Get to know one of the underappreciated visionaries of bodybuilding’s golden age, and test yourself against one of his legendary routines!
Even in an age when lifting weights was considered far from normal, Vince “The Iron Guru” Gironda was an iconoclast. He was sharp of both wit and tongue, inventing exercises with ease, kicking lifters out of his famous gym on a whim, and prioritizing shredded definition in an age when it was anything but the goal.
Today, Gironda’s torch is tended by a small but devoted community of fans, none more dedicated than Karl Coyne. A strength scholar and a competitive natural bodybuilder himself, Coyne recently released the tome the first of a series of books clearing out the vaults of Gironda’s writings, workouts, photos, and correspondence.
After the release of the book, Coyne spoke with Bodybuilding.com about the legacy of the Iron Guru and provided one of his legendary high-volume definition-enhancing routines.
Q: To the casual bodybuilding fan, Gironda can seem a bit eccentric. For instance, he was critical of the bench and squat and famously called Arnold “fat.” What does this surface-level analysis say about the man?
Vince was known for his eccentric ways, but there were reasons to back up his actions. He was somewhat of an idealist in regard to bodybuilding, or “physical culture,” as he preferred to call it. Vince’s primary goal was for pupils to get the most out of each workout. He wasn’t in to wasting any time, always working as if there were a deadline. In some cases, there indeed was a deadline, especially for the Hollywood stars who needed to get into shape quickly.
He liked to explain it in terms of a marathon runner and a sprinter: The marathon runner does a lot of work over a long period of time, whereas the sprinter does less total work, but in a much shorter period. When someone would come in, Vince was often quoted as saying, “We need to turn him into a steel worker in 10 days.”
Vince felt regular squats focused more on the glutes than the quads. For that reason, he suggested sissy hack squats or sissy front squats. Another item that got many people questioning his theories was his viewpoint on the bench press. Once again, most people only heard part of the story, but the reality was that it was more about adjusting the typical arm and elbow positioning in order to better focus on the chest rather than the triceps and delts.
To give a simplified explanation of this, Vince’s method brought the bar higher toward the neck, with the elbows out. Vince basically tweaked various exercises for optimal effect.
As for Arnold, well, Vince had a tendency to express himself, regardless of who it was, and Arnold wasn’t the only one on the receiving end. [ed: As the story goes, Arnold introduced himself to Gironda, saying, “My name is Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I am going to be the greatest bodybuilder who ever lived.” Vince replied, “You look like a fat fuck to me!”] At times it may have seemed harsh, but he was attempting to be straightforward. Granted, at times he was a little extreme, but the results were always positive.
The interesting part of this is that Vince led Arnold to change a few things with his training. It was Vince who introduced Arnold to the preacher bench. Vince also tweaked his leg and shoulder routine, and he even had Arnold cycle the diet and supplement program that got him in the shape needed for an upcoming contest.
Q: Vince was known for having very specific technique for movements like pull-ups, dips, and calves. What unique moves of his do you feel are the most effective, if people are willing to give them a chance?
Without a doubt, the sissy hack squat is one item that works quite well. Another popular one is the preacher bench curl, which was a favorite of the first Mr. Olympia, Larry Scott.
It actually wasn’t Vince that invented this; he simply promoted it so much that everyone thought he invented it. Later, it got the name “Scott bench.” One unique item was the incline bench with a hole in it. Even in modern-day gyms, you won’t find this, but it is definitely a bench that should be a normal piece of equipment. It was designed to be used for various delt movements. It basically forced the person to do the exercise in strict form. Vince’s wide-grip V-bar dip is another great exercise.
Vince published plenty during his lifetime. What new information or new part of the story does “Vince’s Secret Locker” provide?
The book covers every aspect of Vince Gironda, even going as far back as high school. There’s information that has been locked away for decades, including many never-before-seen pictures, letters, and lost articles. Basically, the book taps into Vince’s 50-year wealth of bodybuilding experience and knowledge, covering everything about how to build muscle, how to lose fat, and everything in between.
How was Gironda ahead of his time nutritionally?
Vince pretty much knew how to proportion the essentials: proteins, carbs, and fats. He also commonly cycled his programs and supplement regimen. This was a time when the bulky look was the norm. Vince for the most part preferred a more ripped, lean, muscular appearance, to show the detail and separation of the individual muscles. It’s hard to imagine it today, but Vince lost competitions for being too ripped.
Vince Gironda’s Super-Definition Routine
Use the following program three times a week. When definition was the goal, Vince would often cycle rep schemes for definition like this (except for abs and calves, which stayed consistent):
- Weeks 1-3: 8 sets of 8 reps
- Weeks 4-6: 6 sets of 6 reps
- Weeks 7-9: 4 sets of 12 reps
Vince Gironda’s Super-Definition Routine
8 sets, 8 reps (Using double D-handle.)
8 sets, 8 reps (Preferably on a V-shaped dip bar.)
8 sets, 8 reps (Using short rope attachment.)
8 sets, 8 reps
3 rounds of 24 reps
1 set, 8 reps (Unweighted, top half ROM only.)
1 set, 8 reps (1-1/2 squat, going all the way down, halfway up, back down, and up again.)
1 set, 8 reps (Combination: a half squat, then a whole squat, then a bottom half, then up.)
6 sets, 30 reps (Rest as little as possible, keeping knees locked and heels in.)
4 sets, 20 reps