Bodybuilding first came to this world in the late 19th century, and its popularity back then primarily came from one person – Eugen Sandow, who is often called the father of modern bodybuilding (1).
Over the years, many other people have picked up the sport and have done their best to popularize it. One notable example of such a person is Arnold Schwarzenegger. Thanks to his influence, presence, and persona, bodybuilding gained popularity among the masses.
Ever since then, bodybuilding has gotten even more accessible, and people from all over the world participate in contests today.
With over 120 years of evolution, bodybuilding also came with its fair share of training programs, methods, and tactics.
Today, we’ll be taking a more in-depth look into one particular training method – German volume training. We’ll go over what it is, where it came from, and how useful it is for us.
The image above is a picture of me. I personally train DC or DoggCrapp style (high intensity & low volume) so German Volume Training is not something I was familiar with before writing this article. It’s a fairly popular training method so I wanted to learn everything about it to find out if I was missing something. It’s scary to think that you could be a lot bigger if you would have trained differently for the past 10 years. Below, you will find everything I’ve learned about GVT. Please let me know if you have any questions in the comments section below.
What is German Volume Training And Where Did It Come From?
German volume training, also known as 10×10 or the ten sets method, revolves around the idea of doing an incredibly high amount of sets for moderate repetitions across as little as one or two exercises.
It’s often said that GVT originated in Germany back in the early seventies and was primarily popularized by Rolf Feser – the national weightlifting coach at the time (2). The protocol was used mostly by weightlifters to gain muscle mass during the offseason.
In that same period, a similar protocol was gaining attention in the United States and was promoted by Vince Gironda. We are still not sure who invented the protocol and where it truly came from, but one thing was clear:
It worked. It worked so well that weightlifters were able to move up a weight class in as little as three to four months of offseason training.
It’s been almost fifty years since the protocol came to life and seeing as it is still around today, one can’t help but be curious about it – what makes it different from all the rest.
Nearly two decades after it first came around, coach Charles Poliquin began popularizing the method and did a great job of bringing it to the masses. If you want to read more about Poliquin and German Volume Training from his perspective, click this link to check out his book on amazon.
There are two likely reasons why German volume training became so popular:
1) A great deal of anecdotal evidence suggests that it works incredibly well for size gains.
2) It is (and has always been) incredibly simple – basically, do ten sets of ten reps.
And while few people question the effectiveness of German volume training, we have some credible experts in the fields of fitness and bodybuilding who mostly disagree with the method and the surrounding recommendations.
So, while it would be incredibly lovely to tell you, “German volume training rocks, trust me on this one.” we need to take an in-depth look at the protocol, what it entails, how it affects us, and whether or not it’s a viable option for the average trainee.
Let’s take a more in-depth look.
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Is German Volume Training Good For Gaining Size?
This is the first and most apparent goal folks have when it comes to using German volume training. After all, we are well aware that training volume is the most critical factor for muscle growth (3).
German volume training is both praised and criticized precisely because of the effects it has on us.
But, on the other hand, many people suggest that German training volume isn’t ideal for muscle growth, especially for natural lifters because it passes the ‘optimal’ range for training volume and goes into the ‘too much’ territory.
For example, one study from 2018 looked at a modified German training volume approach and a lower volume protocol (9). Researchers wanted to see what effects the two programs would have on muscle strength and size.
In the study, twelve healthy men were put on a GVT protocol (ten sets per exercise) or a protocol where they performed five sets per exercise. In both groups, subjects performed ten repetitions per set (in the 60 to 80 percent of 1RM range). The trial lasted for twelve weeks, and researchers tested strength and body composition at three points – before the study began, on week six, and after week twelve.
Researchers found several things:
1) There were no differences in lean mass gains between the two groups throughout the study.
2) The GVT group lost a bit of lower body lean mass between weeks six and twelve.
3) The 5-set group managed to gain bench press strength, as was shown during tests on weeks six and twelve.
Findings suggest performing >5 sets per exercise does not promote greater gains in muscle strength and hypertrophy.
Of course, while this was a decent study, it wasn’t without its flaws. For one, it only had twelve subjects, which is an incredibly small pool of people to draw definitive conclusions from. Second, the study only lasted for three months.
How these results might change on a longer and bigger study is yet to be seen.
