During my recent talks in Bellaria Italy, a theme developed which reflects what I consider to be a problem in the way that most people think about resistance training. In particular, during one roundtable discussion on EDT training, I fielded numerous questions about the so-called “correct” number of sets, reps, rest duration, etc., etc., for EDT workouts.
Finally, I saw the underlying problem behind the various questions I was fielding: the attendees were focusing too much on the means of optimal weight training and not enough on the ends. As I thought about it, virtually ALL resistance training systems and philosophies focus on means, often to the total exclusion of the ends…

Case in point: HIT training. HIT (which stands for “High Intensity Training”) revolves around the performance of only one (or sometimes two), all-out sets to failure, as opposed to the more conventional methodology of several sets per exercise. Thus, the defining feature of HIT is the use of an unusual set of means.
Another example of a popular training system that focuses on means is Power Factor Training. This system advocates the use of restricted range of motion (for example, performing leg presses over the last 6 inches of extension only) in order to allow for the use of heavier loads. Again, the salient feature of this system is the means rather than the ends.
Enter Escalating Density Training
As I described to my lecture audiences in Italy, when I set out to codify the training system I had been gradually developing over the course of several years (the system that eventually came to be known as Escalating Density Training, or EDT for short), I eventually arrived at an arresting premise: in resistance training, the ends must dictate the means.
This realization struck me as profound, because it’s the exact opposite approach that virtually all other systems are based on! So in other words, what I became focused on is this question: “How can I organize sets, reps, rest intervals, etc., in such a way that I can perform the most amount of work possible in a pre-determined time frame?” (which in EDT parlance, we call “PR Zones”).
In the process of asking this question, a fundamental truth emerged: work capacity is a function of managing (rather than seeking) fatigue.
This principle is universal in the lives of all successful people in all fields of endeavor. It is the hallmark of all effective people. In his excellent book Leadership, Rudolph Giuliani states that one of his primary objectives was to get as much done as possible in the first hour of the day, while his energy was still high.
This is a strategy that I have used in my own professional life for many years, and maybe you have too. The point is simple: effectiveness, whether at the office, at home, or in the weight room, is a function of managing energy.
EDT manages energy expenditure in the following seven ways:

1) Antagonistic Pairings:

Sherrington’s Law states that when a muscle contracts, it’s antagonist must relaxó otherwise, no movement would occur. Therefore, if the trainee performs a set of leg extensions in between two sets of leg curls, each muscle group recovers faster as a result of the work performed by it’s antagonist. In EDT, three type of antagonists are recognized:
True Antagonist: For example, pectoralis major and latissimus dorsi
Bilateral Antagonist: When using unilateral exercises (such as dumbbell rows for example), the left side becomes the ìantagonistî for the right side, and vice versa.
Proximal Antagonist: In some regimes of EDT training, two distal muscle groups are trained together in the same PR as a way to manage fatigue. For example, leg curls and incline presses.
 2) Optimal force-velocity relationship:
In the body composition aspect of EDT training, trainees are advised to select a weight that can be lifted 10 (but not 11) times – in other words, a 10RM weight. Most importantly, each PR Zone starts with sets of 5 with this 10RM weight – exactly the opposite of what most training systems recommend.
The rationale? By selecting a moderate weight and lifting it acceleratively (See point # 7 on CAT training below), we strike a balance between force and speed which results in the highest possible motor unit recruitment and work output.
3) The Chronological Governor (PR Zones):
Most automobiles have a “governor” which sets a limit on how fast the vehicle may be driven. This is designed to protect both the vehicle and yourself. EDT training uses a similar device, called the PR Zone, to limit the amount of high intensity work you perform in an exercise session.
Typically, EDT workouts feature 2-3 PR Zones, usually 15 minutes in duration. Note that most exercise systems provide you with a certain number of exercises, sets, and reps, and then you perform that workout, regardless of how long it takes to complete. EDT employs the opposite approach: you first set the time limit, and then perform as much work as possible within this time frame.
4) Definitive Progression Targets:
Unlike most training systems, EDT workouts provide a specific performance goal for each PR Zone. You start the workout knowing exactly how much time you have and exactly what must be accomplished. This provides focus and clarity each and every workout.
5) The Distraction Principle:
During an EDT workout, you’ve always got one eye on the clock and the other on your training log. There’s little time to consider how tired you are, what you’ll eat for lunch afterward, or any other distracting thoughts.
6) The Conscientious Participation Principle:
Workout by workout, each individual finds the best set-rep-rest strategy to permit a maximal performance. Slow-twitch dominant exercisers often find that higher reps and shorter rests result in the best performances. Fast-twitchers, just the opposite.
There are a number of individual factors that determine optimal exercise performance for each person, and EDT provides the flexibility to capitalize on individual talents and predilections.
Consider this analogy: water, being flexible and adaptable, always fills the shape of it’s container. Most systems are more like ice however – it only fits if you’re the right container!
7) CAT: Compensatory Acceleration Training
This phrase was coined by Dr. Fred Hatfield, the first man to officially squat 1000 pounds in competition. The central premise is that you move the weight quickly, and compensate for momentum by accelerating the weight even faster.
The body is hard-wired to accelerate heavy objects, and training styles should reflect this reality. After all, if you had to move a 100 pound box from the floor onto a high shelf, would you move slowly in order to maintain continuous tension, or would you move it with as much speed as possible?
When you run a one mile course, your rate of energy expenditure is greater than if you walk that same course – in other words, you did more work per unit of time. Similarly, when you move a weight a certain distance, a faster execution results in greater work per unit of time. Forget about Super Slow training – it only applies to Tai Chi molasses wrestling events.
Static Versus Dynamic Systems
Another shortcoming in most training systems is that they are static. In other words, “Here’s the program, now go do it.”
The problem with this approach is that everyone is different. Not only that, but each individual has different needs at different points in their lives. Most training systems prescribe a particular exercise/set/rep/rest/tempo recommendation for everyone.
A select few do a little better by tailoring these parameters for the individual exerciser. EDT takes it a step further by enabling the exerciser him or herself to participate in the design of the workout.
Even further, the exact parameters of each workout often change in accordance to the trainee’s innate experience and understanding about what it will take to beat the pervious best numbers. Interestingly, the flexibility just described does not blur the basic structure of the system.
The Perfect Training System
In fact, there is no singular “perfect” system, in any field of endeavor. However, the “best” systems are dynamic, flexible, and respect the established principles that are known to guarantee a successful outcome.
In the field of resistance training, EDT dynamically conforms to the end-users needs from workout to workout while at the same time ensuring the stringent application of the established principles of athletic training.
Learn More About EDT Training!
Charles Staley’s training package “The Complete Video Guide To Escalating Density Training” is available now!
Click here to learn more and get your copy today!

