German Volume Training: The Ultimate Guide!


What’s the best way to build muscle mass? I get this question all the time. The truth is there are many different ways to train for size.

Supersets, tri-sets, giant sets, rest-pause sets, forced reps and eccentric training are just a few of the best hypertrophy training methods. However, one of the simplest and most effective ways to build muscle is German Volume Training.

If you want to build slabs of muscle mass then you have to try this program!

Introduction

  • Part 1: German Volume Training
  • Part 2: Advanced German Volume Training

The German Volume Training program is sometimes called the “10 sets of 10 method.” The idea is simple: you are going to perform 10 sets of 10 reps on one major exercise per body part. Your goal is to perform all ten sets with the same weight.

This style of training was popularized by German Olympic weightlifters in the 1970s. They discovered that performing 10 sets of 10 reps with one exercise was one of the best ways to gain weight in the offseason.

If someone needed to move up a weight class then they were immediately placed on a 10 sets of 10 training protocol!

In the 1990s the Canadian strength coach Charles Poliquin came up with an optimized version of the 10 sets of 10 program. He called his new and improved program “German Volume Training.”

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you everything you need to know about the German Volume Training program. There are actually 2 different versions of this program:

  • The Original German Volume Training Program
  • Advanced German Volume Training

The original program has you perform 10 sets of 10 reps on all major exercises. The Advanced German Volume Training program is very different: you are going to perform 10 sets of 3-5 reps on all major exercises.

Most trainees get AWESOME results using the original 10 sets of 10 German Volume Training protocol. However, it does not work for everyone.

If you are an extremely strong trainee or have more of a dopamine-dominant neurotransmitter profile then you will get better results using the advanced program with 10 sets of 3-5 reps per exercise.

In this guide I will teach you exactly how to set up each program. I will also provide sample workout routines for each program. Trust me, you don’t want to miss out on this cutting edge information!

Note: if you have any trouble reading the routines presented here then check out this article on how to read a training program. Now let’s get down to business…

Part 1: German Volume Training

The goal of the original German Volume Training program is to perform 10 sets of 10 reps on all major exercises.

Charles Poliquin recommends that you use 60% of your 1-rep max or a weight that you can lift about 20 times. For example if your 1-rep max on the back squat is 300 pounds then you should use about 180 pounds for your first 10 sets of 10 reps workout.

Here is what your first 10 sets of 10 workout might look like:

Sample German Volume Training Sets And Reps

  • Set #1: 180 pounds x 10 reps
  • Set #2: 180 pounds x 10 reps
  • Set #3: 180 pounds x 10 reps
  • Set #4: 180 pounds x 10 reps
  • Set #5: 180 pounds x 10 reps
  • Set #6: 180 pounds x 9 reps
  • Set #7: 180 pounds x 8 reps
  • Set #8: 180 pounds x 7 reps
  • Set #9: 180 pounds x 8 reps
  • Set #10: 180 pounds x 8 reps

This is about what you should expect the first time you do the German Volume Training workout. You should be able to hit 10 reps on your first few sets. However, you may have a hard time getting all 10 reps by your 5th / 6th / 7th set.

Don’t worry, that is perfectly normal. Just use the same weight and get as many reps as you can without reaching muscular failure. It’s OK if your last rep is a real grinder and you have to dig deep to lift the weight. However, you do NOT want to fail on any of the sets.

You may actually find that your strength increases on the 9th and 10th sets. This happens for some trainees as a short-term neurological adaptation to the workout. Your body becomes highly efficient at performing the movement and you get a little boost in strength towards the end of the workout.

Your goal is to perform 10 reps on all 10 sets. If you fall short of this goal then continue to use the same weight each workout until you can. Here is what your progression might look like over 4 workouts:

German Volume Training Sample Workout Progression

  • Workout #1: 180 pounds for 5 x 10, 1 x 9, 1 x 8, 1 x 7, 2 x 8
  • Workout #2: 180 pounds for 8 x 10, 1 x 9, 1 x 8
  • Workout #3: 180 pounds for 10 x 10
  • Workout #4: 190 pounds for 7 x 10, 1 x 9, 2 x 8

Of course you should record all of your sets and reps in a training logbook for each workout. Here is what your training logbook might look like on your second German Volume Training workout:

Sample Training Logbook

A1: 30 degree incline DB press, 10 x 10, 4/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

