Saturday, July 25, 2009

Steve Reeves on Classic Definition and Reducing!

(Photo Above: CPB Champ Steve Reeves on the cover of the Reg Park Journal July 1958 issue)

OK...we learned some new tools from Vince Gironda about obtaining "Maximum Definition" - but here is the Steve Reeves approach to classic (not maximum) definition - another tool. It worked for Steve.

As you can see from comparing Steve's photo above to Vince's in our previous post, Steve had definition all right - but not the "maximum" or "extreme kind" that Vince was going for (and Vince still didn't get quite the same level of definition as a steroid user such as Frank Zane). But Steve's level of definition is what we call "classic definition" - meaning he had muscularity & muscle separation, but his skin still had a healthy glow and he looks full of natural vitality. This is because he had a higher level of body fat than Vince (or those that go for extreme definition).

Here is what he said about "training" for definition (we will follow this with some of his diet advice). This comes from his book "Building the Classic Physique - The Natural Way" (1995: p. 154)

"Question: When you were training for your Mr. America and Mr. Universe wins, did you ever include any aerobic training along with your bodybuilding workouts in order to become more defined?"

"Steve Reeves: No, I never had to. I was always in fairly good shape all year around. If there was a contest coming up, I would simply train a little harder. In other words, I would just train a little bit faster and increase the intensity of my workouts by having less rest time in between sets and muscle groups."

"The whole key to acquiring a Classic Physique lies in the proper balance of intensity, duration and frequency of your workouts. If you work out at too high an intensity, you can't work out very long - which means you may stimulate some muscle growth but you'll not burn off much body fat. If, on the other hand, you train with an intensity that is too low, you can go on for long duration - and burn some body fat - but it's too low an intensity to stimulate much increase in muscle size. Training to either extreme is not desirable. It's a waste of time unless you have a balance of both intensity and duration in your workouts, as well as adequate rest periods in between workouts to enhance your recuperation from training."

CPB Commentary: The bottom line is that Steve had no special routine for definition. He used his same routine, but just increased the intensity of the overall workout by going through it a bit faster - by reducing the time between sets and between muscle groups. His normal time between sets was 45 seconds and normal time between muscle groups was up to 5 minutes. So he is reducing these times.

Now, let's look at his diet advice regarding reducing - which can also be used for those needing a bit more definition. It is based on his typical diet and is very simple.

Breakfast: Steve Reeves Power Drink

Lunch: Steve Reeves Power Drink

Dinner: One huge salad (with rice vinegar & olive oil dressing - 1 tablespoon each), turkey, fish, or chicken, and one of the following carb sources: whole wheat bread, potatoes, corn, pasta, beans or rice.

In case you forgot how he made his power drink, here is the recipe again:

14 ounces of freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon of knox gelatin
1 tablespoon of honey
1 banana
2-4 raw eggs (pasteurized)
2 tablespoons of high protein powder (Steve's custom mix) is how he made his protein powder:

Combine 1/2 lb of powdered egg whites, 1/2 lb of powdered skim milk, and 1/4 lb of powdered soy protein. That's its! Then use 2 tablespoons of this in the power drink above.

CPB Commentary: Steve believed there was nothing magical about losing body fat - just take in less calories than you need (to maintain your weight) and you will start losing. He recommended not losing more than 2 lbs a week - otherwise, he felt you would start losing lean muscle tissue.

His protein drink probably has about 40 grams of protein. So the overall protein intake of this diet is still high (although it seems that it might be less than 1 gram per pound of bodyweight for him and most people - unless you are eating quite a bit of meat for dinner).

For those that can't take or don't like low carb dieting, Steve's approach here is another tool. You probably won't be able to achieve "extreme definition" on it, but then for classic physique builders, that is not our goal. You should be able to attain "classic definition" - a much healthier look in our book!

If you find that you cannot lose fat on this diet, then cut back a bit on the portion of your carbs at dinner. If that doesn't work, then you can cut out all the carbs at dinner except for the salad. You will still have carbs in the orange juice, honey, and banana. If you still need to cut more calories, then go down to 1/2 banana and use 10-12 ounces of orange juice instead of 14 oz.

In any case, you can make adjustments as necessary for your situation!


P.S. For a free, 1 year subscription to Classic Physique Builder (CPBzine) - a pdf zine patterned after the muscle mags of the pre-roid Golden Age of Bodybuilding (the 1940s and 50s) - just email us your name, the name of your city (not your address), state/province, and country. That's it! Any info you send us is strictly confidential. We don't share our info with anyone. So you won't get on any unwanted lists and you won't receive any unwanted, automated email (even from us)!


