Steve Reeves

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:


 

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“When your arms are bigger than your head, something is wrong.”

Athlete Statistics

Full Name: Stephen L. Reeves
WeightHeightArmsChest
215 - 225lbs (93.0 - 102.1kg)6'1" (185.5cm)18.5″ (47 cm)52″ (132cm)
WaistThighsCalves
29″ (73.5cm)26″ (66cm)18.5″ (47cm)
NationalityProfessionAlias
AmericanBodybuilder, Infantryman, Actor, Philanthropist, Gym Owner, Trainer, Writer and Author“Steve”
Era
1940, 1950, 1960
Weight215 - 225lbs (93.0 - 102.1kg)
Height6'1" (185.5cm)
Arms18.5″ (47 cm)
Chest52″ (132cm)
Waist29″ (73.5cm)
Thighs26″ (66cm)
Calves18.5″ (47cm)
NationalityAmerican
ProfessionBodybuilder, Infantryman, Actor, Philanthropist, Gym Owner, Trainer, Writer and Author
Alias“Steve”
Era1940, 1950, 1960

 

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“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.”

Notable Achievements

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

 

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“We should try not only to build a balanced life, but also a balanced physique.”

Biography

Early Life

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.


 

steve reeves 16

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.


 

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“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.”

Training

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:

  1. Shoulders
  2. Chest
  3. Lats
  4. Biceps
  5. Triceps
  6. Quads
  7. Hamstrings
  8. Calves
  9. Lower Back
  10. Abs
  11. Neck

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.

Cardiovascular Training

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.

Improved Fitness 

  • 2-3 miles 30 minutes x 4 days

Maintenance

  • 1-2 miles 30 minutes x 4 days

 

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Nutrition

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.


Editor’s Tip

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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’.


 

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“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.

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13 comments

  1. Mose a. James jr.

    April 6, 2017 at 12:58 pm

    Steve reeves was always a favorite of mine. He left a very good legacy.

  2. Andy King

    May 11, 2017 at 11:29 pm

    What about Steve’s development of the strong walk. Surely that is worth a paragraph.

    1. Greatest Physiques

      May 12, 2017 at 10:17 am

      Hi Andy,

      Well spotted. We’ve now included power walking into Steve’s profile – it was one of his most important tools that he use to stay in shape all year round. It needed to be added.

      Thanks again, and all the best,

      Greatest Physiques

      1. Craig

        February 14, 2018 at 5:34 pm

        I remember reading about reeves when he was 52yrs old. He power walked then, he said, with ankle wts and wrist weights or small dumbbells in hands. I was inspired by reeves when I was ten in 1961. Thief of Baghdad, my favorite. I became a very good distance runner, and weight training did help, all of my life.

  3. ray bell

    June 23, 2017 at 3:23 pm

    steve reeves was mr perfect i have looked at his physique for 55 years and i found no faults at all , and there will never be another steve reeves for at least a thousand years

  4. Tony Jordan

    July 3, 2017 at 2:14 pm

    Steve Reeves, was the most handsome, symmetrically ideal physique the world has ever seen! There will never be another male put together genetically, like Steve Reeves.

  5. popas

    December 4, 2017 at 10:12 am

    His waist was way too small…

    1. artur petryka

      December 19, 2017 at 2:56 pm

      hahaha

  6. Gary

    April 4, 2018 at 6:35 am

    I see all Steve Reves Hurcues
    Movies pluss Last day of pomppi
    And the white Worrior! He look
    like the real deal! No steorides
    only pure body building!
    I was inspired by him and of
    Course Jack Olane ! So I keep
    On working out at 65 years young! Because of guys like
    Steve and Jack! God bless there
    Memories forever!
    Gary

  7. 5 Old School Secrets For Serious Muscle Gain - SERIOUS BULKING

    November 4, 2018 at 1:37 pm

    […] at Steve Reeves he had a great natural build by today’s standards, and he didn’t use steroids as back then […]

  8. Rich Macero

    February 20, 2019 at 7:14 am

    He was Hercules

  9. Rutina de entrenamiento de Steve Reeves. – Fitness Integral

    April 24, 2019 at 5:29 pm

    […] Greatest Physiques […]

  10. dennis jaconetta

    July 4, 2019 at 9:42 pm

    If I could a body that I would like to have it is Steve Reeves…He had no weaknesses. From his perfect chest ,to he 28 in waist, to his 18 inch calves. Great hair and perfect face. I have seen body builders bigger ,but never more proportioned than Steve.

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