Does German Volume Training Really Build Muscle Fast?

german volume training

German volume training is typically where in a training session, you perform no more than 2 compound exercises with 10 sets of 10 repetitions with a 60% one-rep max load while using 60-90 seconds of rest between sets.

This method seems to have origins in 1970’s Germany, where it’s believed the national weightlifting team established this method to markedly increase the muscle mass of their athletes during the off-season.

On the internet, it’s easy to find content claiming German volume training is highly powerful for putting on muscle mass fast.

Moreover, it’s fairly easy to come across anecdotal stories of individuals stating they experienced profound positive increases in muscle and strength via German volume training.

Though anecdotes can be highly interesting and informative on many occasions, scientific research is a much more rigorous and stringent way to evaluate the efficacy of a training method. 

Fortunately, there have been 2 studies published in the last few years evaluating German volume training. 

As we’ll see in the later portions of this article, there are also other pieces of research from the hypertrophy and strength literature that can shed further light on how effective German volume training might actually be. 

The Research on German Volume Training

Let us kick things off with a 2017 study by Amirthalingam et al.

Protocol

19 men with roughly an average of 4 years of training experience were assigned to either a 5-set or a 10-set group.

Both groups trained three times per week for 6 weeks.

Below is the program for both groups. 

Both groups trained exactly the same, except the 5-set group performed only 5 sets for the first 2 exercises each session, whereas the 10-set group performed 10 sets for the first 2 exercises each session.

Therefore, the 10-set group essentially performed the German volume method, while the 5-set group performed half of the German volume method.

Both groups rested 60-90 seconds between sets.

Moreover, if a subject successfully completed 10 repetitions on the final set for an exercise, the load was increased by 5-10% for that exercise in the next session.

30 minutes after a training session, all subjects consumed a whey protein supplement containing 30 grams of protein.

Additionally, the researchers encouraged all subjects to increase the number of calories they consumed each day by 1,000-2,000. Based on the data provided, it appears both the 5-set and 10-set groups similarly consumed around 1,020 more calories per day.

Measurements

Before and after the 6 weeks of training, a range of measurements was evaluated.

For strength gains, one-rep max on the bench press, lat pull-down, and leg press was measured.

For hypertrophy, 2 sets of different measurements were taken.

Firstly, DXA was used to assess the lean mass of the trunk, arms, and legs.

Secondly, ultrasound was used to assess the thickness of the biceps, triceps, anterior thigh, and posterior thigh at roughly the midpoints of the muscles. 

Results

What the researchers found was increases in the bench press and lat pull-down one-rep max were significantly greater for the 5-set group, while increases in leg press one-rep max were statistically similar between groups. 

As for the hypertrophy measures, increases in arm and trunk lean mass were greater for the 5-set group, while increases in leg mass were statistically similar between both groups.

Quite fascinatingly, neither the 5-set nor the 10-set group experienced statistically significant increases in biceps, triceps, anterior thigh, or posterior thigh thickness.

It’s not clear why this is, especially because statistically significant increases in arm, trunk, and leg mass were noted with the DXA measurements. 

In general, ultrasound measurements are considered more reliable versus DXA for evaluating muscle growth.

Nevertheless, this study does not look very promising for German volume training. 

It seems performing 5 sets, instead of 10 sets, was better for most strength measures and some hypertrophy measures.

Limitations

Now, there are some limitations of this study worth noting. 

Firstly, the subjects in the 5-set group were actually weaker than the subjects in the 10-set group on the bench press, lat pulldown, and leg press before the study. On average, the 5-set group lifted around 10kg (22lbs) less than the 10-set grou on all these exercises.

This strength difference might actually explain why the 5-set group was able to increase their one-rep max on the bench press and lat pull-down significantly more than the 10-set group. 

Secondly, there were only 19 subjects in this study, and like most sport science studies, this is a small sample size that might explain why the researchers were unable to find statistically significant increases in the ultrasound muscle thickness measures. 

Thirdly, this study was only 6 weeks. Perhaps a longer time frame would produce different results.

Fortunately, a second 2018 study by Hackett et al. evaluated the effects of German volume training for 12 weeks. 

Protocol

12 men with a minimum of 1-year training experience were assigned to a 5-set or 10-set group.

Both groups trained three times per week for 12 weeks.

The program was exactly the same as the previous study. For the first 2 exercises in a session, the 5-set group performed 5 sets, while 10 set-group performed 10 sets.

Both groups rested 60-90 seconds between sets.

Moreover, if a subject successfully completed 10 repetitions on the final set for an exercise, the load was increased by 5-10% for that exercise in the next session.

30 minutes after a training session, all subjects consumed a whey protein supplement containing 30 grams of protein.

Measurements

Before, after the 6th week, and after the 12 weeks of training, one-rep max on the bench press and leg press was measured.

