Steve Reeves is one of the most inspirational bodybuilders the sport had ever seen, and that still stands true today. Having both a successful career as a bodybuilder and actor, Steve Reeves was one of the first of the community to present large muscles on a global platform.
It was this act that inspired a generation, from Schwarzenegger to Stallone, all the greats of that era owe their determination and drive to the example Reeves set those years ago.
Mr. America, Mr. World, Mr. Universe, and if it was around at the time, probably Mr. Olympia. He was the man with one of the greatest physiques of all time, and this, is his story:
“When your arms are bigger than your head, something is wrong.”
|Full Name: Stephen L. Reeves|
|215 – 225lbs (93.0 – 102.1kg)||6’1″ (185.5cm)||18.5″ (47 cm)||52″ (132cm)|
|29″ (73.5cm)||26″ (66cm)||18.5″ (47cm)|
|American||Bodybuilder, Infantryman, Actor, Philanthropist, Gym Owner, Trainer, Writer and Author||“Steve”|
|1940, 1950, 1960|
|Weight||215 – 225lbs (93.0 – 102.1kg)|
|Arms||18.5″ (47 cm)|
|Profession||Bodybuilder, Infantryman, Actor, Philanthropist, Gym Owner, Trainer, Writer and Author|
|Era||1940, 1950, 1960|
“When I worked out, I would concentrate deeply on the exercise I was doing and the muscle I was working. I would picture those strands of muscle working and getting bigger. I’d put myself into almost a hypnotic trance when I was working out.”
As a Bodybuilder:
- 1946: Mr. Pacific Coast
- 1947: Mr. Pacific Coast
- 1947: Mr. America
- 1948: Mr. USA (2nd place)
- 1948: Mr. World
- 1948: Mr. Universe (2nd place)
- 1949: Mr. USA (3rd place)
- 1950: Mr. Universe
As an actor:
- Athena (1954) Hollywood film directed by Richard Thorpe
- Jail Bait (1954) Hollywood film directed by Ed Wood
- Hercules (1957) (Le fatiche di Ercole / The Labors of Hercules) released in Italy in 1958, released in U.S.A. in 1959
- Hercules Unchained (1959) (Ercole e la regina di Lidia / Hercules and the Queen of Lydia) released in USA 1960
- Goliath and the Barbarians (1959) (Il terrore dei barbari / Terror of the Barbarians)
- The Giant of Marathon (1959) (La battaglia di Maratona / The Battle of Marathon)
- The Last Days of Pompeii (1959) (Gli ultimi giorni di Pompei / The Last Days of Pompeii)
- The White Warrior (1959) (Hadji Murad il Diavolo Bianco / Hadji Murad, The White Devil) directed by Riccardo Freda
- Morgan, the Pirate (1960) (Morgan, il pirata)
- The Thief of Baghdad (1960) (Il Ladro di Bagdad / The Thief of Baghdad)
- The Trojan Horse (1961) (The Trojan War)
- Duel of the Titans (1961) (Romolo e Remo / Romulus And Remus)
- The Slave (1962) (Il Figlio di Spartaco / Son of Spartacus)
- The Avenger (1962) (La leggenda di Enea / The Legend Of Aeneas) this was a sequel to The Trojan Horse (a.k.a. The Last Glory of Troy or War of the Trojans)
- Sandokan the Great (1963) (Sandokan, the Tiger of Mompracem) directed by Umberto Lenzi
- Pirates of Malaysia (1963) a.k.a. Sandokan, the Pirate of Malaysia, a.k.a. Pirates of the Seven Seas; this was a sequel to Sandokan the Great, directed by Umberto Lenzi
- A Long Ride from Hell (1967) (I Live for Your Death!) spaghetti western directed by Camillo Brazzoni, produced and co-written by Steve Reeves
“We should try not only to build a balanced life, but also a balanced physique.”
Steve Reeves was born in Glasgow, Montana in 1926. At the age of 10, Steve’s father, Lester Reeves, unfortunately died in a farming accident – leading Steve and his mother, to make a new start and move to Oakland, California.
This is where Steve’s journey began to becoming one of the most memorable bodybuilders of all time.
Reeves’ first step in developing his chiseled physique first started after an observation by his mother – he had horrible posture. As a child, Steve would drop his shoulders forward, a habit that his mother didn’t want him developing any further.
To solve the problem she fitted Steve with a shoulder brace, so that he couldn’t make the same mistake again without being cut into by the equipment. He developed perfect posture.
Discovering Bodybuilding and WW2
The second step happened at school. After engaging in a friendly arm-wrestling competition, Reeves found himself defeated by a much smaller boy. After discovering that his opponent had been lifting weights, Reeves decided to start too – and after also being shown photographs of bodybuilders by a friend, he knew what exactly what he should be aiming for.
In High School, Reeves was making great progress at the gym. He was eventually discovered by Ed Yarick, a local gym owner who wanted to train Reeves and take his body one step further.
Reeves’ training was put on hold when he graduated high school due to World War 2, where Steve was stationed in the Philippines, and in Japan for a short period after the war.
A young Steve Reeves, at age 16.
Becoming a Competitive Bodybuilder
After his return to California in 1946, Reeves was ready to start training again – and so began his successful career of dominating the bodybuilding industry.
