Monday 13 November 2017

Build Muscle with German Volume Training?

Do you want to shock your muscles into some new growth? What to try a completely different way to train? If so, German Volume Training might be just what you need. While popularized by Charles Poliquin in his writings in the 90’s, this style of training came from German National Weightlifting Coach Rolf Feser in the 1970’s. This style of training has also been used by Vince Gironda. The big question is, does it work? Recently, the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research published a study German Volume Training. Is it all it is cracked up to be? Let’s find out! 

Study Reference 
Amirthalingam, T., Mavros, Y., Wilson, G. C., Clarke, J. L., Mitchell, L., & Hackett, D. A. (2017). Effects of a Modified German Volume Training Program on Muscular Hypertrophy and Strength. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research,31(11), 3109-3119. doi:10.1519/jsc.0000000000001747

Research on hypertrophy and volume shows greater results using multiple sets than single sets. However, research has also shown that while some volume is good, more is not necessarily better. There seems to be a cut-off point around 4-6 sets. The researchers in this study wanted to compare the traditional German Volume Training protocol of 10 sets of 10 reps to a modified version of the program with 5 sets of 10 reps.

Nineteen healthy young males were recruited to do this training study. They were randomly assigned to the German Volume Training group (10 sets of 10) or the modified German Volume Training group (5 sets of 10)

German Volume Training Routine
Day 1
Flat DB Bench: 10x10 @ 60%1RM
Lat Pulldowns: 10x10 @ 60%1RM
Incline Bench Press: 4x10 @ 70%1RM
Seated Cable Row: 4x10 @ 70%1RM
Crunches: 3x20

Day 2
Leg Press: 10x10 @ 60%1RM
DB Lunges: 10x10 @ 60%1RM
Leg Extensions: 4x10 @ 70%1RM
Leg Curls: 4x10 @ 70%1RM
Calf Raises: 3x20

Day 3
Shoulder Press: 10x10 @ 60%1RM
Upright Row: 10x10 @ 60%1RM
Triceps Pressdowns: 4x10 @ 70%1RM
Biceps Curls: 4x10 @ 70%1RM
Sit-ups with twist: 3x20

Modified-German Volume Training Routine
Day 1
Flat DB Bench: 5x10 @ 60%1RM
Lat Pulldowns: 5x10 @ 60%1RM
Incline Bench Press: 4x10 @ 70%1RM
Seated Cable Row: 4x10 @ 70%1RM
Crunches: 3x20

Day 2
Leg Press: 5x10 @ 60%1RM
DB Lunges: 5x10 @ 60%1RM
Leg Extensions: 4x10 @ 70%1RM
Leg Curls: 4x10 @ 70%1RM
Calf Raises: 3x20

Day 3
Shoulder Press: 5x10 @ 60%1RM
Upright Row: 5x10 @ 60%1RM
Triceps Pressdowns: 4x10 @ 70%1RM
Biceps Curls: 4x10 @ 70%1RM
Sit-ups with twist: 3x20

While both groups increased muscle size and strength, the 5 set group made better gains.

An actual training study!
Too many researchers these days take the lazy way out and do research that is done in one day and simply measures things like blood work, hormone levels or activation. While these are nice and do help us understand what is going on, they are nowhere near as valuable as an actual training study. What matters to the strength coach, athlete, and fitness enthusiast is what works to build muscle. 

Small number of subjects
19 total subjects is not that many. This makes it harder to account for individual differences. The greater the number of subjects, the easier it is to differentiate the norm from the outliers. 

6 weeks
While this may not seem like much time, I think this is an appropriate length of time for this kind of training. You don’t want to do high volume training for a long time. 

Different than the original
While the programs used in the study are similar, they are different than Coach Charles Poliquin’s German Volume Training Routine (e.g. days per week, exercise selection – squats, order, tempo). Would the results have been different/better with his routine??? 

