Bill Pearl Workout Routine

Training Programs of the Former Mr. Universe Bodybuilder

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTUpdated: March 26, 2024

In the world of bodybuilding, few names resonate as powerfully as that of Bill Pearl. He was renowned for his unparalleled muscle size in an era when massive bodybuilders were not yet commonplace.

Over the years, Pearl developed a unique training style that allows muscles to grow with a lower risk of overtraining and injury. In this article, we delve into Bill Pearl’s workout routines and recommendations.

Bill Pearl Workout

Who Is Bill Pearl?

William Arnold Pearl was an American professional bodybuilder and strength athlete active during the 1950s and 1960s. He was born in Prineville, OR, in 1930 and later moved to San Diego when he enlisted in the Navy.

In San Diego, Pearl worked out at Stern’s Gym, where owner and promoter Leo Stern coached him. Under Stern’s guidance, Pearl entered and won local bodybuilding contests in 1952.

The following year, Pearl won the Mr. California, Mr. America, and amateur Mr. Universe contests. He later went on to win the professional Mr. Universe contest four times between 1956 and 1971.

During his 20-year career, Bill Pearl competed in just 11 contests and won the overall in 9 of them. After his competitive career, Pearl also received many Hall of Fame inductions and lifetime achievement awards.

Unfortunately, Bill Pearl passed away on September 14th, 2022. However, his fantastic physique and contributions to bodybuilding have made him one of the sport’s most celebrated figures.

Bill Pearl Workout for Bodybuilding

Bill Pearl competing against a young Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Bill Pearl Height and Weight

Bill Pearl stood 5’10” (178cm) tall and even competed in the “tall man” category in some contests. At the start of his career, Pearl weighed around 200 lbs (91 kg), but he had bulked up to 242 lbs (110 kg) by his final contest.

In addition, Pearl claims that his arms measured 21 inches around in his prime. To put that in perspective, the average arm size for men is only about 15 inches!

Table 1. Bill Pearl Height, Weight, Age

Personal Info  
Born October 31st, 1930
Died September 14th, 2022 (age 91)
Height 5’10” (178 cm)
Weight 200-242 lbs (91-110 kg)

Bill Pearl Bodybuilding Philosophy

Before we get into Bill Pearl’s workout program, it’s essential to understand his bodybuilding philosophies. In other words, what training principles and methods he used to achieve results for himself and others.

1. Plenty of Variety

Bill Pearl wrote in one of his workout guides, “I have always been a great believer in incorporating a lot of variety into my training regimen.”

Pearl changed exercise type and order within a workout every 4-6 weeks to introduce variety. He believed this makes training more interesting, challenging, and enjoyable.

In addition, Pearl suggested that continually changing exercises and angles deter the body from adapting and becoming stagnant. So adding variety was one strategy for preventing plateaus.

2. Hypertrophy Rep Range & Rest Periods

Like most bodybuilders, Bill Pearl suggested performing 8-12 repetitions on most sets. And studies have shown that this rep range is the best for muscle growth or hypertrophy training.

However, Pearl also included higher rep sets for warm-up movements to get the blood flowing. And he often used 15-30 reps for working the abs and calves.

In addition, Pearl recommended resting for 30 seconds to 2 minutes between sets. Generally, longer rest for heavier lower rep sets and shorter rests for lighter sets.

Bill Pearl Workout Magazine Cover

3. Volume (Total Number of Sets)

Workout volume can be defined by the total number of sets you perform in a workout. For example, if you do 5 sets of 5 different exercises, that’s 25 total sets.

Moreover, workout volume is one of the training variables that bodybuilding gurus disagree on the most. Some suggest high volume, while others preach low volume with high intensity.

Bill Pearl was in the high-volume training camp. For example, some of his workouts consist of more than 50 total sets!

By comparison, High-Intensity Training proponents like Mike Mentzer performed all-out workouts with as few as 10 sets.

4. Not Training to Failure

Bill Pearl’s philosophy differed from many elite bodybuilders in that he recommended NOT training to failure. That is, the last rep of any set should be challenging but not an all-out effort.

Bill said, “My approach to training has always been to push yourself in your workouts, but do not train to failure! The last rep should be difficult but not impossible or unachievable. And I’ve always been a great believer that you should leave the gym each day feeling like you had a great workout but you’ve still got a little bit left in the gas tank, so to speak.”

Pearl added, “If you don’t leave the gym with the feeling of having something in reserve, you will sooner or later reach a point where your training begins to seem so hellish and burdensome, you will either start missing workouts or stop training altogether. And then where is your progress?”

The not training to failure philosophy aligns with Bill Pearl’s reasoning on mixing things up. That is, creating a sustainable workout routine for long-term results.

In my opinion, training intensity and volume are two sides of the same coin. And you can use either side to provide the stimulus needed to grow new muscle tissue, just not at the same time.

You can train hard, or you can train long, but you can’t do both!

Bill Pearl Workout Guide

5. Tracking Workouts & Progressive Overload

Bill Pearl also advocated for keeping a workout log and tracking your progress. In this way, you can ensure your workouts gradually get more challenging.

In Bill’s words, “Always keep accurate records of your exercises, sets, and reps from workout to workout, week to week, month to month. This will enable you, among other things, to keep track of your progress from one poundage to the next rather than making the whole process haphazard.”

In other words, Pearl suggests tracking your workouts so you can implement progressive overload. “As your strength improves, the poundage you’ve been using will feel easy. Whenever you reach that point, increase the poundage until the last rep is difficult again.”

