Disclaimer: I am NOT a physical trainer or exercise guru of any kind. I do not have a formal education in exercise training or nutrition or exercise physiology, etc. Take what I say for what it is: trial and error from an average dude.
When it comes to training, I prefer heavy free weights to just about anything else. Cardio doesn’t really do it for me; yoga hurts my less-than-flexible joints (which may actually be the reason I should do it more often); as far as I’m concerned, running is only necessary in life-threatening/emergency situations; and while I see the benefits of functional circuits, I can’t seem to get into a regular practice. Lifting heavy weights, on the other hand, always leaves me feeling accomplished. I’m not saying that other means of exercise are wrong; in fact, I believe a well-rounded approach to fitness is the best philosophy. Still, there’s something raw and masculine about moving heavy things, and it is the only type of training I have found that I actually enjoy.
Over the years, I’ve done more than my fair share of reading when it comes to fitness, diet, training, and health in general. While I’m not an expert, I like to consider myself as educated as any other Joe on the street, if not a little more so. In all of my reading and research, I’ve been introduced to multiple lifting styles, programs, and methods, most of which I’ve put into practice at one time or another. I like to think I’ve learned a few things through trial and error.
With weight training (with any type of training, really) everything happens on a parabolic curve. When you begin something new and the muscles aren’t familiar with the movement, volume, etc., there is a lot of potential for growth, whether that means an increase in strength, muscular endurance, or size. However, as you continue that method or program and the muscles grow accustomed to what you’re doing, the potential for improvement decreases. Therefore, it’s important to change up the program in some way every 6-8 weeks. This may mean a completely new style of lifting, a change in weight or volume, or simply trying new lifts for each muscle group. You can even do a combination of these things. Why do I bring this up? Well…
I’m always adjusting and tweaking my training based on that fact, that progress decreases as familiarity increases. One style of lifting I’ve read about in the past but have never attempted until recently is German Volume Training. This is a high-volume (hence the name) approach to lifting, volume simply referring to the number of sets and repetitions you perform in a given workout.
The most common weightlifting programs combine three to four different lifts for each muscle group – such as chest/pectorals – and have the lifter perform 3-4 sets of anywhere from 5-15 repetitions of each lift, depending on the lifters individual goals. This is repeated once or twice per week for each muscle group. A typical example would have someone performing, say, the flat bench press at 4 sets of 8, followed by the incline dumbbell press, dumbbell chest flyes, and high cable crossovers, each at 3 sets of 8. German Volume Training takes a different approach. The lifter will do one specific lift for each muscle group and do ten sets of ten repetitions, and it’s only done once per five-day cycle. Ideally, the lifter would do about 60-70% of his/her 1RM.
What does this look like in application? Let’s say it’s Monday, chest and back day. And let’s say my 1RM for bench press is 200 lbs. I would load up 60% of that on the barbell – 120 lbs. – and I would do a set of ten. Then I would take a 90-second rest. After that minute and a half, I would do my next set of 10, followed by another 90-second rest. This would continue until I’ve done all 10 sets. Then I would move to the chin-up bar (or, if you have a bad shoulder like I do, the lat-pull machine) and do a set of 10, followed by another 90-second rest, and so on until I finish 10 sets. And that’s it. I’m done. You can throw in one or two accessory lifts if you want, but it’s not necessary.
If you’re pressed for time, you can always choose to superset. Instead of resting 90 seconds after the first bench press, you would get up from the bench and immediately do your first set of chin-ups. Then you would take a 90 second rest and jump right back in for your second superset.
A typical split for this type of training would look something like this:
Day 1: Chest & Back
Day 2: Legs & Abs
Day 3: Rest
Day 4: Shoulders & Arms
Day 5: Rest
Then you would repeat. Rather than revolving around a 7-day week, this program follows a 5-day cycle.
Much of the reading I’ve done points out that this type of approach can lead to significant gains in the short term. Charles Poliquin, one of the biggest proponents of GVT, writes:
The program works because it targets 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 the extraordinary stress by hypertrophying the targeted fibers. To say this program adds muscle fast is probably an understatement – gains of ten pounds or more in six weeks are not uncommon – even in experienced lifters!1
Now, I don’t know about gaining ten pounds of muscle in six weeks. I take that with a grain of salt based on other things I’ve read. It’s quite possible some of that gain is based on water storage within the muscle cells. Still, multiple strength coaches have made similar claims about GVT, so I believe there is at least an element of truth to them.
Other trainers and coaches have also made the claim that GVT can increase fat loss. Dr. Jim Stoppani points out on his website that the sheer volume itself burns a lot of calories2, and it should be noted that any significant increase in muscle mass will result in a raised metabolism, which will lead to increased fat loss – provided nutrition is in check.
I just started this program, and I’m having to make adjustments. My first chest day wasn’t very successful because the weight was too low. There’s an aspect of trial and error, especially if you don’t know your own 1RM, and I wanted to be sure I finished all of my sets. But the ease of the workout made it clear that I need to increase the weight quite a bit. My back workout was much more productive, and leg day was downright brutal. Doing 100 barbell squats at a decently heavy weight, followed by three sets of leg curls and 3 sets of seated calf presses left me a little wobbly. And the next three days I found myself wishing I had a desk job just so I wouldn’t have to move around. Leg day DOMS are the worst.
It’s important to note that a program like this is not meant to serve as a long-term training method. It is highly effective (based on what I’ve read), but it can lose its effectiveness after about a month to six weeks. I plan on trying it out for six weeks and then swapping programs. I will keep you guys posted about how it’s going, how I feel, and whether I notice any significant gains. If you have any questions about the program, there is a plethora of information on the internet, or you can talk to a trainer at your local gym. My gym will usually recommend a specific trainer based on my goals.
Whether you are a serious lifter or not, weight training should be a part of your overall program. I hope this post motivates you to try something new in your workout regimen, and if it works for me, it will definitely become a part of my regular program rotation. Happy training!
1 Poliquin, Charles. (2017). German Volume Training Revisited and Expanded. Retrieved from https://www.strengthsensei.com/german-volume-training-revisited-expanded/
2 Stoppani, PhD, Jim. (2018, July 3). High Frequency GVT. Retrieved from https://www.jimstoppani.com/training/high-frequency-gvt