Escalating Density Training
(with a tweak)

I wish I could say that Escalating Density Training (EDT) is my creation, but I can’t. The great trainer/coach Charles Staley figured out this one. I’m paraphrasing now, but Staley explains EDT this way: Select a body part, let's say arms, as an example, and work it exclusively for 15 minutes. There’s nothing new in that, of course, but here's the rest of it . . .

  • You superset two opposing arm muscle exercises. 
  • Select a weight you can curl for 10 good, clean reps. Do the same for a triceps extension movement.
  • Use a stopwatch. For 15 minutes, superset the two exercises, doing 5 reps -- not 10 -- in each set. If you reach a point where 5 reps aren’t possible, do 4, 3, 2 or 1. But don't reduce the weight.
  • Rest when you have to, but do as many sets as you can.

  • When you’ve finished, record your total reps for the 15-minute period.

Now here is the challenge

At each subsequent workout, keep doing sets of 5 reps with the same weight, but try to achieve a higher total during the 15-minute period. How do you do that? Your rest periods must get shorter.

When you have gotten so you can do 20% more than your beginning workout total, increase the weight by 5% and start over.

Anyone wanting to try it in its purest form should read Staley's material. My adaptation is a little different, which I’ll explain in a moment.

But either way, EDT is tough stuff, so the remainder of your workout should be designed for maintenance only. Use the 15-minute EDT period to really zero-in on one body part.

In Staley's original, you rest 5 minutes after the first EDT session, and then do another 15 minutes, working the same body part but with different exercises. Now here comes my tweak: Once around the block is enough for me, and I imagine it is enough for most people over 50. Over-training can be a mistake. But you decide.

In my version, for arms, I did preacher curls alternated in superset fashion with seated triceps extensions on an Icarian machine. The pump was great and I experienced some rep/weight capacity improvement.

Did my arms grow another half-inch as a result? No. That's highly unlikely for someone my age (I was is my late-60s when I did this and already had years of steady training behind me). Still, I had fun and was pleased with my modest gains. Younger people with more growth potential on the same schedule should realize significant increases in strength and size.

The rest of my upper-body workout was for maintenance and consisted of reasonably tough-to-get reps, but certainly nothing heroic. I worked this way once per week; and at my second upper-body day during the same week, I did a maintenance only workout for my arms and the rest of upper-body. I was at the time doing a split routine and did leg workouts on different days.

I would not recommend Escalating Density Training for beginners. Beginners should first develop a solid fitness base with a program such as the following. After a few months of basic training, experimenting with different methods makes all the sense in the world.

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