Reeves posing for Powerwalking book at his ranch in Valley Center.
Former University of California Irvine sprinter and current high school track coach Kira Helmer performs Powerwalking at Newport Beach.
Steve with his dog Shep on ranch in the early stages of developing Powerwalking.
Steve's life-long interest in physical fitness led him to develop the principles of Power Walking. He now uses that method of exercise to maintain his physique and well-being.
In 1982, Steve authored a best-selling book entitled "Power Walking" that many, many critics admired. The book has long been out of print but due to demand, we're pleased to announce that a new edition - with updated information and insights from Steve - is due for release in the Spring of 2014!
The following is an excerpt from the Society's April 1995 newsletter where Steve talks with well-known fitness writer John Little about the origins and concept behind Power Walking.
JOHN: Just how did you create Power Walking?
STEVE: Well, I wanted to do something that in no way would be jarring or damaging to the knees, because I was getting bad knees from running. So I thought, "Well, I think I'll use the progressive resistance principle instead of just using my bodyweight over a certain (mile or so) distance. I'll add a little weight to it and move it (my body and weight) over the same distance and get the same results."
I developed it almost accidentally as an aerobic exercise. I was training my Morgan horses to walk out real fast and had a couple of them trained very well. That's when some friends of mine said, "You know the country, why don't you lead us on a trail ride from Anza to Borrego Springs (which is about 30 miles through the mountains and desert)?" So I thought "OK. I was in good shape and my horse was in good shape, but these other riders were not in very good shape: they only came out on weekends to ride, and their horses were not in that great of shape." Now, to make it easier for them, I conducted the ride cavalry-style, where you ride for 50 minutes and get off and walk beside your horse for 10 minutes.
When I got off my horse to walk, he (the horse) started walking out real fast; I had to lengthen my stride to keep up and was doing pretty well. But, I felt a little off-balance. I started swinging my free arm (the best I could). I was doing OK except when I was getting breathless. So I thought, "Well, I'll do rhythmic breathing." I would breath in for three steps, out for three steps, in three, out for three - it felt great! After the 10 minutes, I stopped and looked around; the rest of the riders were about a mile behind me. I thought, "Hey, this is a great aerobic exercise!" I mean I felt good, my heart was beating a little faster but not too fast ... you know; it was accelerated but not to dangerously high proportions.
My next phase was walking up hills, and then mountains, until I got in such shape that the mountains felt like hills and the hills felt like I was on the level. So then I thought, "Well, I've got to add weight to my body," and so I started adding ankle weights and waist weights and hand weights. I worked up from 1 pound in each hand to ten pounds in each hand - but ten was too heavy, it interfered with my stride. So I broke it down to 5 pounds and I've found that's the best. A person shouldn't walk with more than 20% of their bodyweight; 10% around the waist, and the rest pided between the wrist and the ankle weights.
JOHN: Would you be the "pioneer" in that particular field? Because I've seen other people come out with weights (i.e., "Heavy Hands") and courses trying to copy what you've originated.
STEVE: Yes, I am the sole pioneer in that field. They've copied my concept. I definitely came out with it before they did and I can prove it.
JOHN: Good, because I think it should be made clear on principle that you invented POWER WALKING, and that they merely copied it.
The newly revised edition of "Power Walking" is available for sale in our online store in both paperback and a limited edition hardcover.
You can also find information on Power Walking can be found in Steve's book "Building the Classic Physique - the Natural Way".
When Steve launched his book on Powerwalking this was one of the ads which also shows his Hand-E-Weights.
Steve giving Powerwalking demonstration at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base outside Oceanside, California.
Steve and Ms. Gardner down at San Diego Bay doing some Powerwalking early 1980's.
