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Bill Pearl - How I Trained for the 1953 Mr America Contest

Strength Oldschool

By Bill Pearl, as told to Leo Stern

Edited by: Strength Oldschool

Bill Pearl - Mr America 1953

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is a brief summary of Bill Pearl’s training for the Mr. America contest in his own words, as told to me shortly after the contest in Indianapolis. Before starting his story, I want to make a few comments of my own.

First of all, I must confess that in May, 1952, when Bill started working (see photo below) out regularly in my gym, I did not consider him a prospective Mr. America contender, for I had only the opportunity to watch him work out a few times in 1950 and his physique did not impress me at that time other than that he had a nice structure and extremely small hips.

Bill Pearl - 1952 - Photo taken by Leo Stern

He weighed about 195 when he started working out in ‘52 and had just finished a wrestling season, so was in good condition. Because he had more size and strength than average, we started him on a more advanced program than the average beginner who starts here in the gym, and judging by the way he worked the first month, it was evident that he would gain faster than most. During the period of time he has been training in my gym he missed but a few training periods, and this was due to hospitalization just before the 1952 Mr. Pacific Coast contest.

1953 Bill Pearl

At that time he was scheduled to make the trip to Portland along with Eddie Sylvester, Mr. Mexico of 1952, and Hugh Cobb, Mr. San Diego of 1952, but two days before they were due to leave, word was sent to me that Bill was in the naval hospital with an attack of appendicitis. He was kept there for observations for about two weeks and fortunately, during this period his body was able to throw off the poisons and an operation was not necessary.

When he returned to regular training he and his training partner, Hugh Cobb, had to discontinue their sessions together for Hugh received the call to arms and left for Camp Roberts a few days after the Mr. Pacific Coast contest. Bill then started training for the Mr. Southern California contest, making rapid progress and cutting his weight from 215 to 201 for greater muscularity. With no let-up after winning the Mr. Southern California contest, he worked even harder for the Mr. California contest.

Bill Pearl - Mr America 1953

In this even he was even more successful, for he won Best Legs and Most Muscular. I might mention that he only enters the subdivision we feel he has the best chance of winning. he tries to relax as much as possible, and when warming up for the big contest he does not work for an “extreme pump”. This enables him to pose more smoothly. Bill is an extremely humble and modest person and that is the main reason for my remarks. he is very popular with all the fellows here at the gym and if the applause is any indication of approval, he is well-liked by the audience, for all his victories have been very popular.

At the present time, Bill is working for the Mr. Universe contest, amateur division, which will have been held at the London Palladium by the time this reaches print. If he should be able to enter and win this one, it will be “one for the books”, for he started as a complete unknown this year.

Bill Pearl - 1953

The following is Bill’s story of his training:

When I received my orders to report to San Diego for duty on the submarine tender U.S.S. Nereus, I was pretty happy, because I knew I would be able to start working out at Leo Stern’s gym. I had worked out there a few times in 1950 when I was taking my Navy boot training. I had received incentive to work out from Leo and the fellows at the gym, and then was shipped to Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, in Washington, for an 18-month tour of shore duty.

Leo Stern's Gym

Inside Leo Stern's Gym

I started working out regularly with weights in November, 1950, while at Whidbey Island, and followed my own routines, which I made up while browsing through magazines. I also received some help from other fellows who were more familiar with the different exercises than I was. Before this time, I had worked out occasionally at the Y.M.C.A. in Yakima, Washington, while in high school. I had always been interested in athletics and my folks were always very encouraging.

The Bodybuilder Magazine - 1953 - Bill Pearl

EDITOR’S NOTE: Not only was Bill “interested” in athletics, but he was also highly successful. He won three letters in wrestling, three in track and two in football. In track he ran the 100-yard dash in 10.3 seconds while weighing 185 pounds. Bill Played quarterback and fullback on the football team. After entering the service he won the 13th Naval District heavyweight wrestling championship.

After leaving Whidbey Island and reporting to San Diego, I immediately began working out at Stern’s gym and Leo started me on routines that were backed by the knowledge he had accumulated in 13 years of iron game experience. I began to make rapid gains. In a few months I was buying a new dress jumper.

My bodyweight was about 195 pounds, but I was lacking in different parts of the body and needed a more “finished” look. Leo started me on a bulk routine and got my weight up to nearly 220 pounds. He then advised me to cut down to around 210 pounds so as to keep my strength up and still have the drive needed to handle maximum poundages every workout. Nearly all my liberty hours were spent at the gym, and I began watching my diet and tried to live a good clean life, spiritually and physically.

