On Volume

push it to the limit

All things are subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth. - Friedrich Nietzsche

What Is German Volume Training?

Some of the world’s greatest bodybuilders used German volume training (GVT) to gain mass. Also known as the 10×10 workout, this training method has been around since the ’70s. It was popularized by Charles Poliquin, a Canadian strength coach and published author. 

GVT involves a lot of volume, little rest, and a limited timeframe. Generally speaking, programs are intense and short or more moderate in its intensity and longer. GVT is the former: you go hard for three weeks and then you don’t try it again for at least six months. How else does one become a blond beast?

When I was a kid, I realized that in the Western world, German weightlifters were probably the most advanced in training results - Poliquin

The Germans would do periodization with 10 sets of 10, 10 sets of five, and 10 sets of three. They were big believers in the law of repeated efforts: one of the reasons people don’t get strong is because they simply don’t do enough sets. One has to put in the work if one expects to yield the results. Strength is not given, it is earned.

Does German Volume Training Build Strength?

GVT is generally considered a hypertrophy program, but can it build strength — say, for a powerlifter?

It would be for a powerlifter who wants to move up a weight class and wants the weight they gain to be quality weight. One version I sometimes recommend for powerlifters is 10×6 for a cycle, then do cluster training or another phase with 10×3. So go in and out of the periodization, but the rule is you’re using constant weight until you can do all 10 sets. - Poliquin

One is always looking for an edge. Whether it’s a new training protocol, more advanced exercise equipment or experimenting with various supplements, one will try anything to get stronger, faster and leaner. One is constantly striving to be better today than one was yesterday. The path towards perfection is never-ending.

German Volume Training is the game-changer one seeks.

GVT holds dear one of the most fundamental muscle-building axioms: volume is key in the quest for muscle growth. It utilizes a 10x10 repetition scheme to shock the body into action. For a given exercise, that means 10 working sets of 10 repetitions.

GVT is not for the faint of heart. It will test the resolve of even the most experienced athletes. It will cause one to shake and tremble and curse the day one was born. One will want to slow down. One will want to stop. One will try to convince oneself that one has done enough. It is never enough. Once one feels one has hit the limit, one needs to push even harder.

GVT done right yields awe inspiring results. One will experience muscle growth and development unlike anything one has experienced previously. One will become the Ubermensch.

The preparation phase

There is a distinct correlation between having a plan and achieving a goal. Virtually every study ever done on the subject confirms this.

Make sure to prime for success by knowing exactly what one is going to do and how one is going to do it before setting out.

Exercise selection

Make impactful choices that will give yield the best risk reward ratio. Don’t opt for easy machine movements or isolation exercises. They don’t lend themselves to heavy weights (loads) and can overwork joints, tendons and ligaments.

Think compound movements like squats, bench presses and overhead presses. These movements bend and manipulate the body at multiple points of flexion, working many muscle groups at once.

Determine split

Training splits refer to what muscle groups one works and when. Popular splits include the “bro split” of training two muscle groups per session, like chest and triceps, legs and back, shoulders and arms or the “full body” split, where one works the entire body in one session.

GVT requires more of a hybrid due to the intense nature of the activity. Here’s an example of a five-day GVT training split:

  • Day 1: Chest & Back

  • Day 2: Legs & Abs

  • Day 3: Off

  • Day 4: Arms & Shoulders

  • Day 5: Off

There is room to adjust based on personal preference, but always make sure to work antagonistic muscle groups on the same day. In other words, don’t work muscle groups where there is too much cross-over, for example chest and shoulders.

Also keep in mind it’s optimal to work each muscle group at least once every four or five days.

Establish the correct starting weight

Start with approximately 60% of your one rep maximum. If unaware of one rep maximum, pick a weight which could be performed a single 20 rep set with.

For example, if one can squat 200 pounds for 1 rep, one would use 120 pounds for this exercise.

For any accessory movements, go with isolation or machine exercises. Perform 3 sets for 15–20 reps - light weight.

The execution phase

All workout sessions begin with a proper warmup.

A warmup is key to maximizing performance and minimizing injury risk by priming the cardiovascular system and muscles for use. Aim for 5–10 minutes of light to moderate movement. If needed, gently foam roll any tender areas for another 3–5 minutes.

