German volume training (GVT) was popularised by German National Weightlifting Coach Rolf Feser in the mid’70’s and used primary as a tool to move their weightlifters up a weight class in the sport. It was also a method that bodybuilder Vince Gironda popularised in the United States.
Strength Coach Charles Poliquin (Strength Sensei)
The late Canadian Strength Coach popularised this approach in the 1990’s. However, Charles through his knowledge, research and wisdom enhanced the protocol with the addition of training agonist and antagonist muscles together in a superset fashion, with the addition of time under tension or tempo.
The Simplicity of GVT
First and foremost GVT is a volume loading scheme. You perform 10 sets of 10 reps with 90 seconds of rest between sets starting the programme with 60% of your 1RM. Initially you will find the weight feels comfortable for the number of reps prescribed (10), however over the course of the workout, set by set you will accumulate fatigue, and a drop in reps completed will become evident.
Typical Coach Poliquin GVT workout
As previous stated Charles added the addition of pairing agonists and antagonists, to the 10 x 10 principle. Using Charles methodology the format of a GVT workout would consist of 10 sets of 10 reps using two multi-muscle multi-joint (compound) exercises.
A1 Barbell Back Squat 10 reps @ 4-0-1-0 tempo rest 90 seconds
A2 Lying Leg Curl 10 reps @ 4-0-1-0 tempo rest 90 seconds – go back to A1
Following the completion of the 10 sets of 10 reps two assistance exercises are performed in a B1/B2 series for three sets of 10 – 12 reps. Using the example workout above the B1/B2 series would be as follows;
B1 Standing Calf Raises 10 – 12 reps @ 2020 tempo rest 60 seconds
B2 Hanging Knee Raises 10 – 12 reps @ 2020 tempo rest 60 seconds – go back to B1
Each muscle would be trained once a week, with the split being:
- Day 1: Chest & Back
- Day 2: Quadriceps and Hamstrings
- Day 3: Off
- Day 4: Biceps and Triceps
- Day 5: Off
- Day 6: Repeat
Although there are few variables in GVT due to its simplicity on paper, the system has been questioned as to its effectiveness. Every training principle and system has a time and a place in your programming for continued progress, however as you adapt the less effective it will become in achieving the desired training effective, however this is true of any programme that you repeat frequently.
In my experience when discussing this programme with coaches, athletes and others who have either programmed it for their clients or used it themselves I have noted key differences between how the system is designed and meant to be performed in comparison to how it is actually used.
The programme and system of GVT is designed around the use of multi muscle multi joint exercises or biggest bang for your buck exercises, so squats are in leg extensions are out, triceps dips are in triceps kickbacks are out. The goal is to stimulate the largest pool of muscle fibres as possible, to elevate growth hormone, this just is not viable using these less effective exercises.
Inappropriate Weight Selection & Progression
Using the above principles associated with GVT you should start with 60% of your 1RM, the key is to complete all 10 sets using this load, set by set fatigue will increase, performance will decrease and completing 10 reps towards the back end of the 10 sets may not happen, at this point you should not decrease the load, keep the load, and keep using the same load only increasing the load when you have successfully complete all 100 reps using that load.
Once you have successfully completed 10 sets of 10 at a given load you then increase the load incrementally, lower body no more than a 5kg total increase and upper body no more than a 2.5kg increase. Any higher an increase and more often than not your volume during the workout will significantly decrease effectively making the workout useless, or not creating the desired a stimulus.
Time under tension / Tempo
When performing the A1/A2 series a 4-0-1-0 tempo should be used, during the B1/B2 series you can have more flexibility but a 3-0-1-0 or 2-0-2-0 tempo should be used. Time under tension is an essential component for stimulating a higher number of motor units from your pool of muscle fibres, aswell as increasing growth hormone. A further benefit to increased time under tension is exercise execution, performing the exercises with reduced time under tension will not only impact your results from the programme but it will also demonstrate an inability to control load, and can potential lead to poor exercise technique which will lead to poor progression.
This is the most common aspect of Charles GVT that is not followed as it should be prescribed. The programming is designed to train all major muscle groups, over a five day week training three days out of five with two rest days. What I commonly see is training three days out of every seven. Training three out of every five days the density of the programme is greater as you are stimulating the same muscle more frequently, every sixth day of the three in five rotation compared to every eighth day of the three in seven rotation, using this the frequency and therefore density is not evident.
Chest & Back
Decline Dumbbell Press 10 x 10 4010 90 secs
Chins (palms facing) 10 x 10 4010 90 secs
Incline Dumbbell Flyes 3 x 10-12 3020 60 secs
Dumbbell Row 3 x 10-12 3020 60 secs
Legs & Trunk
Back Squat 10 x 10 4010 90 secs
Lying Leg Curl (toes out) 10 x 10 4010 90 secs
Hanging Knees Raises 3 x 10-12 2020 60 secs
Seated Calf Raises 3 x 10-12 2020 60 secs
Parallel Dips 10 x 10 4010 90 secs
Incline Hammer Curls 10 x 10 4010 90 secs
Bent Over Lateral Raises 3 x 10-12 2010 60 secs
Seated Dumbbell Lateral Raises 3 x 10-12 2010 60 secs
GVT is one of the most documented training systems for increased muscle mass, each article with the authors own unique take on the programme. If you want results using this system, adhere to Charles principles and prescribed variables within and you will be rewarded.
Beyond German Volume Training
Charles designed GVT to progress over three separate phases number including an accumulation phase (volume 10 sets of 10 reps) a recovery phase and an intensification phase (intensity/strength).
I will cover the recovery and advanced GVT principle in part two of this article.