German Volume Training: How to Incorporate It and Improve Your Gains
German Volume Training (GVT) was popularized by, well the Germans or as folklore would have it, any German speaking country. It’s been used for nearly half a century. In America, the late Charles Poliquin popularized it.
Many people view him as the Godfather of GVT. His reputation brought it to masses across bodybuilding communities. The simplicity of the method made it easy to learn and Poliquin refined it and spread it like wildfire.
What is German Volume Training
German Volume Training is 10 sets of 10 for the same exercise with the same weight. You use a weight that you can do for about 20 reps, so about 60% of 1-RM. Rest periods are set at 1-2 minutes between sets. Poliquin popularized a specific tempo for this protocol as well.
Some circles say he used 3020 while others say he used a 4010. Both are essentially a slow eccentric and a forceful concentric which is the general recommendation I give clients no matter what protocol they’re doing.
GVT at first glance seems pretty easy. 60% of 1-RM? That’s deeply light especially for compound exercises. If your bench press 1-RM is 250 pounds, you’d be lifting 150 pounds with GVT. So it’s no surprise, many people think, “Lol, how the heck will I build muscle on this protocol?”
But make no mistake, GVT is brutal. The volume you’re imposing is brutal and you accumulate 100 reps for each exercise you do it on. As fatigue accumulates, especially if you only take 60 seconds of rest, each proceeding set reaches you closer to failure. Those final sets are extremely close to or up to failure. If you do it right, you might not even complete all 10 reps in the last couple sets.
Anyone who’s done GVT knows of it’s grueling mental strength needed to endure all 10 sets. However, we live in the 21st century and I’d like to think we would train based on science and data as opposed to what’s brutal and feels hard.
Let’s take a deeper dive.
Understanding Volume Research
GVT has volume in it’s name, but ironically, it doesn’t actually accumulate much volume, at least not meaningful volume. Many people are still stuck in the outdated way of measuring volume as volume load which is load x reps x sets.
This can also be called total tonnage. It does have it’s uses, but it’s not a great way to measure true training volume. Training volume by definition is estimating the dose of the training stimulus.
GVT collects a high volume load, but each set builds disproportionately different levels of muscle. For example, the first set probably isn’t building any muscle because you’re doing 10 reps with your 20-RM while the final set is building quite a bit of muscle in comparison.
So when determining how much volume you’re truly doing, it’s better to use number of sets close to failure which is not only hard to determine on GVT because it varies greatly between exercises, but like I said, each set is inherently different in how much muscle it builds. Let me elaborate further.
Understanding Effective Reps
Have you ever heard of the effective reps theory? To make a long story short, it basically says the reps closer to reaching failure build more muscle than the previous reps or that the final 5 reps before failure build muscle while the previous ones don’t.
While there is plenty of research to showing the final reps before failure don’t matter that much, we also know you have to get close to failure to build sufficient muscle for that set (1). As fatigue accumulates within a set, it forces your body to recruit more muscle fiber and impose more mechanical tension on them.
So each set taken near failure will generally yield the same muscle growth in a one to one comparison despite differences in tempo, load, and rep range.
So where am I going with all this?
Well, with GVT, you’re doing 10 sets, but only start getting meaningful hypertrophy from the later sets, likely the last 3-4 sets. It’s a deeply inefficient way of training, not to mention time consuming and needlessly painful.
Why do 6 extra sets that get increasingly more unpleasant before doing 4 brutal sets when I can just do 5 brutal sets to get the same, if not better muscle growth.
You would not only save time, but prevent yourself from collecting any unnecessary fatigue from the earlier sets because remember, just because the early sets in GVT don’t’ build much muscle, they can still draw resources from your tissue and nervous system.
In fact, the only 2 studies on GVT specifically found that doing half the number of sets grew as much muscle as doing the full 10 sets (2,3).
Understanding Rest Period Research
Furthermore, GVT proposes shorter rest periods. The original version often used 60 seconds which is absurd. The 2 minuteversion is better, but to optimize most hypertrophy and strength, longer rest periods are better. 3 minutes is a pretty good gold standard.
One study compared 1 minute rest periods to 3 minute rest periods between strength training sets and the group that rested 3 minutes between sets grew considerably more muscle growth(4). Some measures were doubled the other group within the study’s timeframe.
Shorter rest periods can even blunt your body’s ability to construct muscle protein and the gene expression involved in it(5).
So again, short rest periods and 10 sets of 10 might make you hardcore, but it’s not an efficient or effective way to slap on muscle which is what many people doing GVT intend to.
But XYZ Did It
Some of the greats in our industry did it and they’re determination and work ethic are beyond admirable. However, there’s a fine line between drawing inspiration from their discipline and adopting training methods that are suboptimal.
Remember, you only need mechanical tension to grow muscle. Anyone can lift weights to grow muscle. Having great genetics and steroids helps too, but somebody’s reputation or physique tells you near nothing about how useful their training methods are.
In other words, people can grow muscle in spite of using subpar approaches. Similarly GVT can grow muscle, but it’s not efficient.
Sample GVT Program
Here’s a sample GVT program that somebody can try for the novelty or to simply say you’ve done GVT. This is deeply traditional program, so many aspects aren’t as optimized based on what we know to work better nowadays.
Nonetheless, it can be fun and feel hardcore to do while brining you back to what some legends would periodize throughout the year.
Monday: Chest and Back
A1) Barbell Bench Press 10 x 10
B1) Chest Supported Db Row 10 x 10
C1) Cable Flyes 10 x 10
C2) Hammer Grip Pulldown 10 x 10
A1) Dumbbell overhead Press 10 x 10
B1) Dumbbell Lateral Raise 10 x 10
C1) Reverse Pec Deck 10 x 10
A1) Barbell Back Squat 10 x 10
B1) Lying Leg Curl 10 x 10
B2) Leg Extension 10 x 10
C1) Standing Calf Raise Machine 10 x 10
Overhead Rope Extension 10 x 10
EZ Bar Curl 10 x 10
Cable Wrist Curls 10 x10
The Bottom Line on German Volume Training
So give it a shot if you want to know what some of the old school guys put their bodies through. It’s a highly intense training protocol that has lasted the test of time, but falls short compared to more optimized training.
The volume it accumulates might be high if you measure it in total tonnage, but measuring how meaningful that volume is will be a different story. That’s a major drawback of GVT.
You can get the same training stimulus from doing fewer sets closer to failure and will enhance your strength and hypertrophy outcomes by resting longer. GVT is definitely not worth the hype.