Modified German Volume Training for Extreme Size Gains

bodybuilder 5 flickrIf you are looking for a way to gain as much muscle mass as possible, as quickly as possible, you might have considered giving German Volume Training a try.

It’s tough, and it’s definitely not for beginners. But if you’ve been training for some time, and made some decent gains, but your progress has slowed right down, and you need a change, you may have thought this could be just what you need to take your results to the next level.

German Volume Training has been used, apparently with great success, since at least the early 70s. Bev Francis used it in her early days of bodybuilding to make her the most massively muscled female bodybuilder of her time. And Jacques Demers, a team Canada lifter, accredited his amazing leg size to German Volume Training.

So, what exactly is German Volume Training, and is it really a good way to train for natural lifters? Or, could a slightly different approach work better? In this article, I’ll answer those questions.

What Is German Volume Training?

German Volume Training (or GVT) is also known as the ten sets method. It involves doing an exercise for 10 sets, usually of 10 reps, using the same weight for each set. So that means you can’t go too heavy.

To start off with, you’d select a weight that you could do 20 reps with, if you pushed to your limit. That would normally be about 60% of your one rep max. So, your first few sets would be quite easy, but they’d get progressively more difficult as the fatigue set in. And in fact, most people won’t be able to do the full 10 reps on all 10 sets when they first try it. So, on the last few sets, they’d just do as many as they could (but without going to failure).

The rest periods between sets is kept to no more than 90 seconds for the duration of the exercise, in order to promote a high level of metabolic fatigue. A stop watch should be used to ensure this time limit is not exceeded. And when 10 reps is achieved on all 10 sets, the weight is increased by 3–5% for the next workout.

Only one exercise per body part would be trained in this manner. And no more than two exercises in a workout. But two or three additional supplementary exercises could be done after these if desired. These would be done for a more conventional set and rep scheme, e.g. 3 sets of 10.

When doing two exercises using the GVT method, it’s best to do them for opposing muscle groups, e.g. chest and back or quads and hams. But you could simply do any pushing movement, together with any pulling movement for the upper body. And when performing the exercises, you could either do all 10 sets of one exercise, followed by all 10 sets of the other, or you could alternate sets of the two exercises. Either way works fine, so do whichever you prefer.

German Volume Training is very demanding, and it can take a while to recover from. So for this reason, one training session every 5 to 7 days per body part is sufficient. A good plan, therefore, would be to split your body into three, and either do each workout once per week, or use a five day rotation (i.e. 2 on, 1 off, 1 on, 1 off).

So, that’s what German Volume Training involves, but does it really work well for the natural trainee?

Well, the research, coupled with real-world evidence, suggests it does work up to a point, but it can be modified to make it work better. The fact is that doing 10 sets of the same exercise is simply too much for naturals, and better results are achieved if you cut it down to just five sets (in which case, I’d increase the weight a little, to about 65% 1RM). However, you can certainly improve your gains by doing up to about 10 sets for the same body part in a workout. So the obvious answer is, rather than doing 10 sets of one exercise, do five sets of two exercises. And this does, in fact, work much better.

So, based on the above, a modified German Volume Training routine might look something like this:

Modified German Volume Training Workout Routine

Workout 1 – Chest, Back & Abs

  • Bench Press 5 x 10
  • Bent-Over Row 5 x 10
  • Incline Dumbbell Press 5 x 10
  • Close Grip Pulldown 5 x 10
  • Cable Crunch 3 x 15

Workout 2 – Legs

  • Squat 5 x 10
  • Romanian Deadlift 5 x 10
  • Hack Squat 5 x 10
  • Lying Leg Curl 5 x 10
  • Calf Raise 5 x 10

Workout 3 – Shoulders, Arms & Abs

  • Overhead Press 5 x 10
  • Lateral Raise 5 x 10
  • Barbell Curl 5 x 10
  • Triceps Pressdown 5 x 10
  • Reverse Crunch 3 x 15

This is a much more sensible and effective setup than the usual German Volume Training method, and you can easily do it for 8–10 weeks, after which you can move straight on to phase 2, without needing the three-week lower volume transition phase that is normally recommended following a course of GVT (although you can still do this if you wish).

Modified German Volume Training Phase 2

After phase 1 is completed, you would normally do a transition phase, before moving on to GVT phase 2, which would entail doing 10 sets of 6 reps, using a weight that you could do 12 reps with if you pushed to your limit. In phase 2, you could use the same exercises as in phase 1, or you could change them to similar ones.

But, in our modified version, we are again reducing the number of sets to five (and increasing the weight a little to our 10 rep max, or 75% IRM), and doing two exercises for all the major body parts. Here’s how it would look:

Workout 1 – Chest, Back & Abs

  • Incline Bench Press 5 x 6
  • Pull-Ups 5 x 6
  • Parallel Bar Dips 5 x 6
  • Cable Row 5 x 6
  • Ab Wheel Rollouts 3 x 15

Workout 2 – Legs

  • Front Squat 5 x 6
  • Glute-Ham Raises 5 x 6
  • Leg Press 5 x 6
  • Seated Leg Curls 5 x 6
  • Calf Raise 5 x 6

Workout 3 – Shoulders, Arms & Abs

  • Seated Dumbbell Press 5 x 6
  • Dumbbell Upright Row 5 x 6
  • EZ Curl 5 x 6
  • Lying Triceps Extension 5 x 6
  • Leg Pull-Ins 3 x 15

You can do this for another 8–10 weeks (or 5 day cycles), after which you should take a week off, before moving on to a different method of training for a while – perhaps a more strength focused routine. You can then return to this modified version of GVT at a later date if you wish.

Recovery Considerations

Although this is less demanding than conventional GVT, it will still take a lot out of you, so you’ll need to ensure you make recovery a priority. Make sure you get plenty of rest and sleep, don’t do too much cardio, and don’t be too active in other areas if you can help it.

You’ll also need to eat a lot. This is crucial, as you can’t grow on effort alone. So increase your calorie intake, and make sure you get plenty of protein (1–1.5g per pound of bodyweight per day), from good quality, animal sources, such as meat, fish, eggs, milk and cheese. You also want lots of complex carbohydrates (oatmeal, brown rice, sweet potatoes etc.), some good healthy fats (from oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocados, extra-virgin olive oil etc.), and a decent amount of fruit and veg.

For more information on how to eat to build muscle see this article.

Some proven supplements will also be very useful, and whey protein, omega-3 fatty acids (from fish oil), and a good multivitamin or greens supplement, should be regarded as the minimum.

So that’s my take on German Volume Training. If you want to give the usual method a try, that’s up to you, of course. But I think you will find my method will work a lot better. In fact, it may well be the best mass building exercise program you will ever find. So do give it a go, and I’d love to hear how you get on with it in the comments below.

Photo credit: equilibriumnutricao, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Flickr

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