A piece of equipment ubiquitous across the gym floor, the Preacher Curl is a go to exercise for gym bros and dedicated trainees alike seeking to build their biceps. Combined with the EZ Bar, whose history is covered here, the Preacher Curl is likely an exercise we’ve all turned to in need of arm development.
When did this piece of equipment enter the gym zeitgeist, what was its original purpose and how did it become so popular? Furthermore, how does one perform the exercise correctly? Well strap in folks as we take another trip down memory lane…
Part Guru, Part Inventor
Despite the fact that the Preacher Curl, and its various spin offs, are so commonplace nowadays, it’s interesting to learn that the device is a relatively new invention. Indeed, its history dates as recently to the 1960s. A time when the Mr. Olympia competition was beginning to gather steam, when steroids had just begun to take a hold of bodybuilding and a time when Vince Gironda, the ‘Iron Guru’, was at the height of his training career.
Indeed it’s to Vince that we turn to in our particular tale. Having discussed his dietary advice and exercise variations in some detail, we now turn to his inventive streak. Though not possessing the inventiveness of an Arthur Jones regarding machine design, Gironda nevertheless imparted some great pearls to the training community. The Preacher Curl being one of them.
Relatively secretive himself during this period, our knowledge of the Preacher Curl comes not from Vince Gironda, but rather one of his proteges Larry Scott. The first man to win the Mr. Olympia, a feat he repeated the following year, Larry Scott was renowned for his remarkable arm and forearm development. A steadfast disciple of Vince’s training methods, Larry was the first to disclose information about the Preacher Curl, a device Vince had created and insisted on Scott using to isolate and increase the peaks of his biceps. Interestingly, by the 1970s, Scott had actually become so synonymous with the Preacher Curl that it was referred to as the Scott Bench by many gym goers.
A Bench is Born
For many years, the bench appears to have been a Gironda exclusive, a point noted by the highly informative work West Coast Bodybuilding Scene: The Golden Era. In it we learn that elite bodybuilders, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, were first introduced to the Preacher Curl during their visits of Vince’s gym. As these stars moved quite frequently amongst the iron building moguls of the time, it wasn’t long before news of the machine travelled to the likes of Joe Weider, Bob Hoffman and others.
In fact, here is a photo of Vince’s golden boy, Larry Scott, performing reverse Scott Curls on a preacher bench under the watchful eye of Joe Weider.
Courtesy of LinkedIn.
Similarly by the 1980s we already see nondescript Preacher Curls appearing in larger scale gyms such as World Gym.
Courtesy of Ric Drasin. Source.
That being said however, it appears that the Preacher Bench itself and its variations, all stemmed from the Iron Guru’s own gym. Here we see Arnold performing Preacher Curls on the seated bench
Courtesy of West Coast Bodybuilding Scene.
Here we see Larry Scott using a machine variation in Vince’s.
Courtesy of Ironguru.com.
Finally we see the lesser seen standing version, again from Vince’s gym.
Courtesy of Dave Draper’s Forum.
So while Vince’s exercises such as the Guillotine Press and Sissy Squat are quite rare in the gym world, his Preacher Curl, and it’s spin offs, are commonplace in the heart’s of lifters.
But how does one do the Perfect Curl?
Here we defer to the ‘Iron Guru’ Vince Gironda himself.
Vince, what is the correct way to use the preacher bench?
It sounds like a stupid question as it seems that doing preacher curls takes no great intelligence but I was wondering if there is an optimal way of doing them for maximum results?
Your question is not stupid. And as far as I am concerned, I have rarely observed this particular piece of equipment being used correctly.
First, the preacher stand is invariably placed too high on the chest. This position only allows the low biceps and the brachialis to work. Work for the upper biceps is denied.
But if the preacher stand is placed so that the top is three inches lower than the low pectoral, you can finish the curl properly, which is to lean forward so the high biceps and the coracobrachialis comes into play.
Done in the usual way, preacher curl produces a flat looking biceps instead of a nice full, round look.
To work the outer head of the biceps, you should keep the elbows in and the hands out wide.
To work the inner biceps, place the hands close together (three inches) and the elbows wide (20 inches).
To work the belly of the biceps, place both the elbows and the hands about 12 inches apart.
Another hint to work more lower biceps and forearm, is to let the barbell roll down to the end of your fingers and then start your curl. As you close your hand start curling by bending your wrist and flexing your forearms.
P.S. Much to my dismay, I’ve been unable to discover why exactly it’s called a Preacher Curl. The best explanation someone once told me is that Larry Scott, whose own religious faith was well known, likened the bench to an old bench his preaching father used. Whether or not that’s true is a different tale, but it makes a nice story right?
The first photo of Larry using the preacher bench is intriguing. His elbows are in and his forearms and hands are wide. He must have been somewhat double jointed. Personally, I don’t have this kind of flexibility. Any suggestions?
Hi Robert, do forgive my slack reply! I’ve found that wrist flexibility is usually a limiting factor for me. So in the past I’ve combined lighter, full ROM preacher curls with extensive stretching of the forearms. In time it made a difference!
The biggest difference between Vince’s bench and others, is the shape of the pad!
No mention about this! Everything is this article has been written before. Nothing really new.
Haha c’mon Peter. Tell me what you really think! Just kidding. Can you tell me more about the shape?
Larry Scott did explain that the curved-face (in contrast to flat-face) version of the bench found in Gironda’s gym was more effectively shaped and better padded than any other form of the bench he’d used, so may have been an original design of Gironda.
However, according to long-time iron game veteran Charles A. Smith (1912-1990), the exercise itself pre-dates Gironda:
“….The facts are that this sort of stuff has been in existence since the year 1900. You also mention the ‘LarryScott Curl.’ Scott has absolutely no right to give his name to this exercise— nor does
Gironda. It was around years before either of them were well known. The guys at Abe
Goldeberg’s gym were using it in the 1950’s. Alan Stephan was using it in the 1940’s. Joe
Assirati and I were using it in the early 1930’s and it was being used way back in the
1920s by Bert Assirati, Joe’s and my cousin. And it was beyond doubt being used way
back at the turn of the century ….”
Nice! Thank you for this Joe. Very happy to see this history dates further back. Also what an incredible reminder to me of Weis’s letters. I’ve spent hours going through them in the past but forgot all about them!