Posted on 07 Mar 2017
14 min read
We live in an age of instant gratification.
Whether your tastes are mainstream (the latest films and music) or more off-piste (vintage headstones, excremental sculptures, men playing banjos with their ballbags), so long as you’re connected to the internet you can find what you want in a matter of seconds.
As a society, we are now so impatient for immediate fulfilment that hurling your coffee mug at the wall and calling the barista’s mum a whore is seen as a reasoned response to a slower-than-normal wifi connection in Starbucks.
Never is this impatience more keenly felt than in the fitness industry.
Our mailboxes and social media timelines are constantly bombarded with products and routines promising quick results, and barely a day goes past on this blog without some chap from Mumbai complaining that his purchase of Serious Mass has yielded no muscle gain – even though he has only taken it for a week and neglected to lift any weights.
For many, anything requiring time, effort and patience is rejected in favour of shiny fads, shortcuts or ‘hacks’.
But it has not always been thus…
If you were a bodybuilding enthusiast in the 50s and 60s, a little more patience was required.
For starters, information about muscle building was sparse.
Bodybuilding was seen as a niche, underground pursuit, and admitting your interests lay in bulging pecs and swimming trunks was comparable to someone today conceding that they store naval fluff in a suitcase underneath their bed.
If you wanted to look like Steve Reeves in Hercules Unchained, you either had to jump on a bus to a neighbouring town where someone knew someone that had a barbell set in their cellar, or save up for months and send away for a mail-order course or magazine subscription.
Luckily, one person disseminating relevant info at the time was the reigning Mr Universe and future mentor to Arnold Schwarzenegger, Reg Park.
Having won everything there was to win in the sport of bodybuilding, including ‘Mr Britain’, ‘Mr Europe’, ‘Best Developed Athlete in America’ and ‘Mr Universe’, Reg had decided to don his business cap and enter the nascent fitness industry, providing everything from magazines and books to equipment and food supplements.
One of his most popular publications at the time was a pioneering, in-depth training manual which revealed the methodology he employed to win the coveted Mr Universe title.
This course was first published in 1953 under the title The Reg Park Mr Universe Barbell & Dumbbell Course: Mr Universe Training Methods Revealed.
Whereas Reg prescribed his 5×5 course Strength & Bulk Training For Weightlifters & Bodybuilders to those looking to bulk up as quickly and dramatically as possible, his Mr Universe course was the master routine he typically recommended to those chasing lean mass.
The principles prescribed therein formed a weight lifting doctrine that would influence generations of bodybuilders to come, including Arnold Schwarzenegger and his pre-steroid “Golden Six” training schedule.
Like all natural bodybuilders of the pre-steroid era, Reg Park advocated full-body training built around heavy compound lifts (squats, presses, rows, pullovers, etc) as the most effective way to build muscle mass.
The entire programme, as outlined below, runs for 32 weeks (eight months) and is broken down into four separate courses to provide exercise variety and prevent monotony (more on this later).
|The Two-Arm Press||1-3||8-10|
|Straight Arm Pullover||1-3||8-10|
|Toe Raise||2 (1 set for each leg)||10|
|Press Behind Neck||3||10|
|The Front Squat||3||10|
|Bent-Arm Arm Pullover on Bench with Barbell||3||10|
|One-Arm Rowing with Dumbbell||3||10|
|Wrist Curl with Barbell||3||10|
|Lateral Raise Standing||3-4||10|
|Straight-Arm Pullovers on Bench with Dumbbell||3-4||10|
|Toe Raise with Partner||4||30|
|Incline Bench Press with Dumbbells||3-4||10|
|Lateral Raise Lying||3-4||10|
|Dumbell Tricep Curl||3-4||10|
|Chinning the Bar||3-4||10|
|Incline Dumbbell Curl||3-4||10|
|Central Loading Curls||3-4||10|
|Sit-Ups on Abdominal Bench||3-4||10|
|Reverse Curls for Barbells||3-4||10|
|Press Behind Neck||3||8|
|The Front Squat||3||8|
|Bent-Arm Pullover on Bench with Barbell||3||8|
|Toe Raise with Partner||5||30|
|Incline Bench Press with Dumbbell||3||8|
|Flat Bench Press with Dumbbells||3||8|
|Over Tricep Curl with Dumbbell||3||8|
|Parallel Bar Dips or Lying Triceps Curl with Barbell||3||8|
|Seated Dumbbell Curl||3||8|
|Leg Raises on Chinning Bar||3||8|
Thanks for sharing – it’s much appreciated!
Each workout should be performed three times per week on non-consecutive days.
For example: Monday, Wednesday and Friday, or Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
It is imperative not to miss a workout as regular and consistent training will yield the best results.
Where set ranges are indicated (courses one and three), increase the number of sets performed during the duration of the course.
For the first course, perform one set for the first two weeks, two sets for the third, fourth and fifth weeks, and three sets for weeks six, seven and eight.
For the third course, perform three sets for the first four weeks and four sets for the second four weeks.
Reg advises, especially for beginners, gently easing yourself into the course, taking things as easily as possible at first.
This will help you avoid any undue stiffness or injury.
