Purpose of the study
To observe the effect of German Volume Training (10 sets of 10) on muscle and strength gains and compare its use to a traditional (5 sets of 10) style bodybuilding split.
The researchers recruited 19, healthy young (19-24) individuals whom had previous training experience for at least one year prior to the study.
This study used two different experimental groups including completing 10 sets of specific exercises or only 5 for sets of 10 repetitions.
German Volume Training typically includes 10 sets of 10 with minimal rest. It is because of this that this style was the variable being manipulated in the study. Using the same exercises, experimental groups with performed the first two compound movements for either 10 sets of 10 (GVT) or for 5 sets of 10.
Upon completing these experimental sets, all participants continued training sessions by completing the same exercises across both groups. Additional exercises were implemented to emulate what a typical bodybuilder’s training split would be like.
Participants trained 3 times per week with at least 24 hours in between sessions, for duration of 6 weeks or 18 sessions.
Upon completion of each exercise session, participants were provided with a protein shake, something that would typically happen for a bodybuilder.
The researchers revealed that only 74.5% and 77.5% of participants were able to complete 10 repetitions for each of their sets for the 10 set and 5 set group respectively. This means that for each group, around 2-3 sets were executed until failure.
Additionally, it was revealed that the 10 set group had significantly higher volume of exercise completed, which was expected considering they were prescribed to complete 5 additional sets compared to the 5 set group.
The researchers indicated that the 5 set group actually increased total body mass and lean body mass by 3.6% and 2.7%, respectively, while the 10 set group only increased by 2.1% and 1.9%; a somewhat surprising result to say the least.
Intriguingly, the study revealed that the 5 set group had significantly greater strength gains in the bench, lat pull down and leg press when compared to the 10 set group.
German Volume training is not superior to normal split style training and in fact may be quite inferior to normal training.
As the authors noted: "The primary finding from this study was that despite a larger training volume, the 10-SET group did not achieve greater increases muscular hypertrophy compared to the 5-SET group, therefore our hypothesis was not supported."
The Nitty Gritty
German Volume Training (GVT) is a training style that has been used for decades, especially in the Olympic style weightlifting realm.
As of a couple years ago, GVT has made it’s way into the bodybuilding world as it includes a large amount of training volume and high level of metabolic stress, both of which seem to play significant roles in increasing lean muscle mass.
I liked this study because it really only manipulated 1 thing in the study: single set volume.
Single set volume is something that I believe many people place a bit too much emphasis on.
As mentioned in the study, meta-analysis have revealed that after a certain point (4-6 sets depending on training status) you begin to hit a plateau in terms of growth response, and even enter into the realm of diminishing returns. I.E. if you continue to do more volume, you’ll actually take a step back in terms of growth and strength, rather than forward.
The issue really comes down to the question of whether completing 10 sets of 10 is actually necessary to stimulate a growth response and further, is it even advised to do so.
Additionally, the study is fairly short; an issue with almost any study.
However, it’s even worse for studies such as this, attempting to observe a meaningful change in body composition.
A 6-week timeline is a very short amount of time. For example, even for beginners, they often don’t observe actual increases in muscle size for months after beginning a program.
For a trained individual, seeing meaningful increases in muscle size takes even longer. Not to mention, with a very high volume of training such as this, it wouldn’t even be surprising if much of the lean mass gains observed were simply due to increased water and glycogen retention as a result of the training.
Either way, it’s really difficult to infer conclusions on either side of the coin, although it’s probably safe to say that GVT isn’t necessarily advised for most people, at least not as it’s prescribed.
Why you shouldn’t use German Volume Training as typically prescribed
Single set volume probably isn’t as important as volume over time (multiple sessions).
While training volume is likely one of the major drivers of muscle hypertrophy, single set volume probably is not.
Too often, people try to place too much emphasis on one single set rather than focusing on the amount of volume they can complete over the course of the training session or training week.
You can see this when people try to go to failure all the time. They fail on this first set, get fatigued and then wonder why the rest of their workout was shit and they aren’t growing.
As mentioned in other articles, failure in single sets reduces your ability in later sets, which reduces volume.
