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:


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.


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


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.


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)


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!


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.


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


Lee Hayward is a former competitive bodybuilder and muscle building coach who has been online coaching people since 1997. His work has been featured in several international magazines such as: FLEX, Muscle Insider, Muscle Mag International, Testosterone, Ironmag, and Forbes. Lee's main focus right now is with helping men over 40 - who don't want to be fat anymore - lose the gut, build muscle, and get back in shape. If you're ready to "Start Again" for the last time and finally build a lean healthy body that you can be proud of, just e-mail Lee to discuss a realistic action plan that's right for you...


  • jolly jim

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

  • TJS

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

  • Ken

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

  • cool article thanks!

    • Andy


      The cortisol levels in your body after a tough workout eventually evens out as your body gets used to working out for multiple hours per day. Also most of the guys you mentioned, with the exception of Reeves, were on steroids.

      • Mitso

        And Grimek and Park.

  • dominic parker

    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.

  • Lee twelftree

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

  • Z


    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.

  • Nick Nag

    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.

  • Nick Nag


    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.

  • Nick Nag


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

  • Dravid

    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 if anyone is interested.

  • Vuk

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

  • Sean


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


    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

  • Ian Rowley

    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.

  • 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


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

  • eri

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

  • NickNag


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

  • NickNag


    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.

  • NickNag

    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.

  • NickNag


    Forgot weighted Dips.

  • NickNag

    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


    Crunches (3 x 20)


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

  • Slob Finklestein

    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.

  • John G.


    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.

  • Scott


    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.

  • James


    Steroids were invented in 1930’s not 1929. secondly it was tested on animals not humand. thirdly it was in Europe. Steve competed in the 40’s till 1950 wich was his last competition. Steve would have had to have gone to Soviet Union to get steroids or Nazy Germany were they were being tested on soldiers. Highly doubftul since Steve was in the Navy. Steroids wer brought here in 1954 by Dr. Ziegler and started experimenting on bodybuilder in late 50’s well past Steve’s competition years. which i believe was dianabol, deca was invented in 1962. Steve was a natural body builder.

  • Wayne

    “You’ll end each workout like a discarded condom – drained, deflated and colorless…yet full of spunk!” 😂

  • Wayne


    Depends how much weight one uses. My grandmother could do it three times a week with five pound weights.

    So, one uses the weight they can manage for three times a week and increases the weight as their strength and stamina increase.

  • John Duece

    I am walking evidence of Reeves routine working.
    But I do only 2 full weekly.
    In addition to keep my physical build clean and stomach flat I use a herbal cleanse of cider vinegar, Coco, and almond oil.
    Ingesting 2 12 oz glasses on a split drinking schedule by Friday I drop 5 dumps💩💩💩💩💩
    Leaving me invigorating and full of inspiration not cakita.
    I humbly challenge readers and iron pumping physical culture advocates to follow my “Muscle cleaning Home Latrine” drink for pure and positive results.
    And she’ll love you more as you won’t leave an odor or foul stench when going to the potty to do…you know,💩
    5 reps 8 reps 12 reps…push💩

  • I have just started my journey of bodybuilding and I would like to try this workout plan. Hope it would work for me. Do let me know if any other suggestions. Thanks

  • pour moi la meilleur routine de tout les temps steve reeves avec un corps parfait

  • K Wizzo


    I respectfully disagree. I do 3x a week full body for 2-3 weeks at a time to break up conjugate strength-based Upper-Lower split 6 week cycles. They work great. Contrary to many stupid teachings, most of us should stay well away from taking sets to failure (like 2-4 reps away), and this is what Reeves did. Nearly all natural bodybuilders will gain and recover better, especially as they age, frequently hitting a muscle, staying away from failure, and only taking it heavy maybe once a week for a muscle group.

  • Cody

    I’ve done this workout routine several times. To some it seems too old school but it probably works better for me than any other program. Everyone is obviously different, though.

    One thing to note for this is that DIET AND SLEEP ARE KEY. I tried this routine numerous times in my early 20s when my sleep was about 6 hours per night, at best, and my diet basically consisted of fast food and oven pizza. Bad idea. I got sick after about 3 weeks every time. It was too much volume for my body to handle without proper nutrition.

    10 years later I tried it, again, with a healthy diet and with 7 hours or sleep per night minimum and was able to maintain the workload for 8 weeks. I went off of it after that just because I couldn’t continue to devote the time it requires to complete the work out. Great gains, though.