Bill Pearl Workout Routines

Bill Pearl produced a progressive workout routine called “20 Months to a Champion Physique”. In the guide, he provides a new workout each month which progresses from beginner to advanced training.

As you advance, Pearl increases the difficulty by adding exercises, sets, and reps. Additionally, the routine begins as a 3-day total body workout for the first year and transitions to a 5-6 day multi-muscle group split.

The workouts below are examples based on Bill Pearl’s actual training program, so you can see how it looks at each stage. Remember, you should check with your health advisor before jumping into any new workout routine.

Bill Pearl Workout – Total Body Split

Bill Pearl’s total body routine is the beginner to intermediate level, where you train every muscle group in each workout. He also suggests training 3 days per week, allowing for a full recovery day between workouts.

For example, beginners would work out Monday, Wednesday, and Friday or Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Initially, workouts consist of 10 exercises with 3-4 sets each for a total workout volume of 30-40 sets.

As you progress, you could also train every other day regardless of the day of the week. When you do this, you end up working out 3 days one week and 4 days the next.

Bill Pearl Total Body Workout:

  1. Decline Dumbbell Fly – 3-4 sets 10-12 reps
  2. Seated Close Grip Cable Row – 3-4 sets 10-12 reps
  3. Cable Rear Delt Fly – 3-4 sets 10-12 reps
  4. Dumbbell Tricep Kickback – 3-4 sets 10-12 reps
  5. Incline Dumbbell Curl – 3-4 sets 10-12 reps
  6. Barbell Squat – 3-4 sets 10-12 reps
  7. Lying Leg Curl – 3-4 sets 10-12 reps
  8. Standing Calf Raise – 3-4 sets 10-12 reps
  9. Sit-Ups – 1 set 15-30 reps
  10. Incline Leg Lifts – 1 set 15-30 reps
Bill Pearl Total Body Workout

Bill Pearl Workout – Half Body Split

Bill Pearl’s half-body routine is intermediate to advanced level, where you train half of your body one day and the other half the next. However, this is not the same as a push-pull type of split.

Instead, Pearl breaks up the training split between muscle groups on the torso and muscle groups on the limbs. For example, the first workout is chest, shoulders, and back. And the second workout is arms and legs.

In addition, each workout includes exercises for the abs and calves. Pearl recommends intermediate lifters work out two days on and one day off for 5-6 days per week.

Lastly, the intermediate to advanced workouts are extremely high volume, with 14 exercises and upwards of 50 total sets. This high training volume is why Pearl suggests taking it easier on intensity.

Bill Pearl Workout Day 1: Chest, Shoulders, and Back

  1. Weighted Decline Crunch – 1 set 15-30 reps
  2. Weighted Hyperextension – 1 set 15-25 reps
  3. Seated Leg Tuck – 1 set 50-100 reps
  4. Stiff Leg Deadlift – 1 set 15-30 reps
  5. Decline Dumbbell Fly – 4-5 sets 8-10 reps
  6. Barbell Front Raise – 4-5 sets 8-10 reps
  7. Machine Bench Press – 4-5 sets 8-10 reps
  8. Dumbbell Lateral Raise – 4-5 sets 8-10 reps
  9. High Pulley Cable Fly – 4-5 sets 8-10 reps
  10. Rear Delt Fly – 4-5 sets 8-10 reps
  11. Power Clean – 4-5 sets 8-10 reps
  12. Machine Pullover – 4-5 sets 8-10 reps
  13. Wide Grip Lat Pulldown – 4-5 sets 8-10 reps
  14. Leg Press Calf Raise – 4-5 sets 20-25 reps

Bill Pearl Workout Day 2: Arms & Legs

  1. Sit-Ups – 1 set 50-100 reps
  2. Barbell Good Morning – 1 set 25-50 reps
  3. Bicycle Crunch – 1 set 25-50 reps
  4. Torso Twists – 1 set 50-100 reps
  5. Dumbbell French Press – 4-5 sets 8-10 reps
  6. Seated Alternating Dumbbell Curl – 4-5 sets 8-10 reps
  7. Incline Dumbbell Skull Crushers – 4-5 sets 8-10 reps
  8. Standing Dumbbell Curl – 4-5 sets 8-10 reps
  9. Barbell Skull Crusher – 4-5 sets 8-10 reps
  10. Dumbbell Concentration Curl – 4-5 sets 8-10 reps
  11. Hack Squat – 4-5 sets 8-10 reps
  12. Dumbbell Lunges – 4-5 sets 8-10 reps
  13. Lying Leg Curl – 4-5 sets 8-10 reps
  14. Donkey Calf Raise – 4-5 sets 20-25 reps
Bill Pearl Older

Bill Pearl Workout Books

If you like Bill Pearl’s workout routines or want to learn more about his life and career, you should definitely check out his books. Pearl’s best-sellers are Keys to the INNER Universe and Beyond the Universe: The Bill Pearl Story.

But he also has a book outlining more workouts like the ones in this article. As well as several books on training specific muscle groups.

More Bodybuilding Workout Routines

Now you know Bill Pearl’s workout routine and bodybuilding philosophies. But remember, this is just one example of bodybuilding training, and it isn’t optimal for everyone.

One drawback of Bill Pearl’s workouts is that they can take over 90 minutes, and most of us don’t have the time for that! So here are some additional workout articles providing alternative training styles.

Tom Platz Legendary Leg Workout

Science Behind the Bro Split Workout Routine

Mike Mentzer High Intensity, Low Volume Workout

Chris Bumstead Leg Workout Offseason vs. Contest Prep

Chris Bumstead Arm Day Workouts

Chris Bumstead Push Pull Legs Routine

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