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What do aesthetics mean in bodybuilding?
Aesthetics is one of the words that captivate me most in bodybuilding.
I could tell you the dictionary definition – a pleasant physique to look at – but that doesn’t really cover it. It’s one of the most important ideas and one of the most important movements in recent times.
There are some parts of aesthetics that you can’t ignore – so we need to get right into those:
Aesthetic physiques will show a tight waist while presenting wide shoulders – the classic “V taper”. You don’t see this as much with modern bodybuilding – the aesthetics of bodybuilding have changed.
But the aesthetics movement is a reply to that: it’s not competitive bodybuilding, but it’s a return to classic bodybuilding physiques. When we look at those, it’s clear what they are all aiming at: the kind of classical proportions that we see with guys like Steeve Reeves – the father of classical bodybuilding.
I love Steve Reeves because he set the tone and inspired the generation of bodybuilders that inspire us today: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Frank Zane, and Franco Columbu. Without Reeves, bodybuilding wouldn’t be what it is today.
Example of aesthetic physiques
Let’s take a look at some examples of aesthetic physiques:
- Jeff Seid
- Frank Zane
- David Laid
- Serge Nubret
- Arnold Schwarzenegger
I think we can all agree that these are aesthetic physiques – and the inspirations for so many of us. They all have a tiny waist and wide shoulders. They are all lean with great muscular mass and definition with the grainy look pro-bodybuilders often talk about.
These are the guys we look to when we get a better understanding of aesthetics. They’re also all inspired by the simple aesthetic that Steve Reeves defined – he was the guy who made the V taper a popular goal and part of culture.
It’s important to remember that Steve Reeves’ physique came around at a time when guys like Charles Atlas were the gold standard. They’re both important for bodybuilding culture, but before Reeves it was about looking strong and blocky – but Reeves made proportions more important, rather than size alone.
That’s the importance Steve Reeves has for all of us: he defined the new era of body goals and empowered famous bodybuilders in a way that his predecessors hadn’t. It’s also important that people saw Reeves: he was a famous actor, and this helped spread his aesthetic physique to the regular person.
Is there a way to train for aesthetics? Can anyone reach aesthetics?
You can train for aesthetics, whoever you are. Genetics play a huge deal in the development of an aesthetic physique (you can’t change your insertions or the size of your hips, for example) – but you do control your muscle mass and bodyfat.
Everyone has weaknesses and strengths – especially as natural trainees. Look at Arnold Schwarzenegger when he was hiding his stomach on that specific pose, and how we all compensate for our own strengths and weaknesses!
He knew he had to show the best (his biceps) and what he had to hide to overcome his weaknesses (his stomach/abs). What’s also very important is being lean enough and if you compete to be in super ripped condition on stage!
It’s simple: some people have better genetics than others and will look more aesthetic with the same mass and conditioning. But you don’t have to have the same muscle mass and conditioning as anyone else – you control those factors, and you get better when you build mass, and you reduce your bodyfat.
Your body proportions and insertions are what they are – but proper training helps you get the best out of them. You can be a more aesthetic version of yourself, rather than worrying about the genetic size of your waist-hips, or the width of your shoulders.
Steve Reeves: A Natural Bodybuilder’s Role Model
Steve Reeves is one of my heroes – and has a natural physique that any natural bodybuilder should admire.
He developed these aesthetics without any of the culture or science we have now. Steve developed a great natural physique long before he could rely on Instagram or YouTube – or Natural Flex – to get into shape.
He achieved his physique with some of the methods that had been handed down from successful strongmen and weightlifters, and a lot of trial and error!
We will analyse his physique and then go and see how you can build a physique like Steve Reeves.
Obviously, you might not have the exact same physique in the end but you could have a comparable size and learn about your body morphology so you can work on your most important parts!
Was Steve Reeves natural or not?
I believe Steve Reeves was natural. Almost 100% sure. But if he was not, I believe his physique was achievable naturally.
Being completely honest, this type of physique takes time – and Steve Reeves built his physique over a decade. You have better information, better nutrition, and an easier road because guys like Steve paved the way for the rest of us.
