Note: I'm going to include a short article by Steve Holman on his opinion and uses of Gironda's 8 x 8 method.
It will follow this article by
It will follow this article by
EIGHT SETS OF EIGHT:
Vince Gironda's Radical Muscle-Building System
by Tom Venuto (2002)
When Joe Weider brought Arnold to America, the first thing Weider did was to send the over-bulked Austrian to Vince's Gym in Studio City, California, to whip him into top shape. Legend has it that when Arnold walked in the door, he introduced himself to owner Vince Gironda by saying, "I am Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mr, Universe." The inimitable Vince replied, "You look like a fat fuck to me."
Yes, Gironda had way with words. He was also known for his mercurial temper and complete intolerance of anyone who refused to follow his rules. The list of reasons for expulsion from his gym included such offenses as laziness, back-squatting, bench pressing, taking steroids, mentioning the word jogging and asking for advice and not following it.
Personal foibles aside, Vince Gironda may have been the greatest bodybuilding trainer who ever lived. He was brilliant - decades ahead of his time - and some of his ideas about training and nutrition were controversial, of not downright bizarre. But no matter how peculiar his methods seemed, the results spoke for themselves.
In his heyday Vince was credited with turning out more Mr. America and Mr. Universe champions that any trainer in history - and that record may still stand. Two of Vince's most famous pupils were Larry Scott, the first Mr. Olympia . . .
and Mohamed Makkawy, twice runner-up at the Olympia (behind Samir Bannout in 1983 and Lee Haney in '84) . . .
Vince himself achieved an amazing level of muscularity and definition long before being shredded was in vogue. It's speculated that the reason he never won a major physique title was because he was too ripped for his day and age.
Trainer of the Stars
Before he closed his doors after nearly 50 years in business, Vince's Gym was the number one destination for Hollywood stars who had to get in shape in a hurry. Movie execs sent their flabby leading men and women to Vince so he could work his magic on them. Although it was located conveniently on Ventura Boulevard near several movie studios, Armand Tanny once said, "If Vince had his place on a Tibetan mountaintop instead of near the major motion picture studios, his followers would make the pilgrimage."
Vince had the ability to get movie stars in shape so fast, it was almost uncanny - not in months but in weeks or even days. Cher, Erik Estrada, Clint Eastwood, Denzel Washington, Michael Landon, Kurt Russell, Burt Reynolds, Carl Weathers and Tommy Chong were just a few of the names on his star-studded client roster.
Vince was one of my first influences in bodybuilding. When I was a teenager just starting out, I saved every one of his articles from the mags.
Check this out -
I purchased all of Vince's mail order courses and studied every word as if my life depended on it. I experimented extensively with his techniques and came to the conclusion that Vince possessed esoteric knowledge about the art of bodybuilding that few others will ever have.
Vince's Most Powerful Training System
Gironda was known for his unusual training methods. His unique exercises included the bench press to the neck, the sternum chinup (touching the chest to the bar), drag curls, and sissy squats with what he called a burlesque bump. His training systems included 15 sets of 4 . . .
I'm tellin' ya, check out this site for an incredible amount of Vince info:
3 sets of 12 (go on, check 'em all out), 6 sets of 6, 10 sets of 10, and four exercises in a giant set - one for each "side" of the muscle . . .
Of all Vince's techniques the 8 sets of 8 program was his favorite for advanced bodybuilders. "I have a definite preference for the 8 by 8 system of sets and reps," he wrote. "I come back to this high-intensity honest workout more often than any other for maximizing muscle fiber growth in the quickest possible time for the advanced bodybuilder."
Eight sets of eight might be the most effective set-and-rep combination ever developed for rapidly building muscle fiber size while simultaneously shedding bodyfat. Vince called it an "honest workout" because of the pure muscle fiber size that can be achieved on it. "Keep to 8 x 8, and your muscle fibers will plump out, giving you a solid mass of muscle density as a result," he promised.
