Everyone wants maximum results in minimum time from their strength training.
This is something Ultimate Performance is famous for – delivering stunning body transformation results for hundreds of clients in the shortest time possible.
One of the best methods to achieve the physique you want is using the German Body Composition (GBC) training method. It is a training protocol that we employ to great effect at UP.
Popularised by leading strength coach Charles Poliquin in the 1990s as a way of increasing strength and muscular balance, GBC has proved to be both incredibly efficient and effective at creating optimal conditions for muscle building and fat loss.
GBC is ideal for anyone with a busy schedule or hectic family life whose gym time is limited to as little as three hours a week.
The reason GBC is so effective is that it helps our time-poor clients change their body composition rapidly by promoting considerable levels of fat loss, whilst also increasing lean muscle mass in as short a time as possible.
While the simplest program executed with the right amounts of volume and intensity can achieve a great result over time, why not plan and focus your attention on doing things as efficiently as possible in the gym and getting results faster? That is what GBC is all about.
What is GBC?
Simply put, GBC is a full body workout comprised of upper body and lower body exercises paired into ‘supersets’
By super-setting the exercises (performing one exercise directly after another with little or no rest) we can reduce rest times, maintain intensity and to get more work done in a shorter period of time.
Here is an example of a typical GBC superset using upper and lower body exercises…
A1) Front Foot Elevated Split Squat 3×10-12 reps – rest 60 seconds move onto A2
A2) Neutral Grip Chin-Up 3×10-12 reps – rest 60 seconds move back onto A1
These full body workouts result in a large production of lactate (that burn you feel in your muscle).
Pairing an upper and lower body exercise with minimal rest and adequate time under tension creates systemic lactate production.
What this means is that lactate shuttles through the entire body resulting in the oxidisation of more fat cells, creating a greater overall full body response fat loss.
The best thing about this fat loss-style of training is that it doesn’t prevent you from getting stronger or building muscle mass if that’s your goal, it can actually assist it.
The other added benefit of this style of training is that since you are not focusing on single body parts on a particular day like a bodybuilder would, you can still train quite frequently so long as you allow yourself proper recovery. We will go into more details with programming later.
Hypertrophy and Fat Loss
A standard GBC program can benefit both fat loss and hypertrophy
With regards to hypertrophy; all three mechanisms are hit throughout a 12-week program resulting in maximal stimulation and recruitment of all muscle fibres, leading to muscle growth.
The three mechanisms are explained below and how GBC stimulates these mechanisms;
1. Mechanical Tension
This is the most important driver of hypertrophy. Increasing strength not only helps us get stronger, but also reduces our chance of injury inside and outside of the gym.
With this goal in mind, we want to be progressively increasing the weight lifted for each exercise.
This increase in weight leads to an increase in mechanical tension which is another mechanism of hypertrophy.
2. Metabolic Stress
It has been well researched that the ‘pump’ feeling during training, also known as an increase in metabolites within the body, leads to hypertrophy.
This mechanism is known as metabolic stress and the GBC-style of training is highly metabolic.
With GBC-style workouts performed properly, with minimal rest and adequate time under tension, we get an increase in metabolic stress. This helps our clients increase their LBM (lean body mass).
3. Muscle Damage
Slow eccentrics are used throughout a typical GBC style program; meaning the pace at which the weight is lowered.
This slow tempo on the eccentric means a greater overall time under tension during each set, increasing potential muscle hypertrophy.
These slow eccentrics also lead to more muscle damage, which is another mechanism of hypertrophy.
This program also enables us to hit a muscle multiple times a week leading to an increased frequency of stimulating a muscle, compared to a traditional once-a-week body part split.
This means more opportunity for growth and increased neurological efficiency.
Not only that, but GBC-style superset training has been shown to be superior than traditional straight set training for fat loss.
A 2011 study found that body fat loss was greater in superset training when compared with conventional strength training when performing the same number of exercises, reps and sets.
