Most veteran weightlifters, powerlifters, professional and beginner bodybuilders have heard of German volume training. It’s an incredibly effective strength training program that uses high volumes of limited exercises to help athletes and fitness enthusiasts alike put on mass quickly.
If you’re new to lifting weights, it can be an effective way to jumpstart your progress. Though it’s only fair to warn you, a German volume training routine isn’t for the faint of heart, as it creates deep muscle soreness. Be prepared to limp around for several days after your leg workout.
But we promise you, the results are worth the sacrifice. Keep reading for a complete German volume training guide as we cover everything you need to know about this unique and highly effective training method.
What Is German Volume Training?
One of the most renowned weightlifting coaches, Charles Poliquin, who popularized this training technique in the 90’s, defines German volume training as a strength training program that stands above the rest. It’s simple, yet brutally intense. But, what is it?
German volume training uses the 10-sets method. You choose one primary lift per muscle group and perform 10 sets of ‘x’ reps.
Typically you do two major opposing muscle groups, like back and chest, in a single training day. Perform 10 sets of one exercise for back and do the same for chest.
Then, you can follow up with 3 sets of 6-8 reps with a secondary movement for each muscle group.
German volume training also uses constant rest intervals (typically 60-120 seconds) depending on the routine. It also places an emphasis on tempo-based movements. For example, four-second negative movements (lowering the weight) and two-second lifting movements.
Why Is German Volume Training So Effective?
The training doesn’t feel particularly challenging for the first few lifts. This is because you begin with a weight that’s much less than the weight you could lift for the given reps.
However, because you are given minimal rest between sets, and have 10 sets to complete, it quickly becomes challenging. The volume alone is almost crippling.
Yet, it is the volume that leads to such amazing results. Your body is forced to get stronger to adapt to the immense workload you are demanding of it.
Where Did German Volume Training Come From?
German volume training seems to have made its appearance in the 1970s. However, it’s likely that this high-volume strength training program has been around much longer.
Regardless, it was in the 70s when Rolf Feser, the National Coach of Weightlifting, breathed popularity into it. However, it was also used in the United States by Vince Gironda.
German volume training was used to help athletes put on tons of lean muscle mass during off-seasons in short periods of time. They often advanced in weight classes between seasons.
Weight, Sets, and Reps
Let’s dive into the basics of a German volume training program. How many reps and sets should you be performing? Does it change based on weightlifting experience?
As a beginner or intermediate lifter, your German volume training program should begin with 10 sets of 10 reps for your major lifts. Remember, the 10 reps will feel easy for the first few rounds, but the numbers catch up quickly. Choose a weight with which you could perform 20 reps (when fresh).
However, the weight should not be so light that you can complete all 10 sets for 10 reps. Your set numbers should start to diminish after 4 or 5 sets. And that’s good.
If you’re an advanced lifter, the best strength training program requires intensity. As such, doing 10 reps may not allow you to lift heavy enough. Advanced lifters should aim for 10 sets of 4-6 reps.
As with the intermediate program, your numbers will start to fall roughly halfway through your sets. You may get 5 reps for your first 4 or 5 sets, then start to drop to 3 or 4 reps. Once again, this is good.
For beginners, intermediate, and advances lifters, your secondary lifts should be limited to 3 sets. Aim for 6-8 reps on each set. Anything more is overkill.
Number of Exercises
Because German volume training is so intense, new and veteran weightlifters alike must limit the number of exercises performed in each training session. There should be a single exercise for each major muscle group plus one secondary exercise.
For example, on back and chest day:
- Bench press (primary lift) for 10 sets
- Pullups (primary lift) for 10 sets
- Incline dumbbell press (secondary lift) for 3 sets
- Single-arm rows (secondary lift) for 3 sets
As noted earlier, the ideal German volume training program utilizes opposing muscle groups in the same training session, such as:
- Back and chest
- Quads and hamstrings
- Biceps and triceps
- Shoulders and traps
You have two options here. You can lift in sequence (one exercise at a time) or use supersets. When performed as a superset, you move from one exercise to the next without rest. For example, moving from bench press to pullups before resting.
When lifting in sequence, rest for 60-90 seconds only. If you’re performing sets of 10, stick to 60 seconds. If you’re an advanced lifter doing sets of 4-6, rest for 90 seconds.
When super setting your lifts, rest for 90-120 seconds. Beginner and intermediate lifters using sets of 10, rest for 90 seconds. Advanced lifters doing sets of 4-6, rest for 120 seconds.
The tempo of your lifts is very important in German volume training. It serves two primary purposes.
First, when lifting with a designated tempo, it helps enforce proper form. Otherwise, people tend to use momentum and forced reps, which is not the goal of this strength training program.
Second, a designated tempo forces an emphasis on strength and control of the weight, maximizing muscle gain. It also limits how much weight we put on the bar.
