Vince Gironda, nicknamed The Iron Guru, was arguably the first professional bodybuilding coach. During the 1960s, 70s, and early 1980s, he trained more champions than anyone else, including “The Master Blaster” Joe Weider, who was more of a publisher and promotor than a hands-on trainer.
Notable bodybuilding clients of Gironda include:
- Larry Scott (Mr. Olympia 1965/1966)
- Don Howorth (Mr. America 1967)
- Rick Wayne (Mr. Universe 1965/1967/1969)
- Lou Ferrigno (Mr. Universe 1973/1974)
- Frank Zane (Mr. Olympia 1977, 1978, 1979)
- Mohammed Makkawy (Mr. Olympia runner-up 1983/1984)
Check out the history of Mr. Olympia.
Gironda also worked with the Hollywood elite and trained a great many famous TV and movie actors, including Clint Eastwood, Denzel Washington, James Garner, Sean Penn, Jeff Goldblum, Carl Weathers, and Cher.
In addition to training others, Gironda was a decent bodybuilder himself, although he was never as successful as his clients. He was one of the pioneers of the “ripped” look, which was not always appreciated by the judges of the time.
Gironda’s bodybuilding career highlights include:
- 1949 Pro Mr. California – 4th
- 1950 Pro Mr. USA – tied for 4th
- 1951 Pro Mr. America – 2nd
- 1957 Pro Mr. USA – 3rd
- 1962 NABBA Pro Mr. Universe – Class 2, 2nd
His North Hollywood gym, simply called Vince’s Gym, was a mecca of bodybuilding. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger trained there for a while. However, it was not a sociable or fun place to work out, and Gironda ruled his kingdom with a rod of iron. There was no music or other distractions. People went there to train and not have fun!
Over his 30+ years working as a coach, Gironda amassed a vast amount of training knowledge, and his methods were, at the time, often controversial. For example, he didn’t allow his clients to do regular barbell bench presses or back squats, as he deemed both exercises ineffective.
Vince Gironda died in 1999 at the age of 82, and the bodybuilding world lost a true legend. Thankfully, much of his knowledge was preserved in the 17 books and many articles he wrote.
In this article, we reveal some of the best bodybuilding tips from The Iron Guru.
The Best Bodybuilding Tips from Vince Gironda
At the time, Vince Gironda’s approach to bodybuilding was very controversial. However, he didn’t just court controversy for the sake of it. Instead, he was an expert in anatomy and physiology. He developed his methods based on what he believed would produce the best results in the least amount of time.
In fact, in Hollywood, he was known for getting actors into shape in double-quick time, and a lot of film stars worked with Gironda to get ready for their next movie.
While some of Gironda’s training principles are now considered quite mainstream, others are less well known, so here’s a list of ten of the best bodybuilding tips from Vince Gironda!
1. Do the Gironda neck press for a bigger, more sculpted chest
It’s safe to say that Gironda hated the barbell bench press. He believed that it worked the anterior deltoids more than the pecs, and it was banned from Vince’s Gym. So much for Monday being National Bench Press Day!
Instead, The Iron Guru prescribed the Gironda Neck Press to pump up flagging pecs. This exercise is also known as the guillotine press. To do the neck press, you use a wide grip and lower the bar to your throat instead of your chest. According to Gironda, this puts more stress on the pecs and produces more chest growth than regular bench presses.
Of course, there are hundreds of bodybuilders who have successfully built their pecs with regular bench presses. That said, some do find regular bench presses ineffective. So, maybe it’s time to try and Gironda neck press?
2. Train muscles, and not movements
According to Gironda, a lot of bodybuilders train like weightlifters, focusing more on how much weight they’re using and less on the muscles they’re supposed to be working on. Bodybuilders are not judged on their strength, so Gironda put more emphasis on the muscle-building effect of his exercises and workouts.
It’s easy to get caught up in ego lifting, chasing ever-increasing poundages during training. However, if you are a bodybuilder and not a weightlifter, maybe the amount of weight doesn’t matter all that much.
