Sunday, May 15, 2011
Larry Scott on Biceps - David Prokop
Larry Scott newsletter archives:
Larry Scott on Biceps
by David Prokop (1992)
Imagine a baseball player today having the opportunity to step back in time to talk to Babe Ruth. Imagine him hearing the Babe say, “All right, kid, I’m gonna tell ya exactly how I hit 60 homers in ’27.” As a bodybuilder you’ve got a comparable opportunity here, because ‘60s superstar Larry Scott was to biceps what Babe Ruth was to home runs – The Master!
Scott, who won the first two Mr. Olympia contest in 1965 and ’66, started bodybuilding about 10 years earlier as a high school student in Pocatello, Idaho. (Although Larry came to prominence in California and in bodybuilding circles was considered to be as much a part of that state as the Beach Boys, he was actually born and raised in Idaho.) Oddly enough, what initially got him interested in bodybuilding was a muscle magazine he found at the Pocatello city dump.
“It had a picture on the cover of a bodybuilder named George Paine flexing his triceps,” Scott recalled, “and there was an article inside on training triceps. I didn’t know anything about exercising, but I saw that picture of George Paine, and I thought, ‘Golly, this guy looks incredible!”
At the time Larry had reached his full height of 5’8” but he weighed only 120 pounds. Not exactly a Herculean physique. In fact, he weighed less than almost any of the boys in the school.
So he took the magazine home and started doing triceps exercises. Since he didn’t have a barbell, he used an old tractor axle instead. He performed mostly barbell kickbacks (although in his case you’d have to call them axle kickbacks) and supine triceps presses.
“This was between my junior and senior years in high school,” Larry related. “I worked only triceps the whole summer. I just wanted to see if I could get any size. I didn’t really have a lot of faith that I would grow and that my body would change.”
When he returned to school in the fall, Scott started working out at the YMCA and began training his biceps as well, using the following routine:
Standing Barbell Curls – 3 sets of 10 reps.
One-arm Concentration Curls – 3x10.
Zottman Dumbbell Curls – 3x10.
*This workout was part of a whole-body routine in which Larry would do one set of each exercise, then go through the entire sequence two more times.
“I didn’t know what I was doing,” Larry admitted. “There was a fellow at the Y who was a former boxer, and he gave us advice on how to train. He told us we should go through the whole body three times, so we did. What did we know at that age? We went through the whole body, one set per exercise, and then we’d do it again and then a third time. It was exhausting, and it was a terrible workout! But that’s what I was doing right at first.”
The standing barbell curls, one-arm dumbbell concentration curls and Zottman dumbbell curls were followed by three triceps movements – supine triceps presses with a straight bar, dumbbell kickbacks and barbell kickbacks. In each case he did a single set of eight reps, then moved on to the next exercise. Recalling this primitive training method, Larry said, “What I did for my beginning bodybuilding routine wouldn’t be what I would recommend for a beginner now.”
Despite the obvious shortcomings of his approach, Scott’s progress was such that he placed second in the Best-built Senior contest at his high school. This wasn’t a bodybuilding contest per se, but a loose form of competition in which students cast ballots for the guy they thought had the best physique.
After graduating from high school, Larry moved to Los Angeles to attend an electronics college but returned to Idaho after only six months. While he was in L.A., however, he trained at Bert Goodrich’s Gym in Hollywood. Although the gym is long gone, Larry remembers getting some invaluable training tips from Lou Degni, a bodybuilder who, he said, “had an incredible physique and was way ahead of his time.” It was while he was training in Hollywood, after he had been using the beginner routine about a year-and-a-half, that Scott formulated the following intermediate regimen:
Standing Barbell Curls – 3 x 6-8.
Bent-over Dumbbell Concentration Curls – 3 x 6-8.
Standing Dumbbell Curls – 3 x 6-8.
By this time Larry had switched to doing three sets of each exercise, gradually increasing the weight with each set, before moving on to the next bodypart. That’s the approach he was following when he returned to Idaho – the day the legendary Steve Reeves visited the gym where Scott and his bodybuilding buddies were training.
“We found that training the whole body in each workout while trying to increase the weight with each set wasn’t very effective,” Larry related, “so we asked Steve what he thought about what we were doing.”
