Henry Downs, How I Trained to Win the Mr. Britain Title (1957)

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December the 11th, 1955, was a date to remember for me, for it was on that day I was placed second in the Mr. Britain contest. I had trained harder for that contest than any up to that time and thought I was in better shape than ever before. Well as you know, I didn’t make the grade, so this year I used a different approach to what I had previously done.

Three months before the contest I started to use the split work-out system that is legs, shoulders and back one day and arms and chest the next, getting in six work-outs every week.

The first thing I noticed was my increase in poundage on all my exercises, especially the squat, which I hadn’t been able to increase for a long time due to a knee injury.

This ache persisted but I trained with just one thought in mind and that was to squat with 450 lb., which I eventually did. In the course of which I brought my front squat up to 400 lb. I used the 5 sets of 5 routine and also worked up to singles. (Editor’s Notes – This is the progressive power and body-building principle which we advocated). This system brought me a gain of 50 lb. on the squat in about six weeks so I was well satisfied.

For the fellows who are interested I will list my work-out as I performed it prior to the Mr. Britain.


Exercise 1. Front Squat, 5 sets of 5, 340-380 lb., or Regular Squat, 5 sets of 8 reps., 375 lb. – 400 lb.

Exercise 2. Leg Press, 4 sets, 15 reps, 600 lb.

Exercise 3. Calf Raise seated with barbell across thighs, 8 sets, 25 reps., 350 lb.


Exercise 4. High Pullup (similar to a high deadlift), 5 sets, 6 reps, 200lb. – 225lb.

Exercise 5. Upright Rowing, 170lb., 5 sets of 5 reps

Exercise 6. Lateral Raise, Bent Arms. 5 sets of 5 pairs, 60lb.

Exercise 7. Single Arm Lateral Raise, 5 sets of 8 reps, 60 lb.


Exercise 8. Rowing on Pulley Machine, 8 sets of 8, 200 lb. – 250 lb.

Exercise 9. Good Morning Exercise. 5 sets of 6-8 reps., straight and bent legged, 200 lb. – 280lb.


Exercise 10. Bench Press, 5 sets 6 reps, 300 lb. – 350 lb.

Exercise 11. Dumb-bell Bench Press, 5 sets of 5, 140 lb.

Exercise 12. Bent Arm Lateral Raise, lying, 5 sets of 8 reps, 90 lb.

Exercise 13. Bench Press on Leg Press Machine, 5 sets of 8 reps, 275 – 300 lb.


Exercise 14. French Press, standing, 5 sets of 8 reps., 140 – 180 lb.

Exercise 15. French Press, lying, 5 sets of 8 reps., 145-185 lb.

Exercise 16. Close Grip Curl, 5 sets of 8, 150 lb.

Exercise 17. Seated Curl, 5 sets of 5 reps, 160 lb.

Exercise 18. Cheat Curl, 5 sets of 5 reps., 200 lb.

You may have noticed that I haven’t listed abdominals, well to tell the truth I didn’t do any and haven’t for a few years – because I feel my mid-section gets a good work-out from all the other exercises I perform.

I would, on some occasions after an exercise here and there to add variety, such as the bent arm barbell pullover. Pullover with dumb-bell.

Push press, press behind neck, dumb-bell press, parallel bar ups and the concentration curl to mention some of them.

That concludes the routine I followed – and though I do not profess to be a contender for the title of the ‘World’s Strongest Man’, I feel my poundages are quite respectable. My routine is quite a simple one with just regular exercises that you all know, but you may find the split as affective as I did.

Next month I shall outline a course for beginners so if you or any of your friends are just starting, why not try it.

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Source: Henry Downs, ‘How I Trained to Win the Mr. Britain Title’, Reg Park Physical Culture Journal, September (1957), 12 – 13.