Ibrahim said...

That is a very nice info right here.
Plain and simple but affective.
For the protein powder i use protein powder made from milk. I buy it at a health store. It´s 9.90€, it´s like 14.06 $. But it´s organic and it´s good i think. I don´t use soy protein powder because it can cause growth to tumor cells in the chest, when it´s purified too much.
I did some research and you have to eat whole soy like, edameme, tofu etc. To get the full benifit from soy.
But i think Steve Reeves used the whole soy beans.

Johnny G said...

there is one thing that Steve and the rest of the bodybuilders in the 40's did on their days off was a lot of calisthenics like handstands, gymnastics,balancing moves & walking or just keeping busy - I most totally agree that he did not do what we call cardio in the modern sense, but him and the others from that era keep more busy - with transportation the way it is today we really do not burn the calories as say someone 50 years ago plus we eat way more then our parents did when they were young - So to all of you who might read this blogg you still might have to add some cardio just to burn off those extra calories or if you don't want to add cardio then go out there and do a couple of hours of gymnastic balancing moves - those guys back then truly lived a Spartan's life!!!

Jonny said...

sounds like reeves was doing circuit training. and very interesting to see he only was eating 3 meals

UK Steve said...

Does anyone know what Steve Reeves weight gaining diet was like. As Ibrahim says - I like the straightforward approach! I am eating / drinking 3,000 calories a day and seem stuck at 180lbs - and i don't think I can eat anymore!!!

Johnny G said...

for what I understand is that Steve never was concerned about having to gain weight - he hovered around the 210lb mark almost all the time, give or take a few pounds - the question is UK Steve is how tall are you - if you are around 5'10" or so then you are around where you should be at - or if you are about 6'1" then be patient it will come on

- CPB - said...

Hi Everyone,

For UK Steve - see Steve's regular diet (there is a link on our side bar) for a mass building diet. Steve believed that it was simply a matter of eating more calories than you need (of course, while sticking to a high protein diet). You can adjust the quantity until you start gaining.

Your calorie intake is a bit hard to assess without knowing your height. But let's assume that you are eating enough calories. Examine your diet and make sure that you are getting enough protein (shoot for 1 gram/lb of bodyweight). You can also try eating some protein every 3 hours (to maintain a positive nitrogen balance).

But let's assume you are eating properly. Then you need to take a look at 3 other things:

1. proper training - are you on a proper, Golden-Age type mass building routine? Are you overworking with too workout days, too many exercises, too many sets, too many rep? Have you dropped all cardio?

2. proper rest - have you cut out all other sports activity except for working out? Are you getting enough sleep? Are you taking every opportunity to rest during the day? Is your mind calm and tranquil or are you stressed out and worried?

3. persistence - are your workouts hit and miss? Do you change programs too frequently? Do you take some strategic layoffs to recharge your muscles? Do you stick to a routine even though the results have stopped coming?

The last thing to consider goes back to your diet. Could it be that you are missing some important nutrients? If there is any doubt, then taking a good, (organic if possible), multivitamin with minerals might be a good idea.

Feel free to continue the discussion!

All the best (and good luck in your training),

CPB (Anthony)

UK Steve said...


Yes - I am 6"1 and have 6.75 inch wrists. I thought I would aim at about 195 pounds as a first target - I thought that would be challenging but realistic.

I'm doing Steve Reeves beginner workout (twice per week)- had a spectacular gain of 8lbs in the first month but only 1lb in the second month and no gain for a few weeks - perhaps I am just leveling out a bit.

I have never calculated how much protein I am actually eating - so perhaps I need to count that as well as the calories for a while. I take a multivitamin, 1000mg vitaminC, Brewers Yeast, Omega 3 oils, and Maximuscle Promax supplements - so I think I have my bases covered!

"Never had to worry about weight gain and always hovered around the 210 lbs mark" - oh how I wish I was like that!!

- CPB - said...

Hi UK Steve,

It sounds like you got off to a great start with the Steve Reeves beginners workout! A gain of 9 pounds is very good!

It sounds like you are in your 3rd month on the program and gains have started to slow down or stop. This is very natural and happens to everyone. You have reached your first "sticking point."

Now, when this happens, there are a number of things that you can do. The first is that you should take a one-week complete layoff. Don't workout at all during this week. Just relax and let your muscles fully recover and recharge for your next round of workouts!