Before we get into sets and reps, let’s take a look more into the benefits of GBC training.
Benefits of German Body Composition Training
1. Time Efficiency
A typical GBC-style workout will only last around 45-50 minutes. This is an ideal amount of time you want to be spending in the gym to be able to train with the right intensity and maintain maximal loads.
It’s this time-efficiency that makes GBC so effective in delivering body transformation results for clients.
Most people can’t train beyond 60 minutes due to fuel depletion and an inability to maintain maximal loads. Remember, if you’re still training after an hour, you’re probably not going hard enough.
2. Increased strength
Supersets are a viable tool to build strength. This is because, by alternating sets, you can get more work done in a given time.
A good example of this is instead of doing 8 sets of 3 on the bench press with four minutes rest, followed by the same on pulldowns, you could alternate the two exercises with two minutes of rest and halve your training time.
This gives you more time to spend working on other exercises.
Not just that, but alternating your sets between upper body and lower body movements allows for faster recovery in a muscle group during a workout, leading to less of a drop-off in total volume load.
3. EPOC (Excessive Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption)
EPOC is known as the ‘afterburn’ effect post training. Meaning after a well-executed session of GBC your total oxygen consumption can be increased, which results in an overall increase of calories burned.
4. Prevention of localised fatigue
Training one single muscle group, set after set, can quickly lead to localised fatigue, this can sometimes result in a decrease of load lifted when fatigue starts to kick in, or even worse, technique breakdown, which can lead to injury.
GBC style training prevents this localised fatigue by utilising upper/lower body supersets with different muscle groups, which is ideal for overall injury prevention and maximising results.
5. Improvement of mitochondrial function
Mitochondria are known as the powerhouse of the cell, as their main job is to produce energy.
Through GBC training, we can increase the mitochondria in the cell, through a process known as mitochondrial biogenesis.
This results in the mitochondria becoming more efficient in transforming energy from food into chemical energy, known as ATP.
This process makes the energy form of ATP more readily available to working muscles to work harder for longer.
There are also added benefits, including cell signalling, which can help respond to the internal environment with tissue repair/immunity and cellular differentiation which can be beneficial in response to antigen exposure.
6. Increase in neurological efficiency
The high frequency of exercising within the same movement patterns results in an increase in neurological efficiency. This feeds into building strength, increasing muscle mass, improving overall athletic ability and body composition.
With form being a priority and control throughout the full range of motion in the exercise, our central nervous system becomes more efficient at delivering electronic signals to the muscles which is what we call an increased neurological efficiency.
From an increased CNS efficiency, we get benefits such as an increase in testosterone and thyroid production which then leads to an increase in liver function, which leads to an increase in insulin sensitivity and IGF-1 production.
7. Improvement of aerobic fitness
Lifting weights can actually improve your aerobic fitness and work capacity; yes, lifting weights can make you fitter!
With minimal rest and large amounts of time under tension, this forces the body into adapting with an increased work capacity.
Whereas traditional cardio fitness training purely focuses on reducing body fat, GBC forces the body into losing fat and increasing muscle mass. This increase in muscle mass also results in an increase in your RMR (resting metabolic rate) – meaning you can burn more calories whilst at rest.
Is German Body Composition Training for Everyone?
GBC is an effective training method for most people as it allows a lot of work output in a short amount of time.
It’s useful for busy clients, people with a lot of weight to lose, or anyone who has plateaued in their training and has seen their results drop off.
This style of training can be performed by everyone – male or female, advanced or beginner.
Programming German Body Composition Training
Generally, a standard GBC program would run for 12 weeks split into three mesocycles.
The first being an accumulation phase.
This phase would focus on volume with lots of reps and little rest, creating an accumulation of metabolites within the body.
Next would be an intensification phase.
This is where we would reduce the reps and increase intensity from the first phase.
The goal of this second phase would be to increase the recruitment of muscle fibres, resulting in an increase in strength and size carried over into the final phase.
The final phase would be another accumulation phase.
