When looking at Vince Gironda's training methods it must be said that he coached everyone according to their abilities, so there isn't really one method per se. But there are some general ideas that he followed though, and I'd like to outline them in this article.
Disclaimer: Vince never believed that he had discovered the one and only answer to muscle growth (Instead, that can be found through nameless Internet trolls). He was open to criticism. However, his methods do work and have created some of the best physiques ever.
First off, there is exercise selection. Vince believed in bodybuilding, not muscle building. That being said, he always tried to create ascetically pleasing physiques, not blobs. The squat and flat bench were not done at his gym, replaced by the hack squat, incline bench and dips.
In his opinion, these exercises created blocky physiques. I happen to agree there, but in the end this is a very individual matters so everyone needs to decide what works for him.
Vince Gironda's Favorite Exercises
The following are Vince Gironda's favorite exercises, broken down by body part.
- Legs: Hack squat, sissy squat with added weight, leg press.
- Chest: Incline bench, V-dips and floor flyes. Floor flyes at the cable are really a lost gem, nothing gives a better pec isolation.
- Back: Pull ups (chest to the bar), kneeling lat pull downs (where you kneel on the floor in front of the pulley, seated cable rows.
- Shoulders: Military press, seated lateral raise or circuit, rear delt flyes while laying chest down on a bench.
- Triceps: Parallel grip dips, kneeling overhead extensions.
- Biceps: Zottman curls, incline curls.
- Calves: Donkey raises.
- Abs: Crunches and leg raises.
Vince believed in a high reps and (gasp!) high weights for maximum muscle growth. Traditionally, there have always been two schools of thought in bodybuilding: the high intensity-low frequency group, most notably known via Arthur Jones and Mike Mentzer, and the high volume group as represented by that Austrian guy who is in the movies. (Please note that I did not say that Arnold Schwarzenegger trained low intensity and high volume, since that wouldn't be true.)
What constitutes maximum effort and total failure has been subject for debate since decades and goes beyond the scope of this article. Let's just settle on the notion that muscular failure refers to the point where the athlete isn't capable of achieving another rep without using improper technique aka cheating.
8x8 - The Honest Workout
Gironda experimented with all kinds of different set and rep schemes. After a long period of trial and error he came up with the 8x8 workout or "the honest workout". Yes that amounts to 64 reps per exercise.
What about overtraining? At the risk of becoming unpopular, I believe that the majority of today's gym rats both undereat and undertrain. Less focus on the latest supplement and more on sleep and food would work wonders for most. But I digress...
What did the actual workout look like? Basically there are two variations, a whole body workout and a split routine.
For the whole body workout, one would pick one exercise per body part and perform 8 sets of 8 reps. The goal is to get all 64 reps per exercises on relatively short rest (One minute for legs, back and chest, 30 seconds for arms, shoulders and calves). Personally, I feel you should pick a weight that allows you to make it 8 reps at least for the first four sets, then you simply try to get as close to 8 as you can. As for weight selection, 60-70% of your normal training weight is a good start.
Assuming you are brave enough to undertake the whole body workout, here is a sample.
- Hack Squat
- Incline Bench Press
- Pull Ups
- Military Press
- Lying Cable Pull Overs
- Zottman curls.
- Kneeling Triceps Extensions w/Rope
- Donkey Calf Raise. If your gym doesn't have one of those machines, use the leg press. Vince actually preferred 8x20 reps for the calves, but that is not for the faint of heart....
- Leg Raises
Your other option would be a more classical bodybuilding split. Hereby I would recommend 3 exercises per large muscle group and 2 for smaller ones. The volume is high, rest is short so be prepared for a lot of soreness. Make sure to adjust your food intake and sleep pattern accordingly.
I would also skip cardio. If you have the luxury of time, you can break the sessions in half and train twice a day. This works very well when getting ready for a contest or photo shoot.
Day 1 Back/Triceps
- 8x8 Pull ups
- 8x8 Seated rows
- 8x8 Pull overs
- 8x8 Narrow grip dips
- 8x8 Kneeling overhead extensions
Day 2 Legs
- 8x8 Hack squats
- 8x8 Leg press wide stance of single legged
- 8x8 Stiff legged dead lifts
Day 3 Calves Shoulders
- 8x8 Military press standing
- 8x8 Leaning side raises
- 8x20 Donkey raises
Day 4 Chest/Biceps
- 8x8 Floor flyes with cables
- 8x8 V-Dips
- 8x8 Incline dumbbells bench
- 8x8 Zottman curls
- 8x8 Drag curl
I am aware that this workout goes against many of the so-called established 3x10 programs, but it pays to have an open mind. Sometimes a new and radical approach is needed to overcome a plateau and force your body to adapt, greater gains will be your reward!