Everything German seems to be more efficient. Their public transport, their engineering and even their programming. German Volume Training (GVT) was first imported to the western lifting public in the 1970s, a break-out secret from their Olympic program. Also known as the ’10 sets method’, it is a brutally simple but effective training modality that was used by Olympic weightlifters in the off-season to pack on muscle.
The system works because of the principle of ‘adaptability’. We put a huge stress on the motor units of the chosen muscle group – 10 sets of 10 to be exact – and that muscle group has two choices: adapt or die. Invariably, it chooses to adapt, and to adapt to an increased stress it must get bigger and stronger.
German Volume Training is not a precision instrument. There is nothing subtle about the training protocol: no focus on different angles and separating muscles into sections. You pick a lift. You do it for 10×10. You eat, rest and recover. You get bigger.
Be prepared for lots of soreness, so ensure that your recovery protocols are spot on. We are trying to grow the muscles here, and you can’t do that on a caloric deficit and four hours of sleep a night!
German Volume Training: exercise selection
Firstly, and most importantly, you are only going to pick two exercises per muscle group, not body part. I know this might be a shock to some who do fifteen exercises for the lower pecs alone, but as I said before there is nothing subtle about this program. You will only do four different exercises per session, and we will be working antagonistic pairs, I’ll show you how that looks shortly.
For chest you want to be using bench or incline bench. Dumbbells are OK. Dips are probably not great as unless you can do an immaculate 10×10 dips to start with, there is no way of lowering your own bodyweight while you’re in the gym. If you are adept at chin ups then use these but the same caveat applies.
For back, deadlift is OK but not my favourite because it is so taxing that bad form can creep in during the latter stages. Better to stick to a row variety; chest supported row, Pendlay row or good old-fashioned 45-degree barbell rows work just fine. You can use machines, but I wouldn’t do your main lift of the session on them, unless you have no alternative.
For legs exercises I would usually say it’s hard to look further than the barbell back squat but prepare to be gasping for air and likely vomiting if you do a genuine 10 sets of 10. I would advise extreme caution in selecting this lift.
Front squats are also a no-go because you will end up passing out with the bar on your windpipe for that long! The leg press machine generally works well – but make sure you’re not a Half-Rep Hero like many that use that bit of kit. You could use a goblet squat if you prefer.
For shoulders, a dumbbell or barbell overhead press can’t be beaten. Lateral raises on cables are a nice accompaniment.
For arms, 10×10 curls will see you right, whether barbell or dumbbell, standing or sitting. I would also suggest skullcrushers or dumbbell kickbacks to ensure that you are balanced.
German Volume Training: programming rules
Now that we have chosen our lifts, let’s put it together in a week’s training plan. Play around with this until it works for you, but some things are non-negotiable.
1) Choose a weight that is 60% of your 1RM and no more.
2) Every other day is a rest day – do not train back-to-back days
3) Your “A” and “B” lifts will be done for 10×10
4) Your “C” and “D” lifts will be done for 3×10
5) 90 seconds rest between each set. No more. Get yourself a timer or a stopwatch – don’t use your phone because you will get distracted!
6) After your 4 lifts are done, stretch and go home. You may feel in the first week that it is over too quickly or your weights are too light. Enjoy this. It won’t last.
7) Do this program properly, with intensity for a month and then do something else. If you are giving your all this is not something that you can keep doing for months on end.
German Volume Training: sample program
Monday – Chest and backA: Dumbbell Bench Press 10×10
B: Barbell Row 10×10
C: Cable crossovers 3×10
D: Cable reverse flys 3×10
Tuesday – rest
Wednesday – Legs and core
A: Leg Press 10×10
B: Romanian Deadlift 10×10
C: Hanging Leg Raises 3×10
D: Back Extensions 3×10
Thursday – rest
Friday – Shoulders and Arms
A: Dumbbell Overhead Press 10×10
B: Cable Lateral Raises 10×10
C: Bicep curls 3×10
D: Dumbbell kickbacks 3×10
Saturday & Sunday – rest, or mobility work
Remember to always do:
One set of A.
Rest 90 seconds.
One set of B.
Once you have done all 10 sets of 10 then move on to your C and D sets. Keep the rest periods at 90 seconds even for this.
With your C and D lifts you should focus on tempo – we write this like this: 3-0-2 – which for a bicep curl means 3 seconds in the concentric (or raising) stage and 2 seconds in the eccentric (or lowering) stage.
Ensuring you are following a tempo plan will help you achieve Time Under Tension which will only add to your hypertrophic response. Don’t fret about tempo for your A and B lifts, you’ve got enough to be focusing on with just getting through the 10 sets!
As this is only a 4-week training block, don’t worry too much about progression but if by the end of the second week you’re still thinking “this is easy” then you are not lifting enough. The last set should be a real challenge. If it isn’t, up the weight incrementally.
“What if I can’t complete the full 10 sets?” That’s OK. If you fail on, say, set 5, then drop the weight slightly for the next 5 sets. Next week, keep the weight the same and you may fail on set 8. Drop the weight for last two sets. 10×10 is somewhat aspirational – if you’re really pushing it you may not get all 100 reps. This is fine!
Want to build your glutes and hamstrings in 2022? Ditch the stiff-legged deadlifts and do single-leg squats instead
Single-leg squats, and not stiff-legged deadlifts, should be your go-to exercise if you want to build your glutes and hamstrings, according to a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
Strong glutes and hamstrings are essential if you want a big deadlift or squat, or if you’re just looking to give Kim Kardashian a run for her money in the ginormous ass stakes.
Researchers at the Texas State University took 18 female students who were experienced in training with weights. They attached electrodes to their legs to measure how hard the gluteus maximus and hamstrings had to work during a series of different exercises.
The participants performed squats, stiff-legged deadlifts and single-leg squats.
The results (combining both eccentric and concentric phases of the movements) clearly show that the single-leg squat outperformed both the squat and the stiff-legged deadlift when it came to muscle activation. The superiority of single-leg squats was especially pronounced when it came to the glutes.
Click here to read more about this study and how to put it into effect in your own routine
German Volume Training is a big, scary beast. There is no denying it. It certainly should not be attempted by anyone who is not committed wholeheartedly to the program, and it is absolutely not for beginners.
However, if your training has got stuck in a rut recently, or you feel that you need something to give your muscle growth a kickstart, give this a try. Attack it fully and with all your might, rest up appropriately, and for god’s sake eat plenty of whole foods afterwards and on your rest days. This is not the time to be cutting carbs.
The gains you make will be substantial if you do it properly. When you are busting out of your work-shirts don’t forget to say ‘danke’.
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