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.


  1. Never heard of this man before, but looks inspirational, because quite possibly he could be ‘natural’. Is this guy still alive? (Can find little information on the internet)

    1. Hi Nick. I hope all’s well 🙂 I suspect he was natural although I couldn’t say either way. Not sure if he’s still alive. Will do a search round and see if I can find anything !

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