The Intelligent & Relentless Pursuit of Muscle™

Escalating Density Training, Phase 2

— Alwyn Cosgrove, CSCS, Director, Cosgrove F.A.S.T Systems, Newhall, California.


— Tim Larkin, Master Close Combat Trainer and Creator of Target Focused Training.


— Jonathan Edwards, Olympian.



Last month, I presented a training program based on the concept of auto-regulation, which means that over successive workouts, the trainee (that's YOU) gradually and progressively arrives at the optimal set of loading parameters for muscular growth.

This program, called "Escalating Density Training" (EDT), is based on a simple, yet often under-appreciated principle: in order for a biological system (such as muscle) to grow, it must be challenged with ever-increasing workloads. EDT works because it ensures that each workout represents a greater challenge than the one that preceded it.

The primary difference in this approach as compared to other systems is that EDT does not prescribe a specific set of "optimal" loading parameters. Instead, it implores YOU to find ways of doing more and more work over a series of workouts. If this is accomplished, then the loading parameters were in fact optimal, whatever they happened to be.

Last month's EDT program, harsh though it may be, is considered an "entry level" program, designed to familiarize you with the EDT concept, and also to provide a foundational experience before moving on to the "full" EDT hypertrophy program template.

This month's program consists of three training sessions per week. Each workout consists of (3) 15-minute segments. During each 15-minute segment, you'll perform two (and in one case, three) exercises in antagonistic fashion (meaning "superset" or "circuit" style) back and forth, attempting to accumulate as many total repetitions as possible before the 15-minute time frame elapses.

Then, the next time you perform the same workout, you'll have a clear definition of success: the ability to perform more total repetitions in the same time-frame. Once you manage to exceed the first workout's total reps by 20% or more, you'll bump up the weight by 5% on the next workout and start the process all over again (NOTE: If you manage to do 20% or more total reps after only one workout, increase the load by 10% for the next session.).


Q2 Principles: Time-Framing
If you know when it'll be over, you'll work that much harder. The EDT system employs short (in this case, 15 minute) time frames for work sets. When the time frame ends, you're done, no matter what you have or haven't accomplished. Your goal is to discover ways to do more and more work within these time frames. As the old saying goes "You can work hard, or you can work long, but you can't work hard for long."


EDT Program — Phase 2

Day One

First 15-Minute Segment:

A-1: Machine Bench Press

A-2: Straight Barbell Curl

Second 15-Minute Segment:

A-1: Pec Dec

A-2: EZ-Bar Preacher Curl

Third 15-Minute Segment:

A-1: Flat Dumbbell Flye

A-2: Left Arm Preacher Curl

A-3: Right Arm Preacher Curl


Day Two

First 15-Minute Segment:

A-1: Machine Hack Squat, Feet Low on Platform, Heels-Elevated

A-2: Seated (Supine) Leg Curl

Second 15-Minute Segment:

A-1: Left Leg Stationary Lunge (i.e., quad emphasis)

A-2: Right Leg Stationary Lunge (i.e., quad emphasis)

Note: Assume a short stance that promotes maximal flexion of the front knee and use dumbbells for additional loading, if needed.

Third 15-Minute Segment:

A-1: High Cable Crunch

A-2: Back Extension


Day Three

First 15-Minute Segment:

A-1: Close, Parallel-Grip Pullup

A-2: Lying EZ-Bar Tricep Extension

Second 15-Minute Segment:

A-1: Wide-Grip, Straight-Arm Pushdown

A-2: Bench Dips

Third 15-Minute Segment:

A-1: Machine Seated Row

A-2: Reverse-Grip Tricep Pushdowns


Additional Notes

Taking 500 mg of vitamin C a few hours prior to the workout may help to reduce post workout soreness.

Workouts should be performed on non-consecutive days (e.g., Monday, Wednesday, Friday.)

I recommend 10-15 minutes of light to moderate cardio, followed by 10-15 minutes of light stretching on "off" days for the purpose of promoting active recovery and reducing soreness.

It's OK to make exercise substitutions if you don't have the equipment or experience required to perform a particular exercise. However, it must be kept in mind that EDT generates massive amounts of fatigue. Therefore, this program isn't particularly suited to exercises that require high levels of skill and concentration (e.g., power cleans, squats, deadlifts, etc.). Please use good judgment and caution should you choose to make substitutions.

Each workout consists of (3) 15-minute time frames separated by short (5-minute) rest periods. In each time frame, you'll perform two exercises, for a total of 6 exercises per workout.

In each time frame, the two exercises are performed in alternating fashion, back and forth, using the same weight for all sets, until the time frame has elapsed.

After warming up the first exercise(s), select a load that approximates a 10-12RM for each exercise. Ideally, the weight used for each exercise should be equally difficult.

Sets, reps, and rest intervals: Most people will find it most productive to do higher repetition (but not maximal effort) sets and shorter rests at the beginning, and then gradually progress to less reps per set and longer rest intervals as fatigue accumulates. As an example, you might begin by performing sets of 6 with very short (15-30 second) rests. As you begin to fatigue, you'll increase your rest intervals as you drop down to sets of 4, then 2, and as the 15-minute time limit approaches, you might crank out a few singles in an effort of accomplish as many repetitions as possible in 15 minutes.

Do not perform early sets to failure, or even near failure. My recommended starting point is to do 1/2 of what is possible (e.g., 5 reps with a 10RM weight) at the beginning of the time frame. As the time limit approaches however, you'll find yourself working at or near failure as you attempt to break your rep record.

Progression: Each time you repeat the workout; your objective is to simply perform more total repetitions in the same time frame. 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. Now pull out that stopwatch, let everybody around you know that you're not available for schmoozing, and get to it!


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