8 sets of 8 is so effective that, a a 20-year old novice competitive bodybuilder I was able to gain 17 pounds of muscle drug free - contest weight from one show to the next - in less than nine months using this system. To this day I still use it whenever I need a shock program to bring up a lagging bodypart.
Vince warned that this combination is not for beginners: "You have to build up to the stage where you can benefit from this extremely advanced form of training. I doubt if anyone with less than two years of consistent training experience could benefit from it."
How It Works
8 sets of 8 is a fast-tempo, high-volume, size-building workout. It's not designed for strength development - it is purely for bodybuilding or cosmetic improvements. 8 sets of 8 will also help you get leaner, as the short rest intervals stress the cardiovascular system to the point where calories are rapidly burned, the metabolism is stimulated, hormones are stirred up, and fat is melted away.
Here's one of the ways it can be worked:
You select three or four exercises per muscle group and perform 8 sets of 8 on each exercise. Yes, that's up to 32 sets per bodypart! You work two or three muscle groups per session, rest only 15-30 seconds between sets and complete each workout in approximately 45 minutes - never more than 60.
Although the apparent excessive volume might seem reminiscent of the Steve Michalik, John Defendis intensity-or-insanity style of training, it's not the same thing. There are no two-to-three hour marathon workouts. You complete each session in less than an hour. The reason the high set count doesn't constitute over-training is that you don't exceed the time at which a negative effect on recovery and anabolic hormones sets in. You simply overload the muscles by condensing more training into less time. You also don't take all those sets to failure, as you'll see in a moment.
Why It Works
Many people are under the impression that the only way to make a muscle larger is to increase the amount of weight you use. That's not true. Overload is an absolute requirement for building muscle, but the overload can come in more ways than one.
Progressively adding weight may be one of the best ways to provide an overload, but it's not the only way. Vince was all in favor of adding weight to the bar, provided you maintained good form, but he believed that performing more work in less time was a better method of overload for the bodybuilder.
The Iron Guru's advice: "To acquire larger muscles you must increase the intensity of work done within a given time. That means minimal rest between sets. Push yourself. I feel workouts should be timed, and you should constantly strive to shorten the time it takes to get through your routine. That's another form of progressive resistance and it's more important than increasing your poundages. The overload principle explains why sprinters have bigger muscles than distance runners. Although it's more work to run a mile than it is to run 100 yards, the sprinter is doing more work per second. Consequently, his muscles will become larger."
8 Sets of 8 vs. Conventional Training
The most popular method of training for advanced bodybuilders is to choose between 2 and 4 exercises per muscle group and do 3 or 4 sets of 6-12 reps on each exercise. The rest intervals range from 60 seconds to 4 minutes, depending on the goal. So why bother with such an outrageous program as 8 sets of 8?
The answer is because honest, high-volume, fast-tempo training will be a complete shock to your body, especially in the beginning, when you're unaccustomed to it. An advanced bodybuilder will adapt to any training program within a matter of months and often within weeks. Once adaptation occurs, you must seek out new types of stress to coax your muscles into continued growth. Although Vince didn't advocate over-training in any way, shape or form, he did advocate using muscle confusion for stimulating gains, even if that meant temporarily over-training. 8 sets of 8 is simply an unusual and effective method of overload and muscle confusion.
Obviously, the program is not intended for year-round use. It's a shock routine you can use for brief periods to kick-start a new growth spurt. After completing a cycle of 8 sets of 8 you can go back to more conventional methods.
How long should you use 8 sets of 8?
As long as it keeps working.
Another advantage to 8 sets of 8 is that it can be used to work around an injury. Heavy training with 5- to 6-rep maxes is impossible when you're babying a strain, pull, of soft tissue injury, but you can do 8 sets of 8 because you get such an honest workout with a fraction of your usual weight on the bar.
8 sets of 8 is a fantastic method for pre-contest definition training, because doing 50-70 sets in less than an hour is decidedly aerobic. You can easily count each weight training session as a cardio workout. Fast metabolism types may not even need any other aerobic work.
