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Use German Volume Training to Crush Your Workouts

German national weightlifting team came up with a novel plan to bulk up some of his lifters. The routine was characterized by intense, rigid work and rest structures — and for its results.

By the 1990s, Canadian strength coach Charles Poliquin adopted the program, and has since popularized it as German Volume Training (GVT). If the name intimidates you, it should. There’s probably no more demanding or draining method of strength training out there.

How to Use German Volume Training

GVT is defined by its distinctive set-and-rep scheme: 10 sets of 10.

To make matters worse, your rest periods are short: 60 seconds between sets, if you’re doing one main lift (such as a squat or bench press), and 90 to 120 seconds between sets, if you’re alternating two lifts. “The intensity has to be cut down due to the volume of the sets and the lack of rest time,” says Don Saladino, a New York City trainer known for his work with superhero actors like Ryan Reynolds.

Start with a load that allows you 20 reps (this may equate to around 60 percent of your max), but perform only 10. The weight will feel too light for the first couple of sets, but, as you begin to fatigue, you’ll struggle, and you may not be able to get all 10 reps by the 5th or 6th set. That’s okay.

“Avoid going to failure on any set,” says Saladino, “and don’t decrease the weight.”

As your nervous system adapts, you may find that your reps increase again by the last few sets. Just keep aiming for 10 reps, and make note of how many reps you get each set. When you can do all 10 sets for 10 reps, increase the weight by 5 percent the next time you do the workout.

Tempo Torture

To add to the torture, you’ll need to perform the exercises with a specific tempo. Lifts that have a big range of motion (squats, deadlifts, chinups) should be done with a 4-0-2-0 tempo (4 seconds downward for the eccentric portion, 0 second pause at the bottom, 2 seconds up for the concentric portion, 0 seconds at the top); shorter-range moves (leg curls, cable rows) can be done with a 3-0-2-0.

Do only one exercise per body part with the 10 x 10 system, and only up to two exercises with this method in a single workout. You can do two to three other accessory exercises that train different muscle groups, or one more for the same muscles you worked with 10 x 10 for three sets of 10 to 12 reps each. After four exercises total, your workout is over.

For GVT to work, you have to be able to recover from each session, so train each body part only once every 4 to 5 days. Try the following split:

  • Monday: Chest and Back

  • Tuesday: Legs and Abs

  • Wednesday: Rest

  • Thursday: Arms and Shoulders

  • Friday: Rest

  • Saturday: Start Over

The German Volume Training Trial Workout

The workouts correspond to the training split outlined above. You’ll perform three different training days for five total workouts in a week. Alternate sets of the paired exercises (marked A and B). So, you’ll do one set of A, rest, then one set of B, rest again, and repeat until all sets are complete for the pair. Perform the remaining exercises as straight sets, completing one set after another, in turn.

For the 10 sets of 10 exercises, choose a load that you can do 20 reps with, and stick with it for all 10 sets, even if you can’t make all 10 reps with good form. Do not take any sets to failure — quit when you have one rep left in you. Over time, work to get all 10 reps for each set, and then increase the load by 5 percent.

Try the program for 4 weeks.

Day 1

1A Dumbbell Bench Press

  • Sets: 10

  • Reps: 10

  • Tempo: 4020

  • Rest for 90 seconds

Lie back against a flat bench with a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder level. Press the dumbbells over your chest, and then lower them back to your chest.

1B Lat Pulldown

  • Sets: 10

  • Reps: 10

  • Tempo: 4020

  • Rest for 90 seconds

Sit at a pulldown station, and secure your knees under the pads. Grasp the bar with your hands at shoulder width and your palms facing away from you. Pull the bar to your collarbone, and control its path back up