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Escalating Density Training


by Charles Staley
Q2 (Pronounced "Q-squared") this is a portion of training called Escalating Density Training, or EDT, and it constitutes the hypertrophy portion of Q2 training.

What Causes Muscle Growth?
If I may dispense with the usual formalities and get right down to brass tacks, so to speak, I'd like you to consider the following statement:

"When a biological system experiences a challenge, it modifies itself in order to be able to more easily meet similar challenges in the future."

Now, in my opinion, if you're interested in growing muscle, that statement contains everything you'll ever need to know. Muscle is in fact a biological system, and it grows (or atrophies) in direct proportion to the amount of work it is forced to do.

Of course, all training systems approach this reality by suggesting an endless array of often conflicting recommendations regarding exercise selection, number of reps and sets, length of rest periods, and so on. One system says 3 sets of 10; another says one set to failure. One system recommends resting 1 minute between sets, another 3 minutes. One system employs partial range of motion, another full range of motion. On and on it goes. What gets lost in all this is the simple reality that whatever system allows you to do the most work per unit of time is what causes muscle to grow in an optimal manner.

That being said, the next question is "What is work?" And the answer is reflected in the following equation: M x D = W (M= mass or weight, D = distance, and W = work)

Every training principle you've ever heard of, plus most of the ones you've never heard of, are designed to allow you to do more and more work over the weeks and months. And Q2 is no exception. In fact, let me be the first to say that there is absolutely NOTHING new here. The only thing that's new is the way I'm "framing" or presenting the information. In a sense, the EDT system is just a foolproof way to ensure that you perform more and more work in each workout that you do. The benefits of the EDT method are as follows:

Motivation: When you do an EDT workout, you know when it'll start, but more importantly, you know precisely when it will END. Also, you know exactly what you need to do in that time period. In other words, you have an explicit goal a definite purpose, and a well-defined time frame for accomplishing your goal. You have to experience this in order to fully appreciate how easily it is to get "up" for ED workouts.

Auto-Regulation: Forget about sets and reps. Forget about rest intervals. Forget about time under tension. I'm totally serious all of these parameters distract you from the essential truth that you need to do more work this time than you did last time. It literally took me over 20 years of studying these factors to realize that they don't matter. So take out your training log, see how many total repetitions you did during your last workout for the same muscle groups, start the stopwatch, and beat that number. That's all. If you do this every workout, you'll grow. And if you don't you won't.

Clarity of Progression: EDT workouts don't allow you to hide from the essential truth of training progression. You may think you were abiding by the law of progressive overload before, but with EDT, you KNOW you are.

EDT involves doing a workout, measuring how much work was done, and then consistently and gradually increasing that amount of work. When you do, muscle will grow, metabolism will increase, and you'll have a leaner, more muscular body. Now, as it turns out, there's a paradox at work here. Because good fatigue management strategies allow you to do a lot more work, you'll end up plenty sore anyway, so for you masochists out there, fear not you'll be in plenty of pain.

The EDT Program

Monday: Lats/Elbow Extensors
First 20-Minute Time Frame
A-1: Chins (palms facing you)
A-2: Lying EZ-Bar Tricep Extensions
Second 20-Minute Time Frame
A-1: Seated Rows (Low cable or machine)
A-2: Reverse-Grip Tricep Pushdowns (palms up)

Tuesday: Lower Body/Trunk
First 20-Minute Time Frame
A-1: Back Extensions (a.k.a. hyper extensions)
A-2: Ball Crunches (crunches off a Swiss Ball)
Second 20-Minute Time Frame
A-1: Leg extensions
A-2: Leg Curls

Thursday: Pecs/Elbow Flexors
First 20-Minute Time Frame
A-1: Strive Bench Presses (or any machine bench press variant)
A-2: Low Cable Curls
Second 20-Minute Time Frame
A-1: Hammer Incline Presses
A-2: Preacher Hammer Curls

Friday: Lower Body
First 20-Minute Time Frame
A-1: Alternating Lunges
A-2: Sit-Ups
Second 20-Minute Time Frame
A-1: Seated Calf Raises
A-2: *Russian Twists

*Sit on the ground or a bench with knees bent to 90 degrees and lean your trunk back to 45 degrees. Keeping this trunk angle, and with arms out straight, fingers interlocked and arms maintained at 90 degrees to the upper body, rotate the trunk from the waist (not the shoulders!)

Comments on Exercise Selection

This is not a rehab or functional-strength program. It's designed for lean-mass development only. The inclusion of machine-based exercises in the above cycle is based on my preference to avoid technical or coordination-intensive exercises (such as squats or deadlifts) while in a "panicked" state of mind. In theory, this program can be done using more technical lifts as long as you remain "present" or "in the moment." However, for your first exposure to EDT, I strongly suggest sticking to the program as provided.


Each workout consists of two 20-minute time frames separated by a short (5-10 minute) rest period. In each time frame, you'll perform two exercises, for a total of 4 exercises per workout.

In each time frame, the two exercises are performed in alternating fashion, back and forth, until the time frame has elapsed.

After warming up the first 2 exercises, select a load that approximates a 10-12 RM for each exercise. Ideally, the weight used for each exercise should be equally difficult.

Sets, reps, and rest intervals: Generally, most people will find it most effective 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 rests 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 20-minute time limit approaches, you might crank out a few singles in an effort of accomplish as many repetitions as possible in 20 minutes.

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 10-RM 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. Apply the 20/5 rule: as soon as you can increase the total number of reps by 20% or more, start the next workout withy 5% more weight and start over.

And that's essentially it. No pre-ordained numbers of sets, reps, or rest periods. It's entirely up to you. Your job is only to complete the 20-minute work period, and then improve on it the next time around.

Charles Staley is a sports performance specialist and director of Integrated Sport Solutions in Las Vegas, Nevada. A former martial arts competitor and trainer, Staley is also an Olympic weightlifting coach, as well as a master's level track and field competitor (discus event). He has coached elite athletes from many sports, including martial arts, luge, boxing, track & field, bobsled, football, Olympic weightlifting, and bodybuilding. Staley has written hundreds of published articles, and has lectured extensively on the topics of human performance and sport training.