Next, if you want to stick with the Reeves program, then after your layoff, go back to the same routine, but this time do 2 sets instead of one. You are ready for this and this will provide a new and different kind of stimulation to your muscles - which should result in new growth. Steve did 2 sets for 1 month before switching to an intermediate program. But just continue with 2 sets until the gains stop again.

You will need to keep utilizing the progressive resistance principle. As soon as you reach the top of the rep range (e.g., as soon as you can do 12 reps, using Steve's normal rep range of 8-12), then increase the weight at your next workout. Train each set to near failure using the most weight you can handle. Rest about 45 secons between sets and up to 5 minutes between muscle groups. (Keep a detailed training journal!)

When you come back from your week layoff, you will have to start with weights that are lower than your maximum weights that you were using before your layoff. This is normal and you will find that you can quickly meet your maximum and will be able to exceed it within a few weeks.

During your layoff, review your diet (check your protein to see if you are getting about 1 gm/lb of bodyweight). Check your rest (try to increase your sleep by 15-30 minutes each night for your next round of workouts). Lay off all your supplements for this week (this allows your body to rest).

When you start training again after the 1 week layoff - make sure to include whole eggs in your diet (look at Reeves' Power Drink to appreciate how many eggs he was eating a day). Remember, eggs have cholesterol (which is good) from which your body produces testosterone. So don't starve your body of either cholesterol or good fats (unless you have a pre-existing medical condition that requires a special diet) and try to eat a bit more (Steve would include a snack or two of goat milk and figs in-between meals).

Your weight goal of 195 lbs is quite realistic. You can probably go up to 210 lbs. Your wrist size is under 7", so you have a small frame (smaller that Steves). So think of your ultimate arm, neck, calve size in the range of 17 - 17.5 inches.

To get a realistic estimate of your body measurements, visit Dr. Casey Butt's site at Click on "body calculators" and then click on "Your Muscular Potential" and input your height, wrist, and ankle size. This calculator will give you pre-roid, Golden Age body measurement estimates for your frame. It is very important to have realistic goals/targets in mind to guide you in your training.

Well...those are some "Golden Age" suggestions that have the potential of kick-starting your next round of gains!

Keep us posted! You are doing great!

All the best,

CPB (Anthony)

UK Steve said...

Thanks very much for the advice - I will put it into action and see what happens! I've ordered Steve Reeves and Reg Parks books as well - so there should be plenty more inspiration and tips in those too!

Keep up the good work on the site!


Johnny G said...

instead of discussing Reeves' training program I'm going to give it a true shot -Starting this weekend of the 8th of August to the 19th of December is 20 weeks - so since I have time on my side I'll give it all I got for a overall workouts - I always said to look like a Spartan you have to eat & train like one - So 20 weeks of ASS KICKING Classic Physique Training & Dieting at the age of 56 years of age this coming 29th August - to Anthony and the rest of the boys wish me luck - I know my wife will be supportive as well my cat Leo - I'm fired up!!!!!!!

- CPB - said...

Hi Everyone!

UK Steve - Good luck! After you get all the gains you can on 2 sets, then you can take another one week layoff and then move on to Steve Reeves' Intermediate Workout Routine if you like! We covered that in the last issue of Classic Physique Builder zine (and we have a post on it here on CPB Blog).

Steve's books are great! Just be aware that his first book "Building the Classic Physique - The Natural Way" is the only one that he authored by himself. So it is really the best source of his views. His other book "Dynamic Muscle Building" was completed and published after his death with George Helmer and John Little as co-authors. So it is a little hard to tell sometimes(unless you are a Golden Age "historian") when the advice is coming from Reeves or the co-authors. But even so, it is also a great book.

If you are referring to the Reg Park book "Strength & Bulk Training for Weight Lifters & Bodybuilders" - just be aware that it is for advanced trainers. So it would be better to complete an intermediate routine before moving on to Park's recommendations in his book.

Johnny G - Great! Your motivation is inspirational! I hope others are inspired to try out pre-roid, Golden Age training as well! Best of luck! And keep us posted!

Everyone - if you have taken up pre-roid, Golden Age training (perhaps by following some of the routines here or in CPBzine), please keep us posted! We are interested in your progress, experience, and success!

Everyone can gain and make significant improvements if you understand and apply the basic principles of Golden Age training! These can be summarized into the "4 pillars": (1) proper training, (2) proper nutrition, (3) proper rest, and (4) persistence!

Also - it is helpful to remember that people respond differently to routines. Some may thrive on a standard 12 exercise, full body routine. Others do better with more basic 8-10 exercise full body routines. Still others can only gain on abbreviated - less than 6 exercise full body routines. There are Golden Age methods for everyone. So be persistent and find out what works best for you!