How Much Rest Between Sets?
Vince advocated "a very businesslike approach toward tempo." He said that using the 8 sets of 8 format is not enough to ensure muscle gains. What's more important is the speed with which you get through the program. "Minimum rest between sets is a must," said the master. When Gironda was training Mohamed Makkawy for the Olympia, he had him conditioned to the point of doing 8 sets in as short a time as 5 minutes or less.
Your goal is to reduce your rest intervals to 30 seconds or less, ultimately cutting them down to just 15-20 seconds between sets. Once your conditioning adjusts to the demands, you'll need just 5-10 deep breaths after each set . . . then it's on to the next set.
If your rep speed on each exercise is 2/0/2/0 - two second eccentric, no pauses and two seconds concentric - then each rep will take you 4 seconds. 8 reps per set means that each set will take you 32 seconds. With a 15-20 second rest interval, 24 sets should take only 18-21 minutes, and 32 sets will take 25-28 minutes.
The proper tempo combined with the correct resistance is the key to the success of this program. Vince defined optimal tempo as "the evenly spaced sets (time-wise) without any distractions and with complete concentration on when to pick up the next weight and do the next set."
That means no magazine reading, no walking around the gym, no changing your music and no going to the bathroom. The program requires 100% total concentration. If you get interrupted or distracted, you might as well pack up your gym bag and go home.
Don't put the dumbbells down between sets. Rest them on your knees, but don't put them put them down or re-rack them. Also, don't release the bar between sets; rack it, but keep your hands on it. If you using straps, don't unwrap them. Stay on the bench or machine until you complete all 8 sets of 8. take no rest between bodyparts. When you finish the last exercise for the first muscle group, move directly into the first exercise for the next muscle group.
By the way, to follow the tempo guidelines, you'll have to do the program solo.
How Much Weight?
Using 15-20 second rest intervals will limit the amount of weight you can use, but that's okay. Initially, you'll experience a large drop in your normal training poundages. Most people will need to reduce their normal 8-rep max by about 40% to successfully complete 8 sets at the correct tempo with such brief rests. For example, if you normally perform dumbbell flyes with 55's for 8 reps with a 60-90 second rest interval, you're going to have to reduce your dumbbells to about 35's to successfully get through the 8 sets taking 15-30 second rests.
As you become more conditioned you will be surprised at how much weight you'll be able to build back up to while maintaining the short rest interval. You may even get close to your original poundage. At that point some serious growth will begin to occur.
Proper weight selection is critical. You should intentionally make the first workout easy. If you attempt too much weight too quickly, you won't be able to complete 8 reps on the last several sets, nor will you be allowing room for progression over a period of weeks. Vince cautioned that it's imperative to use the same weight for all 8 sets. If you fail on the 6th or 7th rep on the last set or two that's fine, but if your reps drop below 8 by your 4th or 5th set the weight is too heavy.
Whole-Body Training or Bodypart Specialization?
8 sets of 8 is excellent for bodypart specialization or whole-body training. You can use it very effectively on one bodypart at a time. For example, if your chest is lagging, you would do the 8 sets of 8 routine to specialize on chest, and do conventional training for the rest of your body.
If you decide to use the technique for large muscle groups such as legs and back, be warned: It's brutal beyond belief. It's extremely difficult because cardiovascular failure may limit your performance. Prepare to be huffing and puffing. You may have to start with longer rest intervals - about 30 seconds - and work down to 15-20 seconds. Alternatively, you could start with very light weights and build up gradually.
Select your exercises carefully to hit the aspects of each muscle you want to target the most. For example, if your after big side delts and shoulder width, you should select side-delt movements such as lateral raises and wide-grip upright rows instead of front raises and military presses.
Machines and single-joint movements are easier, but don't shy away from the big compound movements just because they're more difficult. As with any training program, the basic exercises will always produce the best results. So, if you want a massive back, think rows and chinups, not one-arm cable pulls.
