High volume = High results!
Started in the 1970s, the coach of the German national weightlifting team came up with a plan to bulk up his lifters. You can imagine then, that this kind of workout plan may not be for the everyday person. You may be right about that. But you’d be surprised how many lifters this could benefit!
The first time I was introduced to German Volume Training (GVT), I was lucky enough to train with a trainer, who happened to be a good friend of mine. He understood my goals: I wanted to be faster and stronger as a long-distance runner. Although these goals eventually changed, he was aware of something that hadn’t even yet crossed my mind. Even if I quit running, GVT would make me a stronger athlete, period!
This is not everyone’s favorite training style, but because I was an endurance athlete, I quite enjoyed it. It was fun to push myself and see how long I could perform an exercise without breaking in form.
Today, I’ll coach you in the basics of German Volume Training, how to do it, how often you should try this method of training, and let you know who should be doing it in the gym!
What is GVT?
Although this style of training started in the 1970s, Charles Poliquin (Canadian Strength Coach) adopted the program and popularized it as German Volume Training in the 90s.
This training style is not for beginners. GVT is defined by its distinctive set-and-rep scheme of 10 sets of 10 reps.
That’s right. You’ll be performing 100 reps of your chosen exercise(s). That isn’t even including a warm-up or any accessory work you choose to do after your 10 sets of 10. GVT works by targeting 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 this extraordinary stress by hypertrophying the targeted fibers, leading to muscle gains and fat loss! In fact, some men can even gain 5 pounds of muscle in 3 weeks!
I’m performing so many reps, so I must get a long rest, right?
Nope. You have 60 seconds of rest between sets if you’re doing ONE main lift (ex. Squat or Bench Press) OR 90-120 seconds between sets if you’re alternating between TWO lifts. I think this is what makes this type of training so difficult. Many veteran weightlifters who train in the Strength phase for a living will hate this program because they are used to low rep counts, high sets (although not usually 10 sets of the same exercise(s)), and at least 2 minutes of rest.
Let’s talk about Tempo, as well!
Most exercises when done at a lighter weight than you know is possible are going to feel way too easy. It couldn’t possibly be that easy – and it’s not.
For all big range-of-motion compound exercises, such as bench press, squats, deadlifts, you’re going to aim for a 4-0-2-0 tempo. That’s 4 seconds down for the eccentric portion, a 0-second pause at the bottom, 2 seconds up for the concentric portion, and then 0 seconds at the top. Since you’re trying our best to keeping the reps and sets consistent (10×10), you’ll want to keep the tempo consistent as well – that way you take the guesswork out of it.
Because you’re lifting for many sets and a fairly high number of reps, you need to gauge how much you can lift for twice that amount for your first set. It might feel too easy at first. You may not want to take your full rest. You may wonder why you need to take 60 seconds if you don’t need it.
How often should I perform GVT?
Depending on who you ask, the answer may vary.
While in a GVT phase, make sure that each body part has time to recover from the training session. Each body part should be trained only once every 4 to 5 days. I’d suggest doing 2-3 workouts a week, maybe one day for Chest and Back, one day for Legs and Abs, and the last day for Arms and Shoulders. This phase can last anywhere between 4-6 weeks, at which point you should switch phases to avoid a plateau or burn-out.
I personally wouldn’t have any trouble performing this 4-6x a year, but Charles Poliquin would disagree. Many competitive bodybuilders or weightlifters use it temporarily to build endurance (strength), increase muscle size, and develop lean body weight. However, for these types of competitive athletes, the goal is usually mass and not so much weight loss, so 1x a year is usually enough. I put many of my clients who are in a Maintenance phase through a GVT workout one time a year and it’s always consistent, so they know when it’s coming.
But how do I make my program?!
It’s simple! Choose one exercise (select exercises that recruit a lot of muscle mass!) or alternate sets of paired exercises (which you can mark A & B). You’ll do one set of A, rest for 90-120 seconds, then one set of B, and rest again for 90-120 seconds. That’s one set complete. Only 9 to go! :’]
Your program could look like this:
Exercise: Squat (85lbs = 60% of my max) –> I can do 20 reps at this weight, so this is what I will use for all 10 sets of 10 reps.
