The Improved Bill Pearl And His Training Program

There are many articles about Bill Pearl’s training. But the following is very unique and was written by Bill’s coach ‘Leo Stern’. Leo coached and helped him in his teenage years to build a great physique. I asked Bill Pearl about him and he wrote this: “Berg, without Leo Stern there would be no Bill Pearl ‘The Bodybuilder’.” 

The improved Bill Pearl by Leo Stern

leo stern bodybuilder

“It was a warm, humid June day in 1953, in Indianapolis, Indiana, when the name Bill Pearl became nationally known. On this day, he was awarded the Mr. America title. His winning of this title was a surprise to all, including Bill and myself. After the subdivisions, which were held on the first day of the two days of competition, Bill had failed to win one ward.

I, for one, had counted on his winning or at least placing in the top three of either the arms or legs portion of the contest, and he did no better than being selected in the finalist group in these two, plus another subdivision. We thought it was all over form him and he would have to train harder for next year.

Our bags were packed and reservations made to leave right after the contest. His being selected Mr. America, naturally, changed our plans!

To man people, his winning this title meant little, as there had been thirteen winners since the first Mr. America contest, held in 1939. But, to the young aspiring athlete, it was a decisive victory. Here was a young bodybuilder virtually unknown prior to the contest and who had trained with weights for a period of only 2 years.

The foundation for his physique had been set up with participation if football, track and wrestling. He gained a great deal of physical strength from wrestling and won the 11th Navel District Heavy weight title. He acquired a bad knee from football.

He competed in a Mr. San Diego contest after three or four months of training and placed third; two years later, he took part in the Mr. Southern California and Mr. California of 1953 and won both. Thus, he was sent to Indianapolis.

Since these contests were held just a month or two prior to the Mr. America contest, it was impossible to give much publicity to this young man, who had upset several pre-contest favorites.

His success has proven many things. First, the contest was a fair one and not pre-arranged like its eliminators; it is possible to win this contest without years of reputing building; the man with the best all around physique wins. Last, but not least, through hard work and sensible training, one can be the best in the nation in a short span of years. This could bot be accomplished with irregular training or poor diet.

One has to lead so-called “spartan life” and put his maximum effort into the shortest possible time.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. Normally, it requires five to ren years of training to win the Mr. America title and only one man can prior to Pearl had accomplished this in less than three years.

clancy Clarence ross bodybuilder

This was the 1945 Mr. America, Clancy Ross. He spent two and a half years of very serious training and also won the title as an unknown.

It was my pleasure to have the opportunity to work with both of these most unusual men, who have continued to train and improve since their first success in the Mr. America contest. Bill’s improvement and unusual success in such a brief span of time has, I am sure, encouraged others to work harder, and in so doing, know they will be richly rewarded with improved development.

Man felt that in his case, his sudden success would mean a short-lived period in the public eye. It is only natural for one who has reached the top as soon to lose interest, unless he has obstacles to overcome and new challenges to conquer.

After winning the Mr. America title, he returned to San Diego. While he was in top condition, it was decided to have him take part in the 1953 Mr. Universe contest in London.

Through the assistance of his superior officers, he was flown to London and arrived just in the nick of time to compete in this contest.

Again he emerged the winner. He returned home happy, but not satisfied with himself, for he felt that he had just begun to scratch the surface of his potential. he decided to try his hand at Olympic lifting, but the interest was not great enough. 

The decision made was to strive for greater size and strength via regular bodybuilding with the three Olympic lifts included in his training from time to time. This was generally done during the winter months. It goes without saying that the lifts are so necessity in rounding out one’s development, for this has been proven by many of the great physiques through the years.

One of the greatest examples is none other than John Grimek, who is looked upon as the man on whom all bodybuilders have endeavoured to pattern themselves.

Shortly after Bill’s discharge from the Navy, he decided he would like to open a gymnasium of his own, so that he would be able to continue his training. This was one of four choices. He was an accomplished musician and had played saxophone with a few local groups. 

The hours did not suit him, so this was eliminated. He also worked as a journalist while in the service and had been offered a job with a newspaper, but again he felt that he would like to get into a field where he could continue to enjoy his work and not be under too much pressure.

He also thought about returning to college, but doubted his ability to concentrate in his studies.

