escalating density block: a work out routine for toning

Stephen Brandis, CSCS

“I don’t have time.”

How often have you heard that or even used the phrase yourself? When it comes to going to the gym and working out it does not need to be a 2 hour marathon workout doing every variation of a bicep curl, crunch, or squat that you can imagine to elicit the desired result. It doesn’t even take 1 hour! All you need is 45 minutes and that includes going through a thorough warm up. This is one reason why it is our favorite work out routine for toning.


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This is where escalating density training (EDT) comes into play.


What is Escalating Density Training (EDT):

1. Pick two opposing or non-competing exercises.
2. Use a weight you can do roughly 10 times for each exercise
3. Put 15 minutes on the clock.
4. Perform 5 or fewer reps on each exercise trying to get as many reps as possible in the designated amount of time. Rest as needed.
5. Add up your reps at the end. This is your personal record “PR” and is your baseline that you will try to match or beat the next time you perform that workout.


Simple, but very effective at promoting lean muscle growth and helping build a leaner figure. In other words, it is great for toning. The key to an EDT block is to focus on the total number of reps you are doing and not the number of reps in a set or number of sets. You will also want to allow your reps to drop as you begin to fatigue. If you are starting out at 5 reps and then can only do 4, then 3, and 2 and maybe 1 rep towards the end of the 15 minutes that is fine. Remember, it is the total reps that you are trying to improve not how many reps you are doing every set.


We learned about this work out from Charles Staley


Exercise selection:

The exercises you pair up should be opposing muscle groups or unrelated groups. For example, opposing muscle groups would be pairing triceps and biceps, chest and back, or quads and hamstrings. An example of unrelated muscle group exercises would be pairing chin-ups and back squats, push-ups and deadlifts, or curls and sit ups. Pairing competing exercises is not recommended because you do not give that muscle group any rest in between exercises and you will exhaust quickly. That and you will probably not be able to move that body part at all the next day.


Sample Pairings:

Opposing exercises pairings:

Bench Press/1 Arm DB Row
Chin Up/ Shoulder Press
Triceps Extension/ DB Curl
Back Squat/ Hamstring Curl

Unrelated exercise pairings:

Front Squat/ Pull Up
Kettle Bell Swing/ 1 Arm Shoulder Press
Chest Supported Row/ Hip Thrust
Reverse Lunge/ Push Up


If you are currently in the process of losing fat then you may want this out


Taking it to the next level:

A good rule of thumb to stick by is that once you increase your PR by 20% you can increase your weight by 5-10lbs. Once you do this you then start over and your first workout with that weight will be your new baseline that you will try to improve on.

1 week sample program:


15 minutes
1a Bench Press x 5
2b Arm DB Row: x5/side

15 minutes
2a Seated Shoulder Press: x5
2b Lat Pull Down: x5


15 minutes
1a Back Squat: x5
1b Hamstring Curl: x5

15 minutes
2a Hip Thrust: x5
2b Reverse Crunch: x5

Off/ Active recovery


15 minutes
1a Skull Crusher: x5
1b Barbell Curl: x5

15 minutes
2a Triceps Push Down: x5
2b Seated Alternating DB Curl: x5/side


15 minutes
1a Deadlift: x5
1b Ab Wheel Roll Out: x5

15 minutes
2a Barbell Reverse Lunge: x5/side
2b Ab Mat Sit Up: x5


The Take Away

Sometimes to elicit the best possible result it is better to simplify things rather than complicate them. If you are looking to get back into the routine of working out and the time commitment seems daunting or are looking for a new training stimulus, escalating density training may be the thing you need.

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About the Author

Steve Brandis, Personal Trainer Wilmington performance Lab

Stephen has been in the fitness industry since 2012. He entered the field with a base knowledge of strength and conditioning and simply wanting to help people get into better shape. Now his passion is to help individuals move better, feel better, and exude confidence, and tenacity not just in the gym but in every aspect of life. In his spare time he can be seen roaming around Wilmington on his road bike exploring new areas and businesses, trying new brews from the local breweries, or being more inconspicuous, spending time at home working on various projects.