All the best,

CPB (Anthony)

brendon patrick said...

A great discussion here! At present I am using a variation of Steves diet; morning is his oat and bran and wheat germ cereal. Lunch is his evening meal, eggs or seafood(salmon of tuna etc, with either lightly steamed vegs or raw mixed salad, and for evening am using a version of his breakfast drink! It's working for me, and my waist is right at 30" for the first time ever!! Upper body is broadening nicely, and the waist/shoulder-chest difference is becoming apparent.
I am leaner than I have ever been in my life. This older type more natural diet is working for me, although I would not hesitate to use Vince's approach for a SHORT time,except with the inclusion of lightly steamed vegs or raw salad with each protein intake for digestion and regularity.
I am getting two full body workouts a week, but do split this due to injuries (a car crash)some years back. I do supplement the basics, and try some LESS EXPENSIVE natural supplements.
I appreciate this good discussion and the helpful give and take from everyone.

- CPB - said...

Hi Everyone

Brendon - It sounds like you are getting some great results with a Reeves approach!

In the pre-roid Golden Age, in the early 1950s I believe, Joe Weider did promote split routines for intermediate trainers. His split (which became the standard Golden Age split) was upper body one day, lower body the next. Working upper and lower bodies twice a week (e.g., M & Th - upper body, T & F - lower body) - which works the entire body twice a week.

Such splits can be useful for a number of reasons (e.g., for someone not able to tolerate long workouts due to injury, lack of energy, lack of time, etc).

However, by exercising legs on a different day than upper body, the upper body will lose the extra benefit of the testosterone-boosting effect of doing squats in the same session. However, you still might be able to make gains. This "effect" is real, but it may vary by individual. In any case, many intermediate trainers during the Golden Age still gained on such split routines. We just have to try things out for ourselves and see!

To Everyone - Keep us posted on your pre-roid Golden Age training efforts and gains!

All the best,

CPB (Anthony)

Mike said...

About ten years ago, a news stand muscle mag had an "immortals of Muscle" issue (Grimek, Reeves, Oliva).
Reeves discussed his entire routine which was 3 days per week and contained NO AB EXERCISES.
Has anyone used Reeves routine?

- CPB - said...

Hi Mike (and Everyone)! some of our previous posts (as I remember), we mention that Steve did not include direct AB exercises in his routines. He felt that they got plenty of work in all the other exercises (in which he noticed that his abs would tighten significantly).

Steve also cautioned people against training the obliques (with weighted side bends). He thought that this would thicken the waist - which reduces the V taper of a classic physique.

He was not against ab exercises and has a chapter on crunches in his book - Building the Classic Physique The Natural Way.

It is interesting to note that Steve gained quite well with his routines which included no direct ab work. Later, Vince Gironda (who trained countless people) noticed that doing a lot of ab work can shock the system and bring gains to a halt. So perhaps Steve was on the right track.

See the comments above, but UK Steve and Brendon (and others who perhaps will comment) have used Steve's methods with great results.

Steve had several basic routines (beginning, intermediate, and a couple of advanced routines). I would guess that the routine you saw in that mag might have been his advanced routine. I'm not sure that any of our CPB readers have tried it yet - but if so, perhaps they will comment.

All the best,

CPB (Anthony)

Anonymous said...

I accidentally stumbled on your site in my search for tips about building more natural looking physique. This a very nice blog and very helpful, I was just wondering what happens when you reach the amount of definition that you wanted using steve reeves reducing diet? do you then just go back to your normal eating diet or do you basically just stick to the reducing diet. I like the classic physique definition much better compared to today's bodybuilders though I'm not really a bodybuilder perse because I mostly do bodyweight exercises like wide grip pull ups, chin ups, one handed chins, feet elevated push ups, dips and one arm push ups. I just like the fact that the classic physique is pleasing to look but at the same rate still natural looking and attainable unlike the monstrosity in bodybuilding that we have nowadays. I just seem to be havinga problem in getting more definition. thanks and more power! :)

Roberto from Canada

- CPB - said...

Hi Roberto!

Welcome to CPB! I'm glad you like the site!

Yes...once you have attained your desired level of definition using Steve's reducing diet, then you would go back to his normal diet and just watch your quantities - so that you don't start gaining again. It is quite simple!

Steve's normal diet was the same as the reducing diet except that for lunch he would have cottage cheese, a handfull of nuts, raisins, and two pieces of fresh fruit (in season). Sometimes, he would have an alternate lunch of a quart of goat's milk and a handful of figs (and for a snack, he might drink some carrot juice).