He opened a very successful gym in Sacramento, California, and continued to work hard and improve.. In 1956, I received a call from Bert Goodrich concerning Bill’s competing in the Mr. USA contest to be held at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. I told him I would talk to Bill and if he could afford to take the time from business to train, he would probably compete. This contest was the added incentive Bill needed to work towards a definite goal.

He decided to sacrifice the time and money to get in the best condition possible. 

When the time came, Bill was in superb shape and won the Mr. USA title. I was so impressed with him that I felt he had reached his maximum capacity. This was an error in  judgment and as time proved, progress is never limited.

In view of the fact that the monetary prize for the Mr. USA contest was exactly half what it normally had been, Bill lost money on the deal, as he had to hire extra help at his gym, so he could sun bathe, etc. He was discouraged and took a sort vacation to Yakima, Washington, where his family resides.

Upon his return, after a very enjoyable time, he received a long distance phone call asking him to go to London once more to compete in the professional Mr. Universe contest.

He, in turn, called me and asked my advice. I told him to forget it for he had taken a little over a month layoff and could not possibly get in top condition in 14 days, which included travelling time to London. It was common knowledge that Jack Dellinger had bypassed the Mr. USA contest and was already in England preparing for the Mr. Universe. Also, he was in the best condition of his long career. With this knowledge, I felt it unwise for Bill to compete against him.

I hoped that U had convinced him to forget this contest, but a few days later he informed me he thought he would make the trip because he felt this would his last opportunity for such a trip. Try as I may, I could not convince him to abandon the idea.

He won his height class, but was beaten for the overall title by Jack. Far from being discouraged, on his return home, he told me this contest gave him added reason to train even harder.

Bill planned to enter the 1960 Mr. Universe contest and he had spent months of hard work toward this goal. Due to the fact that I was unable to make the trip with him, he decided to wait another year.

This meant another year of concentrated work and the training hours for a period of two years amounted to a great many. Most of you know preparation is necessary in order to be at the peak of condition. Absolutely nothing was overlooked in his training!

Periodic checks wee made as to his physical condition, he traveled to visit me and I flew up to see and photograph him.

Not only were the weights utilized to the maximum, but he also ran six days per week for a more finished development.

This helped him bring his calves to a 19″ measurement. While we were attending the 1961 Mr. America contest in Santa Monica, we decided we would take a few photos in a nearby park to check his definition. He had cut down from a bodyweight of 235 to 203 and had worked back to about 216 and we were curious as to how he looked and if he would be able to add a few pounds. I am mentioning this to show an example of the great lengths taken by Pearl to get the best out of his preparation.

Bill has always welcomed constructive criticism and is interested in checking the lagging part of his development. The camera shows both weakness and improvement and we used picture studies during this period of time.

bill pearl mr usa

In 1956, when he won the Mr. USA contest, I felt he had reached his ultimate, but when I saw him at a muscular 228, I can honestly say I have never been so impressed. Never in may 23 years in this sport have I seen such size proportion and muscularity on any man. true, there have been those who have impressed me with their outstanding development, but none to compare with Bill.

After the flight to London with Bill, I can readily understand his attitude toward making the long flight alone. Though it was only a ten-hour trip from Los Angeles to London, it seemed much longer for we were both keyed up about the impending contest and found it impossible to relax and sleep.

The weather in London was very good, but it was a good thing Bill has acquired his tan prior to the trip as London is so large, one would have to travel an hour or so to get a spot suitable for sunbathing.

bill pearl bodybuilder bulk

His preparation proved worthwhile for the people in attendance at the pre-judging contest could not contain themselves and gasped with surprise when he walked out with the other contestants. Even though there were many outstanding men competing, Bill Pearl was in a class by himself. Never had there been a man of such size and shape! The judging was 100% and it was a well deserved acclaim both at the pre-judging and the final contest the following day. Bill had worked devotedly toward this goal and had reached the point of greatness in his chosen field.

Even though he has been very successful, he continues to work hard and improve himself. Bill, still humble with his success, is grateful for his many friends in this country and England, Scotland and Ireland.

He made a tour after winning the 1961 Mr. Universe and added a great many followers to his group of fans. He will, I am sure, fulfill all their exceptions with his continued improvement in future years.

To those of you who may be curious as to the type of training program Bill employed for the Mr. Universe contest, here is his exact routine:

– End

Bill Pearl’s website

1 thought on “The Improved Bill Pearl And His Training Program”

Leave a comment