Sicilian Volume Training

A program you can't refuse!


There are many excellent "volume" routines out there, but who can forget that July 1996 issue of Muscle Media 2000 when Charles Poliquin introduced German Volume Training? MM2K was quite a magazine at the time and GVT was (and still is) one hell of a program! I know I made some great gains from it and I continue to use it periodically with clients.

These programs work by obeying the Law of Repeated Efforts, which basically means that you target a group of motor units and expose them to an extensive volume of repetitions. In other words, you trash them!

As Poliquin put it: "The body adapts to the extraordinary stress by hypertrophying the targeted fibers. To say this program adds muscle fast is probably an understatement. Gains of ten pounds or more in six weeks are not uncommon – even in experienced lifters!"

Let's look at an example of the first phase of German Volume Training:

Day 1 – Chest & Back

  • A1) Flat Dumbbell Press (neutral grip): 10 x 10 @ 4010, 90 secs
  • A2) Medium-Grip Chin-Ups (supinated): 10 x 10 @ 4010, 90 secs
  • B1) Incline Rope Cable Flyes (pronated): 3 x 10-12 @ 2012, 60 secs
  • B2) One-Arm Dumbbell Row (elbow out): 3 x 10-12 @ 2012, 60 secs

Day 2 – Legs & Absk

  • A1) Cyclist Back Squat (heels raised): 10 x 10 @ 4010, 90 secs
  • A2) Lying Leg Curls (feet inward): 10 x 10 @ 4010, 90 secs
  • B1) Swiss Ball Crunch: 3 x 12-15 @ 2010, 60 secs
  • B2) One-Leg Calf Raise: 3 x 10-12 @ 2210, 60 secs

Day 3 – Off

Day 4 – Arms & Deltsk

  • A1) Mid-Incline Hammer Curls: 10 x 10 @ 4010, 90 secs
  • A2) Parallel-Bar Triceps Dips: 10 x 10 @ 4010, 90 secs
  • B1) Standing Rope Upright Rows: 3 x 10-12 @ 2012, 60 secs
  • B2) Lean-Away Lateral Raises: 3 x 12-15 @ 2010, 60 secs

Day 5 – Off

  • For all the "A" exercises, start with a 20RM load.
  • Only increase the weight when you're able to perform all 10 sets of 10 reps.
  • Perform this routine for 6 cycles (i.e. 6 workouts per body part) then change to a routine with greater intensity.
  • When you return to this routine, use a 10 x 6 set/rep scheme for all "A" exercises (starting with a 12RM load this time.) Make sure to use different exercises at that point.

In general, strength is related to intensity (load) and size requires volume (sets, reps, time under tension, total workload, etc.). Most volume programs you see in the magazines tend to promote sarcoplasmic hypertrophy unless very heavy loads with low reps are advocated (which tends to promote myofibrillar hypertrophy if enough sets are performed).

According to Brad Schoenfeld, low rep sets (below 5) improve neuromuscular response, or the ability to use heavier weights. Moderate reps (8-10) are optimal to build muscle mass for the following four reasons:

  1. Optimizes fiber recruitment – stresses different motor units and fibers (i.e. FT II A&B, and even ST)
  2. Increases anabolic hormonal response – Testosterone and GH
  3. Enhances cellular hydration – greater muscle pump (called "reactive hyperemia") drives plasma and water to muscle which stimulates protein synthesis and inhibits proteolysis (protein breakdown).
  4. Heightens myofilamental damage – optimum amount of tension and time under tension (TUT) above a minimum threshold increases potential for damage to muscle tissue.

Zatsiorsky has nicely demonstrated in his book, Science and Practice of Strength Training, that the total amount of degraded protein is highest in the 5-10 RM range and thus leads to greater hypertrophy.

The Amount of Degraded Protein During Strength Training With Different Levels of Resistance (Zatsiorsky, 1995, pg. 91)

Resistance (RM) Rate of Protein Degradation Mechanical Work (# of reps) Total Amount of Degraded Protein
1 High Small Small
5-10 Average Average Large
>25 Low Large Small

Okay, enough talk, let's get to some more routines!

Here's a simple volume program offered by one of the legends in the bodybuilding world, Vince Gironda.

Vince Gironda

Apparently, Gironda had experimented with thousands of routines and concluded that "the seasoned bodybuilder can always get an honest workout by performing a routine (every other day) consisting of working one exercise per body part for 8 sets of 8 reps" (except calves, which Vince says are a high rep muscle, and 20 reps minimum should be employed).

  • Dumbbell Lateral Raises
  • Wide-Grip Parallel-Bar Dips
  • Seated Lat Pulley Machine Rowing
  • Kneeling Face Down Cradle Bench Triceps Pulley Extension
  • Body Drag Barbell Curls
  • Heels On Block Squat
  • Calf Raise
  • Crunches With Weight
  • Perform 8 sets of 8 reps on all exercises except for calves where you'll do 8 sets of 20 reps.
  • Use a 2-0-2-0 tempo on all exercises.
  • Maintain a short rest interval of 15-30 seconds (don't let go of the bar between sets)

Frequency depends on your training age (and thus loads used) as well as your level of recovery. Intermediates can split the program in half; advanced trainees may need to split the routine into three days to make progress. Remember to have a day of rest following each workout.