- Set 1: 10 reps (feels too easy)
- Set 2: 10 reps (feels too easy – am I doing this right? I thought it was supposed to be torture?)
- Set 3: 10 reps (feels like an appropriate weight)
- Set 4: 10 reps (feeling strong here!)
- Set 5: 10 reps (this isn’t so hard…)
- Set 6: 10 reps (I take that back… are we there yet? Accumulative fatigue is kicking in.)
- Set 7: 10 reps (60s rest is not long enough! This is when you may really need a cheerleader to pump you up.)
- Set 8: 10 reps (much more difficult – you may only perform 9 squats to depth and with good form)
- Set 9: 10 reps (much more difficult – likely only performing 8 squats to depth and with good form)
- Set 10: 10 reps (extremely fatigued – only performing 8 squats and losing form)
Interestingly enough, you might find the opposite is true, and 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 because this is a tough one to do without a coach or partner. Trust me, it will be tempting to lengthen the rest time as you fatigue, but keep it consistent!
For supplementary work for individual body parts (like triceps and biceps), you can do 3 sets of 10-20 reps after your GVT is complete.
How can I progress this?
Most people find GVT too difficult to even fathom making it harder, but at some point, you do need to increase the difficulty! Over time, work to get all 10 reps for each set, and then increase the load by 5 percent.
Otherwise, if you are looking for more strength gains, you can try Advanced GVT, where you perform 6 reps for 10 sets. This means you can go way heavier (80% load)! This is usually for those with 5+ years of training experience.
Who is this program good for?
- Intermediate lifters: Anyone who has gone through all the training phases (General Preparation, Build, Burn, Strength) and has been training for at least a year.
- Any person: Woman, Man, and everyone in between OR beyond that. I like to share workout routines that are inclusive and that almost every person can try!
- Those who want to lose weight: Great for those trying to lose weight – and no, you won’t get bulky if you don’t have enough muscle to bulk up! Building muscle can help you burn fat, and this is a safe and foolproof way to do this. If you’re not up for the 10×10, you can look up Vince Gironda’s 8×8 program which may yield more fat loss.
- Those who want to build mass: You can gain up to 5 pounds of muscle in 3 weeks if you stick to a heavy, difficult program like GVT. Muscle hypertrophy and strength are the main benefits!
- Those with limited equipment: If you are in a condo gym or only have access to kettlebells or certain machines, feel free to try GVT with those!
- Those who have a partner: If you have a partner/coach/friend to train with, even better – you’ll need some cheering on! And much safer.
If your training program has plateaued or you haven’t been working out at all and are looking to get back into the gym, GVT is a great program that could encourage you to get back to it. You certainly shouldn’t start back at the gym with a program like this one. Ensure you’ve gone through the necessary phases before trying a workout like this – in fact, many of my clients didn’t see their first GVT workout until a year or two into training with me. It’s pretty intense.
Find a buddy and try this workout at the gym for 4-6 weeks and report back! Let me know how it went. Try to keep it consistent – weight, reps, sets, and always bring that same buddy so that you don’t change things up too much. I want to hear how it went for you. My biggest gains (in confidence, strength, endurance, and weight loss) were through GVT and I can’t wait to get back into the gym to test it out again!
Chelsea has been active most of her life, which led her to become a Personal Trainer and Yoga Instructor for the past 7 years. Health and Fitness are not solely dependent on movement, though, and with that understanding, she addresses her client’s other needs, such as diet, mindfulness, and stress management.
When she is not training clients or teaching Yoga, she is finding new activities that keep her mind and body active, such as hiking, photography, listening to podcasts, or playing video games. She is constantly working toward finding natural solutions to live a balanced lifestyle, inclusive Yoga for all body types, and aiming to find mindfulness in everything she does.