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The Steve Reeves Solution For Size, Strength And Health

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Mike Mahler takes a look at Steve Reeves' 10 rules for training and diet, and outlines 3 workouts that will boost your size and strength.

I'll be honest: I'm not a big fan of modern-day bodybuilding.  It's gotten way out of control and no longer is it about developing health and vitality but more about getting massive, no matter what the cost to health.  It wasn't always this way.  When looking at the state of bodybuilding now, it's hard to believe there was a time in when bodybuilders were some of the healthiest people around.

Legendary bodybuilders such as John Grimek, Reg Park, and Steve Reeves had it all: strength; incredible levels of size and symmetry; flexibility; and cardiovascular fitness.  In this article we're taking a closer look at the training philosophy of Steve Reeves and covering some sample training programs to get you into action.  Let's get started.

Reeves’ Rules For Size, Strength, And Health

Steve ReevesRule #1:  Train no more than three times per week

Steve believed most trainees work out way too much and that no more than three full-body workouts per week is the way to go.  Recovery is critical and far too many trainees overlook the importance of rest for maximum progress.  All the supplements in the world won't make up for poor sleep and inadequate rest.

Many trainees are stimulus addicts, tending to be process-oriented instead of goal-oriented.  Rather than training for the goal of getting stronger or more muscular, they focus on simply training as often and as long as possible--a big mistake which ends with over training and poor results.  Just as music needs pauses between the notes, you need rest between each workout.

For maximum recovery, Steve said that the perfect training program would have a day and half rest between each workout.  For example, the first workout of the week is on Monday morning, the second workout is on Wednesday evening, and the final workout of the week on Saturday morning.

Rule #2:  The number one mistake that trainees make is cheating on exercises

The idiot at your gym who likes to bounce the barbell off of his chest during the bench press wouldn't have impressed Steve.  Steve was a stickler for proper training form.  To ensure good form and for maximum development in size and strength, Steve used a repetition tempo of two seconds on the concentric portion of the exercise and three seconds on the negative portion of the exercise.  This tempo prevented bouncing or jerking to keep the weights moving.

Regarding breathing, Steve would breathe in just before the positive, hold it halfway through the positive, and breathe out during the negative.  Using the example of the barbell military press, breathe in while the bar is at chest level.  Hold your breath until the barbell reaches head level and then begin breathing out as you press the barbell to the lockout position.  Continue to breathe out as you lower the bar back to the starting position.

Rule #3:  Set a goal going into each workout to get you focused and excited

In addition to long-term goals such as adding twenty pounds to the overhead press, the trainee should have a goal at each workout.  Having a goal for the workout will get you focused and excited about training.  You should never go into a workout and then figure out what you're going to do; you should know exactly what you're doing and what you want to accomplish before you get started.  Goals increase focus and determination.

Training is not a place to be aimless and casual.  Steve believed you should work out with deep concentration and not socialize between each set.  Be a professional and take your workout seriously.  Socialize before or after training but never during.  All of your mental and physical energy needs to be applied to the workout.

Rule #4: Do leg exercises towards the end of your workout

Doing tough leg exercises such as the barbell squat at the beginning of a full-body workout is a big mistake.  The legs are your foundation and if they are fatigued from intense leg training, the upper body portion of the workout will suffer.  Beg to differ?  Try doing a few hard sets of barbell squats and then do a few sets of standing military presses.  You'll realize all too clearly what role the legs play in overhead pressing.

Doing all the upper body work first will get you warmed up for the tough leg work towards the end of your workout.  Here's the order Steve recommended for full-body workouts:  Work the deltoids first, then chest, lats, biceps, triceps, quads, hamstrings, calves, lower back, midsection, neck.  Take forty-five second breaks between each exercise set and two-minute breaks in between each muscle group.

Steve Reeves

Rule #5:  Exercise in opposition

Steve believed in pairing opposing muscle groups in order to ensure balanced development, tremendous pumps, and workout efficiency.  In other words, instead of doing three sets of the bench press and then moving on to the bent-over row, do the exercises back-to-back.  In other words, do a set of bench presses, wait a minute, and then do a set of the bent-over row.  Wait another minute and go back to the bench press.  Continue like this until all the sets are completed.

