Steve Reeves is an icon in Hollywood history as well as 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, 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.
Summary of the Key Findings
- Steve Reeves is a Hollywood and bodybuilding icon.
- He worked out only three times a week.
- Reeves targeted different body parts on different days of the week.
- There are several workout principles that Reeves adhered to, and that helped him get Mr. Universe title.
- Apart from workout he also had a diet plan, and he used supplements to help him stay in shape.
- 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
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
If you look at old photos of Steve in his prime, you’ll notice that he has perfectly sculpted shoulders and pecs. And this is the type of routine he would go through to achieve that.
- 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)
Wednesday: Upper Body Work
Compared to the Monday session, this one focuses on muscle growth across the upper body with exercises for arms, back, shoulders, and core.
- 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)
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)
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
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 concentrate deeply on what he was doing.
And it may have been his secret to Mr. Universe success.
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 .
Steve's Diet Principles
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 .
As a result, Steve had a consciously healthy diet that most nutritionists would recommend to professional athletes with some minor tweaks.
“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?
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, 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.
Do You Think Training Like Steve Reeves Would Change Your Physique?
Whether you’re looking to lose weight or build up body weight in the form of muscles, Steve's approach to training can give you results over several months.
Even modern bodybuilders can learn a lot from Steve Reeves’ routine and setting realistic goals for building the classic physique.
And with just three training days a week, this should be a realistic goal for most people.
Try it out, and then report back to us on social media how it worked for you.