Thursday, October 16, 2008

Steve Reeves' Favorite Classic Physique Workout Routine!

(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


Johnny G said...

Steve varied his workouts some...I'm sure before a contest he dialed up his routine to meet the challenge..but I feel he still did a overall workout and nowhere have I read or heard where he did any split routines

- CPB - said...

Hi Johnny, are correct. Steve Reeves did have a 10x10 routine that he used (at least once that I know of) before a contest. It was a full body 3 day a week program I believe.

Basically, he picked what he felt was the best exercise for each body part and did 10 sets of 10 reps. In terms of total volume, this is not that much different than his usual routine of doing 3 exercises for 3 sets for each body part (which totals 9 sets). We will publish this routine in a future issue of CPBzine.

Steve was very much an advocate of 3 day a week, full body training because he felt you needed the other 4 days for full recovery. Because he thought that training affected your nervous system as well as muscles, he couldn't believe that you could get enough recovery time on modern split systems.

I will end by saying that I've never seen an authentically verifiable split routine that was followed by Reeves. If he had successfully followed a split routine, I'm sure he would have mentionned it or recommended it in his book "Building the Classic Physique the Natural Way."

That being said, however, in Reeves' competitive days, there were other Golden Age champs who did split routines - mostly before a contest. They used to say that this would result in a slightly "overtrained" condition which they felt improved their muscularity. But after the contest was over, they would go back to their 3 day a week, full body training. This was the situation in the 1940s.

In the 1950s, split routines became more popular. But there were still plenty who followed the 3 day a week, full body schedule.

All the best,

CPB (Anthony)

Johnny G said...

Steve never seemed to be overly excited going to the gym - he took off quite a lot - that is why I feel he went and worked out only 3 times week - he just had other interests - not that he did not focus when he was at the gym, but when he left the gym his mind wasn't on training but on other things - I would be quite interested how he would feel of some many of us making a fuss over him now, HHHHMMMM????