How Vince Gironda Helped Shape Arnold Schwarzenegger To Win The Mr. Olympia
Written by Dr. Juan Carlos Cassano a.k.a. The Golden Era Bookworm
Arnold Arrives at Vince’s Gym
When we think of Arnold Schwarzenegger, imagery such as The Terminator, The Governator, champion and legendary bodybuilder and winner of 7 Mr. Olympia’s comes to mind. When we imagine Arnold training for those Olympia’s, imagery of Gold’s Gym and footage of the film Pumping Iron runs in our minds, his grueling workouts, posing out with Franco and Lou for the title, and Joe Weider handing him the title. Although bodybuilding mogul Joe Wieder brought Arnold to the sunny shores of California, it was the legendary Vince Gironda that helped mold the young Austrian's physique. That’s right! Vince Gironda, the iron guru was the first trainer of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and not even Arnold would escape Vince’s infamous attitude.
Entering the North Hollywood gym on the advice of Joe Wieder, the six-foot Austrian Oak, soon to be bodybuilding’s greatest athlete of all time introduced himself to Vince Gironda. As John Balik who witnessed the event recalls, Arnold walked into the gym, weighing approximately 255 pounds and stated in his heavy Austrian accent.
"I am Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mr Universe".
Vince removed his cigar out of his mouth and replied "You just look like a fat f*ck to me"!
In that one moment, Arnold’s lesson at Vince’s gym had begun. Vince had cut Arnold’s monster complex and made him understand that size was not all. As John recalls «from that moment on, Arnold’s body would never be that smooth again». Vince’s brutal physique assessment helped Arnold clarify his vision of how to obtain a champion physique, and it forever changed the way he would prepare for competition. Instead of feeling disheartened, insulted, or threatened, Arnold extended his hand to Vince, and he would continue to train at Vince’s Gym under the tutelage of Vince Gironda for the next few months.
The Lessons Begin
Two weeks later, after losing the IFBB 1968 Mr. Universe to Frank Zane, Arnold realized Vince was right. Arnold soon got to work at Vince’s Gym, and Vince led Arnold to change a few things with his training, and in particular, with these weak points. Vince introduced Arnold to the preacher curl on the preacher bench for biceps. Vince also tweaked Arnold’s leg and shoulder routine to include a variety of side raises and hack squats and other leg movements. It is also highly likely that Vince may have turned Arnold on to the science of milk and egg protein.
Dick Tyler recalls Vince Gironda’s training strategy for improving Arnold’s physique in a rare article. Arnold had just arrived in America and had no place to stay, so he stayed with Don Peters who lived close to Vince’s Gym.
Time rushed by and before we knew it, it was time to meet Don Peters at his home. Don had been kind enough to offer his fabulous house to Arnold for a few days until he could find an apartment. This house is the one with the fantastic home gym, swimming pool, professional pool table, color TV, palm trees, and genuine California sunshine.
After a few days in this perfect place, Arnold moved into an apartment that happens to be a block or so away from Vince’s Gym, so you can guess where he’s training now. Every morning at Vince’s and every evening at Don Peters, this massive Austrian Oak bombs his muscles.
I recently asked Vince how Arnold was doing and I thought he was going to mount a bandstand to tell me.
“He’s a vast untapped reservoir of unused tissue.”
“What do you mean by that?” I asked.
“For one thing he’s never used a preacher bench before; he’s never trained his legs or shoulders correctly and only recently has he started working his waist hard and started taking supplements of any kind. The other day I put him on a new deltoid exercise and you could see the insertion in the humorous literally burst out of the skin while he was doing it, only to disappear when the pump was gone.”
Now Vince looked at me seriously. “Dick, I guarantee in six months he’ll put two inches on his arms and three inches on his shoulders. That’s six months from now.”
“But how will he cram on all that size?”
Vince walked away with a knowing smile. Don’t worry though, I’ll find out and let you in on any secrets. The Austrian Oak is in town and you’ll get all the information from Vince’s Italian Riviera.
Arnold on Vince Gironda
Arnold further elaborates on his experiences with Vince Gironda.
When I first moved to California in 1968, I sometimes trained at Vince’s Gym in Studio City, owned by Vince Gironda. Vince was a bodybuilding pioneer with many radical theories about bodybuilding training, and he was always experimenting.
For example, he’d complete 30 sets of an exercise and, the next day, he’d know which part of a particular muscle had been doing the work by how sore it was. This would let him gauge how effective or ineffective an exercise was. For instance, if you did 30 sets of barbell curls and the next day your delts hurt more than your biceps, it would be clear that the delts had done an undue amount of the work. Therefore, you might want to perform an isolation exercise such as preacher curls instead, to take the delts out of play. Vince’s philosophy and the previous example underscore that not everything works for everybody, and that bodybuilding is an individual journey for each of us.
Vince Gironda on Arnold
Cutting up on Vince Diets
I cut down and cut down and cut down; I chiseled and polished, rendering that animal mass I’d brought from Europe down to the work of art I wanted. I had jewel-like abdominals for the first time; it was the first time I knew there was such a thing as a low-carbohydrate diet. I’d never heard of special diets in Germany. There you ate and worked and grew.
With the advice, he had obtained from Vince Gironda and the crew at Vince’s gym, he had trimmed off roughly 20 pounds of fat giving his physique a more defined and hard look. Arnold captured the 1969 IFBB Mr universe and decided to enter the 1969 Mr. Olympia competition. Although he lost to Sergio Oliva that year, Vince had laid the foundation necessary to capture the 7 Mr. Olympias that awaited Arnold.
Arnold’s transition to Gold’s Gym
Eventually, it is said that a combination of factors led to Arnold leaving Vince’s Gym and making the transition to Gold’s Gym. Firstly, according to Boyer Coe, Arnold didn’t get along with Vince. Secondly, Arnold enjoyed the sunny California atmosphere and enjoyed the hardcore bodybuilding scene emerging at Gold’s Gym….but that is another story.
- Ironman interview with John Balik: https://www.ironmanmagazine.com/arnold-a-bodybuilding-success-story-for-the-age/
- Arnold training at Vince’s Gym: Dick Tyler. 2004. West Coast Bodybuilding Scene: The Golden Era. USA. On Target Publications. p217-219.
- Arnold on Vince: FLEX. Weider Publications.
- Randy Roach. 2008. Muscle, Smoke and Mirrors. USA. AuthorHouse.
- Arnold Schwarzenegger. 1977. Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder. USA. Simon and Schuster.