The Death of German Volume Training?

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German volume training. If I had a dollar for each time I’ve been asked about this training system, I would have a lot of dollars.

I’ve been in this game a long time. 31 years to be specific. I’ve seen training systems and workout routines come and go. Some start strong and fizzle out even stronger, and some – like Mike Mentzer’s Heavy Duty style of training – drone on in the background like a soft, annoying hum.

But one routine has had legs and longevity – and that is GVT, or German volume training. It continues to remain one of the top searched workouts on Google, and the popularity of GVT doesn’t seem to be wavering in the least.

Related: Massive Volume 4 Day Training Split

German volume training is extreme and brutal, yet simple. Perhaps that has something to do with the obsession over this style of muscle building.

The rise of GVT can be tied back to Charles Poliquin. It was brought into prominence way back in 1996 – 20 years ago – in the old school publication Muscle Media 2000. But the beginning of this program goes back even further. Some versions of German volume training can be seen as far back as the 1940s.

Some things never change. They simply get new names.

German Volume Training

The Basics of German Volume Training

German volume training is basically 10 sets of 10 reps. You use the same weight for each set, and limit rest between efforts to 60 to 90 seconds. If you hit a total of 100 reps for a given exercise, you add weight.

Sounds simple because it is. But don’t be deceived. German volume training is intense, and will yield some of the most painful muscle soreness you’re ever likely to experience.

The first time I tried GVT squats I was sore for 8 days. Well, I was more than sore. On the eighth day I could still barely walk 50 feet without whimpering. The pain was that bad.

A typical German volume training schedule looks like this:

  • Day 1 – Chest and Back
  • Day 2 – Legs and Abs
  • Day 3 – Off
  • Day 4 – Shoulders and Arms
  • Day 5 – Off

Note: The follow exercises are merely examples. There are numerous variations of German volume training workouts floating around the web.

Day 1
Chest and Back
Exercise Sets Reps Rest
 Bench Press  10  10  90 sec
 Pull Ups or Seated Cable Rows  10  10  90 sec
 Pec Dec  3  10-12  60 sec
 Dumbbell Rows  3  10-12  60 sec
Day 2
Leg and Abs
Exercise Sets Reps Rest
 Squats  10  10  90 sec
 Leg Curls  10  10  90 sec
 Leg Extensions  3  10-12  60 sec
 Stiff Leg Deadlifts  3  10-12  60 sec
Day 4
Shoulders and Arms
Exercise Sets Reps Rest
 Cable Triceps Extensions  10  10  90 sec
 Dumbbell Curls  10  10  90 sec
 Seated Overhead Dumbbell Press  3  10-12  60 sec
 Lateral Raise  3  10-12  60 sec

German Volume Training Claims

German Volume TrainingGerman volume training is strictly a hypertrophy, or muscle building program. While there is certainly a focus on progressive overload, GVT is not a program that is meant to rapidly increase your strength. The volume is meant to be combined with plenty of calories and protein to pack on muscle mass.

This training style has been elevated to almost a mythical status. Nearly every lifter I know has tried it, or thought about trying it. Heck, I’ve run it myself.

I would wager that when it comes to sheer muscle building, if you were to take a poll German volume training would likely be rated the best bodybuilding workout simply on reputation alone. But does it really work? That’s the question we need to ask.

While I’ve known scores of lifters that have started a German volume training protocol, I would wager that less than 5% of these individuals have run it for at least 6 weeks. Most tap out after a week or two.

Here is a quote from Charles Poliquin:

“It’s brutally hard, but I’ve found it to be an effective way to pack on muscle fast! …I’ve found it to be a very effective way to pack on muscle fast!

In Germany, the Ten Sets Method was used in the off-season to help weightlifters gain lean body mass. It was so efficient that lifters routinely moved up a full weight class within 12 weeks.”

The hype is real, to say the least. I’ve seen hundreds of spectacular claims over the years regarding German volume training’s effectiveness, yet few real world case studies. I’ll also say that I’ve only run into one individual over the last 31 years who has personally run GVT for 8 or more weeks and praised the results.

This is certainly not to say German volume doesn’t, or can’t work. Anything works if you work it. But we are certainly left with many questions.

  • Is the GVT hype justified?
  • Is GVT truly better than other reputable muscle building systems?
  • If most people can’t complete 6 to 8 weeks of this protocol, it is truly a realistic program to even consider?

And finally,

  • Is German volume training a good option for both enhanced and natural lifters, or best only for the lifter immersed in the world of bodybuilding chemicals?

A New Study on German Volume Training

Recently a friend hit me up with a direct message on Facebook and made me aware of the following study: Effects of a Modified German Volume Training Program on Muscular Hypertrophy and Strength. The conclusion of this study was as follows: [1]

“It seems that the modified GVT program is no more effective than performing 5 sets per exercise for increasing muscle hypertrophy and strength.”

In this study, 19 males were assigned either a 10 set by 10 rep protocol, or a 5 set by 10 rep approach. So basically, one group performed 50 total reps per exercise and the other knocked out 100. Multiple compound exercises were performed using a three day per week split routine.

Muscle strength, muscle thickness, and lean body mass were measured to start and end the study. Both groups experienced muscle growth improvements. However, the group performing only set sets per exercise experience MORE muscle growth in the trunk and arms. Overall lean body mass changes favored the five set group as well.

Other important notes from the study. No significant changes were found in leg growth in either group. Both groups experience quality strength gains during this time, but the five set group actually experienced better bench press and lat pull down strength gains.

So, to recap:

  • German volume training was inferior with regards to arm and trunk size gains.
  • German volume training was equal with regards to strength gains, with both groups making quality progress.
  • German volume training yielded no substantial improvements in leg size for either group.
  • German volume training was inferior with regards to overall mass gains.

While no single study holds all the answers, it certainly appears that the hype surrounding German volume training must be approached with a huge degree of skepticism. We must assume, of course, that this study was performed on natural lifters.

How GVT impacts enhanced lifters has yet to be studied.

References

1) “The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research.” LWW, mobile.journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/_layouts/15/oaks.journals.mobile/articleviewer.aspx?year=9000&issue=00000&article=96210.

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Name: Steve Shaw

Bio: I don’t believe in magic training systems or rep ranges. My philosophy is simple: remain consistent, use the best possible exercises, focus upon progression and enter the gym looking to maximize each set. When you maximize each set, you maximize progress. Easy, obvious, insanely effective.