How German Volume Training Can Add Muscle to Your Frame

There's enough anecdotal evidence to support the mass-building effects of GVT.

Building muscle takes a lot of time and dedication — it’s not quite as easy as Hollywood makes it seem. Most people understand this when they step into a gym for the first time. Yet undoubtedly there’s always someone selling a “get ripped” fast program that they guarantee will melt the fat right off your body. Sounds too good to be true, right? 

Well, yeah. But that doesn’t mean some programs aren’t more effective than others — if you’re willing to endure the pain that is.

Enter German volume training (GVT), a muscle and strength building program beloved by bodybuilders and powerlifters from Munich and beyond. 

There’s little scientific evidence to back up its claims (more on that in a bit) but countless words have been typed singing the regimen’s praises. Are they full of baloney, though, or is this a worthwhile program? Let’s dig into it and see. 

What Is German Volume Training?

Popularized by legendary strength coach Charles Poliquin, GVT involves a lot of volume, little rest, and a limited timeframe. Generally speaking, programs can be crazy intense and short or more moderate in its intensity and a bit longer. GVT is the former: you go hard for three weeks and then you don’t try it again for at least six months.

“When I was a kid, I realized that in the Western world, German weightlifters were probably the most advanced in training results,” Poliquin, who died in 2018, previously told BarBend. “So I went to the national training center in Leimen, and the then national weightlifting coach Rolf Feser explained how they would do periodization with 10 sets of 10, 10 sets of five, and 10 sets of three. They were big believers in the law of repeated efforts: one of the reasons people don’t get strong is because they simply don’t do enough sets.”

man deadlifting barbell
oleksboiko/Shutterstock

Here’s how German volume training works. You perform three workouts over five days and repeat that cycle six times for a 30-day program. (More advanced trainees might be advised to do the program for three cycles.)

Each workout has four exercises in two supersets, A and B. Both “A” exercises are performed with 10 sets of 10 at 60 percent of your one-rep max, with 90 seconds between sets: A1, rest 90 seconds, A2, rest 90 seconds, repeat 10 times. Sixty percent of your one-rep max might feel frustratingly light for the first few sets. It won’t by the end.

Not sure what your max is? no worries, you can use our calculator below:

One Rep Max Calculator

Weight Lifted
Reps Performed

“You start at 60 percent of your max in order to be able to do all 10 sets of 10, but if you find you can complete all 10 reps, then you should increase the weight by four to five percent on the next workout,” says Poliquin. “At the end of the cycle, you’ll get closer to a higher percentage of your one-rep max, partly because you develop more work capacity.”

After you’re done with the two hundred reps, you move on to three per “B” exercise. When it comes to selecting the exercises, select movements with a lot of “bang for your buck.”

You still want to opt for compound movements. So, skip the isolated leg curls, and opt for goblet squat and leg presses

“You do 10 reps to failure on a squat, you’ll likely vomit,” Poliquin says. “Do it on the leg press and your rate of perceived effort is probably 60 percent of what it would be on the squat.”

So you want to do exercises that recruit a lot of motor units, all the way down to the accessories. The skull crusher recruits more muscles than triceps press downs, for instance.

Does German Volume Training Build Strength?

GVT is generally considered a hypertrophy program. Can it build strength — say, for a powerlifter?

“It would be for a powerlifter who wants to move up a weight class and wants the weight they gain to be quality weight,” says Poliquin. “One version I sometimes recommend for powerlifters is 10×6 for a cycle, then do cluster training or another phase with 10×3. So go in and out of the periodization, but the rule is you’re using constant weight until you can do all 10 sets.”

man performing pull-up
oleksboiko/Shutterstock

Prefer to see how you go with the classic 10 x 10? No problem, but maybe keep it to the offseason and frame it as a way to build conditioning first and strength second.

“You will get stronger, but it’s more about how fit you are,” says Poliquin. “Ten by 10 is mainly for people who want to increase work capacity or muscle mass or maximal strength. So when you do six you will get some strength, but not as much as if you do four. If you do six, you get more muscle mass, but do 10 × 3 and you won’t get as much muscle mass. So it’s a sliding scale.”

Does German Volume Training Actually Work? 

