The Origin And Evolution Of The 10 X 10
Written by Dr Carlos Cassano, a.k.a. The Golden Era Bookworm
Whenever one mentions the 10 x 10 routine in the gym, it is often met with sighs of exasperation or grimacing faces and comments such as “Man, that’s German Volume Training, that’s tough”. They are partly right of course. The 10 x 10 is tough, but it wasn’t the German’s who invented it. Some have claimed that it may have first appeared on the bodybuilding scene in the 1940s, however I have not found any literature to corroborate such statements.
Most people are unaware that it was our beloved Iron Guru Vince Gironda that first published the routine back in the early 1960’s. In fact, he used the routine in preparation for the 1962 NABBA Mr Universe competition that was held in London, England.
Vince Gironda at the 1962 NABBA Mr. Universe Competition
Vince first mentioned the 10 x 10 routine in his booklet titled Definition, where he intricately describes his exact exercise training and dietary program that he used to prepare for the Universe competition. Later on, he described the 10 x 10 routine in a subsequent booklet titled Vince’s Corner. If it truly did first appear in the 1940’s then it makes sense that Vince Gironda would have known about it since then, as he competed during the Silver Era and opened his first gym on April 1st, 1946. German Volume Training was a name that appeared much later to describe this type of training and refers to the style of training that German weightlifters used during the mid-1970’s. The National Coach of Weightlifting in Germany, Rolf Feser reportedly popularized it, and later Charles Poliquin and since then, the name has stuck. Before we look at the reasons why, let’s look into the 10 x 10 routine and why it is so effective.
Vince’s approach to the 10 x 10
The first mention of the 10 x 10 routine by Vince Gironda was in his booklet titled Definition, which immediately should allow the student to identify its purpose. According to Vince Gironda, it was used along with the Steak and Eggs Diet to burn fat in preparation for a bodybuilding competition. The fact that it was used in combination with a high protein high-fat diet that essentially mirrored ketogenic diets of the present day, meant that one could both gain muscle and burn fat using this program.
Definition and Vince’s Corner Booklets
Vince elaborates on the 10 x 10 routine in much greater detail in his subsequent publication titled Vince’s Corner. As he describes the 10 x 10 routine you get a sense that he is talking about the past, quote
“It was so great, because in taking 10 exercises, each for a different bodypart, and doing 10 sets of each, 10 reps per set, the muscles were really bombed and blitzed….worked to the core for a great pump.”
In Vince’s Corner Vince describes the 10 x 10 routine as a routine that can lead to serious muscle hypertrophy and definition. Vince describes the routine as follows:
- Pick 10 exercises to work the whole body, ie one exercise for each body part including the Biceps, Triceps, Forearms, Deltoids, Chest, Back, Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Calves and Abdominals.
- Do 10 sets of each
- Perform 10 reps of each
- Work the entire upper body 3 days a week, and the legs 2 a weeks, ie alternate each split over 5 days.
It is interesting that such a routine, which was later promoted and gained popularity in the 90s was for a long time forgotten.
The late Charles Poliquin, a famous Canadian strength coach who was affectionately called The Strength Sensei discussed the 10 x 10 routine in Muscle Media 2000 in 1996. He called the 10 x 10 routine German Volume Training, and soon after, new muscle was sprouting all over the bodybuilding community, with many a young bodybuilder hailing German Volume Training as the new method for muscle hypertrophy.
As Charles described it, the 10 x 10 routine, or the Ten Sets Method was used in the off-season to help weightlifters gain lean body mass. It was so efficient that lifters routinely moved up a full weight class within 12 weeks. Olympic Silver Medalist weightlifter Jacques Demers used the 10 x 10 routine to grow his massive thighs in preparation for the Olympic Games, whilst golden era women’s bodybuilding legend Bev Francis used the 10 x 10 routine to pack on serious size.
Jacques Demers and Bev Francis
Why the 10 x 10 works
The program works because it targets a group of motor units, exposing them to an extensive volume of repeated efforts, specifically, 10 sets of a single exercise. Vince stressed the importance of only performing one exercise per body part, and keeping the same exercise throughout the 10 sets and the duration of the program. To many, this may seem boring, which is why Vince believed that the program lost its popularity in the ’70s and ’80s. However, the results speak for themselves. The body adapts to the extraordinary stress by hypertrophying the targeted fibers. To say this program adds muscle fast is probably an understatement. According to Charles Poliquin, gains of 10 pounds or more in 6 weeks are not uncommon, even in experienced lifters!
Goals and Guidelines
The goal of the 10 x 10 routine is to complete ten sets of ten reps with the same weight for each exercise. You want to begin with a weight you could lift for 20 reps to failure if you had to. For most people, on most exercises, that would represent 60% of their 1RM load. Therefore, if you can bench press 300 pounds for 1 rep, you would use 180 pounds for this exercise.
For lifters new to this method, it is now recommended using the following body-part splits:
Beginner Body-Part Splits
- Day 1: Chest & Back
- Day 2: Legs & Abs
- Day 3: Rest
- Day 4: Arms & Shoulders
- Day 5: Rest
Advanced Body-Part Splits
- Mon, Wed and Fri: Upper Body
- Tue, Thur: Lower Body
- Upper Body: Chest, Back, Delts, Biceps, Triceps, Forearms
- Lower Body: Calves, Quads, Hamstring, Abs
Exercise selection is very important in the 10 x 10 routine. The important point is to understand your level as a bodybuilder, and your needs. Your needs will indicate whether you need more mass as a beginner, or to work on a certain weakpoint if you are an intermediate bodybuilder, or if you are more advanced, to acquire a certain look and work on shape and definition. Understand that the suggested exercises are just that, a suggestion. There are beginner exercises which should not be an issue for most, and advanced exercises that require a superior level of mobility and range of motion to perform such as those recommended by Vince. I repeat, these are advanced exercises!
Beginner exercises recommended for each Body-Part
- Chest: Barbell Bench Press
- Back: Lat Pulldown
- Delts: Seated DB Press
- Biceps: Standing Barbell Curl
- Triceps: Rope Pressdown
- Calves: Standing Calf Rase
- Quads: Leg Press
- Hamstrings: Lying Leg Curl
- Abs: Crunch
Advanced exercises recommended by Vince Gironda for each Body-Part
- Chest: Wide Grip Parallel Dips
- Back: Seated Cable Row
- Delts: Seated Dumbbell Lateral Raise
- Biceps: Preacher Curl
- Triceps: Triceps Rope Pull in Race Car Drive Position
- Forearms: Seated Barbell Wrist Curl
- Calves: Donkey Calf Raise
- Quads: Hack Squats
- Hamstrings: Leg Machine Curl
- Abs: Crunch
When using this program or any other, you should keep a detailed journal of the exact sets/reps and rest intervals performed, and only count the repetitions completed in strict form. Rest should be 60 seconds between sets. Once you are able to perform 10 sets of 10 reps, increase the weight by 5%.
Since being introduced by Vince Gironda, the effectiveness of the 10 x 10 routine has been proven time and time again, by packing on muscle on both bodybuilders and elite athletes. It is no surprise really, as Vince famously one stated, that he only ever recommended training program or diets that he had already tried successfully on himself. If you’ve been struggling in the gym and are seeing no gains, then maybe it’s time to listen to Vince.
- Definition Booklet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZmsKJu5nN8
- Steak and Eggs Diet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cO_ex3YHhbs&t=8s
- Vince’s 10 x 10 routine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o2b4DU2aXNs&t=267s