“‘That’s crazy!’ he said. ‘You should change your way of training and start using a down-the-rack system.’ He didn’t tell us what exercises to do, but he told us how to do them. He said, ‘Do a set with 100 pounds, decrease the weight and do a set with 90 pounds, decrease it again and do it wit 80 pounds . . .’
During this intermediate phase of his training Scott was doing nine sets for biceps and nine for triceps at each workout. The triceps exercises were barbell kickbacks, one-arm dumbbell kickbacks and the supine triceps presses. Although he was no longer going from exercise to exercise with every set, he was still training his entire body at each workout. Remember, however, that this was the late ‘50s, and the split system of training we take for granted now hadn’t really been introduced yet.
“We didn’t know anything about a split routine,” Larry said. “By the way, speaking parenthetically, that came out of Salt Lake City from a fellow by the name of Dave Fitzen, who split the body in half, training half the body one day, the other half the next day. That occurred around 1960. A lot of people take credit for that, but he was the one who came out with that split concept. And a number of us from Idaho and Utah brought it out to California. It was quite a novel way to train the muscles more intensely and give them time to recuperate. It was a new concept. Nobody had ever thought of that before. We had always trained the whole body in one day, and it was exhausting!”
After about a year-and-a-half on this intermediate routine, during which time Scott still emphasized triceps training much more than biceps work (“I’d go through the biceps training, but I’d really put my everything into triceps), he won the Mr. Idaho title. Larry now weighed about 155 pounds, and his arms measured about 15¼”. Then he moved to Los Angeles and started the meteoric buildup that resulted in his becoming the greatest bodybuilder in the world – and produced those beautifully peaked 20-plus-inch arms that connoisseurs of the sport talk about to this day.
Despite the heavy emphasis on triceps training in his beginner and intermediate days, Scott was to learn something rather ironic when returning to Los Angeles – specifically that his biceps were the more impressive bodypart!
“I happened to go into a club in North Hollywood and there was a fellow there by the name of Reid Flippen,” he explained. “He was from Utah, and I was from Idaho, so we had a little bit in common, I guess. And he said, ‘Your arms look pretty good; let me see them’ So I flexed my triceps. He said, ‘Your triceps isn’t your best part; it’s your biceps. So I thought, ‘Oh, no!,’ thinking of the attention I had focused on the triceps. Up to that point I had never even liked biceps work. But I guess the genetic shape [of the biceps] was what he was referring to. And so then I started working more on biceps.”
Every serious student of bodybuilding history knows, of course, that during his heyday Larry Scott trained at Vince’s Gym in Studio City, which is in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, and that he became so identified with arm development and training that two new terms were added to the lexicon of the sport – “Scott Curls” (which were actually preacher curls) and the “Scott bench (which, again, was a preacher bench, albeit a bench of rather unique design).
The following is the arm routine that enabled Larry Scott to go from 15¼ to almost 21-inch arms – and earned him an honored spot among the all-time greats of the sport
Dumbbell Curls on preacher bench – 6 reps, 4 burns.
Wide-grip preacher bench barbell curls – 6 reps, 4 burns.
Reverse-grip curls with EZ-curl bar – 6 reps, 4 burns.
Series repeated 5 times.
“I was introduced to the preacher bench by Vince [Gironda],” Larry continued. “I really worked hard on the preacher bench, taking advantage of the low connection I had on the biceps. So I got really involved in that, and my arms started to really grow.
“For one thing, my training was much better. Vince had a lot of unique, well-designed equipment. I started to make good progress.”
“Good progress” is the understatement of the century. After Larry had been training at Vince’s Gym for about a year, he placed third in the Mr. Los Angeles contest – a significant step up for him considering the higher quality of competition he faced in California. (Remember, only a year earlier he had weighed 155 pounds at a height of 5’8”.) And that was just the beginning.
“About two months after the L.A. contest I met Rheo Blair, a nutritionist. I started taking his protein powder – the first time I’d ever taken protein – and I put on eight pounds in just two months, which was unheard of for me. It was just really incredible! That protein must have been exactly what my body needed.
“I put on eight pounds of muscle! I mean, eight pounds would have normally taken me about two years. To put it on in two months was amazing!
