Ten Sets of What?

Misinformation Engineering

Ten Sets of What?

Andrew Charniga, Jr.

Sportivny Press©


Poliquin, C. “German volume training: Just the thing to get you big and strong”, Ironman, 69:5:212-217:2011

In January of this year, 13 members of the University of Iowa football team were hospitalized with what was apparently an exercise induced disorder called rhabdomyolysis.

On January 20 the athletes were subjected to a weight room workout which consisted of performing ten sets of ten in the squat with 50% of their best result in this exercise, endeavoring to complete this exercise protocol within a relatively short time interval and before pushing sleds. Two days of these workouts were followed by two days rest then more squats were to be done. These student athletes had just returned from a three week break after participating in the Insight Bowl.

An investigation was conducted into the cause of the athlete’s ailments including tests for “illegal drugs, presumably for anabolic steroids. The tests were negative and therein may be the source of the athletes’ ailments.

Charles Testosterone

Apparently one of the principal sources and outspoken proponents of a 10 sets of 10 repetitions training scheme is Charles Poliquin. It is referred to as “German Volume Training.”  

An article about this training appeared in the referenced issue of Ironman magazine. The contents of this magazine, which can be purchased on the newsstand, includes advertisements for “legal steroids” along with such scholarly, erudite, and intellectually informative articles as “Shocking Guns” and “Look Good Naked.”

Here is a suggestion for the author of the “German Volume Training” article: change his name to Charles Testosterone. A Google search of his name with the word testosterone produces 128,000 results in 0.6 seconds. Heaven forbid what a search of one hour would produce.

An advertisement for testosterone boosters, thinly disguised as an informational article, appears on the aforementioned author’s web site:


Misinformation abounds. For instance, in this informational ad the author claims that “between 1971 and 1991, average testosterone levels for males have decreased by 31%.” Which males? Male cats, dogs, Canadian males? What is the reliable source of this information? None were cited.  

Further on, he states, “We have seen professional hockey players in their early 30s with testosterone levels of 70 year old females.” What can one possibly infer from this statement?

–        Can old women play in the NHL? They should be able to if 30 year old males can play in the NHL with the serum testosterone levels of old women.

–        Or, on the other hand, maybe old women have high testosterone levels. That must be why these 30  year old “men” are able to play professional hockey with the serum testosterone levels of old ladies.

–        Should a young male be concerned if his serum level of testosterone is normal or low if young men can play professional hockey with the testosterone levels of old ladies?

The most important question that needs to be asked is how do I adjust my serum testosterone levels to those of an old woman so I to can make a millions of dollars playing in the NHL????

Further on the informational ad mentions that “Labs are actually lowering their standards for what they consider normal testosterone. This creates a situation in which men see their lab results and believe they are normal even though their testosterone may be at near castration levels.”

So, let us get this straight; there are guys running around in a state of “near castration” and do not know it because “labs” have given them a clean bill of health. Well then, who is to come to the aid of these unfortunates in restoring their manhood?

One cannot help but recognize, even reading between the ad’s lines, that it is important for the male athlete to have sufficient testosterone in order to do the bodybuilding programs which appear in the Ironman magazine article, or for that matter any number of the other programs listed on the author’s web site.

This despite the fact that, according to the author’s assertion in this informational ad, there are young men playing professional hockey with the serum testosterone levels of old women.

Another sample from this same informational ad is “I have discussed this problem (low testosterone) with my veteran strength coaching colleagues, and we all agreed that it was easier to put mass in athletes in the 1980s.”

Just where were you supposed to put this mass?

The answer as to why it was easier to put mass, wherever it was to go “in” athletes in the 1980s, is quite simple, crude by today’s standards, little or no drug testing in the 1980s.

One more question is that given the supposed problem of “putting mass in” today’s athletes, how does the author’s programs work with female athletes; they are, metaphorically speaking, far closer to near castration than the aforementioned males but are, in fact, euphemistically speaking, sans testosterone factories?

Are they to do all those sets of ten repetitions of weightlifting exercises?

22,000 Doses of Anabolic Steroids

What does all this discussion of testosterone have to do with the so  called “German Volume Training?” Simple, it is irresponsible to promote such a silly idea as a rational training system without mentioning performance enhancing drugs.

