15 Apr The Pro’s and Con’s of Density Training
Here’s a simple example.
Let’s say you have a 2 exercise combination of opposing exercises, push ups and pulls ups.
Your rep sequence may be 10 reps of push ups and 5 reps of pullups and you work to complete as many rounds as possible (AMRAP) of this combination in the 10 minute time period.
You track the total reps done (or rounds) in this given time period.
This is density training.
Again, work done in a given time period.
A kettlebell snatch test is a form of density training. (*The snatch test for a male is snatching a 24kg kettlebell for 100 reps in 5 minutes or less.)
There’s no question that density training can be a very useful and effective programming approach, but there are limitations.
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Here are the pro’s and con’s as I see it.
Promotes Fat Loss
Density training (DT) can be used effectively to promote fat loss. Because you are doing each combination of exercises in a given time period, you’re moving through the workout at a rapid pace. You’re doing an interval type of program or HIIT approach, which has been proven to be very effective for fat loss.
High level of conditioning
For the reasons I just mentioned, density training (DT) promotes conditioning, as well. Since we’re “racing the clock,” so to speak, the pace is much faster than if we were not using the time factor. DT is excellent for conditioning, which is one of the reasons it’s so widely used.
Can be used for muscular hypertrophy
Depending on exercise selection, load, and other programming variables, DT could be used for muscular hypertrophy. The most famous example is Charles Staley’s EDT (Escalating Density Training) approach. EDT has been used for many years to promote muscle building and shed body fat.
Using the right exercises with DT (full body, multi-joint compound lifts) will stimulate powerful hormones (growth hormone, testosterone, and insulin, among others) that will be beneficial and effective for muscle growth and fat loss.
You set the clock for the desired time and you’re done when you complete the allotted time. At least you’re done that portion of your exercise session. DT is time efficient.
When done in a group setting or when you’re comparing your time with others, it becomes very competitive. This can be a motivating and driving force, but it can also be a bad thing, as well (see below).
Because you’re working against the clock and trying to beat your numbers from the prior session, technique can be compromised. In my opinion, it’s not worth the rushing the the exercises to beat the clock. The secret is to reduce your rest intervals instead of trying to rush the exercises to beat your time. It’s a simple adjustment that makes a difference.
Risk for injury
If technique is compromised, there will be increased risk for injury. It’s really hard to argue this point. Dan John said it best when he said to “strive for mastery and grace” with our exercises. No matter what type of programming we do, we should always keep this in the back of our minds.
While overtraining is actually difficult to experience, short term overreaching is more common. This is when we’re training “all out, all the time.” We just can’t do it. We can train hard for periods (or blocks of time), but the skill in optimizing results is to know when to dial it back or “de-load” after a hard training cycle. If you’re training in a perpetual program of DT, at some point, you will experience problems, injuries, or the dreaded plateau.
Another limitation, different from overreaching, is mental burnout. In addition to physical symptoms or injuries as just mentioned, we can become mentally fatigued from this “beat the clock” approach all the time.
Can limit development of maximum strength and/or hypertrophy
I definitely do not see DT as a strength focused program approach. It’s best reserved for fat loss and conditioning, not strength. Dependent on training variables, it can be used for hypertrophy or it can actually limit hypertrophy by using it too much or for too long. In general, DT would not be my 1st choice for hypertrophy, although it may depend on the specific program and exercises.
Certain exercises should not be “done for time”
Let’s me reasonable and logical here. Maybe I’m missing something, but isn’t Olympic weightlifting the pinnacle of performance that demands the highest level of technical proficiency? At least that’s my experience and understanding, maybe you see it different. This was also a point made by the great Dr. Fred Hatfield in a recent podcast interview I had with him. What about the deadlift? Again, it’s a movement that demands proper form and execution. The truth is there are certain exercises that should not be “done for time.”
While competition can be a good thing, as mentioned above, it can also work against us by encouraging poor form and sloppy technique as our egos kicks in. As already mentioned, this is what leads to injuries and that’s the last thing any of us want.
What you need to know.
Density training is a proven, powerful way to train and it’s great for fat loss and conditioning.
But, I don’t think it’s something that should be used all the time, certainly not on a year round training approach.
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My advice would be to use it selectively in your programming and not all the time.
Short blocks of training (4 weeks and up to 12 weeks maximum) would probably serve our goals.
Your programming depends on your primary goal, but I wouldn’t advocate a density training program approach on a continuous basis.
It’s an effective training method, but we need to be aware of the limitations and dangers.
Scott Iardella writes about strength training methods to optimize health and performance. If you enjoyed this article, join a strong and growing community of passionate fitness enthusiasts and subscribe below.