In the early ‘80s, I read an article in MuscleMag about Vince Gironda that forever changed my view of trainers and their training methods. The article painted Gironda, who was in his 60s at that time and in the midst of training top IFBB star Mohamed Makkawy, as this wildly eccentric gym owner whose methods were not only radically different from anyone else’s, but also far more effective. It presented his gym, which was aptly named Vince’s Gym, as more or less sacred ground where many of the bodybuilding champs of the past had trained, as well as many Hollywood actors and actresses (it was located in North Hollywood, close to Universal Studios). During the ‘60s and into the ‘70s, anyone who was anybody spent time at Vince’s – actors and bodybuilders.
But that article also pointed out his dark side – he could be a cantankerous coot who had no trouble saying something deeply offensive to someone’s face and never thinking to apologize. What’s more, he might even throw you out of his gym if he didn’t approve of what you were doing. It also didn’t matter who you were, what you might have accomplished, or how famous you might be; if Vince wanted to tear into you, he would do so, often mercilessly. For example, it’s well known that the first time Gironda met Arnold Schwarzenegger (photo right), which was in the ‘60s, he called him a “fat f&#k” – and meant it! Over the years I heard numerous stories from people who had run-ins with Vince, which didn’t surprise me, because, as you’ll read below, I’ve had some experiences with his temper myself.
Overall, I found the MuscleMag article’s description of Vince and his gym so fascinating that I got hooked and read everything about him that I could in the months and years to follow. Then, on Christmas Day in 1985, when I was 21, I made the bold decision to hop into a car that same evening with my friend Kevin to drive from my house in Canada to Los Angeles to see Vince in his gym. I wanted to meet him and wasn’t about to wait any longer!
The trip there took us two-and-a-half days, and the moment we got to Los Angeles we went straight to Vince’s Gym, which was located at 11262 Ventura Boulevard. I’d never been there before, obviously, but I knew the address by heart from all that I’d read. The second the car stopped, I hopped out, ran to the gym door, flung it open, and found myself face to face with Vince, who greeted me by saying, “What do you want?” Suffice it to say, his tone wasn’t polite.
When I told Vince I wanted to look around his gym, he grimaced and moved aside so I could go in. There was the place and the equipment I’d read about, with Vince staring suspiciously at us! Then, after five minutes or so, he said in an even sterner-sounding voice, “What the hell do you want?” It was then that I told him the truth because I knew he might boot us out the door. I quickly explained how I’d read everything about him and jumped in a car only 60 or so hours before and driven there to meet him. Frankly, I wish I’d had a video camera at that time to capture the look on Vince’s face, because when he heard that his jaw dropped, his demeanor changed, and he welcomed us wholeheartedly and introduced us to everyone in the gym. He was like a different person! After that, he talked for more than two hours about training and nutrition, as well as his experiences in bodybuilding over the years. When he finished, he said, “You should’ve had a tape recorder for that.” Indeed.
Following that talk, Vince asked what we wanted to do. I explained to him that I hoped to train there and learn something from him, at which point he interrupted me and said in the abrupt tone he was known for, “You don’t look like you have any money.” I didn’t, and I knew Vince would probably want to charge me a lot. Then what happened surprised the hell out of Kevin and me – he told us to each pay the $10 daily gym fee and he’d train us for free, providing we showed up a 7 a.m. each day. Of course, we did.
My experiences over the four days I trained with Vince showed me that almost everything that article said about him was true. He was an eccentric, brilliant man who was a thoroughly original thinker and probably was ahead of his time – he talked about things then that I’ve heard some just talking about today. He was also a mean old bastard who, at times, didn’t hold back his wrath with me or Kevin. When I couldn’t master one of his triceps exercises, he called me “useless” and “stupid” and stormed away. When he saw my red sweatshirt for the first time, he mocked me in front of everyone who was in the gym by shouting, "Look at the reindeer." As for my friend Kevin, he treated him worse – he called him a “sasquatch” one day because of his height and longer-than-average arms. That really annoyed Kevin. The next day he put Kevin through a tortuous leg session that he said he wouldn’t recommend to anyone, but did just to see if Kevin was "stupid enough to do it." Those moments weren’t pleasant and there were a couple of times that I had to hold Kevin back from decking him, but I accepted that the unpleasantness was just part of his character and simply laughed it off.
