Escalated Density Training (EDT) and building Muscle Mass

It is a fact, that in the modern era of professional rugby, the biggest teams are the most competitive teams. The physicality of the game has gone up ten fold in the past 3-4 years, the collisions that take place now on the pitch can’t be referred to as anything less than ‘brutal’. In order for players to withstand these contacts and be competitive on the rugby pitch then they must be physically competent. With Wingers the size of George North, Centre’s like Jamie Roberts and Manu Tuilagi, well, this just emphasises the importance of this fact.

In our previous articles we spoke of German Volume Training for building muscle mass, in this article we are looking at another highly effective training method for building muscle, Escalated Density Training.

Back in 2005, Charles Staley came out with the training method known as Escalating Density Training – a simple yet effective training system involving high intensity circuit-style training designed to ramp up your work capacity, all while preserving or increasing muscle mass.

What is Escalating Density Training (EDT)?

Essentially, two exercises are performed back to back for a given amount of time. The time frames can vary, but Staley originally planned for 12-15 minute sets. The recommended weight used is equal to your 10-repetition maximum (RM) but only 5-repetitions are performed in each set. The plan is to go back and forth, performing 5-reps of each exercise, until the time period is over. You would keep track of how many times you go through the circuit and focus on trying to beat that number, without changing the weights, the next time you do that same workout, hence the title, escalating density training.

According to Staley, you typically should choose a weight that is about 70-75% of your 1RM, you should be able to get approximately 10 reps (if you were going to failure).

You have a lot of flexibility with this type of training as you get to choose the parameters (sets, reps, rest) based on what’s best for you. What is a must with this system is that you choose two antagonistic or opposing exercises within the time frame.

Another thing that is a rule of EDT training is to aim for a total of about 80-90 reps per block. So, if I was doing bench press and dumbbell row, I would be aiming for about 30-40 reps of each over a 15 minute period. If you miss this total rep range of 60-80 reps by more than 20 reps, lower your weight 5% or so.

The beauty of EDT training is that the possibilities are endless. You can use the programme to improve conditioning, strength, mass, and even as a metcon type workout to get your metabolism working more efficiently. If the goal is to stack some muscle mass on, then pairing chest and back exercises, like bench press/dumbbell rows, incline press/supported rows or dips/chins would be the approach I would use.

The reason for this is based on the idea of reciprocal innervation that states the opposing muscle is required to relax while the other muscle is worked. This means that your muscle could actually recover faster by pairing the opposing muscles than it would have if you allowed it to rest by itself. You will also accomplish more total work in the defined time period since you will be doing two exercises instead of just one. A benefit is you will increase the Volume per workout using two exercises in this manner and volume is a key factor when looking to increase muscle mass.

Here are some antagonistic pairings that I have used in the past and proven to be effective, in increasing muscle mass.

 Upper Body

  • Bench Press/Pull Ups
  • Barbell Shoulder Press/Seated Row
  • Pulldown/Close Grip Bench Press
  • Bentover Row/Db Incline Press
  • Hammer Curls/Skull Crushers
  • Push Ups/Chin Ups

Lower Body

  • Leg Extension/Leg Curl
  • Front Squat/Romanian Deadlift
  • Hip Abduction/Hip Adduction

Full Body

  • Back Squat/Chins
  • Front Squat/Dips
  • Deadlift/Floor Press
  • Toes to Bar/Back Extension
  • Power Clean/Pull Up


Day 1

Block 1 – 12 mins

  •  5 Back Squat @ 70-75% 1RM
  • 5 Romanian Deadlift @10RM

3 mins Rest

Block 2 – 12 mins

  •  5 Bench Press @ 70-75% 1RM
  • 5 Weighted Pull Ups @ 70-75% 1RM

3 mins Rest

Block 3 – 8 mins

  •  8 Hammer Curls
  • 8 Skull Crushers

Day 2

Block 1 – 12 mins

  •  5  Front Squat @ 70-75% 1RM
  • 5 Floor Press @ 70-75% 1RM

3 mins Rest

Block 2 – 12 mins

  •  5 Barbell Shoulder Press @ 70-75% 1RM
  • 5 Pendlay Row @ 70-75% 1RM

3 mins Rest

Block 3 – 8 mins

  •  8 Toes 2 Bar
  • 8 Back Extensions

If you are looking at increasing Muscle Mass then you must also prioritises your nutrition as this is a key factor along with your  training. Read our previous articles as this will give you more information on the nutrition aspects of building muscle.

Written by

Robin Sowden-Taylor

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