Rule #6:  Sets, reps, and breaks are determined by your goals

If your main goal is strength, do low reps of two to three for sets of five to six.  Take rest breaks of up to five minutes in between each set.  If you want strength and size, do sets of five to six for five to six sets with rest periods of two to three minutes.  For maximum size use the maximum weight you're able to do for eight to twelve reps with forty-five second breaks in between each set.  The only exercises that Steve trained differently were calves and abs:  for calves and abs, Steve did twenty to twenty-five reps per set.

Rule #7:  Practice Deep Breathing

Steve believed that deep breathing delivered more oxygen to the blood stream and increased the amount of the hormone epinephrine.  Epinephrine is a natural stimulant, which make one feel better and more energetic.  Steve didn't believe in simply exercising for big muscles and strength, but trained for overall health and certainly wasn't a muscle-bound bodybuilder who hyperventilates just walking up a flight of stairs.

In our super-hectic world, many of us live our lives in chronic tension.  When you're tense, you tend to be a shallow breather.  When you fail to breathe deeply you fail to get the maximum amount of oxygen into the blood stream.  It's no wonder so many people suffer from low energy and depression.  Make a point of breathing deeply as often as possible.  Breathe in through the nose to a count of four; hold your breath for a few seconds and then breathe out to a count of eight.  Take a walk first thing in the morning and breathe deeply during the entire duration of the walk--this is a great way to get energized for the day.

Steve ReevesRule #8:  Stretching is important but too much flexibility can be counter-productive

Steve said that while increased flexibility may decrease the chance of injuries, too much flexibility makes joints unstable and vulnerable to injury.  Yes, flexibility training, like any form of training, can be over done.  Steve also said one should never stretch while cold.  Thus, stretching before a workout isn't the way to go.  Stretch after a workout when you're naturally more flexible and less likely to create injury.

Rule #9:  Incorporate power walking for aerobic and mental health

For aerobic health and mental well-being, Steve was a big proponent of power walking.  While walking is hardly a hardcore form of exercise, power walking is definitely no joke.  One form of power walking is to take long strides and move as fast as possible.  Steve had trainees start by working up to walking a half mile in eight minutes.

Once that goal was achieved, the next goal was to gradually increase speed until the trainee could walk a mile in fourteen minutes.  The key with power walking is to continue increasing the intensity.  Walking up hills, wearing a weight vest, or holding on to some light dumbbells are all effective examples for increasing the intensity.

Regarding frequency, Steve recommended doing power walking four times a week for thirty minutes.  To get in shape walk two to three miles; to stay in shape walk one to two miles.

Rule #10:  Daily diet should be 60% carbohydrates, 20% protein and 20% fat.

Steve didn't follow any complicated nutrition regimens.  His carbohydrate consumption would be frowned upon in today’s low-carb fanatic society.  However, you can hardly argue with Steve's results.  In addition, his protein intake was far from the recommended two grams per pound of body weight espoused in many bodybuilding magazines today.  Another contrast is that Steve generally ate three meals per day.

For breakfast, Steve had a power shake consisting of orange juice; Knox gelatin; honey; a banana; some eggs; and a few tablespoons of protein powder.  For lunch, Steve had some cottage cheese with a handful of nuts and raisins, and some fresh fruit.  Steve's dinner was a big salad and some swordfish, turkey, tuna or beef.

Steve believed in eating real food and avoiding white sugar and white flour.  For a pre-workout energy boost Steve had a drink with some lemons and honey.  Finally, Steve recommended an interesting tip for ramping up energy for a workout:  many trainees focus on what they eat the day of a workout but Steve found that what you ate the day before had a great effect on the following day's workout.  Steve recommended a "pre-workout day" diet consisting of a good amount of complex carbohydrates.

For example, Steve suggested starting the pre-workout day dietary with a bowl of oatmeal combined with some almonds, apples, and raisins; then eat several bananas through out the day.  Later on, for dinner, have some whole-wheat spaghetti free of both meat and oil.  Have some more carbohydrates later in the day and get ready for a ton of energy the next day for your workout.  Maybe this explains why I had so much energy for my workouts after some excessive beer consumption the night before?

Next, how exactly did Reeves train to get so strong and powerful?  Lets take a closer look at one of his favorite training programs.

