Are you curious about escalating density training?
Escalating density training is an advanced training protocol where you try to perform as many sets as possible in a fixed time period. Each workout you increase the number of sets performed in the same period of time!
With escalating density training, you are driving muscular adaptations through an increased volume of work, rather than increased load.
Escalating density training does not work forever. Eventually, you have to increase the load on the exercise to continue progressing. However, it is a fantastic tool that you can use to make progress for short periods of time.
Remember, muscular hypertrophy is really nothing more than just a biological adaptation to a biological stimulus.
If you increase the strength of the stimulus, provided that you can recover from it, the more muscular hypertrophy you will get!
Hypertrophy is largely a consequence of the following equation:
Hypertrophy = (Load) x (Time Under Tension)
“Load” of course refers to the amount of resistance you are exposing your muscles to. On the other hand, “time under tension” refers to the amount of time that your muscles are exposed to that resistance.
This equation has some serious implications for program design.
If you lift a heavy weight for only one or two reps, then you probably won't build much muscle tissue. You are maximizing the left side of the equation at the expense of the right side.
On the other hand, you can lift a really light weight for hundreds of repetitions but again you probably won't see much growth. The load is too light to create a stimulus for growth.
The key then is we need a training stimulus that maximizes BOTH load AND time under tension! And THAT is where a training method like escalating density training comes into play.
Sample EDT Routine Structure
Now we're getting to the good stuff! Let's look at some sample escalating density routines.
In my opinion, one of the best ways to design an escalating density routine was invented by Charles Poliquin. He used to call this the “30 – 15 – 15” routine. You will see why in just a bit. Check it out:
Sample Chest / Back Escalating Density Routine
- Exercise A1: Close grip bench press, sets of 2**, 3/0/X/0, no rest
- Exercise A2: Neutral grip chin ups, sets of 2**, 3/0/X/0, no rest
- Exercise B1: 30 degree incline DB press, sets of 8***, 2/0/X/0, no rest
- Exercise B2: T-bar row, sets of 8***, 2/0/X/0, no rest
- Exercise C1: Decline DB extension, sets of 20****, 1/0/X/0, no rest
- Exercise C2: 45 degree incline DB curl, sets of 20****, 1/0/X/0, no rest
**Performed for the first 30 minutes of the workout
***performed for minutes 31-45 of the workout
****Performed for minutes 46-60 of the workout
Note: this is what a training routine looks like when all of the loading parameters are clearly defined. If you are having any trouble interpreting it then this article is for you.
Later in this article I will provide you with sample training videos for all of these exercises but for now let's focus on the overall structure of the routine itself.
This routine goes by the following name: the “30/15/15 method.” This is because the routine is broken up into 3 “phases” lasting 30, 15, and 15 minutes respectively.
The “A” exercises are performed non-stop for the first 30 minutes of the workout. Next the “B” exercises are performed for 15 minutes straight. Finally the workout concludes with you performing the “C” exercises for another 15 minutes straight
This all sounds pretty reasonable until you consider the rest periods. There aren't any!
You are literally alternating back and forth between the “A1 / A2” exercises, the “B1 / B2” exercises, and the “C1 / C2” exercises with NO REST between sets!
The goal is to complete as many sets as possible in the given time limit for each pair of exercises.
Of course picking the correct weights for every exercise can be tricky.
I recommend you start out with your estimated 10-rep max on the “A” exercises, your 20-rep max for the “B” exercises, and your 40-rep max for the “C” exercises.
These loads should allow you to perform a large number of sets during each phase of the workout.
Of course it is helpful to have goals for the number of sets you want to complete in each phase of the workout.
I recommend you try to perform at least 20 sets per workout for each of the “A” exercises and at least 8 sets per workout for each of the “B” and “C” exercises.
If you are hitting at least these numbers then you are doing great!
Keep in mind this is at least 72 sets in a 60 minute workout. Talk about training density!
One of the more interesting things about this routine is the way you progress from one workout to the next. On most routines you would try to do more reps or add a little bit of weight to the bar.
