Supersets and trisets allow you to perform a lot of work in a short period of time. The rest-pause method allows you to use heavier weights, so you can recruit the higher threshold muscle fibers, and eccentric training enables you to overcome strength plateaus. The bottom line is that almost any training method will work—provided you do it with intensity—at least for the few weeks it takes for your body to adapt to it. There is, however, one training system that stands above all the rest. It's brutally hard, but I've found it to be a very effective way to pack on muscle fast!
In strength-coaching circles, this method is often called the Ten Sets Method. Because it has its roots in German-speaking countries, I like to call it German Volume Training. To the best of my knowledge, this training system originated in Germany in the mid-'70s and was popularized by Rolf Feser, who was then the National Coach of Weightlifting. A similar protocol was promoted by Vince Gironda in the U.S., but regardless of who actually invented it, it works.
In Germany, the Ten Sets Method was used in the off-season to help weightlifters gain lean body mass. It was so efficient that lifters routinely moved up a full weight class within 12 weeks.
It was the base program of Canadian weightlifter Jacques Demers, Silver Medallist in the Los Angeles Olympic Games. Jacques was known in weightlifting circles for his massive thighs, and he gives credit to the German method for achieving such a spectacular level of hypertrophy. The same method was also used by Bev Francis in her early days of bodybuilding to pack on muscle.
The program works because it targets a group of motor units, exposing them to an extensive volume of repeated efforts, specifically, 10 sets of a single exercise. The body adapts to the extraordinary stress by hypertrophying the targeted fibers. To say this program adds muscle fast is probably an understatement. Gains of 10 pounds or more in six weeks are not uncommon, even in experienced lifters!
Goals & Guidelines
The goal of the German Volume Training method is to complete ten sets of ten reps with the same weight for each exercise. You want to begin with a weight you could lift for 20 reps to failure if you had to. For most people, on most exercises, that would represent 60% of their 1RM load. Therefore, if you can bench press 300 pounds for 1 rep, you would use 180 pounds for this exercise.
For lifters new to this method, I recommend using the following body-part splits:
- Day 1: Chest & Back
- Day 2: Legs & Abs
- Day 3: Off
- Day 4: Arms & Shoulders
- Day 5: Off
When using this program or any other, you should keep a detailed journal of the exact sets/reps and rest intervals performed, and only count the repetitions completed in strict form.
Terms You'll Need To Know
Rest Intervals: When bodybuilders start with this method, they often question its value for the first several sets because the weight won't feel heavy enough. However, there is minimal rest between sets (about 60 seconds when performed in sequence and 90-120 seconds when performed as a superset), which incurs cumulative fatigue. (Interestingly enough, you might find you get stronger again during the eighth and ninth sets. This is because of a short-term neural adaptation.) Because of the importance of the rest intervals, you should use a stopwatch to keep the rest intervals constant. This is important, as it becomes tempting to lengthen the rest time as you fatigue.
Tempo: For long-range movements such as squats, dips and chins, use a 4-0-2 tempo; this means you would lower the weight in four seconds and immediately change direction and lift for two seconds. For movements such as curls and triceps extensions, use a 3-0-2 tempo.
Number of Exercises: One, and only one, exercise per body part should be performed. Therefore, select exercises that recruit a lot of muscle mass. Triceps kickbacks and leg extensions are definitely out; squats and bench presses are definitely in. For supplementary work for individual body parts (like triceps and biceps), you can do 3 sets of 10-20 reps.
Training Frequency: Because this is such an intense program, it'll take you longer to recover. In fact, if you're familiar with the writings of Peter Sisco and John Little, you'll find that the average "Power Factor Rating" of the 10-sets method is about 8 billion. Consequently, one training session every four to five days per body part is plenty.
Overload Mechanism: Once you're able to do 10 sets of 10 with constant rest intervals, increase the weight on the bar by 4-to-5%, and repeat the process. Refrain from using forced reps, negatives or burns. The volume of the work will take care of the hypertrophy. Expect to have some deep muscle soreness without having to resort to set prolonging techniques. In fact, after doing a quad and hams session with this method, it takes the average bodybuilder about five days to stop limping.
Beginner/Intermediate Program: Phase 1
This is a sample routine based on a 5-day cycle. Once you've used this method for six workouts per body part, it's time to move on to a more intensive program for a 3-week period.
SEMI-SUPINATED GRIP (PALMS FACING EACH OTHER)
PALMS FACING YOU
Beginner/Intermediate Program: Phase 2
After six of those 5-day cycles, I recommend you do a 3-week phase where the average set is 6-to-8 reps, and do only 4-to-6 sets per body part over a 5-day cycle, or you can do any other split that suits your recovery pattern. After this 3-week block, you can return to the German Volume Training method by doing the following ten sets of six reps routine. In the exercises that are prescribed for 10 sets, use a load you'd normally be able to do 12 repetitions with. The goal in this phase is to do ten sets of six with that load.
SAMPLE 10 sets of 6 routine:
PALMS FACING AWAY FROM YOU
German Volume Training For The Advanced Trainee
For the advanced trainee, variety in training is even more important to elicit adaptation. With the advanced trainee, I use a system called the four percent method. That is, I increase the load 4-to-5 percent every workout for two workouts in a row, and I reduce the target rep by one rep for every weight increase. Then I reduce the weight 4-to-5 percent and increase the rep bracket to its original starting point. Since this is mathematical, let's look at an example that will clearly illustrate this point.
Let's say you can barbell curl 100 pounds for 12 strict reps, and you haven't been able to increase the amount of reps or weight on this exercise. Here's a sample routine that would increase your curling strength:
10 sets of 5 @ 115 lbs
10 sets of 4 @ 120 lbs
10 sets of 6 @ 115 lbs
10 sets of 5 @ 120 lbs
10 sets of 4 @ 125 lbs
Here's an example of the German Volume Training method with the 4% to 5% method for someone who can bench press 300 pounds 10 times in strict form.
10 sets of 4 @ 315 lbs
10 sets of 3 @ 330 lbs
10 sets of 5 @ 315 lbs
10 sets of 4 @ 330 lbs
10 sets of 3 @ 345 lbs
10 sets of 5 @ 300 lbs
To recap, perform the Beginner/Intermediate Phase 1 program for six weeks (six 5-day cycles). Then, progress to the Beginner/Intermediate Phase 2 program for three weeks. After that, you'll be ready to graduate to the Advanced program.
This program is elegant in its simplicity, but that's what the Germans do best. Just ask any Mercedes Benz or BMW owner.