What is the best way to build muscle? Countless people ask this question after disappointing results. The true answer is that most routines will yield the desired result given enough sheer intensity of training. However, amongst experienced gym-going circles, one regimen stands above all others.
The program in question was developed in Germany during the 1970s, popularized there by a Rolf Feser, and first introduced to American audiences by a Charles Poliquin. It is known as German Volume Training or the “ten sets method”.
The defining feature is completing every individual exercise for 10 sets of 10 reps per set. Poliquin recommends only employing one exercise for each main muscle group so fatigue does not get out of hand. He also suggests using one’s 20-rep max to select the most appropriately-sized weights. How are the muscle groups split up? A typical scheme is chest and back on day 1, legs and abs on day 2, rest on day 3, arms and shoulders on day 4, and rest on day 5 for a five-day cycle.
Day 1 – bench press and seated cable rows
Day 2 – barbell squats and incline situps with a medicine ball
Day 3 – rest
Day 4 – bicep curls and military press
Day 5 – rest
According to common knowledge, isn’t few reps with a heavy weight supposed to be best for beefing up? Numerous trainers and sports science experts, including Joe DeFranco and Pavel Tsatsouline, hold that there are two main types of hypertrophy; myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic. They respectively refer to growth due to development of new myofibrils within muscle cells versus general swelling of the muscle cells. Heavy training tends to bring out the former while high reps with low weight make the most of the latter.
Are the results really all that impressive? Poliquin reports that even experienced lifters can enjoy gaining 10 lbs of muscle in 6 weeks. While that may not sound like a lot, it’s truly impressive considering he’s talking about lean, lasting muscle mass instead of water weight, brief boosts from supplement use, etc. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger states in his Arnold’s Bodybuilding for Men that typically “it is difficult to increase muscle mass by more than 5 pounds a year”. Be sure to keep in mind that adequate rest and a healthy diet are both prerequisites for optimal results.
No workout is completely perfect and German Volume Training is no different. The most obvious concern is overwhelming psychological and physical stress from the sheer number of repetitions. Injury from overtraining, especially for beginners, is certainly a possibility. Quitting from boredom before putting in enough time to see results is another practical concern.
Besides, German Volume Training might not be for everyone. Employees trying to squeeze in a workout before heading home from a busy shift might prefer a more streamlined and concise routine. Some athletes might just lift for maintenance instead of gaining weight.
Others might feel restricted by keeping to one exercise per muscle group because they’re only developing strength in one dimension. For example, mixing incline press and bench press to work the chest from multiple angles is lost to German Volume Training. Another potential issue of having one exercise per muscle group is muscle imbalances. For instance, the triceps will be worked at the expense of neglecting the biceps if dips are the chosen arms exercise.
All in all, most people find the best use of German Volume Training is putting in a round every so often to both mix things up and help break through training plateaus.
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