So you’ve made the decision that you want to get bigger
You want to pack on the kind of mass that would make a charging bull stop and run the other direction. You also want to do it as quickly as possible. Perhaps you’ve even heard rumours, whispers in the back of the gym, that there’s a programme designed to deliver just what you want in the most efficient way possible.
Enter…German Volume Training, the mass building system that you need to know about! This article looks at one of the most effective, and one of the most brutal, training routines known to the world of muscle and strength. We’ll be talking about how it works, who recommends it, and even giving example training programmes that you can get started with right now. Sit back, grab yourself a protein shake, and get ready to learn all about gaining quality muscle mass, German style!
What is German Volume Training?
Ok, first things first, what does German Volume Training actually involve? Put simply, it’s the process of performing 10 sets of 10 reps with limited rest in between. It’s for this reason that German Volume Training (GVT) is also known as the ‘ten sets method’ in strength training circles. It originated, according to most accounts, in Germany during the 1970’s, and its popularity has been linked to Rolf Feser, Germany’s national weightlifting coach at the time. With that said, variations of the system have been traced back into the 1940’s, so you can be pretty sure that this training style has survived the test of time.
Sounds cool, but how does German Volume Training work?
GVT works in one of the most brutally simple ways possible, by creating a huge build-up of lactic acid within the working muscle group. What this lactic acid does is place that muscle under a huge amount of stress, stimulating production of IFG-1, also known as Insulin Growth Factor. This little baby is a completely natural growth hormone, like testosterone, that functions to synthesize protein uptake by creating new muscle fibres and acting to prevent muscle wastage (also known as muscle ‘atrophy’) If you want to know a little more about the process of lactic acid build-up, check out my article on Occlusion Training. To summarise though, the good news is that you’ll be a mass building machine! The bad news, on the other hand, is that you’re going to hurt like hell both during and after the workout. Most newcomers to German Volume training find themselves sore for three to four days after their workouts! You’d better make sure you’re getting plenty of food, plenty of sleep and plenty of water to maximise your recovery. Believe me, this is a training routine that you’re going to remember!
Okay, I’m pretty tough, but who else has used German Volume Training?
For starters, it’s a pretty good bet that dozens of members of the German Olympic squad have been put through their paces with this mass building method. Then there’s Canadian weightlifter Jacques Demers, who won a silver medal in the Los Angeles Olympic Games. Plus female bodybuilder Bev Francis also famously mentioned that German Volume Training was one of her favourite methods of gaining quality mass. Not to mention the system as a whole has the approval of world-renowned strength coach Charles Poloquin, who has trained hundreds if not thousands of high performance clients. All in all, I’d say those examples alone should be a good enough reason to try the programme for six weeks.
Sweet! Now tell me the nitty-gritty
Time to pay attention, these next few bits are crucial for maximising your gains in lean muscle mass.
Exercise selection: let’s start with the biggest factor in GVT success, exercise selection. You want to be using, big, bad compound exercises designed to give your body the biggest possible stress. We’re talking about Squats, Bent over rows, chest presses and overhead presses here. If you really want to hit your biceps, triceps and other bits of isolation work you can do them as accessory exercises after your main Volume Training.
What about Deadlifts: You’re more than welcome to put a deadlift into the mix. But be warned, deadlifts are massively taxing so you’ll have to be pretty clever on how you plug them into your programme. Personally I would choose either Squats OR Deadlifts then change after 4-6 weeks. If you really want to use both squats AND deadlifts then they either need to be separated by least 2 days, or used as a super-set during the same workout. My recommendation would be to use RDL’s (Romanian Deadlifts) and focus on glute/hamstring activation as part of a superset with squats. Either way, just make sure you keep good form during those last few tough sets.
Agonist/Antagonist: Most German Volume routines use agonist/antagonist supersets. This means they’ll often put muscle groups like chest and back together in the same workout, giving two exercises worth of 10 by 10. This is what I would recommend for an intermediate with a good training history. For beginners it may be a bit too much volume, so I’ve provided an introductory programme specifically designed to maximise growth for everyone new to the brutality of the German Method.
Sets, reps and weight used: As we discussed earlier, you’ll be doing 10 sets of 10 reps, and your rest interval will be short, typically 60-90 seconds. I know what you’re thinking, is that even possible? The answer is Yes, but you need to remember to use a weight that is around 60% of your 1 rep max (also known as a weight you could perform 20 repetitions with normally) This will feel really light for the first two or three sets, but trust me, DO NOT be tempted to increase the weight. Stick with 60% for all ten sets and by the time you’re on set seven you’ll be begging for it to be over!
