Was Steve Reeves Natural?

The bodybuilding industry is full of speculation about steroid use. It’s no secret that steroid use is commonplace in modern bodybuilding. The Mr. Olympia stage today is not comparable to bodybuilders of previous eras. Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) have taken the physique beyond what was possible.

Bodybuilders of the golden era have admitted drug use. The likes of Arnold and Franco have discussed using PEDs on several occasions.

The Silver Era holds more speculation. Let’s focus on Steve Reeves.

Did Steve Reeves take steroids?

Probably not. Here’s why.

On a few occasions, individuals in the sport have made claims of Steve Reeves using steroids. Larry Scott and Sergio Oliva suggested that Steve Reeves introduced them to steroids. There’s no actual evidence to support this.

Kurt Marnul was Arnold’s mentor in the early days of his career. Marnul claimed that Reeves introduced him to Primobol in 1952. Marnul explained that Reeves helped Arnold with dosage and his introduction to PEDs. The authenticity of this is up for debate.

Primobol was one of the first anabolic and androgen steroids (AAS). Yet it wasn’t synthesized and introduced for medical use until 1962. Marnul made claims of Steve’s Primobol use in 1952. It’s unlikely Reeves was using the PED a decade before its medical introduction.

Another popular PED is Dianabol. Bodybuilders of the Golden Era have discussed the use of Dianobol. It was commonplace amongst bodybuilders in the 70s. Dianabol wasn’t developed or available until 1955. The chances of Reeves having access to it pre-1950 are slim.

Steve’s bodybuilding career peaked in the late 1940s. Primodol wasn’t synthesized until 1962 and Dianabol in 1955. It’s hard to imagine Reeves had access to either two decades before their medical use.

Steve Reeves Major Titles

1947 Mr. America

1948 Mr. World

1950 Mr. Universe

Based on timeframes it seems improbable Reeves was using steroids. Testosterone was first isolated in 1935 so it is possible but unlikely.

There are other factors that also suggest he wasn’t using PEDs.

Natural Testosterone

Testosterone is the hormone most beneficial for muscle growth. Testosterone increases levels of growth hormone. It allows you to train harder and recover faster.

The average testosterone level for men in the 1940s was 700ng/dl. In modern society, the average male’s testosterone is around 400ng/dl. The numbers vary but several studies have found similar results.

Since Reeves competed, testosterone levels have decreased by 300ng/dl on average. It’s likely Steve had more testosterone than natural bodybuilders of today. This would have allowed Reeves to gain muscle easier and remain leaner. Many factors have caused natural testosterone to decrease. Lifestyle and diet are commonly cited.

Size and Conditioning

There’s no doubt Steve Reeves was big and lean. But he wasn’t that big and he wasn’t that lean. When compared to bodybuilders a decade later, Reeves’ conditioning didn’t compare. Steve stands out amongst fellow bodybuilders of the 1940s, but not in later years.

Compare Steve Reeves to Larry Scott and Sergio Oliva. Both their careers peaked around two decades after Reeves. If you compare physiques, Scott and Oliva had significantly more size and conditioning.

Against Steroid Use

Steve Reeves was an advocate for natural bodybuilding without the use of steroids.  He believed PEDs ruined the aesthetic of the male physique.

“I don’t believe in bodybuilders using steroids. If a man doesn’t have enough male hormone in his system to create a nice hard, muscular body, he should take up ping pong.”  – Steve Reeves

It’s not uncommon for bodybuilders to deny steroid use. Reeves was uncommon in that he actively spoke out against its use in bodybuilding. If Reeves’ character is anything to go on, it’s clear where his stance was on steroid use.


When Reeves rose to fame in bodybuilding there was no money in the sport. It was a recreational activity and not a pursuit of wealth or fame. Modern bodybuilders are financially-incentivized to build the biggest physique possible.

Bodybuilding wasn’t mainstream until Arnold brought the sport into the limelight. Social media has also made bodybuilding in the modern-day a lucrative career.

Steve’s bodybuilding career opened doors for him as a movie star. Reeves was amongst the first bodybuilders to make a career in Hollywood. It was unlikely he pursued bodybuilding as a route onto the big screen. Arnold cited Reeves as his motivation in transitioning from bodybuilding to acting.

The evidence suggests Reeves was a natural bodybuilder but we will never know for sure. If he was natural throughout his career, it’s possible he was one of the last.

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1 Response

  1. Michael Krick says:

    Guys of the D bol Era would dwarf silver Era guys , but nothing looks as good as natural, that swollen look takes away from the human form , rather than a human form enhanced with muscle , it is a odd bloated look that steals away human form !