I was using my old typewriter (it’s even older than my car) the other evening, when the phone rang. It was a young bodybuilding newcomer who many think has great promise. I had just done a story on him, and he was curious about how the exercise photos had come out.
During the course of our conversation we got on the science of bodybuilding. Bet you didn’t expect that! Anyway, it got involved, so I suggested he check with Vince Gironda, who owns the gym where he trained.
“Why Vince?” said my friend.
“Are you kidding?” I replied in dismay. “Vince happens to be one of the best technicians in the science of bodybuilding.”
“Science of bodybuilding?”
“What did you think bodybuilding was, just a recreational pastime? That’s okay for the man who just wants to keep trim, but for the bodybuilder who wants to become a champion it’s a science. It has to be. After all, your body is the most miraculous machine ever created. It’s a miracle of engineering and chemistry; if you plan to develop it and control it you must approach it with scientifically developed principles.”
I was so thrilled with what I had just said I felt like crying.
There was a pause on the other end of the line. “Yeah?” My friend was doing a good job of controlling himself. “But,” he continued, “I didn’t know Vince was that great a scientist.”
“I’d say his gym has more of the greats training in it than any other gym I know of at the present time.”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Why do you think that is?” I asked.
“Oh, I suppose the equipment and all.” I didn’t answer. “Vince?” he said finally.
“Sure,” I said, “after all, a gym is a gym. If it was just weights and equipment you needed, you could get the best in the professional home-type through the Weider Space Age Exercisers. You can’t get better anywhere. You can’t get better training principles than those found in Mr. America and Muscle Builder magazines either. But it’s the application of sound training principles that counts. You should only go to a gym that advocates and uses the most advanced and scientific training methods.”
There was a silence and I thought my young friend had fallen asleep. (I have a tendency to lecture.) Finally he said, “Yeah.”
“So, study bodybuilding by reading the teachings of Joe Weider and the champions in the magazines and learn first-hand from such greats as Vince Gironda. Right?”
“Right,” he said as he hung up.
To heck with him. Some guys never learn without being clubbed with a commonsense stick anyway. Maybe you got the message. Just think of all the great training secrets that are printed in Weider magazines. Ever since I can remember—my memory doesn’t go back to B.T. (Before Training)—I have been getting programs for my routines from the magazines.
Of course, when I first started the magazines were called Muscle Power and Your Physique. They were, as they are now, filled with many of the secrets of the greats. It’s almost like having a personal instructor at your side while you train. How many things are really secret? I mean, like there’s nothing new under the sun. Everything is just variation of something already done. Weider Research was formed with the idea of gathering and giving all forms of training information, plus discovering new—and improving old—training methods.
Sometimes the task of ferreting out training secrets of some of the champs can be harder than you might realize. Some of them jealously guard their favorite theories. It’s rare when an established star volunteers anything but his name, rank and serial number. You can imagine my surprise when just a few moments after talking to that young bodybuilder, the phone should ring again and it was Vince. Honest.
We talked small talk for a while. All the time I knew Vince had something on his mind. It was just a matter of waiting.
“Say, Dick,” he said finally. “I’ve got a secret.”
“You mean the TV show? I like it, too.”
“No, no, I mean I’ve got a secret. A training secret. One that I have never told anyone.”
I sat there stunned for a moment. “Yes?” I asked, not knowing what to expect. I couldn’t believe he was going to voluntarily give really secret information.
“It has nothing to do with diet or anything like that. It’s an exercise for the abdominal region. One that I’ve been doing for some time now. It’s the greatest result producer in the book.”
“And you want to tell it to me?” I said hopefully.
“That’s right. I thought it was about time I shared it with someone else.”
With the phone held to my ear by my shoulder, I fumbled for a pencil and paper. “Okay, shoot,” I said enthusiastically.
“Not now. Not over the phone.”
I gulped, “N-n-not over the phone?”
“No,” said Vince, “here at the gym.”
I cleared my throat. “I’ll be right over.”
“No,” said Vince, “not now.”
“Not now?” I thought he was going to change his mind. “When?”
“How about the day after tomorrow?”
“Okay,” I said eagerly.
I could hardly wait till the appointed time. Here was a training secret that had never been told before, much less published. I felt like the cub reporter, Jimmy Olsen, about to interview Superman. I must have been at the gym an hour early.
I let him finish his workout, just barely, before I pounced.
“Now, look here, old man,” I said, unable to control myself any longer. “How about this here secret?”
Vince wiped off the sweat that was pouring from his body. “It’s about the abdominals.”
“I know, Vince, but I just finished an article on your complete abdominal routine. You mean it’s no good now?”
“No, publish the article. It’s one of the best routines available, one that I’ve worked on and given to others with great results.”
“Then what’s all this ‘secret’ stuff about?” I asked.
“About one exercise that I’ve never given anyone.”
It sounded like we were doing a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta.
“First,” said Vince, “let’s examine the anatomical considerations of the abdominal area. The primary function of the abdominal rectus is to act as a shield for the viscera in the abdominal cavity.”
“Viscera in the abdominal cavity?” I asked a little confused.
“Okay, organs inside your gut.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I said, “now I dig, go ahead.”
“The best way to build and strengthen this area is by contracting the abdominals. Right?”
“You bet your life,” I answered. “But I know all this.”
“Most people,” continued Vince, “think of a full situp as the best way to reach this area. Actually a full situp is just a waste of time. You always see pictures of someone doing a situp with someone else holding their ankles. It makes me sick to see it. The only time the abdominals work is at the very beginning of the situp. They help get your shoulders off the floor and that’s about it.”
“That’s why you never do full situps, isn’t it?” I asked.
“That’s right, I just do concentrations. That flopping back and forth stuff is for the birds.”
“I agree, but what’s new?”
“Obviously the best way to concentrate on a single muscle group is to isolate it. Contractions start to do that, but you still get assistance from the Psoas Major, Illiacus and Quadratus Lumborum.”
“Aw, c’mon now, Vince. This is a clean magazine.”
“Those,” said Vince patiently, “are some of the muscles that assist in the situp movement. They have nothing to do with the abdominals.”
“What is a guy supposed to do with them, cut them off? Ha, ha.” Only I laughed.
“No,” said the great Italian sage, “just don’t exercise them.”
“If even a simple contraction brings them into play, how can you keep from exercising them?” I asked.
He looked at me with a glint in his eye. “That’s the secret.” Vince turned from me and called over one of the gym members.
He had him lay on the flat abdominal board.
“Now, whenever the legs are stretched out, they not only act as an unwanted counter-balance, but activate that unmentionable muscle group we talked about earlier.”
“I know! You fold your legs under you,” I said in a flash of brilliance.
“You’re on the right track. However, when you fold them under, the body still has a tendency to use other muscle groups besides the abdominals.”
I was going to suggest cutting off the legs, but no one laughed at my earlier remarks so I kept my trap shut.
“Since you can’t cut the legs off,” said Vince—naturally people chuckled—you strap the hips down, thus negating all but the action of the abdominals.”
So that was it. It seemed so simple, yet no one I knew had ever done abdominal work just that way.
“I do eight sets of eight reps. When you do an exercise correctly, you don’t need to do more. In fact, I’m thinking of cutting down to six sets of six reps.”
Before I left Vince took off his shirt and started posing under the skylight. Vince showed more muscle than I thought the human body possessed. Believe me, if you saw what I did, you’d be falling on the floor to do those Gironda abdominal iso-squeezes.