Vince “The Iron Guru” Gironda was a legend
I first met Vince Gironda in 1985. The fitness craze was picking up in Los Angeles and I had spent some mostly sedentary years in the recording studio. It was time to join a gym. I picked up the San Fernando Valley Yellow Pages.
1985 was before Nautilus Plus and 24-Hour Fitness. Fancy gyms popped up, captured large sign-up fees, then failed, leaving members in the lurch and no recourse for refund. I was determined to find a gym that had some staying power.
Vince’s Gym was nearby in Studio City and offered a $60 for two months beginner’s rate. When I walked in the door, it was like walking onto a movie set of a 1940s training gym.
“No pool. No chrome. No music. Just iron.”
That was the handwritten sign on the wall, later to adorn plain gray T-shirts. The slogan was absolutely true of the gym Vince opened in 1948 and was true until his passing in 1997.
The walls were stacked with racks of barbells and dumbbells. Handmade heavy wooden benches with thick leather padding were arranged for various functions around the room, which was only about the size of a large four-car garage. There were no fancy machines but an array of about six custom-made pulley devices personally designed by Vince for things like leg curls and extensions. They looked like something out of a medieval torture chamber.
There was no air conditioning, only a skylight with a circulating fan attached. On hot days, Vince allowed the front door to be cracked a little so air from the baking asphalt of Ventura Boulevard could draw through the gym.
Vince was a cranky curmudgeon, willful and controversial; always his own man. A Sicilian gypsy, he told me, he had a touch of the mystical and whimsical. People often regarded Vince as gruff, brusque or even rude. But Vince was that way with people he liked as well as those he detested. If Vince liked you, you knew it intrinsically, no matter how demeaning or derisive he might act toward you. I don’t know if he ever knew my real name because all he ever called me was “Fuzzy.” I always assumed it was a hair thing.
Vince was 67 when I met him, still opening the gym every morning at six and pumping iron when the mood struck. In his earlier days, he was one of the premier bodybuilders of all time. Ironically, Vince was ahead of his time and garnered few awards until his senior years. His body style was the kind of ripped, sculpted, chiseled look that we see in bodybuilding now. But in his era, the prevailing style was the almost puffy, circus strongman look.
Vince’s methods and opinions were always considered controversial but his results cannot be questioned. His list of clients was a “Who’s Who” of Hollywood and the bodybuilding world. Vince’s students included the old, old-school Steve Reeves, Victor Mature and other screen musclemen as well as old-schoolers Larry Scott (the first-ever Mr. Olympia) and Mohammed Makkawy, and the late Kay Baxter. Movie matinée idols like Clint Eastwood, Clint Walker, Doug McClure, Brian Keith and others flocked to train with Vince. Cher, Denzel Washington, Kurt Russell, Carl Weathers, Lou “The Incredible Hulk” Ferrigno and Burt Reynolds were among those who made the pilgrimage. And the first place a young bodybuilder named Schwarzenegger went upon arriving in the United States was the leather-bound gym at the foot of the North Hollywood hills. During the five years I knew Vince, I saw everyone from David Lee Roth to Dudley Moore come in the door.
Only recently have some of his writings and methods begun to swarm the internet. Tips on his training methods are available.
What I would like to share are some of the personal insights he said to me directly:
“Use raw milk and fertile eggs to grow muscle.” Vince knew that pasteurizing milk changes it radically, destroying many of its important nutrients so he told me to buy raw. What he called fertile eggs are what we now call “cage free.” In the ‘80s, when eggs were getting the bad cholesterol rap, he defended them as a perfect source of protein and told me the natural lecithin in the yolk of an egg perfectly metabolizes the cholesterol.
“Take Vitamin C.” He said taking one gram of Vitamin C before bed will help muscles recover without soreness.
“No situps.” Vince would dump any bodybuilding student he saw jogging, doing aerobics or sit-ups.
“Three changes.” The first and immediate body change when you work a muscle is that the actual electrical conductivity of the muscle neuron increases causing a stronger contraction. That’s why you’re stronger on the second set than on the first. Second change is increased blood flow. Finally, the metabolism kicks into a positive nitrogen balance.
“Free weights only.” Vince rarely tolerated machine work. The coordinated function of the body to lift, balance and manipulate free weights is a holistic effort. He called barbells his “magic wands.”
“No scale.” Vince believed in mirrors, not scales. He said, “Who cares how much you weigh? It’s how you look.”
“Kundalini rising.” Decades before Madonna was doing yoga, Vince knew about increasing kundalini, the yogic energy. I never heard him call it that to anyone else but he taught particular back muscle routines he told me stimulated kundalini.
“Protein drink.” Vince’s recipe to me was simple: Four ounces of raw cream and two fertile eggs.” He sneered when I bought protein powder from him.
“Shut up.” Talking was for bridge clubs. Vince revoked memberships for lesser offenses. Concentration was key. No headphones, no music, think about what you’re doing.
“Warming up is a waste of gym time.” Your first set warms you up.
“Keep moving.” Blood pools straight to your butt and legs if you just sit in a heap after a set.
There are plenty of websites recognizing Vince Gironda now but they don’t know all the secrets.
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