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German Volume Training Program

German Volume Training (GVT) was popularised by the late great Charles Poliquin back in 1996, though the practice of volume training has been around far longer. The main principle is to use time under tension (TUT) to elicit muscle growth, by attempting 10 sets of each exercise. It’s known for being one of the best ways to put on mass quickly, and trainees can see 5-10 lbs of muscle over 1-2 months.

charles poliquin strength sensei
Strength Coach Charles Poliquin

Weekly Layout

German Volume Training works on a 5 day cycle, which you repeat for 30-60 days
  • Select ONE exercise where you will perform 10 sets of 10 reps for each muscle group
  • Optionally, add in 3 sets of 10 reps for an isolation movement of the same muscles
  • Choose compound movements that recruit a lot of muscle mass. Do not use machines.
  • If you complete all 100 reps, increase the weight in the next session by 2.5-5%

The Main Exercises

While there are no essential exercises in GVT, there are some where common sense says to include them. Day 1’s chest and back translates to a horizontal press and a horizontal row. The obvious choices there would be the Barbell Bench Press and the Bent Over Barbell Row (10 sets of 10 reps). For assistance exercises (3 sets of 10 reps) there’s more freedom, perhaps Dumbbell Flyes and Dumbbell Single Arm Row.

Day 1 – Bench Press

Leg day can be split into Quad dominant and Hamstring dominant exercises. Conventional Deadlift would likely be too much here, not least because your back will be wrecked from day one. I would strongly recommend a Barbell Back Squat and Romanian Deadlift. For assistance a Reverse Lunge or Bulgarian Split Squat would be nice for the quads and a Hip Thrust or even a more isolation move like Weighted Calf Raises. The assistance work is there to help bring up lagging body parts which you feel need extra attention.

Day 2 – Barbell Back Squat

Arm day is simply Triceps and Biceps. For the former I love a Close Grip Bench Press* or Skull Crusher, then an EZ Bar Bicep Curl with Wide or Narrow Grip. Most people use the assistance work for their shoulders, bearing in mind your front deltoids get enough action from pressing that would mean doing Side Lateral Raises and Rear Delt Raises.

Day 4 – Skull Crushers

*hands too close puts strain on your wrists, go just inside the knurling with hands on the smooth part of the bar

Important Considerations

Tempo is KEY. Following the suggested tempo is what makes this so effective. It’s represented as 40X0, meaning you take four seconds for the eccentric part of the lift (nearly always involves lowering the bar), no pause, “X” means performing the concentric part quickly (coming up from the squat, straightening the arms in bench press), no pause, and into the next rep.

Starting weight should be 60% of your 1RM, but if you are in doubt go slightly lighter on the first workout (trust me on this!). Depending on how much training you’ve been doing, you’ll be in a whole new world of muscle soreness the day (read: week) after 10 sets of 10. The first few sets should not be hard and some people experience a second wind, where sets 6,7 and 8 are easier than the previous ones. No single rep will make or break your physique, it’s the cumulative effect of ~100 reps that does it. At 4 seconds for the lowering phase each set will take around 50-60 seconds.

Rest periods should be around 90 seconds. Be strict on yourself as it’s a slippery slope when you start allowing an extra 10-20 seconds here or there. When the timer gets to 90 seconds you should be in position and ready to lift. It sucks, but great results don’t come easy.

This is a program to be done once a year, not kept indefinitely. It is more than your body can handle, but over a short period of time that’s acceptable and initiates muscle growth. After completing GVT, take a few days off, and return to your regular program.

German Volume Training: tough but effective
Image: Shutterstock

Sample Workout

Day 1 – Chest & Back

  • Barbell Bench Press – 10 sets of 10 reps (90 secs)
  • Barbell Bent Over Row – 10 sets of 10 reps (90 secs)
  • Dumbbell Chest Flyes – 3 sets of 10 reps (90 secs)
  • Dumbbell Single Arm Row – 3 sets of 10 reps (90 secs)

Day 2 – Legs

  • Barbell Back Squat – 10 sets of 10 reps (90 secs)
  • Romanian Deadlift – 10 sets of 10 reps (90 secs)
  • Dumbbell Reverse Lunge – 3 sets of 10 reps (90 secs)
  • Weighted Calf Raises – 3 sets of 10 reps (90 secs)

Day 4 – Arms

  • Close Grip Bench Press – 10 sets of 10 reps (90 secs)
  • EZ Bar Bicep Curl – 10 sets of 10 reps (90 secs)
  • Side Lateral Raises – 3 sets of 10 reps (90 secs)
  • Rear Delt Raise – 3 sets of 10 reps (90 secs)

Good luck!