What is German Body Composition Training? And Who Invented It?

Massive muscle growth…a Cold War defection and a Romanian scientist with a cool sounding name. What could be more impressive and appealing that German Body Composition Training?

Popularised in the US at the turn of the twenty first century GBC training has floated around the fitness industry between those who praise it as revolutionary and those who see it as just another fitness fad.

So with this in mind, today’s article is going to look at the history of GBC training, the theory behind it and what it actually entails. While the effectiveness of GBC training may be up for debate, its underlying principles will nevertheless be of use to muscle fanatics around the globe!

The History of GBC Training and the Theory Behind it


According to the current fitness lore on GBC training, the program is inspired by the studies of Romanian sports scientist Hala Rambie. Operating within the Soviet Bloc during the Cold War, Rambie defected to West Germany where he brought his life’s research with him. This research, somewhat significantly for gym goers, was primarily concerned with hormone production and in particular, methods of modifying human growth hormone.

So cool Cold War story aside, what was Rambie’s theory after all those years stuck in a Romanian lab in the Soviet Bloc? Simple…fat loss could be accelerated by raising levels of blood lactate—an energy substrate. The idea being that more lactate in the body causes a chain of events which leads to the release of more growth hormone. The result? Less body fat and more muscle. Happy days!

Now while Rambie was adjusting to day-to-day life in West Germany, an American scientist named William Kraemer and his lab team produced a series of studies which became the talk of the 1980s. Premised solely on weight training, the American team argued that certain training protocols or approaches could elevate growth hormone. Among the most effective approaches was the idea of high reps and short rest periods, something that Vince Gironda had been preaching since the 1960s!

So combining these two theories leaves us with the following observations. Growth hormone is great for muscle growth. Higher lactate secretions induce the release of more growth hormone and more growth hormone can be induced through training modifications.

Putting it Altogether


The man responsible for appropriating the above studies was Charles Poliquin, the Canadian born strength coach who has also popularised systems such as German Volume Training, Wave-Like-Loading and a series of other approaches.

Utilising the above, Poliquin created the ‘German Body Composition’ training that people have been using over the past two decades. In a nut shell, his approach can be summarised as follows periods of relatively heavy weight training, with short rest and long interval times. A tried and tested method of increasing lactate, stimulating fat loss and gaining muscle.

A sample Poliqun workout for beginners will highlight what this approach entailed:

Day 1 (Monday and Thursday)

A1. Front Squat, 4 x 4-6, 5010, rest 10 seconds

A2. Back Squat with Heels Elevated, 4 x 8-10, 3010, rest 10 seconds

A3. Jump Squat, 4 x 12-15, 10X0, rest 90 seconds

A4. Chin-up, 4 x 4-6, 5010, rest 10 seconds

A5. Lean-back Wide Grip Pulldown, 4 x 8-10, 2011, rest 10 seconds

A6. Sled Face-pull, 4 x 15-20, 10X0, rest 90 seconds

Day 2 (Tuesday and Friday)

A1. Deadlift, 4 x 4-6, 5010, rest 10 seconds

A2. Lying Leg Curl, 4 x 6-8, 3010, rest 10 seconds

A3. Snatch Jump, 4 x 12-15, 10X0, rest 90 seconds

A4. Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press, 4 x 4-6, 5010, rest 10 seconds

A5. Incline Dumbbell Press, 4 x 8-10, 3010, rest 10 seconds

A6. Supine Med Ball Chest Pass, 4 x 12-15, 10X0, rest 90 seconds

  • A quick note on the notations. It is reps, followed by tempo followed by rest period. So regarding the Front Squat. It’s 4 sets of 4-6 reps at a tempo of five seconds down, no pause, one second up and no pause at the top. Where there is a X in the tempo, the portion of the lift should be performed as quickly as possible i.e. explosively.

Does it work?


Well that depends who you ask…

Incorporating heavy weight training with little rest is undoubtedly a tough task. Made even harder with the slow tempo speeds that Poliquin and this program demand. Nevertheless the internet, and Poliquin’s own books surprisingly enough, are full of successful weight loss and body recomposition stories. Now importantly, these stories come from both beginners looking to lose weight and athletes seeking to gain a competitive edge. (For an advanced athletic program designed by Poliquin see here)

This would indicate that if followed to the letter, the program can work.

Anything else?

Well like all things gym related, your diet plays a key role here.

While Poliquin’s workout is arguably somewhat complicated. His eating advice was anything but as demonstrated by a 2005 article he wrote for T-Nation on the topic

First of all, keep in mind that approximately 75% of the American population simply does not do well with carbs. As such, try to eat carbohydrate foods that score below 50 on the glycemic index. The obvious exception to this is post workout, when it is recommended that you do eat high GI carbs, along with protein.

Secondly, simply eat more vegetables–lots more vegetables. That simple trick alone will help you burn fat. You might also consider gorging on the cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, as there seems to be an epidemic of “man boobs” in America. These vegetables are strongly anti-estrogenic, and including them in your diet could go a long way in eliminating this unsightly and decidedly embarrassing problem.

Keeping with this, sufficient protein and dietary fat intake would get that fat loss, muscle growth train moving.

What can be learnt from GBC Training?


As stated in the introduction, even if you don’t want to implement GBC training in all its torturous glory, you can still adapt some of its underlying principles.

In the first instance, the idea of shorter rest periods is something of immense value for trainees looking to lose weight, increase volume and potentially induce a greater growth hormone release through training. Similarly the use of slower tempo speeds is something of immense value to the weight trainee. This principle increases resistance without raising the weight and somewhat anecdotally, can provide some of the most intense pumps of your life.

Finally, GBC training highlights the need for good old fashioned hard work in training programmes. As anyone who has done this programme or its sister German Volume Training will attest, the difficulty of the workout is often matched by its effectiveness.

So what are you waiting for? Why not try the GBC system and let us know how you get on below. Better yet, if you’ve used it in the past, tell us your experience, tips and stories!

Happy lifting.

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