Another study from 2017 had similar findings (10). The trial lasted for six weeks, and 19 healthy subjects were split between two groups: five (moderate volume approach) or ten (modified GVT) sets for specific compound exercises, included in a split routine and done three times per week. As with the previous study, subjects here also performed ten reps per set.
Researchers found that subjects in the 5-set group saw greater increases on the lat pulldown and bench press. Lean mass gains also favored the 5-set group, as the subjects saw slightly better trunk and arm growth. Still, we’re talking about incredibly small differences here. After all, how much muscle would a natural lifter be able to gain in six weeks?
So, we have two studies that don’t speak too highly of German volume training but don’t take these statements as a definitive conclusion.
We need longer studies with more subjects and a lot more control when it comes to dietary adherence, training, and recovery. Until then, we should mostly rely on common sense and anecdotal evidence when it comes to programming GVT for muscle growth.
Is German Volume Training Good For Gaining Strength?
Physical strength – the ability to exert significant amounts of force against a weight – is mostly determined by two factors: muscle size and neuromuscular adaptations. Let’s look at each:
1) Muscle size.
A big misconception in the fitness world is that the bigger you are, the stronger you’ll be. That’s not necessarily true.
The bigger a muscle is, the larger its capacity for strength will be. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the muscle will be strong, but, rather, it will have the potential to be.
This is why strongmen are, well, massive, and why the heaviest powerlifters and Olympic weightlifters also lift the most amount of weight.
But, it’s also possible for a less muscular individual to be much stronger than people with well-developed muscles. This is thanks to neuromuscular adaptation.
2) Neuromuscular adaptation.
Most people severely overestimate the importance of getting huge and underestimate the importance of neuromuscular efficiency for raw strength.
The fact is, with your current level of muscular development, you can probably lift at least fifty percent more weight if you work at it. Don’t believe me?
Below is a video of Naim Süleymanoğlu who clean and jerks 420 pounds (about 190 kg.) and snatches 335 pounds (152.5 kg.) at a bodyweight of 136 pounds (62 kg.). Yes, there are no typos here, I triple-checked. Let me repeat that:
Naim was able to clean and jerk more weight than most people would ever be able to deadlift and at a personal weight of 136 pounds. Think about it for a moment – it’s crazy.
Here’s another video of Tao Wenli who, wait for it, front squats 435 pounds (197 kg.) at a personal weight of 121 pounds (55 kg.).
Yes, neuromuscular adaptation plays a considerable role in our overall strength, and the above are just two examples of that.
So, how does German volume training stack up here?
Well, GVT, as we discussed above, is excellent for increasing muscle size because it is a high volume approach. And, we all know that training volume is the most critical factor for muscle hypertrophy (3). So, GVT increases our potential to build strength at a later time – perhaps when we dedicate ourselves to a strength block during or after the off-season.
But, GVT isn’t so great for neuromuscular adaptation because we’re not using weights that necessarily force strength gains. It is common knowledge that building strength occurs most effectively at low repetition ranges (1 to 6) with weights that are close to our one-repetition max (1RM).
This is thanks to the SAID principle (specific adaptations to imposed demands) – the human body adapts to specific stressors.
If you do high-repetition training, you’ll develop your slow-twitch muscle fibers more, become more endurant, and cause more metabolic stress.
If you do moderate repetition work (say, 8 to 15 per set), you will cause an average development of strength and endurance, with a more balanced development of the different muscle fibers.
But, if you lift weights that are close to your maximum, you will cause superior neuromuscular adaptations (i.e., strength) that are independent of any muscle growth that may or may not occur in that same period.
So, the bottom line is, German volume training is a viable strategy to increase your capacity for strength gains down the road. But, the approach itself doesn’t cause optimal strength gains.
Is German Volume Training Good For Fat Loss?
The short answer is no, German Volume Training is not good for fat loss. Losing fat may be your primary goal, but retaining muscle size and strength are just as important. German Volume Training may accelerate fat loss through calorie expenditure, but it is not ideal for holding onto the muscle you worked so hard to gain.
For the longest time, cardio used to be the go-to training method when it came to fat loss. Most folks firmly believed that cardio was important, nay, essential when it came to shedding fat.
Of course, with the development of research in fitness and the ever-growing pool of knowledge, we’ve learned that resistance training is more important for effective fat loss (11). Adequately stimulating our muscles is of the utmost importance when it comes to retaining their size and strength, and this is even more important when eating in a caloric deficit.