Rare HAND-E-WEIGHT set Steve sold for $48.75 in the early 1980s
Single plate (with original Reeves’ design) given to SRIS members as a paperweight
HAND-E-WEIGHTS enclosed literature
Muscle & Fitness Magazine, May 1983
Thank you note from Good Morning America
With TV host Gary Collins
Demonstrating necessary stretching exercises before powerwalking
Muscle & Fitness Ad, December 1983
Steve in New York City’s Central Park, circa the mid-1950s
His Best Foot Forward – Powerwalking Rebooted
“Powerwalking is an ideal supplemental exercise for the bodybuilder. It works on the progressive resistance principle, is performed at high intensity, creates an aerobic effect, burns fat and provides the detailed muscular cuts every bodybuilder strives for. Powerwalking is also virtually injury-free. It doesn’t have the up-and-down, injury-causing jolting motion which you encounter while jogging. When Powerwalking, you take a smooth progression of steps with one foot remaining on the ground at all times”. - Steve Reeves
While Steve was making his films overseas in the 1960s, he was quite an avid runner. It was not unusual for him to run a sub-5-minute mile back then. But an ankle injury on his last film, 1968’s A Long Ride from Hell, prevented him from ever attaining that pace again. So he had to look elsewhere to stay in shape without getting injured.
In the May 1983 issue of Muscle & Fitness magazine, Steve recalled how he got the idea for Powerwalking while working with his Morgan horses at his California ranch back in the mid-1970s.
“I like to teach my horses to walk, to really stride out with a lot of energy. While leading a 26-mile trail ride across the desert from Anza to Borrego Springs with a group of people, I resorted to cavalry-style travel to preserve both horses and the people. That’s where you ride for 50 minutes and walk beside your horse for 10 minutes. While walking beside my horse I had a hard time keeping up, even holding the reins. I found that by lengthening my stride, swinging my free arm vigorously, and breathing rhythmically I could stay with him. At the end of 10 minutes, I was half a mile ahead of the group. I then reviewed in my mind what I had experienced in that 10-minute walk. I had been breathing more deeply, thus increasing my oxygen intake, and my heartbeat had quickened considerably and remained accelerated. I thought, this is a pretty good aerobic exercise, and I’m working every muscle of my body. So, I decided to develop the idea of walking that uses the progressive resistance principle into a fitness regimen.”
Before Steve started carrying weights in his hands during his powerwalks, he experimented first by carrying avocados or rocks to counterbalance his long strides as well as to gain muscle tone. He eventually added weights to both his midsection and ankles for resistance. He then determined that if people want to get in great shape by walking, they should be able to carry 20% of their body weight. As an example, Steve back then weighed 200 pounds and carried 40 pounds during a powerwalk (5 on each ankle, 20 at the waist, and 5 in each hand). In addition, Steve always felt that anyone can benefit when they’re walking with hand weights. And fitness experts to this day agree that his philosophy is an exceptional form of aerobic and strength conditioning.
Walking for health and competitive race walking has been around for ages. But the Reeves’ method added a new dimension and complexity to healthy running. The method involves six basic factors: length of stride, rhythmic breathing, cadence speed, distance traveled, degree of incline, and the amount of weights carried. (Note that the weight factor in his method is designed for the more advanced powerwalker.
Though never patented, Steve designed his own 5-pound hand weights in the early 1980s and officially labeled them, HAND-E-WEIGHTS. Starting in the early 1980s, they were manufactured overseas and available for purchase for a few years. As the costs became too expensive to manufacture and market, Steve decided to discontinue their availability. To little surprise, today these specially-designed Steve Reeves’ training weights are collectors’ items.
Although Steve had developed this method of walking years before it came into public view, he never planned on writing a book about it. If it were not for famous novelist James Michener and renowned photographer Robert (Bob) Vavra, his book may have never seen the light of publishing.
To James Michener Robert Vavra
Without their encouragement, this book
would not have been written.
Steve’s dedication to James and Robert in his book
In an April 1983 Muscle & Fitness magazine article, Steve recalled how writing his book came about. “I was at a party in San Diego Country Estates, and I started telling Bob Vavra’s twin brother about Powerwalking. Bob Vavra and James Michener were at this party. Bob had done the photography for James’ book, Iberia. James suggested I write a book about Powerwalking. I said I wasn’t a writer and didn’t know if I could do it. Michener suggested that I write one page per day, and in a year I’d have the book finished. He told me publishers always give you a year to complete a book anyway, so why not try it? Then Bob said he’d do the photos for free. Wow, one of the world’s top photographers doing all the work for free! So with that kind of encouragement, I was motivated to start writing.”
