A lost art from the Golden Era of Bodybuilding was this concept of “body sculpting”… where a man could envision a physique and enter the gym to work the exact muscles that sculpt his ideal body.
In the history of bodybuilding, there has been no greater body sculptor than the legendary Vince Gironda, who could not only name which muscle needed working, but could also recommend an accurate movement to isolate this muscle and bring out its shape.
That’s how Gironda churned out more bodybuilding champions from his North Hollywood studio than any other gym in America. So in this article, we’re going to explore 5 of the most famous Vince Gironda exercises to get the perfect shape, size, and symmetry you’re after.
How to Approach Your Workouts
Whether it’s wider shoulders, rounder biceps, or thicker forearms, the first thing Vince would say is to understand that every movement is done for a specific reason.
There is no wasted motion in bodybuilding, and that includes avoiding certain exercises that build muscle groups you don’t want to build.
Vince believed in “Creating an Illusion” which means if you want wider shoulders, it’s not just about working the shoulder muscles, but also avoiding exercises that work the traps.
In fact, one of the reasons Vince constantly performed his 3-way compound Sissy Squats, which Vince claimed “made a sissy out of the strongest squatter,” was because Sissy Squats
made his legs look longer. In his words…
“Look at any of my photos, front shot, and you will notice that I do not appear to have any hips. My legs appear to rise all the way up to my waist. This creates an illusion of longer legs, smaller hips, and shorter, broader upper body.”
Form is Everything
The tiniest tweak in the range of motion, the position of your body, the angle of your joints, or the path of the bar can turn a conventional exercise into a super exercise – a Gironda Exercise.
With a mere shift in the position of your elbows or the angle of your torso, a regular barbell curl could isolate your biceps and put a searing burn on them like you never felt before. And this was demonstrated by Vince’s close friend, Ron Kosloff.
Ron often said that the weight of the exercise was irrelevant. And he would prove this by embarrassing the biggest guys in the gym by challenging them to curl a pair of 25 pounds dumbbells for 8 sets of 8 reps.
Of course, the big guys would always laugh, until they realized they had to do those reps Vince’s way: complete isolation so only the bicep does the work. Some would cry like babies after only the 3rd set.
What made the difference? It’s all about form.
You see, with every exercise you perform, the goal should be to master the form, before you add the weights. By putting more of your focus and concentration on the contraction of the muscle you want to build, you can achieve bigger gains without increasing the risk of injury.
The following exercises are some of Vince’s favorites. He would include them in many of his programs, and all of them (except the last) can be performed by beginners. But again, start with the lowest weight to perform the exercise accurately, and focus on increasing your intensity before you increase any weights.
So without any further ado, let’s get to it. Here are the 5 most famous, most unique, most effective exercises that Vince Gironda was known for:
1. The Body Drag Curl
Take a shoulder-width grip on a barbell and, starting with the bar resting against the upper legs, raise it from thighs to throat, keeping the bar in contact with the body at all times. Keep your elbows back. This will perpetuate the involvement of the biceps and take the pressure off the front deltoids . Lower the bar and repeat.
This exercise is a fantastic variation on the curl. It’s ultra-strict and creates a contraction so strong, it almost feels like your biceps are cramping. What’s more, it takes all the cheating out and puts 100% isolated stress on the bicep muscles for maximum impact.
The key is to draw your elbows BACK and allow the bar to slide right up along your body, almost touching your thighs, hips, stomach and chest as you curl it up.
You literally DRAG the bar along your body – you do NOT curl the bar out in a wide arc which is a common mistake. Other common mistakes: shrugging at the top, dragging the bar along the body only partially through the range of motion, using too much weight, and not concentrating and squeezing throughout.
2. Wide Parallel (or V Bar) Dips (Works the Pecs)
Keep your chin on your chest, round the back, and hold feet forward under your face. Dip downwards on 32-inch (80- cm)-wide parallel bars (wider if you are very tall) and raise upwards into a straight -arm position. Make a point of stretching as low as you can at the dip part of the exercise . Do not bounce up and down, but perform the exercise under strict control.
To an untrained eye a dip is a dip. But the difference between a Gironda dip for chest (low pec line) and dip for triceps is not even close.