Now the fun begins. Considering the training split from above, here’s an example of a German Volume Training workout:

Day 1

  • Bench Press: 10x10 (alternate weekly with Pushups)

  • Lat Pull-downs or Pull-ups: 10x10 (alternate weekly with Bent-Over Rows)

  • Cable Flys: 3x20 (alternate weekly with Pec Dec)

  • One Arm Dumbbell Rows: 3x20 (alternate weekly with Seated Rows)

Day 2

  • Barbell Squats: 10x10 (alternate weekly with Leg Press)

  • Lunges: 10x10 (alternate weekly with Deadlifts)

  • Weighted Sit-ups: 3x20 (alternate weekly with Hanging Leg Raises)

  • Calf Raises: 3x20 (alternate weekly with Bodyweight Lunges)

Day 3

  • Off

Day 4

  • Dips : 10x10 (alternate weekly with Tricep Extensions)

  • Barbell Curls: 10x10 (alternate weekly with Chin-ups)

  • Dumbbell Lateral Raises: 3x20 (alternate weekly with Lateral Raise machine)

  • Bent-Over Reverse Laterals: 3x20 (alternate weekly with Reverse Pec Dec)

Day 5

  • Off

A couple of additional notes:

  • Rest for 90 seconds between sets

  • Only add additional weight when one is able to perform 10 reps for each of the 10 sets

  • DO NOT train to failure. One doesn’t need additional intensity

  • While tempo is not a major concern, renowned strength coach Charles Poliquin suggests a 4 second negative (i.e. for a barbell squat, 4 seconds on the way down).

  • Form is paramount. If one can’t maintain form, the set is over. “Form is more important than weight,” says C. J. Murphy, a competitive powerlifter and strongman. “Every rep should look crisp and smooth.”

  • Concentrate on each muscle as it lengthens and contracts. Make sure prime movers (glutes, quads, lats, core) are doing the majority of the work. Ancillary muscles (hamstrings, biceps, calves) are there for support and stability.

The recovery phase

Muscles aren’t built in the gym. They’re built at rest.

The stimulus to build muscle size and strength is what’s generated during a workout. The actual muscle building processes occur during recovery. It’s what occurs when not training that has the greatest impact on muscle growth.

German volume training is hard. Really hard. It’s imperative to prioritize recovery just as one would prioritize training and nutrition.

Get enough sleep

Prioritizing sleep is essential for any muscle building to occur. Most notably for weight training, sleep impacts tissue repair and cognitive function.

Both are necessary to fuel an intense training protocol like German Volume Training. Aim for at least 7 hours each night, try for 8.

Eat Like It’s Your Job 

German volume training is not for the faint of heart, and it’s also not meant for anyone looking to cut. This is a program designed for people looking to get big, and when you workout to get big you also need to eat to get big. 

Eat plenty of protein while on the program to help your muscles recover from the intense workouts — at least two grams per kilogram of body weight, but one can even go as high as three and a half grams without issue. 

Prioritize protein from whole food sources before adding in supplements. Getting proteins from real food always outperforms protein from a whey container. Supplements are just that, supplements to whole food sources.

Increase caloric intake slightly on training days. Due to the intense nature of GVT, one burns more calories during workouts and requires more calories for recovery. Shoot for a 10% increase, if one is eating 2,000 calories per day, start with 2,200.

Wrapping Up

One thing Charles Poliquin made clear repeatedly is that this program is not for the faint of heart and even if one is hyper-driven, one still shouldn’t attempt it more than once or twice a year. But if one makes room for GVT ensure that one gets enough sleep, amble sustenance, and adequate rest periods. If done correctly GVT will yield both size and strength.

Self-control is the chief element in self-respect, and self-respect is the chief element in courage. - Thucydides

Ones body is in for a shock with this sudden increase in volume. And shock is exactly what the body needs to spur physiological changes.

One can expect to be sore as well. Especially the first week or so. Respond accordingly. If one is too tired or sore heading into a training day, postpone until tomorrow. Opt for active recovery or light cardio instead.

Remember, muscles grow and develop while at rest. Start slow. Get acclimated. Not all gains come in the first week.

Overall, one can expect ones fitness to reach new heights. Especially if ones progress has seemingly stalled. Embrace the process - the strain, the soreness, the pain.