How I Trained With Vince Gironda

I’ll try to recall what Vince taught me. Actually, I never forgot.

I suppose my most memorable times in bodybuilding happened at Vince’s (and old Mid City Gym, in NYC).

I did not recalling seeing the routine he gave me (or Makawway) in any of his books but I may have forgotten. My guess is that he used this (or variants of it) for fast results on trainees that were already experienced including some actors who could tolerate it. Done right it is fast but brutal (vomiting could occur in the beginning), hence the built in weekly and monthly rest. After—and during— my first leg workout with him, I was floored.

Vince invented what is now referred to as “abbreviated training”, and the cumulative intensity of his routines produced a different form of “HIT” before that become popular. Of course you guys know this.

Jeff Goldblum was a great guy, BTW. Compare his body pre “Fly” to in that movie. That was due to Vince. That transformation means more than working with any genetic superior who will likely grow on most routines.

The biggest impact Vince had on my training had nothing to do with routines or diet. It was this: how to concentrate. Sounds easy and it’s not “sexy” like his routines, but he recommended a method of focus that bordered on arrogance. You needed to be with him to understand this and have him teach it to you (his books never captured that experience). You needed to hear and see him say it. He said that the most focused trainees never saw anyone else in the gym or spoke to them when training—seeming almost rude. He recognized that many genetic superiors also had an innate ability to concentrate that he did not fully understand, and could not teach, but recommended one try to emulate.

I’m not sure his methods were really better than any other good methods. I do think that genetics make the biggest difference in any outcome—by far—in my experience. There are no “magic” routines. But, I never met any trainer who could transform one’s mental—and lifestyle—approach to bodybuilding like Vince, or inspire a trainee like he could. And I know some famous trainers. And, in my experience, truly productive training starts there. In those regards, he had no peer.

Now that I recall I did 8×8 on upper body movements done in alternated compund style (2 exercises) per bodypart.

But I did *straight sets* of 4×12 for Legs with little rest between sets–about 30 seconds; Hack Slides, Sissy Squats, Leg Curls. (4 sets of each; then calf work).

Your questions make me recall snippets of conversation I had with him. Please understand that my experience with Vince—however intense—may be different than someone else’s.

I asked him why were the numbers so symmetrical (like why 8 sets of 8 and not an unequal number). He told me of 10×10 and also 6×6, and so I asked him again. What he then said implied to me that the selected numbers were indeed arbitrary and he knew it.

However, Vince told me that when one had a certain maximal pump (based on experience) he should stop working that bodypart that day regardless of the rep scheme. But he also told me that you should do anything (including “cheat”) to make all sets of 8×8 to reinforce success—never “to failure”. Is that a contradiction?! You decide.

I did a set of neck presses and walked to the dips and did “Vince” dips (that’s 2 sets of the 8), then walked back slowly and did Neck presses and so on. The “rest” was in the time it took to go from one station to the other–about 15 seconds in his gym with him spotting me (handing off the BB on the neck press). BTW, the neck presses were done on a 10-degree incline or so. I rested longer with leg work. I did that routine for at least 3 months trying to cut rest time to “progress”. Vince never instructed me when to switch to another routine.

Vince’s writings do not cover a fraction of what he taught me, but again, I am only one trainee. Your own readings, interps, and experiences will matter most.

Now guys like Vern Weaver also did 6×6 but with about 2 minutes rest between sets thus allowing for heavier loads. At times, he did only 2 exercises per day: Bench Press and Chins, for example, done this way.

Anything *reasonable* “works”–at least a lot of it! 20 rep squats “work” though can cause problems and injuries the way some recommend to do them. 6 reps work. Cumulative fatigue training of all kinds works. HIT can work (though some expressions of it leave one deconditioned, IMO.) There are no magic routines. Find what you prefer and work with that until you wish to move on. Stay safe and please understand that genetics dictates the great majority of the response—that’s the way it is. No magic set numbers. No magic rep numbers. Burn that in your brains, please! It is actually liberating news. It is far more about one’s approach to training and consistency over the long haul—modified by, you guessed it, genetics.

Back to safety, due to comparatively lighter loads used in his cumulative fatigue methods, I never hurt myself with a Vince routine though one must be very careful with form on the dips, neck presses, and sissy squats. Again, just *my* experience.

In my experience, the biggest problems occur from unrealistic expectations, lack of consistency over the long run, and constantly switching routines looking for the perfect one. Same for diets.