  • LT: 100’s = 5 x 10, 1 x 9, 1 x 8, 1 x 7, 1 x 7, 1 x 8
  • TT: 100’s = 8 x 10, 1 x 9, 1 x 8

A2: Cable pulldown (medium / neutral grip), 10 x 10, 4/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

  • LT: 200 = 4 x 10, 1 x 9, 2 x 7, 1 x 6, 2 x 7
  • TT: 200 = 6 x 10, 2 x 9, 2 x 8

Most trainees will be able to make progress on the German Volume Training program for about 3-4 weeks. After 3-4 weeks Charles Poliquin recommends that you should switch to a different type of routine to continue making progress.

As Charles likes to say, “a routine is only as good as the time it takes for you to adapt to it.”

In other words everything works for a little while but nothing works forever. You have to continue challenging your body with a new type of training stimulus every few weeks for optimal results.

For example:

Sample German Volume Training Periodization

  • Workout #1: German Volume Training
  • Workout #2: German Volume Training
  • Workout #3: German Volume Training
  • Workout #4: German Volume Training
  • Workout #5: New Workout Routine!

When Charles Poliquin uses the German Volume Training program he almost always uses antagonistic body part supersets. These are supersets between muscle groups that do opposite functions.

Here are some examples of antagonistic body parts:

  • Chest / Back
  • Quads / Hamstrings
  • Biceps / Triceps

Charles believes that the best way to design a 10 x 10 workout is to use antagonistic supersets. For example you might perform a set of incline dumbbell presses, rest 1-2 minutes, perform a set of lat pulldowns, rest 1-2 minutes and perform another set of incline dumbbell presses.

Antagonistic body parts are one of the best ways to train for size and strength gains. They have many advantages:

  • They help you recruit more muscle fibers during your sets
  • They improve your muscular endurance during your workout
  • They let you perform more work in a shorter period of time

Let’s compare 2 trainees: Average Joe and Smarty Pants Sean.

Average Joe trains like everyone else you see in the gym: he does his 1st  set for chest, rests 3-4 minutes, performs his 2nd set for chest, rest 3-4 minutes etc.

Smarty Pants Sean uses a different strategy: he trains with antagonistic body part supersets. He does a set of chest, rest 1-2 minutes, does a set for back, rests 1-2 minutes, does another set for chest etc.

So what’s the difference in terms of their results? Smarty Pants Sean will be stronger on his back and chest sets, he will have better muscular endurance throughout the workout AND he will get twice as much work done in the same amount of time. That’s a pretty good deal if you ask me! No wonder Charles Poliquin used antagonistic body part supersets with his German Volume Training programs!

If you want to use antagonistic body part supersets then you have to be picky about your training split. Here is the one Charles Poliquin recommends for this routine:

The Poliquin 5-Day Split

  • Day 1: Chest / Back
  • Day 2: Legs
  • Day 3: Off
  • Day 4: Shoulders / Arms
  • Day 5: Off

This Poliquin-style training split lets you train body parts once every 5 days. This is an awesome training frequency which works very well for most trainees. It also works perfectly if you want to train using antagonistic body part supersets.

If you are incredibly strong or if you only have 3 days per week to train then you may want to use the following Poliquin-style split:

Low Frequency Polquin Split

  • Monday: Chest / Back
  • Wednesday: Legs
  • Friday: Arms / Shoulders

This split lets you train each body part once per week. It is a great option for people who need lots of recovery between workouts for each muscle group.

If you cannot or do not want to use a Poliquin-style split then you may want to try a 3 or 4 day upper body / lower body split. For example:

4 Day Upper / Lower Split

  • Monday: Upper Body
  • Wednesday: Lower Body
  • Friday: Upper Body
  • Saturday: Lower Body

This split also works reasonably well with the German Volume Training system. It is a bit harder to “specialize” on your upper body using this split. However, it is extremely effective for adding muscle mass to your lower body.

OK, you now understand the basics behind the German Volume Training system. Now let’s take a look at some sample workouts! Check it out:

Chest / Back Workout

  • A1: 30 degree incline DB press, 10 x 10, 4/0/2/0, 90 seconds rest
  • A2: Cable pulldown (medium / neutral grip), 10 x 10, 4/0/2/0, 90 seconds rest
  • B1: Decline barbell bench press, 3 x 12-15, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: T-bar row, 3 x 12-15, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

Here are exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2.