No newbies
While the subjects were a far cry for the elite Weightlifters on the German National team, they were the typical newbies used in most “training” studies. The subject had to have 1 year of experience and had to have trained consistently for the last three months. This obviously begs the question: would the results have been different with more advanced lifters? Generally, more advanced folks can handle a higher volume of training. 

Accurate measurements
Body composition was measured with DEXA (the gold standard) and muscle thickness was measured with ultrasound imaging. 

Dietary intervention
Training to build muscle is not very useful with appropriate dietary changes. While this is not a metabolic ward study (where they lock you up in a ward and can accurately measure everything you do and eat), they analyzed the subjects diets, showed them how to increase their calories by 1000-2000 and gave them a post-training whey protein shake. 

Practical Applications for You and Your Training
Find the right amount of volume for you
Does this mean that German Volume Training is bad? Not necessarily. The key takeaway from this study is that while volume is a good thing and important for muscle hypertrophy, you have to be careful. Too much of a good thing is not a good thing. The key with volume is finding the right amount. Too little volume and you will fail to build muscle. Too much and you will burn out, not bulk up. For more on volume and hypertrophy, check out the article I wrote for JMAX Fitness: Low-Volume Muscle Building: The Key to Explosive Muscle Growth

Know your body. Some people do really well with high-volume training, others do better with a much lower volume of training. If you are the former, you will love German Volume Training. If you are the latter, this is not the program for you. 

Seek minimal effective dose
The program showed that German Volume Training works. However, it showed that fewer sets (i.e. 5) worked even better. Do the amount of work you need to do to get good results, but don’t bother doing more than you need.

Know your fiber type
Some folks love and seem to thrive on high reps. Others do better with low reps. If you have been training for a while, think back to different rep ranges you have used in the past. What worked and what did not work for you? Also, think about what you are natural strengths and weaknesses. If you were to join a track and field meet, what events would you excel? (E.g., sprints/jumps/throws, middle or long distance).

If you are more of a slow-twitch high-rep person, you will like German Volume Training, Personally, I’m naturally more of a low-rep guy. For most exercises, high reps make me smaller and weaker. For me, the 10x10 with 60% 1RM (or 20RM) German Volume Training is just too light. Yes, I know there is research showing that light weight, high rep training can work, but I know it doesn’t work for me. If you are more low-rep wired, you could try the 10 sets of 6 version. Although not technically German Volume Training, I like structures such as 10 sets of 3 or 5 reps.

Know your personality
One aspect that we often overlook in training is personality. With personal and online clients, I consider their personality type I write their training programs. Some people love and thrive on variety. Doing one exercise with 10 sets of 10 reps would bore them to tears. Other folks only care about results and can do even the most boring programs as long as they work. 

Pick the right time
High volume training is very draining. If you are in the middle of final exams, an accountant in tax season, a sleep-deprived parent with a newborn or in some other really stressful time of your life, save  German Volume Training for another time. 

Pick the right exercises for you
Exercise selection is a hugely-underrated training variable for hypertrophy. You have the best combination of all the other training variables (e.g. sets, reps, etc.), but not much will happen if your routine is full of inferior exercises. This style of training emphasizes 1 main exercise per muscle group. This eliminates the option to pick ineffective exercises. 

However, because you are only doing 1 major exercise per muscle group, you had better choose wisely young grasshopper (read this Kung foo master accent). Killing yourself to do 10 sets of 10 with a back squat won’t help much if are not structurally suited to the lift. If you give this program a try, be sure to pick The Best Exercises for Building Muscle.

Different may = new growth
One of the best ways to spark new muscle growth is to take a different, but equally effective approach to what you are currently doing. If you have never tried German Volume Training before, it may be the shock you need to get growing again. 

How about you? Have you tried German Volume Training? If so, I would love to hear your feedback on it. As always, I welcome your questions and comments (but no spam please) below.


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  2. I do a modified version of GVT.
    I do 10 Sets Of 5 Reps with about 75% 1RM.

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