Posted on 24 Jun 2013
8 min read
A city in the north of England, famous for Leeds United Football Club, binge drinking and celebrity paedophiles.
However, in the mid-twentieth century, this old industrial town was put on the map for something other than booze, sex crime and a mediocre football team.
It was home to Reg Park – one of the greatest bodybuilding personalities the world has ever seen.
Park was a man who practically defined bodybuilding as we know it today, introducing many facets of the sport which we now take for granted.
His impressive pre-steroid physique, Herculean strength, dedicated work ethic, charismatic personality and incredible achievements, both on and off stage, have inspired generations of young men – most notably Arnold Schwarzenegger himself – to follow in his footsteps and become big ol’ hunks of muscle.
What follows is a tale of ambition, conviction, dedication, glamour, obscene amounts of food, and one man’s epoch-defining vision.
This is 100% British Beef – The Reg Park Story.
Please note, if you’ve come to this page via the Google search ‘100% British Beef’, you may be disappointed, as, despite some parallels, this is not a story about cattle meat or gay pornography.
Roy Park (later renamed ‘Reg’ after his father) was born on June 17, 1928.
As a young boy, Park excelled in athletics, notching up 10.3 seconds for the 100 yard dash, and football, where he played for Leeds United reserve team.
In 1946, however, he was sidelined by a knee injury.
While recovering, his interest in boydbuilding was piqued by a copy of ‘Strength and Health’ magazine which contained a picture of American bodybuilder Vic Nicolette in a lat spread pose.
This proved to be a defining moment for Park, and from this point on his mind was made up: whatever it took, he was going to build the best body on planet Earth.
Park’s early training conditions resembled a scene from the film Kes – a far cry from the roomy, well-equipped, air-conditioned gymnasium’s frequented by today’s crop of bodybuilders.
He began training in earnest in his parents’ back garden using dumbbells, a barbell and a simple chinning bar.
Naturally, training outside in the north of England meant one thing: sub-zero temperatures, pissing rain, and locals constantly fusing their definite articles with preceding nouns.
These austere conditions forced the young Reg to wear military boots and multiple layers of socks and sweaters to get the job done.
Lacking the equipment that nowadays we take for granted, Reg was forced to improvise, using, foe example, a sand bagas a makeshift bench to barbell press.
Reg Park’s career really began to take off when he won Mr Britain 1949 (he had finished 4th in 1946).
After this energising success, Reg’s dream to become to biggest man on the planet brought him to America, where oxen-sized figures such as Steve Reeves and John Grimek dominated the sport of bodybuilding.
It was here that the young man from West Riding Yorkshire met ‘Master Blaster’ Joe Weider, founder of the IFBB and Mr Olympia, who began featuring him on the cover of his bodybuilding magazine ‘Your Physqiue’ (later to become ‘Muscle and Fitness’).
In 1950, at age 22, Reg competed in the NABBA Amateur Mr Universe competition for the first time, coming in second to the inimitable Steve Reeves.
The next year, after a ‘murderous’ 3-hour-a-day training routine, Park won the competition with considerable ease.
He also went on to win two further Mr Universe titles in 1958 and 1965.
Park became an unstoppable force in the sport throughout the 1960s.
He developed a body the like of which had never been seen before; with its perfect blend of bulging size, sharp definition, symmetry, grace, and cock-sure confidence oozing from every pore, Park had carved a physique that was simply untouchable.
Indeed, standing at 6’2″ and competing between 230-250lbs, he was quite emphatically the biggest bodybuilder of the pre-steroid era.
Muscles were his business, and business was good.
Park was also the first bodybuilder to make the transition onto the silver screen, laying the path for the Hollywood musclemen that would go on to dominate Hollywood in the decades to follow.
Reg starred in five films between 1961 and 1964, four of which were ‘Sword and Sandals’ epics where he starred as Hercules.
In 1961, he appeared in ‘Hercules and the Haunted World’, where he starred alongside dirty wizard Christoper Lee.
Although all of these films were unequivocally terrible, without them it is unlikely we would have seen his disciple Schwarzenegger star in absolute classics such as Hercules in New York, Batman and Robin and Junior.