The tempo for beginner and intermediate lifters is slightly different than that of advanced lifters. Stick with a 4-0-2 tempo for long-range movements (compound exercises).
In other words, lower the weight for 4 seconds, immediately reverse the direction of movement at the bottom of the lift, and raise the weight for 2 seconds.
For short-range movements (leg curls, tricep extensions, barbell curls, etc.), use a 3-0-2 tempo.
Advanced lifters have developed more strength, balance, stability, and muscle mass. Therefore, their tempo is less complicated.
Advanced lifters should follow a 4-0-0 tempo for long-range movements (squats, pullups, barbell rows, etc.). That means lowering the weight for 4 seconds, immediately changing direction at the bottom of the movement, and explosively lifting the weight to complete the rep.
German volume training, as you can see, is quite intense. As such, it takes time to adequately recover from each training session. Hit each muscle group only once in a 5-day period.
Furthermore, do each individual exercise only once in a 10-day period. For example, if you did flat bench on your first chest day, do incline bench press on your next chest day. You’re still hitting muscle groups every 5 days, but are only repeating the same exercises every 10 days.
Using Progressive Overload Theory
The story often associated with progressive overload theory is that of a young man who must carry a calf (baby cow) up a hill for food and water. Each week, the calf gets bigger, demanding more effort from the young man. Naturally and subtly, the young man grows stronger and bigger.
After months of this daily routine, the calf has grown into a full-sized cow and the man has grown big and strong. The same theory is used to increase gains as we lift weights.
For example, increase the weight on the bar after a few weeks of using the same weight. You should start to hit your goal reps on almost all of your sets. This means you need to increase the intensity.
Safety and Proper Strength Training
Finally, before we get into our sample German volume training program, let’s talk about safety. If you’re new to lifting weights, you must find a strength coach who can show you how to lift properly.
Not only do you need to know what exercises work for each muscle group, but you must also learn how to perform them safely. Weightlifting injuries aren’t uncommon, particularly among the inexperienced. Furthermore, lifting with the wrong technique could impede your progress.
Sample German Volume Training Plan
Now, let’s dive into it. This is a sample German volume training plan for beginners to get you started. You can follow this for 6 complete cycles (8 workout days per cycle). Then, you’re ready to move onto the advanced program.
If you’re an advanced lifter, replace the sets of 10 with sets of 4-6. Remember to lift using the appropriate tempos (beginner/intermediate or veteran).
There are 4 workouts per week and a subsequent 4 workouts with different exercises for the next week. Take the rest days you need. Don’t hit a muscle group twice in under 5 days.
Workout 1 – Chest and Back
- Flat Bench Press: 10 sets of 10
- Wide Grip Pullups: 10 sets of 10
- Incline DB Press: 3 sets of 8
- Single Arm DB Row: 3 sets of 8
Workout 2 – Quads and Hamstrings
- Squats: 10 sets of 10
- Stiff Leg Deadlifts: 10 sets of 10
- Leg Extensions: 3 sets of 8
- Let Curls: 3 sets of 8
Workout 3 – Biceps and Triceps
- Barbell Curls: 10 sets of 10
- Tricep Dips: 10 see of 10
- Alternating DB Curls: 3 sets of 8
- Cable Triceps Extensions: 3 sets of 8
Workout 4 – Shoulders and Traps
- Push Press: 10 sets of 10
- Barbell Shrugs: 10 sets of 10
- Wide DB Lateral Raises: 3 sets of 8
- Upright Cable Rows: 3 sets of 8
Workout 1B – Chest and Back
- Incline Barbell Bench Press: 10 sets of 10
- Chinups: 10 sets of 10
- Flat DB Press: 3 sets of 8
- Bent-Over Barbell Row: 3 sets of 8
Workout 2B – Quads and Hamstrings
- Deadlifts: 10 sets of 10
- Front Squats: 10 sets of 10
- Glute/Ham Raise: 3 sets of 8
- DB Lunges: 3 sets of 8
Workout 3B – Biceps and Triceps
- EZ Bar Preacher Curls: 10 sets of 10
- Skull Crushers: 10 see of 10
- Alternating DB Hammer Curls: 3 sets of 8
- Single Overhead DB Extension: 3 sets of 8
Workout 4B – Shoulders and Traps
- Seated DB Military Press: 10 sets of 10
- Behind the Back Barbell Shrugs: 10 sets of 10
- Front DB Raises : 3 sets of 8
- Cable Face Pulls: 3 sets of 8
There you have it. Remember to lift with proper form and adhere to a nutritional diet to help you on your journey. It’s also a good idea to adopt a stretching or yoga routine to help maintain mobility and flexibility.
Looking for More Fitness Tips?
Now that you know everything there is about German volume training, there’s only one question left. Are you ready to put in the work?
We wish you the best of luck. If you stick with it to the end, the benefits will be incredible.
And if you’re looking for some help to boost your progress and help you recover, check out our performance supplements. For more insight, feel free to look through the rest of our blog articles.