If you ask the typical teenage bodybuilder how he trains, the focus of the workout will be on bench presses and some form of curls – with perhaps a few lat pulldowns thrown in at the end of the workout to widen the back. However, these trainees would achieve more impressive physiques by following the advice of bodybuilding legend and first-ever Mr. Olympia, Larry Scott.
Born in 1938 in Blackfoot, Idaho, Scott was inspired to become a bodybuilder at the age of 16 after he came across a muscle magazine. At a skinny 5 feet 8, Larry trained hard and five years later “bulked up” to 152 pounds and won the Mr. Idaho contest. In 1962 he captured the IFBB Mr. America and in ’64 the IFBB Mr. Universe; on September 18, 1965, he won the first IFBB Mr. Olympia contest. Scott defended his title the following year. At the age of 28 he retired to focus on his family and work – although he kept in tremendous shape all his life and to this day still has impressive arms.
Although Scott was known for his amazingly full biceps, which resulted in his favorite exercise, the preacher curl, being nicknamed the Scott curl, much of Scott’s success was attributed to overcoming the challenge of having relatively narrow shoulders. Scott understood that properly training the shoulders requires a variety of exercises to work the many different “heads” and functions of the deltoid muscle. In fact, there are actually seven portions, more appropriately described as “deltoids 1-7, anterior to posterior,” which perform seven basic functions: abduction, flexion, horizontal adduction, internal rotation, extension, horizontal abduction and external rotation.
Scott recognized that the anterior deltoid muscles are often overworked due to their involvement in dips, presses and bench presses. He said in his article “Incredible Deltoid Thickness,” that at Vince’s Gym, where he trained, they often talked about “surfboard” bodybuilders: “A ‘surfboard’ bodybuilder is . . . wide but flat. They have no posterior deltoids at all. If you want this thin and round-shouldered appearance – OK. But if you want the well-rounded look of a champion, then posterior deltoid work is a real must.” In my work I’ve also found this to be true, and I often advise clients to reduce the amount of chest work until the middle and rear heads of the muscle are proportionately developed.
Another aspect of Scott’s approach that I like is his emphasis on variety. “A person will go stale on any exercises, no matter how result-producing they might be for a time, and it’s necessary to keep the routines in a state of flux to avoid poor return on effort expended,” says Scott. He would also try to cover all areas of the strength curve with a variety of implements, including dumbbells, barbells and pulleys. In one of his articles, Scott provided four routines using the following exercise selection:
Down the Rack Bent-Over Lateral Raise
Down the Rack Dumbbell Press, Standing
Down the Rack Lateral Raise
Head Resting on Preacher Bench Bent-Over Lateral Raise
Seated Dumbbell Press
One-Arm Lateral Raise
Bent-Over Lateral Raise and Robby Lift (named after Robby Robinson)
Down the Rack Dumbbell Press, Cycle Down the Rack
Pulley Lateral Raise
Seated Press Behind Neck
Spider Bench Bent-Over Lateral Raise
Incline Bench Lateral Raise
Besides using a variety of exercises, it’s also important to vary repetition protocols with shoulder training. Because the deltoid muscles are composed of mixed fibers, they require stimulation with both high- and low-rep training. As a general rule, I like to change repetition protocols about every six workouts.
It took Larry Scott nearly a dozen years of hard training to become the best bodybuilder in the world. But it also took smart training, as evidenced by his approach to overcoming his relatively narrow shoulders with tremendously effective deltoid work. Few will approach the physique level that Scott did, but everyone can benefit from his training wisdom.