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EDT workout plans

Escalating Density Training: More Muscle in Less Time

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.

woman doing squats
Image Credit: iStock

According to Charles 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 or PR. 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.

For example, 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.

Barbell front squat
Image Credit: iStock

Who Is EDT Training For?

The beauty of EDT training if that the possibilities are endless. You can use it to improve conditioning, strength, mass, and even as a metabolic conditioning 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 and so on, I would choose two movements that deal with muscle groups which are not topographically related, for example combining 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 or box jumps with tire flips.

If the goal is gaining slabs of muscle, then pairing antagonistic muscle groups like chest and back with exercises such as bench press/dumbbell rows, incline press/supported rows or dips/chins would be a great application of EDT training.

Incidentally, there are some mobile apps now which also offer EDT workout programs!

Choosing Exercise Pairings

Here are some very productive exercise pairings for EDT training which have stood the test of time over the years of experimentation:

Upper Body   

  1. Bench Press/Chins
  2. Low Cable Row/Barbell Military Press
  3. Lat Pulldown/Overhead EZ-Bar Triceps Extensions
  4. Close-Grip Bench Press/T-Bar Rows
  5. Standing Barbell Curl/Lying Dumbbell Triceps Extension
  6. Floor Press/Power Cleans
  7. Weighted Push-Ups/Weighted Dips
  8. Dumbbell Lateral Raise/Machine Row
  9. Straight-Arm Pulldown/Plate Raise
  10. Dumbbell Pullovers/Military Press
  11. Dumbbell Pullovers/Weighted Dips
  12. Double Dumbbell Snatch/Neutral Grip Chin-Ups

Lower Body:

  1. Leg Extension/Leg Curl
  2. Front Squat/Back Extension
  3. Seated Calf Raise/Tibealis Curl
  4. Hip Abduction/Hip Adduction
  5. Glute-Ham Raise/Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat
  6. Barbell Hip Thrust/Kettlebell Cossack Squat
  7. Multi-Directional Lunge/Reverse Hyperextension
  8. Leg Extension/Squat
  9. Sissy Squat Holding Barbell Plate/Romanian Deadlift
  10. Trap-Bar Deadlift/Lateral Band Walks
  11. Step-Ups/Stiff-Leg Deadlift
  12. Sumo Deadlift/Pull-Throughs

Full Body:

  1. Back Squat/Chins
  2. Front Squat/Dips
  3. Deadlift/Floor Press
  4. Overhead Squat/Clean Pull
  5. Muscle-Up/Power Clean
  6. Incline Press/Snatch Grip Deadlift
  7. Close-Grip Bench Press/Trap-Bar Deadlift
  8. Step-Up/Standing One-Arm Dumbbell Press
  9. Landmine Squat/Military Press
  10. Floor Press/Leg Press
  11. Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat/Military Press
  12. Single Leg Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift/Incline Dumbbell Press
Deadlift training
Image Credit: iStock

Putting It All Together

What follows is a simple but effective routine for mass construction with EDT training.

If you look at it, you will recognize that the idea comes from the old 5x5 full body type of split where one day is squat/bench/row and the other is deadlift/overhead press/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 this sort of implementation with this sort of routine could 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 EZ-Bar Triceps Extensions 

Extra: Some More Kickass Exercise Pairings

  1. Squat/Incline Bench
  2. Lunges/BB Row
  3. Deadlift/Overhead Press
  4. Squat/Row
  5. Deadlift Or Snatch/DB Overhead Press
  6. Squat/Any Chest Press
  7. Any Chest Press/Rows
  8. Chins or Pullups/Overhead Press
  9. Lunges/Any Upper Body