It's hard to believe it’s been more than 18 years since I introduced German Volume Training, or GVT, to the bodybuilding community in Muscle Media 2000. The program became so popular that the publisher of the magazine reproduced it in his supplement review books. To this day GVT continues to appear among the vast media resources available to the bodybuilding and sports training communities. It’s the muscle building program that just won’t go away – probably because it builds a lot of muscle really fast!
Because of its popularity, many bodybuilding writers have taken it upon themselves to try to improve on it. Some even go to great lengths to debate its original source. In this regard, I believe the program had its roots in German weightlifting, although US bodybuilding guru Vince Gironda used a similar protocol that he called the Ten Sets Method. Since I was the one who helped popularize this training system in the ’90s, the purpose of this article is to revisit German Volume Training and give you my ideas on how to modify it for the more advanced trainer, someone with at least five years of training experience.
In a nutshell, GVT targets a specific group of motor units and exposes them to an extensive volume of repeated efforts; specifically, 10 sets of a single exercise. The body adapts to such extraordinary stress by hypertrophying those muscle fibers. I’ve found that when used exactly the way I prescribed, GVT can result in gains of 10 pounds or more of solid muscle in six weeks, always associated with a decrease in bodyfat.
More specifically, the goal of GVT is to complete 10 sets of 10 reps with the same weight for each exercise. Obviously, you couldn’t start with a weight that you could barely complete for 10 reps, because by the 10th set the accumulated fatigue would prevent you from performing 10 reps for the later sets, and therefore you would tap into a different motor unit pool. As such, I recommend that you start with a weight equal to 60 percent of your best single or, to put it another way, a weight that you could lift for about 20 reps. Therefore, if you can bench press 200 pounds for 1 rep, you would use 120 pounds for this exercise. After your first workout, a good goal is to try to increase the weight by roughly 2.5 percent for each workout, as follows:
Workout 1: 120 x 10 x 10
Workout 2: 125 x 10 x 10
Workout 3: 130 x 10 x 10
Workout 4: 135 x 10 x 10
Workout 5: 140 x 10 x 10
Workout 6: 145 x 10 x 10
Not all workouts will progress in such a linear fashion that enables you to perform 100 perfect reps – because, hey, we all have our off days – but the key is to use weights that will enable you to complete all 100 repetitions, with all reps being performed in strict form.
With that background, now I’d like to show you how to modify the GVT program for an advanced trainee – someone with five years of training experience. But before getting into the specific protocols, I need to go on a rant for a bit. A lot of individuals have claimed to have improved the German Volume Training – and have failed miserably because they didn’t understand the physiology behind it. Let me give you an example.
Rather than following the protocol of 10 sets of 10 of a single exercise with the last set performed to failure, a writer might suggest doing five sets of two exercises, adjusting the weight so that every set is performed to failure. However, the volume-intensity equations are radically different between these two systems, and as such, the stimulus to the specific motor unit pool is altered. This factor is often overlooked, and this brings up the issue of accountability.
Many of the individuals who write articles on the Internet about workout programs have never actually tried the workouts themselves, or on others. They just write whatever they want with no scientific rationale or empirical evidence to support their ideas – and after they see their name in print, they go on to tackle their next article. In contrast, I have put countless individuals on GVT protocols, taking precise before-and-after measurements of lean body mass, and I know that the GVT program, as I originally presented it, works.
Making the Best Better
One of the biggest changes I’ve made in designing training protocols over the past three decades is in decreasing the frequency of training stimulus with more advanced trainees – that is, allowing more rest days between intense training sessions. This is especially true with the Advanced GVT program, as I recommend working each bodypart every five days – but only performing the same exercise every 10 days. The key is that the exercises prescribed in these two training sessions should work the same bodypart, but should be different enough in technique to tap into a different motor unit pool – for example, alternating a back squat workout with a front squat workout during the 10-day training cycle.
Another major difference in this GVT program is the number of repetitions per set, which do not exceed 5. Due to the increased neurological efficiency of advanced trainees, 10 reps would result in the average intensity level being too low to produce the desired training effect.
Due to such variables as the extended length of the cycle and the ability of the advanced trainer to adapt to specific loading parameters (which I cover in detail in my PICP courses), the reps should vary in each one of the six workouts. The workouts progress in the following manner for each exercise: 5, 4, 3, 5, 4, 3 – until the cycle is complete. Also, with each successive rep reduction you should increase the weight by 6 to 9 percent so that you’ll be doing fewer reps but with heavier weights.
When using this program – or for that matter, any program – you should keep a detailed journal of the exact sets, reps, loads, and rest intervals performed, and count only the repetitions completed in strict form. This is extremely important.
Finally, if you have access to bands or bungee cords, please feel free to add them to the squatting and pressing exercises for increased overload. They are not a must, so don’t think you are missing out if you don’t have access to them. The program will still have impressive anabolic properties without them.
The goal of the first week is to complete 10 sets of 5 reps with the same weight for each exercise. You want to begin with a weight you could lift for 10 reps to failure (10RM), which generally represents 75 percent of the 1RM. If you can bench press 300 pounds for 1 rep, that means you would use 225 pounds for this exercise, and your workout might end up looking something like this:
Set 1: 225 x 5
Set 2: 225 x 5
Set 3: 225 x 5
Set 4: 225 x 5
Set 5: 225 x 5
Set 6: 225 x 5
Set 7: 225 x 4
Set 8: 225 x 4
Set 9: 225 x 3
Set 10: 225 x 3
Increase the weight by 6-7 percent and strive to do 10 sets of 4 reps with that weight. The workout might look like this:
Set 1: 235 x 4
Set 2: 235 x 4
Set 3: 235 x 4
Set 4: 235 x 4
Set 5: 235 x 4
Set 6: 235 x 4
Set 7: 235 x 4
Set 8: 235 x 4
Set 9: 235 x 4
Set 10: 235 x 4
Interestingly, it is not uncommon on the second workout to be able to complete all sets of 4 reps because your work capacity will have improved from the first GVT workout.
