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German Volume Training: A New Look At An Old Way To Build Mass & Strength

Supersets and tri-sets allow you to perform a lot of work in a short period of time. The rest-pause method allows you to use heavier weights so you can recruit the higher-threshold muscle fibers, and eccentric training enables you to overcome strength plateaus.

The bottom line is that almost any training method will work (provided you do it with intensity!), at least for the few weeks it takes for your body to adapt to it. There is, however, one training system that stands above all the rest. It’s brutally hard, but I’ve found it to be a very effective way to pack on muscle fast!

In strength-coaching circles, this method is often called the “10 sets method.” Because it has its roots in German-speaking countries, I like to call it German Volume Training. To the best of my knowledge, this training system originated in Germany in the mid-’70s and was popularized by Rolf Feser, who was then the National Coach of Weightlifting. A similar protocol was promoted by Vince Gironda in the US, but regardless of who actually invented it, it works.

In Germany, the 10 sets method was used in the off-season to help weightlifters gain lean body mass.

It was so efficient that lifters routinely moved up a full weight class within 12 weeks.

German Volume Training was the base program of Canadian weightlifter Jacques Demers, a silver medalist in the Los Angeles Olympic Games who was coached by Pierre Roy. Jacques was known in weightlifting circles for his massive thighs, and he gives credit to the German method for achieving such a spectacular level of hypertrophy. The same method was also used by Bev Francis in her early days of bodybuilding to pack on muscle.

How it works?

The German Volume Training program works because it targets a group of motor units, exposing them to an extensive volume of repeated efforts, specifically 10 sets of a single exercise. The body adapts to the extraordinary stress by hypertrophying the targeted fibers. To say this program adds muscle fast is probably an understatement. Gains of 10 pounds or more in six weeks are not uncommon, even in experienced lifters!

Goals and Guidelines

The goal of the German Volume Training method is to complete 10 sets of 10 reps with the same weight for each exercise. You want to begin with a weight you could lift for 20 reps to failure if you had to. For most people, on most exercises, that would represent 60 percent of their 1RM load. Therefore, if you can bench press 300 pounds for 1 rep, you would use 180 pounds for this exercise.

For lifters new to this method, I recommend using the following bodypart splits:

When using this German Volume Training program or any other, you should keep a detailed journal of the exact sets/reps and rest intervals performed, and only count the repetitions completed in strict form. Here are a few more guidelines to ensure optimal progress:

Rest Intervals:

When bodybuilders start with this method, they often question its value for the first several sets because the weight won’t feel heavy enough. However, there is minimal rest between sets (about 60 seconds when performed in sequence and 90-120 seconds when performed as a superset), which incurs cumulative fatigue. (Interestingly enough, you might find you get stronger again during the eighth and ninth sets. This is because of a short-term neural adaptation.)

Because of the importance of the rest intervals, you should use a stopwatch to keep the rest intervals constant. This is very important, as it becomes tempting to lengthen the rest time as you fatigue.

Tempo:

For long-range movements such as squats, dips and chins, use a 40X0 tempo; this means the eccentric portion of the exercise is 4 seconds and the concentric portion is done as rapidly as possible. For movements such as curls and triceps extensions, use a 3020 tempo.

Number of Exercises:

Perform one, and only one, exercise per bodypart. Therefore, select exercises that recruit a lot of muscle mass. Triceps kickbacks and leg extensions are definitely out; squats and bench presses are definitely in. For supplementary work for individual bodyparts (like triceps and biceps), you can do 3 sets of 10-20 reps.

Training Frequency:

Because German Volume Training is such an intense program, it’ll take you longer to recover. In fact, if you’re familiar with the writings of Peter Sisco and John Little, you’ll find that the average “Power Factor Rating” of the 10-sets method is about 8 billion.

Consequently, one training session every four to five days per bodypart is plenty.