Each exercise was done for 4 sets in alternating fashion until I reached 8 sets. That’s what Vince taught me in 1981. I had experience and my level of conditioning was good, being only 25 then.

Earlier interpretations almost always entailed 1 exercise done for 8 sets. My belief is that by 1981 he was trying not only to maximize work per unit time (little rest between sets) but also fatigue as many fibers in a target area due to using mutiple exercises. With Makawway and other elite bodybuilders, there were often 3 exercises each done for 4 sets! Many others, once they were in condition, were using only 1 exersise for 6-8 sets. but it all “works”.

The Hack Slide had feet back and close together but I was not on my toes nor would *I* recommend that. It reduces load greatly, offers no physiological benefit and may increase chance of injury—in my opinion. I’ve no doubt Vince tried every permutation of it in order to understand what was going on. Remember, he was always experimenting and changed his mind at times. (BTW, the hack slide I used out there was not like today’s with shoulder pads; you had to hold the slide and the weight in your hands.)

Another thing to keep in mind is that the feet set back position increases shear forces around the knees because of the increased range of motion. Not everyone can tolerate that either. In fact, even Vince told me he had spent time in the hospital for it with strains and such. He was very strong in this movement and used heavy weights. And even in his 60s, he had great thigh development especially around the knee/mid thigh. In retrospect, I think this was largely due to genetics.

The Sissy Squat he taught me was a complicated movement requiring lots of coordination. It had three parts: A Set back drop down (squat), a “Burlesque Bump” from rock bottom position (thrusting the hips outward/upward), and a “flush-out” where you straightened back up but did not lock out. This was done with a board under my heels. I was using a very light barbbell for resistance (40 or 50lbs). If you do these as he taught them you’ll see why the weight was so light. In fact, he taught them with no weight.

As interested as he was in focused thigh growth, he never suggested I should do leg extensions. And I never saw anyone doing them under his direction when I was there. But this is all just my personal observation. Other trainees may have had different experiences with him.

8 sets total. That’s 4 sets of neck presses and 4 sets of dips. That was my “chest” routine.

The “superset” was: 1 neck press set followed by 1 dips set.

I repeated that sequence 4 times.

My best “memories” of Vince had little to do with the workouts per se. He was a character as we all know and fun to hang with. But we did talk training and diet and “focus” all the time. Rather, he talked and I listened. I hung at Vince’s gym *all day* to milk whatever I could from talking with him. He liked me and spoke (lectured) freely. He was very generous if he liked you and your approach to his methods. I wrote it all down and lost the notebook about 10 years later. Still, I had committed much to memory.

You are right. He stressed speed/little rest in workouts. My workouts took just 25 minutes for the 24 set days. This of course is very different than a Mentzer-like HIT workout, say, because many more sets were done in 25 minutes with Vince. A different approach to intensity and work over time. Form was still supposed to be smooth—not sloppy—though “cheating” was expected to finish all 8×8 and reinforce success. Another contradiction?

I would not expect to maintain maximum strength with the 8×8 I used. That was not what they were for. In my case, I lost strength, lost bodyfat, gained definition and conditioning, (appeared more muscular though actually smaller in girths), and improved my training focus greatly. I felt great and spent less time in the gym but was there more frequently! Untrained people can expect to gain a lot of size in addition to the above.

Here’s a reprint of my posts detailing what I did for a week with Vince and when I returned:

Monday and Friday
Chest: Neck presses and Dips
Back: Wide pronated pulldowns and narrow supinated pulldowns.
Shoulders: Lateral Rraises and Dumbbell Swings (another form of Lateral Raise)

Tuesday and Saturday (Arms)
Body Drags (Vince’s barbell curls) and Reverse Curls
Long Rope Pulls and Dumbbell Kickbacks
Wrist Curls and Reverse Wrist Curls

Wednesday and Sunday (Legs)
Legs were trained with 4 sets per exercise of Sissy Squats, Hack Squats, and Leg Curls done in a non-alternating, straight set fashion. Then 4 sets of standing calf raises.

Thursday was off that week.

Rep speed was fairly rapid. And no session lasted more than 25 minutes but it was damned hard. And no drinking water during or immediately after the session! I don’t know if that really matters or why not to do it–something about boating which smacks more of pre-contest training.

I did not train abs directly then, but would now.

When I was there, I trained with Vince in the morning and his son, Guy, in the evening doing the same routine twice per day. I napped after the morning workout. 2x per day is what he did for fastest results and to master the movements and his approach. Makawway was doing his routine 3x per day! But he was training for a show. The actors I saw trained just 1x per day. But who knows what was happening at other times?