Increase the weight of Workout 1 by 8-9 percent and strive to do 10 sets of 3 reps with that weight. Yes, you are reading it correctly: 8-9 percent, not 6-7. This workout might look like this:
Set 1: 255 x 3
Set 2: 255 x 3
Set 3: 255 x 3
Set 4: 255 x 3
Set 5: 255 x 3
Set 6: 255 x 3
Set 7: 255 x 3
Set 8: 255 x 3
Set 9: 255 x 3
Set 10: 255 x 3
Sets 6 through 8 probably will be very difficult, but stick with it because sets 9 and 10 often become the easiest.
Workout 4 Use the same weights you used in Workout 2 and go for 10 sets of 5, which you should be able to perform easily.
Use the same weights in Workout 3 and go for 10 sets of 4, which, again, you should be able to perform easily.
By now you should be able to do 10 sets of 3 at 275 pounds with no problem.
When trainees start with this method, they often question its value during the first several sets because the weights will not feel heavy. However, there is minimal rest between sets (about 90 seconds when performed in sequence, and 90-120 seconds when performed as a superset), which results in the process of accumulative fatigue. Because of the importance of the rest intervals, you should use a stopwatch or a watch equipped with that feature to keep the rest intervals constant. This is very important, as it becomes tempting to lengthen the rest time as you fatigue, which would alter the desired training effect.
Advanced trainees, because of their enhanced neurological efficiency, should only use explosive concentric tempos. As such, for exercises that move the limbs through a great range of movement, such as squats and chin-ups, use a 40X0 tempo; for exercises such as curls and triceps extensions, use a 30X0 tempo.
One, and only one, exercise per bodypart should be performed, so you should select exercises that recruit a lot of muscle mass. What I call “most bang for your your buck” exercies. Triceps kickbacks and leg extensions are definitely out – squats and bench presses are definitely in. For supplementary work for individual bodyparts, such as triceps and biceps, you can do 3 sets of 6-8 reps.
Once you are able to complete 10 sets of a given number of reps with constant rest intervals, increase the weight on the bar by the percentage outlined in the article and repeat the process. Refrain from using forced reps, negatives or burns, as the volume of the work will take care of the hypertrophy. Expect to have some deep muscle soreness without having to resort to set-prolongation techniques.
To get you started, here is a sample training cycle. Note that the “A” pairings use the Advanced GVT program, with the “B” pairings providing some additional work for the same muscle groups.
Day 1: Chest and Back
A-1: Incline Barbell Press, 10 x 5, 40X0, rest 100 seconds
A-2: Lean-Away Chin-ups, 10 x 5, 40X0, rest 100 seconds
B-1: Parallel Bar Dips, 3 x 6-8, 40X0, rest 90 seconds B-2: One-Arm Arc Dumbbell Rows, 3 x 6-8, 40X0, rest 90 seconds
Day 2: Legs
A-1: Back Squats, 10 x 5, 40X0, rest 100 seconds A-2: Lying Leg Curls, feet pointing away from the body, 10 x 5, 40X0, rest 100 seconds
B-1: Dumbbell Lunges, 3 x 6-8, 30X0, rest 90 seconds B-2: Romanian Deadlifts, 3 x 6-8, 40X0, rest 90 seconds
Day 3: Off
Day 4: Arms
A-1: Incline Offset Dumbbell Curls, 10 x 5, 30X0, rest 100 seconds
A-2: Close-Grip Bench Press, 10 x 5, 30X0, rest 100 seconds
B-1: Thick-Bar Reverse Curls, 3 x 6-8, 30X0, rest 90 seconds
B-2: Seated EZ Bar French Presses, 3 x 6-8, 30X0, rest 90 seconds
Day 5: Off
Day 6: Chest and Back
A-1: 30-Degree Incline Barbell Press, 10 x 5, 40X0, rest 100 seconds
A-2: Close Parallel-Grip Chin-Up, 10 x 5, 40X0, rest 100 seconds
B-1: Flat Dumbbell Presses, 3 x 6-8, 40X0, rest 90 seconds
B-2: One-Arm Elbowing Rows (the elbow comes out to the side, as if you were elbowing someone in the chops), 3 x 6-8, 30X0, rest 90 seconds
Day 7: Legs
A-1: Heels-Elevated Front Squats, 10 x 5,, 40X0, rest 100 seconds
A-2: Lying Leg Curls, feet inward, 10 x 5,, 30X0, rest 100 seconds
B-1: Farmer’s Walks, 3 x 50 yards, rest 90 seconds B-2: Glute-Ham Raises, 3 x 6-8, 40X0, rest 90 seconds
Day 8: Off
Day 9: Arms
A-1: Seated Zottmann Curls, 10 x 5, 30X0, rest 100 seconds
A-2: Low Decline Close-Grip Bench Presses, 10 x 5, 30X0, rest 100 seconds
B-1: Scott Bench Close-Grip Reverse Curls, 3 x 6-8, 30X0, rest 90 seconds
B-2: Low-Pulley French Presses, 3 x 6-8, 30X0, rest 90 seconds
Day 10: Off
Day 11: Do the Day 1 routine using the Workout 2 pattern.
Continue this program for 55 days, making the rep adjustments as outlined.
The original German Volume Training program is an extremely difficult workout, and the advanced version I’ve presented in this article is just as intense. As with the original version, you should be able to pack on 8-10 pounds of lean tissue by the end of those two months. Just be sure to follow the instructions! And DON’T try to improve it.