For instance, in this article the author states the 10 sets of 10 bodybuilding scheme “ was the base program of Canadian weightlifter J> Dem., silver medalist at the Los Angeles Olympic Games. J>.. was known in weightlifting circles for his massive thighs, and he credits the German method with helping him achieve such a spectacular level of hypertrophy.”  

This example used as a testimonial to a bodybuilding program is unfortunate. J. Dem  admitted to the Dubin inquiry in Canada of using anabolic steroids at the 1983 Pan American Games, was arrested attempting to smuggle 22,000 doses of anabolic steroids into Canada, failed a drug test in 1986, and  was dropped from the 1988 Canadian Olympic team after a positive test even though he catherized someone else’s clean urine into his bladder.



The amount of muscle mass in the thighs is not a valid indicator of ability in the clean and jerk. Charniga photo

It is common knowledge that  the top four or five weightlifting teams in the world did not compete in Los Angeles because of the Soviet bloc boycott. Which means virtually all of the medalists at the Games would have dropped four or  five  places.

The German lifter who placed ahead of J> Dem.  in this class (75 kg) at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles was convicted of possession of anabolic steroids in 1985 with intent to sell in Germany, and later removed from the 1988 Olympic team due to objections from the International Weightlifting Federation.

The use of performance enhancing substances by the East German weightlifting team, one of the top teams which did not compete in LA, has been well documented. For instance, according to W. Franke there is a “development of breast enlargement (gynecomastia) in men, often even with enlarged nipples (from androgen usage). In 12 (GDR) weightlifters, this abnormal tissue growth was so massive and apparent that the tissue was removed by surgery, mostly performed at the cancer hospital in Berlin-Buch.”

The author made no mention of drugs in his article when he cites those examples of weightlifters whom have supposedly used this program. Yet, apparently, some people believed the author’s unsubstantiated claims for this so called German volume training that  ”There is, however, one training system that stands above all the rest.”

So, the author of the volume training article recommended doing 100 lifts in the squat, which was done by the University of Iowa football players who ended up in the hospital after doing this training. The coaches who had these players do this training bear responsibility for apparently not doing the minimum research into the validity of this training.

Anyone who would consider using this training protocol should, at the very least, do the minimum research into the acceptable, established protocols for the strength training of athletes.

This method is illogical; it is a “training for sale” madness to be found at information for sale seminars, bodybuilding magazines, and bodybuilding web sites. For the most part these types of seminars and sites are slanted and commercially oriented, i.e., they are not scholarly platforms where conflicting ideas can be debated.

Coaches who are working with young athletes and who blindly follow some of this nonsense, such as the 10 sets of 10 repetition training, typically have neither the knowledge or have not put enough time in the gym to gain sufficient practical experience to train athletes. For instance, “In fact, after working quads and hams with this method, the average bodybuilder limps for about five days.”

Methods of Building Muscle Mass and the Olympic Weightlifter

The author’s credentials as far as the training of weightlifters is concerned are not merely highly suspect; they are next to zero.

A good example of this lack of knowledge in weightlifting is the brief article on Canadian weightlifter  Doug Hepburn:

http://www.charlespoliquin.com/ArticlesMultimedia/Articles/Article/110/FiveThings_I_Learned_from_Doug_Hepburn.aspx “Great advice from a strongman legend.”

The author points out that Hepburn defeated two time Olympic champion John Davis to win the superheavyweight class at the 1953 World Weightlifting Championships. He defeated Davis by out lifting him by 12.5 kg in the press. They snatched the same 135 kg and Davis lifted 167.5 in the clean and jerk to Hepburn’s 165 kg.

The 32  year old Davis was not only hobbling at this competition, but he was at the end of an incredible career having won eight consecutive world titles. He weighed 104 kg to Hepburn’s 124 kg.

So, Hepburn who out lifted Davis by 10 kg (467.5 – 457.5), weighed 20 kg more. Davis was a strength athlete in an era of weightlifting where a big strong man with little coordination could be competitive by virtue of putting up big numbers in the press. When the 104 kg Norbert Schemansky won this weight class in Davis’ place the following year at the 1954 World Championships with a result of 487.5 kg;  Hepburn was long gone.

