Steeve Reeves Old School Bodybuilding Workout

The Old-School Bodybuilder was a completely different breed to the monstrous figures which take to Mr Olympia stage today.

Legendary bodybuilders such as John Grimek, Steve Reeves and Reg Park built physiques that were chiseled from raw athleticism, cardiovascular fitness and pure functional strength (Grimek, for example, competed as a weightlifter in the 1936 Olympic Games).

These guys put just as much emphasis on health, vitality and well being as they did on training to increase muscle size.

During this era it was not just about as getting as big as you possibly could and to hell with the consequences; it was about creating a physique which was supremely athletic, muscular, strong, and healthy.

In a world without designer chemicals, isolation machines and teams of dietary advisers and consultants, it was grueling, balls-out hard work that was the order of the day when it came to building a graceful and well-proportioned physique.

In the mid twentieth century, one of the greatest and most athletic physiques belonged to Steve Reeves, who had work ethic that was equally as legendary.


Steve Reeves – The ‘Greatest Natural Bodybuilder Of All Time’

For many bodybuilding aficionados, Steve Reeves is the finest example of what the human body can achieve without the use of anabolic steroids.

Steeve Reeves - Classic Old School Bodybuilder

At his peak, this bodybuilding superstar weighed in at 213 pounds and stood 6′ 1″ tall, and his Herculean physique was beautifully proportioned with bulging muscles, classic lines, a tiny waist, and a handsome, rugged charm.

Reeves cut a swathe through the bodybuilding world, winning every major title in the industry, and
later going on to grace the Silver Screen in many iconic roles, such as Hercules.

Today we will be discussing one of Reeve’s go-to old school bodybuilding routines for building muscle.


The Steve Reeves Full Body Workout

This is one of Reeves’ typical workout routines which is essentially a full body workout built around the basic compound lifts.

Steve was not a fan of the muscle group splits which grace most bodybuilding magazines on the shelves today, instead favoring a comprehensive and intense full body workout with rest days in between each session.

There’s nothing fancy here, just a simple onslaught of exercises, sets and reps from all angles.

Reeves claimed to have gained 30 pounds of muscle in just 4 months by using this routine!

Exercise Sets Reps
Dumbbell Swings (warmup) 3 15-20
Upright Rows 3 8-12
Bench Press 3 8-12
One Arm Row 3 8-12
Dumbbell Lateral Raise 3 8-12
Incline Bench Press 3 8-12
Tricep Press Down 3 8-12
Barbell Curls 3 8-12
Seated Dumbbell Curls 3 8-12
Squats (super set with next move) 3 8-12
Pull Overs 3 8-12
Breathing Squats (super set with next move) 1 20
Breathing Pull Overs 1 20
Deadlifts 2 8-12
Good Mornings 2 8-12




Training Notes:

Schedule

This full body workout should be performed three times per week. Because of the volume and intensity of this routine, you will definitely need those rest days for recovery. Reeves himself recommended a minimum of 48 hours of rest between each workout.

Rest

This routine should be performed at a very high intensity, taking 45 seconds rest between sets and 2-3 minutes rest between exercises.

Form

Reeves was a stickler for perfect form. Each rep you perform should be slow and controlled with no bouncing, jerking or swinging of the bar or dumbbells. Keep performing reps until you can no longer complete a rep without perfect form. Poor or degrading from will only hinder progress.

Tempo

Each exercise should comprise a 2 second concentric movement and a 3 second eccentric movement. (i.e. 2 seconds to lift the weight & 3 seconds to lower the weight)

Progression

For every exercise in this routine, start with a weight which you can lift for the required reps with 100% perfect form. Once you can squeeze out more reps than the stated amount, add more weight.

Rinse and repeat!

Exercise Order

Reeves was a firm believer in working his smaller muscle groups first and working towards the larger muscles later in the workout (the opposite of how most people structure their workouts). The idea here is that you will be fully warmed up and raring to go when it comes to that brutal set of breathing squats!


Thoughts

This is without doubt a monstrous routine, and as such, I would recommend it only for intermediate to advanced lifters.

You’ll end each workout like a discarded condom – drained, deflated and colorless, and for the next few days your body will feel barbecued by DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).

Therefore rest, sleep and diet will play a pivotal ole when it comes to recovery.