Sample Steve Reeves Full Body Workout

Monday:

  • Military Press
  • Bench Press
  • Bent-over Row
  • Barbell Curl
  • Triceps Extension
  • Parallel Squat
  • Standing Calf Raise
  • Dead lift
  • Crunch

Wednesday:

  • Alternating Dumbbell Military Press
  • Parallel Bar Dip
  • Pull-up
  • Alternating Dumbbell Curl
  • Triceps Extension Bench Press
  • Front Squat
  • Seated Calf Raise
  • Back Raise
  • Hanging Leg-raise

Friday:

  • Upright Row
  • Incline Press
  • One-arm Dumbbell Row
  • Concentration Curl
  • Lying Triceps Extension
  • Dumbbell Lunge
  • Standing Calf Raise
  • Dead lift
  • Sit-up

For the purpose of building as much muscle as possible, keep the rep range between 8-12 and do two to three sets per exercise.  Take forty-five second breaks in between each set and two-minute breaks in between each exercise.

Strength-focused Steve Reeves-Inspired Workout

Steve ReevesIf your main goal is strength, do five sets of two to three and take three-minute breaks in between each set and exercise. Of course you will have to cut out a lot of the exercises to avoid having to spend the day training. Here is a sample strength focused workout based on the Steve Reeves model:

Monday:

  • Military Press
  • Bent-over Row
  • Full Squat
  • Romanian Dead lift

Wednesday:

  • Parallel Bar Dip
  • Pull-up
  • Dumbbell Lunge
  • Dead lift

Friday:

  • Incline Press
  • One-arm Dumbbell Row
  • Front Squat
  • Glute/ham Raise

If you find that three workouts are too much, reduce the training to two workouts per week such as Monday and Thursday.  Do the exercises one at a time or pair them up in antagonistic fashion.  When you can do five sets with the same weight, add five pounds.

Strength and Size Steve Reeves-Inspired Workout

For maximum progress in size and strength, Reeves recommended doing five to six sets of five to six reps.  Considering the high amount of volume a reduction in exercises is critical.  More than likely a reduction in training volume will be necessary for most trainees as well.  Here's a sample strength and size workout based on the Steve Reeves model:

Monday:

  • Military Press
  • Bent-over Row
  • Full Squat
  • Romanian Dead lift

Thursday:

  • Parallel Bar Dip
  • Pull-up
  • Dumbbell Lunge
  • Dead lift

Take two to three minute breaks in between each exercise and either do one exercise at a time or pair up the exercises in antagonistic fashion.  When you can do five to six sets with the same weight, add five pounds.

Wrap-up

For trainees who want to have it all you can combine the above programs in a variety of ways.  One option is to spend one month building up as much strength as possible.  Then, spend a month building as much size and strength as possible and finally, spend a month working on maximum gains in size.  Another option is to combine all three options into one training program.

For example, on Monday do a size and strength workout; on Wednesday, do a maximum size workout; and on Friday do a strength-focused workout.  The possibilities are endless.  Give the Steve Reeves program a shot and let me know how it works out for you.

For more information on Steve Reeves, make sure you pick up his exceptional book, Building the Classic Physique:  The Natural Way at http://www.stevereeves.com

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    Mike has been a strength trainer and kettlebell instructor for over seven years and has taught workshops all over the US and overseas.
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Comments (5)

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Karl Pecora
Posted Fri, 03/08/2013 - 14:21

Great article/instructional piece Mike! I've been a fan of Steves since I was a teenager...I'm now 55yrs old and backin the gym after about 9-10yrs off. This training method is realistic and doable for even someone my age. I totally agree with Steve's plan. Diet and rest is of the utmost importance for anyone exercising period. I would love to hear more about Mr. Reeves routines and viewpoints on staying fit. I am also an admirer of Jack La Lane s...he was one of the best in the business and like Steve, a great inspiration to me.

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Butsch
Posted Sat, 04/06/2013 - 08:13

Sorry, but "For breakfast, Steve had a power shake consisting of orange juice; Knox gelatin; honey; a banana; some eggs; and a few tablespoons of protein powder. For lunch, Steve had some cottage cheese with a handful of nuts and raisins, and some fresh fruit. Steve's dinner was a big salad and some swordfish, turkey, tuna or beef."

this is not 60% carbs. That's mainly protein consumed.

From a low carb nut ;-)

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carlus
Posted Sat, 01/11/2014 - 15:48

it says "daily" and to me it seemed like they meant 60% for an entire day. NOT just breakfast. ! :D

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Rory
Posted Sun, 06/30/2013 - 07:13

Could I swAp glute ham raise for knee jump as have no machines?

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Rory
Posted Sun, 12/08/2013 - 11:49

Also surely bench press would be better for the strenght and size routine rather then chest dips ??

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