When I first integrated my training methods into the formalized system now known as Escalating Density Training, several clients and colleagues pestered me endlessly about writing a book on the subject.
My reaction? "Impossible! The system is too simple...what would I write about?" Well, two books and a DVD later, I'm still writing about EDT, and there's no end in sight, at least from what I can see.
What happened? As best as I can tell, the system is so simple, it had the opposite effect from what I initially intended. In other words, because EDT places the focus on total work output rather than how you achieve that output (meaning, the arrangement of reps, sets, and rest intervals selected), people get uncomfortable.
One thing I've learned in my 20-plus years in the fitness arena is that people like rules. The most popular exercise and diet plans are those that exploit this reality: The Zone diet is based on a 40/30/30 "split" of carbohydrates, proteins and fats, respectively.
The Body For Life plan placates its readers by telling them exactly what to do and how to eat. Exercise videos and TV shows are popular primarily because there's no guesswork: you simply follow along with the host or star, and do what they tell you to do.
With EDT, my goal was to create a system that was based on principles and guidelines rather than rules. The basic premise is that you see how many total reps you can perform (called your "PR" or "personal record") for two antagonistic exercises in 15 minutes using a 10RM weight.
Then you get to choose the details (sets, reps, rest periods, etc.) for yourself. Workout by workout, you attempt to beat your PR's, ensuring gradually increased training density (hence, the name of the system).
As you become capable of performing more and more work in the same period of time, your muscles are forced to adapt by growing bigger and stronger.
As a connoisseur of systems, I loved the elegance of this concept. It allowed the end-user to use the system as he or she needed...it could be "plugged in" to existing training templates (such as the Westside barbell training split for example), or it could be used as a stand-alone training system – your choice.
Unfortunately, although I was providing a highly effective tool, I perhaps wasn't providing enough structure. Or at least, not enough structure to satisfy people's curiosity. Here then, are 10 of the most common questions I receive about the EDT system, along with my answers and explanation.
1 – What's a PR Zone? What's "PR" stand for?
PR is short for "personal record." In EDT parlance, it specifically refers to the total amount of reps you're able to perform for two antagonistic or opposing exercises within a strictly-timed 15-minute time frame (read: PR Zone).
It's been said that "success leaves clues," and in weight training, PR's are the clues left behind by improved fitness levels: eclipsing your current PR is concrete evidence that your muscles are growing bigger and stronger. This is user-friendly scientific method in action: we've held all other variables constant (duration and load, specifically) while we isolate the experimental variable: performance.
2 – How can I do EDT in a crowded gym?
EDT workouts require you to have uninterrupted access to two pieces of exercise equipment for an entire 15-minute PR Zone. In crowded gym environments, this can sometimes be challenging.
But the solution is actually quite simple: as long as at least one of your antagonistic exercises is performed with a barbell or dumbbells, all you've got to do is carry the bar or dumbbells to your second station, which allows you to control access to that station for your PR Zone.
3 – Do my PR Zones HAVE to be 15 minutes long? (Can I use 10 minutes instead?)
Sure. Before you try EDT, you're likely to assume that 15 minutes is insufficient. AFTER you experience EDT, you start asking questions like this one. So sure, at least initially, 10-minute PR Zones are fine.
4 – What are some good exercise pairings?
"True" antagonistic pairings are fairly easy to figure out: elbow extension/elbow flexion (triceps/biceps)...push/press (e.g., bench press/row)...hip abduction/hip adduction, etc. The less obvious applications involve full-body moves (such as squats, pulls, etc.) and single-limb drills such as pistols, bent presses, and so forth. So here's how I handle these applications:
For full-body lifts, there are two "best" options. This first is to perform the full-body lift first, using more traditional training parameters (5x5, 3x3, etc.), and then use EDT for auxiliary or "assistance" lifts.
The second option that works very well is to pair two full-body lifts that have minimal overlap in terms of muscular topography: bench presses and front squats for example. Or rows and push presses. I also like to pair any type of squat or pull with a vertical pulling movement (such as chins or pulldowns) because the overhead pulling tends to decompress the spine in between the pulls or squats, which have a compressive effect on the spine.
Here are some antagonistic pairings that have stood the test of time over the past 5 years of experimentation:
- Bench Press/Chins
- Low Cable Row/Barbell Military Press
- Lat Pulldown/Triceps Pushdown
- Close-Grip Bench Press/Bent Rows
- Standing Barbell Curl/Lying Dumbbell Triceps Extension
- Floor Press/Reverse-Grip Cleans
- Lateral Raise/Cable Arm Adduction
- Straight-Arm Pulldown/Plate Raise
- Leg Extension/Leg Curl
- Front Squat/Back Extension
- Seated Calf Raise/Tibealis Curl
- Hip Abduction/Hip Adduction
- Back Squat/Chins
- Front Squat/Dips
- Deadlift/Floor Press
- Overhead Squat/Clean Pull
- Muscle-Up/Power Clean
- Back Extension/Ball Crunch
5 – Does the 20% increase in reps apply to total reps in a session or total reps for a group (i.e., A1 or A2)?
The "20/5 Rule" applies to reps performed for both exercises in a PR Zone.
6 – How can I use EDT for full-body workouts (instead of body part splits)?
See question #4 above. The overriding principle is fatigue management. Appreciating this, you should have no problem determining effective pairings for yourself using any type of full body lifts. Using strongman lifts as an example, a great pairing is the farmer's walk with a thick-rope row. The possibilities are almost endless.
7 – Is there a certain number of reps I should be getting in each PR Zone?
Sort of. I hate people to get too wrapped up in looking for an "ideal" number of reps, but since I know they do, I'll provide some suggestions. GENERALLY, I like people to hit about 60-70 reps in a PR Zone on the first go-around. This means 60-70 reps on both exercises.
8 – Can I change the loads you suggest? For example, can I use 6-RM or 20-RM weights?
Yes. EDT is designed to inspire creativity, not squelch it. Higher loads will have an enhanced effect on maximal strength development, whereas lower loads will improve local muscle endurance, lactic acid tolerance, and cardio-respiratory endurance, not to mention fat loss.
9 – Do I need to drop my reps throughout the PR Zone? If I don't need to drop my reps, am I doing it wrong?
Not to worry: Some people, due to factors such as fiber-type distribution, hormonal profiles, and training experience, will (at least initially) do fine with straight sets of 5 for the full PR Zone. Others quickly drop from 5's to 3's to singles. The only thing that really matters is the end result, so don't stress if you find yourself "coloring outside the lines."
10 – What if I can't break my PR?
Simply apply the 20/5 Rule in reverse: If you miss your PR by 20 reps or more, reduce your weights by 5 pounds or 5 percent (whichever is more) and re-start.
11 – (Bonus Question!) How long should I do EDT before switching to something else?
This feeds into the previous question. If you fail to break your PR, and apply the "Reverse 20/5 Rule" as described above, and still fail to hit or break your PR, it's time for a break.
What does that break consist of? Anything you like, but for the undecided, I recommend doing a month of the "3-5 Method:" Train 3-5 times per week, performing 3-5 exercises per session, using 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps per exercise, with 3 - 5 minutes of rest between sets.
What kind of exercises? Full body acceleration drills: squats, pulls, rows, presses, pull-ups... anything that involves 2 or more joints. Avoid the "terrible triad:" slow, machine-based, single-joint exercises.