AHH YES, yet another German Volume Training (GVT) article…..
What is known to many gym goers as the Holy Grail of musclebuilding programs, this specific training protocol is known to stimulate some of the best progress of their lives. However, if some important variables are not taken into account, it can lead to just the opposite and turn your body into German Potato Salad Mush!
Let’s first get into some basics of what German Volume Training is, then we’ll discuss how to manipulate your lifestyle to not only recover from this brutal program, but actually make the positive adaptations we are striving for!
So what is German Volume Training?
First things first, credit needs to be given where it is due: GVT was made famous by the strength-training master Charles Poliquin. Simply put, it is comprised of 10 sets of 10 repetitions of a given exercise, utilizing a 60-second rest. Simple, right? Not if done correctly. The goal of this is to activate high-threshold motor neurons, and we do this by performing exercises with a load that one could do for roughly 20 repetitions. So as we progress through the 10 sets, we slowly ACCUMULATE fatigue, making the last few sets of 10 so brutal we hope to only get 8 or 9 reps. This very idea of “get reps or die trying” is what forces your body to tap into motor pathways that are not utilized in your traditional sets of 10 reps. Notice the key word accumulate. (We will touch on this in just a few minutes.)
How do we program the training? (Or, as the bros would ask, “What’s the split?”)
The typical setup would be antagonistic muscle group supersets. However, I like to start my cycles a bit differently. I break the full GVT training cycle into 3 phases:
Like I said, most would go right into antagonistic supersets typically in a 5-day cycle. This means each muscle group gets trained once every 5 days. This can be very tough on a beginner or intermediate trainee. So I start out with a less frequent training cycle and a bit more isolation as we slowly ramp up week to week.
Day 1: Back (A movement: Pendlay Rows)
Day 2: Chest (A movement: Bench Press)
Day 3: Off
Day 4: Legs (A movement: Squats)
Day 5: Shoulders (A movement: Overhead Press)
Day 6: Off
Day 7: Off
I will then use the A series movement (the first movement) to ramp volume weekly.
Week 1: 5 sets x 10 reps
Week 2: 7 sets x 10 reps
Week 3: 10 sets x 10 reps
We then utilize the B and C movements for some more isolation work. A major component of this block is knowing we’re NOT looking to hit failure. Instead, we are looking for fatigue to accumulate over the sets, but not to the extent of a descending rep scheme! After having made it through 3 cycles of this, we program a de-load or taper week by dropping the A series movement down to 3 to 5 sets and using half of the weight. With this de-load week, we have set our bodies up to handle more stress so we can push into a higher frequency training phase. I call this the Intensification phase.
This is where we get into the more traditional GVT scheme. It may look something like this:
Day 1: Chest / Back
Day 2: Legs / Abs
Day 3: Off
Day 4: Shoulders / Arms
Day 5: Off
Day 6: Repeat
You now go from training each body part once every seven days to every five days. This is where we have some room to mess around with the variables of a training session — volume, intensity (weight used) and metabolic density. I like to pair antagonistic muscle groups together at this point, because this allows us to push the density of your training session a bit higher as the ultimate goal is to accrue volume. After all, it is called German VOLUME Training! It may look something like this:
A1: Barbell Bench Press
A2: Barbell Pendlay Rows
Now let’s get into the fun stuff. I will start this cycle at 10 sets of 10 with a weight I could do 20 reps with. Then I will drop the volume as I increase intensity (aka drop the reps down to 6, but use a weight we could only do for 12).
A3 week cycle may look like this:
A1: 10 sets x 10 reps
A2: 10 sets x 10 reps
A1: 10 sets x 8 reps
A2: 10 sets x 8 reps
A1: 10 sets x 6 reps
A2: 10 sets x 6 reps
I would limit accessory work to just the B series where I would still use antagonistic supersets, but use movements that accrue less systematic stress like cable flys and lat pulldown variation.
So a full training session may look something like this:
A1: Barbell Bench Press, 10 sets x 10 reps
A2: Barbell Pendlay Rows, 10 sets x 10 reps
B1: Cable Flys, 3 sets x 8 reps
B2: Wide Lat Pulldowns, 3 sets x 8 reps
Just like phase 1, I would use another de-load after 3 cycles of this as things are really going to get real. We’re about to push the central nervous system in the next block, which I call the Realization phase.
This is the culmination of the past 8 weeks where we switch from training to GAME DAY. Your body is very much prepared to crank it up a bit. Your central nervous system is primed and we are about to push the rep schemes into the strength-training zone of 5 to 3. This means intensity aka weight used is going to increase. Frequency is tapered a bit as we will be hitting each body part every sixth day. That all being said, we need to pull back on overall volume a bit so recovery capabilities are still there!
The training split is similar but a little different:
Day 1: Chest
Day 2: Legs
Day 3: Off
Day 4: Back
Day 5: Shoulders / Arms
Day 6: Off
Day 7: Repeat
A big difference is, we toss out the supersets and focus specifically on one movement in the A series as we are pushing the limits on load used. This means our central nervous system needs a bit more time to recover between sets. We are going to utilize a 5/4/3 strength wave but break it down into a cycle progression versus hitting each rep count all in one day! Each cycle we drop the reps by 1, but increase the load by 4% to 5%. So it will look something like this:
Cycle 1: 10 sets x 5 reps
Cycle 2: 10 sets x 4 reps
Cycle 3: 10 sets x 3 reps
Cycle 4: 10 sets x 5 reps
Cycle 5: 10 sets x 4 reps
Cycle 6: 10 sets x 3 reps
Again, we’re only focusing on one movement in the A series. The weight we’re going to use for that movement is whatever a 10-rep max is. So an example for someone who squats 300 times for 10 reps would look like this (key note: REST should be 2 to 3 minutes between sets!):
Cycle 1: 10 sets x 5 reps @ 300
Cycle 2: 10 sets x 4 reps @ 315
Cycle 3: 10 sets x 3 reps @ 330
Cycle 4: 10 sets x 5 reps @ 315
Cycle 5: 10 sets x 4 reps @ 330
Cycle 6: 10 sets x 3 reps @ 345
The B series will be utilized in a superset fashion but isolating the same muscle group as we did on the A series. So, a cycle for legs would look something like this:
Cycle 1: Legs
A1: Barbell Back Squats, 10 sets x 5 reps
Rest: 120 to 180
B1: Lying Hamstring Curls, 4 sets x 8 reps
B2: Leg Extensions, 4 sets x 8 reps
One for chest may be this:
Cycle 1 Chest
A1: Barbell Bench Press, 10 sets x 5 reps
Rest: 120 to 180
B1: Incline Dumbbell Bench Press, 4 sets x 8 reps
B2: Flat Dumbbell Bench Flys, 4 sets x 8 reps
So there we have it! Now you have a plan to implement GVT into your program versus being a typical gym bro who goes from 3 sets of 10 to jumping into a full-blown GVT cycle.
German volume training can be one of the most beneficial training programs you ever complete. The amount of progress you can make in such a short time is outstanding. However, it can be just as detrimental and leave you seriously beat up. Recovery is, hands down, the most important aspect of any training program, yet it is the least spoken about. I could easily talk to you about all the different aspects of recovery needed with this style of training, but we would have to spend the next couple days together. Remember, the goal of training is to make PROGRESS, not kill yourself. Anyone can create a program that beats down the toughest of athletes – however, that doesn’t correlate to results. It takes true discipline to not only develop but ADHERE to a program that creates results without unnecessary pain.