Progression: In terms of progression, you should add weight to the movement only when you can perform the full 10 sets of 10 reps with acceptable form. If you perform 7 sets of 10 followed by 3 sets of 8, you need to repeat the workout and achieve the full 10 sets of 10 before you increase your weight.
Tempo: This is often overlooked but we should really be aiming to maximise our time under tension, and with German Volume Training we do this using a 4-0-1 or 4-0-2 tempo. This just means that you should aim to do the eccentric (lowering) part of the movement in 4 seconds before immediately performing the concentric (raising) portion of the movement in 1 or 2 seconds. All in all, this is the least important factor in GVT, just remember to be controlled and avoid bouncing around like you’ve been hit by a Taser!
Okay, I’m in; got any programmes for me?
By now you’re probably pretty psyched up to get started (and if you’re not, then maybe you’d be interested to learn that some people have seen results such as 10lb of muscle gain in as little as 4-6 weeks!) Below you’ll find three different German Volume Routines designed specifically for three different levels of training. A word of warning, choose the programme that’s appropriate for you or you’ll risk serious overtraining. Let’s put it this way, even if you’ve been strength training for a few years on a 5×5 programme or a standard 8-12 reps hypertrophy routine, I’d still recommend starting on the beginner programme. It’s called VOLUME training for a reason, and simply put, you’ll be doing more total repetitions than you’ve ever done before!
Beginner/Introductory Programme (4 weeks)
Squats, 10 sets of 10 reps
Hamstring Curls, 3 sets of 8-12
Bench Press, 10 sets of 10 reps
Tricep Pushdowns, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
Barbell Row, 10 sets of 10 reps
Bicep Curls, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
*You could also do Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday
Intermediate programme (4 weeks)
The main difference with the intermediate programme is that the volume has been increased through the use of supersets. So you’ll perform 10 reps of A1 followed immediately by 10 reps of A2. You’ll then rest 90 seconds before repeating 10 times!
A1) Squat 10 sets of 10
A2) Superset hamstring Curl 10 sets of 10
A3) Calf Raise 3 sets of 8-12 reps
A1) Chest Press 10 sets of 10
A2) Superset Chin-ups 10 sets of 10
A3) One arm Dumbbell Row 3 sets of 8-12
A1) Tricep Dips 10 sets of 10 reps
A2) Hammer Curls 10 sets of 10 reps
A3) Dumbbell Shoulder Press 3 sets of 8-12 reps
Advanced Programme (3 weeks in cycles)
When you get to an advanced stage you’ve probably experienced at least a full years’ worth of high volume style training and started to hit some plateaus. With this advanced routine you won’t be making progress as fast as you would on the beginner routine, but you will be busting through those plateaus. It’s also more complicated than the earlier routines so you’d best be writing everything down!
Basically you’ll be following the same programme split as you were at an intermediate level. The difference is that you’ll be changing reps and intensity each week. Specifically you’ll be following a 3-5% weight increase between workouts and a 4 week rolling reset. Here’s an example for someone that has done GVT at an intermediate level but just can’t get complete their bench press at 225lb for 10 sets of 10. They would do:
Week 1: 10×8 at 225lb
Week 2: 10×7 at ‘225lb plus 3-5%’ (so 235lb)
Week 3: 10×6 at ‘225lb plus 6-10%’ (so 245lb)
New week 1: Your new week 1 is then 10×8, using week 2’s weight. (So 10×8 at 235lb)
Repeat this process a couple of times and then re-test your full 10 sets of 10 reps. I’ll bet you that you can now easily perform the weight you had previously struggled with.
How Long can I use German Volume training for?
Since German Volume training is so intense, I wouldn’t recommend doing it year-round. Instead you should use a German Volume routine for 4-8 weeks, go hard, and then take a month or so doing a lower volume programme. This will allow your body to recover and to experience what’s known as strategic de-conditioning. This means that your body will lose a little bit of its ability to handle volume. This is actually a good thing, because when you come back to GVT your body will once again be ‘shocked’ into making massive gains!
Let’s wrap this up German Volume Training
Okay, so what have we learnt so far? German Volume Training should be used for 4-8 weeks to achieve huge gains in muscle mass through lactic acid build up. You should use big, tough compound movements to get the most ‘bang for your buck’. Your rests should be short, and you should follow the programmes set out above for optimum results. You should be prepared to experience some serious fatigue, but for those of you tough enough to weather the storm, the results should absolutely speak for themselves. Train Hard, eat lots, and go get that mass!
Any other tips or advice about German Volume Training? Or maybe you’ve tried another programme and had better results? Let us know in the comments section.