Quad / Hamstring Workout

  • A1: Back squat (narrow stance / heels slightly elevated), 10 x 10, 4/0/2/1, 90 seconds rest
  • A2: Bilateral lying leg curl (Poliquin method** / feet neutral), 10 x 10, 3/0/2/0, 90 seconds rest
  • B1: Walking DB lunge (alternating legs), 3 x 12-15, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Romanian deadlift, 3 x 12-15, 2/0/2/0, 60 seconds rest

**Dorsiflex your ankles (point your toes towards your shins) on the concentric range and plantarflex your ankles (point your toes away from your shins) on the eccentric range of the exercise.

Here are exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2.

Bicep / Tricep Workout

  • A1: Decline ez-bar extension (to chin), 10 x 10, 3/1/1/0, 90 seconds rest
  • A2: 60 degree incline DB curl (supinated grip), 10 x 10, 3/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest
  • B1: Cable pushdowns (V-handle / pronated grip), 3 x 12-15, 2/0/1/1, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 3 x 12-15, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

Here are the exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2.

OK, let’s discuss these workouts. For each workout you are going to perform 2 exercises per body part. You have your main exercise where you use the “10 sets of 10” set / rep scheme. This is the exercise where you really want to focus your efforts.

Your second exercise is more of an assistance exercise performed in slightly higher rep ranges. You will get AWESOME results if you follow these workouts exactly as they are written.

If you want to write your own German Volume Training workouts then there are a few things that you have to keep in mind:

  • The A1 / A2 system must be used for optimal results
  • You must use the “most bang for your buck” exercises
  • You must use appropriate exercise tempos for all exercises

Let’s go over each of these points in more depth. First of all the A1 / A2 system with antagonistic body part supersets must be used for optimal results.

As I mentioned earlier you will be stronger, have better muscular endurance and improve your training “density” with this method. It also lets you use the correct rest periods between exercises.

It is also critical that you choose the “most bang for your buck” exercises. This is especially true for the first 2 exercises of each workout where you use the 10 x 10 set / rep scheme. You want to pick exercises that use a lot of muscle mass and really train the target muscle hard.

Exercises like squats, dumbbell presses and lat pulldowns are excellent choices. Leg extensions and cable crossovers are not good choices!

Finally you want to use the right exercise tempos. German Volume Training is a hypertrophy training program. To build maximum hypertrophy you want your sets to last between 40-70 seconds.

If you are performing 10 reps per exercise then each rep has to last AT LEAST 4 seconds for optimal results. Here are some possible tempos you could use:

  • 3/0/X/0 = 4 seconds per rep
  • 5/0/2/0 = 7 seconds per rep
  • 4/0/1/0 = 5 seconds per rep

And so on. Charles recommends you use a 4/0/2/0 tempo for the larger movements like squats and a 3/0/2/0 tempo for smaller isolation movements. As long as your sets last between 40-70 seconds then you are on the right track.

So what kind of results can you expect from the German Volume Training program? Charles Poliquin says that many trainees will be able to build 5+ pounds of muscle in as little as 3-4 weeks using this program.

Of course this assumes they are very lean to start with and are nailing their nutrition every single day. Now let’s talk about Charles Poliquin’s more advanced version of this program…

Part 2: Advanced German Volume Training

The original German Volume Training program is an awesome way to train. Unfortunately it does not work for everyone. If you are super strong, thrive on low reps or have a lot of fast-twitch muscle fibers then you will crash and burn on the original GVT program!

Don’t worry, Charles Poliquin has you covered. He invented the Advanced German Volume Training program for fast-twitch freaks like you!

The goal for the advanced program is to perform 10 sets of 3-5 reps per workout. Here is what your first workout might look like:

Advanced Program Workout #1

  • Set #1: 300 pounds x 5 reps
  • Set #2: 300 pounds x 5 reps
  • Set #3: 300 pounds x 5 reps
  • Set #4: 300 pounds x 5 reps
  • Set #5: 300 pounds x 5 reps
  • Set #6: 300 pounds x 5 reps
  • Set #7: 300 pounds x 4 reps
  • Set #8: 300 pounds x 4 reps
  • Set #9: 300 pounds x 3 reps
  • Set #10: 300 pounds x 3 reps

In the original German Volume Training program you performed the same number of reps for each workout. The Advanced German Volume Training program is a little different: the number of reps you perform changes from one workout to the next.

