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Some of my more recent readers may not be aware of a training system that I’m perhaps best known for: Escalating Density Training (EDT). In fact, eleven years ago I wrote a book on the subject, and I’ve done a fair amount of writing on the web about it as well. It’s been some time since I’ve talked about EDT, so I thought I’d revisit the subject for my newer readers.
 
For those who have never heard of EDT, I often refer to it as “time management meets weight training.” I’ve done my best to apply time and energy management principles to the practice of resistance training, with the goal of improving the efficiency of your efforts at the gym.
 
With EDT you will aim to beat your last PR at every workout. Simple, but not easy. (Photo courtesy J Perez Imagery)
 

The Underlying Principles of EDT

There are a handful of strategies you’ll use for the purposes of maximum training efficiency when using EDT. They include:
 
  • A time limit for sets and reps: Parkinson’s law suggests, “work expands so as to fill the time allotted for it’s completion.” In other words, if you allow 30 minutes for a task, that task will tend to take 30 minutes. If you allot 20 minutes, you can probably do it in 20 minutes. While this isn’t always true, you’d be surprised how often it is.
     
  • “Circuit” style training: Put another way, instead of completing all sets of your first exercise before moving on to the second movement, you’ll alternate back and forth between exercise. This tactic dissipates fatigue, allowing you to complete more total work in less time.
     
  • Volume over intensity: You’ll only do half the reps you can potentially perform for any given set. EDT is a hypertrophy strategy, so volume is the name of the game. Going to failure is more effective for an individual set, but we’re going to focus on your total work output, not how hard you worked on a single set.
     
  • Tracked progression: You’ll document and seek to improve upon your PRs for each session. The personal record that we’re looking at here is the total reps you can perform while performing two antagonistic exercises for a 15-minute time period. 
     
  • Increased training density: Finally, by gradually increasing the total amount of work you perform without increasing the time allotted for that work, you’ll be increasing your training density. And when you increase training density, not only are you training more efficiently, you’re also creating an important stimulus for improving body composition.
 

The Mechanics of EDT

If you've never tried EDT, here's a quick primer.
 
  1. Choose two opposing exercises. This could be anything from two antagonistic movements (such as leg curl/hack squat, or dips press/chins) to two unrelated muscles (such as deadlifts/pull-ups or calf raise/barbell curls) to both sides of a unilateral drill (left lunge/right lunge).
     
  2. Find or estimate a 10RM weight for each exercise. You can estimate these weights during your warm-up sets. Don't be concerned if your estimates are a bit off. What's more important is that you choose weights that are equivalently difficult for each exercise.
     
  3. Set a timer for 15 minutes.
     
  4. Begin by performing sets of 5 reps for each exercise. If you're doing dips and chin ups, for example, do a set of 5 dips, and then a set of 5 chins. Don't worry about rest intervals. Just rest instinctively. Record your sets and reps as you go.
     
  5. As you begin to fatigue, allow your reps to drop to sets of 4, 3, 2, and perhaps even singles toward the end of the 15-minute period. Again, what matters is how many total reps you rack up over 15 minutes, not how many reps you manage on a particular set. It's also natural (and optimal) for your rest intervals to gradually increase as you become increasingly fatigued. This is the step that many people miss.
     
  6. When the 15-minute period elapses, stop lifting. If you've only got a few seconds left toward the end, don't perform one last set of the first exercise unless you've got enough time to perform a corresponding last set for your second exercise as well.
     
  7. Add up your total reps. This is your "PR." Don't worry how large or small this number is, it doesn't matter.
     
  8. Next time out, improve upon your baseline PR in any way you can, by as little or as much as you desire. All that matters is that you beat your PR.
 
Looks simple right? It is, but simple doesn’t mean easy.
 

Application and Implementation

I would use EDT during dedicated hypertrophy phases for perhaps 4-6 weeks. I’d also suggest using two different exercise parings per workout, which means that your work sets for both EDT sessions will take 30 minutes. Add in your warm-up sets, and your workout will take between 45-60 minutes, mostly depending on how strong you are.
 
Also, since you’ll be developing high levels of fatigue during EDT training, I’d suggest using the “safest” exercises possible. Movements like overhead squats might not be the best choice. In fact, resistance-training machines are often a better choice than free weights for safety reasons.
 