Things are quite different with this program.
Instead of trying to progress in reps or load I want you to try and increase the number of sets you perform for each exercise without going over the time limits.
You are essentially trying to increase the density of the session every workout!
This workout program relies on you alternating back-and-forth between exercises for antagonistic body parts. This does limit the types of training splits you can choose from.
Instead I recommend you use one of the following types of training splits:
In the next two parts of this article I am going to take a deeper dive into each of these two routine formats. This will of course include sample workouts for every body part and training videos for all exercises.
Sample Upper / Lower Split Routine
It is no secret that I LOVE using upper / lower splits with my training clients.
It is probably one of the easier splits to program for, but more importantly, it works extremely well for a large percentage of the training population.
The following upper body / lower body split routine can be performed either 3 or 4 days per week, depending on your recovery ability.
For example, here is how you might would organize a four days per week upper / lower split routine:
- Sunday: Upper
- Monday: Lower
- Wednesday: Upper
- Friday: Lower
This 4 days per week upper / lower split tends to work well for individuals with average to well-above-average recovery ability (among other factors).
On the other hand, here is how you would set up a three-days per week upper / lower split routine:
- Monday: Upper
- Wednesday: Lower
- Friday: Upper
- Monday: Lower
- Wednesday: Upper
- Friday: Lower
This 3 days per week upper / lower training split tends to work well for individuals with well-below-average to average recovery ability.
Without further delay, here is the full sample upper / lower split routine. It can be performed either 3 or 4 days per week using one of the above schedules.
Upper Body Workout
- Exercise A1: Close grip bench press, sets of 2, 3/0/X/0, no rest
- Exercise A2: Narrow neutral grip chin ups, sets of 2, 3/0/X/0, no rest
- Exercise B1: 30 degree incline DB press, sets of 8, 2/0/X/0, no rest
- Exercise B2: T-bar row, sets of 8, 2/0/X/0, no rest
- Exercise C1: Decline DB extension, sets of 20, 1/0/X/0, no rest
- Exercise C2: 45 degree incline DB curl, sets of 20, 1/0/X/0, no rest
Lower Body Workout
- Exercise A1: Front squat (heels flat / medium stance), sets of 2, 3/0/X/0, no rest
- Exercise A2: Lying hamstring curl (bilateral, feet plantar flexed / neutral), sets of 2, 3/0/X/0, no rest
- Exercise B1: Leg Press, sets of 8, 2/0/X/0, no rest
- Exercise B2: Seated BB good morning, sets of 8, 2/0/X/0, no rest
- Exercise C1: Leg extension, sets of 20, 1/0/X/0, no rest
- Exercise C2: 45 degree back extension (DB at chest), sets of 20, 1/0/X/0, no rest
These routines are very difficult to complete. You will have to dig deep as the workout progresses as the sets only get harder and harder.
By the end of the workout the lactic acid flowing through your becomes absolutely overwhelming!
Of course the 4 days per week version of the above routine is more difficult to recover from. You have to be very mindful of the amount of fatigue that your lumbar spine accumulates over the course of the week.
Many trainees simply cannot recover optimally from 2 heavy lower body training sessions in the same week. If this describes you then I recommend you stick with the 3 days per week version of this routine.
Don't worry, you will still be training body parts once every 4-5 days with the 3 days per week version.
Despite what the high-frequency gurus will tell you hitting body parts every 4-5 days works absolutely AWESOME for many trainees.
Sample Poliquin Split Routine
Another training split that I use A LOT with my training clients is what I call the “Poliquin Split.”
There are many different variations of the Poliquin split but they tend to have two things in common: antagonistic body parts are usually trained together and the training frequency is usually once every 5 days per body part.
For this routine I recommend the following Poliquin split:
- Day 1: Arms
- Day 2: Legs
- Day 3: Off
- Day 4: Chest / Back
- Day 5: Off
- Day 6: Repeat!