Fitness writer, Rob Thoburn, also put together an interesting volume routine. Don't be fooled by its simplicity. If size is what you're after, this routine will get the job done.

Day 1: Chest (BB flat bench press), Shoulders (BB military press), Triceps (BB close-grip bench press or parallel bar dips with added weight as necessary)

Day 2: Back (BB bentover rows or wide-grip pull ups), Biceps (BB curls or Dumbbell curls), Abs (crunches with added weight behind head as necessary)

Day 3: Quads (BB squats), Hams (BB stiff-legged deadlifts), Calves (standing calf raises)

  • Not including warm-up sets, do 10 sets per muscle group.
  • Lift as much weight as you can for 6-8 reps – no more, no less.
  • Rest 45-50 seconds between sets – no more, no less.
  • Train each muscle group twice per week.
  • You don't need to do any cardio, unless you want to.
  • Take days off whenever you feel it's necessary.
  • Learn to listen to – not just hear – your body.

Simple and effective! The only issue I have with this scheme is training each muscle group twice per week. Of course, if you have some "assistance", then you can recover enough to make adequate gains, but most natural trainees can train each body part twice on this type of plan within a 10-14 day period. I'll discuss this in further detail a little later.

Another great program you may not be familiar with comes from Ironman contributor George Turner. Much like GVT, the Turner routine is based on high volume, except higher intensities are used (due to the use of RM loads). Here's the program as it was outlined in his Real Bodybuilding audiotape series in the nineties.

Day 1 – Chest & Back

  1. Bench Press
    • 2 warm-up sets (15,12 reps) followed by 10 sets x 10 reps
    • drop 10 pounds every 2 sets
  2. Wide-Grip Pull-Ups
    • 2 warm-up sets (15,12 reps) followed by 10 sets x 10 reps
    • decrease load every 2 sets

Day 2 – Legs

  1. Full Squats
    • 2 warm-up sets (15,12 reps) followed by 6 sets x 10 reps
  2. Lying Leg Curls
    • 2 warm-up sets (15,12 reps) followed by 6 sets x 10 reps
  3. Standing Calf Raise
    • 2 warm-up sets (15,12 reps) followed by 10 sets x 10 reps
    • decrease load every 2 sets
  4. Bent-Knee Deadlifts
    • perform 6 sets x 6 reps
    • pyramid weight (add weight each set)

Day 3 – Off

Day 4 – Delts & Arms

  1. Seated Dumbbell Press (pronated)
    • 2 warm-up sets (15,12 reps) followed by 8 sets x 10 reps
  2. Seated Dumbbell Curls (no back support)
    • 1 warm-up set of 15 reps followed by 8 sets x 8 reps
    • superset with
  3. Lying Triceps Extensions (hands 6" apart)
    • 1 warm-up set of 15 reps followed by 8 sets x 12 reps

Day 5 – Off

(One word of advice: try not to plan much after leg day. Trust me!)

Okay, below is my revised version of this program. Many elements are maintained but we'll go through the details afterward.

Day 1

  • A1. Mid-Incline Dumbbell Press (neutral grip) 10 x 6 @ 5010, 90 secs
  • A2. Medium-Parallel-Grip Chin-Ups 10 x 6 @ 5010, 90
  • B1. ShoulderHorn Dumbbell External Rotation 3 x 12-15 @ 3020, 60
  • B2. Wrist Roller Extensions 3 x 60 secs TUT, 60

Day 2

  • A1) Back Squat 6 x 10 @ 4010, 90
  • A2. Lying Leg Curls 6 x 6-8 @ 5010, 90
  • B. Standing Calf Raise 10 x 10 @ 2010, 30
  • C. Bent-Knee Deadlift 6 x 6 @ 32X0, 180

Day 3

  • A1. Seated Dumbbell Press (neutral grip) 8 x 10 @ 4010, 60
  • A2. Seated Zottman Curl 8 x 8 @ 4020, 60
  • A3. Lying EZ-Bar Triceps Extension 8 x 12 @ 3010, 60
  • B. Swiss Ball Side Flexion 3 x 12-15 @ 2020, 90

As far as frequency is concerned, three scenarios exist:

  1. Day 1 – Day 2 – Off –Day 3 – Off – Repeat (3 in 5 schedule)
  2. Day 1 – Off – Day 2 – Off – Day 3 – Off – Repeat (3 in 6 schedule)
  3. Day 1 – Off – Day 2 – Off – Day 3 – Off – Off – Repeat (3 in 7 schedule)

Advanced trainees (i.e. greater than two years of continuous training) can repeat the cycle three times for a total of 4 workouts per body part. Intermediates (i.e. between one and two years of training experience), on the other hand, can perform as many as 6 cycles before changing routines. This program is not suitable for beginners.