Overload Mechanism:

Once you’re able to do 10 sets of 10 with constant rest intervals, increase the weight on the bar by 4 to 5 percent, and repeat the process. Refrain from using forced reps, negatives or burns. The volume of the work will take care of the hypertrophy. Expect to have some deep muscle soreness without having to resort to set-prolonging techniques. In fact, after doing a quad and hams session with this method, it takes the average bodybuilder about five days to stop limping.

Here are two examples of a German Volume Training workout, one for the beginner and one for the immediate-level trainee.

Beginner/Intermediate German Volume Training Program: Phase 1

This is a sample German Volume Training routine based on a five-day cycle. Once you’ve used this method for six workouts per bodypart, it’s time to move on to a more intensive program for a three-week period.

Day 1: Chest and Back

Notes: Rest 90 seconds between each “A” exercise and each superset; rest 60 seconds between each “B” exercise and each superset. Incidentally, I recommend only 3 sets of 10 in this program for the “B” exercises. The “B” exercises constitute supplementary work, and doing 10 sets of them would result in overtraining.

Day 2: Legs and Abs

Get a weightlifting belt and buckle it. Attach it to the low pulley of a cable crossover machine. Lie down on your back in front of the machine, and hook your feet in the belt. Then pull your knees towards your chest.

Notes: Rest 90 seconds between each “A” exercise and each superset; rest 60 seconds between each “B” exercise and each superset.

Day 3: Off

Day 4: Arms and Shoulders

While seated on the edge of a bench with your torso bent over, raise the dumbbells out to the side, making sure the top two knuckles (the ones closest to your thumb) are in line with your ears at the top of the movement.

Notes: Rest 90 seconds between each “A” exercise and each superset; rest 60 seconds between each “B” exercise and each superset. An “X” in the tempo means to move as fast as possible, keeping the weight under control.

Day 5: Off

Beginner/Intermediate German Volume Training Program: Phase 2

After six of those five-day cycles, I recommend you do a three-week phase in which the average set is 6-8 reps, and do only 4-6 sets per bodypart over a five-day cycle, or you can do any other split that suits your recovery pattern. After this three-week block, you can return to the German Volume Training method by doing the following routine of 10 sets of 6 reps. In the exercises that are prescribed for 10 sets, use a load with which you’d normally be able to do 12 repetitions. The goal in this phase is to do 10 sets of 6 with that load.
Sample 10 Sets of 6 Routine:

Day 1: Chest and Back

Notes: Rest 90 seconds between each “A” exercise and each superset; rest 60 seconds between each “B” exercise and each superset.

Day 2: Legs and Abs

Notes: Rest 90 seconds between each “A” exercise and each superset; rest 60 seconds between each “B” exercise and each superset.

Day 3: Off
Day 4: Arms and Shoulders

While seated on the edge of a bench with your torso bent over, raise the dumbbells out to the side, making sure the top two knuckles (the ones closest to your thumb) are in line with your ears at the top of the movement.

Notes: Rest 90 seconds between each “A” exercise and each superset; rest 60 seconds between each “B” exercise and each superset.

Day 5: Off

This German Volume Training program is elegant in its simplicity, but that’s what the Germans do best. Just ask any Porsche or BMW owner.

Author: Charles Poliquin

Charles Poliquin is one of the most accomplished strength coaches in the world. He has designed workouts for  Olympic medalists in 17 different sports,  world record holders in 10 different sports, and professional athletes in the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB, and UK Premier League. He has lectured or consulted for a variety of high-profile organizations such as the US Secret Service, Walt Disney Corporation and the World Swimming Congress. Poliquin has written 600-plus articles and 10 books. His works have been translated into 12 different languages: English, French, Chinese, Finnish, German, Italian, Czech, Slovak, Spanish, Japanese, Dutch and Swedish. His innovative work in strength training is frequently cited in peer-reviewed literature.
Website: http://www.charlespoliquin.com

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68 Comments

  1. Troy says:

    Great Article. I’ve been working through a GVT program using kettlebells. It has been one of the harder workout programs I’ve tried – pushes the body in very different ways.

