Nobody likes to hit a training plateau, but they can be easily overcome with a little know-how.
In the past, we have written about various methods to breach training plateaus including our very own variation on the drop set.
Training Plateau Preface
Over the past few months, we’ve discussed the ideas of the great Vince Gironda on a number of subjects. There’s been a particular focus on nutrition, including Vince’s Maximum Definition diet and his seemingly insane (but actually increasingly well substantiated) 36-eggs-a-day, or Hormone Precursor, diet. We’ve also considered his strident views on exercise and particular exercises.
Last week we examined his claim that you should train legs if you want bigger arms, which has actually been given strong support by recent scientific studies, and the chest-training methods he used with his most famous student, the first Mr Olympia Larry Scott. Here, we’ll examine one of Vince’s patented methods for breaking through plateaus: the 10-8-6-15.
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The Iron Guru, Vince Gironda
Vince Gironda (1917-1997), otherwise known as the Iron Guru, is one of the great mavericks of bodybuilding history. Despite exercising an enormous influence over the nascent sport of bodybuilding in the US, and training a who’s who of bodybuilders, Hollywood stars and celebrities at Vince’s Gym in West Hollywood, his contribution to bodybuilding, including his anticipation of many later trends, still remains to be properly recognised.
In addition to his difficult, outspoken personality – he famously called Arnold Schwarzenegger a ‘fat f***’ the first time he met him – the general trajectory of bodybuilding over his lifetime was divergent from his own ideas and practices.
Among his numerous pet dislikes, Vince shunned shiny, complicated machines, he wouldn’t allow music in his gyms and he hated, with a passion, the use and abuse of steroids, which he believed were responsible for what he saw as bodybuilding’s betrayal of its original ideals.
‘Everything about drugs rubs me the wrong way. Unlike many pro bodybuilders who see benefits that outweigh the disadvantages, I see only the atrocious side effects… and absolutely no benefits.’
The ‘mass monster’ physique that became dominant in the early 1990s, with the ascendancy of Dorian Yates, was the absolute antithesis of Vince’s aesthetic ideal, which involved the careful placement of mass to suit the individual’s frame.
Dorian Yates: the first mass monster
For Vince, bodybuilding was an art, governed by eternal principles that had first been recognised by the Ancient Greeks.
Vince also had a laundry-list of exercises that he hated, including back squats, bench presses and standard barbell curls. His most famous protégé, Larry Scott, who won the first and second ever Mr Olympia contests, built his magnificent chest using modified dips (‘Gironda dips’) and the guillotine press, instead of the bench press. We have examined those two exercises already in a separate article.
Vince and Larry Scott
The truth was, quite simply, if you wanted to train at Vince’s Gym, you had to follow his ideas. To the letter. If you wanted to do heavy back squats, bench press, use a Hammer Strength machine or listen to music when you worked out – well, you could see where the door was, and if you couldn’t Vince would be more than willing to show you.
Vince’s Gym, back in the 1950s
Like I said, Vince wasn’t known for his easygoing personality.
Vince was famous for his advocacy of a variety of different rep schemes: the 10×10, 8×8, 6×6 and 5×5, among them. As with his diets, Vince was adamant that different schemes were for different purposes. You should choose the scheme that suits your purposes, use it until you meet your goal, and then choose another to suit your new circumstances and aims.
Of all the rep schemes he devised, the 10-8-6-15 gets the least attention. This is a shame, because it is a supremely effective method when put to the purposes for which it was devised. It’s often said that Vince created the program in response to Mike Mentzer’s high-intensity style of training, which places an emphasis on intensity over volume.
The late, great Mike Mentzer
The 10-8-6-15 is designed for those who have stalled in their gains or reached a plateau. It is also designed to provide an intense, relatively short workout, and so is eminently suitable for those who are also short on time.
Unlike the other rep schemes listed above, the 10-8-6-15 is a pyramid scheme (i.e. the number of reps form a pyramid). Vince’s thinking in employing a pyramid scheme was that, by recruiting a variety of motor units rather than just a single one (as in, say, 5×5), the body would be forced to respond in a new way, pushing the lifter through his plateau.
This is what Vince meant by the term ‘muscle confusion’ (which he coined), a term that has been responsible for a lot of confusion of its own. Instead of advocating the ‘infini-WOD’ bastard Crossfit style of never performing the same workout twice, Vince simply meant that if your body stops responded to a stimulus, you should switch things up and try something different. Conversely, if your body is continuing to respond to a stimulus in the desired manner, leave things as they are. Simple.
What’s that, bro, you don’t train functional?
The scheme is also relatively low volume, just like Mentzer’s high-intensity training. Unlike the 10×10 or 8×8, it is not cumulative weight but intensity that is supposed to stimulate hypertrophy. With each set of the 10-8-6-15, apart from the last, the weight increases, and this is supposed to be enough to trigger muscle gain. The final set is a pump set, designed to push blood and nutrients to the muscle and aid with growth and recovery.
Only when you are able to perform all the reps with perfect form should you increase the weight.
How To Perform the 10-8-6-15
Vince’s original 10-8-6-15 pamphlet
The workout is based on your 6-rep max for the given exercise. This becomes your 100%. Here is how you perform the sets. We’ll provide a detailed example after.
10 = 10 reps with 50% of your 100%
8 = 8 reps with 75% of your 100%
6 = 6 reps with 100% of your 100%
15 = 15 reps with 35% of your 100%
Rest between the sets should be no more than 60 seconds. Vince also recommended deep breathing during the rest periods.
So let’s say your guillotine press 6rm is 150lbs, this is how the workout would look for that exercise:
10 reps at 75lbs
8 reps at 112.5lbs
6 reps at 150lbs
15 reps at 52.5lbs.
The guillotine press demonstrated by one of Vince’s former students
The programme is designed around three upper-body and two lower-body routines a week. Each body part gets just a single exercise. If you want to do abdominal work as well, this should be done on leg days only. Vince prescribed the following exercises:
Chest: guillotine press
Lats: 45 degree pulley pull
Delts: upright row
Triceps: tricep pullover with two dumbbells
Biceps: standing dumbbell curls with the thumb under
Abdominals: barbell ¼ roll up
Calves: alternate calf heel raise
Quadriceps: ¾ Smith machine squat
Vince performing a wide-grip upright barbell row
Of course, you can experiment with other exercises as well. Just make sure that you observe Vince’s stricture about proper form and don’t increase the weight until you can perform all the reps with perfect form.
Now break on through that wall!