For example, is it better for muscle growth to do five scrappy reps with 200 lbs. or ten perfect reps with 140 lbs.? According to Gironda, it’s the latter.
Try training with a little less weight but stricter form. You may find it’s the key to building bigger muscles.
3. Volume and intensity – the perfect muscle-building combination
Gironda’s workouts married volume and intensity. Combined with a high protein diet, this approach increases muscle size and helps to shred fat. The iron Guru had several favorite set and rep schemes that helped his clients get into amazing shape, including:
- Six sets of six reps
- Eight sets of eight reps
- Ten sets of ten reps
- Fifteen sets of four reps
Rather than increase weight or reps week by week, Gironda reduced the rest period between sets to raise the intensity level.
- 1st week – 10 sets of 10 reps, 60 seconds recovery
- 2ndweek – 10 sets of 10 reps, 55 seconds recovery
- 3rdweek – 10 sets of 10 reps, 50 seconds recovery
- 4thweek – 10 sets of 10 reps, 45 seconds recovery
- 5thweek – 10 sets of 10 reps, 40 seconds recovery
- 6thweek – 10 sets of 10 reps, 35 seconds recovery
- 7thweek – 10 sets of 10 reps, 30 seconds recovery
- Switch to another set/rep scheme
If you’ve been doing the same old three sets of ten or four sets of eight for a while, try one of Gironda’s set and rep schemes. However, make sure you start light because they’re seriously intense!
4. Stop doing squats for legs
Barbell back squats are often known as the King of Exercises. However, Gironda disagreed. According to The Iron Guru, squats made your butt and waist bigger and wouldn’t do much for leg growth. His stance was so strong on this that he didn’t even have a squat rack in his gym!
Instead, Gironda recommended exercises that placed more emphasis on the quads and less on the glutes. However, he sometimes recommended squats for his female clients.
Gironda’s go-to leg builders were:
Plenty of bodybuilders have built massive legs with squats, but that doesn’t mean you have to emulate them. If you are unhappy with your leg development, despite squatting hard and heavy, try a few months of sissy squats or front squats.
5. Forget the scales, and focus on the mirror
Bodybuilders and exercisers in general often have a hang-up with their weight. But, according to Gironda, what you weigh is irrelevant if you’re happy with what you see in the mirror.
Bodybuilding is all about aesthetics. A good physique is defined, balanced, symmetrical, and well-proportioned. More or less bodyweight may not improve how you look. Your bodyweight may even remain unchanged if you lose fat and build muscle, although your appearance will improve significantly.
So, maybe it’s time to stop the weekly weigh-ins and switch to taking progress photos. So long as you can see your body changing, the reading on the scale really isn’t all that important.
6. Train, don’t chat!
Most of Gironda’s workouts lasted 45 minutes or less. He believed that longer workouts lacked the intensity necessary to stimulate hypertrophy. As such, he warned against the one to two-hour workouts that a lot of bodybuilders were doing at the time.
According to Gironda, you could train hard, or you could train long, but you couldn’t do both.
Gironda wanted his clients to train intensely but also avoid the overtraining that would require longer breaks between workouts. As he rightly believed, exercise is a form of stress, and too much stress can be catabolic, resulting in excessive muscle breakdown.
As such, Gironda allowed no lollygagging, chatting, or otherwise taking it easy. Instead, people went to Vince’s gym to train and not socialize! His fast-paced workouts also negated the need to do lots of cardio. His bodybuilding workouts WERE cardio!
If you are one of those people who take ten minutes between sets to update your social media feed or do endless sets for every muscle group, your workouts may not be as productive as they could be.
Instead, leave your phone in your gym locker and focus 100-percent on your workout. Treat it like a job with no paid overtime; get in, work hard and fast, and then get out!
7. Do the right kind of curls for your biceps
The Iron Guru helped first-time Mr. Olympia Larry Scott build some of the best biceps in bodybuilding. Gironda was a massive fan of the preacher curl, and it worked so well for Larry that the exercise soon became known as Scott curls.
