Original Hercules Steve Reeves Did This Workout to Pack on Muscle

If you’ve ever torn down a wall in an old house, you know you were hoping for it: a bundle of cash, a priceless work of art, or even bars of gold. Owners of one Oakland house had something no less historic behind their garage walls—the workout of a golden age bodybuilder.

Before there was Arnold or The Rock, there was Steve Reeves: The 1950 Mr. Universe’s physique—still considered “the most aesthetic of all time”—helped him become the biggest box office draw in 25 different countries by the late 1950s, playing classical heroes like Hercules and Aeneas.

The workout that built his mythic body remained hidden behind the walls of his childhood home until George Helmer, the founder of the Steve Reeves International Society, unearthed it like a gym rat Indiana Jones. Peeling back the drywall, he found 15 exercises scrawled in black pencil on the underlying wood. Try this workout—Reeves’ original—and chisel your own legendary physique. Perform 3 sets of each exercise.

Exercise 1: Barbell Cleans:

1. Stand holding a barbell in front of you with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than your shoulders. Keeping your weight in your heels, bend at your hips and knees so the bar hangs in front of your knees. This is the start position.

2. From here, explode up: You’ll shrug your shoulders and bring the bar up in a straight line to your shoulders and you flip your wrists so you catch the bar in front of your collar bones.

3. Return to the hanging position, and repeat. Young Reeves did 7 reps in each set.

Exercise 2: Overhead Press:

1. Hold a barbell with an overhand grip at or slightly narrower than your shoulders. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and brace your core and squeeze your butt.

2. Keeping your torso upright, press the barbell overhead until your arms are straight.

3. Pause, the slowly lower back to the starting position. Perform 10 reps per set.

Exercise 3: Barbell Curl:

1. Stand holding the barbell with an underhand grip slightly wider than shoulder-width.

2. Squeeze your butt and flex your abs throughout the movement to keep yourself from swinging your hips.

3. Bend your elbows to bring your hands up to your shoulders. Return to start, and repeat. Perform 15 reps in each set.

Exercise 4: Bench Curl 15 reps

1. Sit on a narrow bench with dumbbells at your sides, palms facing forward.

2. Brace your core so you don’t swing, and curl the dumbbells up to your shoulders as you keep your torso upright.

3. Return to start, and repeat. Perform 15 reps in each set.

Exercise 5: Bent-Over Row

1. Deadlift the weight off the ground (see above) so you stand holding the bar in front of you with an overhand grip, feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent.

2. Push your hips back like you’re opening a door behind you with your butt. This starts the hip hinge.

3. Keep pushing your hips back so that your back remains flat until it is nearly parallel to the floor with the weight hanging straight down from your shoulders.

4. Maintaining this flat back position, pull the weight towards your chest.

5. Lower the weight back to the starting position, and repeat. Perform 10 reps in each set.

Exercise 6: Bench Press

1. Lie faceup on the bench and grab the bar with an overhand grip just wider than shoulder-width. Push your heels into the floor and unrack it, holding the bar above your sternum with straight arms.

2. Brace your core and bend your elbows to lower the bar to your chest. Your elbows should stay close to your sides, forming a 45-degree angle rather than a wide, “T” shape.

3. Pause for a beat, then press back to start. Perform 10 reps in each set.

Exercise 7: Squat

1. Stand in a normal back squat position, barbell across your shoulders, feet between shoulder- and hip-width apart, toes slightly out.

2. Push your hips back to initiate the squat.

3. Bend your knees to descend until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor, keeping your chest up and your weight on your heels.

4. Keep the weight of your body in your heels and press back to standing. Perform 20 reps in each set.

Exercise 8: Barbell Pullover

1. Lie perpendicular to a bench, with your upper back on the bench, knees bent 90 degrees. In this position, hold a barbell over your chest with slightly bent elbows and an overhand grip.

2. Lower the bar over your head until your arms are even with your shoulders—as if they’re overhead when you’re standing.

3. Bring the bar back to start. Perform 40 reps in each set.

Exercise 9: Good Morning

1. Stand with the barbell over your shoulders as if you’re performing a back squat.

2. Pretend there’s a door behind you that’s ajar, and you want to bump it closed with your butt. Bump the door to push your hips back—this initiates the hip hinge.

3. Keep pushing your hips back and keep a natural curve in your spine as you lower your torso forward until it’s parallel with the floor.

4. Squeeze your butt and stand back up. Repeat for 20 reps in each set.

Exercise 10: Lateral Raise

1. Stand with your feet together, dumbbells at your sides, palms in.

2. Keeping your torso upright, lift the dumbbells out to the sides until your torso and arms form a “T” shape.

3. Control the weights as they return to your sides, and repeat. Perform 30 reps in each set.

Exercise 11: Upright Row

1. Note: This exercise causes shoulder impingement for more than 60 percent of people. Consider skipping it. But if you want to do it, stand with the bar in front of you, holding with a shoulder-width, overhand grip.

2. Pull the bar up to your neck, leading with your elbows and allowing your wrists to flex.

3. Return to start, and repeat. Do 10 reps per set.

Exercise 12: Front Raise

1. Hold dumbbells in front of your thighs with an overhand grip. Pull your shoulder blades back and down, and brace your core and butt.

2. Raise the dumbbells up and forward until your hands are at shoulder level.

3. Return to start, and repeat. Perform 10 reps in each set.

Exercise 13: Dumbbell Bench Press

1. Lie faceup on the bench and hold dumbbells over your chest with an overhand grip. The dumbbells should almost be touching.

2. Brace your core and bend your elbows to lower the weights to the sides of your chest. Your elbows should stay close to your sides, forming a 45-degree angle rather than a wide, “T” shape.

3. Pause for a beat, then press back to start. Perform 10 reps in each set.

Exercise 14: Barbell Triceps Extension (Skullcrusher):

1. Lie faceup on a bench holding the bar over your chest with a narrow, overhand grip.

2. Keeping your upper arms perpendicular to the floor and pinned to your sides, bend your elbows to bring the bar towards (and slightly behind) your head.

3. Return to start. Do 15 reps in each set.

Exercise 15: Situps:

1. Perform classic situps. Do 20 reps in each set.

This workout is an excerpt from The Workout Bucket List: Over 300 Life-Changing Races, Epic Challenges & Incredible Hikes, Bikes, Lifts, and Runs Around the World, In Your Gym, or Right in Your Living Room, available April 26 wherever books are sold.

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