Larry Scott biceps workout

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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:

Beginner Routine*

Standing Barbell Curls:

3 sets of 10 reps
One-arm Concentration Curls: 3 x 10
Zottman Dumbbell Curls: 3 x 10

*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 YMCA 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:

Intermediate Routine

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 with 80 pounds ...’

So we began training by the down-the-rack system, but we were still training the entire body at each workout.”

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 (same as before). 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).

(to be continued)

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