This would then see an increase in the amount of total volume from more reps and more sets than the first phase, creating even more accumulation with an increase in muscle fibre recruitment.
Throughout these three cycles, reps, tempo, sets, intensity, rest and tempo would all change slightly, as the variables should be changed in all programs.
This style of undulating periodization prevents overtraining a strength quality and leads to super-compensation to occur post-training phase.
An example of this 12-week block is shown below split into the three phases;
German Body Composition – Accumulation (Phase 1)
German Body Composition – Intensification (Phase 2)
German Body Composition – Accumulation (Phase 3)
As seen above, reps during a standard GBC program are often changed, depending on the strength quality you are trying to achieve.
They are generally high enough to stimulate a metabolic response and result in that burning feeling, or low enough to increase the recruitment of muscle fibres, with the overall goal of increased lean body mass.
This is not the only way you can set out a rep scheme in a GBC session.
You can also employ an ascending rep scheme, meaning the reps during the A series are lower and the reps slowly increase as you move onto the B and C series, an example is shown below.
Ascending Rep Scheme
Sets need to be high enough so we can achieve enough work throughout the12 week program resulting in sufficient stress and volume that’s high enough on the body to force a response and an adaptation.
Sets for a typical GBC session fall between 21 and 24 in total.
This is often changed depending on the phase you are doing and your goals, but generally the last phase (phase 3) has more sets than the previous two as we want to have increased overall volume in the final phase.
These increased sets are usually done during the A and sometimes B series, as these are the biggest and most technical movements that you want to get stronger in.
Rest periods should be kept short enough approximately 45-60 seconds to keep the intensity high. If they become too long, we won’t achieve the stimulus and response that we want.
The rest during GBC typically happens between the exercises of a super-set. An example; 60 seconds rest after A1 and then move onto A2 and have another 60 seconds before moving back to A1.
Tempo refers to the lifting speed. This is a four-digit number that refers to different parts of the lift;
1st number – Is the eccentric contraction. An example would be the lowering part of the bench press, bring the bar down towards your chest.
2nd number – Is the pause in the stretched position. This would be at the bottom of the bench press, the chest is in a stretched position.
3rd number – is the concentric contraction. For the bench press this would be the pushing movement, pushing the bar off the chest towards the ceiling.
4th number – is the pause in the shortened position. This would be during lock-out of a bench press, as the chest is in a shortened position and fully contracted.
An example of the bench press with a 3212 tempo would look like this:
Lowering the bar down to your chest in 3 seconds, then pausing for 2 seconds with the bar against your chest.
You would then press the bar off your chest in 1 second, then rest with the arms locked out for 2 seconds before doing another rep.
Tempo is an important parameter both in regards to fat loss and hypertrophy.
Setting or changing the tempo can help elicit different responses and accentuate different strength qualities.
A lot of people ignore tempo which generally leads to a decreased total time under tension.
For example, if you do a bench press with no tempo for 10 reps people would only generally have the chest under tension for about 20-30 seconds.
Whereas if you had a 3110 tempo, the total time under tension would be 50 seconds although it’s the same amount of reps.
Time under tension is one of the most important parameters for both fat loss and hypertrophy.
There is no reason why your first exercise should be a single joint movement such as a tricep kickback that is stimulating minimal muscle fibres and not getting an adequate response in order to achieve maximal fat loss.
The first movement and the majority of movements needs to be multi-joint exercises, such as the split squat, chin-up or bench press, to stimulate a the highest number of muscle fibres resulting in eliciting an optimal response.
Below are two examples of a standard GBC session, one upper/lower body supersets and one agonist/antagonist superset style workout.
Upper/Lower Superset-Style Workout
Agonist/Antagonist Superset-Style Workout
We can’t guarantee you’ll look like Arnold, but you may just experience some of the best pumps and results you’ve had in a long time.Time is our most precious commodity. If you’re busy and don’t have time to waste in the gym, start incorporating GBC supersets to get more work done in your workouts.