As mentioned earlier, most volume programs induce sarcoplasmic hypertrophy rather than myofibrillar hypertrophy. This routine attempts to influence both by using repetition maximum (RM) loads. In other words, there are no reps in reserve – each set is taken to the limit with a decent weight.

GVT, for instance, starts off with 10 reps in reserve. The Gironda and Thoburn programs use a horizontal sequence where you complete all sets of an exercise before moving on to the next (as opposed to a vertical sequence where you alternate between antagonistic movements) and since the rest intervals are short (i.e. 15 seconds and 45 seconds respectively), the weight used must be light!

Obviously, using RM loads will cause fatigue and it's not uncommon to lose a rep or two each set. To accommodate this, decrease the load every second set so that the Mid-Incline Dumbbell Press may look like this:

  • Set 1 – 6 x 100
  • Set 2 – 5 x 100
  • Set 3 – 6 x 95
  • Set 4 – 5 x 95
  • Set 5 – 6 x 90
  • Set 6 – 5 x 90
  • Set 7 – 6 x 85
  • Set 8 – 4 x 85
  • Set 9 – 6 x 80
  • Set 10 – 4 x 80

As you can see, the load has been dropped by 5 pounds per dumbbell every other set, but you may need to adjust this depending on your needs. (PlateMates, for instance, will allow even smaller drops and can be quite useful here.)


If performance drops by 3 or more reps from one set to the next then terminate this exercise for the day since you've cleared what's considered the "critical limit threshold." Continuing on at this point would be counterproductive.

The beauty of GVT compared to the others lies in the vertical sequencing (i.e. antagonistic pairing) of exercises. This allows for adequate rest and greater performance. When you incorporate this sequence into the Turner routine to allow for adequate rest with decreasing weight using RM loads, it yields the optimal system for growth.

As an example, take a look at the chart below – assume this individual can barbell curl 100 pounds 10 times with a 4-0-2-0 tempo.

Table 2
Selecting The Proper Rest Interval (Poliquin, 1996, pgs. 92-95)

I've also found it necessary to adjust the number of sets per workout. Advanced trainees will need to drop 2 sets per workout for the "A" exercises on Days 1 & 3, and 1 set per workout on all the exercises on Day 2. The "B" exercises on Days 1 & 3 can increase by 1 set per workout until the 4th and final workout where you would taper.

Intermediates should drop 1 set per workout for the "A" exercises on Days 1 & 3, and 1 set every other workout on Day 2. They can increase the "B" exercises on Days 1 & 3 by 1 set every other workout until the 6th workout where they would taper.

  • Ever tried performing pull-ups for 10 sets of 10 repetitions? I'm talking about full-range (i.e. from a dead hang to chin clearing the bar) with a controlled-tempo pull-ups. Good luck! 10 sets of 6 is more reasonable. Make sure to use additional loading when necessary.
  • The problem with most volume programs is that they can lead to imbalances and tend to neglect the smaller muscles. Sicilian Volume Training takes this into account.

    First of all, all vertical and horizontal presses/pulls are performed with a neutral grip and the external rotators of the humerus are trained to somewhat offset any internal rotation that occurs during the routine. Also, the wrist flexors get one hell of a workout with chin-ups and deadlifts, so the wrist extensors are trained dynamically with wrist roller extensions and statically during Zottman curls.

  • Finally, SVT is relatively balanced throughout. For instance, many of the core muscles are used statically in the sagittal plane during presses, chin-ups, squats and deadlifts. The SB side flexion exercise allows for some training in the frontal plane. And the elbow flexors get trained with supinated, neutral, and pronated grips between the chin-ups and Zottman curls.

If you're old enough to remember my first article in T-Nation, the analogy I used to describe the Sicilian Crunch was that "it feels like a dozen mobsters have unloaded rounds into your abdomen by the time you finish!" Guess what, Sicilian Volume Training feels like they've torched your entire body! It's definitely a form of torture that works!

If you want results, then this is a program you can't refuse!

  1. Kennedy R. Beef It! Upping the muscle mass. Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. New York, NY: 1983.
  2. Poliquin C. German Volume Training – A new look at an old way top get big and strong! Muscle Media 2000, Inc. Golden, Co. July 1996, No. 51.
  3. Poliquin C. The Science of Rest Intervals. Muscle Media 2000: May 1996, No. 50: pgs. 92-95.
  4. Schoenfeld BJ. Repetitions and Muscle Hypertrophy. Str Cond J. 2000 Dec;22(6):67.
  5. Thoburn R.
  6. Turner G. HUGE! For Incredibly Fast SIZE Gains. (Tape 14.) Real Bodybuilding (George Turner Audiotape Series.)
  7. Zatsiorsky VM. Science and Practice of Strength Training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1995.