Bill Pearl - 1953

Leo’s routine consisted of working on the entire body and doing a lot of specialized work on those muscles that were lagging behind. I never failed to work out at least three times a week and tried to get in four sessions if it were possible.

Getting off to a good start, I won the Mr. Southern California contest in February, the Mr. California contest in April, and was judged the Most Muscular Man in California at the same time. I won the Best Legs subdivision in both contests. My last victory was, of course, in the Mr. America contest.

1953 Mr America - Winner - Bill Pearl

The routine I followed for the last six weeks before the contest consisted of the exercises listed below. I might add that the poundages I was using on some of the exercises were very light, but I was trying to concentrate on each exercise, and training as hard as I had been for the previous contests was also somewhat of a drain on my energy.

1953 Mr America Contest - Bill Pearl

I worked out six times a week during the final six weeks, and would work the upper body every other day, and parts of the upper body and the legs on the other three. This enabled me to keep Sundays free to relax and to attend church services.

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I would commence my workouts with a light warm-up with dumbells and then get down to work:

  • Chin behind neck -  4 sets 15 reps.
  • Swingbell pullover - 2 sets 10 reps. (85 lbs)
  • Supine Press, close grip - 3 sets 10 reps (250, 250, 280 lbs)
  • One arm rowing - 3 sets 10 reps. (105 lbs)
  • Swingbell pullover - 1 set 10 reps. (85 lbs)
  • Inclined laterals - 3 sets 10 reps. (85, 90, 100 lbs)
  • Bent-arm laterals - 2 sets 10 reps. (100 lbs)
  • Dumbell crossovers - 2 sets 10 reps. (40 lbs)
  • Military press, seated - 2 sets 10 reps. (145 lbs)
  • Triceps “kick-backs” - 3 sets 10 reps. (120 lbs)
  • Dumbell curl and press, seated - 3 sets 10 reps (50 lbs)
  • Triceps extensions, dumbells - 3 sets 10 reps. (60 lbs)
  • Sit-ups - 300 reps
  • Leg-raises - 300 reps

1953 Mr America Contest - Bill Pearl

On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays I would go through the following workout:

  • Dumbell swings - (warm-up) - 10 reps. (15 lbs)
  • Bent-over rowing - 3 sets 10 reps. (170 lbs)
  • Pull-down on “lat” machine - 3 sets 10 reps. (180 lbs)
  • Swingbell pullover - 1 set 10 reps (85 lbs)
  • Press behind neck - 3 sets 10 reps. (150 lbs)
  • Breathing squats - 1 set 15 reps. (250 lbs)
  • Straight-arm pullover - 1 set 10 reps. (70 lbs)
  • Breathing squats - 1 set 15 reps. (275 lbs)
  • Straight-arm pullover - 1 set 10 reps (70 lbs)
  • Breathing squats - 1 set 10 reps. (285 lbs)
  • Straight-arm pullover - 1 set 10 reps. (70 lbs)
  • Squats (45-degree angle machine) - 3 sets 10 reps. (300, 325, 350 lbs)
  • Leg curl - 3 sets 20 reps. (70 lbs)
  • Leg-extensions - 5 sets 12 reps (15 lbs)
  • Standing Calf Raises - 3 sets 30 reps. (200 lbs)
  • Seated Calf Raises - 3 sets 30 reps (245 lbs)
  • Sit-ups - 300 reps.
  • Leg-raises - 300 reps.

Some days during these six weeks of training I would do a completely different workout, very light, to “get a good pump.” I took this lighter workout on days when I was rather tired or just couldn’t keep my mind on my regular training.

I also realized that getting a tan was very important, so I began early in February and continued to get all the sun I could until the contest. Posing was another workout in itself and I would spend from 30 minutes to an hour each day on it. Lots of nights at the gym, after everyone else had gone, I would go through my poses time after time, practicing to be able to strike them as comfortably and naturally as possible.

Of course, you can see that a lot of hard work was involved in preparing myself for the Mr. America contest, but it was definitely worth it and I feel it was a very great honor to have been chosen as Mr. America for 1953. The competition was extremely keen and all of the fellows competing looked like Mr. Americas to me.

The following are Bill’s measurements:

Age: 22 | Height: 5′11″ | Weight: 210 lbs | Neck: 18" | Shoulders: 56 1/2
Chest: (ex) 51 | Waist: 32" | Hips: 38 1/2 | Thighs: 26" Calves: 17"
Biceps: 18 3/4 | Wrist: 7 3/4

* Thanks for reading this great article on Pearl strength oldschool fans. Check out this great video on Bill below...


Keep training hard,

Strength Oldschool


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