8 sets of 8 works as well for calves, abs, and forearms as it does for any other bodypart. Vince was always partial to 20 reps for the calves. He often suggested staying with 8 sets but upping the reps to 20.
"Training Over Your Head"
Most of your sets will not be taken to failure, and none will be taken beyond failure. On your last set or two of each exercise it's normal to fail on the 6th or 7th rep. When you can easily complete a full 8 sets of 8 reps increase the weight at the next workout.
Although you won't be reaching failure on most of your sets, make no mistake: This is some of the most difficult training you'll ever undertake. Training large muscle groups and doing multi-joint free-weight exercises are especially difficult. You'll face the burn of local muscle fatigue, the challenge of oxygen debt, and the difficulty of maintaining concentration.
This method is a test of strength, endurance, and mental toughness. Gironda called it "training over your head." At times you won't be sure if you can go on, but once you start, you can't stop.
How Many Sets and Exercises?
As a general rule Vince suggested limiting your total sets to no more than 12-15 per bodypart. He said that if you can't get a workout in 12 sets you're not concentrating properly; however, he also said there are certain occasions when the rule could be broken. The 8 sets of 8 program is one of them.
Gironda recommended anywhere from 1 to 4 exercises per muscle group, depending on the circumstances. For this particular variation of the program you will perform 8 sets of 8 reps on 2-4 exercises per bodypart. Generally, you will aim for 3-4 exercises for large muscle groups and 2-3 exercises for small muscle groups.
That's the way he had Makkawy do it when he was training for the Olympia, but Vince was quick to point out that Mohamed was a true genetic superior and that not everyone can handle that kind of volume. The optimal number of exercises and total sets per muscle group will depend on your experience, your tolerance for stress and your recuperative abilities. The most important point os to do only as many exercises as you can fit into the 45-minute limit.
What Type of Split?
The number of exercises per bodypart will also depend on the split routine you use. Vince advocated different types of splits for various purposes. Sometimes he had his pupils train 6 days in a row, working each muscle group 3 times per week. More often, he was partial to 2- and 3-day splits, where each muscle was trained twice per week. He advised advanced bodybuilders to use a 3-day split with 72 hours of recuperation between maximum intensity workouts.
These days it's more popular to split up the bodyparts over 4 or even 5 days. with a 4- or 5-day split you work each muscle group once every 5 to 7 days. If Vince were around today, he would surely give me a verbal beating for saying this, but I've discovered that 8 sets of 8 works with nearly any split routine, whether you train each muscle group once a week of twice a week. The important thing is to adjust your volume so you can observe the tempo and time limit rules. If you have a split routine that works well for you, by all means stay with it.
For example, if you're on the popular 4-day split where you train two days on and one day off, you'll get great results on 8 sets of 8. With that type of split you can do 7 or 8 exercises for 8 sets of 8 and fit it all inside of 45 minutes. If you're on a 2- or 3-day split, as Vince often recommended, you may have time for only 1 or 2 exercise per muscle group.
The sample routine I'll be giving is based on a 4-day split.
8 sets of 8 is a little known and largely misunderstood program. That's partly because Vince never explained it in great detail - not even in his famous mail-order courses. Even whey they fully understand it most people don't attempt the program because it seems like too much volume and the weights seem too light to get anything out of it. Too bad for them. The real reason most people never finish a fully cycle of 8 sets of 8 is because it's too damn hard. 8 sets of 8 performed in 5 minutes for a large muscle group can test the grit of even the toughest bodybuilder.
You don't have to agree with all of Vince's teachings to use the program. It's natural to resist concepts that are so radical. Gironda was used to it. Nearly all of his ideas met with a certain degree of skepticism initially, yet eventually - sometimes two or three decades later - many of them became accepted as bodybuilding truths.
When questioned, Vince replied, "If in doubt, try these concepts and try others. Results count.
Examine. Test. Then make up your own mind. The secret to success is to believe that the course I give will work, and it will. If you have doubts, you'll find it won't work."
