Workout Routines

German Volume Training: Chest Workout

A high-volume program that requires a high pain tolerance for high-level results.

josh bryant thumbnail by CSCS, MFS, PES
Barbell Bench Press
Drazen Lovric / Getty Images
Drazen Lovric / Getty Images
Duration 40 min
Exercises 3
Equipment X

Most strength coaches and “brick outhouses” agree that to pack on serious size, compound movements need to form the foundation of a strength-training program.

Science has conclusively shown that multiple sets are superior to a single set, and high-volume training regimens build more muscle than lower volume regimens. It’s a dose-dependent relationship up until a point, and no one knows exactly where that point of no return is.

Generally, trainees with this mindset, when training the chest, start off with a heavy pressing movement, then a heavy supplementary movement or two (be it a different angle press or dip) and then on to multiple sets of isolation movements to beat the chest into submission to make it grow.

The goal with this type of workout is to reap the benefits of a core movement and then to hit as many muscle fibers as possible by attacking the muscle from a variety of angles with a variety of movements. This approach works, and has built many a championship physiques.

But there is an alternative—which also works. It’s called German volume training. I recommend using it one to two times per year performed in blocks of three to six weeks, doing it once a week.

The GVT alternative

German volume training was popularized by legendary strength coach Charles Poliquin. Poliquin learned this protocol from East German weightlifters who used a similar approach to bulk up to the next weight class when needed. 

In my quest to becoming the youngest human being to bench press 600lbs, I trained with German volume training to help add mass. I picked this up from Bill Kazmaier, who had benefited from German volume training during his career.

How it works?

German volume training is a protocol of 10 sets of 10 repetitions of a compound movement, using a 20-repetition max, or approximately 60% of the athlete’s one-rep max. Rest periods of 60 seconds up to three minutes have been advocated; however, rest depends on the movement being performed, the load used, and the anaerobic capacity of the athlete.

In the event of not being able to complete all of the repetitions, reduce the load by 2.5–5%; so if you were using 200lbs and did not complete the final rep on the seventh set, use 190–195lbs on the following set.

While this reduction is quite minor, we want to keep the intensity as high as possible for maximum muscle growth. If you attempt to keep the weight the same and continually miss reps because of fatigue, you won’t reap the intended benefits of GVT.

Performing only five reps on your last set, even if you had made every rep until that point, you have reduced the total volume of that set by 50%. Done over multiple sets, the protocol has been significantly compromised, which destroys the intended training effect. German volume training is 10 sets of 10 repetitions. Either get to work or join Curves.

Because of the high-volume training load, short rest intervals, and moderate load, this method produces a very anabolic natural growth hormone response. The idea, as Poliquin has written, is to attack the same muscle fibers over and over with the same movement for extremely high volume, and this will force the muscle fibers to experience major growth.

Final thoughts

German volume training requires big cojones, but yields big results.

Do this workout once a week, for three to six weeks, and after you achieve the prescribed weight, add 5-10lbs the next week.

Even if you have limited time, this workout very easily can be accomplished in less than an hour; the path has been laid out, time for you to blaze it.

The Workout

Exercise 1A

Barbell Bench Press You'll need: Barbell, Bench How to
Barbell Bench Press thumbnail
10 sets
10 reps
-- rest
Rest 20 seconds before 1B. Start at 60% one-rep max

Exercise 1B

T-Bar Row You'll need: Barbell, V-Handle Attachment How to
T-Bar Row thumbnail
10 sets
10 reps
-- rest
Rest 2:30 minutes before repeating complex

Exercise 2

Incline Cable Flye
exercise image placeholder
3 sets
15 reps
-- rest