Are you looking for ways to improve your current fitness level without spending more time doing it? Most of us don’t have hours each day to devote to working out. Time is precious and we want to pack as much benefit into the time that we have available. One way to do this is through density training. Ever heard this term? Simply put, density training packs more training into a given workout. Plus, it’s a way to vary your training to avoid frustrating training plateaus.
Of course, density training means you’ll have to tweak your workouts a bit. How much time do you spend standing around between sets, checking your phone to see if there are any new messages? With density training, you have to put your phone aside. The goal of this form of training is to minimize downtime and rest periods between sets so you spend more time training and less time resting. Density training is a highly efficient way of training and one that can pay off with big dividends. Let’s look at how you can apply density training to your workouts and the paybacks it can offer.
How Can You Approach Density Training?
You can tackle density training in two ways. The first is to keep the duration of your workout the same and increase the total number of sets that you do. With this approach, you’ll get more work done in the same amount of time and, as you progress, increase the work you complete in a single workout. The second way is to do the same amount of work in a shorter period of time. With this approach, you do your usual number of reps and sets but reduce the total amount of time they take to complete. As you progress, you keep trying to do the same workout in a shorter period of time, using good form, of course.
What are the advantages of density training? For one, it’s a good tactic if you’re trying to get lean as you build muscle strength and endurance. With either approach to density training, you reduce the rest period between sets. This keeps your heart rate up and you burn more calories than when you rest two or three minutes between sets. Density training has a lot in common with circuit training since you’re constantly moving rather than resting for long periods of time between sets.
Another advantage to density training is it elicits more of a metabolic effect. It’s a form of metabolic training since you’re not letting your body fully recover between sets. This places greater stress on your body and increases the energy your body must expend to recover. Just as high-intensity interval training creates more of an after-burn, increasing training density does too. When you shorten the rest period, less lactate is cleared and the fatigue factor is greater.
If you use the first approach to density training, you’ll keep the same workout duration and maximize the work that you do during that time period. You can do this by increasing the total number of sets that you do during a given workout or by boosting the number of total reps you do. Either way, you’ll have to reduce the rest period between sets to add to the density of your training. The goal of this approach is to increase the total volume that you do during a given training session.
The easiest way to do this is to set your workout time, for example, 30 minutes. Pick one group of muscles to train in your upper body and one in your lower body. An example might be shoulders and legs. Do a shoulder exercise using a rep you can lift 10 times followed by the leg exercise. Alternate between the two exercises as you track the number of reps you do. Stop when 20 minutes is up and record your number of reps. Each time you train, try to increase the total number of reps you do. By doing this, you’ll progressively increase the density of your training.
With the second approach, you’ll do the same number of reps and sets that you typically do but reduce the time that you allot to doing them. If your session usually takes 45 minutes, you try to do the same volume in 35 or 40 minutes. As with the first approach, you’ll have to reduce the rest period between sets.
Either approach accomplishes the same result – getting more work done per unit of time for greater calorie burn and muscle growth. Using this method is best for muscle hypertrophy and muscle endurance rather than for building strength since the short rest periods limit the resistance you can use – but keep in mind, increasing the density of your workouts is another form of progressive overload and progressive overload is the key to making gains.
A word of warning. When you do density training, don’t get sloppy. As you increase the pace of your workout, don’t let your form break down. Doing more reps per unit of time doesn’t mean doing incomplete reps or using momentum.
The Bottom Line
Density training is a different approach to training that can boost the returns you get for your efforts. It’s particularly helpful if you’ve hit a plateau and need a way to “shock” your body. It’s also beneficial if fat loss is your goal since you’re forcing your body to work harder. If you use the second approach of doing the same volume of work in a shorter time period, it’s a more time-expedient way to train. That comes in handy if you have limited time to work out. Since you’re also getting some cardiovascular benefit, you’re accomplishing two fitness goals at once.
If your main goal is to build muscle strength though, density training shouldn’t be your only approach. Longer rest periods between sets, as long as 4 or 5 minutes, lets you maximize the amount of weight you lift for a given set. For building strength, working at a high percentage of your one-rep max, 80 or 90% delivers the greatest returns in terms of strength gains.
Stack.com. “Build Muscle Fast With Escalating Density Training”
Roman Fitness Systems. “How to Design Density Programs for Fat Loss”
Exercise Physiology: Nutrition, Energy, and Human Performance. Eighth edition. McArdle, Katch, Katch (2015)
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