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High Density

High Density

By Derick Samuel

You can work hard, or you can work long, but you can’t work hard for long.” In casual gym conversation you will often hear people brag about how much time they spend in the gym. “I spend like 3 hours in the gym every day bro” and even though I never asked for it, I always feel like there’s an important part the story missing. Ok, but what did you actually do in 3 hours?

I, personally, am never in the gym for 3 hours and I don’t recommend it. Why? Because who has that kind of time? If you tell most people it takes 3 hours a day to stay in shape they’ll usually choose being out of shape. 3-hour gym sessions can be a nonstarter for any new gymgoer and if you’ve managed to devote that length of time to the gym, your consistency will always be threatened by the pressures of other important life things like work, family, school, holidays etc. It’s the reason so many fall to the tyranny of the all or nothing approach.

So, what kind of a workout can you get in under an hour? Early in my fitness coaching career I was combing through the literature and I came across a concept called escalating density training (EDT) created by Charles Staley. What attracted me to this concept was not only its simplicity but also its versatility and the element of constant challenge, forcing you to better your best every time you step into the gym.

Density training is a system that takes into account two main factors: volume and time. Volume is the amount of sets and reps you do in a given workout; time is the duration it takes to complete the same workout. When you put these concepts together you get training density. Challenging the muscular system with ever-increasing workloads is at the core of success in any lifting program but this one in particular builds challenge into every single workout.

There are two ways to add density to your training:

1. Keep the workload static and decrease the duration

For example, you could do 5 sets of 10 deadlifts. Maybe it usually takes you 20 minutes. What if I asked you to do that same 50 deadlifts in 15 minutes? Now you have 25% less time to do the same work. That is adding density because you are packing in more training volume in less time. For every additional rep you add you are increasing work capacity and building muscular size and strength.

2. Keep the duration static and increase the workload

Your other option is to keep that 20 minute time frame locked and attempt to achieve more deadlift repetitions within that set time frame by adding as many sets as possible. So rather than doing 5 sets you may do 10 or 12

With either option, adding density would equate to more muscle. No need to test your PR’s with every training session and expose yourself to imbalance and injury. You will get stronger as long as your performance numbers rise.

The set up for EDT is very simple: choose two exercises that utilize muscles that are non-competing, usually an agonist-antagonist pair like biceps curls and triceps pressdowns. Take a set time of 15 minutes and select a weight that is 10-12 rep max of that particular exercise. Your sets will be completed at 50% of those reps (5-6 reps) for as many total reps as you can in the 15 minutes. Write down the total reps completed in your journal and look to improve on that number the next time around. A workout can consist of 3-4 density circuits!

When it comes to progression, apply the 20/5 rule: as soon as you can increase the total number of reps by 20% or more, start the next workout with 5% more weight and start over. That’s essentially it. No pre-ordained numbers of sets, reps, rest periods, rest pause, partial reps or time under tension. That’s all a distraction from the fundamental underlying that you must do more in this workout than you did last time! If you don’t do that, no progress is made!

This is a basic guideline but as long as you are increasing the challenge every time, you can really structure these circuits anyway you like. Most of my clients are busy people looking to lose fat and gain muscle without staying in the gym all day long so most Quiktrain Quikcircuits use the density training concept but are tweaked for fat loss. Quikcircuits usually consist of three exercise circuits which utilize at least one compound movement for maximum metabolic challenge, another noncompeting muscle group exercise and either a core exercise or a plyo/cardio movement for maximum calorie burn.

For example A Quikcircuit that was designed to focus on the glutes may look like this:

1A Barbell Conventional Deadlifts
1B Torso Elevated Push Ups From Bar
1C Barbell Hip Thrusts (Pause At The Top)

To make this a full body workout for the second circuit we might choose:

2A Dumbell Goblet Squats
2B Dumbell Bent Over Rows
2C Russian Twists

If your load selection is accurate and you are pushing yourself, these two circuits for 30 minutes total of training can easily equate to a pretty awesome workout. Depending on client goals the final circuit can be something that focuses on secondary considerations like extra fat burning, core or corrective exercises. It’s really all up to you to decide but you truly do not have to workout for 3 hours to get effective gains. If you are at the gym for that long you’re probably not working as hard as you think you are.

Derick Samuel is the founder of Quiktrain Online Fitness Coaching and a franchise owner with the Popeye’s Supplements Toronto group. Quiktrain fitness coaching has been helping busy people get lasting fat loss results for over a decade using simple, client-centric programs, practical nutritional strategies and sound supplement advice. For more info on coaching you can visit him at

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