Financial gain was not Steve’s primary motivation to publish a book. Instead, Steve’s main focus was to encourage the general public to make health and fitness a top priority. And for the bodybuilding crowd, he felt the book provided a safe and effective method to achieve that importance. The publication also showed that Reeves even back in 1982 when the book was first made available, still could stand atop of the fitness scene and continue making and promoting healthy living as a key part of his life.
Reeves wrote the book with the excellent help from Dr. James A. Peterson, a former physical educator at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY. The finished material was exceptional and what we would expect from a person as meticulous and careful as Steve. It was thorough, intense, engaging, and filled with vitality. Stretching techniques, nutritional habits, and weight training advice are just some of the topics Steve and Dr. Peterson covered throughout the text.
Defending a Concept
Over the years Steve has received much kind praise for his inventive approach on how to walk your way to complete fitness. Yet he never really received full credit for his dedicated work despite publishing a book on his unique method over 35 years ago. A controversy arose back then as to what book first documented an exercise whose core emphasis was on walking with hand weights. Ironically in 1982, the same year Steve’s Powerwalking book was introduced, the book Heavyhands: The Ultimate Exercise System by Dr. Leonard Schwartz was also published. That publication definitely overshadowed the Reeves’ book because of the publisher’s extensive promotion, and not the book’s content or substance.
Dr. Schwartz’s book was published by the mainstream publishing house, Little, Brown and Company of Boston. Founded in 1837, it is the home to famous authors such as J.D. Salinger, Louisa May Alcott, Emily Dickinson, James Patterson, Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal, etc. With that renowned roster, all books naturally benefit from a generous marketing and promotional budget as well as the backing of an industry recognized publisher. On the other hand, Steve’s book, which was published by the much smaller and now defunct Bobbs-Merrill Company in Indianapolis, could never compete at that level. Therefore, his potential book sales would most likely be limited from the outset. But not so for Schwartz’s book as it made a significant impact on the fitness world from the start and is still selling well today. Much of this can be attributed to a well-orchestrated and sustained promotional effort since its debut.
Steve always claimed he wrote his book before Heavyhands and had documentation to prove it. According to Steve, he experimented with Powerwalking in the late 1970s and would always document his findings whenever possible. As Steve plainly put it in an April 1983 Muscle & Fitness magazine article, “I am the sole pioneer in that field. They’ve copied my concept. I definitely came up with it before they did, and I can prove it. These other people have some form of walking, but they don’t have any progressive, physiologically precise routine.”
To back up Steve’s claim, in 1977 Steve and his wife Aline appeared on ABC’s popular national morning show, Good Morning America (GMA). Both of them were invited to promote a new beneficial method of walking with hand weights (AKA powerwalking) for staying in shape. This was almost 5 years before Dr. Schwartz’s Heavyhands book was ever released. Below is a letter from the ABC network confirming their talk on Powerwalking back then and thanking them for being GMA guests.
Promoting as Needed
Up until Steve’s book was published in 1982, he kept a low profile as his public appearances where few are far between. But with the release of it, Steve was encouraged by his publisher to promote it through various media outlets for marketability and possible sales. To that end, Steve Reeves was back in the public eye, and his fans certainly welcomed seeing Mr. Hercules back on the media marquee.
Fall 1983 - TV’s Hour Magazine with Gary Collins
During the fall of 1983, Steve appeared on the nationally syndicated television show Hour Magazine to promote his innovative exercise. He talked with host Gary Collins that afternoon for just over 7 minutes on a variety of subjects but most of the focus was on Powerwalking because that was his reason for appearing. Viewers later commented, via the show’s mail box, how great it was to see Steve again and also how fit and healthy he looked at 57.
