My strength started to decline and my personal best lifts started to get really heavy causing me a lot of frustration. As I persevered with the heavy weights I started experiencing aches and pains in my joints and I felt that I was starting to fight a losing battle. This made me assess my situation and come up with a new game plan.
First, I realized I needed a change from heavy lifting, but to what? That's when it dawned on me that even though I had tried many different routines in my time the actual principles used in my training were always essentially the same. Sure, I would follow different body part splits but the rep speed, rest time in-between sets and style of training were always similar.
Just previous to this I had been reading about German Body Composition Training in a book by a very knowledgeable UK bodybuilder called Jason Rickaby called 'The Natural Edge.' For those who aren't familiar with German Body Composition Training (GBC) it was actually the brain-child of world famous strength coach Charles Poliquin. After reading about this style of training I was re-motivated to get back in the gym with a new workout plan and unbeknown to me then on the path to some of my greatest workouts ever!
What Is German Body Composition Training?
In a nutshell it is a method of super-setting different body parts in a session alternating between upper and lower muscles, working in a rep range of 8 - 15 per set, for up to 9 sets per bodypart split over 3 exercises while utilizing a controlled rep-tempo (4 second negatives and 1 second positive) and working extremely fast in-between sets (30-90 seconds). Plus, not training the muscle to complete failure.
Instead, use good technique and relying on the short rest periods to supply the intensity. Sounds simple? it is on paper, however in practice it really does take a good level of physical conditioning, motivation and pure intensity to keep going.
Now some people might have this confused with German Volume Training which is another great training system that Charles Poliquin has written about and has been popular in weight training circles for many years. This system is set up so that one major exercise is performed per muscle group for 10 sets and alternating sets with another exercise eg. Bench Press and Chins for 10 sets each. Although set not being performed not to failure.
The load selected for this would be 60% of 1 Rep Max and the idea was that doing just one exercise for 10 sets exposes the targeted muscle to so much stress that hypertrophy occurs. Now, I don't know about you but I like variety and the thought of doing 10 sets of just one exercise didn't appeal to me. Therefore, GBC training suited my personal style well.
A great part about GBC training is that it is actually recommended to cut back on your cardio training when doing this routine. The fast-paced workouts burns up calories like an inferno and although it is working on your anaerobic endurance your heart and lungs will be working really hard at the end of the workout. So effectively you're losing fat from hard weight training and sensible eating. That sounds good to me, here is the routine I used:
My Training Routine:
DAY 1: Chest & Back
DAY 2: Rest
DAY 3: Legs & Calves
DAY 4: Delts, Triceps and Biceps
DAY 5: Rest
DAY 6: Repeat Day 1
Number of Sets: 9 per major body part / 3 - 6 per minor body parts
Number of Reps: 8 - 15 reps per set
Rest Time Between Sets: 30 - 90 seconds
Rep Tempo: 4 second negatives and 1 second positive
Day 1: Chest & Back
Day 3: Legs & Calves
Day 4: Delts, Triceps and Biceps
Click here for a printable log of this routine!
I found this style of training to be a breath of fresh air. I really looked forward to each session and it made me appreciate that you could have a great workout at an extremely high intensity level while not having to shoot for your heaviest weights in the gym. Previously, I have always been a huge believer in progressively moving heavier poundages and I wouldn't have used this routine if it wasn't for my need to have a break due to decreasing strength and small aches and pains.
I modified the GBC plan from the recommended super-setting of upper and lower muscles. Opting for more of an agonist/antagonist approach. This worked well, however next time I will try the upper and lower split to compare how that works out.
I followed a 4-week cycle of this program and each session never lasted more than 35-40 minutes. I was covering more work than I would normally do in double the time and I was always left feeling happily exhausted. The intensity was so high that I could feel the effects of the workout 2 hours after I had finished. Furthermore, once you have given yourself a few weeks to get used to this style of training you can start increasing the weights used. This makes even more intense when your using heavier weights and still shooting for the same short rest time between sets.
Benefits From Using German Body Composition Training
The benefits I gained from using this type of program were more than I had anticipated. Firstly, I was able to keep on losing body fat however I actually was doing much less cardio as I felt like this training style really stimulated my metabolism and I was burning off far more calories per session than I normally would. I ended up getting down to 194, a lose of 6 pounds in a month while actually eating more quality food than I had been doing which made my muscles look fuller due to the extra carbs, plus I felt great with more energy.
Secondly, I was able to train hard on the weights without the nagging pains I was previously getting in my rotator cuffs. Plus, as the weights increased I was getting the pains back. I believe it gave my joints a welcomed break.
Thirdly, my motivation for training went through the roof. I couldn't wait for my next session! I've always enjoyed training but when I get on to a routine that I like I can sometimes get caught in a trap of not wanting to change it. GBC really helped me appreciate the benefits of change and has made me more open to frequently mixing up my routine to keep my body off guard and continuously progressing.
Finally, when I went back to lifting heavy again after 1 month break from maximum poundage's I originally expected to be naturally a little weaker from not perform at my best weights. However, I was shocked when on my first heavy squat day back and everything seemed light! My previous best had been 335 pounds for 6 reps. So after I had performed what seemed an easy 15 reps with 315 pounds I went up to 365 and knocked out a smooth 5 reps and felt great.
I wondered why my strength went up and after a closer look at my training I feel I was previously doing too much cardio and that was harming my recovery and growth from weight training. Therefore, backing off the cardio allowed my body to recovery better. Plus, having a change from my normal training style helped to break my plateaus and stimulate new strength gains. GBC training really helps increase your tolerance of lactic acid and your anaerobic endurance. I feel that in 4 short weeks I noticed some significant improvements in these areas. Poliquin wrote that there is a relationship between lactate and growth hormone release. Therefore, training with short rest periods really stimulates the pituitary glands to naturally release GH which a big bonus when aiming for increase muscle mass and strength.
How German Body Composition Training Plays A Part In My Routine
I was so impressed by the results I got from this training system and the enjoyment I got out of following it I now intend to cycle it into my training frequently. I plan on following a more traditional heavy weight training system for 4-6 weeks and when I start to feel that I've either reached a plateau or just a general feeling of need to change I will switch to the GBC training for a 4-week period.
This is a great training method to follow if your training is in a stale patch, or you've had injuries and struggle to lift the heavy weight comfortably or just want a challenging routine which isn't too time consuming but very productive with the potential to get some great improvements.
The Natural Edge by Jason Rickaby
'How to Deep-Six Holiday Fat' by TC Luoma in Testosterone No. 34
All the best,