So Damn Simple
German Volume Training (GVT) is a decades old training program first popularized in this country by strength coach/curmudgeon/funny man Charles Poliquin in the early 90's.
The program struck a chord with most people because it was so damn simple. You do 10 sets of 10 using the same weight with minimal rest periods (about 60 seconds). Of course, if done correctly, the 10 sets of 10 is only aspirational; if you really complete 10 sets of 10, you used too light of a weight.
More often, the strength curve should look something like this:
- Set 1: 10 reps
- Set 2: 10 reps
- Set 3: 10 reps
- Set 4: 9 reps
- Set 4: 8 reps
- Set 5: 7 reps
- And so on.
You'd stick with the same weight until you really did hit 10 sets of 10. Then you'd increase the resistance and start all over.
You'd typically use, depending on your muscle fiber ratio, a weight that was at least 60% of your 1RM and you'd work one body part a day, 5 days in a row, and then take two days off.
The program worked fantastically well for most people, probably because they'd all been taught to lift using the Milo principle. According to legend, Milo carried a calf daily from its birth until it became a full-sized ox. The weight increased every day, but gradually his volume (the distance he could walk) went down, particularly on those days where the ox ate a couple of extra Denny's Grand Slam breakfasts.
When people switch from doing this Milo-type linear progression with heavy weight and low volume to doing a program like GVT with moderate weight and a ton of volume, they blew up. The trouble is, nobody every conducted a study on this program to see if 5 sets of 10 would work as well or better than 10 sets of 10... until now.
Researchers wanted to see if doing 5 sets of 10 would work as well in increasing muscle size and strength as 10 sets of 10. They recruited 19 men and randomly assigned them to 6 weeks of 10 or 5 sets of 10 repetitions.
The subjects trained 3 times a week doing compound exercises. The scientists recorded total and regional lean body mass, muscle thickness, and muscle strength before and after the study.
Here are their findings:
- Both groups exhibited significant increases in lean body mass measurements, but the 5 sets of 10 group had greater increases in trunk and arm size.
- Neither group demonstrated much change in lean body mass or muscle thickness in the legs.
- Both groups grew a lot stronger, but the 5 sets of 10 group made better progress in the bench press and lat pulldown.
The researchers concluded the following:
"To maximize hypertrophic training effects, it is recommended that 4-6 sets per exercise be performed, as it seems gains will plateau beyond this set range and may even regress due to overtraining."
There were a couple of problems with the way the study was set up. They used multiple sets for quads instead of the one set as recommended by Poliquin. Also, while they used a load of 60% of 1RM for most of the exercises, they used 80% of 1RM for leg presses and 70% of 1RM for lunges. Why they did this was a puzzle.
Regardless, volume is an effective but often overlooked component of strength and hypertrophy. Anyone who's been doing standard linear progression workouts (where they increase the weight but lower the reps over time) would likely benefit from a GVT-type, high-volume program.
However, based on this study at least, doing 5 or 6 sets of 10 may work better than 10 sets of 10 because when it comes to muscles, enough is enough and more is often too much.
Of course, one wonders if the 10 sets of 10 protocol would have worked better had they used advanced supplementation to increase the rate of recovery, but that's an idea for another study.
It's also worth noting that neither 5 sets of 10 nor 10 sets of 10 worked very well for increasing the size of the legs, but that may be because both leg protocols involved more than one exercise and it was simply too much of a workload. Even though they trained legs just once a week, it might not be a good idea to annihilate a body part.
Alternately, it could be that legs require increased frequency or intensity, at least more than that provided in this study.
- Amirthalingam T et al. Effects of a Modified German Volume Training Program on Muscular Hypertrophy and Strength. J Strength Cond Res. 2017 Nov;31(11):3109-3119. PubMed.