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The Gigantic Arms of Bill Pettis

Strength Oldschool

The greatest bodybuilders in the world pass through the portals of Weider’s Woodland Hills establishment. The lavish appointment of this modern installation is reflected in the great human products that complement it. Massive muscle in repose lends a scenic treat matched only by the magnificent Santa Susana Mountains facing the broad, glass front. Attempts at conservative tailoring fail a muscle spills over. Shirt sleeves are carefully split to accommodate burgeoning biceps. You gape in awe at the likes of Arnold, Waller, Gable or a Paul Grant. You never saw such muscle. Never, that is, until the advent of Bill Pettis.

Bodybuilder Bill Pettis

Nothing causes as much commotion as the gigantic arms of Bill Pettis.

You have to look twice to make sure they are arms and not two other people with him. Not many people can stifle their curiosity about such ponderous muscle and the most sophisticated observer finds himself asking the usual question: “What do your arms measure, Bill?

Would you believe 23 1/4 inches?

Bill Pettis 23 Inch Arms

That’s how big he had them four years ago, weighing 230 pounds. That was pumped, after he had done 100 sets of arm work. In those days he worked his arms all day long. They would stay big like that for two or three days.

Bill has gotten conservative now and keep his arm at 21 1/2 cold. It pumps to 22 1/2. He no longer spends all day on arm work, having to cut it down to 1 1/2 hours three times a week. That alone, causes the layman bodybuilder to gulp, realizing his whole workout is that long.

Compounding the incredulity of it all are the amounts of weight Bill uses on arm work. Generally noncommittal, when he starts to talk about it, you hear the poundages coming across in a soft voice that has all the innocence of a falling barometer on a balmy night.

You’re not sure you heard it straight when he says he does standing triceps curls with 315 pounds on the bar. How can triceps handle that much weight like that? His do, and that’s a fact. It always comes as a shock when you hear how some guys go far astray of the orthodox methods of development, the venerable tried and proven principles, to develop incredible muscle and strength. The great Paul Anderson was one of those backyard strongmen. He dug a trench so he could get under his ponderous, immovable squat bar. Often great feats are accomplished in silence.

Strongman Paul Anderson

When applause tore the air over 21-inch biceps on the world’s posing platforms, here’s an unknown man silently carving out a biceps over two inches bigger than any of them anywhere.

They are muscular biceps also. The credit is misapplied in referring to them as biceps, however. Despite the immense ball of the biceps muscle itself on Bill’s arm, the greater portion of the mass lies in the triceps. Where his biceps peaks like a 30-foot wave, his triceps curves downward like the underbelly of a giant shark. The arm under flexion seems to loom. It negates comprehension.

The forearms are equally massive with cables of muscle extending from the elbow to wrist. Straight out they measure 15 3/4, in a “goose-neck”, 16 1/2. The average bodybuilder fights hard to get his flexed upper arm that big.

Big Bill Pettis

Born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, of humble origin, he grew to be resourceful. He got into weight training by making bells out of 25-pound cinder blocks. He worked out with them for a better part of a year back in 1960. He wanted to build his strength for other sports. He became a devastating high school athlete. In football he made All City and All League as a guard. In baseball he pitched. When he was on, he could strike out 12 men in a game. A moment’s reflection makes you wonder where he went astray. YOU see those massive arms, the tremendous potential, and you imagine him as a big league pitcher. He obviously had speed and control, looking at his high school strikeout record. With his easy, quiet manner, and geared-down movements you suspect it’s deliberate, an attempt not to startle with all that overpowering size. But, he’s got a primitive speed. He ran the 100-yard dash in 10 seconds.

He landed in a small college, but economics and a family that needed his support at home forced him to quit. What has been professional baseball or football’s loss has been bodybuilding’s gain. Like many other great potential athletes he got hooked on the private challenge of bodybuilding. Only someone who has tried it can understand the powerful attraction. The bodybuilding ranks are full of former great athletes. Guys like Ken Waller and Roger Callard left careers in football to take up muscle building.

Bodybuilder Roger Callard

[Pic above:] Bodybuilder Roger Callard

Now 28 years old, Bill recalls 20 years ago when he cold flex a pretty good little biceps. That he possessed natural muscle potential leaves no question. Only a natural could curl 220 pounds six reps. That’s what he does today – and a whole lot more. Listen to this arm workout:

  • Barbell Cheat Curl: 5 sets; 6 reps, 220
  • Scott Bench Curl: 5 sets; 6 reps, 160
  • Barbell Curl – Strict: 5 sets; 6 reps, 180
  • Triceps Pushdown: 5 sets; 6 reps, 150
  • Standing Triceps Press: 7 sets; 225, 6 reps; 275, 3 sets, 6 reps; 315, 3 sets, 4 reps
  • Parallel Bar Dips; 4 sets, 25 reps
  • Reverse Triceps Pushups: 6 to 8 sets, 50 reps, No weight.

