Raymond Routledge: U.S. Air Force Bodybuilder Champion

Mr. Routlege won both the Mr. Universe title and Mr. America title in the same year 1961. For my younger followers: those two titles were the most prestigious titles in American Bodybuilding history!

Mr. Routledge was very famous, every bodybuilding magazine wanted to print his physique on their covers. Millions of young people saw and admired Routledge’s physqiue in those magazines!

Even young Arnold Schwarzenegger was aware of him! In his autobiography he wrote of seeing Routledge in many muscle magazines!

Today Routledge had fallen into oblivion and that’s a tragedy!

Here’s Ray Routledge’s outstanding story how he trained and won the Mr. America title!
He was born in Los Angeles in 1934. As a child he was active and healthy, but at the age of 13 he contracted polio, which settled in his neck and spinal column. He was laid up for a period of three months and was greatly weakened by his encounter with this dreaded disease, but fortunately he was one of the lucky ones who through exercise and sensible diet overcame any crippling aftereffects.

In grammar school Ray participated in all sport, but when he entered Huntington Park High School he developed a keen interest in gymnastics. He specialized in the high bar, rings, long horse, and all around tumbling.

Then in 1949 he picked up a bodybuilding magazine, like thousands others, he found the thing he had been looking for – a way to really develop his body. As he puts it, he has enjoyed all his various sports activity, but bodybuilding seemed to overshadow all the rest.

After High School Ray attended Compton Junior College for a short time. A little later he enlisted in the United States Air Force.

For several years he was stationed at Mather Air Force Base near Sacramento, California, where he served as physical training instructor at the base gym.

Jim Simmons (who also served) met Routledge at Air Base Defense School in Northern California. According to him in 1953, Ray was already eating protein pills “by the handful”.

Simmons: “The other (unit’s) guys picked this giant, he had to be 240-pounds. But Ray lifted him right up and threw him against the barracks, and boom, everything was over!”

Bodybuilding Coach and Gym owner: Bill Pearl

Bill Pearl Gym Los Angeles
Bill Pearl standing in front of his Machester Gym In Los Angeles, Califonia (source Bill Pearl’s facebook)

In 1960 he finished second place in the Mr. America contest, he was very discouraged, but one week after returning to Sacramento, where he was stationed, he resumed hard training at Bill Pearl’s gym.

Bill Pearl is a bodybuilding pioneer and star. He won the Mr. Universe title with the age of 40!
In Bodybuilding circles he is one of the most prestigious coaches and authors!

His training philosophy was always to add good muscular size with hard training, good food and plenty of protein!

Bill Pearl: “It seemed Ray Routledge had nothing but time on his hands. He would hit the gym around 5:00 each evening, do a set then sit for five or ten minutes.

It was always the same story come 10:00 p.m. closing time, ‘Just a couple more sets,’ he’d say. Twenty minutes later, again it was, ‘Just a couple more sets.’

My alternative was to lock him in the gym with the threat of bodily harm if he exited during the night leaving the deadbolt unlocked.”

Bill Pearl and Ray Routledge sat down and had a long talk about his desire to win Mr. America. Twice he had finished second.

He asked Bill: “Do you think I have the necessary qualifications to be a Mr. America winner, such as proper height, genereal appearance, and most important, the correct bodily framework?”

Bill assured him that he possessed these qualifications, and added that he owed it to himself to give it at least one more try.

Encouraged by Bill’s appraisal, Ray decided to make one last, determined, dynamic attempt and go all out for the 1961 event.

For about three months he trained with renewed vigor at Pearl’s gym. Then, like a bomb out of the skye, the Air Force notified him that he was being transferred to a new assignment in Europe.

Ray Routledge: “This came as a shock. I didn’t want to leave Bill’s coaching. I had no idea of the training conditions I might encounter in Europe. Uncle Sam didn’t seem to concerned, however, and a short time later hustled me off to Germany.”