I think we all agree here that the classic definition of the pre-roid, Golden Age champs (of the 1940s and 50s) was much preferable, more healthy, and more attractive looking than the cadaver-like look of today's bodybuilders!

If you haven't already, please take advantage of our offer for a free subscription to Classic Physique Builder Zine (CPBzine) - which is a pdf zine patterned after the muscle mags of the pre-roid Golden Age. It is filled with images of the Golden Age champs and articles on their training methods. We try to include something for everyone - beginner, intermediate, and advanced trainers. All you have to do is email us your name, the name of your city (not your actual address), state/province, and country. That's it! If you like CPB Blog, then we think you will like CPBzine!

All the best,

CPB (Anthony)

Anonymous said...

Hi Anthony,

wow thanks for the quick response and I sure will subscribe to your CPBzine. I'm just tired of all the obsession with how huge one can get nowadays. They have no more regard for aesthetics, these modern bodybuilders don't even make it to the world's sexiest men alive list. If Steve Reeves was alive today he would most likely be on that list because of his symmetry and regard for aesthetics of the human body, I've always argued this before when I used to work out at a gym....I told them why would you want to look like that? they got huge guts and look fat when they are wearing casual clothings unlike the golden age era bodybuilders who you can really see even with clothes on that they are in awesome shape....always had the "chest out and stomach in" in look that I've always associated for manliness and health as a young kid. Thanks again for answering my questions and I will try this diet regimen starting tomorrow.

Roberto from Canada

what time do you think it's best to work out with this diet regimen? after the protein drink in the morning?

Casey Butt said...

Interestingly, Reg Park did no direct ab work between 1951 and 1958 either. He added it in again only in the two weeks preceeding the 1958 Mr. Universe. I think abs are sufficiently trained for many people if they concentrate on holding their abdomens in and their "cores" stable as they do Squats and pulls. Park also liked to do triceps extensions on a decline bench - which in itself is a good ab workout (and probably the best for triceps).

I think I'd starve to death on Reeves' diet. I need solid foods to fill the gap whereas Reeves, and other relatively "small eaters" seemed to flourish on a fairly light, largely liquid diet. I know Park ate like three men, plate after plate of food (Grimek was another big eater, and Delinger supposedly drank a gallon of milk a day).

People are different and much of the path to success is determining your own peculiarities and working within them. I'm sure Reeves would bloat and bog down on Park's diet and Park would probably feel like he was starving to death on Reeves'. They both, obviously, worked with their own metabolisms and digestive systems and not against them.

- CPB - said...

Hi Everyone,

Roberto - yes, we agree! We've made the point in some previous posts that the great thing about a classic physique is that you can look good all the time - in or out of clothes!

Regarding your question about workout time with Reeves' diet regimen, I can tell you that Steve worked out after breakfast (about an hour) and by the time he was done, it was almost lunchtime! So essentially, he is eating (and getting a good dose of protein, carbs, and good fats) before and after workouts!

This arrangement may or may not have been intentional on his part, but he knew it worked and was able to gain mass very quickly with this approach. Today, of course, scientific research has validated Steve's approach and we know that protein synthesis is facilitated by eating protein, carbs, and fats (as Casey points out in another post) before and after workouts. Also, note that Steve did this without using any commercial pre- and post-workout drinks! He made his own power drink for breakfast and simply ate lunch after his workout!

Casey - Good point about individual differences with respect to diet, quantities, etc. In the Golden Age, people like Peary Rader would encourage trainers to experiment a bit to see what worked best for them.

Regarding the quantities that Steve ate, I think when we list his diet, it can be a bit misleading. From what I understand, he had a good appetite and that "steak" or other meat for dinner could be up to a pound (which is a lot of protein)! During his film days (e.g., when filming the White Warrior), he apparently ordered a large steak with two eggs on top three times a day (in addition to whatever else he was eating). There are also some good stories of him (during his Muscle Beach days) and some of his training partners/buddies going to the local "all you can eat" diners and "getting their money's worth"! So I'm sure his quantities were appropriate for his 6'1" 200-215 lb frame!

All the best,

CPB (Anthony)

Anonymous said...

Hi there,

I'm very keen to try Steve's reducing diet, however I do not eat dairy products (with the execption of eggs) so for a protein powder for his power drink, would soy milk, grinded soy beans & grinded oatmeal work?

Excelent site too btw - going to give Steve's beginner workout a go at the new year :-)Thank you for taking the time out to put this site together.

Merry Xmas