The late Vince Gironda, affectionately known as "The Iron Guru," developed approaches to hypertrophy that are still being used 60-plus years after he developed them. In an era that stretched from the 1940s to the 1990s, Gironda was well known as a professional bodybuilder, author, and owner of Vince's Gym on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, California. He covered a lot of territory in his life, espousing many unorthodox training and nutritional ideas that seemed to fit his colorful personality.
Athletes who trained at Gironda's famed gym included Franco Columbu, Dave Draper, Clint Eastwood, Frank Zane, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Larry Scott, and Lou Ferrigno. It is not overstatement to say that Gironda, who died in 1997, helped influence the training philosophy of the bodybuilding world's equivalent of Mt. Rushmore.
His 8x8 system continues to be one of the most unorthodox—and most challenging—approaches out there. If you're ready for some serious hypertrophy—along with fat loss—prepare yourself for 4-6 weeks of hell.
The Crushingly "Honest" Workout
Gironda referred to his 8x8 system as "honest" because you're going to be doing an honest day's work in the gym: 8 sets of 8 reps with just a 30-second break between sets. This workout has been known to bring trainees to their knees—even when they're using pygmy weights—because of this man's ruthlessly effective system.
The 8x8 has been used for various body-part splits. The most impressive results have come from doing full-body routines 2-3 times a week for 4-6 weeks. For best results, mix compound movements with single-joint movements, starting your weights at approximately 40-50 percent of your one-repetition maximum, then moving up—or down—as required to challenge yourself while maintaining strict form.
If you have good muscle endurance, you may be able to use more weight. Your goal is to finish all 8 sets. If you run out of gas toward the end, reduce the weight so that you can consistently hit all 8 reps of all 8 sets—without taking more than 30 seconds between sets—and while maintaining form!
To vary the stimulation and provide for more growth, both physiologically and psychologically, switch up your routine from time to time using these alternate exercises:
- Legs: weighted sissy squat, leg press, seated leg curl, cable deadlift, squat
- Chest: barbell incline bench press, dip, cable cross-over, machine bench press
- Back: seated cable row, pull-up, dumbbell incline row, straight-arm pull-down
- Shoulders: machine shoulder press, cable rear delt fly, machine lateral raise, dumbbell lying rear lateral raise
- Triceps: kneeling cable triceps extension, triceps push-down, Smith machine close-grip bench press
- Biceps: incline dumbbell curl, Zottman curl, machine biceps curl, hammer curl
Focus on Perfect Form, Not Big Weights
Be prepared for your heart rate to be accelerated for the entire workout. If you haven't done much high-volume training, and you've figured out your nutrition, this workout can ignite some serious muscle hypertrophy. The 8x8 is interval training "on steroids," and it will ramp up your metabolism to help you achieve incredible fat-loss benefits.
With any kind of training, it helps to know what you are hoping to achieve. Here, the objective is to get a skin-splitting pump while increasing your level of conditioning. The goal is to lift as much weight as possible within the given parameters. As you work your way through the routine, you should be able to increase your conditioning and the amount of weight you use. As soon as 50 percent of your max becomes routine, bump it up to 65 percent!
At the same time, be prepared to lower the weight if needed; it won't be the end of the world. With Gironda's routine, technical failure is failure. Use whatever weight helps you execute safely and with great form. Vince was a stickler when it came to proper form, so you need to be one too—for your own protection.
Exercises to Avoid in Your 8x8 Routine
There are a number of exercises you should avoid while using the 8x8 system. This is not to say you should avoid them completely—just in this context.
Front squat: This is a great exercise for a high-intensity, lower-volume phase. Here, though, volume is king, and your rhomboids will fatigue isometrically long before your thighs.
Grip-limiting exercises: On any exercise, if grip limits you, wear straps. If you do not have straps, avoid the exercise unless your objective is targeting forearms, grip, or both.
Cumbersome exercises: Any exercise that is a pain in the ass to set up (e.g., heavy dumbbell presses or walking-out squats) is a no-go.
Technically complex lifts: Exercises such as Olympic lifts are 100-percent out! Anything technically complex raises the risk of injury and decreases the work of the targeted muscle.
Deadlifts, bent-over rows, good mornings: These are awesome exercises, but doing them when fatigued increases the risk for lower-back injuries.