Since 1998, T Nation has been supplying readers with cutting edge weight training programs designed to pack on serious shirt-stretching size. It begs the question though: Among the hundreds (thousands?) of hypertrophy protocols in the T Nation archives, which would be the best for rapid size gains?
To achieve maximum size, many lifters opt for a program that keeps the reps at around 8 or lower. Nothing’s wrong with this method, as the muscles are significantly challenged, and more importantly, hypertrophy-stimulating hormones are released from lifting the heavy loads.
On the other hand, most high-rep programs are more geared towards general conditioning, fat loss, and “leaning out” without a real emphasis on getting huge.
But then there’s German Volume Training.
It’s simple, but its effectiveness is undeniable. The standard protocol for German Volume Training (GVT), made popular by strength training guru Charles Poliquin, is comprised of choosing a large movement for a given muscle group and performing 10 sets of 10 reps with only 60 seconds rest between sets.
With parameters like this, it makes for a good way to make a lighter weight feel real “heavy” real fast.
GVT: The Pros
On paper, GVT looks like a Sunday stroll in comparison to most higher intensity programs. Sixty percent your one-rep max? How the hell is this supposed to build muscle?
Don’t be fooled. The effectiveness of GVT is revealed when you look at things from a “total weight lifted” perspective. For example, say you were to do a max strength workout and you squatted or benched 300 for 8 sets of 3 reps.
This means in total, you lifted 7200 lbs. over the course of the workout. Compare this to a GVT workout with a meager 100 lbs. for 10×10: By the end of this workout, you’ve lifted 10,000 lbs.!
Simply put, while giving your CNS a break by not pounding it with super heavy loads, you’re increasing your time under tension (which can actually potentiate hormonal release), and as a bonus, the short rest intervals will improve the muscle’s conditioning and strength endurance, and (depending on the workout) aid in cutting body fat.
Plus, you spend less time in the gym as the workouts are usually much shorter than normal!
GVT: The Cons
Alas, no hypertrophy program is perfect. Because of GVT’s comparatively high rep range, there’s no max effort work in this program; after the actual 10×10 exercise, most lifters are too fatigued to even attempt lifting any heavier than a tube of Traumeel.
Subsequently, you may not see a notable improvement on your 1RM from a program like this – 1RM performance may even decrease, temporarily – which is about as appealing to the typical fast twitch 1RM junkie as a soy and wheat grass enema. But if strictly size is what you’re after and you can handle staying away from the big loads for a while, you’ve chosen a great program.
How to Play This Game
Since introducing the mainstream strength training world to GVT over 15 years ago, Coach Poliquin has come up with much more advanced, specific forms of the system to implement with his athletes. For simplicity’s sake (and to cater to the most readers) we’ll stick with its most basic, straightforward outline.
German Volume Training can be incorporated in many different ways. Some lifters prefer using it in entire upper body and lower body workouts (for instance, supersetting 10 x 10 of bench press with 10 x 10 of T-bar rows or 10 x 10 of squats with 10 x 10 of leg curls).
This method is certainly effective, but because of the blood shunting away from one particular group, and even further limits to ATP restoration, I prefer targeting individual muscle groups in isolation on a 4-day rotation.
Since we’re working so far away from max strength, the right exercise selection for 100 repetitions is vital. It’s important to make sure that it has the most “bang for its buck,” or you could just be wasting more time, effort, and energy than trying to wean Charlie Sheen off hookers and blow.
Here are my preferred movements for GVT:
- Close grip pulldowns/Wide grip pulldowns
- Pull ups/chin ups
- Barbell bent over rows/T-bar rows
- Seated rows/Wide grip rows
- Barbell/Dumbbell flat, incline or decline bench press
- Seated cable chest press
- Front squats
- Back squats
- Box squats
- Leg press
- Hack squats
- Standing Barbell press
- Dumbbell seated press
- Push press
- Seated Dumbbell clean and press
I’d also recommend choosing 2 to 3 more supplementary “assistance” exercises to follow up your 10×10 for the same muscle group.
