Strength Basics

Getting stronger, fitter, and healthier by sticking to the basics. It's not rocket science, it's doing the simple stuff the right way. Strength-Basics updates every Monday, plus extra posts during the week.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Book Review: Muscle Logic

Muscle Logic : Escalating Density Training

By Charles Staley
256 pages, published 2005

The idea behind Escalating Density Training, or EDT, is pretty simple. Take two exercises that are "antagonist" or opposite exercises - for example, pullups and push-presses, or bench presses and rows, or curls and tricep pushdowns. Or two exercises that are bilaterally opposed - left leg lunges and right leg lunges, for example, or left hand snatches and right hand snatches. Warm up for each exercise, alternating between them, until you find a weight that's roughly your 10-rep maximum for that day. Set your stopwatch for 15 minutes and hit "Start." Then do about 5 reps with the first exercise, then the same reps with the second, and so on - back and forth. You continue until 15 minutes has elapsed, resting only as needed, and dropping the number of reps as you get more and more fatigued. Do all the reps fast - no slow lifting, you want to get fast but controlled reps - this is Compensatory Acceleration Training (CAT), aka Dynamic Effort (DE) exercise. Lift the weight fast to recruit all the muscle fibers you can even with a sub-maximal weight, basically.

At the end, you total up the reps for each exercise and add them together. This is your rep PR for that "PR Zone." Next time you do that same workout (usually alternated with another EDT workout, ABABAB style) try to beat your rep PR. If you beat it by 20%, up the weight by 5 pounds or so for the next workout.

The goal, simply put, is to do more reps total in 15 minutes this time then you did last time, and raise the weight when the workout is so easy you're outstripping your original PR by too much. You don't aim for a specific rep count, for specific set counts, for rest times, or anything except more work in the same time. The idea is to learn to manage the fatigue that comes and work through and around it.

Charles Staley has written two articles discussing EDT in great detail:

Escalating Density Training (Contains not W/FS images)


Escalating Density Training, Phase 2 (Contains not W/FS images)

...both for T-Nation.

The book is basically a guidebook to an organizing technique, plus sample workouts. It's not a do-this-or-else approach, but an overall principle (the PR zones) and a variety of ways to do it.

It includes a few different splits (upper/lower, bodypart splits, full body), a number of sample plans, and a number of durations - 15 minutes, 30 minutes, and 45 minutes, depending on how long you have and how much work you want to do. It's an easily adaptable schedule.

For example, here is one nasty full-body setup for 30 minutes:

Workout A
PR Zone 1: 15 minutes
A-1 Dumbbell Snatch (Left)
A-2 Dumbbell Snatch (Right)

PR Zone 2: 15 minutes
B-1 Pullup
B-2 Push Press

Workout B
PR Zone 1: 15 minutes
A-1 Bulgarian Split-Squat (Left)
A-2 Bulgarian Split-Squat (Right)

PR Zone 2: 15 minutes
B-1 Bench Press
B-2 Bent-Over Barbell Row

So the first involves an explosive unilateral full-body exercise, followed by a heavy upper body pull and a full-body upper body push. The second involves a lower-body unilateral exercise followed by upper body push and upper body pull. Your whole body is finished in 30 minutes plus warmup times.

He even bows to "I want a six-pack!" pressure and includes a "core" centric EDT workout, involving squats, Turkish get-ups, pullups, and swiss ball twists. You'll work your core, alright, but everything else comes along for the ride.

High marks goes to the book for including a non-EDT workout, too, the 3-5 method. That's 3-5 exercises, 3-5 days a week, for 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps. Hence, 3-5. The idea is to do EDT for 8 weeks, then take a week off, then do 3 weeks of 3-5 before you go back to EDT (or move on the something else, if so inclined). The EDT method is explained thoroughly but following Charles Staley's own explanation, there is no "one method" that works all the time for everyone. And EDT isn't that mythical "one method" but just another way to organize your workouts.

The techniques demonstrated are generally excellent, although I winced to see a mention of the Pec Deck for chest, hack squat machines, and leg extensions for the legs (they can be bad for your knees, especially in high volumes, and this is a high-volume approach). But the exercises are described fully, form in the pictures matches the form described, and there is sufficient and clear explanations of exercise safety.

Content: 4 out of 5. EDT, simply explained, with examples, exercises (and good explanations of them), and enough tools to make it work for you in any variation. My only gripe is including some machine exercises and some "arm days" which don't make much sense unless you're a bodybuilder.
Presentation: 5 out of 5. You can read this book in a single sitting, it's written so clearly and concisely. Pictures match the text and show good technique, and the text and tables are clear and easy to follow.

Overall: Read the EDT articles, and if you feel like you'd benefit from a hardcopy or a deeper yet simpler explanation, get the book. It's well-written and the method has a lot to recommend it.

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