You don’t need to be huge or too-shredded to look like Reeves. Steroids existed during Steve Reeves’ time, but his physique is completely naturally achievable – it just takes hard work and good dieting.
Remember: standing out from the crowd just requires some muscle mass and a low bodyfat %!
Steve Reeves’ aesthetic training workout program
We’re going to look at the training program to get Steve Reeves’ physique – and how we can modify it to get better.We will talk about the training program to get Steve Reeves’ physique. We will see how we can modify it and make it better.
Steve Reeves practiced a lot of inclined curls for his biceps as seen in this picture.
Inclined curls are probably one of the best exercises you can do for your biceps! Steve Reeves understood this early on and it’s why his arms are great.
Steve Reeves believed resting was very important – and perhaps more than your average bodybuilder now. Here is how his program appeared to be from different sources I’ve examined:
Let’s not forget Steve Reeves made his sessions very intense and there was quite a lot of volume involved each time he would train. His program could have been split in 5 or 6 days a week, but for him, doing full body workouts was better.
And you know what? There are always debates around what you should do and not do in bodybuilding. Truth is, everything works within the basics and good practices – it’s not a huge deal, as long as you’re getting the main things right.
What really matters is training smart, giving yourself plenty of recovery, and getting your sleep and nutrition habits right. You don’t need to worry too much about what kind of program – a full body or push/pull split – if you’re not an elite bodybuilder and you’re getting the rest right.
Respect the main factors – they’re basics because they determine whether you make gains or not. Good volume, good rest, simple nutrition habits, and plenty of sleep make up 80-90% of the results you’re looking for.
The rest is mostly down to personal preference, tweaking towards optimal levels of volume and rest, and suiting your training to your goals. You can worry about that when you look like Steve – but don’t worry too much as a beginner.
Here is a recap of the essentials to follow when you decide to get going with a workout program:
- Understand your current level of fitness/bodybuilding – don’t rush yourself to do an elite program when you’re a beginner or intermediate
- Good exercise selection, using a mixture of heavy compound exercises and smaller isolation exercise
- Understand what your diet should be for your current level
- Any training routine, as long as it’s done smartly – balance your rest, set out your priorities and build your workouts around them, and focus on what is most important to you
Seek progression and stick to your routine, you’ll become good at what you do the most! force it! Stop program-hopping and commit
Again, what matters is progression, and there are many ways to achieve it: reps, sets, exercise difficulty, and weight. Steve Reeves was progressing with a full-body work-out, no problem –which is a great thing to try as a newer bodybuilder.
The system is simple for most of us: start with the simpler workouts (full body), then progress into splits as you get more experienced and know what muscle groups need more attention.
Steve Reeves also focused on the mind-muscle connection and using perfect form to ensure that building muscle was progressing naturally. Once you’ve got these aspects right, progression and sticking to the same routine are key – as explained in this article.
What matters is that Steve Reeves was sticking to his perfect form and each time he’d work out would make sure he was super focused. Training was deliberate, it was specific, and it was consistent.
People will also often ask “Should I do slow or fast reps?”. The truth is, you can do whatever you want as long as you don’t keep changing the way you do things. Your progress only counts if you’re being consistent from session to session.
You need to stick to a way of doing things so you become good at it and can compare landmarks. How do you know if you progressed week to week if you switch how you perform a workout or exercise every time you do it? You can’t.
Closer to perfect form is a goal and something we always work towards. It’s not an excuse to never push the weight or try hard. If you’re too caught up with doing reps fast and incorrectly, as a bodybuilder, you’ll sabotage your own progress because you’ll not progress the weight or volume – the main drivers of muscle growth!
A more perfect form is something you aim at, but it shouldn’t prevent progress when you’re already moving well and safely. There are some factors you can’t afford to get wrong – like collapsing knees and rounded backs – but the rest is about a range of different levels of good form. Don’t be scared.
If you want to carry on with your set without cheating, use techniques like rest-pausing to get a few more reps out of your set and really push yourself forwards!
Steve Reeves’ diet
Steve Reeves’ diet was pretty straight forward. He had his Power Drink which he supposedly drank twice a day.