On a side note, perhaps Arnie’s pregnant gut in Junior is in some way responsible for the ballooning HGH bellies we seen paraded around the Mr Olympia stages today.
A great look, of course, provided you find pride in looking more like the fat armoured turtle from Mario Kart than an actual human being.
Reg Park touched many bodybuilders over the course of his career (figuratively, not sexually, the Gymtalk lawyers have advised me to add).
As I’ve mentioned already, Arnie used Reg Park as a template to shape his own career.
Seeing a picture of Reg on the cover of a bodybuilding magazine, the young Arnold decided that “he was so powerful and rugged-looking that I decided right then and there I wanted to be a bodybuilder, another Reg Park.”
Upon meeting his idol in 1968, Park invited Arnold to train with him and live with his family in South Africa.
They developed a strong friendship, and Park became a mentor and father figure to the young Austrian.
This relationship is touched upon in a deleted scene from the film ‘Pumping Iron’, which you can view below:
It was also Reg who convinced Arnold to pursue an acting career, urging him to star in ‘Hercules in New York’.
This was probably not the wisest advice Reg ever gave Arnold.
If you ever catch this film on television, DO NOT watch it, it’s one of the worst films ever made.
That’s unless you’re a homosexual anti-Semite with a penchant for toga-bound Eastern Europeans.
In which case you’ll probably have a few minutes of decent wanking material.
Anyway, I digress.
In 1970, Reg, now aged 42, competed against Arnold in the Mr Universe competition.
He was only narrowly beaten by his disciple, losing out to Schwarzenegger by just half a point.
Over the years, Arnie paid many touching tributes to Reg Park, but perhaps none more so than the speech he gave at the 1997 Arnold Classic where he presented his hero with a lifetime achievement award:
Reg Park lived through an era where bodybuilders trained more like strength athletes, which meant low reps and bloody heavy weights.
His philosophy – which we firmly adhere to here at Gymtalk – was that if you wanted to get big, you needed to get strong, a notion which has been lost in the deluge of chemicals, isolation exercises and hypertrophy nonsense which guide most of today’s aspiring bodybuilders.
As the man himself said:
I believe that from a bodybuilding point of view only physiques which have been developed by strength principles will bear the true characteristics of a champion physique, these characteristics in my opinion being maximum muscular size with definition and strength in proportion to one’s size.
And Reg was seriously strong.
He was the first bodybuilder – and the second person ever – to bench press 500lbs.
Park’ strength was, in part, fueled by the now famous 5×5 training programme, of which he was something of a pioneer.
However, Park’s 5×5 workout differed from similar routines today, such as the popular Stronglifts regime.
His workout was designed not to tax endurance, as the first two sets were warm-up sets at around 50% and 70%, and the rest between the last three sets ranged from three to five minutes in order to ensure full recovery.
He wasn’t someone that pissed around with 60 minute workout in order not to sacrifice growth hormones either.
He trained like a pneumatic erection, bulldozing his way through high volume workouts which often lasted up to two to three hours at a time.
If you’re interested in replicating Reg Park’s workout, you can find more details about his 5×5 programmes below:
These days, we are accustomed to bodybuilders fastidiously monitoring their diets.
As such, it might come as a surprise to some that Reg Park literally ate everything and anything.
And I mean everything.
Throughout his career, he shoveled down food like a hippo with the munchies, eating “like a king” 24/7.
His diet, per day, comprised gallons of milk, a dozen eggs, 4kg of steak, cakes, mounds of vegetables, and pints of Guinness.
His 5am morning meal, as recounted nostalgically by Arnold after his death, consisted of cornflakes sprinkled with protein powder.
In 1952, Reg Park married Mareon Isaacs, an ex-ballerina, in Johannesburg.
The newlyweds settled in South Africa where Reg, ever the shrewd businessman, went on to establish a chain of successful gymnasiums.
Reg Park died from skin cancer on November 22, 2007 at the age of 79.
Right up until his death, Reg continued to train clients at the Virgin Active Morningside Gym in South Africa.
He left behind two children, daughter Jeunesse, son Jon-Jon (a former Olympic swimmer and owner of Legacy Gym in LA) , and five grandchildren.
What Reg Park achieved, without the use of anabolic steroids, emphatically cements his place in the pantheon of bodybuilding immortals.
