German Volume Training
German Volume Training (GVT) is a method of hypertrophic resistance training that can be used by experienced resistance training athletes to add large amounts of muscle mass
German Volume Training (GVT) is a method of hypertrophic resistance training that can be used by experienced resistance training athletes to add large amounts of muscle mass (6-9 lbs/3-4kg) in a relatively short period (4-6 weeks). The GVT program design brings athletes through a high volume (sets x repetitions) of training. The origins of this training method are thought to have been in German-speaking countries and it was this association that led to Canadian strength coach Charles Poliquin to give it the name “German Volume Training” when presenting the training information to athletes. Poliquin is a renowned strength coach who popularised the methods of GVT through training articles circa 2000.
The Building Blocks for GVT
The first consideration with GVT is the volume of training. The GVT system uses 10 sets of 10 repetitions for a single exercise as a basic start point. This volume, in comparison to traditional training volumes such as 3x12 or 5x5, is exceptionally high. This high volume rules out GVT as a training method for novice- or intermediate-experienced resistance training athletes. The high volume of training during each session necessitates a separation of training days into body parts i.e. chest and back/arms and shoulders/legs. The separation of training days along with full recovery days facilitates the development of a training strategy that has one body part trained only once per week. While it may be tempting to try to train a body part more than once per week under this regimen, this is not recommended as it will not allow sufficient recovery between body part training sessions. Insufficient recovery time between training sessions can lead to an increase in stress hormones and fatigued muscles, which will impede muscle adaptation and thus, performance progression.
The second consideration for GVT is exercise selection. During GVT only one exercise should be used in the 10 x 10 system per body part per week, this is to allow sufficient recovery from the extreme high volume of training. Supplementary exercises can be added to GVT routines but supplementary exercises should use traditional training volumes (3-5 sets of 6-10 repetitions). The inclusion of supplementary exercises will result in a training program that includes both GVT sets and rep counts as well as the more mainstream hypertrophy structures. An example of such a program is out lined below.
- Bench Press 10 x 10
- Chin Ups 10 x 10
- Dumbbell Fly 3 x 8
- Bent over row 3 x 8
- Back squat 10 x 10
- Romanian dead lift 10 x 10
- Weighted hanging knee raise 3 x 12
- Donkey raise 3 x 12
Thursday: Arms and Shoulders
- Weighted bench dips 10 x 10
- Tricep rope push down 10 x 10
- Prone lateral raise 3 x 12
- Tricep kick back 3 x 8
A fundamental part of successful GVT is the amount of time that the muscle spends under tension. Time under tension (TUT) places a high training stress on the target muscle, which stimulates muscle growth. To ensure that TUT remains consistent, the tempo of the exercises should be strictly adhered to i.e. 4-0-1 four second eccentric phase, with an immediate transition to concentric phase of one second/as fast as possible (it may not be possible to complete a one second concentric phase). For compound multi-joint exercises or exercises with a large range of movement, a four second lowering (eccentric) phase must be maintained; the lifting phase should be completed as quickly as possible. For single joint exercises or exercises with a short range of movement, a three second eccentric phase with a two second concentric phase is recommended.
Rest duration in GVT will substantially influence the effectiveness of the program. Where exercises are performed in isolation, the rest interval between sets is prescribed at 60 seconds. If exercises are performed in a super-set, a super-set is a set design where one exercise is immediately followed by another exercise with little rest between exercises, additional recovery is required before completing the next set, and for this a 90 second rest interval is recommended. This allows for maintenance of a sufficient intensity to ensure that full growth potential is attained.
To satisfy the requisite elements of GVT (volume, strict movement and tempo), the load that is used must be at a level that allows all these elements to be included. A typical weight for GVT is approximately 60% of 1RM or a load that could be lifted for 20 repetitions. 1RM is the maximum amount of weight that can be lifted with good technique for one repetition. While a 60% load may appear to be quite low, as the volume of the session accumulates the difficulty in completing each set increases significantly. As the training weeks go by, the load used should be increased, the recommended increases per week are 2.5% of the weight lifted in the previous week. This increase in weight is to maintain the overload on the working muscles, a key principle of training adaptation.
Considerations and variations of GVT
While volume is one of the driving factors of GVT success in gaining muscle mass it is also a matter of concern for the system. The sheer volume of GVT may lead to overuse injuries in some athletes as it may be too advanced for their resistance training experience. Another prevalent criticism of GVT is the monotony of the program; 4-6 weeks of 10 x 10 can become very repetitive. While GVT can achieve significant results, changes to the program geared towards alleviating the monotony of GVT must maintain the “V” in GVT.
With this in mind there are some changes that can be made to the program. The goal of a modified GVT remains to complete 10 sets of 10 repetitions, but the key difference is that all ten sets do not have to be the same exercise. This allows for a selection of 3-4 exercises that can be completed for 3/1 sets each. This would require completing three sets of exercise A, B and C and completing one set of exercise D. All sets should focus on the same body part and the exercises should all be similar in nature. The rest interval between sets, the separation of body parts, tempo, frequency and overload all remain unchanged from traditional GVT.
GVT may be used by both athletes who require additional muscle mass and by bodybuilders who are looking to bulk prior to competition. However, sports athletes who use GVT should only do so for one training cycle. The use of GVT must be kept to short-term duration in the off-season to avoid a potential interference of GVT volume with sport-specific training. Concurrent GVT and sport-specific training may result in training loads that far outweigh the training capacity of an athlete, leading to injury. Bodybuilding or physique athletes may use GVT over a longer term than sports athletes; however they must be aware of the negative effect of continual high volume training. Therefore, for bodybuilding athletes the upper limit of a single continuous GVT cycle is 12 weeks. After rest, a further cycle may be implemented but for most athletes the recommencement of high volume training may lead to negative changes in their physique.
German Volume Training is an advanced training method for hypertrophy that uses extreme high repetition volumes to achieve increases in muscle mass. The extreme high training volume places an additional risk of overuse injury on athletes undertaking training. This additional risk along with volume and the demands of this system makes it unsuitable for novice or intermediate resistance training athletes. GVT is an excellent method for advanced level athletes or bodybuilders who require increases in lean muscle mass. However even in with advanced athletes, it is important that training is strictly adhered to in terms of exercise tempo, volume and frequency, ensuring that adequate recovery is afforded to the muscles trained.