To date, there’s only been one scientific study done on GVT’s supposed benefits. The study, published in 2018 in the academic journal Sports, had 12 men assigned to two workout groups: one that did five sets of 10, and another that did 10 sets of 10. Both groups worked out using 60-80 percent of their 1RM. (1) 

No evidence was found supporting the classic 10 x 10 approach — but the researchers admit their study size was limited and that more research needs to be done. 

The researchers claimed four to six sets per exercise is best for muscle growth and building strength.  

But don’t let that stop you from trying the 10×10 out. It can still be a challenging program that, when done properly, helps break the monotony of what you’ve been doing week after week. 

Keep Up the Tempo 

In the sample workouts, we’ll provide you within a minute, you’ll see a column labeled “tempo.” If you’re unsure of what that is, here’s a quick primer. Tempo simply refers to how you perform the movement and it’s split up into four categories: lowering the weight, the time spent at the bottom of the lift, raising the weight, and the time you spend at the top.  

The dumbbell press, for example, has a 5-0-1-0 tempo. This means you’ll take five seconds to lower the weight, spend zero seconds at the bottom, take only one second to raise it back up, and then immediately go back to lowering the weight once you reach the top. 

Sample German Volume Training Workout

Here’s one of the classic GVT programs. You’ll train three days during the week and take four rest days. Be sure to take a rest day between each training day. Follow this plan for thirty days.

Chest and Back

1A. Decline Dumbbell Bench Press: 10 x 10, 4-0-2-0 tempo

2A. Chin-Up: 10 x 10, 4-0-2-0 tempo

1B. Incline Dumbbell Press: 3 x 10-12, 3-0-2-0 tempo

2B. One-Arm Dumbbell Row: 3 x 10-12, 3-0-2-0 tempo

Legs and Abs

1A. Back Squat: 10 x 10, 4-0-2-0 tempo

2A. Lying Leg Curl: 10 x 10, 4-0-2-0 tempo

1B. *Low-Cable Pull-In: 3 x 15-20, 2-0-2-0 tempo

2B. One-Arm Dumbbell Row: 3 x 15-20, 2-0-2-0 tempo

(*Take a weightlifting belt and buckle it. Attach it to the low pulley of a cable crossover machine. Lie down on your back in front of the machine, and hook your feet in the belt. Then pull your knees towards your chest.)

Arms and Shoulders

1A. Parallel Bar Dip: 10 x 10, 4-0-1-0 tempo

2A. Incline Hammer Curl: 10 x 10, 4-0-1-0 tempo

1B. Bent Over Lateral Raise : 3 x 10-12, 2-0-0-0 tempo

2B. Seated Dumbell Lateral Raise: 3 x 10-12, 2-0-0-0 tempo

Then What?

After you finish that 30-day cycle, you can move on to this 15-day cycle, which contains less volume but a greater focus on tempo. You’ll train three days during the week and take four rest days. Be sure to take a rest day between each training day.

Chest and Back

1A. Incline Dumbbell Bench Press: 10 x 6, 5-0-1-0 tempo

2A. Wide-Grip Pull-Up: 10 x 6, 5-0-1-0 tempo

1B. Flat Dumbbell Flye: 3 x 6, 3-0-1-0 tempo

2B. Bent Over Row with EZ-Bar: 3 x 6, 3-0-1-0 tempo

Legs and Abs

1A. Romanian Deadlift: 10 x 6, 5-0-0-0 tempo

2A. Seated Leg Curl: 10 x 6, 5-0-0-0 tempo

1B. Twisting Crunch: 3 x 12-15, 3-0-3-0 tempo

2B. Standing Calf Raise: 3 x 12-15, 3-0-3-0 tempo

Arms and Shoulders

1A. Parallel Bar Dip: 10 x 6, 3-2-0-0 tempo

2A. Incline Hammer Curl: 10 x 6, 4-0-1-0 tempo

1B. Bent Over Lateral Raise : 3 x 10-12, 2-0-0-0 tempo

2B. Seated Dumbell Lateral Raise: 3 x 10-12, 2-0-0-0 tempo

Eat Like It’s Your Job 

German volume training is not for the faint of heart, and it’s also not meant for anyone looking to cut. This is a program designed for people looking to get big, and when you workout to get big you also need to eat to get big. 

Eat plenty of protein while on the program to help your muscles recover from the intense workouts — at least two grams per kilogram of body weight, but you can even go as high as three and a half grams without issue. 

