Early Life Steve Reeves is one of the most renowned bodybuilders of his time. His father Lester died when he was only 18 months old. Goldie, his mother, would tell him what a great man his father was and what great shape he was always in. This of course would be the catalyst to inspire Steve to become the legendary bodybuilder he became.
After moving to Oakland, California, Steve met Joe Gambina, who lived on Steve’s paper route. Joe and Steve did some arm wrestling, which Joe won. Steve could not believe how Joe could have beaten him. This was one of the events of his early life that inspired him to become a fitness great.
Joe introduced Steve to weight training in his little garage gym, an activity Steve found to be his calling. He soon learned about bodybuilding coach Ed Yarick, who owned a gym in the Oakland area.
Steve didn’t waste much time–he sought out Ed Yarick and started training under his wing. It wasn’t long before Steve discovered that his newly-found passion for fitness would drive him to incredible heights.
He left Joe’s homemade garage gym and joined his trainer Ed Yarick’s gym. Ed became the father figure Reeves never had and as well as lifelong friend.
Steve entered Yarick’s gym at 6 feet tall and weighing 163 pounds. After four months of consistent full body workouts he gained 30 pounds. His genetics for bodybuilding were incredible.
His mother helped fuel Steve’s workouts with her knowledge of nutrition and healthy dietary habits. Steve was a firm believer in healthy eating and knew well of its critical contribution towards his bodybuilding.
Conception of Modern Bodybuilding
Many bodybuilding historians point to the mid 20th century emergence of Steve Reeves as the beginning evolution of the modern bodybuilding period. His training methods and innovative techniques conflicted with the hardcore strongman period that preceded Reeves. His workout routines were more flexible and less ‘hard line’ than the more outdated strongman-style weightlifting.
At the Reeves neo-classical physique schism crossroads, old world weightlifting and modern specialized bodybuilding took off on different directional paths.
Although Reeves did have fantastic genetics, genes alone did not get him to the top. His innovative techniques and revolutionary training styles were what truly let him achieve maximum potential.
Hard Work was his Middle Name
Genetics aside, Reeves attained success through persistence and hard work. He didn’t win many physique contests, but never let that get in the way of his bodybuilding dream and lifestyle. Reeves committed himself completely and always gave 100% of his effort into whatever he was doing. The hard work he invested in bodybuilding was synonymous with every aspect of his lifestyle, whether it’s be business, hobbies, habits, love life or anything else.
Reeves was a hard worker at heart and knew that the best rewards required sacrifice. He worked hard his entire life, even as a youngster. As a young boy, Steve had a newspaper route which he worked on for years. In his later years, Steve credited his superb leg development–especially his calves–to pedaling a bicycle with only his toes on the pedals and his buttocks firmly on the seat, up and down hills daily.
No one can dispute the fact Reeves had some of the best calves in bodybuilding–even by today’s standards they are very impressive.
Steve Reeves Workout Routine
Steve preferred doing his workouts in the morning, usually before breakfast, when the body is at peak energy levels.
For reps, Reeves judged each set individually, typically working a rep range of 8 – 12. If a weight was too heavy for him to get 8 reps, he would reduce that weight for the next workout. If it was too light and allowed him to get more than 12 reps, he would increase the weight the next workout. He started with heavier weight first for lower reps, then reduced weight for subsequent sets to stay within his targeted rep range.
Reeves is fairly unique in that he built his physique doing full body workouts three times a weeks, which is a significant departure from modern bodybuilding, which tends to break the body into sections for isolated work.
Reeves had a focus on the big compound movements, supplementing with the single joint accessory exercises. He preferred to rest 3 minutes between compound exercises and 2 minutes for accessory work.