The point to be made here is that, despite the author’s claims, the training and achievements of this type of athlete (Doug Hepburn) have long since become irrelevant.  The author also mentions were it not for Paul Anderson, “Hepburn’s accomplishments would have become even more legendary in the strength community.”

First of all, that is not true. Both the 104 kg Davis who’s best lifts of 150 kg (1952 Olympics) in the snatch and 182.5 kg in the clean and jerk and the 104 kg Schemansky (1954) easily outdistanced Hepburn’s best results. Anderson at a bodyweight of 164 kg came on the scene in 1955 to clean and jerk only 182.5 kg to win the superheavyweight class in Munich.

Second, the athletic, lighter, with significantly less muscle mass athletes such as Davis and Schemansky would make the Hepburn and Anderson type of weightlifter obsolete already before the end of the 1950s.

The author states, “I have studied Hepburn’s training methods and use much of his advice in practice to this day.” To whom does the author apply this advice? It can’t be appropriate for training athletes in dynamic sports such as weightlifting, football, and track and field.

 Coban snatch

Female weightlifters who would approach the resutls of top male weightlifters were not even dreamed of in the days of Hepburn and Anderson. Charniga photo

To put the training for slow strength and large muscle mass, which Hepburn and Anderson were proponents into perspective, consider the current state of weightlifting. As mentioned, Hepburn won the 1953 worlds with a clean and jerk of 165 kg; likewise Anderson won in 1955 with 182.5 kg in the clean and jerk.

At the 2009 World Weightlifting Championships JANG Mi– Ran, a 116 kg female weightlifter from Korea, lifted 187 kg in the clean and jerk, i.e., more than either Hepburn or Anderson, not only with significantly less muscle mass, but she is a woman. At the 2008 Olympics the same JANG Mi– Ran snatched 140 kg for a world record which has since been elevated to 145 kg by a 96 kg 18 year old Russian female. Compare this to Hepburn’s 135 kg snatch at 124 kg bodyweight.

Neither of the females cited can squat 800 lbs, do a one –arm military press of 120 lbs for 37 reps, or any of the other strength feats claimed for Hepburn in the article. Since Hepburn’s advice on training to develop big muscles for slow strength to compete at Olympic weightlifting was already out of date in the 1950s, it is absolutely worthless today.

Consequently, the quotes below from this article about Hepburn should be put in their proper perspective; they are nonsensical.  

“Few internet writers have physiques with strength to match” ( from Five things I learned from Doug Hepburn)



Iranian 77 kg lifter Rostami Kianoush at the 2012 Asian Weightlifting Championships, not an internet writer, has a physique suitable to his strength. Charniga photo.

“Select a weight where your spleen will come out of your left eye socket to complete 8 sets of 2.”

CAO Lei squatting

 There is no need to select eye socket splitting weights in the training of high class modern weightlifters. Charniga photo

Consider some not – for – sale facts.

Ten sets of ten in the squat is an unjustified loading on the spine and has no place in the training of any athlete participating in dynamic sports.

Lower repetitions per set and fewer sets make it more likely athletes doing strength training for a given sport, for instance, will be able to perform all repetitions in good form. It is virtually certain an athlete’s form will break down doing high set, high repetitions squats (such as ten sets of ten). As a consequence the athlete will tilt the trunk forward excessively as fatigue sets in which places a big load on the lumbar spine.

High repetition squats should not be a part of a weightlifter’s training and the development of “massive thighs” should not be the aim. Neither will contribute to the coordination, speed, and flexibility a weightlifter needs, or, for that matter, other athletes participating in dynamic sports.  

The effectiveness of a training scheme for developing strength consisting of 1 to 6 lifts per set has long since been established. Repetitions of 4 to 6 in one set is considered optimum for concomitant development of strength and muscle mass which is  suitable for sport. Four to six sets of 1 to 6 repetitions/set will not only develop strength for young athletes, but they will not have to “select a weight where your spleen will come out of your left eye,”, or “limp for 5 days” after training, nor run to a medicine cabinet for fear of being “near castration levels” of testosterone.

Anyone who works in a strength training setting with young athletes or with weightlifters and happens to peruse or hear in a seminar the type of misinformation presented here must make an effort to verify it and not just follow the advice blindly.