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Get a Leaner, Stronger Physique with German Body Composition Training

Burn fat while building muscle with this efficient and effective style of strength programming.

German Body Composition training

It can sometimes seem like building stronger muscles and sculpting a leaner physique are mutually exclusive. That’s not the case with German body composition (GBC) training, a best-of-both-worlds style of resistance training that originated in the Soviet Union during the Cold War and was popularized by a Canadian strength coach named Charles Poliquin.

This decades-old training style has stuck around primarily because, when performed correctly, it can help you burn fat while simultaneously building muscle, shifting you toward a leaner, stronger body composition. It’s a type of high-intensity resistance training designed to spike your heart rate as you lift heavy loads, a one-two punch that can help you reach your goal—fast.

What Does a Workout Featuring German Body Composition Look Like? 

German body composition training is built around pairing upper- and lower-body exercises, working in moderate rep ranges, and minimizing rest between sets, explains John Christie, director of curriculum at Tonal. 

“These exercises are mostly compound movements that activate your large muscles and multiple joints,” says Jacob Rauch, CSCS, PhD candidate, and performance manager of applied training science at Tonal.

In a GBC workout, you’ll stack exercises back to back. For example, you might do a Romanian deadlift followed immediately by a bench press, or a pistol squat followed by a bent-over row—alternating big movement patterns, such as hinging and pushing, or squatting and pulling. You’ll aim for moderate rep ranges—typically 6 to 20, according to Rauch—because you’re working with heavy resistance, usually a high percentage of your one-rep max. 

“This approach allows you to create relative rest by giving one part of the body a break while working a different part,” explains Christie. And rest is tightly metered: generally only 30 to 60 seconds. “You’re moving through this kind of training session with haste,” he adds.

If it sounds intense, that’s because it is. “It’s the truest definition of intensity within strength training,” says Christie. “You’re going to use heavy resistance and rack up a lot of volume while moving at a quick pace, which is going to drive up your heart rate.”

What Are the Benefits of German Body Composition Training? 

By combining resistance training exercises with short rest intervals, German body composition training allows you to burn fat while simultaneously building muscle. “All of those factors result in a lot of work being done in a short amount of time, which will increase the metabolic demands on your body and drive up the relative intensity,” says Rauch. 

The key benefit is this body composition shift. “By combining heavyish compound movements and minimizing rest, you’re forcing your body to deal with the metabolic stress that comes from actively firing all the muscles in your body,” says Christie. “As a result, your body has to rebuild muscle tissue so it’s better prepared for this kind of strain in the future.” And that is what induces hypertrophy.

German Body Composition Training
How: Pairs upper- and lower-body exercises; moderate rep ranges; heavy resistance;  minimal rest between sets. 
Why: Burn fat; build muscle; shift body composition; elevate heart rate.

Training this way can also contribute to weight loss, because “it’s such an intense demand on the body, using these multi-joint, multiplanar movements, and that requires an awful lot of energy, [or] calories,” explains Christie. “It creates the right environment for there to be a calorie deficit at the end of the day to shift that body composition.”

In fact, energy expenditure was 33 percent higher in people who performed a GBC-style workout compared with a more traditional training program, one 2010 study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research determined. 

And all that work also triggers the afterburn effect, also known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), Christie adds. Case in point: Study participants who did a high-intensity resistance training session burned 150 calories in the 22 hours after exercising than those who did traditional weight training according to older research published in the Journal of Translational Medicine.

Is German Body Composition Training Effective For Fat Loss?

In a word, yes. Poliquin’s main focus was on shifting body composition, and German body composition training does that by taxing the metabolic pathways in the body and increasing growth hormone, which can lead to fat loss.

During metabolically taxing workouts—like a GBC-style workout that gets your heart rate up and forces your energy systems to work harder—blood lactate levels increase. That increased blood lactate concentration can be a stimulus for the exercise-induced growth hormone response, research shows. And increased levels of growth hormone have been shown in studies to reduce fat tissue while preserving lean body mass.

“From a research standpoint, there are a lot of claims that a metabolically demanding workout—like GBC training—is going to lead to a spike in hormones like growth hormone and testosterone, and that some of these acute metabolic spikes may increase fat loss,” says Rauch. 

Of course, fat loss also relies on dietary factors (among other things), and a number of training methods can create an environment where fat loss is possible. But if you’re looking to switch things up with a tough but effective workout, give GBC a shot.

German Body Composition Training on Tonal

Get a feel for this intense and effective training style with these coach-led programs and workouts on Tonal. 

20-in-20: Fired Up – Multiple Coaches

20-in-20: Fired Up - Multiple Coaches

Take advantage of GBC’s time-saving benefits with the 20-minute workouts in this program that squeeze a lot of work into minimal time. 

Metabolic Burnout Circuit – Coach Ash Wilking

Metabolic Burnout Circuit - Coach Ash Wilking

In this workout, you’ll do giant sets of alternating lower- and upper-body exercises inspired by German Body Composition training. The extra short rests will get your heart racing as your muscles burn. 

Four-Week Fast Track: Lower-Body Sculpt – Multiple Coaches

Four-Week Fast Track: Lower-Body Sculpt - Multiple Coaches

While you’ll focus on your glutes, quads, and hamstrings in this program’s strength workouts, the weekly HIIT workouts are all about revving up your metabolism and burning fat through full-body GBC training.