Every Which Way But Loose: Gary Strydom’s Chest Training Turns his Pecs Inside Out for Awesome Mass


Written by Jerry Brainum in 1991, the following article details then Bodybuilding prospect Gary Strydom’s impressive training routine. As readers of the blog will remember, Strydom dominated the briefly run World Bodybuilding Federation run by WWE’s Vince McMahon. Owing it would seem more to internal politics than meritocracy, many feel that Strydom was never given his dues within the Iron Game.

Gary Strydom hates competing. But he loves bodybuilding, and loves the fans. If it were up to him, Gary would prefer giving exhibitions and seminars and forget about competing.

Skeptics may say that Gary Strydom is afraid to lay it on the line, that he doesn’t want to get onstage and match muscles with the major league players in bodybuilding. How else to explain his absence from the Mr. Olympia ranks two years in a row?

These critics have short memories. They forget the ripped-to-shreds Gary Strydom of the 1988 Mr. Olympia who placed a respectable fifth in his first attempt at that title. On the considerably heavier Strydom who pushed Mike Christian in every show on the Grand Prix circuit last year. No. Strydom’s reluctance to compete doesn’t stem from fear.

It’s more a question of timing, coupled with Strydom’s belief that he just doesn’t need to compete. This past year, for example, saw the dissolution of his marriage, and earlier in the year a bad business setback. The fact that he can continue training despite these negative experience is a tribute to his discipline and drive.

“No criteria force you to compete,” says Strydom.”If you have momentum and are in the public eye, competing isn’t necessary.”

“Besides, I don’t like competing because there isn’t any cut-and-dried winner in bodybuilding. So many different types of physiques exist that devising a truly definitive judging system is nearly impossible. Each judge has his/her own opinion about what constitutes the perfect body. Because of this inherent bias, it’s difficult for the judges to objectively view physiques that diverge from their personal preferences.

I find that I don’t need contests as motivation to stay in shape. I try to stay in top shape all year, which is why I’ve developed a reputation of always being in good shape. Instead of competition, I prefer to meet people around the world. In that sense, I like to think of myself as the people’s champion.

Although off-season nowadays Strydom averages 275 pounds, which he carries remarkably well, he weighed only 230 at his Mr. Olympia debut in 1988. He ascribes this to a combination of overtraining and giving in to “outside pressure”. With only seven years of training, Gary felt he hadn’t yet developed the experience or confidence to enter at a more rational bodyweight. So he took the bad advice to get as ripped as possible for the Mr. Olympia.

Now he feels that at 6’1″, he can be in contest shape weighing 256. Those who’ve seen hi at 275 during the off-season readily concur. Few bodybuilders carry weight as well as Strydom. Even at 275 pounds, he still has the vascularity deeply corrugated abdominals and shredded intercostals that are the hallmarks of a finished bodybuilding competitor.

Proof of this came in the 1989 Pro Grand Prix circuit. Many observers noted how much bigger Strydom looked than he had at the Mr. O. Yet the only thing he did differently was to let his body fill out to its natural proportions. He admits that he’s still learning and his chest training exemplifies the continuing evolution.


Exercises Sets Reps
1.) Dumbbell Bench Press (warm-up only) 3-4 10-12
2.) Dumbbell Bench Press / Flye Combo 5-6 12-25
3.) Incline Machine Press 4-5 12-25
4.) Cable Crossovers 8-12 10-30
5.) Dumbbell Pullovers 5 10-12


Strydom admits that his chest, legs, shoulders and triceps were all easy to develop. His early bodybuilding education came form an eclectic blend of trial and error and reading. He experimented with different routines until he hit upon a combination that worked for him.

He tried bench presses in his early chest training, but with marginal results. His long arms and torso provided him with poor leverage in flat bench presses. He recalls being unable to bench press 135 for 10 repetitions at fist. he eventually worked up to 450, but felt it didn’t do him much good because of the dominant involvement of his shoulders.

So he prefers to use dumbbell exercises for most chest training. Dumbbells, he says, offer the advantages for more freedom of movement and better muscle contraction. In the free weight versus machine debate, Strydom remains neutral. “You need both machines and free weights for full chest development.” he says. “Free weights teach you balance by involving surrounding synergistic muscles. machines allow great control and promote mental concentration.”