Ray’s assignment was a Physical Conditioning Specialist in the Athletic Section at Rheinmain Air Force Base near Frankfurt, Germany.

Germany, Rhein-Main Air Force Base

Note: The Rhein-Main Air Base was a base of the US Air Force (USAF) in Germany from 1945 to 2005. During the Cold War, up to 10,000 soldiers were stationed at Air Base.

Roy Routledge work was similiar to what he had been doing for several years. His training was helped by the fact that he worked right in the base gymnasium.

It was possible for him to do some training during lax moments of the day, and in addition he had his own key to the building and permission to train at any time and any hour of the night or on holidays.

As far as equipment went, the Rhein-Main base gym was no equal to a professional health studio.

There are ample weights and such bare necessities as a lat machine, a high bar for chinning and hanging exercises, and a good squat rack.

Workout Routine/Philosophy

Roy Routledge training

Bill Pearl provided all of the routines. Ray wrote to him as soon as he was settled in Germany and he sent a new bodybuilding program regularly every four weeks.

The variety of exercises included in these programs created new training interest. This system called for six days a week of training.

Roy Routledge shoulder

Sunday was the only day of rest. It was a split routine system covering the upper body three days a week and the lower body on the other three training days.

He went right to work on this system immediately, and trained very hard for about three and one half months.

At that point he lost part of his old drive and got very stale. There were several reasons for this. It was the absence of his old training partners, whose presence had always encouraged him in the past.

Roy Routledge Training bodybuilding

A change was in order. Rather than take a layoff, as many would have done, he decided to train the entire body three days a week and to do some deltoid and calf work on the off days. This provided him with good mental as well as physical rest.

Years ago he had made up his mind never to miss a workout. An old training partner once said to him, “Every time you miss a workout there will be some fellow who did not, and he will be ahead of you in competition.” He has never forgotten that.

Because his routines were changed every four weeks during the last nine months prior to his winning the Mr. America title, it is impossible to list all of the exercises that he did.

Bill Pearl training philosophy bodybuilding

Bill Pearl taught him the philosophy of training very hard and very fast.

Ray Routlege: “I find this best for several reasons. It helps you get through a workout sooner and allows you to accomplish more exercises during a given workout time. When time is limited, working fast is especially important.”

Getting back to his preparation for the 1961 contest, about four months before the scheduled date he decided to have at it with six days a week of training again. Time was getting short. He trained three hours a day, concentrating on deltoids and calves as these body parts are most important to any bodybuilder interested in becoming a physqiue champion.

Underdeveloped deltoids or calves can ruin the appearance of an otherwise well-developed physique.

Approximately 14 weeks before the competition he decided to spend the next seven weeks bulking up. During the remaining seven weeks he would train down to fine condition for the contest. By eating everything imaginable and drinking huge quantities of milk he bulked up to over 240 pounds.

For the last seven weeks before the contest he went on an extremly high protein diet to bring out the utmost defintion. Vince Gironda, who used to run a very nice health studio in Los Angeles, outlined this system for him.

Ray Routledge: “Vince Gironda possesses a broad knowledge of nutrition. He has helped me with diet plans for a number of years and deserved considerable credit for the success I have achieved in bodybuilding. Without his advice, and, of course, the guidance and inspiration of Bill Pearl, I would not be Mr. America today.”

As he was reaching top condition, the time drew near for the big competition in Santa Monica. He flew directly to Sacramento from Germany two weeks before the contest.

Bill Pearl Gym

There at Pearl’s gym he concentrated on ironing out the defects or flaws that were evident to Bill Pearl and his old training partners. He also acquired a good, deep sun tan while there and worked on a new posing routine.

Bill was bit shook up when Ray arrived still a little on the bulky side at about 217 pounds bodyweight. He was down below before leaving Germany, but on the long trip to California he had eaten regular food rather than the high protein diet he had been on previously, and that made the difference in his appearance.