If you’re looking for a way to inject some new energy into your training, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how effective EDT can be. It is very effective in delivering a powerful workout in a short time frame. Be ready for big-time soreness as well. Like many things in life, EDT must be experienced to be understood. Things often look easy on paper, but are anything but when you actually do them. Even if you’re well-conditioned, EDT will prove to be one of the toughest workouts you ever do. Trust me.
 
If you have questions or need clarification about EDT, you know where to find me.
 
Another Time-Based Workout Strategy to Try:
 

This Week’s Training:

Volume: 54,406lb (Last Week: 90,710lb)
 
Significant Lifts:
  • Low Bar Squat: 280lb x 5
  • Competition Bench Press: 220lb x 4
 
This week was a bit of a mid-phase deload. I did two hard sessions early in the week, followed by a low-volume upper-lower session later in the week. Next week I’ll be putting in a ton of volume, so stay tuned for that.
 
Everything’s feeling on track, and I also continue to feel healthy. I almost feel the urge to apologize for the lack of drama, but I won’t. I’m looking to break my all-time 5RM PR on the deadlift next week, so maybe there will be a bit of drama coming soon after all.

Monday, May 16, 2016

 
Bodyweight: 198lb
Volume: 24,635lb
 
Goblet Squat
  • Set 1: 10lb × 10
  • Set 2: 25lb × 10
  • Set 3: 40lb × 10
 
Low Bar Squat
  • Set 1: 45lb × 5
  • Set 2: 95lb × 5
  • Set 3: 135lb × 5
  • Set 4: 185lb × 5
  • Set 5: 225lb × 5
  • Set 6: 280lb × 5
  • Set 7: 280lb × 5
  • Set 8: 280lb × 5
  • Set 9: 280lb × 5
  • Set 10: 280lb × 5
  • Set 11: 45lb × 5
 
Hack Squat
  • Set 1: 90lb × 8
  • Set 2: 140lb × 6
  • Set 3: 185lb × 5
  • Set 4: 220lb × 5
  • Set 5: 220lb × 5
 
Deadlift
  • Set 1: 135lb × 5
  • Set 2: 225lb × 5
  • Set 3: 325lb × 3
  • Set 4: 325lb × 3
 
Standing Calf Raise
  • Set 1: 200lb × 8
  • Set 2: 200lb × 8
  • Set 3: 200lb × 8
 
Toes To Bar
  • Set 1: 5 reps
  • Set 2: 5 reps
 
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
 
Bodyweight: 197.4lb
Volume: 13,981lb
 
Bench Press
  • Set 1: 45lb × 10
  • Set 2: 95lb × 8
  • Set 3: 135lb × 6
  • Set 4: 185lb × 4
  • Set 5: 205lb × 2
  • Set 6: 220lb × 4
  • Set 7: 220lb × 3
  • Set 8: 220lb × 3
  • Set 9: 220lb × 3
  • Set 10: 220lb × 4
 
Military Press
  • Set 1: 45lb × 10
  • Set 2: 65lb × 8
  • Set 3: 85lb × 6
  • Set 4: 100lb × 4
  • Set 5: 110lb × 5
  • Set 6: 110lb × 5
 
Pull Up
  • Set 1: 5 reps
  • Set 2: +25lb × 5
  • Set 3: +25lb × 5
 
EZ Bar Curl
  • Set 1: 45lb × 8
  • Set 2: 65lb × 8
 
Friday, May 20, 2016
 
Bodyweight: 199lb
Volume: 15,790lb
 
Deadlift
  • Set 1: 135lb × 10
  • Set 2: 185lb × 5
  • Set 3: 225lb × 5
  • Set 4: 285lb × 3
  • Set 5: 285lb × 3
 
Goblet Squat
  • Set 1: 25lb × 10
  • Set 2: 53lb × 10
  • Set 3: 62lb × 10
 
High Bar Squat
  • Set 1: 45lb × 8
  • Set 2: 95lb × 6
  • Set 3: 135lb × 4
  • Set 4: 170lb × 3
  • Set 5: 170lb × 3
 
Bench Press (Dumbbell)
  • Set 1: 100lb × 10
  • Set 2: 130lb × 5
  • Set 3: 130lb × 5
  • Set 4: 130lb × 5
 
Seated Row
  • Set 1: 135lb × 8
  • Set 2: 165lb × 8
  • Set 3: 180lb × 8
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