    I liked the comment “takes the average bodybuilder about five days to stop limping.” oh the burn!

  2. Smith says:

    Looks like a solid routine, and amazing photos! Great work Simplyshredded! A+ site

  3. Tom says:

    Great article! Will try this routine out for sure!

  4. Ty says:

    So should every A1 workout be supersetted with an A2 workout? Or do you do A1 10 sets and then move on to A2 after you’ve completed all the sets? Great article! Thanks

  5. Leon says:

    Is this program supposed to be repeated after the second week do we go back to the first routine an start again

  6. tom says:

    Do we superset a-1 with a-2 and b-1 with b-2? or are they done seperately? awesome site guys!

  7. Garry says:

    @Tom

    A1 and A2, then B1 and B2.

  8. dan says:

    what about days 6 and 7? are they both rest days???

  9. Rosso says:

    Dan – i think its a 5 day cycle routine ie once day 5 is past go back to day 1.

  10. Brendan says:

    Yeah what about days 6 and 7? Does anyone know for sure?

  11. Lawrence says:

    Brend its as Rosso said after day 5 you go back to day 1.

  12. Stirling says:

    I’m still a little bit confused with the sets/superset. Do you perform A1, rest 90 secs, then perform A2 and rest 90 secs before returning to A1 (more like an alternating set). or do you perform A1 then immediately perform A2 (more like superset)
    Many thanks

  13. TomW says:

    Same question as Stirling

  14. EMS says:

    What about Traps?? I realize that they will be worked in some of the exercises as secondary involvement, but are they not an important aspect to look at when building on quality proportional mass. I mean maybe you could add in a compound movement such as Upright rows or something that would hit not only the traps, but shoulders and arms.

    Thanks

  15. rafa says:

    @Stirling: The way i understood it, you do 10 sets of A1, with a 90 sec break in between each set.
    There is no special time between A1 and A2, as they work completely different muscle.

  16. Stirling says:

    Thanks for clearing that up iv been doin it now for a week and I’m shattered! But its a good program

  17. dmnz says:

    where do we incorporate the cardio?

  18. stevea says:

    rafa, striling. A-1 and A-2 is considered 1 superset. so when the instructions state”take a 90 sec break between each “A” exercise and between each superset”, you perform a-1, rest 90 seconds, perform A-2, rest 90 seconds, etc. then once you complete the 10 sets you move on to superset B.

    Supersets can often be performed by working two separate muscle groups together to make up one superset. The time in between each exercise within in the superset is explained in the article.

  19. stevea says:

    EMS I was thinking the same thing. I began incorporating dumbbell shrugs with the B superset on the chest and back day. B-1, flyes, B-2 rows, B-3, shrugs. The shoulders are worked minimally when performing shrugs, so i think it’s a good point in the program to incorporate a trap exercise..I could be wrong though.

  20. rafa says:

    haha no wonder training was so brutal :-)
    it helped my strength anyway….

  21. Chris says:

    Can someone explain this in easier vocab?

    A1 and A2 are a superset? Isn’t the point of the superset to go immidiateley from one exercise to another without rest?

    So A1 Set 1 10 reps then right to a2 then rest 90 seconds? the a1 again etc Why would you need to rest 90seconds after a1? a1 and a2 are dif muscle groups? What about B? Superset or no?

  22. Anonymous says:

    For the arms and shoulders days, why is it set up to do 10 sets of triceps work rather then shoulder?

  23. Justin says:

    How many rotations (i.e. 5 day cycles) is sufficient before plateau? And do you move from beginner to intermediate after that? If not how have some of you determined whether to start with beginner or intermediate? I already workout 5-6 days a week but I want to try something new like this program.