1961 Mr. America

Routledge, the father of five children, flew from his duty station in Germany to represent the ideal American manhood! Bill and Ray developed a fantastic training program for the final two weeks which included running and abdominal work twice a day, steam baths, harsh dieting and constant posing.

The winner, Ray Routledge was named, the amateur photographers in the crowd swarmed into the press section and made it almost impossible for the newspaper and magazine men to do their job!

mr america 1961

Joe Abbenda of New York City, finished second.He was a muscular young giant and he was runner-up in the voting for the Most Muscular award.

In third place the judges placed Franklin Jones of Los Angeles.

Another Junior Mr. America sectional winner, 17-year-old Harold Poole of Indianapolis, India finished fourth. Poole’s magnificent physqiue drew enthusiastic support from the packed audience.Mr America Ray Routledge

Ray Routledge: “When I came out on the stage to accept my Mr. America trophy, I knew that all the sweat and strain and pain had been rewarded.

I have mentioned the great help afforded me by Bill Peal and Vince Gironda. There were others, too, who helped me in more ways than one to reach my goal, not the least of which are my long-suffering wife and children, who saw so little of me during this intensive training period that they were beginning to wonder if I still belonged to them. I owe many thanks to all of them. Without their help and understanding I never would have made my fondest dream come true.”

Oldschool bodybuilding magazine “IronMan” reported the 1961 Mr. America and I would love to include the following quote about Roy’s achievement!

IronMan September 1961: “When a man persists year after year, always either tying or taking second place it is gratifying to see him finally win the coveted title of Mr. America, as Ray Routledge did this year. Certainly it would be hard to find a man more representative of ideal American manhood.

It would be hard to find a man more representative of what we feel the Mr. America title should represent. Ray is serving our country in the Air Force in Germany. He is married and has five children, a good education, and is very active in church and civic affairs. He is a leader and an example to all the youth of our nation, not just physically, but mentally and spiritually also.”

After winning the Mr. America title he worked as a manager at the original Gold’s Gym in Venice. Actually he lived a quite life and did not let his bodybuilding career successes become a possession in his life.

Routledge gave a friend all his prized bodybuilding trophies, medals and film reels.
“He was very, very saddened but his words were, ‘You know, they’re only possessions,’ ” Routlege’s friend said, his words halted by tears.

He inspired many youngsters to keep pushing on iron and life. On November 12, 2008 Mr. Routledge died. 

San Bernardino Press-Enterrpize
S&H Nov 61
S&H July 61
Bill Pearl Story – Beyond the Universe

6 thoughts on “Raymond Routledge: U.S. Air Force Bodybuilder Champion”

    • Sir, are you his son? Thank you for the info on his burial location. Reading this article explains why, while I was in the Air Force, the elderly people I worked with talked about Ray Routledge. They were really impressed by his physique

  1. Was stationed at Rhine Main ,same time Ray was there.I remember going to gym seeing him working out, all oiled up and was hard to believe the effort it took to develope such a body. Just a passing memory.

    • I was on the Mather judo team in 1957 thru 1960. Ray worked as a special services advisor at the base gym. He was very congenial and encouraged us to consume protein tablets as well as outline a strength program. He was quite laid back. Know he trained at Bill Pearls gym in Sacramento. Ray was a quality guy.Somewhat unassuming as was Bill Pearl. Both of these were very much the gentlemen. Dedicated in their pursuit of perfection.

  2. I was stationed at Rhine-Mein at the same time as Ray. He set up my first routine. Ray was very strong, always lifted heavy weights and didn’t like what he called Pump Artists. Ray told a story of how Bill Pearl talked him into getting in the ring with Carl “ Bobo “ Olson. He said that was how he got his nose broken.

  3. I worked out at Bill Pearl’s gym in Sacramento when Ray was there. Never really saw him much but he seemed like a nice guy.
    I was just a skinny 17 year old getting started in weightlifting. I still have my first work out program that Bill gave me.


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