Total Body Beatdown: German Volume Training

by Nathan Tomasello

An extreme full body circuit utilizing the GVT style of 10x10

Do you ever find yourself walking into the gym on a random day thinking “I just want to totally smash every muscle in my body today”?  Maybe it’s after a long weekend spent indulging in some drinks and bad food or after an unintended absence from the gym. Or maybe you just happen to feel overly energetic and want to test the limits of your ambition.  Whatever the reason, when one of those days that has you thirsty for a total body beatdown appears, I have the perfect routine for you.

For this version of the Total Body Beatdown, I have dusted off one of my favorite methods from my bodybuilding days - German Volume Training (GVT).  GVT was a high volume (obviously) method utilized by German lifters (bet you could have guessed that) that was popularized by american golden era bodybuilders of the 1970s and 80s.  I use the term “popularized” loosely - this method is so taxing that few lifters have the mental and physical fortitude to grind thru the large number of sets and reps on a regular basis.  The structure is very simple - 10 sets of 10 reps. I typically use the first set as a warm up, then on the second set try to go as heavy as possible for 10 reps. As the sets wear on, you want to keep the weight heavy, but typically you may need to lower the weight in order to complete the sets.

So…10 sets of 10…100 reps…sounds simple, right?  Well here’s the catch. For this particular workout, we are going to utilize GVT on three big compound movements in a circuit fashion, each one  utilizing a different area of the body. There is a squat for the lower body, Incline bench to work the “pushing” muscles of the chest, triceps and delts, and a rowing movement to work the “pulling” muscles of the back, biceps and forearms.  As you can imagine, this is not only gives you an extreme full body pump, it also will put your cardio and conditioning to the test.

Total Body GVT

Superset: 10 rounds

Back Squat - 10 reps

Incline Barbell - 10 reps

T-Bar Row - 10 reps

Start with a set of 10 on barbell back squat.  Remember to keep your weight light for a warm up on the first round.  Immediately transition to an incline bench for 10 barbell presses. If you don’t have a spotter you may substitute Incline Dumbbell presses.  Rack the bar then immediately hit a T-bar or Seated Row for 10 reps. Rest briefly, change the bar weights to a WMR10 (weight for max reps 10) and begin the second round.  As the sets progress, lower the weight as necessary to ensure that you complete all 10 reps. If you fail in the middle or towards the end of a set, rack the weight, rest for a brief 10-20 seconds then complete the remaining reps.  Just to give you an idea of what the weights for this workout may look like:

Squat: 135/255/225/205/205/205/185/185/175/165

Incline: 135/185/185/175/165/155/155/155/145/145

Seated Row: 120/200/200/200/190/190/180/180/170/170

If you notice in the above example, the weights begin to lower later in the workout due to fatigue.  In classic GVT the goal is to keep the same WMR10 for the entire 10 x 10, but I have found that when doing this method in a full body superset fashion, that goal becomes close to impossible.  Again, the above weights are just an example, you will need to choose your starting weight appropriately and go from there based on how you feel. It’s a good idea to keep track of the weights you use, so the next time you attempt this killer, try to increase weight on a few sets so that you lift a higher overall poundage during the course of the workout.  That does not necessarily mean you have to start at a heavier weight - your starting Squat (2nd set) may still be 255, but maybe rather than ending with sets of 175 and 165 you keep 185 on the bar for the last few sets. Another variable you can look at is time. Set a timer and see how long it takes you to complete the entire 30 set circuit. Next time you attempt the workout, keep your weights the same but finish the workout in a shorter amount of time by taking shorter breaks.  It’s always a good idea to keep a puke bucket close at hand.

Another version of this workout is to utilize all body weight movements - body squats or jump squats in place of the back squat, dips or push ups gets swapped out for incline bench, and pull ups replaces rows.  In theory this is a lot easier, but also great for when your time in the gym access to equipment is limited. To really challenge yourself, run 1 mile as soon as you complete the 10th round. Time the entire workout including the run.


Superset: 10 rounds

Body Squat or Jump Squat - 10

Dips or Push ups - 10

Pull Ups - 10

Run 1 mile following the 10th round

***time the entire workout including the Run***

Well there you have it - a full body and conditioning twist on one of my favorite old school bodybuilding methods.  Give this one a try next time you need a full body workout or simply want to take yourself to deep water.

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