  24. sarah says:

    i do very similar to this. when i want to bring up a body part i do 300 reps of a single exercise – i usually use sets of 15 or 20 depending on the exercise. i do this for the same body part 2 days in a row (same body part not same exercise).

    this summer i’ve really been trying to bring up my legs! i’ve had amazing results with this style of training. if you recover slowly this is probably not for you!

    sunday i did 20X15 leg xtensions (i do these alternate widow maker style) then yesterday i did 15X20 leg press. today i did 20×15 stiff leg deadlifts and tomorrow i will do 300 reps of some other glute/ham exercise. i do 40 minutes of high intensity interval running before my weight training and abs afterward everyday. i sound crazy, right?

  25. Matt B says:

    I did this several years ago and I had a trainer teach me the workout. He had me do A1 and A2 as a superset then a 90 second rest. When I did the B1 and B2 I supersetted then a 60 second rest. I did the 6 week cycle then took two weeks for a break. I gained 12 pounds during this routine while eating the same diet and supplements that I used before the Germain volume training. To give you an idea how hard it is. When I did the leg routine it was the first time I ever puked.

  26. Guest says:

    Could you please tell me what routine to be followed after following german volume training…

  27. Kvasi says:

    I do not have the opportunity to train during weekends, so I prefer working out at least 4 days on week days. But doing chest/back on both Mondays and Fridays seems a bit much. Any suggestions?

  28. Ryan says:

    At the risk of sounding like that idiot that asks the same question as 10 people before… I want to clear this up as I plan to start this today. So you do one set of A1, then one set of A2 (with no rest) and then 90 seconds break followed by the second set of A1 then followed immediately after by a set of A2 and so on. Is this right? Or are you saying you do a set of A1, then immediately A2 and continue this through all 10 sets and then have 90 seconds rest? Lamens terms please haha.

  29. kalai says:

    i hope this article would have a downloadble section ….

  30. James Harrison says:

    You follow the program as follows

    A1 superset with A2 (with 90 seconds in between)
    B1 superset with B2

    We do this with our clients all the time and follow Poliquins theories. Great workout

  31. Guest says:

    This workouts a killer!

  32. Anonymous says:

    You are not suppose to superset A-1 and A-2. The whole point of this routine is rid the use of set-prolonging techniques, i.e. drop sets, forced reps and supersets. You complete all the exercises in order. First, complete A-1, 10 x 10 with 90 sec intervals. Same thing for B-1 and then A-2 and then B-2.

  33. BJ says:

    As far as I remember, you should take day 6 and day 7 off in order to rest. Your CNS will take a beating on this program, and you will most likely get sick without enough rest.

  34. James says:

    Sounds good but how can i do this programm when it says on day 1 10 x 10 chin ups? I’m able to lift me up 6 for once :))

  35. Tom says:

    How do i incorporate a routine into this training?

  36. Asa@cov says:

    i am about to start the GVT after i have revised the method of training and i think this will be suitable for me to build size and strength. what supplements would be recommened whilst doing GVT 3 times a week. please get back to me

  37. Mad Oz says:

    Would it be a good ideat to use GVT in a cut?

  38. Krash says:

    You could safely do this on a cut, but I wouldn’t recommend it. When you roll the nutrition aspect into it, it would be not quite counter-productive, but it would defeat the purpose of your efforts when there’s other ways to do that. However, it kind of depends where you’re at already in terms of BF and what you’re trying to acheive from a holistic perspective. Most of the guys who did this used it for mass (and you can adapt it for strength). For cuts the general consensus following this would be a German body comp cycle… front/back, upper/lower, min. rest.

    I love this routine and often wonder why I ever stray away from it. When possible though, I’ll break it down to one body part a day for 5 days and rest on the weekends. Looks like this: M Chest, Tu. Back — pull-ups/DLs compounded), Wed. Shoulders, Thu. Bis/tris; Fri. Squats, weekend recover. Though you go every day, you can bang the whole thing out in under 40m. And it allows you to combine if you miss or anticipate missing a day. We start at 70-75% though and aim for 10. Once you fail before you hit 7 reps on any given set you drop 10%. I find that adds quite a bit of intensity to it, but with 6 days rest/part you have all week to get over it. I use it with clients whenever I can.

