German Volume Training: Does it Increase Strength or Just Size?

Hypertrophy Training Programs

From strongmen to bodybuilders, one of the most gym related questions coaches face is “how do I build muscle as quickly as possible?”

It is a combination of effective programming, proper nutrition and patience that gets results but unfortunately, this process takes time.

There are no “quick fixes” or shortcuts when it comes to developing muscle strength and size. It’s important that a long term perspective is adopted if you want to be successful in your endeavors.

While it is true that change takes time, there are some training programs that will produce results more rapidly than others.

This article will cover German Volume Training (GVT) which is a high intensity resistance training program that will bring about significant changes in muscle mass.

All You Need To Know About German Volume Training

This advanced training program was created by Charles Poliquin, a strength and conditioning coach of legendary status.

The reason that GVT is so intense is because it combines high volumes, short rest periods, and a restricted time frame.

When it comes to strength training programs, there are two standard ways of programming. Programs either tend to be short and intense or moderate in both length and intensity.

The high intensity programs cannot be sustained over a prolonged period of time as the body simply cannot deal with the extreme intensity and stress related to the workouts for a prolonged duration.

This explains why the GVT program lasts just 30 days. Upon completion, it is recommended that you don’t attempt it again for a minimum of 6 months. That’s how intense it is!

If this program is run too regularly or without extended breaks between cycles, there is a real risk of overtraining.

Overtraining should be avoided at all costs as it will cause regressions with performance, increase fatigue levels and elevate the risk of experiencing injury (1).

When asked about the GVT approach, Poliquin said that he recognized that many of the top weightlifters in the western world were German.

As a result, Poliquin met with German national weightlifting coach, Rolf Feser, and asked him about his athlete’s performances.

Feser explained that he would periodize his athletes training and take them through ten sets of ten, ten sets of five and ten sets of three.

Feser was a big advocate of the law of repeated efforts and believed that weightlifters were simply not performing enough sets in order to get strong.


How German Volume Training Works

With GVT, there are three workouts to be completed over a five day period. This cycle is then to be repeated six times in total giving you a 30 day program.

For those who are more advanced, it is possible to cycle the program in its entirety up to three times.

Every workout contains two supersets or four exercises in total. The supersets are labeled “A” and “B”.

Superset A is considered the primary superset and include exercises which utilize a large amount of muscle, expend a great amount of energy and consequently bring about large adaptations.

Meanwhile, superset B is considered the accessory superset. The exercises here are specifically chosen to facilitate improvements with the primary lifts, add more volume and generally accelerate progress.

For superset A, both exercises are performed for ten sets of ten repetitions with a ninety second rest between sets. The load that is to be used for this should be 60% of your one rep max.

The reason you start at 60% is to ensure that you can complete all ten sets. 60% of your one rep max will likely feel very light to start with, however, after completing ten sets it will feel heavy.

If you manage to complete all ten reps for ten sets, look to increase the weight by four to five percent for the following week.

As the weeks progress, it’s likely that you’ll be using a higher percentage of your one rep max. This is simply because your body will be adapting and allowing for more work to be performed.

To summarize for superset A – perform exercise 1, rest 90 seconds, perform exercise 2, rest 90 seconds and repeat ten times.

Once the 200 reps have been completed, it’s time to move on to superset B.

Superset B involves completing two exercises but only for three sets this time. Additionally, the rest period is reduced from ninety to sixty seconds and the rep range may vary depending on the exercise.

German Volume Training Exercises

It is vitally important that powerful exercises that effectively challenge the body and lead to significant adaptation are chosen for this program.

Ideally, the exercises should recruit a large number of motor units. This is both for superset A and B.

The greater number of motor units recruited, the greater the force generated by the muscles (2).

For example, selecting exercises such as the back squat is highly recommended due to the challenges associated with it and the large number of motor units recruited.

Exercises such as the goblet squat would be seen as less than effective as it is much less demanding than the back squat.