Just as how one meal won’t make or break your entire diet, one high volume set probably won’t have a meaningful impact on your mass and strength gains.
Frequency of growth response is more important than an acute spike
Building on the last point, currently the consensus is that increasing protein synthesis on a regular basis in response to training is a driver of muscle size growth.
In trained individuals, this protein synthetic response is fairly short, likely back to baseline within 12-24 hours after a training session. This period of time is when we see the most potential for growth since new contractile components (what make up part of the muscle and allow for the muscle to contract) can be synthesized. After this period of time, the potential for increasing the amount of these components may be greatly reduced.
Thus, it is theoretically sound that increasing this response frequently will lead to superior growth.
For example, if you can increase the protein synthetic response to training 3 times per week, your spending much more time potentially growing than only increasing that response once.
German Volume Training likely leads to a large amount of damage and fatigue
Even for a trained individual, completing 10 sets of 10 for multiple exercises and then completing the rest of your workout is A LOT. No really, that’s a lot of volume.
Further, many of these sets are likely taken to muscular failure.
Extremely high volume + taking many sets to failure = recipe for possible over training and injury.
As the study showed, the 10 sets of 10 group significantly less growth and strength gains. It’s likely due to their inability to properly recover. Doing more than you should, especially on a short-term basis is a great way to increase fatigue and burn yourself to the ground.
It’s very likely that the 10 set group saw inferior growth because they were just too fatigued and sore to improve.
Better ways to train, based on this study
Heed the warnings of researchers
Both this study and the meta-analysis of Kreiger indicate that there is an upper limit of sets and volume that should be completed for single exercises.
While progressive overload is probably essential for growth, doing too much for single exercises is not only unnecessary but will probably reduce performance, had you done less.
If you are using higher rep ranges, (8-12) I suggest paying close attention to your ability. Work on increasing weight and or repetitions for each set, but pay close attention to fatigue levels. If you’re very close to failure, you should probably consider moving on to the next exercise, as more volume probably won’t benefit you further.
Train more frequently
Using 10 sets of 10 might be an effective way to increase growth, if it is spread out over multiple sessions.
As mentioned, the growth response is fairly limited for trained individuals. However, if you can stimulate this response multiple times per week, you may see real gains.
Further, if you split 10 sets of 10 up over the course of 3 sessions, you might be able to increase the total amount of volume to greater than simple 10 sets of 10, which may actually increase your growth.
In my opinion, splitting the session up over multiple sessions is probably superior to doing it all in one session.
If you must use GVT, use your current ability
Using GVT is totally fine. In fact, I use it on occasion.
However, you must take your individual ability into account. Using the general prescription of 10 sets of 10 is ill advised since it is probably way more volume than you are used to.
This will lead to immense fatigue and soreness, reducing your ability to training for days after.
Instead, take your normal volume and increase it slightly. If you typically can manage 4 sets of 10, try upping it to 6 sets and sequentially increasing until you can manage 10 sets without failing.
Rather than jumping right into 10 sets of 10, increase your volume slightly to produce a response, but avoid failing and becoming extremely sore.
Use failure sparingly
Many people think that taking sets to failure is the reason for growth. This notion is logical but doesn’t really pan out; at least not for single sets.
Progressive overload is essential but single set overload probably isn’t (the whole crux of this article).
For example, taking your bench set to failure at 12 reps is probably inferior to completing 6 sets of 8 reps. Further, that set to failure probably fatigued your muscle to a great extent, reducing your abilities for the rest of the training session.
Why this should matter to you
It should matter because it provides evidence that doing more probably isn’t always better.As enthusiasts, we often get excited about the idea of doing more volume and stimulating new growth.
German Volume Training is sexy. The idea of 10 sets of 10 sounds fucking hardcore and a sure fire way to increase growth. The problem is, single set volume is likely inferior to long-term volume.
This study strengthens the notion that stimulating the muscle and not annihilating is the best path to growth.
If you want to use GVT, go for it. You should probably experience what it’s all about. However, use your current ability as a starting point and be smart.
Avoid acute failure and focus on long-term, progressive increases in weight, reps sets and just total volume.