Reg Park Britain's Natural Legend
By Lou Ravelle

Reprinted in NaturalStrength with permission of Muscle Mob


Reg Park exploded upon the bodybuilding public in just two short years. As an unknown home trainer he grabbed the limelight by winning the 1949 Mr Northeast Britain. He captured the Mr Britain title later in the same year. From this point on his rise to fame was nothing short of meteoric and probably unparalleled in the annals of bodybuilding .By 1951 he had achieved the most prestigious goal of all, The Mr Universe crown.

Up to this point British bodybuilders had been accustomed to look across the Atlantic for the world's finest physiques, but Reg changed all that. This handsome young lad from Leeds had shown us that Britain could make 'em too.

The effect on British bodybuilding was enormous. In those early post-war days bodybuilding in Britain had grown slightly in volume, owing to the fact that many men had found that they actually enjoyed the exercise that they ordered to do while serving in the forces. Many of these formed the nucleus of Britain's post -war crop of weight trainers. However training methods had not moved on much since the pre-war days of the Thirties. But this new shot in the arm from Reg Park was about to alter things.

In 1950 a 15 inch arm plus a 44 inch chest and a body weight of say, 13 stone, had been the goal of the majority. 18 inch arms and 50 inch chests were things only to be seen in the pages of American physical culture magazines.

Now, articles appeared in British magazines such as Health and Strength and Vigour showing the training routines of this new British star. I believe this was the turning point in the history of British bodybuilding and was also the point when Britain and the rest of the world began to realise that the world's best physiques did not necessarily have to be "Made in USA". The Brits began to training with a vengeance and a new type of physique began to appear.

Reg maintained constant improvement and went on to become a triple Mr Universe winner, three times beating out opposition from all over the world.

Bodybuilding was still in the pre-anabolic era. I refer of course, to those far off the drug -free days when muscles were built by sheer effort coupled with a high protein intake plus lots of energy food. This, in itself, raised problems in the United Kingdom because as late as 1951 meat was still on ration and this proved a great handicap.

At the time when Reg began to achieve fame on international scale, the two main figures on the scene were John Grimek and Steve Reeves. Both these Americans were idols worldwide and as the style of their physiques differed widely each had his own loyal band of followers. John Grimek stood about 5'8" with a heavily muscled physique and was a magnificent poser; he was also Reeves's senior by about 16 years. Reeves by comparison with Grimek was a statuesque figure, topping the six-foot mark by half an inch. Though he lacked some of the muscular bulk and thickness for which Grimek was famed, the there was a grace and beauty about his physique which just about balanced out the odds.

The famous battle between these two Americans took place at the first British-held Mr Universe contest in London. A year previously Steve Stanko, also American, had won the title in the U.S.A.

The experienced and magnificent Grimek won the event by a narrow margin and Reeves, also magnificent, had to be content with second place. In the audience that night at the Scala Theatre in London sat a young, promising but as yet unknown, Reg Park. When the chairman of the judges announced Grimek as the winner, young Reg, only a week after his discharge from military service, made his decision. Reg, who had been greatly inspired by the drama of the occasion, decided, on the spot, that one day soon the title would be his. At that moment he knew where his destiny lay. I'm going to be up there on the winner's rostrum. Anyone who knows Reg will tell you that once he's got his mind set on a thing-that's it.

Mindset played an enormous part in Reg's training and his success story, not to mention his 500lb bench press.

So Reg set his sights and his mind on the Universe title. He had started training three years previously at the age of 17 and at 20 his potential was obvious. It as also obvious that he had the genetics and Reg knew that to reach his goal he had to do three things- train, train and train.

The next Mr Universe show was held in London in 1950. For British fans it was simply a battle of the giants, Steve Reeves and the new British star (he now had the Mr Britain title of under his belt) Reg Park. The far more experienced Reeves (he had won the Mr America title as early as 1947) emerged the winner by narrow margin.

A new, and even mightier, Reg Park won the Universe title for the first time the following year in 1951. He had truly taken his place alongside the already legendary Grimek and Reeves. Physical culture writers of the time were quick to note that he was a man whose physique combined the muscular density and sheer strength of Grimek with the grace and beauty of Reeves. The golden age of physical culture had truly arrived.

Reg Park is often described as being, one of the all- time greats of the bodybuilding and strength world.

Greatness itself may be hard to define. Someone, far wiser than I, observed that some great men are born great while others have greatness thrust upon them. Reg falls into neither of these two categories. He achieved greatness by sheer hard work and determination.

I was fortunate enough to be around the time and was able to watch this slice of history being made. I was also fortunate enough to have met Reg for the first time in early 1949 before he had hit the headlines. It was obvious to me then that Reg was a one-off and destined for great honours. He didn't let me down.

Reg is a member of an elite band. He is one of the last batches of natural champions. Men who achieved their prize-winning physiques by sheer effort and hard work and of course, good wholesome nutrition. In the mid Sixties steroids began to appear on the scene and so did a different class of champion. There emerged a new type of physique contestant who would stop at nothing in order to win. Steroids offered a short cut and to hell the consequences. Out of the window went is the old concept 'a sound mind in a sound body'

In today's modern bodybuilding world, chemical tools, (a nice name for drugs) have become the norm, as has huge muscularity. Pumped -up muscular freaks abound and their hothouse reared bodies grace the pages of our physical culture magazines. But not everyone has lost all sight of sanity and I believe that the natural bodybuilding movement, after perhaps, losing some ground, is now actually growing. An ever-increasing band of enthusiasts looking to natural methods to achieve their physical goals. To these, Reg Park along with others of his era, will always be an inspirational force.

It is interesting to note that if you study Reg's photographs, it's obvious that he can more than hold his own against today's chemically engineered junkies. And you know that, when you look at Reg's physique, you're looking at real quality.

The bodybuilding fraternity has a long established tradition of giving out name tags. Vince Gironda, the controversial Californian coaches and gym owner will be remembered as the Iron Guru. Joe Weider, the famous American muscle publisher, himself an ardent Reg Park fan, became known as the Master Blaster, though this title may well have been self-inflicted for publicity reasons. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose original inspiration, during his early training, was none other than Reg Park, basks in the sobriquet of The Austrian Oak. However, when I contemplate Reg's achievements and ponder on how he became a legend in his own time, I think he's simply, Reg the Ledge.

Part 2. The Great Confrontation
Part 3. The End of the Beginning