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More Muscle in Less Time With Escalating Density Training

Back in the mid-2000's trainer Charles Staley developed a very simple yet brutal method of training: EDT or Escalating Density Training. This type of training is based in principle on pairing movements in superset fashion, under a rigid time limitation.

The major premise is to take two movements grouped together, called "PR Zones", where you are basically doing each movement for a relatively low number of reps (4-6), resting about 30-45 seconds, and then doing another 4-6 reps with the second movement, and then, rest 30-45 seconds, etc, on and on for 15-20 minutes.

Each of these 15-20 minute blocks is called a PR zone. The idea here is not to count sets and reps so much, but more so the total number of reps done on each movement in the given time frame, either 15-20 minutes of your choosing. According to Staley, you typically should choose a weight which is about 80% of your 1RM - so a poundage where you could get approximately 10 reps (if you were going to failure).

You have a lot of flexibility with this type of training as you get to choose the parameters (sets, reps, rest) based on what's best for you. What is a must with this system is that you choose two antagonistic or opposing exercises within a strictly-timed 15-20 minute time frame - again called the PR Zone. How you choose the two movements depends on your goals.


Another thing that is a rigid rule of EDT training is to shoot for an aggregate total of about 60-70 reps per PR. So, if I were doing bench press and dumbbell row, I would be aiming for about 30-35 reps of each over a 15 minute period. If you miss this total rep range of 60-70 reps by more than 20 reps, lower your weight 5% or so.

The beauty of EDT training if that the possibilities are endless. You can use it to improve conditioning, strength, mass, and even as a metcon type workout to get your metabolism working more efficiently.

If I were training someone who's goal was fat loss, someone with a sluggish metabolism, etc, I would choose two movements that deal with muscle groups which are not topographically related, ie, front squats and incline press, or lunges and bent rows.

Another one would be to combine something like farmer's walks or walking lunges, as the second exercise to something like snatch-grip or trap bar deadlifts.

If the goal is gaining slabs of muscle, then pairing chest and back exercises, like bench press/dumbbell rows, incline press/supported rows or dips/chins would be the approach I would use.

Choosing Exercise Pairings

Quoting Charles Staley on exercise pairings: Here are some antagonistic pairings that have stood the test of time over the past 5 years of experimentation:

Upper Body   

  • Bench Press/Chins
  • Low Cable Row/Barbell Military Press
  • Lat Pulldown/Triceps Pushdown
  • Close-Grip Bench Press/Bent Rows
  • Standing Barbell Curl/Lying Dumbbell Triceps Extension
  • Floor Press/Reverse-Grip Cleans
  • Push-Up/Pull-Up
  • Lateral Raise/Cable Arm Adduction
  • Straight-Arm Pulldown/Plate Raise

Lower Body:

  • Leg Extension/Leg Curl
  • Front Squat/Back Extension
  • Seated Calf Raise/Tibealis Curl
  • Hip Abduction/Hip Adduction

Full Body:

  • Back Squat/Chins
  • Front Squat/Dips
  • Deadlift/Floor Press
  • Overhead Squat/Clean Pull
  • Muscle-Up/Power Clean
  • Back Extension/Ball Crunch

Putting It All Together:

What follows is a simple but effective routine for mass construction. If you look at it, you will recognize that the idea comes from the old Madcow/SS type split where one day it's squat/bench/row and the other it's deadlift/OHP/chins.

We're going to take that old basic strength routine and modify it with more of a focus on conditioning and hypertrophy.

Here hit each PR (group of movements) for 15 minutes each, striving for a total of 60 reps total for both exercises. Again, using the first two as an example, you would be looking at 30-35 reps of bench and 30-35 reps of DB rows within 15 minutes. Take 3 minutes rest before moving on to the next block.

Rest days are up to you and your recovery. If you are younger and in great shape, then you could hit this 3x a week. You could also throw two days off in between each day and work on mobility on those days.

Here is the way it would look:

Day One

PR 1

  • A-1: Bench Press
  • A-2: One-Arm Dumbbell Row

PR 2

  • B-1: Back Squat
  • B-2: Stiff-Leg Deadlift

supplement: Barbell curls 4x12

Day Two

PR 1

  • A-1: Deadlift
  • A-2: Chins

PR 2

  • B-1: Overhead Press
  • B-2: Front Squat

supplement: Standing Triceps Extensions (aka "French Press")

Extra: Some More Kickass Exercise Pairings

  • Squat/Incline Bench
  • Lunges/BB Row
  • Deadlift/Overhead Press
  • Squat/Row
  • Deadlift Or Snatch/DB Overhead Press
  • Squat/Any Chest Press
  • Any Chest Press/Rows
  • Chins or Pullups/Overhead Press
  • Lunges/Any Upper Body