GVT: Sample Week Split Program
Day 1 – Back
|A||V-Grip lat pulldown||10||10|
|B1||Bent-over DB fly||4||12|
|B2||Wide grip row||4||12|
Day 2 – Chest
|A||BB incline bench press||10||10|
|B1||Blast Strap push-ups||4||12|
Day 3 – Legs
|B2||Reverse lunges from deficit||4||12|
Day 4 – Shoulders
|A||Standing BB shoulder press||10||10|
|B1||BB high pulls||4||12|
|B2||Seated lateral raise||4||12|
Day 5 (Optional) – Arms
|A2||EZ bar French press||4||12|
|B1||Overhead biceps curls (from lat pulldown bar)||4||12|
|C||Decline skullcrusher “plus”||4||12|
This simpler, less advanced method deviates slightly from King Charles’ original layout (i.e. no antagonistic supersets), however the same general principles still apply. The main volume of the workout per muscle group comes from the 10×10; the secondary movements are clearly second fiddle and the lifter is allowed to rest as long as necessary between supersets.
I’ve found this method to work quite well – especially for less experienced lifters. Furthermore, the weekly energy expenditure is slightly lowered due to the once-per-week training method per muscle group, as opposed to using a 4 or 5-day rotation.
I’ve also avoided GVT for direct arm work, simply for the fact that for the typical lifter, arm growth will be achieved mainly through the high volume of chest and back movements (especially incline bench and close grip overhead pulling).
First, rest is limited to 60 seconds, and the most “cheating” that is permitted is extending the rest interval to a maximum of 70 seconds close to the end of the workout. Having said that, there’s one common mistake people tend to make when German Volume Training: The weight lifted starts within a range of 60 to 70% of the 1RM, and should finish there too.
This means you shouldn’t lower the weight, even though you begin to struggle to get all 10 reps in by set 6 or 7. Ten reps is still the number to aim for, but if you’ve picked the correct weight, you won’t get there.
To illustrate: If your 1RM for the bench press is 300 lbs., it would make sense to start your first set of 10 reps between 195-210 lbs (approximately 65 – 70% of 1RM).
At 60 seconds rest between your sets of 10, by the 6th set or so, your strength endurance will almost certainly begin to fade. For your subsequent sets, the temptation to lower the weight so that it’s still within your capacity to complete all ten reps as intended will be overwhelming.
The problem with doing so is that slowly but surely, the weight you’re lifting will dip further and further below the optimal percentage of your 1RM to still utilize type II muscle fibers (or whatever’s left of them).
Due to the low rest interval, tons of slow twitch muscle fibers are already involved towards the end because of the lactate production, shutting down explosiveness. The last thing we want to do is let any of the remaining fast twitch fibers give up their usefulness by lifting below 60% of our max.
Whether you hit all ten reps or not, the training effect will stay intact. Using the example above, here’s an idea of what I mean:
Bench Press – 1RM: 300 lbs.
|Set||Weight Lifted (lbs)||Reps Performed|
* As noted by Poliquin, you can expect to see a minor improvement in your performance somewhere around the 8th set due to neurological adaptations.
As you can see in the above example, rather than dropping to 170 or below to reach all 10 reps, it’s a good idea to keep 60% intensity as your basement number.
One thing to remember is to switch up the main movement each week. If you did incline bench for 10×10 in week 1, hit up the flat or decline on the 2nd week. In a program like this, it would benefit you to tap into a different pool of motor units in a given muscle group from workout to workout to avoid redundancy and a possible plateau.
What to Expect
Given its simplicity, GVT workouts tend to take lifters by surprise. Many lifters think they won’t get the intensity they need because of how “light” the first 4 sets feel. Remember: if you aren’t severely relying on a spotter by the end of the workout to squeeze out anything near ten reps, you didn’t use enough weight!
Once you hit the 2nd half of your sets, you can look forward to severe lactate buildup, accompanied by stress, fatigue, mild depression, and feelings of diminished self worth you haven’t felt since your high school prom.
Each 60-second break will begin to feel shorter and shorter, and don’t be surprised if by the end you’ve developed a grudge against Germany reminiscent of Europe circa the 1940’s.
This was one of the hardest bulk programs I’ve ever put myself through (I think I had DOMS for a week. especially when I did front squats for 10×10!), but the results spoke for themselves. Like most things that require hard work and perseverance, the reward was well worth the pain and sacrifice, and I slapped on muscle like no tomorrow.
40 Minutes to Muscle
If you want a ticket to quick size by way of quick, intense body part isolation workouts, then you’ve found your program to kick off the New Year. Brushing the dust off of an old school method like German Volume Training could be just the thing your stagnant physique needs to tip the scales another few pounds.
And hey, for culture’s sake, I’m sure you’ll be inspired to start eating hasenpfeffer with your breakfast for good measure.