However, Gironda also had a couple of special biceps exercises he used with his clients – the Gironda drag curl and an exercise that became known as the Gironda perfect curl.
The drag curl involves keeping the barbell very close to your body as you curl it up. This eliminates all momentum and takes your anterior deltoids out of the exercise, making it a very strict and effective biceps exercise.
The Gironda perfect curl is less well-known, but it’s definitely an effective way to train your biceps. The aim of this move is to maximize your range of motion and keep constant tension on your biceps.
To do the Gironda perfect curl:
- Hold a barbell with an underhand, shoulder-width grip. You can also use an EZ bar or even a cable machine.
- Before starting the movement, lean backward and shift your weight toward your heels. Your shoulders should be behind your hips and knees.
- Next, slowly curl the weight up to your shoulders. Then, as you lift the weight, simultaneously lean forward so that, in the end position, your shoulders are in front of the hips and knees.
- Lower the bar using the opposite motion and repeat.
Lift the bar in 2-3 seconds, squeeze hard at the top for 1-2 seconds and lower it in 3-4 seconds. Start with a relatively low weight as this exercise is much harder than regular curls.
8. Wide dips for bigger pecs
Gironda didn’t like regular bench presses and preferred the neck press for building bigger pecs. However, another of his favorite chest exercises was the wide dip. A lot of bodybuilders do dips for their triceps but, with a wide hand placement, they’re a very effective chest exercise, especially for shaping the lower and outer pecs.
As with most of the exercises he prescribed, Gironda had a unique way of doing dips to make them even more productive. He recommended using handles that were at least 32 inches apart and rounding your lower back so your feet were in front of your shoulders. You should then descend as far as possible to maximize the chest stretch.
If you want to build a bigger chest, focusing on the lower pecs, give wide dips a try. However, they can be a little hard on the shoulders, so proceed with care.
9. Good form is everything
According to Gironda, doing any exercise with anything less than perfect form was a waste of valuable training time. In fact, at Vince’s Gym, if he saw anyone doing an exercise in anything other than the Iron Guru approved way, he’d shout at them and force them to leave!
While that might not have been the best way to build his business, it showed just how passionate he was about getting the best results from his workouts.
Gironda’s rules for good exercise form were simple – no momentum and constant tension on the target muscles. He also believed that you should be able to pause mid-rep on any exercise to demonstrate you had complete control over the weight. If you couldn’t, the weight was probably too heavy for you.
A lot of exercisers are guilty of lifting weights with little regard for the muscles they’re training. This leads to unproductive workouts. If you aren’t getting the results you want, try using less weight rather than more, slowing down, and focusing more on the muscles you’re trying to develop. This might be hard on your ego but could make your workout more effective.
10. Prioritize protein
Vince Gironda was one of the first bodybuilders to understand the importance of protein for muscle repair and growth. He was also a keep proponent of the low-carb keto diet for fat loss and an early user of supplements.
While you don’t need to go full keto, it’s pretty much imperative that, if you want to fuel anabolism and minimize catabolism you MUST consume plenty of protein. How much exactly is somewhat debatable, but one gram per pound of body weight is a good place to start. Use this protein calculator to determine your daily protein needs.
Gironda recommended whole eggs, steak, and full-fat dairy paired with protein shakes as he rightly believed that protein is utilized best in the presence of fats.
Gironda Bodybuilding Tips – Wrapping Up
In many ways, Vince Gironda was decades ahead of his time. Always outspoken and often controversial, The Iron Guru had as many detractors as he did followers. He was quick to disagree with the training methods of the day and was often abrasive, believing that his was the most effective way to build muscle.
However, science and history have proven that many of Gironda’s principles and practices work and work well. Some may still be a little “out there,” but maybe that’s why they’re so effective. Variety is critical for bodybuilding success, so Gironda’s training methods could be just what you need to get out of a training rut.
Vince Gironda was the original bro scientist. Use his tips to unleash your very own wild physique, which was also the title of his best-selling book.