    Tip on the legs portion… you will get more out of it if you go deep with a lighter load than using power squat form. The most important thing to remember is to leave the ego in the locker room.

  39. bandan says:

    You need balls to complete one full session .. its very energy demanding

  40. Jordan says:

    @Bandan
    “You need balls to complete one full session .. its very energy demanding”
    Go hard or go home!

  41. muratjohn says:

    Hi, i was wondering if it would be alright to change the first rest day with the arms and shoulders day? I mean, after i train arms and shoulders, my arms are so sore, i feel like i need 2 full days of rest before i train chest and back. On the other side one day of rest for the arms feels plenty after the chest day. Any ideas on that? Should i change it or stick with the original plan?

  42. Sagax says:

    After phase 1 comes three weeks of lower sets lower reps.

    Is that deload phase or should I increase weights?

    And if it is deload, isn’t that a quite long time to do lighter work?

  43. Tom says:

    After phase 1 you go straight into phase 2 then back to phase 1?

  44. Vic says:

    How long does this routine take? I mean, how many weeks and how long should we hold off before getting back on it

  45. Sergio says:

    I know this questions been asked multiple times now, but it seems like there’s been a few different answers. So, one more time. Is this performed as a compound set or a superset? As in, do you perform A1- rest 90sec, then A2- rest 90sec, then back to A1 (repeating for 10 compound sets)? Or do you perform A1 & A2 back to back (no rest) as a superset, then rest 90 sec between supersets?

  46. Michael says:

    This routine is made to be supersetted. A1 and A2 Together with 90 Sec rest between each set. A1 and A2 (together) being ONE set. B1 and B2 (1 Set) with 60 Secs of rest after each set. 10 Times, it literally will take bout 40-50 minutes if you slay yourself and bring it and follow the correct rest between sets. They are opposing exercises therefore you can and should and need to superset them.

  47. md says:

    I try to incorporate my cardio on the 1day and every two days unless it falls on the leg routine so: 1day +cardio 2nd day no cardio 3day only cardio (that is day off) 5th day no cardio(legs) 6th day complete rest I can either alternate to start cardio the second day or keep it up the same way. There are no guidelines regarding that since this is a lifter program and does not include a cardio regiment. After two weeks your body feels 100 pounds. In four to 5 weeks you are a different person.

  48. Jeremiah says:

    Question regarding the following:
    “After six of those five-day cycles, I recommend you do a three-week phase in which the average set is 6-8 reps, and do only 4-6 sets per bodypart over a five-day cycle, or you can do any other split that suits your recovery pattern.”

    Am I doing recovery pattern with phase 1 workout routine or phase 2 workout routine??

  49. jason says:

    Super Sets, do your super sets A1 90 seconds then A2 rest 90 seconds repeat for 10
    same with B.

    Traps…. first of all, learn to lift with your lats, lower trap, and rhomboids … too many of you guys end up using your traps while doing a t-bar row as is. It will be ok, your upper traps are minimal in size,and stabilization importance compared to the lats, lower traps, and rhomboids. Body building is far more than just using “mirror muscles”, and first you need to build a strong frame, before you put the walls up.

    Shoulders… if you’re doing dips, you’re doing shoulders specifically anterior delts, in fact you’re also working pecs as well…. plus the other shoulders finish you off really well.

    Unless you’re using machines to do your lifting with… you’re using more than the “targeted” muscle. Even then, you can not target train. The body is a kinetic chain and it lifts as such.

  50. kirti says:

    I was wondering for the b exercises do you use the same weight for all 3 sets. Going to start this workout tomorrow and see how it works.

  51. Anonymous says:

    What if I make my own programme using same principle as this but for the main muscles, like squat 10 x 10, shoulder press, chest press etc?

  52. Jono says:

    this workout ruined me. just completed day 1 and my chest is do dead/pumped I can barely shake my protein shake!

    looking forward to legs :>

  53. Red says:

    I don’t understand what they mean about tempo “use a 40X0 tempo”. what does the 40 stand for and what does the 0 stand for? what is a 3020 tempo? can someone please make this clear?

