Since the Mike Mentzer article has gotten such good feedback, I thought: “Why not write a series about pioneers of the iron game?”
So today, I want to write about one of the forgotten pioneers of bodybuilding, who coincidentally, was almost as sociable as Mike Mentzer: Vince Gironda aka the Iron Guru. Vince, born in the Bronx, later settled in California and was one of the first trainers to the stars.
His clients were : Clint Eastwood, Cher, Larry Scott, Arnold Schwarzenegger and so on. But it wasn’t so much his clientele that makes him remarkable, but his contributions to the sport which pushed weight lifting in a new direction. I just want to list the most important ones.
He was one of the first to develop a low carb approach to dieting, where he prescribed a whole eggs and lean meats combination along with some vegetables (pretty much a paleo diet).
Interestingly enough, he only proposed 3 meals a day and bridged the time in between with amino acid and liver tabs. I myself am a huge fan of liver tabs, its a convenient protein and vitamin B source and I feel my physique looks better and leaner when I use them. So this is more or less an intermittent fasting approach, as it has become popular today.
Even though he didn’t like back squats, he used front squats in every workout as a hormonal optimizer in order to create growth in all muscle groups. This is something I have done with clients and I urge everyone to try. If you have a period of time where you can focus on your training and resting, up your calories by 10% and train your legs every time you go to the gym for 2-3 weeks. You will be very pleased with the results.
The bench press got no love from Vince, he felt it places too much stress on the front deltoid and doesn’t develop a good chest. As a bodybuilder, I have to agree. The flat bench is very hard on the rotator cuff and front delts, while creating a droopy chest. I prefer the dumbbell version or the incline bench. For power lifting, that’s a different story.
Vince also dismissed the then common notion of bulking for the sake of getting bigger as nonsense since it only led to fat gain. He was very much concerned with creating a physique as opposed to just heaping on mass (where has that idea gone??). I think the appropriate term for Vince would be “Physique Architect“, he was very much concerned with a v-tapered physique. Vince was actually punished at a contest for appearing too “ripped” and was placed lower for being too lean …(those judges later oversaw Lehman Brothers real estate portfolio).
In a way, I feel that Vince was too ahead of his time. In today’s world he would have been a multimillionaire over and over.
He also created the 8×8 routine (the “honest workout“), which consists of a whole body or split routine where you perform 8×8 sets with short rest only. Again, this is also a form of training I would like anyone to try out for a week or two; either for the whole body or to bring up a lagging bodypart.
Another invention of his was the drag curl, one of my favorite exercises for the biceps.
Most interesting though was his attitude toward bodybuilding as such. He really cared about the sport, not his financial success. Without hesitation, he would dismiss paying clients if they did not follow his routine and rather work pro bono with a talented and dedicated lifter. He also couldn’t stand it if people did not follow his advice. According to Don Howorth, Vince hated crunches. So when he saw a member doing them despite Vince’s advice, he walked to cash register, took out 100$, gave it to the member and told him to get the f..out of his gym. This led to the near bankruptcy of his gym on multiple occasions but he surely kept his integrity.
I feel this is something the sport has lost over the last decade or so and it’s helpful to recall what it is all about: getting yourself in shape and helping others.
Vince’s teachings are all but forgotten, yet many current bodybuilding diets and routines are based on Vince’s wisdom. If you want to know more, check out “The wild physique” .
I am off to do an 8×8 shoulder workout.
Love a dose of strength history? Check out the other great bodybuilders in this series :