Escalating Density Training
Escalating Density TrainingBy Charles Staley, B.Sc, MSSDirector of Staley Training Systems
In recent discussions in Italy, a theme emerged which reflects upon something I consider a problem in the way most people approach resistance training.
During a round table discussion on Escalating Density Training (EDT), I answered many questions related to the “correct” number of sets, reps and length of rest for EDT workouts.
In the end, I saw the problem behind the various questions I fielded: the attendees were too focused on the means of optimal weight training and they completely disregarded the ends. The more I thought about it I realized that almost ALL resistance training philosophies focus on the means and completely exclude the ends.
Case in point: HIT training. HIT stands for "High Intensity Training" and revolves around performing only one (sometimes two), "all-out" sets to complete failure, as opposed to the more common method of doing several sets per exercise. Thus, the key feature of HIT is its use of an unusual set of means.
Another training system that focuses on means is Power Factor Training.
This system uses restricted range of motion (for example: doing leg presses over the last 6 inches of the leg extension only) to allow for the use of heavier weight loads.
Again, the defining feature of this program is the means instead of the ends.
Enter EDT - Escalating Density Training
When I codified the training system I had been developing over the course of several years, the system came to be known as Escalating Density Training,
I eventually arrived at the main premise: for resistance training, the ends have to dictate the means.
This was a profound realization because it’s the exact opposite approach that all other systems are entirely based on! Thus, I focused on this question: "How can I organize sets, reps and rest intervals in such a way that I can perform the most amount of work in a pre-determined frame of time?" (which in EDT terminology is called "PR Zones").
The process of asking this question revealed a fundamental truth: work capacity is a function of managing (instead of seeking) fatigue.
This principle is a common denominator in the lives of all successful people in many fields. In his book on Leadership, Rudolph Giuliani (former Mayor of New York City) says that one of his main objectives each day was to get as much done as possible within the first hour of the day, while his energy levels were still high.
This is a strategy that I have also used in my professional life for many years, and perhaps you have as well. The point I am making is simple: effectiveness, whether at the office or at home or in the weight room, is nothing more than a function of managing energy.
Escalating Density Training manages energy expenditure in the following ways:
- Antagonistic Pairs:
Sherrington’s Law says when a muscle contracts, it’s antagonist has to relax. If the antagonist doesn't relax, no movement can occur. Therefore, if the trainee doas a set of leg extensions between two sets of leg curls, each muscle group will recover faster because of the work performed by it’s antagonist. In EDT, we distinguish three types of antagonists:
True Antagonist - Example: pectoralis major and latissimus dorsi.
Bilateral Antagonist - When using unilateral exercises (such as dumbbell rows for example), the left side is the antagonist to the right side and vice versa.
Proximal Antagonist - In some regimens of Escalating Density Training, two different muscle groups are trained together in the same PR (frame of time) in order to manage fatigue better. For example, leg curls and incline presses.
- Optimal force-velocity relationships:
The body composition aspect of EDT training is set so that trainees select a weight that can be lifted for 10 (but not 11) repetitions - a 10RM (repetition max) weight. Most importantly, each PR Zone starts with sets of 5 with this 10RM weight - this is the exact opposite of what most other training systems recommend.
The rationale behind this is simple. Namely, by selecting a moderate weight and lifting it faster (see point # 7 on CAT training), we create a balance between force and speed which results in the highest possible motor unit recruitment and work output.
- The Chronological Governors (PR Zones):
Most cars have a certain "governor" build in to limit how fast the car may be driven. This is a feature that is designed to protect both the vehicle and the driver. Escalating Density Training uses a similar feature for this - it's called the PR Zone. The PR Zone limits the amount of high intensity work you perform during an exercise session.
Usually, EDT workouts have 2 to 3 PR Zones, each 15 minutes in duration. Most exercise systems provide you with a certain number of exercises, sets and reps that you need to perform, regardless of how long it takes you to complete that workout. EDT utilizes a more effective approach: you first set the time limit and then you perform as much work as you possibly can within the pre-determined time frame.
- Definitive Progression Targets:
Escalating Density Training workouts have a specific performance goal for each PR Zone. Each workout is started with the trainee knowing exactly how much time they have and exactly what must be done within that time frame. This provides better focus and more clarity for each and every workout.
- The Principle of Distraction:
During a classic EDT workout you always have one eye on the clock and the other on your training log. There’s no time to think about how tired you are and what you will eat later or any other distracting thoughts.
- The Principle of Conscientious Participation:
Workout after workout, each individual will find the best set-to-rep-to-rest strategy to allow for an optimum performance. Slow-twitch dominant exercisers usually discover that higher reps and shorter rest results in best performance. Fast-twitch exercicers are just the opposite.
There's a variety of factors that determine optimal exercise performance for each person, and Escalating Density Training gives each person the flexibility to capitalize on their own individual talents.
To illustrate, allow me to give you an analogy: water. Water is flexible and adaptable and always fills the shape of the container. Most workout systems are more like ice - it only fits if the container is right!
- Compensatory Acceleration Training - CAT:
This phrase was originally coined by Dr. Fred Hatfield, who was the first man to officially squat 1000 pounds in competition. The premise behind CAT is that you move the weight quickly, and compensate for the momentum by accelerating the weight even faster.
The human body is by nature hard-wired to accelerate heavy objects and training styles should reflect this reality. For example, if you have to move a 100lb box from the floor onto a shelf, would you move slowly or would you move it as quickly as possible?
When you run for a mile, your energy expenditure is greater than if you walk that same course. Stated differently, you did more work per unit of time. Similarly, when you move a certain weight for a certain distance, a faster execution results in greater work per unit of time. Forget about super slow workout training - it only applies to Tai Chi!
Static VS. Dynamic Training Systems
One other shortcoming of most training systems is that they are static. In other words: "Here is the program, go do it now".
The problem with this is that everyone is different and each individual has different needs. Most training systems prescribe the same exercise/set/rest/rep/tempo recommendation for everyone.
A select few trainers do better by tailoring these parameters according to each individual exerciser. Escalating Density Training takes it a step further by allowing the exerciser to participate in the design of the workout through giving relevant input during the workout "design" stage.
Furthermore, each workout program changes in accordance to the trainee’s experience and understanding about what it takes to beat their "previous best".
The "Perfect" Training System
In truth, there's no ONE single "perfect" workout system. However, good systems are dynamic, flexible and respect the certain basic and established principles that are known to guarantee a successful outcome.
When it comes to resistance training, Escalating Density Training is dynamic and it conforms to the end-users' needs from workout to workout. At the same time, it applies the established principles of athletic training.
About the Author
Charles Staley is a renowned strength and performance coach whos colleagues call an iconoclast, a visionary and rule-breaker.
His clients call him “The Secret Weapon” because of his ability to see what other coaches do not. Charles, however, calls himself a “geek” who struggled in Phys Ed class allthroughout school.
Whatever you call him, Charles’ methods are ahead of their time and quickly produce results.
Visit Charles' site and grab 5 FREE videos that will show you how to literally FORCE your body to build muscle, lose fat and gain strength with "Escalating Density Training".
EDT is Charles' revolutionary, time-saving approach to lifting that focuses on performance NOT pain.
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