There is much debate regarding the best way to gain muscle fast. Many of my online personal training clients come to me seeking a quick increase in quality muscle mass. Whilst there are dozens of protocols and training regimes out there that could achieve this goal, there are undeniably some protocols that stand out as being most effective.
German volume training or 'the ten sets method' is my weapon of choice for conditioned individuals already in regular training. It's a very unconventional program and even experienced lifters approach it with skepticism because the weights used are significantly lighter compared to most bodybuilding regimes, coupled with the fact that the volume of sets per exercise is increased to very unfamiliar territory.
GVT was created in Germany during the 1970's. It was initially made famous by Rolf Feser before being championed by Canadian power lifter Jacques Demers and female bodybuilder Bev Francis. The regime has been written about extensively by highly esteemed Canadian strength coach Charles Poliquin.
I'm a big fan of GVT. Typically I employ it twice per year for 4 weeks phases and have used it to achieve considerable increases in muscle mass with dozens of clients and colleagues.
Before you start: Before beginning a German volume training program it's important to consider your current level of conditioning. This is an extremely demanding program and is sure to tax the nervous systems of very experienced lifters to the brink of over-training. For this reason, I recommend that you give yourself at least 4 weeks of more conventional resistance training in the run up to GVT in order to condition your body for the work ahead. Believe me, you do not want to fall into over-training. It will feel as if you have the flu, keep you out of the gym and completely ruin your progress.
Another consideration is that you really must adapt your lifestyle to GVT in order to recover from the workouts. Remember the light weights won't create huge muscle aches; it will be your nervous system that is getting drained so fatigue may be accumulating without you knowing it. Late nights, alcohol and stress are all to be avoided during this training phase and, unless you are able to live and recover like an athlete, I wouldn't recommend running this program any longer than 4 weeks consecutively.
The Nitty Gritty
Exercise choice: You should stick to classic compound lifts that work several different muscles groups during GVT. You'll have less exercise variance than you are probably used to so big movements that work lots of muscles will help to stimulate the maximum amount of muscle fibres possible.
Rest time: Aim for 1 minute rest time between sets. Time your rest and keep it consistent. Leg exercises may require slighter longer rest periods; although this is a personal choice.
Sets and reps: This program calls for 10 reps of 10 sets for the two main exercises per workout. These exercises are typically opposing muscle groups, though you can modify this. You then follow up with three sets of 10 reps employing a more isolated movement for the body parts you are training. Aim for three workouts per week. Begin with 60% of the weight you would typically use to perform 10 reps.
Progression: Progressive load is the key to making huge gains with GVT. Each time you successfully complete your 10 x 10 you need to move up in weight by the smallest available increment. You will notice that the first 4 sets are reasonably easy following that, the hard work really kicks in.
The program is divided into 3 training days. You can select different body part combinations but I have had the best results with the following program.
Chest and back
Barbell bench press - 10 x 10
Bent over row - 10 x 10
Chest fly - 3 x 10
Lat pull down - 3 x 10
Legs and abs
Forward lunge - 10 x 10
Romanian deadlift - 10 x 10
Calf raises - 3 x 10
Weighted sit up - 3 x 10
Shoulders, traps and arms
Military press - 10 x 10
Upright row - 10 x 10
Barbell curl - 3 x 10
Tricep pull down - 3 x 10
Expect serious size gains with this training program - but again, remember that recovery is crucial. Do not underestimate the amount of rest you need after these workouts. Take a look at the weeks ahead and really make sure you do not have too many external stressors that could make recovery difficult.
You will also need to make sure you eat the right amount of calories throughout your time on GVT. Without a surplus of calories on this program, you will struggle to recover let alone to gain new muscle mass. I recommend a 20% surplus (in relation to your TDEE) on training days and a 10% surplus on rest days.
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