Increase Density to Take Your Training, and Results, to the Next Level
One of the best ways to increase the challenge, and therefore results of your training is by increasing your training density.
Training density is defined by the amount of work you complete in a given time.
You can increase your training density by doing more work, or you can increase your training density by doing the same amount of work in less time.
My philosophy on training has evolved over time, and I’m much more biased towards what is called the “minimal effective dose” for the amount of work you need to complete in order to reap the majority of the results.
What this means is that there is a minimum amount of work that you need to perform in order to experience the results you are looking for from training. Anything over that minimum amount of work will slow down the recovery process, while not adding much (if any) to the results from training.
For this reason, completing the minimal effective dose, and then finishing up the session is my advice, and how I think about programming for myself and my athletes.
So looking at increasing training density, I wouldn’t increase the amount of work completed much past the minimal effective dose, but rather, I’d try to complete the work in a shorter period of time.
Now, why would you actually want to increase training density anyway?
Here are a few of the benefits!
The Benefits of Increasing Training Density
- You achieve a greater conditioning effect.
When you complete the same amount of work in less time, you increase your average heart rate and demand your cardiovascular system to respond by increasing blood flow and oxygen to the musculature (and to take metabolic waste away).
By doing this over time, your body wants to become more efficient with supplying the oxygen needed to support this intensity, and therefore your conditioning improves.
Enhancing conditioning while strength training is “killing two birds with one stone” and is one of the greatest benefits of increasing training density!
2. You expend more calories in less time increasing EPOC.
If a goal of yours includes leaning out (decreasing fat mass), you will want to take advantage of EPOC, or Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption.
When EPOC is elevated, your body utilizes more calories over the hours following training to recover from the session. More calories means that you will more easily achieve a caloric deficit, and fat stores will be tapped into for recovery.
To increase EPOC you need to increase the challenge or intensity of the session, and by increasing training density you do so.
3. You develop a greater ability to perform under fatigue.
When you increase training density, you will be training with more constant fatigue. During sport, and life, you will likely have to perform when you are fatigued…a lot!
Completing your session in less time creates this “perform under fatigue” scenario, and by doing so over and over again, you will become accustomed to performing when you are tired, and will enhance your ability to do so.
4. You develop greater mental “grit”.
Piggy backing the last point, when you train or perform under fatigue you are challenging your “mental grit” and improving this key factor when it comes to overall success.
Training under fatigue is tough, uncomfortable and something that is against our nature (well most of us anyway).
By constantly and consistently doing so, you are increasing your mental toughness, and grit though increasing training density.
5. You save precious time.
I know for myself, and most of my athletes, time is precious.
While may only be a few things that I’d rather do than train, I know not everyone shares this passion.
When you complete your session in less time, even if that is just 10 minutes less, over the course of a week you will likely save between 30-60 minutes depending on how many times you train.
How to Increase Training Density
Now that we talked about why you should work to increase training density, let’s quickly cover the how.
- Condense and be deliberate with your warm up.
Probably the biggest “mistake” you can make is taking too long with your warm up.
You spend 10 minutes on the foam roller, hit every stretch and mobility known to man, and sort of meander your way through the movement prep.
If this sounds like you, you can increase your training density by attacking this one component of training differently.
Target specific muscle groups with the foam rolling (hip flexors/quads, IT band, lats) and then mobilize the problem areas (hip flexors/quads, adductors, lats).
Then quickly move between the movement prep exercises which typically consist of squat, lunge and lateral lunge variations. You want to try and “flow” from one exercise to the next.
Not only will this save time, but it will also help you increase heart rate and body temperature more effectively, which one of the biggest points of the warm up.
So condense, and move more quickly through the warm up, taking no more than 10 minutes total to complete foam rolling or other soft tissue work, mobility/stretch work, movement prep and power/skill work.
2. Move with urgency between exercises.
Along with moving quickly through the warm up, you will want to move quickly between exercises of your training blocks.
Let’s say you have a plank variation paired with a squat variation.
Once you complete your plank, do not slowly get to your feet, mosey on over to the squat rack (or dumbbell / landmine) and just stare at the weight for 45s before getting “under the bar.”
Instead, “pop” up, walk to the squat with intention and urgency, and get yourself amped to get after the lift!
Just like a smile automatically makes you a bit more happy, moving with urgency to the next exercise excites the system to complete some high quality reps.
Instead of being moving more “sloth-like” as you lack urgency, put some “pep in your step” and make it look like you are there to get some work done…because you are!
3. Plan your block.
Before you start your first set of the block (again let’s say a plank and squat block), plan out what you will need for both exercises.
I will notice athletes who hit a plank, and then have to grab a dumbbell if they are doing a goblet squat. It takes them 30s to make it to the rack, another 30s to figure out which weight they need, and yet another 30s to pick it up and get the dumbbell in position.
Instead, grab the dumbbell before you start your plank, and have it right next to you ready to go when you finish the plank.
A little planning goes a LONG way when it comes to increasing density.
4. Minimize rest.
This is basically the idea of the first 3 points, to minimize the time between exercises, or your rest.
If you consistently wait or allow for the body to completely recover between sets, or almost completely recover, you are limiting the density effect of the session.
Make it a point to rest only as long as you need in order to complete quality reps of the next exercise.
More than that and you are losing out some of the benefits of density training.
5. Set timers.
If you can’t stick to shorter rest periods, simply set a timer, or use your watch in between sets.
Say you only give yourself 30-45s between exercises.
As soon as you are done with your exercise, check your watch and hit the next exercise when the 30-45s is over.
Another way you can do this is to use timed blocks, or intervals.
Set a timer for 8-10 minutes and complete as many sets as possible in those 8-10 minutes.
Or set a clock for an interval of 20s on and 20s off for example, and continue to cycle through the exercises.
These are just some examples of how you can use a timer to help increase the density of the session.
With the benefits of increasing density on your training results, it is apparent that you should work to do so.
For most athletes that I work with, this is a great way to attack the session, and boost the progress towards their goals.
Some athletes who are in a max strength, or power phase of training will not want to worry too much about density as it will limit that effect a bit. These are typically competitive athletes who have a definitive competition date such as the olympics, or big competition without too many games/competitions before then, such as a major track event.
For everyone else, increasing density by reducing the time spent training while still completing the same amount of work, is an absolute game changer.
Give it a try, and let me know what you think.
For TAW athletes this will continue to be a focus of training, and we will be honing in on this even more!