Steve Reeves’ Mr. America Workout

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Undoubtedly one of the most successful and aesthetic bodybuilders of the past century, Steve Reeves holds a special place in the hearts of iron lifters. Known for his remarkably genetics and interesting exercise variations, Reeves was the poster boy for mid-century bodybuilding.

Training for Mr. America

Though he used a series of workout approaches, techniques and methods during his many years of lifting, the following post details the basic outline Reeves used during his run up to the 1947 Mr. America context as detailed by David Gentle on his incredibly informative physical culture website (found here).

For this chest he performed:

  • Wide grip bench press three x 10 reps.
  • Inclined press, arms outward, 3 sets of 12 reps.

For the deltoids (shoulders)

  • Front raise 3 to 5 sets x 10 reps.

For lats

  • Overhead downward pull on the lats bar 3 x 12 reps.
  • Rowing 3 x 12 reps.
  • Cable pulley rowing 3 x 15 reps.

For triceps any extension movement

  • Using dumbbell with both hands 3 x 10 ,
  • Triceps extension 3 x 10, decreasing weights at each set.

For biceps

  • Incline preacher bench curl, 5 to 6 sets of 10 reps.

For thighs

  • Front squat on a high block 3 x 15 reps
  • Hack squat 3 x 15 reps
  • Legs curl 4 x 10 reps

For Calves

  • toe press on the legs machine using high reps and large number of sets

For lower back

  • Hyperextensions 4 x 12 reps

This routine was done several times a week with varying intensities.

What can be learnt from Reeves’ approach?

In the first instance, a quick survey of Reeves’ workout demonstrates just how open he was to specialising lifts based on his own body structure. As detailed previously, Reeves was a keen advocate of the front squat over the back squat, believing it to be a more effective builder of the legs. Similarly here we see slight variations to traditional exercises designed to work Reeves’ body in the best possible manner. Whether it was using an incline on the preacher bench or doing the incline bench press with the arms out, Reeves experimented with his training to find the most suitable exercises. A good example for those of us married to the traditional bench, squat, deadlift etc.

Secondly, Reeves was not afraid of high volume, performing a whole body workout several times a week. This, as mentioned before, was a common approach by bodybuilders during this period but one nevertheless worth highlighting. While undoubtedly blessed with fantastic genetics, Reeves was not alone in training in this manner. Indeed, it wasn’t until really the 1960s that split body training routines began to gain in popularity in the lifting population. There is, I feel, a fear at times in using whole body routines, especially as one becomes more and more advanced. While this may be for good reason, there is little reason for beginners to avoid full body workouts. If it worked for Reeves, Park and thousands of others, there must be something to it right? High volume is not always the enemy, and in fact it is interesting to see the recent emergence of personal trainers such as Menno Henselmans advocating a high frequency approach.

So while anyone seeking to build a comparable physique to Reeves using the above routine should consider his remarkable genetics and grit for hard work, the two principles highlighted above are, I believe, a worthwhile take home lesson for all of our training.

As always, happy lifting!

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