Speaking of diet, the old-school bodybuilders feasted on meals rich in full cream milk, red meat and eggs to provide protein and calories needed to ignite muscle growth.

However, nowadays, we are lucky enough to have quality supplements available, which can provide a cheaper alternative, as well as having the added benefit of not putting your local dairy farm out of business!

Shop around and you can get some awesome bulk deals on protein to supplement your workout routine and assist with recovery and muscle repair.


Summary

This is a testing, no-nonsense routine which help you build a solid foundation of muscle. Accompany it with sufficient rest and a turbocharged diet and you’ll be well on your way to building a physique that wouldn’t look out of place in a 1960’s Sword and Sandals flick!

If you fancy giving this routine a go – or if you’ve already tried it – I’d love to hear from you!

Just post your comments and feedback and I’ll chat with you in the comments below.

Until next time, keep on clanging and banging!


About The Author:

Henry Croft is a fitness fanatic with a passion for strength training, the martial arts and marathon running. You can find him blogging over at GymTalk.

About The Author

leehayward

Lee Hayward is a competitive bodybuilder and muscle building coach who has been online helping people build muscle, lose bodyfat, and get in shape since 1999. Lee was selected as one of the Top Fitness Trainers Online through YouTube's Next Trainer Program and his work has been featured in several international magazines such as: FLEX, Muscle Insider, Muscle Mag International, Testosterone, Ironmag, and Forbes.

26 Comments

  • jolly jim

    Reply Reply

    That is one Killer, will give it a bash some day.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  • TJS

    Reply Reply

    You would have to do alot of juice to do this workout 3 x’s per week. Please……

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  • Ken

    Reply Reply

    How did these guys( Reeves, Grimek,,Park, Arnold, Columbo) do full body work outs and still
    gain muscle, and avoid the affects of cortisol?

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  • cool article thanks!

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  • dominic parker

    Reply Reply

    hahaha discarded condom! i love oldschool workout programs, i followed an old japanese counter split workout that was brutal. also ben pakulskis MI40X is a great program that im following currently would recomend to anyone.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  • Lee twelftree

    Reply Reply

    I have been using steeve’s diet and training techniques for 2 years now and i look and feel fantastic 😉

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  • TJS,

    This is no different than doing a strong lifts 5×5, Bulgarian method which all revolve around not going to max. Most uneducated people goto max too often.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  • Nick Nag

    Reply Reply

    I’ve been doing fullbody workouts for a long time, three days a week with some running on rest days. I wouldn’t call it a body builders routine compared to today’s standards but its a great workout for the strength trainer or fitness buff what wants to challenge their maximum potential.

    I follow some of Reeves workouts when I can but they do tend to overload the body, certainly not a good workout for the person with a career and family, I’d scale it back to basic movements, at the most 10-12 exercises in one day.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  • Nick Nag

    Reply Reply

    Ken,

    They rested and ate like it was a full time job.

    Reeves and Ross would eat 3-5 lbs of beef chicken and eggs daily.

    You have to also consider what they had at their disposal to workout with equipment wise, if they were working out today, they’d most likely split their routines.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  • Nick Nag

    Reply Reply

    TJS,

    Not true, these fullbody workouts are athletic fitness based workouts, just plenty of rest and proper nutrition is required.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  • Dravid

    Reply Reply

    Awesome read. The training in the 70’s was crazy and the diet wasn’t too clean but man did they get big. Gotta eat big to get big though. I know a good related read to this topic at http://newbodybuildingworkouts.com/old-school-bodybuilding-workouts-70s-secrets-history if anyone is interested.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  • Vuk

    Reply Reply

    What about abs and calves? They’re not listed here

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  • Sean

    Reply Reply

    Ken,

    I take a capsule of Vitamin C. That lowers your cortisol levels, among a variety of other things.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  • ARLEN

    Reply Reply

    steve reeves was not a natural nor was grimek or any of the york lifters anabolics have been around since 1929 why do you think York was such a magical place

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  • Ian Rowley

    Reply Reply

    To B Dumbell: I have his book – he says that he follows the routine above as Lee Haywood outlines(3 x 8-12) and claims he gained 30Ib in 4 months.
    Reeves further outlines a subsequent routine where he does a lot more work, which further increased his bodyweight.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  • I`m a Steeve Reeves fan. He is a reference for me. I really believe that is possible gain muscle mass and have a good shape in a natural way.
    Note: sorry my english. I`m portuguese