The normal training I did was only 1x per day and all he expected. I would never do 2x per day when not with him.

Thus, the routine was 3 days on and 3 days off. Then, 3 weeks on and 1 week off.

Supplements: Forgot to mention—supplements were also cycled exactly the same way 3 days on and 1 off; 3 weeks on and 1 week off. Vince felt he wanted to remain sensitive to them and periodically flush the system. I did: Free form Amino Acids, Raw Glandulars, and Dessicated Liver every 3 hours. I had digestive enzymes with each meal. He also liked Kelp supplements and also recommended swimming in the ocean to get some! I drank lots of water but not during meals, workouts, or close to either.

I did not try his other routines but he gave me the books (like 10, 8, 6, 15), which I also lost! But I do not believe any one is intrinsically superior to another.

I eventually learned that wide range of responsiveness to his or any other methods was due mostly to genetics (which he talked about tangentially, if you were listening).

I think fewer sets—properly done—yield results *as good* as greater volumes. If you read *all* the peer-reviewed research on the subject (and scrutinize the boring data not just read abstracts), and I do, you may come to a similar conclusion. But I discovered this before I got involved in the peer-reviewed research—both in myself and by training others.

But any *reasonable* method using any reasonable volume and frequency per bodypart —consistently applied—”works” as well as genetics permit. (“Reasonable” is intentionally not defined, however.) It really just becomes a question of preference and what will keep a given individual training *consistently*. It’s that simple.

So, Vince’s methods “work”. What I did at the Old Mid City Gym in NY worked. Arthur Jones’ method’s “worked” and Vince even wrote a piece applauding Jones once. Stuart McRobert’s books and applications work and also have lots of descriptive info—more than anyone else (and he really cares about the tradition and the field). The writings of Dr. Ralph Carpinelli are propably more based in real science and more accurate (and well written) than any researcher I’ve read. He just looks at science; he does not tell people how to train though he is the most knowledgable authority *I’ve* known in 30 years). But…it all “works” if done with conviction and consistency.

There are no intrinsically superior methods, IMO. None. Sadly, the explosion of so called information on the web has hampered instruction for novices with an endleess array of options and opinions by less than good “authorities”. Even veteran trainees fall prey to this. It becomes a cyclic obsession.

Often, the best advice is to stop reading advice—and just train consistently.

I don’t post or read boards. I’m only here because I’m a nostalgic slob and wanted to hear from people who knew Vince. I read a piece by Ron, don’t recall I how I found it, on Vince and began talking with him and that’s why I’m here. I was thrilled to find a site and board about Vince. But I guess not many who knew him are really here. We’re all too old, I guess!

“Arty you mentioned “Untrained people can expect to gain a lot of size in addition to the above.”

Yes. Because they are untrained and any demanding stimulus will grow muscle on them. I was experienced when I went to Vince. I actually lost “weight” due to the routine and especially the diet. But became “better” in some ways. But that’s me.

“I try to do the neck press followed by dips however I can’t complete the 8 reps on the 2nd set.”

Your strength to bodyweight ratio is probably not there yet for the dips. Or the weight is too heavy on the neck presses. The idea, Vince’s idea, was to just barely make it by the 64th rep. So the weight needs to be light enough in the superset to manage that. Or, cut the dips and do 8×8 of neck presses if you want to do this method. It all works. Nothing magic.

“Can you elaborate on the DB swing?”

Yeah but it’s hard to explain. Might be in his books or old articles though.

“What other combination of exercises do you used for each bodypart or do you stick to same ones?”

When I did Vince’s routine what I posted was all I did. I was already “strong” and had decent condition for what he gave me. Otherwise, he may have simplified the routine.

I never did the 3×8 and am uncertain what “maximum” means without a context. I know that many of his earlier systems were done 3x per week. Sorry.

But there is one thing I’m certain of. Anyone capable of building a 17-1/2″ —muscular— upper arm can do it with any reasonable routine.

“Another question on the sissy squat which is actually a three part movement is completing the three phase equal 1 rep if not then what constitutes 1 rep. You mentioned heel on a block but what is the spacing is it heels together like the frog squat?”

Yes. The three parts are done smoothly as part of a single rep. It is hard to do it the way he wanted it done. I know there are diagrams of this in one of his coursebooks.

Heel spacing was slightly less than shoulder width in my case. I’m 6’2″ tall and a too-narrow stance would have toppled me. The balance element can be rough on this movement.

