Steve Reeves Workout Routine, Diet Plan & Supplements

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Published by Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: May 13, 2024
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Steve Reeves is an icon in Hollywood history as well as in the world of bodybuilding. In many ways, you could argue that he was one of the first bodybuilding superstars.

Many professionals from the modern era still look to his achievements for inspiration because he really did things naturally and allowed time to be on his side without rushing to bulk up.

So, as a team of personal trainers, we did some research into what it would take to achieve a classic physique the natural way, as Steve did all those years ago.

Here’s what we found.

His Stats

  • Born: January 21, 1926 (died May 1, 2000)
  • Height: 6’1”
  • Weight: 220 lbs
  • Waist: 29”
  • Chest: 52”

Steve Reeves came from a poor background and worked his teenage years as a farmhand in Montana. He joined the military in World War II and, when he returned, got involved in bodybuilding which was just starting to become popular.

By 1950 he won the Mr. Universe competition and then went on to become the first Hercules movie actor.

Steve Reeves Workout Routine

man working out his arms in a gym

Most modern-day bodybuilding champions tend to work five or more days a week, so this training routine might seem a bit light.

But it obviously worked for Steve, and he did allow for time to contribute to his aesthetic physique.

What he did do is to train at low reps to muscle failure. That means never even looking at the light dumbbells and piling on the weight.

Monday: Chest and Shoulders

man doing a lat pulldown in a gym

If you look at old photos of Steve in his prime, you’ll notice that he has perfectly sculpted shoulders and pecs:

  • Upright rows (3 sets of 6-8 reps)
  • Military press (3 sets of 6-8 reps)
  • Lat pulldowns (3 sets of 6-8 reps)
  • Overhead triceps extensions (3 sets of 6-8 reps)
  • Dumbbell rows (3 sets of 6-8 reps)
  • Incline bench press (3 sets of 6-8 reps)
  • Concentration curls (3 sets of 6-8 reps)
  • Lying triceps extensions (3 sets of 6-8 reps)

Tuesday: Rest

Wednesday: Upper Body Work

man using dumbbells in a gym

Compared to the Monday session, this one focuses on muscle growth across the upper body:

  • Dumbbell curls (3 sets of 6-8 reps)
  • Bench presses (3 sets of 6-8 reps)
  • Weighted pull-ups (3 sets of 12-15 reps)
  • Barbell curl (3 sets of 6-8 reps)
  • Back extensions (3 sets of 6-8 reps)
  • Standing military presses (3 sets of 6-8 reps)
  • Sit-ups (3 sets of 40+ reps)

Thursday: Rest

Friday: Legs

man lifting a barbell in a gym

And the last day of the week will focus almost entirely on the legs:

  • Barbell squats (3 sets of 6-8 reps)
  • Standing calf raises (3 sets of 15 reps)
  • Breathing squats (3 sets of 6-8 reps)
  • Romanian deadlift (3 sets of 6-8 reps)
  • Hamstring curls (3 sets of 6-8 reps)
  • Leg extensions (3 sets of 6-8 reps)
  • Hanging leg raises (3 sets of 12 reps)

Saturday/Sunday: Rest

All of his rest days involved muscle recovery, but that didn’t mean sitting on the couch all day. Some swimming, hiking, or power walking are a great way to loosen up stiff muscles.

His Workout Principles

shirtless man working out

The first thing I want to highlight is that Steve believed that it took mental and physical energy for a successful workout. As a result, he would get into almost a hypnotic trance while working on free weights and concentrating deeply on what he was doing.

He was like an early adopter of meditation practices who brought them to the gym.

Steve also focused a lot of effort on adjusting his full-body workouts to a specific muscle group if he thought that he was ending up out of proportion.

And finally, in many of his books, he referred to the importance of good form and slow movements.

Today, we call that increasing time under tension, and it’s a proven approach to boosting muscle development, and I have personal experience with how successful this can be [1].

Steve's Diet Principles

measuring tape on a weighing scale

Steve Reeves was quite advanced for his time when it came to focusing on the issue of diet.

He fully understood the importance of protein for muscle development, and his macro profile was nicely balanced as well.

He even had his own homemade protein powder that combined powdered skim milk, powdered soy protein, and egg white protein [2].

My personal experience confirms that having a mix of protein sources can boost muscle building, and it's backed by research from the School of Health Sciences, Eastern Michigan University [3].

“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.”

- Steeve Reeves

Steve Reeves Diet Plan

  • Breakfast: a large glass of freshly squeezed orange juice with Knox gelatin, 4-6 scrambled eggs, a brown toast with bananas and honey;
  • Lunch: a large bowl of fruit salad with cottage cheese, a cup of mixed nuts;
  • Dinner: a bowl of fresh green salad, a large swordfish steak, mixed vegetables, and potatoes;

What Supplements Does He Use?

glass of milk

Steve was a natural bodybuilder, and back in the 50s and 60s, there wasn’t a giant supplement industry.

But looking at Reeves’ body, you can tell that he was getting all the right nutrients for building muscle efficiently.

What he was able to source was a few different powdered protein sources, and he came up with his own blend. By combining dairy, soy protein, and egg protein, he achieved a great amino acid profile.

It may have been an accidental formula, but through trial and error, he found what worked best, and I have personal experience with this kind of approach.

How Did He View Flexibility on Bodybuilding?

Steve Reeves held a distinctive view on flexibility in bodybuilding, emphasizing moderation.

He believed that while some flexibility could prevent injuries, excessive flexibility might lead to joint instability and increased injury risk.

This balanced approach challenges the common emphasis on extreme flexibility, highlighting the need for a middle ground in bodybuilding training for optimal health and performance.

His Approach to Deep Breathing and Mental Health

Steve Reeves emphasized deep breathing as a key component of bodybuilding, linking it to both physical and mental health.

He believed that deep breathing enhances oxygenation of the blood and boosts epinephrine levels, thereby improving energy and mood.

This holistic approach, integrating mental well-being with physical training, offers a unique perspective often overlooked in conventional bodybuilding practices.


References:

  1. https://www.issaonline.com/blog/post/how-to-use-time-under-tension-to-help-clients-gain-muscle
  2. https://www.livestrong.com/article/13769069-best-protein-powders/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6566799/
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About The Author

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
Learn more about our editorial policy
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Sport & Exercise Science from University of Hertfordshire. He's a Health & Performance Coach from London that brings a unique blend of academic knowledge of health supplements and practical exercise experience to the table for his readers.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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