With TV Host Gary Collins
Below is the actual TV transcript, which also appeared in 1998’s Classic Physique Magazine, Volume 4, No. 3.
GC: Long before the days of the Incredible Hulk and Nautilus was just a gleam in the inventor's dream or in his eye, there was one man who conquered ancient Rome in film after film using muscle on top of muscle. His name was Steve Reeves. His physique made him Mr. Universe and the muscle men he played made him world famous. Now he's back with a great new way to stay in shape. Please welcome the author of Powerwalking, Steve Reeves (loud applause follows).
SR: Thank you. Thank you.
GC: I can remember, was it the 50s, late 50s?
SR: Yes late 50s, early 60s, right.
GC: There wasn't a film that came out of Rome that didn't have you in it. How many films did you make?
SR: Let's see, I starred in 16.
GC: Good grief! Were you the only guy that spoke English in those films?
SR: No, let's see the script girl did (Steve and Gary then laugh.).
GC: That was the only other person that was around I see.
GC: People have said that when you have spent so much time on your body, build up all those muscles, you have to be awfully careful about what happens during the rest of your life. How do you stay in shape? Do you have to continue to pump iron or what happens to all the muscle?
SR: Well, you see muscles can't turn to fat; that's a fallacy.
GC: Is that right?
SR: But, muscle can be replaced by fat if you don't keep up some exercise. And it doesn't have to be a hard exercise with weights. You can jog like you do, Powerwalk like I do, or play tennis or whatever. Just to see that you get a good exercise to keep your weight down and to keep your cardiovascular in shape.
GC: You know I was just thinking. Steve Reeves, George Reeves, Christopher Reeve, who played in Superman I and II the recent versions…..
SR: Yes, all Reeves.
GC: Is it true that whenever George Reeves didn't want to sign his contract to do Superman they'd call you in and scare them to death? (Gary then laughs.)
SR: Yes, that's right. And the people who were kind would ask me is Christopher Reeves your son? And others would say, is he your brother or whatever.
GC: Now do you have to do any warm-up before you do Powerwalking?
SR: You should warm up before you do any kind of exercise. You know, keep the muscles loose and limber and stretched out.
GC: The concept behind Powerwalking is what?
SR: The concept behind Powerwalking is that you take an extra-long stride and swing your arms and use little weights. Like I have little weights here that are 1 pound, 2 pounds, up to 5 pounds. You use about 20% of your body weight. You start out by walking without weights then you gradually work up to 1 pounds, 2 pounds, 3 pounds, 4 pounds, 5 pounds.
GC: Alright, now can any age do this particular activity?
SR: You can start at any age and work up to any age. What I like about it is that it works the upper body as well as the lower body. You see jogging or running works the lower body. It's a great exercise, but Powerwalking I feel is even better because it works the upper body at the same time. And, it uses the principle of progressive resistance. In other words, you start out with no weight and work up to 20% of your body weight.
GC: Alright, assuming any age can do it, I'd like to take a look at just a couple of the warmups you do just prior to it and then we're going to go out on the road with you and see you Powerwalk.
SR: Basically I start off by putting my hand on my hips here and doing some forward bends, about 20 in a row just to warm up the lower back and back of the legs. After you've done about 20 of those, you go to side bends (like this) to warm up the sides. About 20 of those. Then you do twists like this to warm up the whole body and then kind of adjust your spine. Then after that, you just do a couple of warmups. Just stretch down and touch the floor or your toes or something like that. Just stretch your hamstrings back there. Do that for a while.
GC: Do you do any bends, any knee bends or anything?
SR: No, I don't do that. Then I also do stretching the calves like this and the hamstrings. And I also stretch the groin muscles.
GC: Yes, because you’re going to be taking very long strides.
SR: And you also loosen up the thigh by pulling up the thigh like this, high as you can.
GC: Boy, you’ve gotten me worn out already!
SR: That's all you basically need to start going.
