Shredded Saga – Steve Reeves

You can’t talk about classic physiques without Steve Reeves name popping up. He had a perfect balance of size, symmetry and proportion which few bodybuilders could rival. Steve is a legend in the bodybuilding community and rightfully so, he brought a unique physique unlike any other for his time and inspired many bodybuilders, including Arnold Schwarzenegger. He also had a unique training style and training methods which allowed him to achieve his historic physique.


Steve Reeves was born in Glascow, Montana on January 21, 1926. His father died while he was just a baby and his mother, Goldie Reeves, was left alone to provide for her son. She eventually decided to move to Oakland, California when Steve was just ten years old. It was there Steve fell in love with bodybuilding, all thanks to Joe Gambina. Steve met Joe shortly after arriving to California and the two did some arm wrestling, in which Gambina won. Steve was shocked that a smaller boy could have beaten him so easily, that’s when Joe took him to his garage and introduced him to weight training.

At this time he also saw his first bodybuilding magazine, with John Grimek on the cover. This was the first time Steve had ever seen a bodybuilder and he instantly knew this is what he wanted to do. Steve was still working out with Joe while building his own gym in his mothers one car garage. After months of weightlifting Steve had built up a solid base standing at 6′ 163 pounds at just 16 years old. It was at that point he decided it was time to join a real gym, he ended up under the wing of Ed Yarick and began training at his gym. After four months of doing full body workouts Steve weighed in at a solid 193 pounds.


Steve Reeves Workout Routine

Steve Reeve’s workout routine was a full-body split built around the compound lifts, which are most beneficial for beginners. He was not a fan of the muscle group splits that are so popular today, he instead favored intense full-body sessions with rest days in between. The routine is simple, yet effective which is usually the best approach when it comes to bodybuilding.

Exercise Sets Reps
Dumbbell Swings (warmup) 3 15-20
Upright Rows 3 8-12
Bench Press 3 8-12
One Arm Row 3 8-12
Dumbbell Lateral Raise 3 8-12
Incline Bench Press 3 8-12
Tricep Press Down 3 8-12
Barbell Curls 3 8-12
Seated Dumbbell Curls 3 8-12
Squats (super set with next move) 3 8-12
Pull Overs 3 8-12
Breathing Squats (super set with next move) 1 20
Breathing Pull Overs 1 20
Deadlifts 2 8-12
Good Mornings 2 8-12

This full-body workout should be performed three times a week with adequate rest periods between each workout. Because of the volume and intensity Reeves himself recommended 48 hours rest between each session. Steve liked to keep the intensity high, so only 45 seconds rest between each set and only 2-3 minutes between each exercise. As far as tempo goes if you’re following what Steve did his reps would comprise of a 2 second concentric movement (lifting the weight) and a 3 second eccentric movement (lowering the weight). Once you can lift the designated amount of reps for a certain exercise with good form, you may then add on some more weight. The exercise order was chosen to work out the smaller muscle groups first, and then finishing off with the larger muscles and compound movements.

Some things to consider while doing this routine is your recovery ability. If you have poor recovery or are unable to recover you may consider doing this workout every three days instead of three days a week. You also will not want to go to failure on every set if any, perhaps the last set of a particular exercise if you can handle it. Another variation would be to eliminate one set of some exercises to reduce the volume. In any case you should make some adjustments to fit your body if need be.


Steve Reeves Diet

Steve Reeves outlined his diet in his book “Building The Classic Physique The Natural Way”. Bodybuilders usually only ate a few meals back in his era, and Steve was no different. Keep in mind there weren’t tons of supplements back then, it was all about a well balanced diet.

Breakfast: The Steve Reeves Power Drink consisting of:

  • 14 ounces of freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon of Knox gelatin
  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  • 1 banana
  • 2-4 raw eggs (he recommends that pasteurized eggs might be safer today)
  • 2 tablespoons of High-Protein Powder (which he made himself)


  • cottage cheese (with a handful of nuts, raisins)
  • 2 pieces of fresh fruit (in season)


  • 1 huge salad
  • 1 swordfish steak (or turkey, tuna, or lean ground beef)

He describes this diet as “well-balanced with something from each of the food groups”. Very simple and easy to follow, just tweak it to fit your calorie requirements. His home-made “protein drink” was used as a meal replacement and was limited to one time a day at breakfast.


Steve Reeves Bodybuilding Career

Even though Steve’s bodybuilding career was only four years long (1946-1950), he won many titles and impacted the sport forever. In 1946 after returning home from the army he returned to Ed Yarick’s gym to train for the Mr. Pacific Coast contest. Steve entered the competition weighing in at 215 pounds and easily took first place. He then set his sights on the Mr. America title after winning the Mr. Pacific Coast contest again in 1947. Later that same year he flew out to Chicago to compete in the Mr. America contest, which at that time was the highest achievement one could win in bodybuilding.


The competition came down between him and Eric Pedersen (a bodybuilder who he had just beaten in the Pacific Coast contest). He defeated Pendersen yet again with his supreme musculature and symmetry taking the coveted title of Mr. America. By 1950 the NABBA Mr. Universe title had grown to out-shadow the Mr. America title and Steve wanted to take the win. He began training for the competition at the famous York Barbell Club in York, PA with his good friend George Eiferman. Reeves flew down to London to face British sensation Reg Park in what would be his last competition ever. As if a repeat of 1947, it came down to just Steve and Reg with Steve walking out on top and earning a special trophy of Eugen Sandow.

“Steve Reeves is a great man and has contributed much to the sport of bodybuilding, Steve was a great inspiration to me”.- Arnold Schwarzenegger

After winning Steve announced he was retiring from the bodybuilding scene to pursue other interests. Back then there wasn’t much money in being a competitive bodybuilder, so he had to think of his future. At just 24 years old he had captured the greatest achievement one could earn in the bodybuilding world and even after retirement continued to inspire many lifters of many generations.


steve reeves movie career

Steve starred in 18 movies throughout his career. His most notable was role was Hercules in “Le Fatiche di Ercole (The Labors of Hercules)”. Although the movie was filmed in Europe in Italian it was dubbed to English and released in America two years later. It was a box-office hit and set the stage for a series of swashbuckling “sword-and-sandal” epics that showcased Reeves as a heroic strongman. Although reportedly the highest-paid actor in Europe in 1967, he retired two years later to his estate in California to raise Morgan horses. Reeves was virtually the only bodybuilder prior to Arnold Schwarzenegger to translate his muscles into money and international renown through a successful film career.


steve reeves death

Steve Reeves died in a hospital in California on May 1, 2000. He had been diagnosed with lymphoma two years earlier and is believed to have died from a blood clot from a surgery he had two days before. He was 74 years of age at the time of his passing. Steve Reeves will always be remembered as a classic and a pioneer in the bodybuilding community.


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