

As with his training and goal-setting, Steve was very regimented and focused when it came to his diet. Steve followed a basic diet and focused his nutrition on natural, whole foods.

He didn’t consume 300g of protein a day and he didn’t shy away from carbohydrates. Steve would eat a large meal of mostly carbohydrates the day before his workout.

Staple foods of Steve’s diet included cottage cheese, nuts, fruit, fish, beef, chicken, and lots of salad. Not exactly the diet of the modern-day bodybuilder.

In the morning, Steve drank a “Power Drink” which he made using the below ingredients:

  • 2 cups fresh orange juice
  • 1 tbsp gelatin
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 banana
  • 3 to 4 raw eggs
  • 2 tbsp of homemade protein powder

Steve Reeves was an admirable man and a great ambassador for the sport of bodybuilding. Until his death, Steve remained passionate about living a healthy lifestyle. He focused on natural whole foods and good old-fashioned exercise.

Steve fought steroid use in bodybuilding until his death. He saw the industry heading down a path of no return. Despite admitting to using steroids, Arnold shared his sentiment.

“I don’t believe in bodybuilders using steroids.

If a man doesn’t have enough male hormones in his system to create a nice hard, muscular body, he should take up ping pong”

Steve Reeves

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