As such, to commence with select very light weights on all lifts which will allow you to perform all repetitions with ease.
Once you are able to complete the maximum prescribed reps per exercise for every set, increase the weight by 5lbs/2.5kg next session.
Although Reg was an advocate of “cheating methods” when training for power, the Mr Universe course calls for strict form and a full range of motion on all exercises.
Develop a tempo which is smooth and not jerky and maintain this tempo throughout.
Reg advises taking as much rest between sets as needed, depending on your recuperative powers.
For example, beginners training with lighter weights won’t need as much as those lifting heavy poundages.
As a general rule, two to three minutes rest should be ample.
Inhale deeply through the mouth at the commencement of each repetition and exhale upon its completion.
In lifts such as the press, which have two distinct phases of effort, carry out this method of breathing for each effort.
This manner of breathing will enable you to achieve maximal results by fulfilling the body’s greater demand for oxygen.
As far as diet goes, Reg simply advocates a well-balanced, protein-rich diet made up of natural foods.
For those looking to lose body fat or maintain a lean physique, Reg advises omitting or greatly reducing the intake of potatoes and heavy starches as well as milk, cream, chocolates, sweets and all liquids except water.
To optimise muscle growth your body requires plenty of rest.
As such, training only three times per week on non-consecutive days is advocated.
Endeavour to get a minimum of eight hours sleep every night, avoid late nights, and abstain from any strenuous exercise on rest days.
In addition, Reg has built two full weeks of rest into the eight month course, as he was a firm believer in the long-term benefits of getting away from the gym every few months.
This allows the trainee to completely recover – both physically and mentally – and avoid a “rut” in their training.
Keep a notebook to record progress.
As well as jotting down your poundages for each session, use it to record your personal measurements.
Reg Park’s Mr Universe Course is a tough, old-school full body routine which harks back to a time when getting in shape wasn’t about quick fixes, gimmicks and instant results.
With this course, Reg has you working through four intense training blocks over a period of eight months.
Like his 5×5 routine, The Mr Universe Course draws on all the key elements of Reg’s muscle-building gospel: full-body training, heavy compound movements, progressive overload, plenty of exercise variety, emphasis on rest and recovery, and a balanced and plentiful diet.
Indeed, as Reg himself points out:
The most important factors which govern results in weight-training are a good well balanced diet, plenty of rest and sleep, a tranquil mind particularly during training, and the most important item a sound a well balanced course such as the one I have prepared for you.
Plus, make no mistake, this is a lengthy, volume-intensive course which demands patience and diligence in addition to hard work.
And while eight months of The Mr Universe Course won’t transform you into Reg Park, consistently following these training principles for years – ideally decades – will take you close to your genetic muscular potential.
And that’s precisely why this slow-and-steady approach to building muscle has fallen out of vogue; in today’s “I want it now” climate, it’s about as marketable as a political dating app fronted by a shirtless Boris Johnson.
Case in point: while your modern-day lifter would happily shell out £50 for a “30 Day Muscle Detox Explosion Bible” by DJ Gavin Spunkblast, this eight-month routine, a tried-and-tested muscle building programme from one of the world’s finest natural bodybuilders, would no doubt elicit the baffled expression of a pensioner attempting to Skype their grandkids using a microwave oven.
“But eight months is too long – you need to shock your muscles and mix things up every two weeks!”
“Far too much volume – have you not heard of overtraining?
“Why is there no dedicated day for arms?”
These are the same guys you’ll see in 12 months time life lifting exactly the same poundage and spouting exactly the same garbage (only their allegiance has changed to some “legend” from Geordie Shore as DJ Gavin Spunkblast is now serving a suspended prison sentence for molesting a minor).
All in all, if you’re new to lifting weights, or tired of making little-to-no progress, The Mr Universe Course is a great place to start (or start anew).
It eases you in with single sets and advances gradually in a progressive overload fashion (steadily increasing weekly volume) while incorporating plenty of compound exercises and drawing on all the elements needed to build slabs of muscle.
And yes, come the fourth course you’ll be performing a time-consuming 40+ sets per session, but before you start spouting your “I don’t have the time” excuses, bear in mind you’ll only be working out three days a week, so setting aside a few extra hours shouldn’t be that difficult.
Here’s an idea: why don’t you just get up and hour earlier on training days, and, while we’re at it, maybe spend less time aimlessly scrolling up and down Facebook, cycling through banal updates with the dead-eyed, vacant expression of a high school chemistry teacher attempting to explain atomic structure to a class more intent on discussing the best way to perform a blow job.
After eight months of this routine, I would suggest following Reg’s 5×5 course, which will allow you to further build on the foundation of muscle and strength established by this course, while exposing you to a more taxing, CNS intensive protocol.
Although long out of print, this course has recently been reproduced by Bill Hinbern over at Super Strength Training.
The complete course, including two books and six large wall posters illustrating every exercise, can be purchased here.
If you’ve tried Reg’s Mr Universe routine or his 5×5 programme or you’re thinking of giving them a go I’d love to hear from you.
Get in touch with your comments or questions below or via social media.
Love these old school workouts.
Hope more are on the way!