By lifting weights, we are essentially telling the body, “Hey, we need this tissue for important activities. Don’t burn it off for energy!”
So, in that line of thinking, how does German volume training stack up?
Well, we don’t have research that looks at this directly, but we can come to an accurate answer here through logic.
You see, while many folks are under the impression that we need to do tons of training volume to retain our muscle mass, that’s not entirely true. In fact, doing too much volume while dieting can do more harm than good.
Think about it for a moment:
When eating in a caloric deficit, your body is limited on energy, which it needs to recover between workouts, handle large amounts of physical stress (gym training and everyday activities), and retain the muscle tissue you’ve already built.
So, while it’s entirely possible to build muscle while losing fat (a process known as body recomposition, mostly likely for beginners), your primary goal should be to retain the muscle you have and possibly increase your strength (neuromuscular adaptation) (12). That way, once you’re done with your dieting phase, you can start your next bulking season with more muscle and more strength, which you can take advantage of to have more productive workouts.
In that case, German volume training wouldn’t be your best option because the protocol is high volume and explicitly designed to optimize our muscle growth. And, if you try to do it while dieting, there is a good chance that you will only overtrain yourself, lose more strength and muscle tissue, and increase your risk of getting injured.
For one, you won’t have enough energy to complete that many reps and sets. And two, causing that much metabolic stress and muscle damage requires plenty of nutrients for the subsequent recovery.
When losing fat, your strength training should be fine-tuned. You should do fewer sets, fewer exercises, and fewer overall repetitions. The goal is to cause a high enough stimulus without overfatiguing yourself too much.
Further Reading: A lower volume higher intensity approach is better for retaining muscle during a cut. My suggestion is to follow a DC training program or Reverse Pyramid. Click on this link to read an article I wrote about Reverse Pyramid Training.
Do Bodybuilders Who Do German Volume Training Follow Any Special Diet?
For the most part, no – there’s no special diet that goes along with German volume training.
Because the program is designed to optimize muscle growth, you need to ensure that you’re consuming enough calories and protein (13). Without these two things, all of your effort in the gym will be in vain.
Click this link to use a calorie calculator that I like. Otherwise, you can follow the formula below.
First off, calculate your caloric needs:
Men: BMR = (10 × weight in kg) + (6.25 × height in cm) – (5 × age in years) + 5
Women: BMR = (10 × weight in kg) + (6.25 × height in cm) – (5 × age in years) – 161
Then, once you have your BMR (the number of calories your body burns at rest), it’s time to use the multiplier, based on activity level, to determine your daily energy expenditure:
Sedentary or light activity – Office worker getting little or no exercise = BMR x 1.53
Active or moderately active – Construction worker or person running one hour daily = BMR x 1.76
Vigorously active – Agricultural worker (non-mechanized) or person swimming two hours daily = BMR x 2.25
So, let’s do an example calculation of a hypothetical 29-year-old man who weighs 90 kg, is 186 cm tall, and is lightly active.
BMR = (10 x 90) + (6.25 x 186) – (5 x 29) + 5
BMR = 1,922 calories
Now, let’s multiply that by 1.53 for his total daily energy expenditure.
1,922 x 1.53 = 2,940 calories
To that, we will add a 200-calorie surplus and end up with 3,140 calories as a starting point. Now, it all comes down to tracking progress and adding more calories if the weight gain stops.
It’s also essential to get enough protein. As a rule of thumb, we should get between 0.8 and 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight (14). So, our hypothetical man from above weighs 90 kg (or 198 pounds) and should consume about 160 to 200 grams of protein per day.
As we covered above, it’s possible to gain muscle in a slight deficit or at maintenance. But, if you want to optimize growth and take full advantage of German volume training, you should be in a caloric surplus. That way, you’ll have enough energy to complete the demanding workouts, recover adequately, and build muscle tissue.
Some Guidelines on Effectively Using German Volume Training
The primary objective of German volume training and the place where most people screw up is with the build-up of training volume. You see, to do GVT effectively, you need to complete all sets and reps for each exercise. Meaning, you need to pick your weights carefully because you have to complete ten total sets of ten reps.
If you go too heavy at the start, you’ll fatigue yourself too much and end up hitting failure on almost every set – a big no-no when it comes to GVT.