A look at the program makes it evident that the triceps gets the major share of the work. The greater part of the muscle volume of the upper arm lies in the triceps. Bill recognized that fact and trained hard on triceps. As a result his arm shows perfect balance, both biceps and triceps developed to the fullest. The biceps in recent years has gotten favored treatment because it’s a showcase muscle. As a result the arms of some superstars show lagging development in the triceps.

Bodybuilder Bill Pettis Preacher Curls

Bill uses a medium grip with all the barbell movements. He follows the Weider “Quality” training technique and rests only a minute between sets, slightly long, perhaps, but that’s because he works heavy with low forced reps. The Scott Bench curl gives him the low, wide biceps. He uses the straight bar on the Triceps Pushdown, keep the elbows tight against the sides, raises the bar to the chin, and pushes down until the elbows lock. He does no partial movements in any exercises.

The Standing Triceps Press is his forte. The bulk of his upper arm muscle comes from it. He takes the weight off the squat reach and jerks it overhead to start the exercise. He lowers the bar to the shoulders and immediately drives it to arms length overhead with triceps alone. He can work up to a single rep with 340.

He follows that with weightless pushups, doing several sets that total up to hundreds of reps. In this way he can literally flush gallons of blood through the great muscle mass and get an extreme pump. He has done as many as 3000 pushups in a workout, which took him something like five hours. He doesn’t get into these drawn out affairs these days. He doesn’t need to.

Bodybuilder Bill Pettis Training Triceps

Though he works his upper arms three days a week, he works his forearms every day. He does 10 sets of wrist curls over a bench, five sets regular, five sets reverse. Forearms, like calves, must be worked every day for growth, a fact many bodybuilders aren’t totally aware of.

His main advice to the beginning bodybuilder who wants total arm development is the necessity of working the triceps to the fullest. This means at least twice as much as the biceps. If it is neglected in the beginning, it never seems to catch up fully. It will be worth the development when one gets into competition.

Bodybuilder Bill Pettis Dumbbell Concentration Curls

With recent emphasis on five or six meals a day, Bill gets along on only two. His food intake is not excessive, amounting to three or four eggs a day with bacon, steak, fish, fowl, fruits and vegetables. Earlier in the game when he was striving for size he would eat 25 pancakes at a sitting, but he stopped doing that. He supplements his diet with protein, yeast and liver tablets.

Bill’s development is heartening to those who refuse to take steroids. He has never taken any synthetic anabolics. Aside from the cost, he has preferred to be cautious, and has proved you can get ultimate muscle mass and cuts without it. In fact, he aims to compete with and beat those bodybuilders who happen to be heavy into muscle building drugs. No one would question the validity of his aim.

With no great effort to develop other lifts, Bill does a commendable bench press with 475 and a squat with 620. One could easily foresee records falling if he cared to convert his great potential for muscle building into powerlifting.

He trains with his friend Bill Grant at Gold’s Gym. The powerful, iron-clan look of Chuck Sipes offer Bill the style and ideal he prefers. He intends to make it work for him. He wouldn’t mind winning Mr. America.

Bodybuilder Bill Grant

[Pic above:] Bodybuilding Legend Bill Grant

Bill’s mighty arms excites the professional wrist-wrestlers, but he will have no part of it. He likes his bodybuilding. If he were to injure an elbow by some remote chance, his bodybuilding hopes would disappear. He’s happy the way he is. He’s due to find his niche in the world of muscle. He’s got the look of a legend. It’s a timeless quality. After all, how many guys got arms that big?

This picture and ad appeared in the November 82 Ironman…

Bodybuilder Bill Pettis Built Over 23 Inch Arms

Bodybuilder Bill Pettis Front Double Biceps

** I hope you have enjoyed reading this classic bodybuilding article on Bill Pettis. Unfortunately Bill has now passed away and the following footage may shock some fans.


If you have any stories to share on Bill Pettis, please share them below in the comments section. Thank you.

Let's hit up a good arm workout in Bill's honour. R.I.P. Bodybuilding Legend.

Strength Oldschool

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