Carbs are also a must, as they’ll provide your body with enough energy to get through the grueling workouts. You’ll want to aim for five to 10 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. Keep fats to a minimum to avoid putting on the wrong type of bulk. 

Lastly, make sure you’re getting enough sleep. People who get seven to nine hours of sleep each night are proven to put on more muscle than those who don’t hit the sack enough. (2

Wrapping Up

One thing Charles Poliquin made clear repeatedly in his interview is that this program is not for the faint of heart and even if you’re a hyper-driven squat beast, you still shouldn’t attempt it more than once or twice a year. But if you make some room for it in your training, sleep a lot, eat a ton, and take your foot off the gas once those four weeks are up, then you should find yourself with quality mass and some strength to go with it.

References 

  1. Hackett DA, Amirthalingam T, Mitchell L, Mavros Y, Wilson GC, Halaki M. Effects of a 12-Week Modified German Volume Training Program on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy-A Pilot Study. Sports (Basel). 2018;6(1):7. Published 2018 Jan 29. doi:10.3390/sports6010007
  2. Dattilo M, Antunes HK, Medeiros A, Mônico Neto M, Souza HS, Tufik S, de Mello MT. Sleep and muscle recovery: endocrinological and molecular basis for a new and promising hypothesis. Med Hypotheses. 2011 Aug;77(2):220-2. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2011.04.017. Epub 2011 May 7. PMID: 21550729.

Featured image: oleksboiko/Shutterstock

11 thoughts on “How German Volume Training Can Add Muscle to Your Frame”

  1. I found this program when I was 13 years old 21 years ago! I was a naturally strong kid and weighed about 150 pounds (heavy for my age) and could bench press something like 115 pounds.

    I modified it to work for only bench press (because I was young and didn’t realize I should have incorporated it with the REST of my body, but anyway…). My buddy and I both did this for almost 3 YEARS, 6 days a week and take one day off to “reset”. The 6 days made sense because we’d do 5 reps, then 4 reps, then 3 reps, increase the weight, repeat, and on the 7th day we’d try our new max. EVERY WEEK WE BECAME STRONGER. When I was 15 I could bench press 375 pounds. He was a year older than me and he could bench press I think 345 – he was 16. I got a girlfriend after that and didn’t have time to work out so I quit for a looong time.

    Probably because we were young and had basically just went through puberty we never got sore. We only rested the 7th day because we were told to. I ate whatever i wanted, didn’t get fat, and gained muscle every week. …those were the days lol

    We did do this for curling for a while and I could curl 180 pounds on the barbell at 15. I don’t remember what I could do at 13 because I focused only on bench at that time. But anyway, the point of that is THIS PROGRAM WORKS!

    • 4010 – 4 is the eccentric portion of the lift (lowering the weight) for 4 seconds 0 is the amount of time spent in the hole of the lift and 1 is the amount of time to lift the weight and 0 is the amount of time spent pausing at the top. The tempo breakdowns that have x are meant to indicate that when you are lifting the weight you should be performing an explosive lift.

  2. Just finished the initial 6-cycles of the program. I found some information on other websites that recommend doing a de-load for 3 weeks before hitting up the 15-day cycle you mention in the “Then what?” section above.

    3 weeks seems a little long. Any thoughts on de-loading?

    Also, how was your success with the 10×10 tempo at 60%? I couldn’t manage the percentages. Only came close (55%) on my last workouts for the press/bench/squat. Can’t decide if I was just being a baby or whether the A2 exercises that I paired with those three main exercises were too intense, time will tell 🙂

    • I also found that with the sloooow 4 second negative and the constant tension on the muscles, that 60 % 1R was quite optimistic. I can squat 130 kg for one rep, but on the last few sets with 65 kg, my quads were burning up when I came to the 6-7 rep – And I’m sore for 3-4 days after

    • 3 weeks is normal at first your tendons take months to adjust to the weights. So de load and keep up your cardio/metabolism, or if you’re trying to get big just do less weights. It’ll pay off in the end

  3. Hi, I have a question, After I finish the GVT program will I lose the gains I made assuming I no longer train at such a high volume during the rest of the year?

    Thanks,

    Tadgh

    • As long as you eat and train consistently you should not lose your gains unless you start cutting calories or dieting down for something. I do GVT style training for my offseason from powerlifting/bodybuilding and I have found my strength and mass is more solid at the beginning of the next meet or show prep.

Leave a Comment