He is a testament to what the human physique can achieve without chemical enhancement.
His was a physique borne exclusively out of hard work, not a dependance on drugs.
Ultimately, like many of the greats, Park is someone who transcends his sport: he is not just an example of a great bodybuilder, but a visionary, a trend-setter, a thoroughly decent bloke, and a testament to the tenacity and beauty of the human spirit.
Incredible, he seems to have muscles in places where muscles don’t exist!
Great personality too, couldn’t imagine Branch Warren talking let alone acting in a film (however questionable the direction).
I dread to think what bodybuilders will look like in 50 years’ time, in many ways I’m glad Reg Park isn’t alive to see it!
Arnie used to have pictures of Reg plastered all over his walls, as that was what he aspired to look like.
Can you imagine any youngsters nowadays wanting to look like Ronnie Coleman or Jay Cutler?
Joe Winyards has/had posters of both Ronnie Coleman and Jay Cutler on his wall
Bodybuilders are advancing as quickly as technology, the clearly fabricated photos of bodybuilders we see online as a joke will probably be the reality in 50 years time.
Bring back the Park era!
Henry, this is a brilliantly rendered homage to the big man.
Thanks for the kind words!
Love what you guys have done.
Reg Park was my boss and taught me more than any magazine or DVD could hope to.
It’s inspiring watching his clips and reading his story, wow!
Hi Matthew, thanks for dropping by.
His story is truly inspiring!
Was he literally your boss – or do you mean this figuratively?!
Henry, nice article on Reg Park and funny too.
It is odd how the image of this man and emulating it can mean for some, the very opposite of his teachings.
Your own description of Reg was how I saw it and still do.
I knew then I could never be like him but he would remain the model.
My introduction to Reg and those of that age would inevitably coincide with my withdrawal from the sport to garage gyms etc, as the sports image too was feted to contrast with Reg’s.
I was lucky enough to meet Reg several times while he was still in his fifties and for a swansong I will going to the Arnold classic.
Hi James, thanks for stopping by.
He’s been a model for so many, including myself.
Whereabouts did you meet Reg? What did you speak about?
I used to know a powerlifter/bodybuilder who I met in the 90s in Hertfordshire named Leonard (Len) Wythe that I became friendly with.
He was in his mid 50s at the time but simply massive and musclebound at around 5’6″.
He told me he used to train with Reg Park heavily and even wanted to go into films the way Reg did also.
Even in his 50s this guy was enormous and a real neck snapper, but definitely had Reg envy.
Hi Adam, I think we’ve all had ‘Reg envy’ at one point or another.
What happened to this guy in the end?
Well he lives/lived in Stevenage.
I would imagine he is in his 70s by now.
Last time I saw him was around 2004 walking along the street and he was still a massive hulk even then and spoke to him for a bit.
I know he did not work for many years due to unemployment and so spent all his time pumping iron at home and would often wear tank tops etc to draw attention to his body and was always flexing for people.
I think he was just a little lonely at the end of the day.
I know he competed in a few physique competitions in the late 50s and early 60s before moving into powerlifting to get super strong and enormous.
The writer’s opening comments on binge drinking and celebrity paedophiles are a disgrace, and that’s a real shame as it spoils a very good article on Reg Park.
He could be your dad, he could be your dad, he’s Jimmy Saville, he could be your dad!
That email address clearly betrays your roots…
I’m 76 and the ‘Reg Park Journal’ was my bible.
Never met him but did own a set of ‘Reg Park’ weights.
Did meet Clancy Ross, a contemporary of Reg’s, when he visited the gym I used then.
He knew Jerry Crampton who was our gym star-man with a 3rd place in Mr Britain.
A long time ago but happy memories.
Hi Dan, thanks for dropping by and sharing your memories.
Ross was another Golden Era great and strong as an ox too – reputedly he could clean and jerk 360 pounds!
Reg Park has access to all the same drugs that Arnold and co had – he wouldn’t look anywhere near as good as Arnold without them.
It’s also strange that Arnold recommends a completely different style of training in his book the Education of a Bodybuilder than what his idol did.
Arnold was never a fan of using massive weight, instead using massive amounts of volume and low weight at a controlled steady pace.
