Have You Tried Escalating Density Training?

Every few years, a new fitness or exercise trend raises its head and receives a lot of attention. As often as not, the new system is a bit gimmicky and, like so many other fads, is quickly discarded when the next hot new thing comes along. A few years ago, a weight training system called Escalating Density Training arrived on the international scene. Unlike many other trends, however, this one both made sense and delivered results, so is still used by many people today.

For decades, strength trainers have used ‘three sets of ten reps’ as a standard mainstay in working out their weights-based exercise routines. In fact, this approach has been around since the 1940s, when it was first developed by Dr Thomas DeLorme, a United States Army physician. While the system does have its advantages, it can lead to diminishing returns, and in recent years a greater number of fitness experts have turned away from the accepted ‘three sets of ten’ wisdom and explored other ways to get the most out of a weight training session.

Most strength trainers recognise the benefits of what is usually referred to as ‘progressive overload’. This involves placing progressively greater strain on the muscles, which, over time, adapt and develop greater strength and mass. Traditionally, this increase in strain is achieved by increasing the amount of weight lifted. Escalating Density Training takes a slightly different approach and is based on the idea that it is intensity of exercise, rather than increasing weight, that gives the greatest progression.

Escalating Density Training encourages trainers to concentrate on the amount of work done within a period of time, rather than getting bogged down in sets. Taking a basic exercise segment as 15 minutes you would, within that time, alternate between two different and antagonistic types of muscle exercise. Examples of antagonistic muscle exercises might include alternating biceps and triceps work, leg extensions and leg curls, etc. Within the 15 minute exercise session, you would perform up to five reps of one exercise, then up to five of the other, and so on, with very little rest between. The key is to keep going and to keep count of the total number of reps achieved during the 15-minute session.

When subsequent exercise sessions come round, you don’t work towards increasing the amount of weights (although you may want to work in some weight variation further down the line). Instead, your aim is to increase the number of reps you can achieve within the same 15-minute period. By steadily increasing your number of reps within a set time, you are in fact increasing the intensity – or density – of your muscular workout. By constantly pushing your body to greater and greater sustained exertion over the same amount of time, your muscles will adapt and become stronger and larger.

One of the main advantages of Escalating Density Training is its simplicity. By giving you a simple numerical goal to beat, you have a very clear target and don’t need to get tied up in planning out numbers of sets and reps and weights. By directly competing against your own previous results, the workout can become more fun, challenging and rewarding.

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