(Above: Steve Reeves doing dumbbell incline presses)
It is very instructive to look at the routines of the Golden Age champs to see what training without steroids was like. Below is one of Steve Reeves' favorite routines. It appeared in an article that he wrote in the May 1951 issue of Joe Weider's Your Physique magazine.
Steve's routine is a full-body workout which he did 3 days a week (e.g., M, W, and F). He used a great deal of concentration when doing the exercise and performed each set "all out" (or to failure). Each exercise was done in a strict style, resting 45-60 seconds between sets and 2 minutes between different exercises.
1. Incline dumbbell press - 3 sets, 8-12 reps (using descending poundages)
2. Breathing front squat - 3 sets, 15 reps (superset with the following exercise)
3. Dumbell laterals/flyes - 3 sets, 15 reps
4. Seated barbell curls - 3 sets, 12 reps (getting the negative reps on the way down)
5. Alternate dumbbell forward raise - 2 sets, 15 reps
6. Bent over rows - 2 sets, 12 reps
7. One arm rows - 2 sets, 12 reps
8. Splits with barbell - 1 set, until breathless
9. Alternative raise lying - 2 sets, 15 reps
10. Good morning exercise - 1 set, 15 reps
11. Dumbbell french press - 3 sets, 12 reps
12. Leg press machine calf raises - 1 set, 30-40 reps
13. Bench press - 2 sets, 12 reps
That's it! This is a routine that he used at his advanced level! So it is not for a beginning or intermediate classic physique builder.
Look at the total number of sets he is doing for each body part:
1. Chest - 8 sets
2. Thighs - 4 sets
3. Biceps - 3 sets
4. Deltoids - 4 sets
5. Lats - 6 sets
6. Lower Back - 1 set
7. Triceps - 3 sets
8. Calves - 1 set
Of course, some of the compound movements like bench presses also hit the triceps and anterior delts as well as chest, so the situation is a bit more complicated than outlined above. Nevertheless, we can still see that the total number of sets for each body part is much lower than is typically seen today (just open any modern muscle mag).
Why? First, Steve was not on steroids, so muscles under natural conditions are easily overworked if too many sets are employed. Second, he is using a great deal of mental concentration and focusing intently on the muscle fibers being worked (instead of talking, listening to music, getting distracted, etc). Third, he is using weights heavy enough to cause failure at the reps indicated. Fourth, he is getting the negative reps on the way down.
Joe Weider was so impressed by Steve's ability to concentrate and get results that he said in his book, Brothers of Iron, that Steve "could get more, out of less, than anybody I knew. He'd go to the gym and make phenomenal gains with shorter workouts than the other guys, lifting only medium heavy, and beat fellows who lifted huge and trained until they fell over. To his credit, Steve trained very efficiently with no down time and no wasted motion."
Our point is that training under natural conditions is very different than training under steroids This can be seen easily when comparing the relatively low volume (low sets) workouts of the Golden Age (1940s and 50s) to the high volume (high sets) workouts of the Chemical Age (the 1960s to the present). So, if our goal is to build a classic physique naturally, then we can learn best from the champs of the Golden Age (like Steve Reeves) who knew best how to do it! - CPB