"I don't have time to work out."
This is one of the biggest woes I hear from my clients. I get it, trust me. As someone who loves nothing more than the sweet, glorious pump that follows a diabolical arm workout, even I sometimes find myself staring at the clock, thinking about how long my workout will take. Then I watch my will to leave the house slowly drain from my body and disappear into the ether.
Many people think that to have the body of their dreams they need to set up at least a 90-minute date with the iron. Otherwise results will elude them. When I see and hear about people doing this, I shave my head bald, don my clip-on sunglasses, toss on the leather trench coat, and start acting like Morpheus from "The Matrix."
"What if I told you that there was a better way?" I ask. "What if I told you that you could achieve more results in less time?"
Welcome To The Real: EDT
The first time I heard about escalating density training (EDT) was from celebrated strength coach Charles Staley. This was during a time when I had lost my training mojo. Coming off a three-month hiatus, I simply couldn't muster the mental effort needed to get myself back in the gym. Every attempt to jump back in with the same gusto I once had left me feeling defeated, wondering if I would ever return to my previous levels of swole.
It wasn't until I began applying the principles of escalating density that I began to get my groove back. The beauty of the concept lies in its simplicity. You can use it as a stand-alone workout strategy or a tool to inject new stimulus into the program you're currently on.
What Is Density?
Your training density is the work you're able to do in a given amount of time. If you perform 15 sets of 10 push-ups in 10 minutes, your training density for that that particular movement in a 10-minute timeframe would be 150 repetitions. In other words, training density is the amount of sets multiplied by the number of reps completed within a certain timeframe.
For each training session, you're going to divide your training into two zones—A and B—using at least two exercises in each zone. You'll start by alternating between the exercises in zone A until time runs out, then rest for 5 minutes and begin zone B. Using this as a base, you can structure your workouts by using the following options:
Method 1: Increase your workload in the same timeframe If you hit 150 push-ups the first time you try this methodology, see what you can do for the next week. If the next time you repeat this workout and perform 155 push-ups during that same 10 minutes of work, then congratulations: You just won the game of life. By doing more work than you previously did, even if it's just one repetition, you've increased your training density, furthering your progress toward becoming "The One."
Method 2: Keep your workload the same while decreasing your work time Let's say that cranking out 150 push-ups in 10 minutes was challenging. To take things to the next level, decrease your work time by 60 seconds. If you rose to the challenge and again completed 150 total repetitions, you've still increased your training density. In other words, you can do more work in less time, and are therefore inching closer and closer to gym-demigod status.
How To Progress: Deeper Down The Rabbit Hole
To maximize your muscle growth potential, you want to expose yourself to a wide range of rep ranges. You can work anywhere between 5 and 20 reps, even beyond. Regardless of which rep range you choose, the flexibility of EDT truly shines. Before you hit the gym, though, here are some key points to be aware of.
1. Don't seek failure early on
If you blow your metaphorical load within the first few sets, the rest of your session will suffer. Understand that the number of reps you'll hit per set will decrease as you near the end of your work time, but you at least want to give yourself a fighting chance from the start.
Whichever rep goal you choose, begin with a weight that allows you to hit that number for at least the first three sets. If, on your first set, you're barely able to grind out that last rep, re-evaluate your starting weight.
2. Pair exercises which target non-competing muscle groups
While short, these workouts can be extremely taxing. To get the most out of each exercise grouping—and still remain a functioning member of society the next day— pair antagonist muscle groups, not synergists.
If your goal is to own the baddest pair of bicepticons around, pairing chin-ups and biceps curls might not be the best option. Instead, alternating between chin-ups and dips would allow you to go hard on both exercises without exhaustion on one hindering the other.
3. Through struggle comes simplicity
As you move through these sessions, you'll notice yourself steadily performing more reps than before with the same weight. Once you get a 20-percent increase in reps compared to where you initially started, it's time to increase the weight slightly to keep things challenging.
The principles are few, but the methods are many. Without being stifled by pre-determined rest periods or sets, you now control your personal workout matrix. Use these guidelines without being bound by them. Explore, tweak, play with the variables, using your own experiences to discover your truth and usher in a new era of muscle growth.
Neo: "What are you trying to tell me? That I can dodge bullets?"
Morpheus: "No, Neo. I'm trying to tell you that when you're ready, you won't need to."