Two different philosophies producing very similar bodies.
Hi Nick, thanks for your comment.
Personally, I don’t think Reg took steroids, and there’s no reason to doubt his word.
But, as you say, they were available at the time, so it’s possible.
But whatever your thoughts, it’s all speculation, so debate is futile, and completely irrelevant.
Regarding Arnie’s training methods, he certainly favoured volume as a pro-bodybuilder when steroids were coursing through his veins, but when he started out it’s a fact that he used full-body routines built around Reg’s 5×5 protocol.
I talk in more depth about this here:
Thanks for the great write up Henry.
I’d been looking for info on the man who’s gym I joined some 30 years ago and found it very informative!
Back in 1983/84 I spent a year in Johannesburg and joined Reg’s gym.
I’d get the 5:30am bus into Jo’burg and push weights each weekday morning before work.
Reg, in his 50s by then, was always there working out with a few buddies.
He was always helpful, putting together workout programmes and talking me through the equipment in his gym.
I will never forget one morning a large lass walked into Reg’s gym wearing shorts that displayed what she was intending to loose through some intense workouts.
Reg was not impressed.
He bellowed across the gym, which now had about 20 other blokes in there working out, “Get out and cover that body up! Don’t ever come in here looking like that again!”
Needless to say the poor lass scurried out and never returned.
I guess when you’re a previous Mr Universe and own your own chain of gyms you don’t need to be discreet about customer relations…
That said he was clearly dedicated to his craft and gave me some good programmes to work through.
Hi Allan, thanks for the comment, much appreciated.
LOVED that anecdote… no-one messes with Reg haha!
Hi, just thought you might like to know that Reg like Arnold was far from drug free.
He was introduced to steroids when he first went to the US.
I don’t mention this to knock you and your inspirational piece but simply to allow everyone to live in a world of realistic goals not based on misunderstanding and or lies.
Reg Park used steroids that’s why he was able to look so much better than those who came before him.
You speak with a lot of certainty – any sources to corroborate this conviction?
Very good article, however Reg Park died in 2007, not 1997 as the article states: “Reg Park died from skin cancer on November 22, 1997 at the age of 79.”
Thanks Edward, I have fixed this error.
Embarrassed it’s been there for so long!
A real inspiration even after his death.
Like your article well written and very humorous.
My late father Bill Crewdson was on the staff of the Reg Park Journal; in 1954 he spent a week at the Park home in Leeds, where he was offered a managerial position, but for family reasons didn’t take up the offer.
My father developed the original protein that was advertised in the mag.
Protein was available in the US, but Britain at that time was just coming out of rationing.
Health problems caused my father to stop writing, but he kept up a correspondence with Reg Park’s father for his lifetime.
I wasn’t aware that Reg Park’s father owned a barbell company before Reg started training.
He stated to my father, and I think in one of the mags, that he made his fortune selling fountain pens.
One correction, I think; Steve Reeves went into films before Reg, as Hercules.
Steve’s film career began about 1948 or 49, about the time he gave up competitive bodybuilding.
I thought all of Reg’s “Hercules” movies were well done especially “Hercules In The Haunted World.”
Those effects when the “ghouls” were flying through the air was amazing.
When I had it on tape I even replayed that part and slowed it down and it was still remarkable.
I only differ in this article in that Reg was not the first bodybuilder to bring his talents to the big screen.
That would be Steve Reeves in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” in 1953.
His first Hercules was in 1957 and 1959 “Hercules Unchained” which I saw when I was 6 years old in Detroit.
Reg was outstanding.
In fact I’m getting ready to watch “Hercules In The Haunted World” now on YouTube.
As I understand it, the first popular steroid was only at a testing stage in the late 50s, that being Dianabol, therefore as Reg was already at an advanced stage by then and already a Universe winner I doubt he needed it.
He may have used it later but surely the availability was not there then.
Either way, his methods work and any juice use is just cheating yourself, it all had to stop at some point.
Hi all, very interesting, I’ve just been trying to find out more about Reg Park (due to the fact I’ve inherited quite a few Reg Park weight plates).
My late father trained with John Lee’s near Manchester but I was always under the impression that he was friends (or rivals) with Reg Park.
Would anyone be able to shed any light on this for me please?