Sometimes exercise hurts so good. There’s the jelly legs at the finish of a 5K, the burn after a set of squat jumps, the sting of taking a foam roller to your IT band — and then there’s German Volume Training (GVT).
The premise: Crank out 10 reps of each exercise you do for 10 sets. It’s grueling, yes, but after just a few workouts you’ll see major gains in lean muscle mass, as well as fat loss.
GVT is believed to have originated in Germany in the 1970s. It became popular in the 1990s when Canadian strength coach Charles Poliquin used it to train professional athletes. Also known as the “10-sets method,” GVT works because you target muscle fibers with a high volume of work in a short amount of time.
A typical routine is performed in supersets, switching back and forth between two exercises. “You knock out a very specific number of motor units [individual neurons within a muscle, and all the muscle fibers they cause to contract] and completely trash them,” says Poliquin. Your body adapts to this stress by hypertrophying the targeted fibers, or making the muscles bigger.
When combined with proper nutrition, GVT produces incredible gains. By increasing muscle, you boost your metabolism even when you’re not exercising. And because GVT is so simple, you don’t need a serious strength-training background. The quick results are great motivation to stick with the routine, and it’s safe, too, Poliquin says. Since you don’t go to failure on every set, you don’t risk doing any lasting damage to your muscles.
In Poliquin’s original GVT program, the exercises in each workout are antagonists, which means they work opposing muscle groups. For example, an upper-body push exercise is paired with an upper-body pull exercise, or a lower-body exercise targeting the front of the legs is paired with one that works the back of the legs.
You’ll notice that the upper-body lifts in the program outlined on the next pages are antagonists, but the lower-body pairs work some of the same muscles. The reason? Our version of GVT includes only multijoint exercises, which tend to engage all the muscles of the lower body. For instance, you can’t perform a squat or a lunge with only your quadriceps.
On upper-body days you’ll follow the original GVT format: Lift for 10 sets of 10 reps, performing the two exercises in supersets.
On lower-body days, you’ll lift for 10 sets of six reps of each exercise separately, resting between sets. The volume is less because most novice lifters don’t have the strength endurance to complete 200 reps of multijoint legwork, Poliquin explains.
1) Find your rep maxes. For upper-body exercises, which are performed in sets of 10, you’ll need a weight you can lift approximately 20 times, also known as your 20-rep max. For lower-body exercises, performed in sets of six, use a weight you can lift for a maximum of 12 reps.
2) Start lifting. Upper- and lower-body exercises will require a different number of repetitions.
- Upper body: Complete 10 reps of exercise A. Rest for 90 seconds. Perform 10 reps of exercise B. Rest for 90 seconds. Repeat until you’ve completed (or at least attempted to complete) 10 total sets, or 100 reps, of each exercise.
- Lower body: Complete six reps of exercise A. Rest for 90 seconds. Complete a second set of the same exercise. Repeat for 10 sets. Complete six reps of exercise B. Rest for 90 seconds. Complete a second set of exercise B. Repeat for 10 sets.
- Lifting tempo: Poliquin recommends that the concentric, or lift phase, of each exercise be performed as fast as possible with no pause at the top of the movement. The eccentric, or lowering phase, is performed slowly (approximately four seconds) with no pause at the bottom. This tempo makes for a killer-hard routine, but it’s critical for seeing optimal results, says Poliquin.
3) Progress it. Poliquin recommends keeping a detailed journal of reps completed in strict form in each set. When you can complete all reps and sets of an exercise, add 5 pounds. For best results, follow this program four days a week for six weeks.