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German Volume Training vs. Stronglifts 5x5 [ Article, Video ]

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Jun 27, 2015 10:17:48 AM

 Stronglifts 5x5 vs. German Volume Training


This article will discuss the pros and cons of Stronlifts 5x5 and German Volume Training in detail inclusing my first hand experience and sources from the web to help you to decide which program is the better fit for you to hit the gym. Please leave comments about your own experiences to make the article even better.

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Science behind German Volume Training and Stronglifts 5x5

To understand the differences between German Volume Training and Stronglifts 5x5 better this article will dip into the science of how muscles grow and what is currently known about it. As I am no doctor take this as a general overview. I neither have the will or the time to buy a million rats and persuade hundreds of poor students to do silly stunts while I starve them and keep track of the progress. I rather be in the gym.  

First thing to separate is muscle growth and strength gains which are often used to describe the same symptoms and appearances. Either of these can occur in an individual without the other being present or with a disproportionate balance between the two.

Commonly tested and generally to be holding true is that in the 1 – 6 repetition range of 75 – 95% of your one repetition maximum you are optimising for strength rather than for muscle growth while in the area of 6 – 12 repetitions it is the other way around. From me personal experience I can agree to that.

study on protein synthesis with high load / low repetitions vs. lowload / high repetitions conducted with fifteen men in their twenties further underpins this apart from my personal experience and the genral "broscience available in the internet. Direct quote:

"These results suggest that low-load high volume resistance exercise is more effective in inducing acute muscle anabolism than high-load low volume or work matched resistance exercise modes."

To understand muscle growth and strength gains from a biological perspective it is helpful to think of your body as a system. There is not only one thing occurring at a time that produces a certain result. Your brain, nerves, tissue, cell structure, energy storage, your capabilities on how quick and long to activate those and how well they play together all play a role especially when it comes to strength output, but also for muscle growth. Therefore may personal opinion is that increasing strength output is the more interesting pursuit for me personally than muscle growth, as there is a less systematic approach needed to make muscles grow than actually making them stronger. This is not to say that bodybuilders still have to train hard and put in a lot of specific work to gain and maintain their physique.

Looking at muscle tissue there are two major principles to keep in mind, hypertrophy and hyperplasia. Hypertrophy makes the tissue grow by an increase of the volume of the individual cells and stems from the greek word for “nourishment”. Hyperplasia describes growth of tissue through adding more individual cells. An extreme and uncontrolled version of hyperplasia is cancer. Imagine that you wanted to fill your pool with balloons for your children’s birthday party and you just came short of the brim when filling it. Hypertrophy would be to take all the balloons out and put extra air into them to make up for the difference while hyperplasia would be to put additional balloons of the same size in the pool. As your body is a system usually both occurs at the same time when tissue grows, the question is which of the two forms of growth is dominant.

The next factor to keep in mind is the structure of the cells itself which can change. Skeletal muscle for example can have multiple nuclei and strength training has shown to increase the number of them in an individual cell. So not only number and volume, but also composition of the cells has an effect on strength. A theory in this area distinguishes between sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar hypertrophy. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is achieved by increasing the sarcoplasmic fluid within the cells while with myofibrillar hypertrophy the amount of the proteins of actin and myosin increases. Actin and myosin can contract and therefore produce force while sarcoplasma is a fluid and therefore cannot contract on demand. It is therefore not surprising to find more sarcoplasmic development in bodybuilders and more myofibrillar development in powerlifters and weightlifters, while conclusive studies on these interdependencies are still hard to find, for me this intuitively makes sense.

Another factor which plays a role is nourishment of the muscles to activate them and make them grow. Strength training is believed to lead to micro trauma in the muscle which has to be repaired by filling in the gaps with more proteins. The body overcompensates here, to avoid destruction of the tissue and fibres in future and builds “up” in preparation. For this process to be successful you need an ample supply of Amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein, and testosterone to trigger this process. This is why bodybuilders and athletes take protein shakes after training to make sure that enough building blocks are available to rebuild what has been broken during training. Athletes who go to more extremes will increase their testosterone levels by injecting extra amounts in to their body to overstimulate this process. This is also known as doping, as most of these substances are aimed at somehow increasing or regulating testosterone levels in the body. Adenosine triphosphat (ATP) triggers the contraction of myosin and actin and is generally a fuel for protein performance. This is why athletes sometimes take sugar before competing to make sure that ATP storage is sufficient for optimum performance.

Lastly the nervous system also plays a role in the development of strength and release of power. Even without increases in muscle tissue or muscle composition strength gains could be observed in individuals who just started to train. Especially in novice athletes and weightlifters this can be observed, as the low loads are usually not big enough to cause any tissue reaction. Practising the movement leads to the neural signs being transmitted quicker to the muscles from the brain and also the muscle develops more receptors to contract quicker and more powerful when stimulated. Think of this like a rubber band. The rubber band stays the same but how quick and how far you stretch will propel it further away from you when you want to annoy the ones next to you.  


How the two programs are structured

The challenge with German Volume training and Stronglifts 5x5 is, that Stronglifts 5x5 is actually a well defined brand and cleraly defined program, while Germ Volume Training can be any kind of exercise done for 10x10 repetitions. This poses a challenge when comparing the two programs. This article will only compare Deadlift, Bench Presses and Squats and assumes that you will do a German Volume Training program which uses thse three lifts. The Overhead Press & Barbell Row out of the Stronglifts programm will not be included in the tonnage calculations to ensure a fairer overview.

Stronglifts 5x5

Stronglifts 5x5 uses two workouts which are being alternated as you progress through the program to create progressive overloading. This means that each time you complete the workout without failing repetition you increase the weight the next time.