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  • JAMES GLAZNER

    Reply Reply

    Hi Lee, I really enjoy working out with you. because I learn a lot from you Lee. Thank you for being my training coach.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  • Hi i am a fun of hercules phisique,but i think 5×5 its the best program you can choose

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  • NickNag

    Reply Reply

    Vuk,

    Most abs and calves were worked in the fullbody routines. In Reeves bio he mentions doing abs and calves on his non lifting days.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  • NickNag

    Reply Reply

    ARLEN,

    The old school Builders Reeves, Ross, Grimek were not anabolic users by any stretch. Access to anabolic steroids before 1950 was experimental by the military and medicinal uses. Its very possible they used some hormone enhancing compounds such as yohmibi, herbal extracts.

    I’ve read most of Reeve’s books, and Park. They used injectable vitamins, as most vitamins were only available in injection form. Reeves does mention the essential amino acids, free form essential Amino acids were available in hard course powder form.

    I’d say the first body builders to get heavily into roids were in the late 50s early 60s, most notably Olympic power lifts were documented using them.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  • NickNag

    Reply Reply

    I do a tailored down version of Reeves’ workout, Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. Believe it or not his workout resembles that of many crossfit routines today.

    1. Power Cleans (this warm up was used in his bio, he also references Snatches for increased shoulder strength).
    2. Flat Bench Press
    3. Pull-Up with Weightbelt and Chain
    4. Overhead Press (military, or Push Press, lockout at top range).
    5. Leaning Barbell Row (or DB, or Seated Cable).
    6. Chin-Up with Weight belt and Chain (for biceps, can also do DB curls and reverse barbell curls, he references Chin-ups as good overall bicep compound).
    7. Incline Bench Press with Barbell.
    8. Squat (superset with leg stationary pullovers).
    9. Deadlift.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  • NickNag

    Reply Reply

    NickNag,

    Forgot weighted Dips.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  • NickNag

    Reply Reply

    Reeves Championship Workout to the “T”

    Warm Up with 1 set 20 reps of DB swings

    Shoulders (9 sets 3 x 10-12)

    Upright Rows
    Seated DB Press or Behind the Neck Press
    Bent over Lateral Raise

    Chest (9 sets 3 x 10-12)

    Flat Bench Press
    Incline Bench Press
    Offset Flys

    Back / Lats ( 9 sets total 3 x 10-12)

    Pully Lat Pulldown Behind Neck
    Seated Cable Row
    DB Side Row

    Biceps (9 sets total 3 x 10-12)

    Incline DB Curl
    High Pulley Cable Curl
    Concentration Curl

    Triceps (9 sets total 3 x 10-12)

    Cable Press down
    Seated Behind Neck Curl
    Triceps Bench Press (referred to today as a lying triceps extension).

    Legs (3-4 sets total 3 x 10-12)

    Back Squat
    Front Squat
    Hack Squat (or Leg Press)
    Leg Curl

    Lower Back 3-4 sets 3 x’s 10-12

    Good Morning Bend or Hyperextension

    Abs

    Crunches (3 x 20)

    Calves

    Standing Toe Raise (3×20)
    Neck Extensions (all sides)

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  • Slob Finklestein

    Reply Reply

    Use the Steve and Reggie Park hybrid full physique schedule.
    My build is much improve now look like a bulk version of Charlie Atalis.
    Humble respects to old age buddybuikders.
    They were most inspiring to cellar lifters like me.
    My first set was broom stick with pillow case fill with sod.
    My gracious thank for all you read my comment.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  • John G.

    Reply Reply

    ARLEN,

    Amazing claims require amazing evidence. To date, not one person has claimed to have actually seen Reeves use steroids or sell them to him. A few years back some German jerk claimed to, but, he was proven a liar and later said he confused Reeves with another top bodybuilder (Duh). Reeves was a genetic freak show who had amazing development no matter how he would have trained or what he would have eaten.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  • Scott

    Reply Reply

    Vuk,

    Reeves was gifted genetically with great calves. I’ve seen his workout before and the one in thus article is a little different. For example, Reeves usually only did incline dumbell curls for 9 sets. The other workouts he had 1 exercise for calves for 3 sets, that was it.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

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