If you’re a fan of bodybuilding or physique competitions, then you know many of the top champions work with a trainer and/or nutritionist to help them prepare for their big shows.
Many of the folks these athletes hire are known as coaches or “gurus”.
You might be able to name many of the top "gurus" in the game today. But there is one who many consider to be the original.
He was the “Iron Guru” of the “Golden Era” and worked with many champions of that time including the original Mr. Olympia, Larry Scott, Lou Ferrigno, Frank Zane, and yes, even Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Who Was Vince Gironda?
Born in the Bronx in 1917, Vince Gironda moved to Los Angeles with his family after his father received a job as a stuntman. Young Vince wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps originally, but was swayed towards lifting weights after seeing a photo of bodybuilding great John Grimek.
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Starting at age 22, Gironda trained at a local YMCA before moving to the gym of the Easton brothers. They taught him everything he needed to know about being an instructor. While this was happening, he also competed as a bodybuilder himself.
While he never won a show, he did place 2nd at the 1962 Mr. Universe while weighing around 175 pounds. The impromptu apprenticeship under the Easton’s would end after Gironda decided to open his own facility in North Hollywood which he called “Vince’s Gym”.
Throughout the 50’s and 60’s, Gironda’s reputation grew thanks to the champions previously mentioned winning contests and giving him credit for helping them do so. This led to him becoming a trainer to the stars, working with several Hollywood stars over the years including Clint Eastwood, Denzel Washington, and Sean Penn, among many others.
The Vince Gironda Training Mindset
Gironda was one of the early voices speaking about the role of the mind when it came to developing the body.
He made sure all of the people he trained not only concentrated on the task at hand while the workout was taking place, but they also had an overall belief and confidence that they could achieve the goals that were set.
How Vince Gironda Shared His Knowledge
Outside of his personal training, Gironda also was a proficient writer, contributing many articles over the years since which reached many people around the country. Gironda’s knowledge and passion for training was shared by those who followed him all the way up to his death in 1997, one month before his 80th birthday.
While many of his ideas were initially published in the 1950’s and 60’s and have been ignored recently in favor of more modern discoveries, some of his principles are still being promoted and helping people today.
Vince Gironda’s Nutrition Philosophies
He’s known as the Iron Guru but Gironda also helped many people with their nutrition programs. His philosophy was “bodybuilding is 85% nutrition”. Many consider Gironda as someone ahead of his time because he advocated for low carb diets long before they were popular.
He also advocated using nutritional supplements. Those he recommended included desiccated liver tablets, kelp tablets, Vitamin C, digestive enzymes, and raw glandulars.
Some of his recommendations around food were also the subject of conversation. Among his favorites were fertile hen-eggs and raw cream or half and half milk. Other foods he recommended based on the athlete and what he felt was needed. There was no “one size fits all” diet he recommended.
Principles Vince Gironda Rejected
Gironda was almost as famous for what he didn’t like as he was for what he did prefer. For example, regardless of the athlete he trained, he was completely against using anabolic steroids and preached this throughout his entire career. Other topics he spoke about were his choices for exercises. Gironda’s focus was primarily with bodybuilders and physique development and his exercise choices reflected that.
For example, he was not a fan of squats. As a matter of fact, his gym had no squat racks. Gironda felt the squats worked the glutes and hips which can affect their proportions in comparison to the thighs. He occasionally made an exception for women who competed if he felt they needed improvement in those areas. Otherwise he recommended leg extensions, leg curls, and other movements that would isolate the quadriceps or hamstrings.
He also was against sit ups and was among the first to criticize them as an exercise that failed to target the abdominals.
The Neck Press and Gironda Dip
Another exercise Gironda didn’t like was the flat barbell bench press. He felt this exercise recruited the front delts too much which meant it wouldn’t help the chest. Instead he created and popularized the neck press. Taking a wide grip of the bar, the lifter would lower it to the bottom of the neck instead of the chest.
Another movement he tweaked to his preference was the classic dip. His Gironda dip called for the lifter to look down and have your chin touch the chest. The hands would also be positioned so the fingers were inside the handles. The elbows would be flared out and his legs would be brought forward instead of bent underneath you. Gironda felt doing them this way would isolate the chest and minimize triceps involvement.
Vince Gironda’s “Honest” Style Workout Programs
While Gironda’s contributions to fitness and bodybuilding have been numerous, there’s one that stands out above the rest even now decades later. His 8 x 8 program was what he called his “honest” program because of how it humbled lifters to use lighter weight and focus on working the muscles instead of concentrating on what was being used. This principle has also been called density training in more recent years.
You had to perform eight sets of eight reps and you only had 30 seconds to rest between those sets. There was no way this could be done with heavier weight without form being sacrificed which Gironda was against. He felt using lighter resistance and resting less would maximize muscle fiber growth and helped burn calories in the quickest time possible.
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There were two ways to train with the 8 x 8 method. You could either use it as a full body workout or focus on individual muscle groups as you would a bodybuilding split. Either way was intense and you can be assured you did a serious workout.
If you were to do a full body plan, you should keep it to a max of five exercises. Although that’s only eight sets for each major muscle group, that’s 40 sets in the course of one workout.
Sample Vince Gironda Full Body 8 x 8 Workout
|1. Leg Press||8||8|
|2. Lying Leg Curl||8||8|
|3. Seated Row||8||8|
|4. Incline Dumbbell Press||8||8|
|5. Lateral Raise||8||8|
The Vince Gironda Inspired 8x8 Workout
Should you opt for a bodybuilding split, stick to three or four exercises for the larger muscle groups like legs, chest, and back. Smaller areas like the biceps, triceps, and calves would only need two movements each.
The split below is an example of what a program like this might look like. Gironda would train different athletes based on individual needs.
Monday: Vince Gironda 8x8 Chest Workout
|1. Neck Press||8||8|
|2. Gironda Dip||8||8|
|3. Incline Fly||8||8|
Tuesday: Vince Gironda 8x8 Back & Biceps Workout
|1. Barbell Row||8||8|
|2. Lat Pull Down||8||8|
|3. Dumbbell Pullovers||8||8|
|4. Barbell Curl||8||8|
|5. Hammer Curl||8||8|
Thursday: Vince Gironda 8x8 Shoulders & Triceps Workout
|1. Standing Push Press||8||8|
|2. Lateral Raise||8||8|
|3. Upright Row||8||8|
|4. Overhead Dumbbell Extension||8||8|
|5. Straight Bar Push Down||8||8|
Friday: Vince Gironda 8x8 Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Calves Workout
|1. Leg Press||8||8|
|2. Leg Extension||8||8|
|3. Stiff Leg Deadlift||8||8|
|4. Lying Leg Curl||8||8|
|5. Calf Press||8||8|
|6. Seated Calf Raise||8||8|
* 30 seconds rest between exercises.
**Gironda preferred dumbbell exercises to be performed with both arms at the same time instead of alternating back and forth to minimize rest and maximize effort.