Many approaches to “strength”. These *traditionally* involve heavier loads and greater rest periods. They also often center on large compound movements: Chins; Benches; Dips; Squats; Deadlifts; Presses.

Depends what you mean by “strength”. If you mean lifting more weight on a barbell from point A to point B then there are many methods that manage the loads. Just be careful. Stuart McRobert’s newer writings have addressed that fairly well with safety in mind. I never cared one wit for safety when I was younger. We did not know better. That’s different now.

If you are talking about strength in “real world” applications, then any reasonable routine will accomplish that—including Vince’s. And if you want to get better at a particular movement you need to practice that movement.

These days I train as I like, alternating periods of less frequent but heavier training with more frequent and lighter training as I choose to do so. I rest longer between sets and work heavier than I did with traditional Vince methods. I have a home gym where I train myself and select clients. (I even do… cardio—hush!) Vince was part of my education but much more came later. Of course, I never met anyone like him, however, who combined that sort of insight and passion with personality. Best memories…

I eat small meals frequently but I food combine. I try to drink lots of water.

Basically, find what you can do consistently—and safely. Progress resistance —gradually—only when you can handily control the weight for the desired reps. Of course, there are many gurus out there to advise you on many methods.

“Arty and others..I was just wondering if its possible to gain SIZE on Vinces 8×8,15sec. rests?I did Mentzers and others for many years and am now doing everything Vinces way (had consultation with Ron last tue.) I’ve now lost 1/2 inch off my arms and am wondering when it will stop. (over 1 months time) You said you lost some size but got defined. In you guys opinion should I go back to longer rests/to failure to get bigger?Definition is ok but not at this rate. ”

My first question concerns diet. Are you eating sufficient calories to at least maintain your bodyweight from the time you began that routine? Perhaps not if you switched to a more calorie-extensive routine or lifestyle. Are you drinking enough water? Sleeping enough?

Determine all that first and experiment. Isolate one variable at a time. If by eating more over the next six weeks you regain size on the current routine, you’ve answered your own question. I assume all other things in your life have remained the same.

It’s not likely “to failure” that gets you bigger or smaller. It is likely some combination of diet, overall weekly volume and load. But you need to experiment and for longer than a month.

“In several of your posts, you’ve alluded to training to failure and to Vince’s ambiguous position on the matter. I’m interested in what YOU think about it. Do you currently endorse training to failure for your training and the training of your clients?”

Vince did not tell me to train to failure—ever. He did say to do anything to get the final reps of my last set. That final set/reps comprised “failure” if I did not cheat to finish them. He also said stop working abodypart with added sets when fully pumped.

“To failure” training works. But I believe you still need a certain amount of weekly volume. This may mean nothing more than added movements or added frequency. But you need to experiment and gauge personal response. All things being equal I suppose I prefer greater volume (than single set apprroaches) without failure but with an eye on form and progression always. Trust yourselves.

Clearly failure is not *necessary* to obtain benefits. And it has not been shown to provide “best” benefits. Other opinions vary. It is a matter of preference (any reasonable routine) and what keeps you training *consistently* that matters most.

The 2x per day workouts buried me—even at 25. I think it was just his way to extend work over time—for a brief time. My sense was that he developed it with a lot of people who had lots of time to train, eat and rest (actors, bodybuilders). Also, remember he is working with genetic superiors a lot. The actors tolerated it because they did it for a brief time and lots of $ (though none of the actors I saw there in ’81 were doing 2x per day).

My own take is that multiple sessions are not necessary especially if otherwise training each bodypart 2x per week.

That said, I think it was his way of “shocking” the body while also giving someone their money’s worth. also, it really helped learn “his way” when time was short— as it was for many who travelled there for a week or so only. Guy Gironda handled the evening workouts for many. But Vince handled all the elite bodybuilders all the time as far as I knew.

AND he taught the bodybuilders to pose like gods. That man knew how to move and how to teach it! Makawway way the best poser I ever actually saw in person. Corney was great but I saw him in film only.

I never asked him his rationale on the 2x per day because I knew it was temporary. I just did it and knew I did not have to do it when I left. But my sense of “why” was the reasons given before. Perhaps someone else asked him directly on this.

1 Comment
  1. Vince was the consumate poser, and he taught Larry, Makkaway, and others how to attract a viewer’s (or judge’s) attention to the movements BETWEEN one’s poses! Master! If you didn’t have it, you looked like a fool…

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