So, an excellent place to start is somewhere around sixty percent of your one-rep max. For example, if your best squat is 405 pounds, you should attempt 10×10 with no more than 240-245 pounds. If that feels too easy, you can bump it to 65 percent on your next workout and do 10×10 with 265 pounds.
Alternatively, if it feels too difficult and you can’t complete your ten reps on each set, do as many as you can without hitting failure – even if that means doing five to eight reps on your last couple of sets. Then, on your next workout, lower the weight by about 2.5 to 5 percent.
Of course, no matter what weight you use, each consecutive set will feel more challenging than the last, but you should never get to a point where you have to grind out repetitions, especially on complex exercises like the squat, deadlift, and bench press.
And in that line of thinking, you should also pay careful attention to your rest periods between sets. While the first few sets probably won’t feel quite challenging, don’t fall for it and rest too little between sets. Instead, set a minimum of 90 seconds of rest between sets and see how it goes. You can go up to three minutes of rest between sets as you pile up the volume and become fatigued.
The most important thing is to complete your 10×10 without having to hit failure or grind reps. So, rest as much as you need, with a minimum of 90 seconds.
With that in mind, here is how a German volume training routine would look like in the real world:
German Volume Training Routine – How It Looks In The Real World
You can organize your German volume training routine in many ways – push-pull-legs, upper-lower, a classic bro split, or whatever else you feel like doing.
For our example, we’ll apply the principles of GVT on a bro split:
Monday – Back and biceps
Tuesday – Chest and triceps
Wednesday – Off
Thursday – Shoulders and abs
Friday – Legs
Saturday and Sunday – Off
Deadlifts (conventional, sumo, rack pull, or deficit) – 10×10 with 2-5 minutes of rest
Bicep curls (whatever variation you want) – 3-4 sets for 8 to 12 reps
Lat pulldowns – 3 sets for 6 to 12 reps
Seated dumbbell hammer curls – 3 sets for 12 to 15 reps
Flat barbell bench press – 10×10 with 2-5 minutes of rest
Lying skullcrushers – 3 sets for 8 to 12 reps
Low-to-high cable chest fly – 3 sets for 12 to 15 reps
Cable tricep extensions – 3 sets for 12 to 15 reps
Standing or seated overhead dumbbell press – 10×10 with 2-5 minutes of rest
Hanging knee or leg raises – 3-4 sets for 12 to 15 reps
Lateral dumbbell raises – 3 sets for 12 to 15 reps
Planks – 3 sets of 60-second holds
Face pulls – 3 sets for 12 to 20 reps
Barbell squat (back or front) – 10×10 with 2-5 minutes of rest
Lying or seated hamstring curls – 10×10 with 1.5 to 3 minutes of rest
Bulgarian split squats – 3 sets for 10 to 15 reps
Romanian deadlift – 3 sets for 8 to 10 reps
Seated calf raises – 3-4 sets for 10 to 15 reps
This is an example of a rather high-volume leg program. If you want to try it but feel like it would be too much, you can remove the Romanian deadlifts and Bulgarian split squats and do the other three exercises.
And, in case you’re wondering why I chose leg curls for 10×10 instead of Romanian deadlifts:
I don’t recommend doing two complex exercises like that for 10×10 in the same workout, especially one after the other. By the time you’re done with your squats, you’ll be too tired to properly execute Romanian deadlifts, let alone ten sets of them.
As far as exercise selection goes, I recommend doing as few as possible. That way, you not only get to keep your training program relatively simple, but you also get to build technical proficiency with each exercise. This will help you maintain better form, reduce your risk of injury, and train your muscles better.
And finally, the training frequency. As you can see, each workout offers plenty of training volume, so you should keep your training frequency to once per week. That way, you’ll do plenty of sets for each muscle group, but you’ll also give your body enough time to recover well before putting it through this level of stress again.
Alternatively, if you want to split that training volume across more sessions and not tire yourself out as much in any given workout, you can follow a PPL split with six weekly workouts:
Monday – Push
Tuesday – Pull
Wednesday – Legs
Thursday – Push
Friday – Pull
Saturday – Legs
Sunday – Off
With this split, you can do one exercise for the given muscle in a workout and call it a day. It’s all about volume allocation and a more even distribution of the total workload.
Thank you for reading! What are your experiences with German Volume Training? Please leave a comment below and then go…. Pump Some Iron!
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