One of the things I like most about this split is that it was designed from the ground up to allow you to train antagonistic body parts together.
Training in this manner has many advantages, from increased motor unit recruitment, reduced fatigue drop-off curves, and an increased density of work.
Another great advantage is the once-every-five-days training frequency. For many trainees this frequency is the sweet-spot between training body parts once or twice per week.
Of course every training split has its drawbacks and this Poliquin split is no exception.
First of all you need to have at least average recovery ability to handle this split. If you struggle recovering from four strength training workouts per week then this split will run you into the ground.
The second drawback is that you need to be able to train every day.
This does not mean that you are actually in the gym every day – after all, you only have four workouts per week. The problem is the specific days where you do train changes every week.
On some weeks you have to train on Friday and on some weeks you don't etc. This split only works for individuals with very flexible schedules.
If you have a more restrictive schedule then your best bet on this program is an upper / lower split.
Without further ado, here is the sample training program that you can use with the Poliquin split noted above:
- Exercise A1: Lying ez-bar extension (close grip, to forehead), sets of 2, 3/0/X/0, no rest
- Exercise A2: Ez-bar preacher curl (wide pronated grip), sets of 2, 3/0/X/0, no rest
- Exercise B1: V-bar dips, sets of 8, 2/0/X/0, no rest
- Exercise B2: Incline cable curls, sets of 8, 2/0/X0, no rest
- Exercise C1: Overhead rope extensions, sets of 20, 1/0/X/0, no rest
- Exercise C2: DB spider curls (neutral grip), sets of 20, 1/0/X/0, no rest
- Exercise A1: Back squat (heels flat / narrow stance), sets of 2, 3/0/X/0, no rest
- Exercise A2: Bilateral seated hamstring curl (feet pointing in / poliquin method)**, sets of 2, 3/0/X/0, no rest
- Exercise B1: Machine hack squat, sets of 8, 2/0/X/0, no rest
- Exercise B2: Dumbbell Romanian deadlift, sets of 8, 2/0/X/0, no rest
- Exercise C1: Walking lunges, sets of 20, 1/0/1/0, no rest
- Exercise C2: 90 degree back extension (holding DB), sets of 20, 1/0/1/0, no rest
Chest / Back Workout
- Exercise A1: 60 degree incline DB press, sets of 2, 3/0/X/0, no rest
- Exercise A2: Close grip supinated chin ups, sets of 2, 3/0/X/0, no rest
- Exercise B1: 15 degree incline DB press, sets of 8, 2/0/X/0, no rest
- Exercise B2: Smith machine row, sets of 8, 2/0/X/0, no rest
- Exercise C1: Pec dec fly, sets of 20, 1/0/X/0, no rest
- Exercise C2: Rear delt pec dec, sets of 20, 1/0/X/0, no rest
**To perform the poliquin method on leg curls you dorsiflex your ankles (point your toes towards your shins) during the concentric range and plantarflex your ankles (point your toes away from your shins) during the eccentric range.
**This will eccentrically overload the hamstring muscles. See the corresponding video for more information.
Note: it is very important to follow the precise exercise tempos laid on in this routine.
If you really don't like one of the exercises listed above, then you can probably replace it with another similar exercise.
However, you CANNOT change the prescribed tempos. They are there for a specific reason!
Common Questions On Escalating Density Training
Before you embark on your own EDT training program I highly recommend you read this section.
These are a selection of some of the most common questions I get from readers here at Revolutionary Program Design and my online coaching clients.
Question #1: what’s the point of EDT?
EDT represents a very unique training stimulus where you are performing an astronomical amount of work in a relatively short period of time.
This massive increase in workload acts as a novel and highly effective training stimulus. You will be amazed at how quickly you build muscle, lose body fat, and improve your conditioning level.
I am sure some of you will still be a little bit confused. No problem – let's take a deeper dive into this topic.
As explained earlier, your body wants nothing more than to maintain a balanced state called homeostasis. Homeostasis is basically your body's overriding objective.