You perform 10 sets of 5 reps on your first workout, 10 sets of 4 reps on your second workout and 10 sets of 3 reps on your 3rd workout. After your 3rd workout you repeat the entire process all over again. For example:

Advanced German Volume Training Periodization

  • Workout #1: 10 x 5
  • Workout #2: 10 x 4
  • Workout #3: 10 x 3
  • Workout #4: 10 x 5
  • Workout #5: 10 x 4
  • Workout #6: 10 x 3

Charles Poliquin believes that it is extremely important to pick the right weights for your sets. Charles recommends that you use your 10-rep max for the 10 x 5 workout, your 8-rep max for the 10 x 4 workout and your 6-rep max for your 10 x 3 workout.

If you do not know your 10-rep max for a specific exercise that is perfectly OK. Just use your best judgement on that particular day.

Charles actually recommends that you alternate between two different workouts for each body part.

These workouts should feature exercises that are similar but slightly different from each other. For example you might perform front squats on your first lower body workout and back squats on your second lower body workout.

This is another change from the original German Volume Training program. For example:

How To Alternate Workouts For Each Muscle Group

  • Workout #1: Front Squat 10 x 5
  • Workout #2: Back Squat 10 x 5
  • Workout #3: Front Squat 10 x 4
  • Workout #4: Back Squat 10 x 4
  • Workout #5: Front Squat 10 x 3
  • Workout #6: Back Squat 10 x 3

And so on. For each muscle group you want to pick 2 exercises that are similar but slightly different from each other. You could use front / back squats for quads, lying / seated leg curls for hamstrings, wide / narrow grip pull ups for back, etc.

This slight variation in your exercises will allow you to tap into a slightly different motor unit pool on each workout which will accelerate your progress.

Now let’s look at some sample Advanced German Volume Training Program workouts. Check it out:

Shoulder / Back Workout #1

  • A1: Standing military press (shoulder-width grip), 10 x 3-5**, 4/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Pull ups (wide / overhand grip), 10 x 3-5**, 4/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: Poliquin DB lateral raise****, 3 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Seated cable rope face pull, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/2, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as an Advanced German Volume Training Protocol. Perform 10 x 5 on your 1st workout, 10 x 4 on your 2nd workout, 10 x 3 on your 3rd workout, 10 x 5 on your 4th workout, 10 x 4 on your 5th workout, 10 x 3 on your 6th workout.

****Bed your elbows to 90 degrees before performing the concentric range. Then straighten your arms out before performing the eccentric range. This will let you overload the eccentric range of the movement.

Lower Body Workout #1

  • A1: Front squat (medium stance / heels flat), 10 x 3-5**, 4/0/X/1, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Unilateral lying leg curl (feet plantarflexed / pointed out), 10 x 3-5**, 3/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: 45 degree leg press, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/2/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Romanian deadlift, 3 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as an Advanced German Volume Training Protocol. Perform 10 x 5 on your 1st workout, 10 x 4 on your 2nd workout, 10 x 3 on your 3rd workout, 10 x 5 on your 4th workout, 10 x 4 on your 5th workout, 10 x 3 on your 6th workout.

Arm / Shoulder Workout #1

  • A1: V-bar dips (upright torso), 10 x 3-5**, 4/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 10 x 3-5**, 3/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: Lying ez-bar extensions (to forehead), 3 x 6-8, 2/1/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: 60 degree incline cable curl, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/1/, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as an Advanced German Volume Training Protocol. Perform 10 x 5 on your 1st workout, 10 x 4 on your 2nd workout, 10 x 3 on your 3rd workout, 10 x 5 on your 4th workout, 10 x 4 on your 5th workout, 10 x 3 on your 6th workout.

Shoulder / Back Workout #2

  • A1: Standing behind the neck press (shoulder-width grip), 10 x 3-5**, 4/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Pull up (narrow / neutral grip), 10 x 3-5**, 4/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: Standing unilateral cable lateral raise, 3 x 8-10, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Barbell dead stop row, 3 x 6-8, 2/1/X/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as an Advanced German Volume Training Protocol. Perform 10 x 5 on your 1st workout, 10 x 4 on your 2nd workout, 10 x 3 on your 3rd workout, 10 x 5 on your 4th workout, 10 x 4 on your 5th workout, 10 x 3 on your 6th workout.