  1. Donnie 15 years ago

    Hello Charles, I’ve been following your work on this blog and am very impressed with what you have had to say, especially on the issue of high intensity training (HIT) , I will be checking out EDT later this afternoon.

  2. Will Brink 15 years ago

    Lot’s of good dense info here Charles. One statement I enjoyed was
    “…work capacity is a function of managing (rather than seeking) fatigue.”
    I had some thoughts on that I think may help people to understand that concept. What constitutes an optimal stress on a muscle for a given stimulus is not the same as perceived exertion. Many people make the mistake of equating perceived exertion with mechanical exertion. “Gee, I am really beat up and tired from that workout, so it must have been productive” is a very common approach when in fact, on the level of the muscle, it was not the optimal stress or even adequate to stimulate the desired adaptations. A person will perceive much more difficulty doing squats with 50lbs for 1000 reps then they will doing 300lbs for 5 reps, but which person is actually going to get bigger and stronger?

  3. Vengeance 15 years ago

    What do you think of training to failure only on the last set or two?
    Since training to failure is meant to stimulate lactic acid build up, don’t you think it would illicit a higher hgh response? I train with a 2 rep negative max, then a 5 rep max, then 8rep max, then 10rep max, then 2 more drop sets of 10 rep max’s. The last 2 sets are the only sets to absolute failure(I workout alone). It’s kind of like both managing fatigue, and then seeking fatigue. Like when you preach managing fatigue in one of your articles instead of seeking fatigue, I do both. Why do only one? I manage fatigue until the last set, or two, then I seek fatigue…
    It’s been working for me so far. I’ve been increasing weight every week for the past 2 months(I’ve only been working out for 4 months). Do you think it’s an effective method, or am I still in the newb gains phase?
    Oh, and I agree with Phil…any program will work if you give it your all…atleast for a month, before you have to switch it up…
    Sorry, I’m going through the posts as I’m responding, and I agree with most everyone, dumbbells are all you need. As long as you have dumbbells you can do every exercise necessary for strength and/or endurance. You can lift more with a barebell sure, but you won’t get that far ahead of someone that lifts dumbbells only. Trust me, I’ve tried, and I only lift 10lbs. heavier on a bar than dumbbells, and I have more control, strength, and power with dumbbells than with a bar alone…plus I can do negatives(which I haven’t heard much talk about), lifting the dumbbell with both hands, then lowering with one…in essence dumbbell’s are more productive and cost effective than a barbell…

  4. Author
    Charles Staley 15 years ago

    Vengeance, you’ve got a lot going on there!
    I’ve already explained my rational for managing fatigue as opposed to seeking it. Why not do both? That’s kinda like asking “Hey, I know you believe in limited government, but why not have big government AND limited government?” Just doesn’t make sense.
    Dumbbells and barbells both have specific benefits and drawbacks- you should use both.
    And I agree with Phil too- he’s one of my coaches.

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