Thanks Greg – expect a lot more where this came from!
Love these routines especially the way they make you commit!
Could you give some clarification on some of the move names?
Like is the 2 Arm Press just a bench press?
And what move exactly is neck resistance?
The two hand press is basically a push press over head, from the old school “2 hands anyhow” lift.
These flat out work.
I’ve followed the Reg Park 5×5 for nearly a year now, and I am not a beginner.
In that time, I have increased my lifts beyond anything else I had done.
I’ve had to switch to a 2 day split now, because dealing with such heavy weights for total body, for me, is impractical.
However, that being said, I apply these principles to what I do now, striving to either continue to increase weight, or increase reps.
Strength, power, and muscle are all about the long game.
Keep these old school workouts coming Henry.
Reg Park was ridiculously ahead of his time.
Some of the exercises that he (and Arnold) did religiously have all been forgotten, but they worked back then and still work today assuming the people use proper weight and proper form.
Shouldn’t we all be doing that already though?
I really like this blog, thanks for the advice, I will be keeping an eye out for more updates!
You cannot beat old school blood and sweat… no supplements, easy lifting machines, just iron and sweat lol…
Great write up Henry!
Great Blog, great message, and thanks for all the valuable advice.
Thank you so much for sharing.
Thanks Pompi, appreciate the comment!
Really nice write-up.
I’ve been quite interested in these more old school routines from the likes of Reg Park and Steve Reeves lately.
I’ve noticed that they were pretty big on pullovers, usually done directly after squats.
Wonder what their reasoning was for that.
Keep up the good work man!
The old-school crowd believed – and still do – that the combination of squats and pullovers, with a focus on deep breathing, helps to expand the rib box.
The bigger the rib box, the more mass you could add to your upper body.
A bit of old-school bro science – but the combination of these two exercises is certainly effective nonetheless!
They work, and well.
You don’t even have to go heavy, but the trick is you absolutely have to get a deep stretch.
I feel like these have done wonders for my upper body in terms of density, as I can just about balance a water bottle on top of my upper pecs/front delts.
If you hit them right, they hit the lats, traps, neck, rear delt, front delt, inner pec, tricep, bicep, and even a bit of core work as well.
Another huge proponent of them was Arthur Jones, the (in)famous creator of the Nautilus workout system.
In the Colorado Experiment, with Casey Viator, he did a lot of heavy negatives on pullups, pullovers, etc, using machines, as he fully believed the slow negative is what actually builds the muscle.
Almost no one does them anymore, as they are afraid they will simply rip their arms right out of the socket, but don’t be afraid of that, just don’t go crazy and use good form.
I haven’t used this particular system just yet, but I’ve been using the 5×5 system for a year now, and I may migrate to this for a while, just to see if I can elicit a better hypertrophy while I cut back on weight a bit.
Careful, Robert, or you’ll end up with tits like an old Leroy Colbert!!
And at 50 years old?
They’ll work whatever your age.
Can u please tell me that what are central loading curls?
I’m not tech savvy.
So is there a search bar where I can search through older posts from before the website changed?
I’m looking for your squats and milk/20 rep squat routine.
Great routine, great article.
Currently there’s a search bar on desktop but not mobile, however I’m working to fix this and make the site more navigable in general.
The 20 rep squat article can be found here:
I’m about 6 weeks into the routine.
The first couple of weeks are pretty much just getting the poundage pegged correctly.
The volume steadily increases.
I push absolutely every set to the max.
I can tell you done right, with real effort, it’s an amazing routine.
It is difficult.
I say this after having done GVT for 4 months, near 100 squats @ 75% bodyweight.
Purchased the course from Bill Hinbern.
Who by the way just sent out a link last week to a website full of old school articles, videos, etc (requires membership).
There’s some great stuff on that website – I ordered a load of Reg Park material last year, need to get round to going through it all at some point.
Do come back and let us know how you got on once you’re done with the fourth course, would be interested to hear your thoughts.
Love this blog!
One question though… I’ve been working out for 6 months now, unfortunately split training in 4×8 range and now I want to change that!
Given my history, would you recommend this course or the 5×5 with the 3 phases or even the 5×5 for beginners?
Greetings from Germany.
Go with Stronglifts 5×5 or Starting Strength, these are the best novice routines in my experience.
Pretty interesting, always nice to see what the old school bodybuilders did!
Thanks for the comment, glad you enjoyed it!
I like this old school workout.
32 weeks is quite the challenge, but the way this is laid out makes it easy to follow.
The no fluff exercises are golden.
Great write-up Henry.
Thanks Jeff, let me know how you get on if you decide to try it!
How about the warm-up for this course?
Did Reg Park advise something in that regard?
I would love an answer.
Is Tony Horton’s P90X a better routine than anything Reg Park created?
I think cardio and stretching is very firm to inclusion with full body old school lifts.
This really depends on what your goal is.
This routine is designed to build muscle and size, and it’s therefore completely different to something like P90X, which is very cardio-focused.
If I do the Alan Stephan bulk, should I do this next but skip course 1?
And start on course 2?
Your article is valuable for me and for others.
Thanks for sharing your information!