  54. Magnus says:

    Tempo:
    40×0 stands for 4 sec reverse move and do the press etc. as quick as you can… (squats for instace… 4 sec down and explosive stand up quickly)
    3020 is the same just that you use 2 sec when u press instead of exploding. You do the move in 2 sec.. (hammercurl for instance… 4 sec down.. 2 sec up)

    this might be confusing.. but atleast i tried to help :)

  55. Mateo says:

    For the last 2.5 weeks, I have been doing 6-8 exercises for
    the same body part, and doing 10 reps with 10 sets each. I am
    over 65 years old, and have very little fatigue feeling afterward.
    I increase the weight when I have done 5 sets with 10 reps each,
    hoping to force even more. For example, on the pullover chest exercise, I start with 55 pounds and then on set #6 I add 5 pounds
    and continue to the end of the 10 sets with 10 reps each. I do not
    look like a beach body guy, but my guide tells me to continue this
    routine and I will. Will I? I try to get to the gym almost everyday, and challenge myself with spinning for 20 seconds on the bike 3 times–pedaling as fast as I can. Now that does exhaust me.

  56. steve heaney says:

    Started gvt full routine after giving legs a session. Must be a masochist loving it.never known such instant aching . Only first week and can see changes. Incredible.

  57. steve heaney says:

    Just finished first week of routine, after giving a test run with legs. must be a massacist , really loving it. Body has not stopped aching . May be my imagination but I seem to be noticing changes already.

  58. Andi says:

    Nice article! I’ve read that one about a year ago in the German version of Men’s Fitness magazin…I tried it out and it really worked impressivly!

  59. Sean says:

    It says decline dumbbell press… Do we switch it up every week? Cause 10 sets of 10 on decline dumbbells for 6 weeks dosnt sound right to me

  60. Franko says:

    I’ve done this for 2 days and idk if I’ve done this right. I take a rest in between each A exercise so for chest and back I’ll do the decline press then rest. Then the pull ups. Am I doing this right? I just don’t sweat a lot during the exercise but ill start failing around set 8-9 so idk I’m still new.

  61. Paddlegeek says:

    Would I need to be able to lift a considerable amount of weight? I’m only 150 pounds hoping to hit 160 by the November

  62. Winndell says:

    I love this workout, it’s so basic that some people may get bored. I’ve been using it for the last few years and it’s really increased the amount I can lift. It’s a very meat and potatoes work out.

  63. Chris says:

    Day 5 is the last day of this training week. Once finished, go back to day one and continue until you can complete all sets in strict form. This workout is nuts and the B1 and B2 portion will have you winded and pumped. Both are supersets as antagonist sets….A1 and A2 and so forth. Look at Poliquingroup.com for more articles on his stuff. Great workout….am now a fan of this training by far!!!

  64. Grayson says:

    Once again, I apologize for the obvious and common question but after reading through all of the comments, there are multiple different answers being given. Do do 10 reps of A-1, then go right into a superset with A-2? so 10xA-1,10x-A-2, 90 seconds rest, and so on for 10 sets? then follow the same with B-1 and B-2?

  65. Nathan says:

    So after day 5 (rest day), do you then start day 1 the next day? Or are day 6 and 7 also rest days and then you repeat day 1 the next week?

  66. Dan says:

    Right, this is how it’s done once and for all.

    A1 straight into A2 followed by 90s rest
    Repeat until 10 supersets have been completed
    B1 straight into B2 followed by 60s rest
    Repeat until 3 supersets have been completed

    That’s it. Simple.

  67. Marcus says:

    Guys read the description under the first workout spread. “Rest 90 secs after EACH A exercise and after each superset. That boils down to 90 secs of rest between a1 and a2. Then rest 90 secs before repeating. Then follow the same thing for B except rest 60 secs

  68. Arthur says:

    Awsome workout. Two small questions:
    - Low cable pull ins – is there an alternative excercise?
    - Would it be ok to replace back squats by leg press?

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