Back in the days when bodybuilders had trainers – or at least admitted they had trainers – the go-to guru in bodybuilding was Vince Gironda. Gironda was unique: Many of his ideas were decades ahead of their time and paved the way for bodybuilders to achieve the type of unheard-of mass and muscularity you see in today’s champions. Further, he was a controversial, outspoken personality whose unconventional behavior often showed up in the gossip columns of muscle magazines.
Gironda was often referred to as the “Trainer to the Stars” because of his work with Hollywood celebrities, including Clint Eastwood, Cher, Denzel Washington, Kurt Russell, Burt Reynolds, Carl Weathers, Michael Landon, James Garner and Erik Estrada. But he was also nicknamed “The Iron Guru” for his work with top bodybuilders. His most famous bodybuilding clients were Larry Scott, who in 1965 won the first Mr. Olympia title and to this day possesses a great physique, and Mohamed Makkawy, who placed second twice in the Olympia. Gironda wrote numerous articles for Iron Man magazine, and in 1984 he collaborated with MuscleMag International publisher Robert Kennedy to publish the bodybuilding classic Unleashing the Wild Physique.
Gironda’s gym, Vince’s Gym located on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, was a popular gym that attracted many of the top bodybuilders of the ’60s and ’70s. In addition to Scott, Mr. Olympias Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno trained at Vince’s Gym, along with Jake Steinman, who went on to become a highly successful Hollywood celebrity trainer and fitness personality. The gym closed in 1995, and Gironda died two years later at the age of 79.
Gironda’s eccentricity and lack of people skills were legendary in the bodybuilding community. In his book, Muscle, Smoke and Mirrors, author Randy Roach relayed this story about Gironda told by Steve Downs: “As he passed a member doing chins, Vince just casually pulled the guy’s sweats down and butted his cigar ashes down inside and then snapped them back.” Roach also said that when Arnold Schwarzenegger first met Vince and introduced himself as Mr. Universe, Roach said Vince allegedly responded with, “You just look like another fat f--- to me!” And his most famous pupil, Larry Scott, had this to say about Gironda in his book Loaded Gun: “I learned a tremendous amount from Vince about training, posing, nutrition and absolutely nothing about manners.”
In addition to being an amazing trainer, Gironda was someone who practiced what he preached and was noted for his symmetry and muscularity. He won third at the 1957 Mr. USA; and in 1962, at the age of 44, he placed second in his class at the 1962 NABBA Mr. Universe. Whatever else you may think about Gironda, you’ve got to admire his longevity in his field.
Vince Gironda was an innovative trainer, and if you track down his books and original articles, you’ll find numerous training pearls that will help you (and your athletes, if you are a coach or trainer) achieve your goals. With that background, here are five major contributions to strength training that I got from him. Some of these ideas can be attributed directly to Gironda; others he just popularized very well.
Lesson #1: The Value of High-Volume Training
In what he referred to as an “honest workout,” Gironda believed in the value of periods of high-volume training to achieve maximum muscle growth quickly, especially in lagging bodyparts, and to reduce bodyfat. One of his favorite workouts in this regard was what he referred to as the “8x8 system.”
This type of workout is similar to the German Volume Training in that it involves focusing on a low number of exercises, with a high number of sets and reps, so that an entire workout could be finished in an hour or less – in fact, most of his workouts were designed to be performed in one hour or less. To work all the major muscle groups and enable them to recover from these difficult training sessions, you would work each bodypart only twice a week and allow at least 72 hours’ rest between workouts. A typical split for this workout might look like this:
- Monday and Thursday: Chest, Back, Shoulders
- Tuesday and Friday: Biceps, Triceps, Forearms
- Wednesday and Saturday: Legs, Calves
Lesson #2: Consume Frequent, Small Meals
Gironda was one of the first to promote lower-carbohydrate diets. He also had no problem about including fat in diets, which ran contrary to what the aerobic industry was promoting. Instead of three small meals, he would recommend six small meals to stimulate metabolism. Also, while the nation’s medical experts were leaning towards low-fat/high-carbohydrate diets, Gironda was promoting low-carb diets and wasn’t concerned with eliminating fat.
Lesson #3: Take Care of Yourself
To make progress in weight training, Gironda advocated avoiding what he called physical and mental “energy leaks.” “Physical leaks” included smoking, drinking, skipping meals, missing sleep, and refined sugar. “Mental leaks” included displaying emotional qualities that upset tranquility, such as hate, anxiety and ego.
Lesson #4: Do Not Use Aerobics to Lose Weight
Gironda did not believe in using aerobic exercise for getting lean, unlike many bodybuilders who have endorsed it as necessary to get lean, and didn’t consider aerobic training mandatory for women. He believed, and rightly so, that weight training was superior for losing bodyfat and that aerobic training could compromise muscle mass gains. And as for his special approach for training women, Gironda thought that nothing was better or faster for shaping the female figure than weight training.
Lesson #5: The Value of Dips and Chins
Two of my favorite exercises that are often missing in modern-day training programs are chins and dips. Gironda loved both of them, and in fact he believed dips were so superior to developing the chest that he didn’t even have a bench press station in his gym. For this he recommended a V-shaped dip apparatus, which accommodates a greater variety of body types. Using a reverse grip, the trainee would round the upper back, chin to chest, elbows pointed straight out, feet together, toes pointed down and under the face.
For chins, he recommended a full range of motion and was a big believer in Sternum chins. Gironda was obsessed with technique; if you want to see his variations of many exercises such as curls and dumbbell lateral raises, simply go to YouTube and search for Vince Gironda Drag Curl, Vince Gironda Perfect Curl, and Vince Gironda Dumbbell Alternate Side Swing.
Besides these five examples, there are many other good ideas Gironda promoted, including not working the abs every day, the importance of breakfast, frequently changing your workout, specializing on areas that lagged behind others, the importance of supplements, the importance of concentration during training and the willingness to experiment with new ideas. Vince Gironda, the Iron Guru, was definitely a man ahead of his time.