“A year later I won the Mr. California, which was a total surprise to me and to everyone else,” he continued. “So I was really excited about my training and my progress. I kept training harder and harder, but my biceps routine stayed pretty much the same. Just the intensity changed.
“I was doing a set of dumbbell curls on the preacher bench. Then with no rest I would do a set of wide-grip curls on the bench and then a set of reverse-grip EZ-bar curls – again, with no rest. I would five series of these three exercises, resting only long enough between series so my training partner could do his.
“So I was doing five series of three sets, and on each exercise I would do six repetitions with four burns at the end of each set. Burns, of course, are small, quarter movements either at the top or the bottom of the exercise. I’d do them at the top until I got a little bored with it, and then I’d do them at the bottom.
“That routine really got my arms to grow. That was a very effective program. As a matter of fact, to this day I’ve not found anything which is that effective for building biceps.”
Were the burns the key to this routine? Was that the magic that was at work, or was it something else?
“Well, I think the think that worked so well was, first, I had – genetically – a low connection on the biceps. And the preacher bench works low biceps really well. And then there was the intensity of this type of workout – it’s extremely painful when done properly! That series I just mentioned is very, very painful, but it just blows up the arms like nothing I’ve ever seen – if the preacher bench is designed correctly.
“Most of the benches you see have a flat face, and they don’t work. People who hear me talk about arm training go out and try that on a regular preacher bench, and they say, ‘Ah, he must have been a genetic freak because that doesn’t work for me at all.’ That’s because they have a lousy bench.
“As a matter of fact, I remember Arnold saying to me, ‘I don’t know how you ever made any progress on a preacher bench.’ And I went in to shoot some photos on the preacher bench at the gym in Venice where he was training, and I thought, ‘God, no wonder he says that. This is terrible!’
“The correct design of the bench is that it has to have a face that’s convex rather than flat. In other words, the face should bulge out in the middle. Most preacher benches are flat because they’re easier to manufacture that way. But the bench has to have a convex face. And the area at the top where you place your armpits has to be rounded and well padded because you’re going to be bearing down real hard on that bench when you’re doing the curls. Most benches have a sharp ridge on top, and it hurts your armpits.
“Most preacher benches are also designed with the post set back, and when the exercise really gets difficult, you hit that post with your groin, so you can’t really get into it hard. The post should be offset toward the front. Manufacturers also make the face of the preacher bench too long, so the dumbbells hit the face of the bench at the bottom.
“What you want is a bench that has a short face, bulging out in the middle and rounded on both sides, and also rounded and padded where your armpits are, with the post placed toward the front so your groin won’t be pressing up against it. If you get all those little features going on it, it’s a great piece of equipment!”
In fact, Scott said that the design of the bench is so important that nowadays when he’s on the road and does biceps work on a regular, flat-faced preacher bench, he loses arm size over time.
“Then, when I get back on the right equipment again, my arms come back up. So the normal preacher benches that you see won’t give you the kind of results that you want. I mean, you can make better progress doing incline dumbbell curls than you can doing curls on the normal preacher bench, but you get a good preacher bench and, boy, you can build some arms!”
With single-minded determination, going through a four-pound tin of protein powder every eight days and drinking some 2½ gallons of milk a day, Larry actually built up to a peak bodyweight of 212 pounds in ’65 and ’66. His best competitive weight when he was Mr. Olympia was about 205.
As for those arms, he said, “My arms got so big, they were hard to carry around. My traps just got exhausted carrying them. I used to tuck my thumbs into my belt loops just to give my traps a rest.”
It’s significant to note that all during those glory days of the ‘60s Larry Scott’s biceps routine remained the same – right down to the order of the exercises and even how he did each exercise. The routine was like a personal magic formula he had discovered, and he wasn’t about to tamper with it.
“I had a particular style for each of the different curls,” he explained. “The dumbbell curls were done ‘loose’ style – I didn’t care how I got ‘em up; I just wanted to get them up any way I could. Then the barbell curls were done very strict. I would get my armpits way down on the bench, and I would make sure that my form was totally strict. As a matter of fact, the magic to that whole combination is the barbell curl. You do the exercise totally strict, your body over the bench; you don’t help the arms at all with even a little bit of lean-back; and that’s what really gives you the tremendous growth.
