There can be only one—the most aesthetic male physique of all time. Nearly seven decades after he last posed on a dais, Steve Reeves is still champ. In fact, as a reaction against the modern bigger-is-better ethos, he’s only solidified his status. Today, the original Hercules is the archetype for the classic physique division. Long ago and with only simple tools and food, Reeves constructed history’s most perfect body. How did he do it, and what lessons can be applied to your workouts today?


He seemed like something conjured up in an artist’s workshop. Joe Weider effused, “Steve Reeves was the male ideal of physical perfection.” After witnessing the 21-year-old Reeves shortly before he won the 1947 Mr. America, a writer in Your Physique magazine (the precursor of FLEX) raved, “I, personally, proclaim him to be the finest specimen of American manhood I have ever seen in a kid of his years. He hasn’t a single weak spot in his make-up…He seemed from out of this world, just as though a super-man had suddenly appeared on a pedestal.”

When he won the 1950 Mr. Universe over future legend Reg Park, he was only 24, but the 6’1″ 220-pounder had reached the pinnacle of bodybuilding, competitively and aesthetically. Because his face was as perfectly chiseled as his physique, Hollywood noticed. However, despite a few small movie 
and TV roles, American producers never figured out what to do with someone so distractingly handsome and, by pre-steroid standards, colossal. Maybe he could play only a god. In 1957, Reeves traveled to Rome to star in what he thought would be just some Italian kid’s movie. But Hercules was a smash hit in Europe and, in 1959, in America, too, launching its star to international fame.

A successful sequel quickly followed, and so did a deluge of Italian-made, sword-and-sandal flicks, some starring Reeves, some starring other musclemen. Via big screens, Reeves became bodybuilding’s worldwide ambassador, even if few fans ever heard his real voice. A generation of boys, including a young Arnold Schwarzenegger, came of age wanting to be Hercules, and many spent their allowances on barbells. In the late ’60s, Steve Reeves retired with his wife to their California ranch. Though he died in 2000, he’s still celebrated for what many regard as the prototypical muscular physique.

Here are the 12 principles that turned a skinny teen into the best bodybuilder, a superstar, and enduring legend.