Gironda preferred this exercise because he said it developed the low pec line – which is the lower and outer section of the pectorals which defines the lower border and gives the pecs a “flare”, respectively.
The key here is to use parallel bars that are approx 32 inches wide. (Narrow dipping bars work more triceps.) If you can find a V-shaped set of dipping bars, even better.
If you don’t have access to a V-dipping bar in your gym, all you need is the wide grip parallel bars. Common machines like the cybex assisted dip and chin machine have 2 settings on their dip bars – wide and narrow. Remember: chest = wide grip. triceps = narrow grip.
3. 45-Degree Pulley Row (aka “Racing Dive” Lat Pulls)
Stand in the bent-over racing dive position as shown above, abdomen touching thighs. The floor pulley should be approximately 16 inches ( 40 cm) off the floor. Extend arms and grasp the pulley, keeping your head down.
Pull inward with the elbows wide. Pull head rearwards and arch back while pulling the bar to the lower-pee line.
Most bodybuilders are very familiar with the seated cable row – a horizontal rowing movement, and also familiar with the lat pulldown – a vertical pulling movement.
But hardly anyone does the pulley row from this unique angle.
A killer exercise to get that Golden Era V-shape!
4. The 3-Phase Sissy Squat
Stand erect with your feet 14 inches (35 cm) apart, your heels on a 2-inch (5-cm)-high block. Hold a loaded barbell at the shoulders in the “clean’ ‘ position. 1st Phase: Bend knees, drop down with back straight and shoulders over heels. When the lowest position is achieved, stand up to erect position. 2nd Phase: Go into full squat, sitting on heels. Thrust hips forward until the body and thighs are in the same straight line (knees to shoulders). Sit back on heels. 3rd Phase: Stand erect with heels on block.
As mentioned earlier, Vince loved this exercise to achieve longer looking legs. That way, his legs would appear to rise all the way up to his waist, creating the illusion of longer legs, smaller hips, and shorter, broader upper body.
The key to the physique he was after was smaller hips. Which is why Vince hated doing regular squats, which he said squats built up the hips.
Vince did not claim to invent this exercise. He credited this one to the great Monty Wolford.
Vince said that he measured Wolford’s thighs and found his upper thigh, and his middle thigh to be the same measurement. To Vince, this was one of those magical proportions to aim for, but he said Wolford was the only man he knew with those measurements.
The purpose of the exercise, said Vince, was to build the strands of muscle in the upper thigh that run right up into the hip – the rectus femoris. Developing this strand he said, along with the sartorius and the vastus lateralis would give you the appearance of longer legs, diminish the hip line and importantly – would not build a big butt like a powerlifting style back squats sometimes do.
5. Medium Grip Chin
Hang from an overhead chinning bar using a medium-wide grip. Pull up vigorously until your sternum touches the bar. Advanced pupils can roll the body and head back to a face-up (planche) position, pulling the body upwards so that the bar is at mid-waist level.
Conventional chin-up style is to pull just until your chin is over the bar and keep your body more or less vertical. Gironda pull-ups involve pulling all the way up and touching your chest /sternum to the bar and leaning back with an arch during the movement.
The purpose of the pull-up to the chest is to achieve an extra range of motion and a complete contraction in the lats.
These are difficult to do properly and so the sternum chin-up was not a typical beginner exercise in Vince’s program – it was something to work up to. Probably the most advanced and challenging version is the medium grip chin (pronated grip) where the body is almost fully planched. Mohammed Makkawy is pictured doing these in Vince’s Wild Physique book.
There you have it. 5 of the most famous Vince Gironda exercises to create shape, size, and perfect symmetry how you want it. One of the lost arts from the Golden Era of Bodybuilding was this concept of “body sculpting”… Where a man envisions a physique and works the exact muscles to tone and shape the particular body parts to achieve the desired form.
In the history of bodybuilding, there has been no greater body sculptor than the legendary Vince Gironda, who could not only pinpoint the exact muscle that needed sculpting but could also recommend an accurate movement to isolate this muscle and bring out its shape.
That’s how Gironda churned out more bodybuilding champions from his North Hollywood studio than any other gym in America, and in this article, we’re going to explore 5 of the top Vince Gironda exercises to get the perfect shape, size, and symmetry you’re after.