If you’re one of those guys who’s looking for max size ASAP, feel free to skip this article. But if you’re one of those modern bodybuilders who wants to incorporate as much of the old school physique ideals and philosophy into his training as possible, the following workout is exactly what you’ve been looking for. Here’s how to build the chest of Steve Reeves.
The old school values
Life was tough for old school bodybuilders. Back in the 40’s and 50’s, legendary bodybuilders such as John Grimek and Steve Reeves had limited access to designer drugs, fancy isolation machines and hordes of nutrition and training consultants to help them build the perfect physique. All they had were a room full of weights and plenty of willpower. These guys worked harder than you can imagine, yet their goal wasn’t to simply get as big as possible without caring what happens to their health and strength. In their day, the objective of bodybuilding was to sculpt athletic, muscular and healthy bodies that were exceptional examples of cardiovascular fitness and functional strength (imagine that!). These guys had great posture, big, lean muscles and a well-proportioned overall physique. Even though they most likely experimented with some sort of early testosterone based anabolic steroids (anabolic steroids were discovered in the 30s, but they weren’t prominent in bodybuilding circles until the 40’s), but drugs had a rather insignificant role in the bodybuilding lifestyle then, compared to their high profile today.
In the 40’s, Steve Reese became famous for his classic physique with a tiny waist, wide back, big arms and athletic legs. Schwarzenegger’s predecessor and idol became Mr. America in 1947, Mr. World in 1948, Mr. Universe in 1950 and then landed the role of Hercules in the 1958 movie. As bodybuilding progressed to where it is today, Steve Reeves became the ultimate poster boy for old school bodybuilding.
Steve Reeve’s chest
Have you seen Reeve’s chest? It certainly isn’t the most impressive one you’ve seen, but you have to admit that it actually looks really, really good. Since the ideal of the era was muscular symmetry and balance, Reeves didn’t train to become a monster, but rather to maximize the aesthetics of his physique. Therefore, his chest wasn’t the biggest one you could find, which was intentional, yet it fitted perfectly into his overall look and that was the point.
To develop his upper pecs, Reeves alternated between incline presses at a 45-50-degree angle and flat-bench presses every three months, and used both barbell and dumbbells. To enhance definition, he performed both straight-arm and bent-arm dumbbell flies, which he called “laterals” and “bent-arm laterals”, respectively. Finally, to sculpt his thorax area, he finished up his workout with breathing squats and breathing pull-overs (done with moderate weight while taking long, deep breaths). As he said himself: “To be most effective and to aid in the development of the thorax, the breathing should be full and deep throughout the exercise”. So for example, on a set of 20, he’d first perform five reps on one very deep breath, then go for ten reps on three deep breaths and finally he’d execute his last five reps on five breaths.
His pull-over routine allowed him to substantially increase his strength on presses, while ensuring that the overall size of his chest would remain in balance with the rest of his upper body. Also, the breathing pull-overs helped him suck his stomach in, which further accentuates the chest without it having to grow bigger. All in all, his chest training program was focused on developing and maintaining the amount of chest mass and definition needed to compliment his body composition, instead of building an enormous chest that would stick out on his well-balanced athletic physique.
Without any further ado, here’s Reeve’s chest workout that you can use to build your own steel-strong, well-proportioned chest:
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1. Incline dumbbell or barbell press: 3 sets x 8-12 reps
2. Flat-bench dumbbell or barbell press: 3 sets x 8-12 reps
3. Straight-arm dumbbell fly: 3 sets x 8-12 reps
4. Dumbbell fly: 3 sets x 8-12 reps
5. Breathing squat: 2 sets x 20 reps
6. Breathing pull-over: 2 sets x 20 reps