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German Volume Training Push-Up Workout

My interests are NBA basketball, weightlifting, invention, local government, economics, writing (obviously), and strength training.

Push-ups are a life saver, drop and give me a hundo!

Push-ups are a life saver, drop and give me a hundo!

The No-Gym Panic

"Is there a gym?"

The preceding quote used to be my answer to any proposition regarding travel. I had spent three years building every ounce of muscle and strength that I could, and I was not about to give that up for a silly trip anywhere in the country.

Recently, however, that changed. It became irresponsible for me to continue to pay for a membership to a gym. Particularly here, in New York City, gym membership prices are correlated with the inflated cost of living.

Somehow, I needed to stay strong without the benefit of a gym.

I believe early humans were incredibly strong. If you look at ancient architecture, you will see evidence of men that lifted weights we could only dream of today.

What are German Volume Training Calisthenics?

German Volume Calisthenics (aka German Volume Training) was invented in Germany in the 1970s and has become one of the most respected routines in weight training today. The method involves performing 10 sets of 10 repetitions in the most compound exercises (bench press, squat, dead-lift, barbell rows, military press). This overloads your system and can be very difficult. However, this is a system used by world-class athletes, so we know that it works wonders! I haven't found an online article or a fitness magazine to date that has anything negative to say about this type of program.

Basis for the Workout

I began playing with workout ideas in my mind. I, when using the gym, had alternated training routines between power sets of 3-5 reps (strength), hypertrophy sets of 10-12 reps (size and cosmetic appearance), and German volume training (size and endurance). Because I was already much too strong to simply be performing 3-5 reps of a push-up, I decided to incorporate German volume training into my workout.

What are Calisthenics?

Calisthenics, or exercises that utilize motion and the body's own weight, are often the subject of scorn in weightlifting and bodybuilding forums across the internet. I find many of these perspectives to be closed minded, given that some elite athletes have used calisthenics to attain their strength without sacrificing agility or flexibility. Former NFL great Herschel Walker was famous for his incredible physique, built from calisthenics alone. Julius Peppers, also known for freakish athleticism, uses calisthenics as his go-to for resistance training.

My program is intermediate level, but can be modified for any level of strength. The justification behind the workout involves overloading the chest, shoulders and triceps in a compound movement as a top priority. However, it is important to train the exercises that you can only perform a few repetitions of first. You do not want to be burned out before performing one armed push ups or handstand push ups.

Herschel Walker.  And they said you can't bulk up using calisthenics.

Herschel Walker. And they said you can't bulk up using calisthenics.

Do the Hard Stuff First

  1. Begin with handstand push ups. Find a wall you can walk up, or have someone hold your feet for a vertical handstand. Keep your feet together, flex with your abdominal muscles to maintain vertical posture. Lower yourself down slowly until your head is either against the floor or a few inches above it. Then, push up until your elbows are just short of locked. These should be fairly difficult for any non-elite athlete, so simply perform up to five sets of as many repetitions as you can. If this is your first time performing handstand push ups, make sure to enlist a spotter.
  2. One-armed push ups. Place one arm behind your back, spread your feet to slightly wider than shoulder length, and balance with one hand underneath you. Perform 2-3 sets of up to 10 repetitions, resting for 2 minutes between each set. See the video below for a proper demonstration of one-armed push up form. If you cannot perform any of this exercise, substitute standard push ups with your feet elevated on stairs (incline).

Proper One-Armed Push Up Form

German Volume Training and Hypertrophy: Burning Out

  1. Push ups. Slightly wider than shoulder width apart, back flat, core tight, and feet together is the way to begin the exercise. Lower yourself with a slow, controlled movement until your chest touches the floor, taking care to keep your back straight. Perform 10 sets of 10 repetitions, resting for 60-90 seconds between each set. Make sure to keep a stopwatch close by, as monitoring your progress is helpful. If you were able to easily complete the exercises with the allowed rest time, subtract 5 to 10 seconds of rest between sets. If you were unable to finish, add as much rest time as you need between sets to finish the 10 sets of 10. You can substitute neutral grip, knuckle push ups (wrists facing each other) for variety every second or third workout. If you get to the point where you are performing 100 push ups with no rest, it is definitely time to start putting weight on your back.
  2. Triangle or diamond push ups. Put both hands in the shape of a triangle on the ground, with index fingers and thumbs touching. Assume push up position, with your hands centered ad the middle to lower portion of the sternum. Perform a push up, only with this new varied hand placement. Perform three sets of 10 repetitions, with 60-90 seconds of rest between sets.
  3. Incline push ups. Elevate your feet on stairs or a bench, and place your hands in standard push up position. While maintaining a flat back and a tight core, lower yourself downward slowly, then explode through a push up. Perform 3 to 5 sets of 10-12 repetitions.
  4. Oftentimes I add dips here, but there may not be the proper equipment or structures present to do them. After that, transition to doing a single "burnout" set of standard, incline, or knuckle push-ups.
  5. I recommend 24-72 hours of rest before attempting a chest workout again. Foods rich in protein and fiber, as well as plenty of water, are also recommended.

Only a Framework

This workout is not intended to be repeated as the only chest, triceps, and shoulders workout in a routine. This workout is simply a point from which previous weightlifters, workout enthusiasts, or calisthenics newcomers can use to springboard from. I believe that the best workout is one that is modified to your goals and needs, so I encourage you to modify this system.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Mayukh Sen on December 06, 2015:

I know cousins who are ripped from calisthenics, they also utilized the same hifh volune idea.

Basically when you do any pushing and pulling calisthenics exercise, ANY exercise for that matter, lets say regular push ups and pull ups, you do 30 sets till failure resting 30 seconds between each, every other day per muscle group, they did it with plyo push ups and plyo pull ups for 2 years and they were HUGE.

I do it with sanbag ovh presses and bent over rows, start out with a 6-8 rm weight, do this program until its my 15+ rep max and then start with a 6- 8 rm weight again.

Sandbags are cheap as hell, and i got 18 inch arms and huge delts back and pecs from this routine.

mike on September 15, 2015:

well great article, but you know what, I have experimented with this whole calisthenics gvt thing for 6 months straight, and the fact of the matter is, you dont have to work with 60 percent of your 1rm, for example, i could do 70 push us in a row when i first started this, and since i would not use tempo, I tweaked the program a a bit, each set i would do half my max, with 30 seconds of rest between sets, untill atleast 15 sets or untill the set I fail before hitting 20 reps, thats one session, I will do this thing twice a day, same thing with pull ups.

well after 3 months of simple push ups and pull ups like this and no leg work, I gained 15 lbs of lbm, at 10 percent body fat, I found out no matter how many reps you can do, this formula works.

personally, these days i do weighted ring dips and ring pull ups with pure classic gvt routine.

Insane Mundane from Earth on August 09, 2013:

If things get too easy, you can always add a weighted vest into the equation. I like to use one for my dips, pull-ups and push-ups; cheers!