GC: Alright, now that we've got the warmup out of the way, Glen Swanson and you went out on the street and did some Powerwalking, and we took our camera along and let's see what happens. Describe what you're doing here. (Video now plays and Steve narrates the action.)
SR: Alright Gary, sure. Well, I'm walking along there, swinging the arms very vigorously, taking the longest stride as possible. And I'm doing rhythmic breathing. I'm breathing in for three strides, out for three strides, in for three strides, out for three strides. It's very important, when you Powerwalk, to keep your heels on the ground as long as possible.
Not to push off with the toes because your boots or your buns are your power, like in the Volkswagen. And you push off with those and it gives you the power to exert.
GC: I got to ask you. What do buns have to do with Volkswagens?
SR: The motor is in the back! (Gary and audience laugh.)
GC: Oh, got you exactly (Gary and audience again laugh).
SR: And people must be very careful when they Powerwalk to stand up straight, as straight as possible. A person has a tendency to lean forward, as I'll demonstrate here in about 2 seconds. I start leaning forward here, I'm going downhill and that is very bad. And rhythmic breathing, you have to breathe in three times, out three times. It's important to get the right amount of air (oxygen) at the right time.
GC: Alright, now what do you have around your ankles, around your waist?
SR: Oh yes. Around my ankles, I have lead filled weights (two and a half pounds) and around my waist are 10 pounds. I usually carry 20 pounds around my waist and 5 on each ankle. I manufactured my own weights. They're HAND-E-WEIGHTS. They go from 1 pound to 5 pounds, and they're very compact and adjustable.
GC: Steve, how long do you do this or how long should one continue this activity?
SR: I do this for about 20 minutes a day for cardiovascular. But if you want to lose weight, 45 minutes is better.
GC: Should you find a flat surface or an incline to do it on?
SR: Well, to start with, a flat surface, Gary. Then you gradually work up to an incline. Then when you can work up to the incline, you can start adding a pound in each hand only. Then you work up to the waist belt and the last is the ankle belt.
GC: What is the overall time for someone to really get in shape? The kind of shape they'd like to be in.
SR: Oh, I'd say three months.
GC: Three months, that's just out there walking!
SR: Yes, that's right.
GC: That's great!
SR: You see I like it because you can't get injured from it.
GC: Yes, people are concerned about that, jogging versus walking.
SR: Yes, walking is good for anybody. But you see over an extended period of time, if you do a lot of jogging, you may get some trouble with knees, ankles, or back, or something.
GC: This way you're safe.
SR: Yes, that's right.
GC: Thank you, Steve very much.
SR: Thank you.
Fall 1988 - TV’s Entertainment Tonight
During the fall of 1988, Steve appeared on the nationally syndicated television show, Entertainment Tonight. The 4-minute segment primarily covered Steve’s movie career but Powerwalking was briefly mentioned.
Demonstrating stretching and Powerwalking
A partial video of that broadcast can be seen at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DK3or_LdF0g
In the 1980s, Steve continued promoting his book and exercise method via many media outlets, both local and national. In 1984 he appeared on the syndicated TV show, Pat Boone, USA to demonstrate his walking exercise. What follows is a personal note of gratitude from Pat Boone to Steve for being on the show.
Thank you Steve, for showing us another way to stay fit without injury and enjoy life all at the same time.
In addition to Steve’s Powerwalking book, further reading on the subject can be found at the following resources:
A Moment in Time – The Steve Reeves Story, Chapter 36, pages 218 - 222
Building the Classic Physique – The Natural Way, Chapter 23, pages 115 – 128
Steve Reeves - One of a Kind, pages 126 – 128
Muscle and Fitness magazine, April 1983, pages 120 – 122, pages 206 – 211
Muscle and Fitness magazine, May 1983, pages 186 – 190
Muscle Mag International magazine, July 1991, pages 82 – 83
Thank you note from Pat Boone
Copyright Steve Reeves International 2019
That distinctive stride we’ll always remember
Dr. Schwartz’s First Edition - 1982
Muscle & Fitness Article, April 1983
Muscle & Fitness Ad, May 1983