German Volume Training

An old-school routine that still delivers serious gains!

Sometimes, old school still rules

There are some advances over the last half-century that have been truly astonishing. Computer technology would be one, along of course with the Internet that connects us all around the world today. Automotive precision and fuel economy would be another. What about hypertrophy training for bodybuilders? Have we improved our training efficiency and productiveness by leaps and bounds since the 1960’s and 70’s, rendering the methods of that bygone epoch obsolete? Certainly, we now understand and implement the role of recovery far better than our predecessors.

Yet in terms of actual training methods and routines, you will find that some of those ‘archaic’ routines work as well or even better than anything developed in the era of iPhones, Instagram, and cryptocurrency. Some classics, like old American muscle cars, simply stand the test of time.

German Volume Training, or GVT, is one such method. It also goes by the self-explanatory name of ’10 Sets of 10.’ There is some debate as to whether it was ‘invented’ by a German national weightlifting coach named Rolf Feser in the 1970’s (hence the name) or by the original ‘Iron Guru,’ Vince Gironda, in the 1960’s, who espoused a routine of 8 sets of 8 reps with a single exercise. What cannot be argued is that GVT is highly effective at adding lean muscle tissue.

When used by members of the German national weightlifting team in their off-season from their traditional strength training, it was not uncommon for them to move up a weight class in only 12 weeks on GVT. While that scenario might be undesirable for an Olympic athlete representing his or her nation in a specific weight class, for the rest of us always striving for more mass, it’s heaven-sent. I’m always striving to gain more lean muscle mass, aren’t you?

Same exercise, same weight

The beauty of GVT lies in its almost laughable simplicity. One and only one exercise is performed per body part, using the same weight for all 10 sets with only 60 seconds rest between sets. Its effectiveness lies in the cumulative fatigue effect. That means that the first few sets won’t seem too difficult, leaving you to question if perhaps you should have chosen a heavier weight. By the time you get halfway through the 10 sets, you will come to realize the weight you selected is just fine, assuming you have arrived at the proper amount of resistance.

Most trainers find that a weight they could normally perform for 20 reps to failure is just about right for doing 10 sets of 10 with. If this sounds familiar, it’s not terribly different from the ‘Sevens’ technique from Hany Rambod’s FST-7 system, used successfully by Jay Cutler, Phil Heath, and Hadi Choopan. It’s all about targeting a specific group of muscle fibers and motor units with the same exercise and forcing them to an extraordinary volume of repeated efforts. As the 10 sets progress, the targeted muscle group must work harder and harder to complete the 10 repetitions.

By the final set or two, it’s a heroic struggle to get those 10 reps! This works the muscle in a way it’s totally unaccustomed to, and the extreme stress forces a growth adaptation. Ideally, you will add weight in small increments every time you repeat the workout. Thus, if you did 10 sets of 10 with 225 pounds on the bench press today, you should aim for 10 sets of 10 with 230 next time. Use those little 2.5-pound plates for those small but manageable increases in weight. Don’t be greedy or hasty and try to move up any more than 5 pounds from workout to workout unless the weight you had used previously still wasn’t terribly challenging.

How to choose the exercise

Since we are only going to be performing one exercise per bodypart, these need to be the most productive movements that will recruit maximum muscle fibers and motor units. Isolation movements don’t fit this bill the way compound lifts do. Here is a short list of highly effective exercises to choose from:


Flat barbell bench press

Incline barbell bench press


Barbell row

T-bar row

Supinated (underhand) grip chin-ups



Leg press


Barbell military press


Barbell curl



Close-grip bench press

How to use GVT

While you can certainly employ GVT with several muscle groups at a time in your workouts, it’s not advisable to use it for everything at once. Doing so would be too much intensity and workload for your CNS and the actual muscles to recover from. If you’re interested in seeing just what type of results you can get, one way to structure a routine is to alternate phases of GVT so that each muscle group gets a chance. Here’s one such split.

2 Sample routines

Routine 1: GVT for Chest, back, shoulders

Day 1: Chest and triceps

Day 2: Back and biceps

Day 3: Legs and shoulders

Rest, repeat

Day 1: Chest and triceps

Flat barbell bench press               10 x 10

EZ-bar skull crushers                   3 x 10-12

Seated overhead DB extension    3 x 10-12 each arm

Day 2: Back and biceps

Barbell row                                  10 x 10

Incline DB curl                             3 x 10-12

Preacher curl                               3 x 10-12

Day 3: Legs and shoulders

Barbell military press                    10 x 10

Leg extension                              3 x 15

Leg press                                    4 x 12-20

Lying leg curl                     3 x 10-12

Routine 2: GVT for Arms and legs

Day 1:          Legs and chest

Day 2:          Back and shoulders

Day 3:          Arms

Day 4:          Rest, repeat

Day 1:          Legs and chest

Squat                                10 x 10

Seated leg curl                  3 x 10-12

Incline DB press                3 x 10-12

Pec flye                             3 x 12

Day 2:          Back and shoulders

Chin-up                             4 x 10-12

T-bar row                           4 x 10-12

Seated DB press               4 x 10-12

DB lateral raise                  3 x 12

Bent DB raise                    3 x 12

Day 3:          Arms

Barbell curl                        10 x 10

Close-grip bench press      10 x 10

You can alternate these routines by performing them for 4 weeks each, then switching off to the other. It wouldn’t be wise to alternate the workouts every sequence, as doing so would make it far more difficult to add weight to the exercises being used for GVT. Thus, you could do routine 1 for 4-6 weeks, followed by 4-6 weeks on routine 2. After those 8-12 weeks on GVT, give yourself a break from it for at least a month. By working it into your training program this way, you can use it to continually pack on more and more muscle mass!

Randy Reith
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