You start with the emtpy bar and work your way up increasing the weight eacht time you complete all five sets with five repetitions. The increase of weight is 2.5kg for all exercises except the deadlift, which is increased by 5kg when completed.

After each set you make a decision whether the set was hard or not, if not rest for 1:30, if it was hard you rest for three minutes. Once you come in the area of a 100 kg squat you most likely will take all of three minute rests you can get. This prolongs the session immensely from rughly 30 minutes 1 hour to 1.5 hours in later stages.


German volume training


German Volume training is structured as 10 repetitions by 10 sets of an exercise at 60% of your one repetition maximum for a given excercise. There are sevral programs out there. T Nation provides an advanced template while bodybuilding. com provides three different programs, one for beginners, one for intermediates and one for advanced trainees.

With German Volume training you are much more likely to train to failure than with Stronglifts 5x5 in my personal experience. Also you have to define your one repetition maximum before starting the program which Stronglifts does not ask for. A lot of poeple are struggling with stating their one repetition maximum and first have to test it before starting German Volume training.

Between each set you will only take 1 minute of rest. At the later stages of the exercise you will be inclined to rest longer. Avoid that temptation for maximum outcome. 

Comparing a set of squats in 5x5 and in German Volume training

My personal one rep maximum is 140kg on the squat. So calculated 5x5 weight is 105kg and for GVT it is 84kg. On the squat I could not work up to that weight and stayed slightly below. The two sessions below will show you the difference in load and time under tension for each system.


Tonnage you will move a week in the two programs


For the sake of the argument let’s assume following statistics to compare tonnage of Stronglifts and GVT. One repetition maximums ought to be

Squat 100kg
Deadlift 120kg

To make it fair let us also look at tonnage by week rather than by day due to the splits of the different sessions this makes more sense and comparing by day would be overreaching for the focus of this article.

For the Squat based on these numbers you will move per week

Stronglifts 5x5: (0.75)*100kg*75 repetitions = 5625kg = 5.625 tons
GVT: (0.6)x100kgx100= 6000kg = 6 tons

For the bench press:

Stronglifts: (0.75) * 80kg * 25 or 50 (depending on weekly split) = 1500kg or 3000kg = 1.5t to 3t
GVT: (0.6)*80kg*100 = 4.8t

For the deadlift:

Stronglifts 5x5: (0.75)*120kg* 5 or 10 = 450 kg or 900kg = 0.45t or 0.9t
GVT: (0.6)*120kg*100= 7.2t

Total tonnage:

Stronglifts: 5.625t + 3t + 0.45t = 9.075t
GVT: 19.875t

If you do the sums you will see why a lot of people on the “internet” moan and bitch about GVT and that it is not worth the while, because, simply put, it shocks their system and kicks their butt on the big three.

Based on these on rep max statistics you are increasing tonnage by week by roughly 10 tons. Major driver being the Deadlift, as you do not do a lot of repetitions in the Stronglifts program. So it is no surprise that you will feel pretty bruised up by the switch from a 3x3/5x5 template to a 10x10 one.

 Time the training takes

Both routines take aprroximately the same time of an hour in the gym to complete including warm up and accessory work. Sometimes you might go over but that is what genrally held true for me. 


Opinions on Stronglifts 5x5

ON reddit you will find pretty good feedback here. Also the strognlifts website itself has some good testimonials. I personally did Srtonglifts for ten months and have only good things to say about except for it being not entirely specific. But this is a criticism you can bring forward against every out of the box program. Attached a quite impressive progression on 5x5. All in all the responses I have seen are very positive for 5x5 except from a view people who say it is not specific enough for powerlifters. 

 Also to be fair, here are some critical words about 5x5. The advise on diet is interesting.


Opinions on German Volume training

Mehdi, the guy who made stronglifts 5x5 popular again, argues strongly against high repetition templates like German Volume training and advises people who want to get strong to think and lift like a powerlifter or olympic weightlifter and the aesthetics will take care of themselves. He even points out that some of the most famous bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ronnie Coleman and Layne Norton were/are also super strong, too. 

Another article is titled "German Volume Training, the ultimate shitstorm" by Anthony Yeung. He did not gain any remarkable strength or size doing the program for six weeks, whilst being in pain and poiting out that GVT is for insane poeple.

This reddit thread  has some tangents in it where 5x5 is mentioned, but the answers who actually discuss GVT generally agree that they achieved their goal of bulking up, which the program is designed for. I personally can agree with the "bulk, but no power" assessment since I tested it. One of the commentators states, that you should stick with a simple novice program for a year rather than switching it up all the time, especially when you are starting out. I could not agree more on the matter. This thread desribes a four year strength journey and might be worth a read.

Here is Ben Carpenter discussing German Volume training on his channel:


My results for Stronglifts 5x5 are being discussed in detail in this post. I started as a puny marathon runner who could not lift a lot and finished as one of the five strongest poeple in my old gym after ten months. At first poeple were having fun about me doing my exercises with an emptybar or not a lot of weight. That changed when 8 months in I was propelling myself up for chin ups with 20kg dangling between my legs. 

For German Volume Training I packed on 5 kilograms in 4 weeks which I find pretty impressive, but I was not able to surpass my old one rep maximum bests. 

If you look at all the data points I could find so far and what I experienced myself, I would say that 10x10 is as extreme as Smolov in its approach. You get what you ask for which is sarcoplasmic hypertrophy = bulk. If you want a more balnced program stick with 5x5. It has proven to be a road to success for many beginners in lifting, so why try something else just to be cool.



Further reading on German Volume Training

Further reading on Stronglifts 5x5



Topics: Lift stronger, Stronglifts 5x5, German Volume Training, Powerlifting, Bodybuilding, Strongman