Different approaches to strength training can facilitate different body responses, especially when taking a closer look at hormone levels. Most personal training clients don’t realize that trainers consider how their sessions affect them on a cellular level. This is what Charles Poliquin did when he took advantage of the relationship between lactate and Human Growth Hormone to create German Body Composition Training.
The first origins of inspiration for this method were sourced from Hala Rambie. It is said that this Romanian Sports Scientist defected to West Germany from the Soviet Bloc during the cold war. While in Germany he studied hormone production, more accurately, the possibilities of modifying Human Growth Hormone (HGH).
Rambie found that when blood lactate levels were elevated more HGH was produced. More HGH means greater fat loss and muscle tissue development.
In the 1980’s William Kraemer had a set of studies showing that particular training methods could increase HGH in the body. The most effective of these were higher reps with strictly short rests, a concept was also strongly supported by Vince Gironda in the 1960’s.
It was Poliquin who applied and combined these concepts to create the German Body Composition Training (GBC) system in the 1990’s, and it has been widely used over the last few decades.
The What of German Body Composition Training
Simply put, GBC is a method of lifting that employs pairs of varying compound exercises at high intensity and short rest periods with the objective of stimulating muscle growth while minimizing the negative effects of lactic acid accumulation.
Here are the specifics:
- There are two groups of 4-5 exercises; group A and B
- The exercise groups are separated by upper and lower body movements or non-competing muscle groups – group A is upper, group B is lower
- Exercises of the two groups are paired together – ex; A1 with B1.
- Each pair is a set: A1 and B1 is Set 1
- Reps stay in the 10-15 range
- Rest between exercises is 30-75 seconds – depending on fitness level
The Why of GBC
When a muscle is working at high intensity lactate, or lactic acid, will be produced within said muscle and can create fatigue and a burning sensation. Interestingly enough, lactate is produced when oxygen is limited in the working muscle to allow the further break down of glucose. This continues energy production for the muscle cell when the aerobic systems fail.
Yet, the systems that are using the lactate to generate more energy do not operate well in acidic conditions. These same acidic conditions are produced when lactate levels increase.
Long story short, the muscle stops working due to an abundance of an energy substrate. Failure is a natural fail safe (pun intended) when a muscle is being overworked, which forces the body to slow down so the muscle can recuperate.
As soon as the work stops, the lactic acid burning sensation goes away. Excess lactate is quickly cleared away when the muscle slows down or stops.
In the GBC system an upper body exercise is quickly followed by a lower body exercise, or as mentioned, non-competing muscles groups. Working between opposing movements allows lactate levels to rise but not to do so locally, meaning the exercises do not impede the execution of the other.
As our good friend Hala Rambie discovered, high levels of lactate increase the production of HGH. This hormone plays a strong role in fat loss and muscle gain!
How of GBC
As stated in the “What” there will be 4-5 groups of paired exercises, group A and B.
A1 : Romanian Dead Lift – 12 reps
B1 : Bench Press – 15 reps
Alternating between the two exercises, rest 30-75 seconds between. Maintain a strict adherence to the rest time pre-determined. The short rest is an important characteristic of this method and its results.
Complete four rounds and then rest 2-4 minutes before continuing to exercises A2 and B2, following the same instructions of execution.
The Poliquin method also applies tempo training. Traditional GBC workouts will have four digits next to the exercises.
A1 : Romanian Dead Lift – 12 reps 3010
B1 : Bench Press – 15 reps 3010
This 4 digit number represents the pace of the lift:
- First number: the time it should take to “lower” the weight (eccentric phase)
- Second number: the time you spend at the bottom of the lift
- Third number: the time you take to get to the “top” of the lift (concentric phase)
- Fourth number: the time you should pause at the top of the lift
Taking the Romanian Deadlift for this example with a tempo of 3010: The client would lower the bar towards the ground for a count of 3, (take no pause) immediately pull the weight up for a count of 1, take no pause,and then immediately start the next rep lowering for a count of 3.
A few other options for tempo are 2010, 2011, 2020, 5010. When choosing tempo think about the exercise it will be applied to. It wouldn’t be the best choice to have a client do a Romanian Deadlift with a tempo of 1330. This tempo would be awkward for the movement, and possibly put the lower back in a risky position.
A bench press could be safely lowered for a 1 count however, held for 3, pushed back up for 3, and immediately letter back down.
This variance in tempo will certainly keep the wheels turning!
The German Body Composition system uses a higher rep range than is necessary to be completed in each set comparison to a traditional hypertrophy rep range of 6 to 12. The weight needs to be challenging enough to elicit the lactate response yet allows the client to finish all of the reps. Use a weight that feels like it’s almost too much to complete the set, but still allows the client to do so.
When just beginning with GBC, it will be helpful to have a few weight options that are easily accessible during the exercise. That way, weight can be dropped if needed to complete the set rather than quitting.
Like all fitness systems, there is no “one size fits all”. German Body Composition training is built on solid concepts and research, and on paper sounds incredibly effective. However, I recommend having your own experience with it.
For me, this was new material. I wasn’t familiar with this system and enjoyed researching it for the blog. I have talked to one of my long-term clients who has struggled with losing weight, and we are going to try this out.
This might be a great option for one of your clients, or maybe even yourself. I know I am going to give it a shot. If you already have tried this out, let me know what your thoughts are on our Facebook page and if you have any tips to pass along!