Also, DXA was used to measure lean mass in the trunk, arms, and legs.

Results

The researchers found that bench press one-rep max only significantly increased in the 5-set group. As for leg press one-rep max, neither group experienced statistically significant increases. However, the numerical mean did indeed seem to increase in both groups, and to what seems a similar extent.

As for the DXA measurements, fascinatingly, neither group experienced statistically significant increases in lean mass for the trunk, arms, or legs.

Although, the 10-set group actually experienced a statistically significant decrease in lean leg mass from week 6 to week 12. 

This is quite interesting. It’s possible the 10-set group might have been failing to sufficiently recover between sessions, potentially somehow resulting in muscle protein breakdown exceeding muscle protein synthesis levels. 

So, like the previous study, this study looks far from promising for German volume training.

Limitations

Now, some limitations should be considered with this study.

Firstly, unlike the previous study, the researchers did not track the calories consumed by the subjects. Therefore, it’s plausible differences in dietary factors between groups could have confounded the results.

Secondly, only DXA measurements were used for measuring muscle hypertrophy. As we’ve already noted, DXA isn’t considered the best tool for measuring muscle hypertrophy.

Thirdly, only 12 subjects were included in this study, which is an extremely small sample size. Again, a small sample size like this may explain why the researchers were unable to find statistically significant differences for some of the measurements.

Lastly, this study was 12 weeks, which is a fair duration. However, due to the high volume and fatiguing nature of German volume training, it might have been useful for the subjects to take a one-week deload after the final training session. The researchers could have also taken their measurements after this one-week deload. 

Perhaps such a deload would dissipate any excessive fatigue and thus impact the strength and hypertrophy measurements.

Summary of Direct German Volume Training Research

Even with the limitations of both of the studies we’ve just overviewed directly assessing German volume training in mind, both of these papers still fail to look promising for the method.

These papers indicate performing half of what you would with German volume training, that is, 5 sets instead of 10 sets, might be slightly better for strength and hypertrophy. 

Having said this, if we evaluated other strength and hypertrophy research papers, it becomes evident that regardless of whether we are talking about performing 5 or 10 sets of the German volume method, both are likely suboptimal.

Other Research Relating to German Volume Training

Remember, with German volume training, you perform sets of 10 repetitions with a 60% one-rep max load, while using 60-90 seconds of rest between sets.

Proximity to Failure

The first issue here relates to how far from failure you would be on your sets. 

With a 60% one-rep max load, you can generally perform approximately 20 repetitions. 

As a result, your 1st set with German volume training is roughly 10 repetitions away from failure.

For optimizing muscle hypertrophy, you’d likely want to be 5 or fewer repetitions away from failure each set.

Now, your successive sets will get closer and closer to failure, and your later sets will definitely be well within 5 or fewer repetitions from failure, thanks to cumulative fatigue. 

In fact, there is data demonstrating some individuals cannot fully complete 10 repetitions on the final few sets of German volume training.

However, this still does not resolve the fact the first few sets are probably suboptimal for building muscle. Therefore, it would likely be more efficient and productive to set up your training in a way where your working sets are at or within 5 repetitions from failure. 

Short Rest Intervals

The second problem is that you only rest 60-90 seconds between sets. 

Compound exercises are typically used with German volume training, and as thoroughly examined in our rest interval article, the research suggests with compound exercises, 2.5 or minutes of rest between sets is optimal for building muscle, as well as likely strength.

Let us briefly overview one paper by Schoenfeld et al. that demonstrates this.

16 men with at least 6 months of training experience performed a range of exercises each for 3 sets of repetitions to failure with an 8-12 rep max load, three times per week for 8 weeks.

The exercises performed were the back squat, leg press, leg extension, bench press, overhead press, lat pull-down, and cable row.

All of the exercises, except for the leg extension, are compound.

Increases in elbow flexor, triceps brachii, anterior quadriceps, and vastus lateralis thickness favored a group resting for 3 minutes compared to a group resting for 1 minute between sets.

Data are mean

Additionally, increases in bench press and squat one-rep max were significantly greater for the group resting 3 minutes between sets compared to the group resting 1 minute.

Conclusion

To conclude, combining all of the various research papers explored in this article, it’s apparent the evidence looks far from promising for German volume training. 

I think it’s not unreasonable to say it’s inefficient and likely involves suboptimal variables. 

It’s important to say that by no means does this mean no one should ever do German volume training. If it’s something you like to experiment with, I think it’s perfectly fine and justified to do so.

Furthermore, if you’ve had positive experiences with German volume training, by no means can the research presented take this away from you or invalidate it. Some individuals may highly enjoy this method and be happy with the adaptations they experience from it.

RECEIVE 2 INFOGRAPHICS WEEKLY SUMMARIZING VARIOUS HYPERTROPHY AND STRENGTH RELATED RESEARCH PAPERS ↓

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