Most important was that the good outweighed the bad. Vince was the real deal insofar as trainers go. As I’ve said to many people in the years that followed, I learned more in the four days that I trained with Vince than I learned from anyone else afterwards. What’s more, he basically gave that knowledge to me for free (well, $40). And even though he chastised me ruthlessly at times, he praised me just as often, if not more. Furthermore, when all was said and done and we were saying our goodbyes, he wholeheartedly thanked me and Kevin for making the trip there and told us that he really enjoyed our company. All in all, Vince might have been deeply flawed in certain ways, just as the article I read about him described him, but when I looked at the whole person, I could see a great man who was generous to those who respected his knowledge.
Not surprisingly, I’m not the only one who thinks highly of Vince. Around the same time that I made the trip to Vince’s Gym, so, too, did a gentleman named Robert Torres, who was about 30 years old when he arrived there. We didn’t know each other at all back then, but I learned recently that he went for pretty much the exact same reason as I did – to train with the guy he’d read so much about. However, the thing that made Robert’s trip to Vince’s Gym so much different from mine is that Vince allowed him to do something he never in his life let anyone else do: videotape him training. The only condition was that Vince wouldn’t allow him to release the footage until after he’d died.
Fans of Vince know that he died in 1997, five days shy of his 80th birthday. Why it took Robert so long to get around to releasing this footage is anyone’s guess, but, finally, he has released it on DVD, and, in my opinion, the bodybuilding world is a better place for it.
For the first time ever, people who never worked out with him in person can actually see Vince training, and they can watch him train others (Robert, mainly, but there is a part at the beginning where Vince is instructing female-bodybuilder Kay Baxter on posing). What people can also see is that Vince’s methods were unquestionably unique, not to mention extremely effective. I can guarantee that most of the exercises were totally original. Even for common exercises, such as seated dumbbell curls, Vince used techniques that were completely different from what other trainers use. As a result, within the video, you’ll find unique, extraordinarily useful exercises for the biceps, triceps, back, chest, shoulders, and legs, all done in ways I can guarantee you’ve never seen before. Robert’s video is, without question, the best training video I’ve ever seen, because it stars the very best trainer the bodybuilding world has ever known, demonstrating exercises he developed.
That said, there are a few things to be aware of. First, at 40 minutes in length, it’s fairly short. Second, the video quality is mediocre. Robert went to great lengths and expense to have it remastered to improve quality (my understanding is that the original footage was beyond bad), but standard definition footage shot in the ‘80s is only ever going to look so-so at best. You can see from the screenshot below the kind of image it has – reasonable but nowhere near extraordinary. Finally, it’s expensive: $115! For those reasons, I could see many balking at purchasing it, particularly those who feel that videos today should be free.
Yet, to me, what Robert is asking for the video is entirely reasonable, which is why I paid the full amount the moment it came out. This video is a one-of-a-kind thing that offers a rare glimpse at the methods developed and used by the greatest trainer who ever lived – that’s priceless. Also, consider this: Despite the plethora of trainers out in the world today, they all pale in comparison to Gironda and what he accomplished, which is proven by his reputation, even after his death. It’s testament to his skill that 17 years later people are still talking about him on forums, on Facebook, and in the print magazines. The guy was a legend who has lived on, whereas with most trainers, the moment that they’re gone from the scene, they’re forgotten. That’s because they bring nothing new to the table, while Gironda brought everything, including some of the training methods and ideas that revolutionized training and that people take for granted today (for example, if you’ve heard that you shouldn’t train longer than 45 minutes, know that Vince was touting that 50 years ago). This video has those things, which no other does.
Then there’s also the real, practical reason why this video is priced so high that should be considered. I know that it cost Robert plenty to have his footage remastered in order for it to at least be presentable. Moreover, videos don’t sell like they used to a decade or two ago (you can credit YouTube, torrent downloading, etc., for that), so if Robert sells more than 200 copies of this, I’ll be surprised. In fact, I’ll be surprised if he sells 100, something that would still hold true if he priced it at a one-third of what he’s asking now. As a result, Robert has to try to recoup his investment somehow and a high price tag is a pretty good way to go about it, particularly if it’s marketed to those who can appreciate what they’re getting. Believe me, you can pay some everyday trainer for a week, a month, or a year, for which he or she will demand a small fortune, and you won’t get what this video gives you in 40 minutes. So digest what I said and do Robert and yourself a favor if you’re serious about your training – cough up the cash for the DVD.
I thought the world of Gironda when I discovered him and then trained with him back in the ‘80s, and I think just as much of him today, which is why I promote him on this site and I’m writing about Robert’s video. This isn’t the first article I’ve written about Vince and his legacy would easily live on without Robert’s video – that’s proven by how much he’s still discussed today. But now that we have this video, people can finally see firsthand what the fuss with this guy was and still is about . . . and why I drove for two-and-a-half days just to see him.
Robert Torres can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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