Another example would be to select a french press over a tricep pulldown as it recruits more muscle and therefore places a greater demand on the body.

German Volume Training Workout

There are number of GVT programs in existence that may be used to achieve an array of different goals.

The following program comes directly from Charles Poliquin. The primary focus for this program is full body muscle building.

Day 1 – Chest and Back

Exercise Sets x Reps Tempo Rest (s)
A1 – Neutral Grip Decline Dumbbell Press 10 x 10 4 – 0 – 2 90
A2 – Chin-Ups 10 x 10 4 – 0 – 2 90
B1 – Incline Dumbbell Flyes 3 x 10 – 12 3 – 0 – 2 60
B2 – One Arm Dumbbell Rows 3 x 10 – 12 3 – 0 – 2 60


Day 2 – Legs and Abs

Exercise Sets x Reps Tempo Rest (s)
A1 – Back Squats 10 x 10 4 – 0 – 2 90
A2 – Lying Leg Curls 10 x 10 4 – 0 – 2 90
B1 – Low Cable Pull Ins * 3 x 15 – 20 2 – 0 – 2 60
B2 – One Arm Dumbbell Rows 3 x 15 – 20 2 – 0 – 2 60


*For Cable Pull Ins – Use a weightlifting belt and attach it to the low pulley of a cable machine. From there, lie flat on your back and place the feet inside the belt. From there, drive the knees to the chest and return in a controlled motion.

Day 3

REST

Day 4 – Arms and Shoulders

Exercise Sets x Reps Tempo Rest (s)
A1 – Parallel Bar Dips 10 x 10 4 0 1 0 90
A2 – Incline Hammer Curls 10 x 10 4 0 1 0 90
B1 – Bent Over Dumbbell Lateral Raises * 3 x 10 – 12 2 0 X 0 60
B2 – Seated Dumbbell Lateral Raises 3 x 10 – 12 2 0 X 0 60


*For Bent Over Dumbbell Lateral Raises – sit on the edge of a bench and tip the torso forward so that you are bent over. Drive the dumbbells out to the sides and look to bring the dumbbells up to approximately in line with the ears.

Day 5

REST

Next Steps

On completion of the 30 days you may find that you have made great progress and are enjoying the program.

If so, it is possible to move straight into a 15-day follow up program to help you continue to build on your results. Details of this program can be found below:

Day 1 – Chest and Back

Exercise Sets x Reps Tempo Rest (s)
A1 – Incline Dumbbell Press 10 x 6 5 0 1 0 90
A2 – Wide Grip Pull Ups 10 x 6 5 0 1 0 90
B1 – Dumbbell Flyes 3 x 6 3 0 1 0 60
B2 – EZ Bar Bent Over Rows 3 x 6 3 0 1 0 60


Day 2 – Legs and Abs

Exercise Sets x Reps Tempo Rest (s)
A1 – Bent Knee Deadlifts 10 x 6 5 0 X 0 90
A2 – Seated Leg Curls 10 x 6 5 0 1 0 90
B1 – Twisting Crunches 3 x 12 – 15 3 0 3 0 60
B2 – Standing Calf Raises 3 x 12 – 15 3 0 3 0 60


Day 3

REST

Day 4 – Arms and Shoulders

Exercise Sets x Reps Tempo Rest (s)
A1 – Parallel Bar Dips 10 x 6 3 2 X 0 90
A2 – Incline Hammer Curls 10 x 10 4 0 1 0 90
B1 – Bent Over Dumbbell Lateral Raises * 3 x 10 – 12 2 0 X 0 60
B2 – Seated Dumbbell Lateral Raises 3 x 10 – 12 2 0 X 0 60


Day 5
REST

Does German Volume Training Build Strength?

GVT is primarily a hypertrophy inducing program. After all, studies have indicated that there is a relationship between high volume and substantial muscle growth (3).

But can GVT prove to be a beneficial program for building strength as well as size? Theoretically, could a powerlifter use this program and improve their performance?