Lower Body Workout #2

  • A1: Back squat (narrow stance / heels slightly elevated), 10 x 3-5**, 4/0/X/1, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Unilateral seated leg curl (feet plantar flexed / pointing in), 10 x 3-5**, 3/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest 
  • B1: Walking alternating DB lunge, 3 x 8-10 (per leg), 3 x 8-10, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: 45 degree back extension (with bands), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/X/1, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as an Advanced German Volume Training Protocol. Perform 10 x 5 on your 1st workout, 10 x 4 on your 2nd workout, 10 x 3 on your 3rd workout, 10 x 5 on your 4th workout, 10 x 4 on your 5th workout, 10 x 3 on your 6th workout.

Arm Workout #2

  • A1: Bench press (shoulder-width grip), 10 x 3-5**, 4/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: 45 degree incline DB curl (offset grip****), 10 x 3-5**, 4/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: Standing overhead cable rope extension, 3 x 6-8, 2/1/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Unilateral standing cable curl (reverse grip), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/1, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as an Advanced German Volume Training Protocol. Perform 10 x 5 on your 1st workout, 10 x 4 on your 2nd workout, 10 x 3 on your 3rd workout, 10 x 5 on your 4th workout, 10 x 4 on your 5th workout, 10 x 3 on your 6th workout.

These workouts work absolutely awesome for building muscle mass and strength. I strongly recommend you perform the workouts as they are written. All of the exercises, rep ranges, rest intervals etc. were chosen for a reason!

If you want to use different exercises then make sure you are using the “most bang for your buck” exercises. Incline bench presses would be a great choice for your chest day. However, the pec-dec or cable crossovers would be a terrible choice!

One of the most confusing parts about this program is picking the right weights. As I mentioned earlier you should use your estimated 10-rep max for your first 10 x 5 workout. This should let you get 5 reps on all or almost all of your 10 sets.

After the first workout things get a little trickier. Charles recommends you increase the weight on the bar by 6-8% when you go from the 10 x 5 workout to the 10 x 4 workout or from the 10 x 4 workout to the 10 x 3 workout. For example:

Advanced German Volume Training Percentages

  • Workouts 1-2: 10 x 5 @ 100%
  • Workouts 3-4: 10 x 4 @ 107%
  • Workouts 5-6: 10 x 3 @ 114%
  • Workouts 7-8: 10 x 5 @ 107%
  • Workouts 9-10: 10 x 4 @ 114%
  • Workouts 11-12: 10 x 3 @ 121%

These percentages are based on 100% of your 10-rep max. This “zig-zagging” weights progression works extremely well for advanced trainees. Charles Poliquin calls it the 4% solution.

Basically you are fluctuating your weights and your rep ranges so that you stay physically and mentally stimulated by the routine. You can use this fluctuating reps strategy with many other programs if you know what you are doing.

The Advanced German Volume Training program is definitely one of the best routines to use if you are after a blend of size and strength gains. Just make sure you nail your nutrition and get plenty of sleep each night. You can expect some serious muscle soreness after your first workout!

Conclusion

German Volume Training is one of the most popular hypertrophy training programs in the world. Countless trainees have used it to pack on pounds of new muscle tissue in as little as 3-4 weeks.

If you are more of an intermediate level trainee then you will probably get your best results using the original German Volume Training program with 10 sets of 10 reps per exercise.

On the other hand if you are more advanced then you will probably get better results with the Advanced German Volume Training program where you perform 10 sets of 3-5 reps per workout.

Remember, there are no shortcuts to building muscle mass. If you want to get jacked as quickly as possible then you have to train extremely hard in the gym and absolutely nail your nutrition. If you have a high pain threshold and know what it means to train incredibly hard then German Volume Training has your name written all over it!

“All I know is that the first step is to create a vision, because when you see the vision – the beautiful vision – that creates the want power.”

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

Thanks for checking out my site! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen and I'm the founder of Revolutionary Program Design. If you want to reach your size and strength goals faster then you've come to the right place. My goal is to make RPD the #1 strength training resource available anywhere in the world. So grab a seat, kick back and relax. There's never been a better time to lift weights or to learn the art and science of strength training program design.

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