“Then you finish off, when your arms are just about to die, with reverse-grip EZ-bar curls, and that works the brachioradialis and hits the low biceps. The biceps is exhausted at that point, but the brachioradialis isn’t. And it’s also a curling muscle, so you can use that muscle to help you put extra work into the low biceps. It really gives you a great pump!”
In other words, the pattern to this routine was to do the dumbbell curls with as much weight as possible to basically tire the biceps, then place maximum concentrated stress on the biceps by doing barbell curls in a very strict fashion and, finally, when the arms were all but dead, do still another exercise that worked a part of the biceps – the brachioradialis – which still had some life left. Clearly, it’s a routine that reflects a touch of genius.
“And it never worked out as well if I split those exercises up or changed the order of the exercises,” Scott said. “That combination had a magic quality to it.”
Incidentally, during this advanced phase of his training Larry worked biceps twice a week, following, of course, a split routine. He always trained arms, shoulders and neck together. In his beginner days he trained his arms three times a week, and during the intermediate phase he worked them four times a week.
“By the way,” he continued, “that bench that Vince had, we’ve improved it in several respects; so it’s an even better piece of equipment now. You know, after doing curls on that thing for 20 years or more as I’ve done, you’ve got to be pretty dumb not to figure out some ways to make it better.”
Looking back over the evolution of his biceps training, Larry said he wouldn’t change a thing about his advanced routine. The beginning and intermediate routines are quite another matter, however.
“They were terrible,” Scott admitted. “I would never recommend that anyone use those. I would recommend that a beginner or an intermediate do it totally differently. A beginner doesn’t know yet what is right or wrong, so he has to just have blind faith as he’s trying different exercises. I’d suggest he change the exercises at least every week because the changing stress provides much better growth, and it rejuvenates the ligaments and tendons so you don’t get into injury all the time.
“I’d make sure I did only six repetitions – six is a better figure for growth than eight or 10. I would also do the burns – I think the burns are wonderful to add some extra stress to it. I would do probably no more than nine sets per bodypart, increasing the intensity. I would also vary the way I trained. Instead of just doing up-the-rack workouts, I’d do down-the-rack, I’d do straight sets, I’d do supersets. I’d change that system of training a lot. I wouldn’t do the same thing over and over again. And, of course, I’d follow a split routine rather than training the whole body in each workout as I was doing.”
Today Larry Scott is 52 and lives with his wife, Rachel, and their five children in Bountiful, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City, where he is a fitness consultant, equipment manufacturer and distributor, and trains hundreds of people across the country with his Bio-Phase System of Personal Training. Larry and Rachel were married in 1966 after a most unusual courtship. In fact, one of the reasons Scott retired from bodybuilding after winning his second Mr. Olympia title in 1966 was to focus more attention on the marriage. Clearly, that effort has paid off too.
Even so, once a bodybuilder, always a bodybuilder. Larry still has 18½” arms, and he maintains this impressive development by training his biceps about 30 minutes per workout three times a week. Today he uses the varied type of training program he recommends for beginners and intermediates. Only occasionally does he use the ultra-high intensity approach of his Mr. Olympia days.
“I don’t use that advanced routine very often,” he said. “That’s my instinctive program. I will sometimes train on the instinctive program, but that’s very, very hard on the connective tissue. Extremely stressful. So I only use the instinctive program for about a week, and then my joints will start to complain. That’s a function of age. And so I will switch to more moderate routines and then come back to the instinctive program later. I have found that there are ways that I can keep my size without constantly working out at high intensity. I don’t have to train nearly as hard now as I did then to keep the size. And I don’t train with that intensity anymore, but I can keep the size I developed earlier a lot easier than I did back then.”
Larry made one final point about biceps training, and it’s an important one. “When I got to the advanced stage of my training in the ‘60s,” he said, “I began to realize that I couldn’t go up to the heavier weights unless I began to strengthen my forearms. And so I started to train the forearms real hard so that I could get the wrist curled at the bottom of the movement on the preacher bench. When you’re doing biceps curls and you’re way down on the bench, you can’t get the bar up unless you get your wrists curled, and you can’t get your wrists curled unless you have the forearm strength. So I started working forearms very hard, and I noted that as I worked forearms harder, I could use heavier weights in the biceps exercises. Consequently, it was the forearms that were the key to building bigger biceps at that point.”
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