Strydom thinks that some bodybuilders have trouble developing an impressive chest because of a lack of feel. “The chest muscles may be difficult to contract for some people, he says, “you’ve got to feel the movement, and not just go through the motions.

“People who don’t fully contact the chest muscles while training often have good shoulder and triceps development because these muscles dominate during their chest training. They need to experiment, trying out different chest exercises until they discover those that let them feel totally in control so they can maximize the chest muscle concentration.”

Strydom avoids supersets. he feels that trying to concentrate on more than one exercise at a time dilutes concentration. he feels that 25-repetition sets, done on his lighter training days, provide the same intensity benefit as supersets, but with no loss of vital concentration.

The key to developing a great chest, says Strydom, are concentration, knowing what exercises give you the best feel, and training the chest from all angles.


Gary Strydom trains on a double-split routine all year. His favorite split is the following:

Bodyparts Trained
Quads (a.m.); hamstrings (p.m.)
Biceps, triceps (a.m.); calves, stationary cycling (p.m.)
Deadlifts (a.m.); upper back (p.m.)
Chest (a.m.); shoulders, abdominals, cycling (p.m.)

On the road, Gary trains once a day varying bodyparts randomly depending on how he feels.


Personality: “I like to be myself, and I hope people will accept that. I’m not perfect. Some people have misconceptions about me before they meet me. After they meet me in the flesh, they often comment. “You’re much nicer than I thought you’d be.” It disturbs me to think that some people think I’m arrogant without even meeting me personally.”

Clothes: “I like loose fitting clothes because I prefer to play down my physique. Let’s face it, no matter how I dress it’s hard to hide a 275 pound body. I sometimes like to dress in formal wear, although such outfits must always be custom-made for me.”

Jewelry: “I don’t like to wear ostentatious jewelry,such as large medallions and chains. I wear only a fine gold neck chain with a krugerrand, a gold coin from my native South Africa, and a Rolex sport watch.”

Hobbies: “I’m a gun collector; shotguns are my favorite. I also like classic cars, like some older model Corvettes. I sometimes get deeply involved in an exciting video game. I love both watching and playing soccer. It’ my dream to attend a World Cup soccer final. Actually, I enjoy all sports.”

Inspiration: “I’m inspired by all the hardships I’ve been through. I think about how I arrived in the United States from South Africa with no money and no friends. When I think about those lonely early struggles, it inspires me because I never want to experience that kind of adversity again.

“I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made in my life. At 30, I’m still young, and I’ve already competed with the best bodybuilders in the world. It’s a dream come true for me.

“I feel like I can do anything, just through perseverance. Serving in the Army as a teenager taught me enough discipline and perseverance to last a lifetime.

“I believe that God gives all of us some kind of talent. many of us flounder through life until we discover our particular talent. When you realize what your talent is, you’ll know by the peace of mind and confidence you’ll feel. In my case, that talent is bodybuilding, and I need to develop it to my fullest potential. I’ve got to ride the wave.”


Dumbbell Bench Press / Fly Combo
Gary lowers the dumbbells as if doing flyes, then presses the weight. he varies the repetitions on each workout. One day he’ll use heavier weights for 12 repetitions per set, while on the next chest workout he’ll do 25 reps per set.

Incline Machine Press
Gary lowers the bar to 1-2 inches above his neck, and uses a slightly wider than shoulder width grip for greater pectoral stretch. He varies light and heavy reps as in the previous exercise.

Cable Crossovers
He does 5-6 sets starting with 10 reps with a light weight. He adds both weight and reps every set, until he’s doing 25-30 reps by the final set. He crosses the cable handles in the front of the body mimicking the most muscular pose.

Dumbbell Pullovers Across Bench
Gary concentrates on getting a full stretch. He believes this exercise helps create the illusion of a deeper chest by promoting greater chest flexibility.


  • USA Champion, 1984
  • NPC National Champion, 1986
  • Night of the Champions winner, 1987
  • Australian Grand Prix Winner, 1989
  • Paris Grand Prix winner, 1989
  • Stockholm Grand Prix winner, 1989


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