GVT may indeed be effective for the powerlifter, most specifically for those who are looking to move up a weight class.

The program will allow them to pack on muscle size thus facilitating an increase in body weight and moving them into the above weight class.

Poliquin recommends a strength specific version of the GVT program which involves a 10 x 6 cycle, followed up with cluster training or a 10 x 3 cycle.

He emphasizes that, providing the weight is constant throughout all ten sets, it is fine to move in and out of periodization.

However, if adopting this program, it would be wise to schedule it into the off-season and use it to firstly develop conditioning before moving onto strength.

If you prefer to stick with the original ten sets of ten reps, that is also fine and it will undoubtedly yield results.

Sets of ten by ten will ultimately push you to the next level and develop maximal strength, work capacity and muscle mass.

German Volume Training Considerations

GVT is a surefire way to get bigger however, Poliquin believes that GVT is more about how fit you are as an individual, rather than how strong or big you are.

He points out that the improvements you make are like a sliding scale dictated by the number of reps you perform which will invariably determine which muscle characteristic is developed.

When it comes to the number of reps used, a lower number of reps will predominantly increase strength capacity but fail to develop muscle size optimally.

Conversely, a higher rep range may more effectively build muscle mass but fail to develop strength in the same way that heavy, low reps will (4).

One thing that is abundantly clear about GVT is that this type of training is not for the faint of heart.

The fact that it is recommended that this program is only completed once or twice per year should be ample warning that this program requires both physical and mental strength.

If you decide to adopt a GVT program, firstly, ensure that you have enough time to dedicate to training as the workouts are long and gruelling.

Secondly, it’s vital that you look to prioritize nutrition and sleep throughout the duration of this program. Both are key recovery components and will ensure that you last the distance and train with real intensity (5, 6).

With that being said, these things should not serve as a deterrent as there is no denying that GVT is a powerful and efficacious strength program that will force the body to adapt and improve.

Final Word

While GVT is an excellent example of an effective hypertrophy program, it may also be of benefit for those who wish to develop their strength and work capacities.

By the time you have completed the 30 day cycle, providing you have been consistent with both training and nutrition, your muscles will have significantly increased in both strength and size.

For more news and updates, follow Generation Iron on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


References:

1-Kreher, Jeffrey B.; Schwartz, Jennifer B. (2012-3). “Overtraining Syndrome”. Sports Health. 4 (2): 128–138. doi:10.1177/1941738111434406. ISSN 1941-7381. PMC 3435910. PMID 23016079.

2-Williams, S. Mark; McNamara, James O.; LaMantia, Anthony-Samuel; Katz, Lawrence C.; Fitzpatrick, David; Augustine, George J.; Purves, Dale (2001). “The Regulation of Muscle Force”. Neuroscience. 2nd edition.

3-SCHOENFELD, BRAD J.; CONTRERAS, BRET; KRIEGER, JAMES; GRGIC, JOZO; DELCASTILLO, KENNETH; BELLIARD, RAMON; ALTO, ANDREW (2019-1). “Resistance Training Volume Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy but Not Strength in Trained Men”. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 51 (1): 94–103. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000001764. ISSN 0195-9131. PMC 6303131. PMID 30153194.

4-Schoenfeld, Brad J.; Grgic, Jozo; Ogborn, Dan; Krieger, James W. (2017-12). “Strength and Hypertrophy Adaptations Between Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis”. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 31 (12): 3508–3523. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000002200. ISSN 1533-4287. PMID 28834797.

5-Knowles, Olivia E.; Drinkwater, Eric J.; Urwin, Charles S.; Lamon, Séverine; Aisbett, Brad (2018-9). “Inadequate sleep and muscle strength: Implications for resistance training”. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. 21 (9): 959–968. doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2018.01.012. ISSN 1878-1861. PMID 29422383.

6-Burke, L. M. (1997-3). “Nutrition for post-exercise recovery”. Australian Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. 29 (1): 3–10. ISSN 0813-6289. PMID 9127682.