How much muscle have I gained over the years as a result of using Vince Gironda’s body building techniques over the years? I’m not sure. All I know is that it was a lot! More importantly, it was quality, all-natural muscle. You can do it too if you know the secrets…
Vince was one of the early influences in my life that steered me AWAY from steroids and I’m infinitely grateful for that. I must have been only 14 or 15 years old when that idea was planted in my head that steroids could not only be harmful, they actually ruined your physique.
Gironda detested drugs and the “droopy” “bunched-up” over-bulked physiques that anabolics produced. He was all about quality over quantity and his training techniques reflected that philosophy.
I learned about Vince “The Iron Guru” in 1983, from Robert Kennedy’s Muscle Mag International. Gironda, who trained all the top champions back in the bodybuilding golden era as well as A-list movie stars like Clint Eastwood and Cher, had a column in Kennedy’s mag. I read (and collected) every issue. I also started reading (and collecting) the articles by and about Gironda in Peary Rader’s IRONMAN magazine.
In both magazines I always saw those ubiquitous classified ads for mail order muscle building courses. I rarely ordered anything, but after having read Vince’s articles, I was intrigued and wanted to learn more. So I bought my first Gironda courses: Blueprint for the bodybuilder and the six week Bulk Course.
I eventually bought every course Gironda ever published as well as the book he co-authored with Robert Kennedy, “Unleashing the Wild Physique.”
There was a lot of information to absorb in all his prolific writings, and frankly, some of it was confusing, conflicting or downright weird. Some of it today might be considered scientifically inaccurate or bodybuilding mythology.
However, Gironda was a visionary, decades ahead of his time. Most of the principles he taught – especially the training principles for bodybuilding - were not only spot-on, they were adopted, borrowed or ripped-off by other trainers and Vince never got the credit.
I’ve adopted so many of Vince’s exercises and techniques, that I can say he was probably among the biggest influences on my own bodybuilding philosophy today.
In this article, I’m going to list for you the most Powerful, most effective, most quick-to-produce-results techniques that I adopted from Vince. And I list them all here, with credit to Gironda as the place I heard of them first.
Please note – this article is not about the “Gironda exercises” – it’s about “Gironda techniques and philosophies, which could be applied to almost any exercise. I’ll talk about Gironda’s favorite exercises in another article.
Creating an illusion
Bodybuilding is not all about size. It’s about shape, symmetry, balanced proportions and beautiful classical lines. By building up certain areas, leaving some the same, and reducing others, you can transform the way you look in utterly fantastic ways. You can even make your self look much bigger (and even taller) than you actually are.
Vince called it cosmetic bodybuilding. This is a lost art today in a fitness world where the biggest concern is being “functional.”
Even in the bodybuilding world where the goals are cosmetic, it’s ironic that today, most people are totally focused on a) how much weight they can lift, b) how much they weigh, and c) size at all costs, slapping on as much muscle as they can, with no consideration for where it goes.
With Vince, it was all about symmetry and Greek proportions. Vince even noted that it was Pythagoras who observed the first rules of symmetry in nature and set those rules to be applied in the construction of Greek temples. They were further elaborated upon by Leonardo Da Vinci as applied to ideal proportions of the human body.
“To develop a harmonious relationship between the parts of the object of beauty is the goal” said Vince. “Size without shape is grotesque.”
Vince was a master of this art and he helped his clients create the illusion by developing the lateral head of the deltoid, building the V-shaped back, minimizing butt and hip growth, shrinking the waistline, avoiding oblique over-development and bringing the rectus femoris all the way up into the hip, training the thighs to actually create the illusion of longer legs.
Contraction (aka “Insurance” repetitions)
Almost every beginner and intermediate bodybuilder I have ever met says they have a hard time feeling some of their muscles contract - especially their lats. They also complain they can’t get a pump and they never get sore. Not surprisingly they complain about sub-par lat development. When I was younger, it was the same for me. Until I read about this simple trick from Vince:
If you haven’t learned to contract your lats strongly yet and you can’t feel them, hold every rep on your lat work for a count of six. This “strengthens the weak nerve impulses,” said Vince, and improves what is often referred to as the mind-to-muscle connection.
It didn’t take long before I could feel my lats contract the way I feel my biceps squeeze at the top of a concentration curl. They pumped like balloons and soon after, they finally started to grow, having been slow to respond in my early years.
After gaining the muscle control I needed, I went back to regular reps, but I occasionally did holds in the contracted position and I was always acutely aware of the importance of contraction in the lats.
NOTE: One thing very few people know about Gironda’s deltoid building methods is he did the same thing on overhead presses: He instructed his students to hold it in the contracted position for 6 seconds.
“No synapse” method
This is an odd name that simply refers to not fully contracting a muscle by stopping just short of the complete range of motion. Today this is more commonly known as continuous tension aka “not locking out.”
If you were doing front squats, instead of standing all the way up, you would only come up ¾ or 4/5 and then reverse direction and go back down (NO lockout). If you stand all the way up at the top of a squat, the quadriceps muscle group can be completely resting. This is infinitely more difficult than full range reps because the muscle remains under constant contraction.
Most people have been programmed by their personal trainers to do every exercise through the “full range of motion.” However, non-lockout reps increase the intensity level and degree of muscle stimulation by large orders of magnitude.