Examine. Test. Then make up your own mind. The secret to success is to believe that the course I give will work, and it will. If you have doubts, you'll find it won't work."
Regardless of whether you think Vince was the greatest trainer of all time of just a crusty old curmudgeon, I urge you to give this honest workout an honest try.
8 sets of 8 Routine
Decline low-cable crossovers (touch handles at waist), 8 x 8
Bench press to neck, 8 x 8 . . . all exercises are 8 x 8
Incline dumbbell press (palms facing each other)
Wide grip V-bar dip
Incline DB curl
Barbell wrist curl
Reverse wrist curl
Seated lateral raise
Wide grip upright row
Front-to-back barbell press
Bentover lateral raise
Behind-the-head rope extension
Two DB kickback
High-bench two DB row
Low cable row on 18" pulley
Medium grip pulldown to chest
Double crunch (pull in elbows and knees at the same time)
Lying bent-knee leg raise
Machine back squat
Seated leg curl machine
Standing calf raise
Seated calf raise
Here's Steve Holman's take on the 8 x 8:
Tom Venuto did a fine job of analyzing Gironda's 8 sets of 8 program, and providing a routine based on it. I found the article very intriguing and wanted to comment. I haven't tried the technique for every bodypart, but using it for only one muscle group or one exercise can build size quickly; more proof that the Iron Guru knew what he was talking about.
The 8 x 8 protocol has you choose a weight for each exercise with which you can get 8 reps on all 8 sets with a 20-30 second rest between sets. Your last couple of sets are the hardest and to failure. That has a number of advantages:
You don't use extremely heavy weights, which saves your joints from trauma.
Your first few sets are fairly easy, so they act as a warmup.
You get a lot of work done in minimum time thanks to the short rest periods.
Your workouts last less than an hour if you hustle properly.
You get an incredible pump.
The negative is that it's not a strength-building program.
As you can tell, you have to use lighter poundages to get 8 reps on all 8 sets, although your poundages move up quickly as you build up a tolerance to the short rests and fatigue accumulation. Vince never claimed it was a strength-building program; he said it was purely a cosmetic-oriented routine for building large muscles fast.
He suggested using up to four exercises per bodypart, which translates to 32 sets. That's a lot of volume, especially if you're using 8 x 8 on every bodypart. If you decide to try it, you may want to use it on only one or two bodyparts at a time and train others in a more conventional manner. Or you may want to apply it using POF instead of randomly choosing four exercises. With POF you train the muscle through its full range of motion - from midrange to stretch to maximum contraction - which should make the 8 x 8 system even more precise and effective.
For example, let's say you want to specialize on your delts. Here's an 8 x 8 POF delt program that will make you feel like you have bowling balls for shoulders:
Midrange: Smith machine presses, 8 x 8
Stretch: One-arm incline lateral raise, 8 x 8
Contracted: Dumbbell upright row, 8 x 8.
Remember, for each exercise you pick a poundage and use it on all 8 sets. If you get only 6 or 7 reps on the last two sets, that's okay, but if you stall at rep 6 on set 4, you know the weight you chose was too heavy.
Be forewarned: 8 sets of 8 may not sound that tough, but it will wind you. You'll be gasping for air, especially on leg and back exercises and any one-arm movements. For example, you'll be breathing hard on incline one-arm laterals because you'll have to go back and forth from arm to arm without rest. You're only supposed to rest about 20-30 seconds - and that's just enough time for a quick 8 reps with one arm. Then it's on to the other arm.
If you have a bodypart that's lagging, an 8 x 8 blast will get it to respond with new growth and muscularity, guaranteed. You don't even have to do it on all exercises. In fact, I found it effective to use it on the last exercise for a bodypart. For example, I'll use it on lateral raises to end my delt routine, which takes about 5 minutes for all 8 sets. I'm just starting to integrate that protocol into our routine, so watch for more on it in the next installment of Train, Eat, Grow.