German Volume Training Review – Right for You?
The origins of German Volume Training can be traced back to the mid-70s and German National Weightlifting Coach Rolf Feser. Also referred to as GVT, Feser’s German Volume Training revolves around the 10 sets method – or 10 sets of 10 reps for the main lifts.
This hypertrophy (muscle building) protocol exploded in popularity after a 1996 Muscle Media 2000 article written by Charles Poliquin. Since the release of this article, the popularity of German Volume Training has not waned. It continues to linger on in the back of the minds of lifters.
Related – The Death of German Volume Training?
GVT is one of the few training systems that most serious lifters have either tried, or want to try. There are very few workout programs in the bodybuilding and powerbuilding realms that can make this claim.
German Volume Training Program Overview
Those that try German Volume training often consider it one of the most brutal and effective bodybuilding workouts they’ve ever tried. The Germans used it to help weightlifters move up a weight class in as short as a 12 week span of time.
Here are the core tenants:
10×10 Set/Rep Protocol. For major body parts and movements, you perform 10 sets of 10 reps.
Rest. Rest in between 10×10 protocol sets is kept to 90 seconds.
Antagonists. During a given workout, 10×10 schemes are performed with antagonists. Antagonists are muscle groups that have opposing functions, such as bench press and chin-ups which are pushing and pulling movements.
5 Day Split. Classic German Volume Training utilizes the following five day split:
- Day 1 – Chest and Back
- Day 2 – Legs and Abs
- Day 3 – Off
- Day 4 – Arms and Shoulders
- Day 5 – Off
Phases. Most lifters aren’t aware of the fact that German Volume Training is comprised of two phases.
Phase one lasts 30 days. During this phase you perform the five day split for a total of six cycles. The second phase lasts three weeks. Instead of performing a 10×10 scheme, major lifts move to a 10×6 using a weight that is equivalent to your approximate 12 rep max. Also note that during the second phase, rest periods are extended to 120 seconds between sets.
Assistance Work. You will also perform assistance exercises during each workout. They are three sets each, with a rest in between sets of only 75 seconds.
Phase 1 Workout
Chest and Back
- A1 – Dumbbell Bench Press 10×10
- A2 – Chin-Ups 10×10
- B1 – Incline Flies 3×10-12
- B2 – Cable Rows 3×10-12
- A1 – Squats 10×10
- A2 – Lying Leg Curls 10×10
- B1 – Low Cable Pull-Ins 3×10
- B2 – Seated Calf Raise 3×10-12
Arms & Misc
- A1 – Close Grip Bench Press 10×10
- A2 – Incline Dumbbell Curls 10×10
- B1 – Seated Lateral Raises 3×10-12
- B2 – Reverse Curls 3×10-12
Phase 2 Workout
Chest and Back
- A1 – Incline Bench Press 10×6
- A2 – Wide Grip Pull-Ups 10×6
- B1 – Decline Flyes 3×8-10
- B2 – Incline Sit-Ups 3×8-10
- A1 – Front Squats 10×6
- A2 – Lying Leg Curls 10×6
- B1 – Back Extensions 3×8-10
- B2 – Standing Calf Raise 3×8-10
Arms & Misc
- A1 – Dips 10×6
- A2 – Hammer Curls 10×6
- B1 – Bent Over Lateral Raises 3×8-10
- B2 – Wrist Curls 3×10-12
Volume Training Vs. Dorian Yates Style HIT Training | Which is Better?
Is German Volume Training Right for You?
Let’s start by looking at the belief that German Volume Training is the GOAW – God of all Workouts. It’s assumed because of GVT’s brutality, and the DOMS (muscle soreness) you experience, that this program is amazing for hypertrophy. Here are a few points to consider.
Muscle Soreness. First, DOMS may not be DOMS at all. There is some indication that the “muscle” soreness you feel may not be from the muscles at all, but rather due to fascia stiffness and fascia-related pain. What is muscle fascia?
A muscle’s fascia is the connective tissue that surrounds a muscle. Its function is to stabilize and enclose a muscle. Fascia is very similar in nature to connective tissue, as it is heavily comprised of collagen.
Muscle fascia is comprised of six times more sensory neurons that muscle tissue itself. This density of sensory neurons is slightly less than the density found in human skin. So it goes without saying that muscle fascia is excellent at communicating to the brain that something is wrong – inflammation, aggravation, etc.
This is the reason I believe the “muscle” pain you feel isn’t from the muscle at all. It’s likely from the muscle fascia aggravation that comes from resistance training. Not only is the fascia strained and damaged as you hammer out heavy sets, but muscle pumps also have the capability of expanding and aggravating it as well.
So what is more likely?
That the muscle, with six times fewer sensory neurons, is the source of pain? Or the muscle fascia itself? Occam’s razor would dictate that the simplest answer is likely the case. For that reason I’m sticking with my theory that muscle fascia causes the pain you experience from German Volume Training.
Why is this important?
We often equate muscle soreness with training effectiveness. Because soreness may not be muscular in nature, this way of thinking contains a few holes. This begs an obvious question… Is muscle fascia soreness indicative of muscle growth and stimulation?
Perhaps, perhaps not. You can “get sore” from new stimuli, such as walking ten miles when you aren’t used to it. Does this cause muscle growth? Not necessarily. Unlikely, really. So we can establish that soreness, be it muscular or fascia-related, is not inherently an indicator of growth.
Beyond Soreness. Soreness aside, is the 10×10 German Volume Training protocol effective at helping you build muscle? Great question. It’s assumed to be a god-like approach. 100 reps, plenty of gains.
But wait. A recent study reveals it may not be optimal.  The conclusion of this study found:
“It seems that the modified GVT program is no more effective than performing 5 sets per exercise for increasing muscle hypertrophy and strength.”
So there you have it. While adding volume might be a good thing, the appealing intensity of a 10 set protocol may not yield any additional benefits at all.
Here are my parting shots:
- German Volume Training is worth trying, but only if you’re an intermediate lifter. Before that point, focus on progressive overload, a quality exercise selection, and developing a history of packing on muscle mass without the use of a special program.
- Few survive GVT. At least in my experience. It’s crazy-intense, and the soreness can be mind-blowing. The first time I performed a 10×10 protocol on squats, my quads were still brutally sore eight days later. In fact, since GVT came on to the scene, I don’t recall a single lifter actually completely the complete six rounds required during the first phase. I’ve certainly never heard of anyone completing the second phase. I consider German Volume Training to be a mountain everyone wants to climb, but few survive.
- Eat and sleep! If you’re going to use this program, then eat and sleep like a bear. If not, you will dramatically hinder your recovery and potential gains. This certainly isn’t a protocol to perform while on a cutting diet. No way.
- Understand that this program will work best for “enhanced” lifters. The Germans using this program to move up a weight class were likely not natural. No program – I repeat – NO PROGRAM – will help an intermediate NATURAL gain 5 to 10 pounds of muscle mass in a few short months.
My final opinion…
Based on the fact that the 10×10 volume doesn’t appear to yield additional benefits, few complete the program, it’s not going to live up to claims for naturals, and that the soreness can be almost unbearable, I consider German Volume Training to be a highly overrated training system.
Is it worth trying? Certainly. All programs are worth the experience. It may be just what you need. With that said, I believe GVT to be the king of hyped-programs; one that won’t deliver the results you are after, and one you are unlikely to complete.
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.