Compound EDT

New Applications For An Old Favorite!

Long-time Testosterone Nation readers will remember the first article I ever wrote on "Escalating Density Training" back in February, 2002.

In that article, I outlined a revolutionary approach to training based on the concept of accumulating more and more density from workout to workout. (Density, just as a brush-up, is a term used to described the work-rest ratio of any given workout.)

That article created a bit of a stir in the resistance-training field (to put it mildly), probably due to EDT's "break all the rules" approach. Perhaps the most dearly-held broken "rule" was the belief that pain should be the goal of every workout, and indeed, that the amount of pain provoked by a workout was the best gauge of it's effectiveness. EDT challenges the notion of "fatigue seeking": superior training gains are borne of superior performances, and the only route to superior performance is though fatigue management.

1 Antagonistic Pairings

Sherrington's Law states that when a muscle contracts, it's antagonist must relax–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 its 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 "antagonist" 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 than 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 its container. Most systems are more like ice however–it only fits if you're the right container!


Compensatory acceleration training–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.

EDT has come a long way over the past 3 years, and one of the more recent understandings is that the use of compound (or multi-joint) exercises are themselves a fatigue management strategy. Perhaps the best way to understand this premise is through a question:

I take it you have no idea?

Have you ever wondered why no one does 1RM testing for single-joint exercises?

I have! It's because these movements do not allow multiple muscle-joint complexes to share the load. "Isolation" exercises are so-named because they tend to laser-focus tensions on only one muscle or muscle group. The danger arises when forces exceed the target muscle's capacity to withstand it, and bingo, you're injured.

Isolation exercises have other flaws as well, not the least of which is the fact that because you're training muscles "one at a time," your workouts become time-consuming and inefficient. You'll need many more exercises if you intend to train all (or most) or your major muscle groups.

Enter compound movements.

These are global exercises that allow for the use of big weights, shared loads, and accelerative tempos. Another characteristic of compound movements is that more and more, they tend to violate the rules of your local health club. Maybe you should think about training at home (I do).

Back to the point: compound exercises allow you to train many muscle groups at a time, and generally promote the development of functional strength over core movement patterns, such as squatting, pressing and pulling. Safety is enhanced because one muscle becomes the "spotter" for the next: if and when you fatigue, slight changes in posture and/or range of motion allow for load-sharing.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a final benefit of compound exercises: they're F-U-N. And although this isn't often talked about, fun leads to working harder on a more consistent basis, so always, above all else, make sure you're having fun–I really consider this to be a basic hallmark of effective training. After all, does the poor bastard over on the treadmill look like he's enjoying himself?!?

Now with my premise established, I'd like to share a program with you that illustrates the concepts we've been discussing. This program utilizes what I call an "A-B Split," which simply means that you'll be performing 2 different workouts in alternating fashion, ideally 3 days a week. In other words, on Monday you'll perform the "A" session, then on Wednesday the "B" session, then on Friday you'll repeat the "A" session, followed by "B" the next Monday and so on. It's a very simple idea that really delivers the results.

Oh–one final thought before we delve into the program: don't get too anally-fixated on the details here. If you want to make substitutions, be my guest. The purpose of the program is simply to illustrate the principles put forth in the article. So I urge you to be creative and (gasp) maybe even break a few rules along the way.

Note: The "A" and "B" sessions for the cycle are outlined first, followed by the unique loading parameters used in EDT-Style training.

First PR-Zone (15 Minutes)

A1. Zercher Squat

Pad a bar and place it at about waist-height in a power rack. Position yourself low enough so that you can unrack the bar by cradling it in the crooks of your elbows. Step back, take a wider than shoulder-width stance, and squat.

A2. Pull-up

Pull-ups are performed with palms pronated (facing away from ones self). Perform the pull-up just like a lat pulldown, except that the body rises up to the bar, rather than the reverse. Keep the hips neutral (knees may be flexed to avoid contact with the floor). A common technical error is to flex at the hips as fatigue accumulates. Ensure clearing the bar with the chin at the top, and fully protract the scapulae at the bottom position. Think of "pulling the elbows to the ribs" rather than lifting the chin over the bar. Chalk or lifting straps may be used to enhance the grip. Repeat for indicated number of repetitions. If needed, extra resistance may be provided through weight plates attached to a belt, or by placing a dumbbell between the calves.

Second PR-Zone (15 Minutes)

B1. Power Curl From Hang

Also known as a reverse-grip power clean. Put another way, it's a barbell curl with maximum body-English. Dip down and forward (like a stiff-leg deadlift) and immediately reverse this action, propelling the bar to shoulder-height through a combination of leg drive, shrug, and trunk extension. Lower the bar just like a standard curl.

B2. Lying Dumbbell Triceps Extension From Floor.

Note: I term this a "compound" exercise because it's done in a loose style, and also because abs are more involved when you do this from the floor.

First PR-Zone (15 Minutes)

A1. Snatch-Grip RDL

Using a snatch-grip as demonstrated in the video, stand up with a weighted bar. From this position, keep your weight on your heels as you lower the bar primarily through hip flexion. Maintain neutral spinal curvatures!

A2. Dips

Maintain a vertical torso for more shoulder and triceps involvement, and a forward lean to increase pectoral recruitment. Descend under complete control, and be careful not to exceed your shoulder's range of motion. Return back to the top position by contracting your pecs, deltoids and triceps. Repeat for indicated number of reps. If needed, extra resistance may be provided through weight plates attached to a belt, or by placing a dumbbell between your calves.

Second PR-Zone (15 Minutes)

B1. Pin Press

Popularized by the mastodons at Westside barbell, this is a partial range of motion bench press performed from the safety pins inside a squat cage. Set the pins such that the bar is close to your chest at the bottom-most position. This method provides a safe way of performing bench presses during EDT-style training.

B2. Standing Cheat Hammer Curl

This is simply a standard standing dumbbell hammer curl, but with some extra "body-English" to involve additional muscle groups. During the concentric phase of the lift, use lots of leg drive and shrugging, almost like you're "cleaning" the dumbbells.

In resistance training, whenever you're talking about sets and reps, rest periods, and so on, you're talking about loading parameters.


EDT is based on the concept of doing progressively more work from workout to workout. Therefore, it's critical that your exercise biomechanics (i.e., technique) are consistent on every workout. If you perform strict curl form on one workout and loose form the next, you aren't really doing more work (the arms at least!)

Each workout consists of 2 PR Zones of 15-minute duration each, separated by a short (5-minute) rest period. In each PR Zone, you'll perform two exercises, for a total of 4 exercises per session.

In each PR Zone, you'll perform these two antagonistic exercises in alternating fashion, back and forth, using the same weight for all sets, until the PR Zone has elapsed.


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

Sets/Reps/Rest Intervals

This is where EDT is truly unique. 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 fewer reps per set and longer rest intervals as fatigue accumulates. As an example, you might begin by performing sets of 5 with very short (10-15 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 time limit approaches, you might crank out a few singles in an effort of accomplish as many repetitions as possible in the time allotted.

Note: 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.


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 percent or more, start the next workout with 5 pounds or 5 percent more weight (whichever is less) and start over.

Charles Staley is an accomplished strength coach who specializes in helping older athletes reclaim their physicality and vitality. At age 56, Charles is leaner than ever, injury free, and in his lifetime best shape. His PRs include a 400-pound squat, 510-pound deadlift, and a 17 chin-up max. Follow Charles Staley on Facebook