He was consistent with his diet so he knew what to expect from it. His diet mostly consisted in eating 60% carbs and 20% of fat and protein respectively. It is not what most of the natural bodybuilders will do these days but it worked for him. To be honest, high protein plans are often overrated nowadays in the fitness industry. The most important is to understand the calorie surplus/deficit and be pretty moderate in the nutrients repartition.
We could take a guess that for a 225lbs guy, he would need a good 2500-3000 daily calorie intake.
Steve Reeves probably was not counting his macros, or if he did so, he would then stick to the same diet as seen above. When you stick to your diet like you stick to your program, it is easier to have landmarks and know what you are doing if you want to start cutting – just try and burn more calories by training more intensely than usual.
Steve Reeves would mention he would go for more intense sessions in times he needed to cut or he would do more powerwalking. This makes sense. If he was sticking to the exact same diet, the calories intake stay the same. He would then just have to do more intense sessions to start seeing cutting results.
Example of modified Steve Reeves’ aesthetic training workout program for you to reach bodybuilding aesthetics
Your turn to become an aesthetic beast.
Your turn to become an aesthetic beast.
Unfortunately, you can’t always just follow someone else’s program and hope for the best. It’s built around their goals – and Steve Reeves paid close attention to his personal needs, changing things only when they needed to be adjusted.
One thing that we can learn from Steve Reeves is that he followed this program which worked for him – and probably can do for thousands of people!
If you are a beginner, you also probably need to put more focus into your movement practice and warm-ups. The main difference is that you’re going to be using less weight than Reeves and you don’t know the movements as well as he did.
Take this chance to build up that familiarity and build up consistent, effective form. Also try to learn about your morphology as soon as possible so you can also work towards perfecting your exercise selection as time goes
So here is how to proceed!
Answer these few questions:
- What level are you at now?
- How many hours a week are you comfortable training at?
From there whether you decide you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced – you can follow Steve Reeves aesthetic training workout program’s as following. Fortunately, it’s a short, simple set of workouts that you can use to build muscle and strength.
If you are starting, a full-body program like Steve Reeves can be great.
Make sure you are learning the movements well and focusing on form. It’s okay to go slow and build up the weight patiently, because your body is going to improve along the way. The strength and form practice is still building great muscle mass.
The goal really is to get used to it until you can become an intermediate. You can practice simple programs like this as you improve, and if you’re stalling early on it’s probably because of food and sleep – not the workouts.
The program indicates that we evolve within 8 to 12 reps, which is good for beginners who don’t want to get into strength training too quickly and take time to learn how to train first.
This is a simple program for intermediates, and it’s only going to work if you really push it. You need to be selecting weights where each set is near failure by rep 8, since it’s relatively low volume.
As an intermediate, you might know yourself and your body better. Consider adapting exercises and adding more sets to fit your needs. It’s a program that offers simple benefits, and it might be a good change of pace between more-brutal workout programs to focus on strength and muscle with lower volumes.
Try and see what exercises might fit you best than the ones explained in Steve Reeves routine. Keep the same training scheme but modify exercises if you think some will benefit you better or if some exercises weren’t offering big returns.
This program isn’t for you. Steve Reeves wouldn’t be considered advanced by anyone who was familiar with modern bodybuilding or strength training.
Advanced methods are beyond the simple stuff Steve was doing – it would still work, but not as well as others. When you’re advanced, it’s not just about does it work or not, but rather what works best.
As with intermediates, mentioned above, the main reason an advanced bodybuilder should use the Steve Reeves program is as a short, deload style workout plan. If you’ve just come from a brutal high-volume program, this change of pace can be effective for letting your body rest. However, I’d not recommend more than 4-6 weeks.
If you want to follow Steve Reeves routine regardless, feel free to make it more intense. Make sure these 8 to 12 rep ranges are making use of the heaviest weight you can perform them with. Add a few sets for each exercise. Alternatively, switch to a 5-day split routine and try to keep some similarities with Steve Reeves program – but adding in additional days for your personal weaknesses to bring up your aesthetics!
Thanks for reading this piece. Any questions, ask them below!