- Squats, 3 sets, 8-12 reps
- Bench Press, 3 sets, 8-12 reps
- Bent-over Row, 3 sets, 8-12 reps
- Military Press, 3 sets, 8-12 reps
- Romanian Dead Lifts, 3 sets, 8-12 reps
- Standing Calf Raise, 3 sets, 8-12 reps
- Barbell Curl, 3 sets, 8-12 reps
- Triceps Extension, 3 sets, 8-12 reps
- Crunches, 3 sets, max reps
- Dead Lift, 3 sets, 10-12 reps
- Front Squats, 3 sets, 10-12 reps
- Pull-ups, 3 sets,max reps
- Good Mornings, 2 sets, 8-12 reps
- Dumbbell Military Press, 3 sets, 10-12 reps
- Dumbbell Lunges, 3 sets, 10-12 reps
- Dips, 3 sets, 12-15 reps
- Alternating Dumbbell Curl, 3 sets, 12-15 reps
- Seated Calf Raise, 3 sets, 8-12 reps
- Close Grip Bench Press, 3 sets, 10-12 reps
- Hanging leg Raise, 2 sets, max reps
- Dead Lift, 3 sets, 8-12 reps
- Incline Bench Press, 3 sets, 8-12 reps
- Front Squats, 2 sets, 10-12 reps
- Hamstring Curls, 3 sets, 8-12 reps
- 1-Arm Dumbbell Row, 3 sets, 8-12 reps
- Upright Barbell Row, 2 sets, 10-12 reps
- Standing Calf Raise, 3 sets, 10-12 reps
- Dumbbell Lunges, 2 sets, 8-12 reps
- French Curl, 2 sets, 8-10 reps
- Concentration Curls, 3 sets, 8-12 reps
- Sit-ups, 3 sets, max reps
Saturday and Sunday
Some of his Legendary Workout Tips
Recovery is a very important aspect of workouts so take proper rest to recover. This theory of Reeves is evident by the many rest days in his workout routine.
Perform smaller accessory exercises at the end of workout – focus on the big, heavy movements before targeting isolation movements.
Your daily diet should contain 20% fat, 20% protein and 60% carbohydrates to keep you energized.
Set a goal for each workout to stay focused. Counting your reps and trying to hit a new goal on each subsequent workout is what Steve believed to be the driving force behind pushing yourself above your limits.
Steve had his own version of a “power drink” he made by blending fresh orange juice, 1-2 tablespoons of honey, 1 banana, 3 raw eggs and two spoons of protein powder. This helped him energize for his workouts and was also ideal as a post-workout drink.
For lunch he used to eat fresh seasonal fruits with cottage cheese and a handful of nuts and raisins.
His dinner was usually a large portion of salad with either swordfish steak, turkey or tuna–any meat that contains adequate amounts of healthy fats and proteins.
Steve’s physique earned him roles in many big production Hollywood movies.
From most recent to oldest:
- A Long Ride from Hell (1968)
- The Pirates of the Seven Seas (1964)
- Sandokan the Great (1964)
- The Slave (1963) (aka The Son of Spartacus)
- The Shortest Day (1963)
- The Trojan Horse (1962)
- The Avenger (1962)
- Morgan the Pirate (1961)
- Duel of the Titans (1961) with Gordon Scott
- The Last Days of Pompeii (1960)
- The Thief of Baghdad (1960)
- Giant of Marathon (1959)
- Goliath and the Barbarians (1959)
- The White Warrior (1959)
- Hercules Unchained (1958)
- Hercules (1957)
- Athena (1954)
- Jail Bait (1954)
Legacy & Interesting Facts
Steve appeared on the Broadway stage in the 1955 comedy musical called “The Vamp”, starring Carol Channing. He played the role of a comic foil “Samson”. During this time he trained at the immortal strongman Sig Klein’s Gym on Broadway while seeking ways to further his professional acting career and guesting on various television shows.
Steve Reeves was not only one of the world’s most renowned bodybuilders, but perhaps the best known and most widely accepted strongman archetype of the silver screen. His roles as Hercules in the movies Hercules (1957) and Hercules Unchained (1958) is the most iconic on-screen interpretation of Hercules of all time.
Many famous actors and bodybuilders, among them Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, credit Steve as being an inspiration.
Steve Reeves was also an accomplished author. In 1982, Reeves published a best-selling book, Powerwalking, in which he encouraged runners to slow down and save their knees, ankles, and hip joints. Instead, he advocated a form of fast walking using ankle and wrist weights as a safer and equally effective form of aerobic exercise.
He was in many ways a pioneer in the field of exercise walking, and in the years since the publication of his book Powerwalking millions of people have switched from running to walking.
In 1995, he published the iconic bodybuilding book ‘Building the Classic Physique, the Natural Way’.
In 1963, he married Aline Czarzawicz and the couple retired to Southern California in 1969. He continued to inspire future generations of bodybuilders until his death in May 2000.
Steve Reeves was one of the first, if not the first, modern bodybuilders to become a world renowned movie star. He was called ‘the body that launched a thousand careers.’
A Mr. America, Mr. Universe, and Mr. World Winner, and a man whose looks caused traffic accidents and drew crowds that followed him on busy beaches. He was a movie star whose films not only were inspirational and entertaining but also taught generations of film fans something about Greek, Roman, and Russian history.