It is basically where your body’s internal systems are running smoothly and you aren’t at risk of dying in the near future.
Weight training can be thought of as a stimulus that “disrupts” this natural state of homeostasis.
There are many factors responsible for how strong the adaptive stimulus is, but one of the most important ones is the novelty of the stimulus.
When you first start strength training anything you do is a unique challenge to your body and you rapidly adapt.
It is not uncommon for someone to double, triple, or quadruple their strength and add 20-40 pounds of solid muscle in their first year of training (assuming they do everything correctly).
However, after that fist year of training things start to slow down. It is your job to continue posing your body novel forms of training stimuli to force continued adaptations.
Although there is nothing wrong with more conventional training protocols, EDT is a truly unique stimulus that can help force training adaptations that otherwise might not occur.
I have seen time and time again that it can lead to extremely rapid improvements in body composition, even in highly-trained individuals.
Question #2: which training neurotypes do best on this training routine?
This is a great question! As you may know, I am a huge fan of using neurotransmitter based program design to individualize my client's training routines.
It is by far the fastest, most efficient way to pinpoint the exact training programs that an individual will respond best to.
In other words, if you like getting results as quickly as possible then you had better familiarize yourself with neurotransmitter based program design! If on the other hand you don't mind wasting your time then it isn't very necessary!
There are three major types of individuals that gravitate towards strength training:
- Fire types
- Wood types
- Earth types
All three respond differently to different training routines. There is no one-size fits all routine that will work for everyone! Of course the rules about the specific neurotypes are a little more clear.
As a rule of thumb, Earth types and Wood types tend to do AWESOME on escalating density training protocols. These guys can just perform the routine as its written!
Fire types, on the other hand, will burn out quite rapidly on sets of 20. These guys MUST bring the rep ranges down if they want to survive escalating density training!
For example, here is what a sample upper body workout would look like for you dopamine-dominant lifters out there:
Upper Body Fire Type Sample Routine
- Exercise A1: Close grip bench press, sets of 2, 3/0/X/0, no rest
- Exercise A2: Neutral grip chin ups, sets of 2, 3/0/X/0, no rest
- Exercise B1: 30 degree incline DB press, sets of 5, 2/0/X/0, no rest
- Exercise B2: T-bar row, sets of 5, 2/0/X/0, no rest
- Exercise C1: Decline DB extension, sets of 8, 1/0/X/0, no rest
- Exercise C2: 45 degree incline DB curl, sets of 8, 1/0/X/0, no rest
Note: I have already provided videos of these workouts earlier in the workout so I won't be showing them again here.
Notice that the rep ranges for the “B” and “C” exercises were brought down from 8 and 20 to 5 and 8, respectively.
I think you will find this type of routine structure MUCH more effective if you naturally gravitate towards lower reps.
Don't worry, this routine will still help you to dramatically improve your body composition in a short period of time, even with the lower rep ranges!
Question #3: What is the pump like on this type of routine?
While a muscle pump is not the end-all be-all of assessing the effectiveness of a hypertrophy workout, it does play a role.
A great muscle pump certainly gives you some feedback on whether or not you were able to recruit and fatigue the targeted muscle groups.
I have to say that the pump you get on EDT is truly unique.
With something like giant sets, the pump hits you right away and makes your muscles feel like they are going to explode. The pump with EDT is different though.
The pump comes on a little bit slower, but then builds and builds and builds…
It feels like your muscles are being pumped from the inside-out, rather than the inside in.
Although the peak intensity of the pump is lower vs something like giant sets, it tends to linger on much longer after a workout.
And the delayed onset muscle soreness you experience the next day is a totally unique feeling.
Verdict | Escalating Density Training!
There are no completely new ideas in strength training – only new combinations of old ideas. However, these new ideas not only work, but get results incredibly fast.
Escalating Density Training is one such idea.
If you are looking for a way to shake up your training and rapidly improve your body composition, then I highly recommend you give EDT a try.
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your strength training journey!