Starting out in 1946, Steve won his first competition, Mr Pacific Coast, and was hungry for more. He’d return to win it again in 1947, along with also winning the Mr. America competition. By 1950, Steve had attained the titles, Mr. Pacific Coast, Mr. America, Mr. World, and Mr. Universe.
But Steve was going to become much more than a bodybuilder, he was about to be an icon.
Acting Career and Hollywood
After attaining Mr. Universe the job offers came flooding in from Hollywood. After thorough acting lessons in New York, Steve took an extensive amount of roles from 1954 to 1969, appearing in a total of 18 movies.
He was one of the first real bodybuilders to star in movies and show the world what a true lifter looks like. He also inspired a generation of younger men to take up the sport such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Lou Ferrigno and Serge Nubret.
However, his film career became finite after a shoulder injury during the filming of “The Last Days of Pompeii” when a chariot crashed – this would eventually become unbearable for Reeves and stopping both his bodybuilding and film-making career.
“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.”
Unlike most most bodybuilders, modern and old school, Steve believed that less is more when it came to training.
With many of the greats cramming themselves into the gym almost every day of the week, Steve had a more relaxed approach. In total, Reeves would only train 3 times a week, and strictly follow a full-body routine every session. He believed plenty of rest was the key to any great physique – so the fewer gym sessions the better, as long as they were done right.
During his full-body workout, there were several things Steve would do differently to regular lifters to attain that award-winning physique:
1. Saving Legs Until The End of The Session
Steve knew the legs were key to most compound upper-body movements, standing military press, deadlifts, even bench press – but if you train legs first, you’ve tanked all of those exercises.
If you leave leg training until last, you’ve already partly used them in the lifts beforehand – you’ve warmed them up. It makes a lot of sense.
Reeves has stated his standard routine would run like this:
- Lower Back
In that order, and you’ll have noticed a pattern there too:
2. Train Opposing Muscles
Steve was a big fan of training opposing muscle groups at the same time. Let’s say you were training biceps, after that set you would flip over to a tricep exercise, and then back to biceps, going back and forth until you were finished.
This would not only save time during your session (as full-body workouts can take hours), but also allow the muscle to recover before the next set.
3. Always have a Goal
One of the reasons Steve was one of the largest bodybuilders of his generation was his constant drive for success. He didn’t like standing still, was always forcing himself to constantly improve.
His main aim whenever he walked into the gym was to achieve a personal goal. Something to improve upon from the last session he had in the gym. Reeves always ensured his next session triumphed over the one before it, this sheer determination allowed him to make incredible amounts of progress very quickly, and allowed him to become one of the most inspirational lifters we know today.
Steve was a huge fan of using ‘power walking’ as a tool to either get in shape, or stay in shape. He aimed to walk half a mile in 8 minutes, and once that goal was achieved, the idea would be to walk one mile in 14 minutes flat once his fitness levels improved.
As for frequency, Steve recommended power walking should be done at least four times per week for 30 minutes.
For improved fitness levels, he suggested walking 2-3 miles, and for maintenance, 1-2 miles.
- 2-3 miles 30 minutes x 4 days
- 1-2 miles 30 minutes x 4 days
When it came to nutrition, Steve ate how most bodybuilders of his time ate back in the day – whole foods, and a lot of them.
He was very pro-carbs and believed in a 60/20/20 split of carbs/fats/protein – pretty much unheard of at its time, but apparently very effective.
But what was most interesting is that Steve would have a pre-workout day – eating specific foods the day before training to make sure he got the most out of his upcoming session.
From how Steve’s described it in the past, it was essentially one big carb-loading day with him eating a range of complex carbohydrates such as oats, almonds, bananas and more.
This ties in with him training only 3 times a week, you can tell from the way he planned around them that every session counted.
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Idols and Influences
Steve Reeves will always be remembered as one of the most inspirational bodybuilders on the planet.
Here are just a few of the bodybuilders that have acknowledged Steve as one of their inspirations:
- Serge Nubret
- George Eiferman
- Lou Ferrigno
- Bill Pearl
- Reg Park
- Larry Scott
- Frank Zane
- Vince Gironda
- Arnold Schwarzenegger
- Sylvester Stallone
- Mike Mentzer
- Joe Weider
And many more, these are just a few of the athletes that have claimed Steve Reeves to be one of their biggest inspirations. He’s gone down in history as the man with “the body that launched a thousand careers’.
“No brain, no gain. Not no pain, no gain… I would do my exercises real strict, real correct. You know, slow and perfect form – no cheating.”
What we can learn from Steve Reeves
If Arnold Schwarzenegger is the father of bodybuilding, Steve Reeves is definitely the grandfather. From losing an arm wrestling bout, to winning Mr. Universe, Steve Reeves is the shining of example of anything being possible if you put your mind to it.
His legacy in bodybuilding inspired an entire generation, without Steve Reeves, the industry would not be as well known as it is today.
Steve’s success teaches us it’s not about how much you give, but what you give. With only 3 dedicated training sessions a week, Steve outperformed all of his competition and built one of the best bodies the sport has ever seen.
It’s an inspirational message to those who don’t have as much time to train and still want to build an impressive body – excess can be beaten by efficiency if you put your mind to it.