In the modern era of bodybuilding filled with extensive scientific research, state of the art supplementation, all kinds of isolation machines and thousands of fad training routines, it would seem that the pillars of old-school bodybuilding have been totally forgotten. If you were to go back 60-70 years into the past and enter a gym, you would have seen a completely different place than today’s modern gyms.
You wouldn’t find anyone following so-called scientifically proven split routines, no silly amateurs chugging some kind of pre-workout, and then proceeding to do endless repetitions on the leg curl machine, whilst listening to some motivational music mix on their phone and looking the same months or years on end. Instead, people who went there followed some simple and basic principles of their idols from the Golden era. The reason for this is simple – these principles work.
In the era before the widespread use of s******s, high-volume training, and the “Weider principles”, professional bodybuilders like Peary Rader, Reg Park, and Steve Reeves built their bodies by doing full-body workouts and training as hard as possible on a small number of basic compound exercises at every single training session.
During those days, the bodybuilders’ main goal was building a body that was healthy, athletic and functionally strong at the same time instead of getting a huge pump by doing 4×12 on the pec deck machine. Their main guiding principle was, as Reg Park himself said: “If you want to be bigger, you need to get stronger.”
Among these incredibly strong old-school bodybuilders, there was a man called John Grimek, which is up to this day lauded as a true icon of bodybuilding who pioneered many of what are today deemed bodybuilding’s basic principles.
Who was John Gimek
John Grimek, who by the way has never lost a bodybuilding contest in his entire career, was bodybuilding’s biggest name during the 30s and the 40s, twice winning the prestigious AAU Mr. America. He was regarded as one of the greatest bodybuilders that ever lived by the legendary Steve Reeves, a worthy praise considering it came from Hercules himself.
Besides having a spectacularly muscular and aesthetically pleasing physique, John was, like all the great bodybuilders of the Golden era, also incredibly strong and his physique matched this. In 1936 Grimek competed for the US in the now infamous Berlin Olympics and at one point in his career, he held the American and World Record for the Press (Overhead).
In this article, we will take a closer look at John Grimek’s full body workout, which was one of his all time favorite muscle building workouts. This routine is based on his main principles for gaining strength and building muscle mass.
John Grimek’s workout – a full body routine
John Grimek’s workout – a full-body program presented below was published by Grimek after his retirement from competitive bodybuilding and is based on a limited number of compound exercises, but also has a range of single-joint isolation exercises. This program also uses the now very common 3×10 workout protocol, and Grimek was on one of its first-ever proponents:
Bench Press: 3 sets x 10 reps
Chin-Ups/Pull-Downs: 3 sets x 10 reps
Overhead Press: 3 sets x 10 reps
Dumbbell Curls: 3 sets x 10 reps
Squats: 3 sets x 10 reps
Standing Calf Raises: 3 sets x 10 reps
Incline Barbell Press: 3 sets x 10 reps
Barbell Row/Dumbbell Row: 3 sets x 10 reps
Shrugs: 3 sets x 10 reps
Single-Arm Preacher Curl: 3 sets x 10 reps
Leg Curl: 3 sets x 10 reps
Abs: 1 set x 50 reps
Chin-Ups/Pull-Downs: 3 sets x 10 reps
Overhead Press: 3 sets x 10 reps
Incline Dumbbell Curls: 3 sets x 10 reps
Front Squats: 3 sets x 10 reps
Stiff-Legged Deadlift: 3 sets x 10 reps
Workout program important notes
This full-body program should be done only 3 days a week, which will allow you to optimally recover and grow during the rest days. Remember, one of the pillars of bodybuilding is that you allow your body to properly recover because it is during the recovery phase that muscle growth occurs. That’s why you need to train hard and then give yourself some resting time to grow.
Don’t rest too much between sets and keep the training intensity high. Grimek suggested that lifters rest between 45 seconds to 1 minute between sets and between 2-3 minutes between different exercises.
Good form is essential and Grimek was a huge proponent of keeping good form. All repetitions should be done in a slow and controlled manner and you should keep doing reps until you can no longer maintain a good execution form. Swinging, bouncing or jerking the bar or the dumbbell will only hinder your progress.
As with any other bodybuilding program, diet is just as (if not more) important as what you’re doing in the gym. If you want to do the same thing Golden era-lifters did, you should fuel your training by consuming large amounts of red meat, whole milk, eggs, honey, nuts, and fruits.
You may think that John Grimek’s workout routine is a somewhat outdated or oversimplified training program, and yet, results speak for themselves. Hundreds of people have tried these old-school full-body routines and they have found them to be the most effective thing they have tried.
By training hard on the basic compound exercises and getting lots of rest and clean, healthy food, you will gain muscle size and strength rapidly, the same way lifters those days, long before s******s entered the sport.
As Grimek himself said when asked what advice he could give to beginner lifters, all one needs to do is: “Train regularly 2-3 days a week and add weight to the bar whenever you can handle and get lots of rest, eat clean food and drink lots of water.”
That’s why there’s no need to over-complicate things, just keep them as simple as possible. We should keep in mind that every single title-winning bodybuilder training in the era before steroid use built their bodies by using the aforementioned principles.
Additionally, the good thing about this full-body routine is that it’s a lot more doable, or shall we say, achievable compared to other Golden era full-body programs that have also been published. For example, many of Steve Reeves’ full-body routines, had over 40 sets, which might be a lot for someone who isn’t a professional bodybuilder. With the routine presented here, you will be doing between 16-18 sets in one training session, which would usually take you around an hour to complete.
John Gimek’s full body workout program is extremely effective for building muscle mass, gaining strength and sculpting a well-proportioned and functional physique. If you have been doing a standard body part split routine for some time now (these programs are typically used by pro bodybuilders who are taking anabolic s******s) and still struggle to see noticeable results, why not give this program a try and see how it works for you. If you eat well, sleep well and get lots of rest it is guaranteed that you’ll see great gains following this routine.
The two pictures in the thumbnail for this articale are of Jack LaLanne (on the left) and George Eiferman (on the right). Not sure if this was intentional; both are routinely mistaken for John Grimek (along with Clancy Ross).
Thanks for noticing. It’s fixed now !
These routines work and are sustainable for the long haul.
Additionally, perfect for athletes because the routine won’t burn you out and you can train your sport specific drills on alternate days or on the days you lift so long as there are a few hours in between workouts.
Wayy to many training programs out there especially these quick fix 90 day solutions that only serve to confuse people.
KISS always works.
I’ve implemented John’s routines into my Martial Arts training entitled Lift, Run, Defend.
Lift covers strength and muscle.
Run covers cardio and a side benefit self defense.
You have to be able to run away from trouble if possible.
Defend covers only practical MA techniques that are reliable when needed.
Lift 3 days, Run 2, Defend work 2.
Lift session running 45-60 minutes, no more.
Run 20-30 minutes
Defend day 60 minutes
1 day of total rest.
3 weeks on, 1 full week off, and when I restart I up the weights on lifting days.
Reeves’ full body, 40 set workout, was a precontest training routine that he used for brief periods of time (4-8 weeks). Like Gironda’s 8 X 8, it is unsustainable over a long period of time.