In this article we look at the two exercises Larry Scott used to pound his pecs, under the exacting mentorship of Vince Gironda, to build a chest worthy of winning the first two Mr Olympia competitions back to back. And no: the bench press was not one of them.
Larry Scott: Perfect Pecs, Aesthetic Bodybuilder
Larry Scott, often referred to as the Golden Age’s own ‘Golden Boy’, was one of bodybuilding’s first crossover stars.
Scott exploded onto the bodybuilding scene at the end of the 1950s, and quickly established himself as the best bodybuilder in the world, winning competition after competition – Mr California, Mr Pacific Coast, Mr America, then Mr Universe – in quick succession.
He was the first bodybuilder to boast 20” arms, which many to this day still believe were the most aesthetically perfect arms in history to complement his awesome pecs.
However, this particular article focuses on how he targeted his pecs.
Scott cemented his reputation by winning the inaugural Mr Olympia competition in 1965.
The Olympia, the competition which is now most associated with bodybuilding, was established by the Weider brothers as a means to sort the best from the best of the many competing federations of the time.
Only winners of the Mr America or Mr Universe could enter the competition. Scott went on to win the second Mr Olympia too, before retiring, much to the shock of the bodybuilding community; although his opponents were almost certainly grateful for his exit.
Scott remained involved in the bodybuilding world, although he no longer competed, running his own personal training company, Larry Scott Fitness and Nutrition.
Although Scott had had success in his native Idaho, winning Mr Idaho in 1959 at the age of 20, it was not until he moved to California and began to train at Vince’s Gym, in West Hollywood, under the tutelage of Vince Gironda, that his career really took off.
With the help of Vince and the preacher machine, Scott was able to turn an initial weakness – his arms – into his greatest asset.
Vince’s guiding aesthetic principle – that mass must be placed on the body carefully, with respect to the individual’s frame and genetics – also helped Scott to compensate for his naturally narrow shoulders by ensuring that his traps, in particular, did not become overdeveloped, or his waist too bulky, thereby accentuating the narrowness of his shoulders further.
In later decades, Vince would rail against the abandonment of the aesthetic principles of the Golden Age for what he considered to be mass for its own sake.
Vince was a man with very strong opinions about fitness and nutrition. Among his many pet hates were back squats – which he believed led to overdevelopment of the hips and glutes – and the bench press, which in his opinion was more of a front deltoid exercise than a pecs exercise.
In his 1984 book The Wild Physique, Vince said the following about the bench press.
‘I get a lot of static over my claim that the bench press is all for the front deltoid. A lot of guys have built big chests with the bench press, but I don’t see much impressiveness in spite of the size. I prefer the collar-to-collar-grip neck press (lowering the bar down to the neck instead of the chest). And then there’s the famous Gironda dips using a wide grip… I still maintain this is the best movement for developing the outer pec line.’
Vince then said that Larry Scott performed these two exercises – ‘nothing else’ – to develop his pecs.
So let’s look at the guillotine press and Gironda dips in some more detail, and then consider how you can implement them into your own routine.
Read this article if you want to learn a new way to hit your pecs with our signature press.
The Guillotine Press
Don’t be put off by the scary name, homie. This is simply a bench press where you take a wider grip than normal and flare your elbows. This stimulates the pectoral muscles across their axis, leading to the best possible activation of all three portions of the chest muscles. At the same time, you involve the shoulders to a much lesser extent than in the bench press.
Guillotine press demonstration video with Vince Gironda:
In the video you can see that Vince lies on the bench with a flat back and his feet up on the bench, rather than with an arch in his back and his feet on the floor, as you would for a traditional bench press.
Remember, this is not a bench press variant: it is a different kind of press and different rules – no leg drive or pushing from the lats – apply.
The press is supposed to be as close to a pure pecs exercise as possible. Lower the bar to the top of the sternum, and press it back up.
One reason some claim not to like the guillotine press is that it forces the shoulders to act as stabilisers, which can cause some strain.
Given time, and providing you don’t try to use as heavy a weight as you would normally bench – and you really shouldn’t – your shoulders will adapt and things will be fine.
Having to use significantly less weight than with the bench press is the other reason why many gymbros refuse to try the guillotine press.
But why would you let your ego dictate which exercises you do?
The fact that you have to use less weight for lateral raises – much less weight – than for overhead press doesn’t make lateral raises a useless exercises; far from it, actually.
Check your ego on your way in to the gym.
If you’re worried about chopping your head off, don’t be; then get a spotter.
You can perform the guillotine press in a Smith machine, which has two potential benefits.
First, it will reduce the strain on the shoulders by obviating the need for the shoulders to act as stabilisers.
Second, you can push your grip out as far as the machine will allow, which will further reduce the role played by the shoulders and the triceps in the movement.
Vince Gironda had his own version of the bodyweight dip targeted specifically at the pecs. In Iron Man magazine, Vince described the exercise thus.
Here is an image of Larry Scott performing dips using Vince’s method to target his pecs.
‘Use a parallel bar set up which permits you to have a spacing of 33″ wide. Remember that the elbows must be wide and straight out from the shoulders. The head is down chin on chest and the back rounded forward. The feet are under the face or slightly in front. Dip as far down as possible and return as high as you can.’
How to Do Them
The following video should clarify exactly what Vince means.
Vince said that Larry ‘alternated’ guillotine presses and dips for his pecs, which may mean that he performed them with no rest between, as a superset.
Vince was an advocate of supersets and other such methods for increasing workout intensity.
Of course, these exercises don’t have to be performed as a superset, or even both together in your workout. One of Vince’s most famous rep schemes was 8×8 (eight sets of eight reps).
The aim with 8×8 is to use cumulative fatigue, rather than weight per se, to stimulate muscle growth in the pecs.
Pick a weight you can lift for 10-12 reps and then perform eight sets of eight reps with as little rest as possible between the sets.
Over time, you can decrease the rest time between sets to as little as 15 seconds.
If you can perform all eight sets of eight, increase the weight.
Even if you don’t perform an 8×8 with either or both of the exercises, we would recommend, at least for the guillotine press, that you stick to the 8-12 rep range, given that the weight must be less than for the bench press.
There is no reason why you couldn’t perform the guillotine press as part of a workout involving the bench press as well — to maximize growing your pecs.
The guillotine press could even be used as a Mike Mentzer-style pre-exhaust exercise before the bench press, to ensure that the pecs reaches exhaustion at the same time as the triceps.
With the dips, you can progress by increasing the number of reps or sets performed, or you can add weight with a weight belt to really stress the pecs.
You can also increase the intensity of the dips by performing what Vince called ‘burns’ at the end of each set.
These are basically three or four partial reps after it becomes impossible to perform another full rep, leading to total muscle recruitment and fatigue.
Don’t hesitate to email us at [email protected] for personalized coaching and a client questionnaire if you’d like DEDICATED tailor-made personal training on strength training, building muscle, losing fat, developing athleticism, and more — all to your liking, lifestyle, habits, and taste!
Alternatively, you can pick up a FREE eBook on fundamental strength principles offering an introductory workout program.