Vince wisely noted that this can actually be used as a form of progression. For example, if you can front squat 225 for 10 using full range reps, then at the next workout, if you can complete 225 for 10 in a row without locking out between reps, you have overloaded the muscle without having to increase the weight. It’s not always mandatory to increase the weight to increase muscle growth.
Hang on a minute: Isn’t this the opposite of holding the muscle in the contracted position as per the 6 second hold? Yep. Different techniques for different exercises. On movements where the muscle is resting at the end range of motion, you maintain tension by stopping short of the end range. For exercise where the muscle is fully contracted in the end range, you go through the full range and hold the contraction for 6.
Two people with identical bodies – twins even – could do the same workout set for set, rep for rep, pound for pound. They live identical lifestyles, eat the same food and get the same amount of recovery. All else is equal. But one grows faster than the other.
Why? It’s because one has learned and applied the art of concentration and the other hasn’t.
“All the champions I have observed share one quality” said Vince, “An unshakeable belief that they will succeed. Should you ask a champion bodybuilder how he gets into shape 9 chances out of 10 he will reply ‘I think about it.’ I use a form of self hypnosis to develop muscle size. You can see such men grow day by day and you can do the same by first knowing your muscles and then tackling them with determination – CONCENTRATE!”
It’s important to note that Vince’s definition of concentration went beyond mental focus on the muscle working, he was talking about “mental suggestion” as well. He also said that if you do not develop this aspect of your training, you will never grow to your maximum.
Vince did not recommend long rest intervals in between sets. In fact, he said that the key to quality muscle size development was to do more work in less time – which today is known as density training. At times, he would recommend as little as 15-20 seconds of rest between sets. Naturally, this precludes using heavy weights, but Vince was never focused on the amount of weight used. He taught form, contraction, concentration and tempo.
It goes without saying that there was no messing around at Vince’s gym – his protégés were not there to talk – they were there to train. But more than that, it wasn’t just about getting down to business and not socializing, it was about working out with a certain speed and tempo. A series of sets with short rest intervals then followed by wandering around the gym for a long break, a set, then a distraction, then a quick set, then sitting down for another long break, then a set, would destroy the tempo.
The perfect workout was about evenly spaced sets (time-wise) without distractions or delays and with total concentration on when to pick the barbell back up and do the next set. Those who are oblivious to proper tempo find themselves losing their pump, losing focus, and having unsatisfying, unproductive workouts.
10 sets of 10: the “forgotten routine”
Have you heard of German Volume Training? Think some modern day strength coach invented it? Think again. Whether Vince pioneered it or he picked it up from someone who came even before him, one thing we know for sure is that he was doing it half a century ago.
Pick one exercise. Do 10 sets of 10 reps. That’s it. Doing one exercise with 10 X 10 instead of say, 3 exercises of 3-4 sets each (totaling about 10 sets) is not the same thing. With 10 X 10, you accumulate work on one aspect of one muscle, working those fibers to the core and getting a great pump.
Boring? Probably yes. Effective? Heck yes!
(note: Vince’s famous 8 sets of 8 will have to be the subject of an entirely separate article)
Isolate the muscle
Yes, you read that right – ISOLATE THE MUSCLE! How many times have you heard in modern fitness literature that it’s WRONG to isolate the muscle? “You must work the body as a unit, you must do whole body exercises, you must activate as much muscle mass as possible” the trainers all preach to their clients.
That’s all fine and well, unless you’re a bodybuilder or physique artist, in which case that advice is categorically, flat out DEAD WRONG.
Vince went even beyond the concept of isolation – he would pinpoint the exact exercises to activate an exact strand of a particular muscle in order to develop that exalted illusion.
Need more width in the shoulders – focus on the “side strand” – the lateral head of the deltoid with lateral raises. Need more V taper? Choose the exercises that work the long, vertical-pulling fibers of the lats.
Just in case some functional fitness people or strength and conditioning coaches read this and start freaking out, remember, Vince said it himself: “We are talking about cosmetic bodybuilding, not training for lifting or sports.”
Knowing how to isolate a muscle and shape or re-design your body with cosmetic bodybuilding is a lost art. It’s the rarest skill in the fitness world today.
For all bodybuilders who want muscle size AND muscle shape, classic proportions, and symmetry:…
Vince and his best students understood that there was a huge difference between bodybuilding and lifting weights. At some point every person must make that decision about whether to be a weight lifter or a bodybuilder. Very few people can be both.
If you choose to be a bodybuilder… if you choose to pursue the classical, symmetrical physique, then Vince’s training techniques are among the most powerful you could ever try.
Many of Vince’s original books and courses are out of print or very hard to find. Some became completely unavailable after Vince passed away in 1997. (don’t ask to borrow mine… I will never even loan them out, let alone part with them).
The good news is, just this month, a man who trained under Vince’s tutelage in the 1970’s – Alan Palmieri – has written a new book about the techniques and philosophies of Vince Gironda – the Iron Guru. It’s called Vince Gironda Legend and Myth.
Every one of the techniques I mentioned in this article is discussed in this new Vince Gironda book and many, many more.
For true body builders and fans of Iron Game history – this is a must-buy collectors item and it’s a great value, especially now while it’s still on sale for 50% off. The book is published by Mike Westerdal and you can get more information at: www.CriticalBench.com/Vince-Gironda-Book-Sale
This was part of a series of articles about the Vince Gironda: The man, the myth, the legend. If you missed the previous articles, go to:
Published on 13 October, 2011